“The Book of Mormon As a Guide for Parents,” Ensign, July 1988, 39
Week after week, my frustration mounted. With three active preschoolers and an absentee high-councilor husband who would soon be serving as a mission president, I was finding it increasingly hard to stay at a high spiritual level. Church attendance helped, but with my husband often away on assignment, I was left alone on Sunday to quiet one child’s impatient feet, dry another’s tears, or change the baby’s diaper. My spirit desperately craved nourishment.
I knew what I needed to do, but I didn’t know how to make it work. The words I had seen displayed a hundred different times in a hundred different lessons were engraved indelibly on my mind:
Read the Scriptures
Live the Commandments
I was keeping the commandments. I was praying, or thought I was. And I was trying to read the scriptures whenever time permitted. It’s just that time didn’t permit my reading very often. Most of my days were spent in rushing from one crisis to another, barely finding time to read the instructions on the detergent box, let alone anything uplifting like the scriptures.
Besides, what did Lehi’s journey to the promised land have to do with my problems? Where was the chapter and verse in the Book of Mormon that tells how to toilet-train a stubborn two-year-old or get a four-year-old to pick up his toys? I was sure I had more relevant things to worry about than who was going to win the next Nephite-Lamanite war. I had three children fighting with each other all the time.
And so the weeks and months flew by, full of household tasks and Church responsibilities. I met the children’s demands and needs willingly because I knew this was what the Lord wanted from me at this time in my life. But I still couldn’t find time to read the scriptures. There was only so much one person could do, I rationalized defensively. Wasn’t I doing everything expected of me? If so, where were the promised blessings—the joy, the peace of mind? What spiritual growth could one possibly get from mopping floors and changing diapers? How could I blend the day-to-day chores and responsibilities of child-rearing with the celestial repose for which my spirit hungered?
Something had to be done—my spirit was dying on the vine. I was desperate. I discovered that the only quiet time I had was when I locked myself in a room two or three times a day so I could have a private, heart-to-heart talk with Heavenly Father. I really poured my heart out.
Several weeks later, our bishop called me to be the Spiritual Living teacher in Relief Society. This wasn’t the kind of help I had expected, but I gulped and accepted. That call changed my life. The daily study and preparation it took for me to give those lessons taught me two things. First, if the incentive were strong enough—in this case, fright—I found the time to read the scriptures. Second, I learned that when I prayerfully searched the scriptures, I found they contain the answer to every question and dilemma.
One day it occurred to me that if the scriptures can answer all the questions in the Relief Society manual, they ought to be able to answer questions about rearing children. I began reading the Book of Mormon with a purpose. Whenever I discovered an example of parenting, I wrote down the reference with a brief note. When I finished, I organized the examples I’d discovered into principles taught and my applications of each principle.
For example, I was having a hard time getting the children to cooperate. They would fight with each other, ignore my requests to help with small jobs until I became insistent or angry, and act up or show off at the most inconvenient times. Alma’s interviews with his sons in Alma 36–42 made me realize how well he knew each one as an individual and how crucial a personal relationship with each child is. My husband, Doug, and I began holding interviews periodically with each child and doing things alone with each one. It helped to set aside special days or dates with each child and make bedtime less hectic and more personal. We found that by treating our children as individuals rather than lumping them together as “the kids,” they felt less need to seek our attention in negative ways. As they became more sure of themselves and their place in the family, they became more cooperative.
Another example of good parenting is found in 2 Nephi 28:30, where the Lord explains that he teaches us only that which we are ready to accept and understand. [2 Ne. 28:30] We are taught step-by-step as our faith and obedience increases. When we applied this principle to our children, we discovered that we needed to know what each child was capable of understanding, doing, and feeling at different ages and not require more than the child was capable of handling.
As I began making scripture study a part of my daily routine, I also began to examine how I kept the commandments. By changing my attitude, I was able to view homemaking and parenthood not as duties but as opportunities to become more like my own heavenly parents.
It isn’t always easy to keep this perspective when the children are quarreling and the stack of laundry is matched by the stack of dirty dishes. But these setbacks are easier to handle if my spirit isn’t suffering from malnutrition. Now when I give a Relief Society lesson, I can bear my testimony, with conviction, that there isn’t a question or problem we encounter that we can’t answer by searching the scriptures.
The following represents my favorite Book of Mormon child-rearing scriptures. Others may find additional verses that apply.
1. Father (or mother, if there is no father in the home) is to be the spiritual leader in the family and is responsible for teaching the children.
The father presides at family home evening, bears testimony to the family, studies the scriptures daily with them, is an example, conducts daily family prayer, presides at family councils, and honors his priesthood.
2. Parental responsibility for both parents begins when the child is an infant; the role is eternal.
A close, consistent relationship is necessary to develop a child’s trust in the parent. Parents must never give up on a child, but continue to pray for, love, and bless him or her.
3. A one-on-one relationship is crucial.
Hold personal interviews periodically. Do things one-on-one so that each child has special moments with his or her parents.
4. Know each child as an individual.
Find out what children at various developmental stages are capable of physically, mentally, and emotionally. Don’t expect too much too soon. Children must learn to trust a parent before they can trust themselves.
5. Parents must be humble, teachable, and willing to admit mistakes and repent.
Admit parental errors, misplaced blame, and harshness. Ask for forgiveness.
6. A child learns best when taught by example.
Demonstrate your values about the Sabbath day, wholesome books and movies, education, self-control, honesty, respect for authority, etc. Verbalize your beliefs and discuss them with your children.
7. A child learns best through praise, positive reinforcement, and expressions of parental faith and trust.
Trust your children to do well, and praise them when they do well. If they fail, let them know that you are disappointed but that you still love them and are willing to let them try again.
8. Correct the child when necessary, then show an abundance of love for him or her.
Make sure your children know you love them, in spite of their mistakes. Teach them about their potential as children of God.
9. Set the rule and allow the natural consequences to follow.
Set a rule together, discuss the consequences, then let the children use their agency to govern their behavior. Resist saying “I told you so” or sparing the children the consequences altogether.
10. Teach children to use their agency.
Allow children to make small decisions in early childhood to develop confidence and wisdom. As they grow older, they can make more important decisions.
11. Listen, listen, listen! Don’t be quick to advise or condemn.
Alma 20 (negative example of fathering)
Things are not always what they appear to be. Give children the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume the worst. Children often need someone to listen while they talk through their problems. Don’t be too quick to give help; rather, help them determine a solution.
12. Discipline is necessary. It should be tailored to the needs of each child.
Methods of discipline are tailored to each child: Separate an offender from others by placing the child in a “time-out” area; have the child remain at home, away from negative influences, where mother or father can give support in making decisions; have the child work alongside a brother or sister with whom he or she has been fighting; role-play to resolve disagreements.
13. Teach children to love work and to serve others.
Children need to serve one another and the family to feel worthwhile.