How can I help an erring loved one feel loved without approving of his or her decisions?

“How can I help an erring loved one feel loved without approving of his or her decisions?” Ensign, Feb. 1992, 53

How can I help an erring loved one feel loved without approving of his or her decisions?

Nadeoui A. Eden, Relief Society teacher, Bowie Ward, Suitland Maryland Stake. It is easy to be confused and upset when those we love choose to live contrary to gospel teachings. We want them to exercise their agency, yet we feel responsible to offer them good choices. When they choose behavior or life-styles out of harmony with our best advice, we feel guilty and blame ourselves for their decisions. We get upset and may alienate them with our yelling or lecturing. We can’t change what we’ve done in the past when reacting to our loved ones’ choices, but we can learn to deal with the present situation.

A difficult challenge is dealing well with a loved one at the moment when you first discover the choice has been made. It is said that an individual can’t die from emotional pain, but I wondered about that recently. I was driving my daughter back to her apartment after a weekend at home.

“I’m not going to church anymore,” said my daughter quietly. “I’ve thought it all out. There are many things that make me happy, and going to church doesn’t. It’s just not for me.”

We’d been tiptoeing around the subject for weeks. I knew she hadn’t gone to church since she’d moved out. Finally I’d decided to get it into the open; I’d asked her a question, and here was my answer.

I managed not to cry, told her I loved her, and let her off at her door. But on the way home, I cried my heart out. It hurt. And I was angry. I berated myself for not providing her with more testimony-building experiences. I blamed my husband. I blamed others. And I wondered if things would have been different if the youth in the ward had tried harder to include my daughter.

But I knew these were only excuses. Eventually I dealt with the situation the best I could.

First, I made a list of the facts, identifying the things I couldn’t change and the things I could. I recognized that although I may not like the feelings my daughter was experiencing, I couldn’t tell her not to feel what she felt. Respecting her feelings was an important step in the process.

Next, I identified my daughter’s decisions and behaviors that I didn’t agree with and decided how to deal with each one. In our home, gospel standards would be maintained. I tried to ensure that our home rules were based on correct principles, and then I tried to treat my daughter with firm respect, as I would a good friend.

For example, while I would not force a friend to stop smoking in order to visit me, I would ask him or her to smoke outside. I would not force a friend to attend Church meetings with me, but I would ask him or her to understand that I cannot eliminate the gospel from my thoughts or conversations.

Sometimes tough decisions are necessary. But our home must continue to be a haven—for the wayward loved one, if he or she is willing to abide by our home rules, as well as for us. I read 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 [1 Cor. 13:4–8] and continued to love, realizing that loving someone doesn’t always mean liking. It doesn’t mean accepting evil behavior. And it doesn’t mean putting up with abuse.

Finally, I concentrated on the good behavior and traits my daughter did possess. I found opportunities to sincerely compliment her and found ways to build her up and to show my support and love. A phone call or letters can keep communication lines open and can offer opportunities for us to reinforce positive and good decisions.

Of course, sometimes these loved ones are not easy to get along with. Sometimes their choices have taken them into situations that we cannot even imagine. These are difficult challenges. But we can prayerfully seek the Lord’s guidance as we show love and support while maintaining our own standards.

Our loved ones have made choices—and we hope they are choices not forced on them by us or anyone else. Our agency gives all of us the right to make our own decisions and to live by the results of those decisions.

Will my daughter ever come back to the Church and to the gospel? I hope so. I pray for opportunities for her to learn how important the gospel is, but I don’t pray for God to force belief upon her. He won’t do that and neither must I. I pray for her to have opportunities to learn how much she is loved by her Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. I pray for her to learn that she really is a child of God.

She may never come back into the Church, but she is my daughter, and I will love her forever. I continue to hurt, but I know that cherishing hurt feelings and making them the center of my life is the wrong choice for me. Christ would have us acting in love, honoring our own beliefs and commitments, even with our erring children.