How can I teach my children the importance of a lasting temple marriage?

“How can I teach my children the importance of a lasting temple marriage?” Ensign, Oct. 1992, 54–55

Although I was married in the temple, I am now divorced. How can I teach my children the importance of a lasting temple marriage in the face of their parents’ poor example?

Barbara Vance, professor of family sciences, Brigham Young University, and member of the Pleasant View Ninth Ward, Provo Utah Sharon East Stake. Before the end of this century—at least in industrial countries—many children will spend at least a part of their childhood and early youth in single-parent families. And even though we may not like to consider the possibility, this will be true even for many Church members.

Therefore, this question is one that does or will concern many faithful parents in the Church.

Perhaps the first step a divorced parent must take to encourage children to keep temple marriage as a goal is to help them adjust to the divorce. Divorce brings with it a great deal of emotional and spiritual pain, not only for the couple involved, but also for their children. Divorced parents and their children need time to grieve about what is lost and to let go of the past. If parents are able to grieve and forgive, they will set an important example for their children about how to let go of past hurts or mistakes, how to repent, and how to forgive.

However, the parent who is not living with the children will always be a sort of “ghost” in that home. That parent will always be a part of the children’s lives through their memories and even their fantasies. Therefore, it is important that both parents make an effort to actively include each other in their children’s lives.

Children may be uncertain about how to show their love for a parent who is not in the home. They may worry about being disloyal to the parent they live with if they show love to the other parent, or about being disloyal to a biological parent if they show love to and cultivate a good relationship with a stepparent. Children may worry that, if their parents stopped loving each other, they may also stop loving their children. Because of children’s great fear of abandonment (which they often cannot articulate), the possibility of losing the love of either or both parents can be almost overwhelming. In the child’s mind, the question may linger: Will my parents “divorce” me, too?

Showing the children unconditional love thus becomes a major opportunity for both parents following a divorce. The parent who is not living with the children needs to find ways to show the children that he or she loves them even though they do not live under the same roof. If the children know that their parents’ love for them is unconditional (that is, it is always there and can be counted on, even though both parents and children make mistakes), then children can get some idea of the unconditional love, respect, and commitment that are inherent in an effective temple marriage, and of the blessings such love, respect, and commitment can bring.

Then, too, once the children have worked through their grief and feel the security of unconditional love from both parents, they become free to make marriage decisions based on factors other than their parents’ divorce. Divested of the emotional baggage that sometimes accompanies a divorce, they can make their choices based primarily on their understanding of gospel principles and the testimonies they have developed of those principles. The children make their choices not because of—or in spite of—the divorce, but because they choose to follow—or not to follow—the principles taught them.

Of course, some children of divorced parents will still not choose temple marriage, no matter how much they are loved or how well they are taught. But children of undivorced parents make the same choices. The Lord does not force his children to make correct choices; we each have our agency.

Divorced parents sometimes harbor latent feelings of guilt about the effects the divorce may have on their children’s attitudes toward marriage. This need not be. Parents who express unconditional love for their children and teach them the principles of the gospel have done all they can do to make sure the divorce will not affect their children’s marriage decisions.

Parental responsibility is largely the same for all parents—whether single or otherwise.

As Doctrine and Covenants 68:25–28 admonishes, all parents who “have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized” are to teach their children four things: (1) “the doctrine of repentance,” (2) “faith in Christ, the son of the living God,” (3) “baptism,” and (4) “the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands.” Verse 28 tells parents to teach their children two other important principles: prayer and obedience to the commandments, or “walk[ing] uprightly before the Lord.” A parent can teach these principles to his or her children even if he or she does not have a temple marriage. [D&C 68:25–28]

Is it possible to teach children a principle without a proper example? It is true that the most important lessons are often learned by example.

But a single parent (or a stepparent) need not rely solely on personal example to teach the principle of temple marriage. There are many successful marriages a single parent can use to illustrate the principle and encourage the children to use as models.

Perhaps even more important is the example parents set of obedience to the four principles of the gospel as well as to the principles of prayer and obedience to the commandments. If children are converted to the principles of the gospel and have examples of loving, faithful temple marriages (such as that of aunts, and uncles, grandparents, home teachers, or other adults who are significant in their lives) around them, the chances are great that they will develop positive attitudes toward temple marriage.

Photo by John Luke