The Sacred Responsibilities of Parenthood
March 2006

“The Sacred Responsibilities of Parenthood,” Ensign, Mar. 2006, 26–33

The Sacred Responsibilities of Parenthood

From an Education Week devotional address given on August 19, 2003, at Brigham Young University.

Elder M. Russell Ballard

As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, I participated in the process of drafting “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” It was a remarkable experience for all of us. As Church leaders travel the world, we see things—both within the Church and outside the Church. We were troubled by much of what we were seeing. We could see the people of the world wanting to define the family in ways contrary to God’s eternal plan for the happiness of His children.

In the midst of all that was stirring on this subject in the world, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles could see the importance of declaring to the world the revealed, true role of the family in the eternal plan of God. We worked together, through the divinely inspired council system that operates even at the highest levels of the Church, to craft a proclamation that would make the Lord’s position on the family so clear that it could not be misunderstood.

Since the proclamation came out almost 10 years ago, time has overwhelmingly proven its prophetic insight. As a church we are more focused than ever in supporting and strengthening the family. Sadly, the family continues to be assaulted relentlessly throughout the world. You need only to read a newspaper or turn on the television to see how openly and viciously the war against the family is being waged. Gender is being confused, and gender roles are being repudiated. Same-gender marriage is being promoted in direct opposition to one of God’s primary purposes—for His children to experience mortality.

The family is not just the basic unit of society; it is the basic unit of eternity. We lived as Heavenly Father’s spirit sons and daughters before this mortal existence. In that grand premortal family council, our Heavenly Father’s plan for the eternal happiness and peace of His children was presented. We understood that we would come to this earth to live as families, and through the sealing authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, we could live throughout the rest of eternity as families.

It is alarming to see how intensely and openly the family is under attack in contemporary society. The proclamation is very clear:

“We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife. …

“… Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.”1

We must stand firm, brothers and sisters, at this time when the adversary is using differing lifestyles in an attempt to replace the marriage of one man to one woman. It would be well for all people of the world to read the full text of the proclamation.

The Adversary’s Attacks on the Family

The attacks on the family also undermine the value of life—particularly the life of the unborn. Life is being trivialized and subjected to the vacillating whims of convenience and political correctness. You will find it troubling, as I do, that between 1950 and 1997, some 46 industrialized countries and 9 developing nations legalized or removed most restrictions on abortion. Each year an estimated 46 million abortions take place worldwide. Indeed, some estimate induced abortions end one-fourth of all pregnancies.

Far too many people view marriage as a “couples relationship,” designed to fulfill the emotional needs of adults rather than an institution for rearing children. Children are considered a choice rather than a blessing. About one million children per year experience parental divorce and its aftermath, and about one-third of all children in America are born out of wedlock. Almost every trend indicates that we are on a slippery slope downward from God’s plan for His children. The family, once universally hailed as the cornerstone of society, is losing its essential role.

When you stop and think about it from a diabolically tactical point of view, fighting the family makes sense. When Satan wants to disrupt the work of the Lord, he doesn’t poison the world’s peanut butter supply, thus bringing the Church’s missionary system to its collective knees. He doesn’t send a plague of laryngitis to afflict the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He doesn’t legislate against green Jell-O or casseroles. When Satan truly wants to disrupt the work of the Lord, he attempts to confuse gender and he attacks God’s plan for His children. He works to drive a wedge of disharmony between a father and a mother. He entices children to be disobedient to their parents. He makes family home evening and family prayer inconvenient. He suggests family scripture study is impractical. That’s all it takes, because Satan knows that the surest and most effective way to disrupt the Lord’s work is to diminish the effectiveness of the family and the sanctity of the home.

Look at what he accomplishes when he does that. Couples unhappy in their marriages tend not to give appropriate gospel instruction in the home. They are less likely to be committed to gospel principles in their own lives. Some drift from the Church. Apathy can overcome even active members, keeping them away from the temple and weakening their capacity to be effective leaders and teachers—thus leaving countless lives untouched and slowing the Lord’s work. And the Internet when not properly used is a vicious influence in the home. So we know, without question, Lucifer is the enemy of the family!

Ensuring Happy and Secure Families

What we do and what we teach in our homes and in our families matters. With the proclamation as the primary text, let me share with you five concepts that will help ensure happy and secure families.

  1. Full and equal partnerships. Men and women joined together in marriage need to work together as a full partnership. However, a full and equal partnership between men and women does not imply the roles played by the two sexes are the same in God’s grand design for His children. As the proclamation clearly states, men and women, though spiritually equal, are entrusted with different but equally significant roles. These roles complement each other. Men are given stewardship over the sacred ordinances of the priesthood. To women, God gives stewardship over bestowing and nurturing mortal life, including providing physical bodies for God’s spirit children and guiding those children toward a knowledge of gospel truths. These stewardships, equally sacred and important, do not involve any false ideas about domination or subordination. Each stewardship is essential for the spiritual progression of all family members, parents and children alike.

    Family stewardships thus must be understood in terms of obligations and responsibilities—and in terms of love, service, and interdependence. Men who attempt to dominate their wives, who seek to exercise unrighteous dominion without regard to spousal counsel and sensitivities, simply don’t understand that such actions are contrary to God’s will.

  2. Fathers. The proclamation states, “Fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.” They teach their families the gospel and lead in kindness, following the counsel found in section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 121:34–36).

    Fathers perform priesthood ordinances and give priesthood blessings, including father’s blessings to their children. They pray for and with family members, collectively and individually. They set an example of respect and love for their eternal companion and mother of their children. In all things they follow the example of the Savior and strive to be worthy of His name and His blessing. Fathers should seek constantly for guidance from the Holy Ghost so they will know what to do, what to say, and also know what not to do and what not to say. They serve the family and the Church in the spirit of love and enthusiasm, by example preparing family members to serve—especially preparing sons to serve as worthy missionaries.

    Fathers are expected by God and His prophets not only to provide for their families but also to protect them. Dangers of all sorts abound in the world in which we live. Physical protection against natural or man-made hazards is important. Moral dangers are also all around us, confronting our children from their early years. Fathers play a vital role in protecting children against such snares.

    We know that a father’s role does not end with presiding, providing, and protecting family members. On a day-to-day basis, fathers can and should help with the essential nurturing and bonding associated with feeding, playing, storytelling, loving, and all the rest of the activities that make up family life.

  3. Mothers. The proclamation teaches that “mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” Nurturing refers to parenting behaviors such as warmth, support, bonding, attachment, recognizing each child’s unique abilities, and attending to children’s needs. Nurturing in and of itself is more important in the development of a child than is any particular method or technique of child rearing. It hardly needs saying that nurturing is best carried out in a stable, safe, family context.

    A mother’s nurturing love arouses in children, from their earliest days on earth, an awakening of the memories of love and goodness they experienced in their premortal existence. Because our mothers love us, we learn, or more accurately remember, that God also loves us.

    Today there is significant pressure in our materialistic world to have and spend more money. Unfortunately, this draws married mothers to work outside the home in order to provide a second income. As husbands, wives, and children recognize the difference between basic necessities and material wants, they lessen family financial burdens and contribute to helping mothers be at home. Decisions about working outside the home are difficult ones and need to be made prayerfully, keeping ever in mind the counsel of the living prophets on this complex issue.

    President Gordon B. Hinckley, with his usual sensitive, loving spirit, gives us this wise perspective:

    “I recognize … that there are some women (it has become very many in fact) who have to work to provide for the needs of their families. To you I say, do the very best you can. I hope that if you are employed full-time you are doing it to ensure that basic needs are met and not simply to indulge a taste for an elaborate home, fancy cars, and other luxuries. The greatest job that any mother will ever do will be in nurturing, teaching, lifting, encouraging, and rearing her children in righteousness and truth. None other can adequately take her place.

    “It is well-nigh impossible to be a full-time homemaker and a full-time employee. I know how some of you struggle with decisions concerning this matter. I repeat, do the very best you can.”2

    Taking care of small, dependent, and demanding children is never ending and often nerve-racking. Mothers must not fall into the trap of believing that “quality” time can replace “quantity” time. Quality is a direct function of quantity—and mothers, to nurture their children properly, must provide both. To do so requires constant vigilance and a constant juggling of competing demands. It is hard work, no doubt about it.

    President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, has given very wise counsel:

    “Women today are being encouraged by some to have it all—generally, all simultaneously: money, travel, marriage, motherhood, separate careers in the world. …

    “Doing things sequentially—filling roles one at a time at different times—is not always possible, as we know, but it gives a woman the opportunity to do each thing well in its time and to fill a variety of roles in her life. A woman … may fit more than one career into the various seasons of life. She need not try to sing all of the verses of her song at the same time.”3

  4. Principles for marriage and families. From the proclamation we learn that “successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” Parents should work to create loving, eternal connections with their children. Reproof or correction will sometimes be required. But it must be done sensitively, persuasively, with an increase of love thereafter lest the child esteem the parent to be an enemy (see D&C 121:43).4

    It can be equally destructive when parents are too permissive and overindulge their children, allowing children to do as they please. Parents need to set limits in accordance with the importance of the matter involved and the child’s disposition and maturity. Help children understand the reasons for rules, and always follow through with appropriate discipline when rules are broken. It is important as well to praise appropriate behavior. It will challenge all of your creativity and patience to maintain this balance, but the rewards will be great. Children who understand their boundaries through the consistent application of important rules are more likely to do well at school, to be more self-controlled, and to be more willing to abide by the laws of the land.5

    Parents need to give children choices and should be prepared to appropriately adjust some rules, thus preparing children for real-world situations.6 To do this, parents must listen—really listen—to what their children are saying. They must know what is important to each child. I learned this lesson years ago from one of our daughters. She was only four or five at the time. She came into the room, all excited. I was reading the newspaper, and she had something very much on her mind that was important to her. And I was responding, “Yes, uh-huh, uh-huh.” All of a sudden the newspaper came crashing down with her two little hands. She grabbed my face between her hands so that she could look me right in the eye. This was a little four- or five-year-old teaching her father a great lesson. “Daddy, you’re not listening to me.” And she was right.

  5. Family councils. As you would expect to hear from me, one of the best tools we have as parents is the family council. I cannot emphasize enough its importance in helping to understand and address challenges in the family. When members of one family began to feel unusual contention invading their home, they called a family council to discuss the situation. The father and then the mother explained to their children what they had observed and asked how each felt about it. The mother and father learned that since their two oldest children had left home, one to be married and one to go to college, an unfair burden of responsibility had been unwittingly shifted to the two oldest children remaining at home, and they were becoming resentful. By counseling together and listening to what their children were feeling, the family made a more equitable distribution of responsibility among the children, resolving much of the frustration and tension in the home.7

    I recognize that there are as many kinds of family councils as there are different kinds of families. Family councils can consist of one parent and one child, of two parents and several children, of just two parents, or of just siblings, and so on. Regardless of the size or makeup of the family council, what really matters are loving motivation, an atmosphere that encourages free and open discussion, and a willingness to listen to the honest input of all council members—as well as to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit.8

Overcoming Contention

If any of you are struggling with contention in your homes, you can change this. Talk with your family. Ask for their help. Tell them you don’t want a contentious spirit in the home anymore and discuss what each family member can do to prevent it. President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988), First Counselor in the First Presidency, taught:

“I feel certain that if, in our homes, parents will read from the Book of Mormon prayerfully and regularly, both by themselves and with their children, the spirit of that great book will come to permeate our homes and all who dwell therein. The spirit of reverence will increase; mutual respect and consideration for each other will grow. The spirit of contention will depart.”9

Remember, also, there is great power in prayer. I strongly encourage personal and family prayer, which are important in building strong families. But I want to emphasize something else as well. I’m wondering if many of you parents, you couples, have lost that essential moment of kneeling together at the end of the day, just the two of you, holding hands and saying your prayers. If that has slipped away from your daily routine, may I suggest you put it back—beginning tonight!

To parents everywhere, my counsel is simple: Get a copy of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” Read it and strive to align your marriage and your family to its inspired, revealed direction from the Lord. Then be the very best and act the very best you can. God will give you strength beyond your own as you strive daily to fulfill the most sacred mortal responsibility He gives to His children. Listen to the voice of the Spirit and the counsel of the living prophets. Be of good cheer. God did not place you on earth to fail, and your efforts as parents will not be counted as failure unless you give up.

May our Heavenly Father bless each and every one of you. God lives. We are His children. Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. They love us and want us to be faithful and happy.


  1. Liahona, Oct. 2004, 49; Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102.

  2. “Women of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 69.

  3. “A Message to My Granddaughters: Becoming ‘Great Women,’” Ensign, Sept. 1986, 18–19.

  4. See Craig H. Hart, “Three Essential Parenting Principles,” BYU Magazine, spring 2003, 58.

  5. See “Three Essential Parenting Principles,” 59.

  6. See “Three Essential Parenting Principles,” 59.

  7. See M. Russell Ballard, Counseling with Our Councils (1997), 154.

  8. See Counseling with Our Councils, 157.

  9. “The Book of Mormon,” Ensign, May 1980, 67.

Photography by Robert Casey, posed by models