“Parents Have a Sacred Duty,” Liahona, June 2006, 61–65
If I could have one thing happen for parents and leaders of this Church, it would be that they feel the love of the Lord in their lives each day as they care for Heavenly Father’s children. It may not be something that I say that touches your heart, but what the Spirit whispers to you. Follow those sweet promptings.
I distinctly remember when the proclamation on the family was given: September 23, 1995. I was seated in the Tabernacle at the general Relief Society meeting. President Hinckley was the concluding speaker. He presented “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” Stillness was in the congregation but also a sense of excitement, a reaction of “Yes—we need help with our families!”
I remember feeling it was so right. Tears ran down my cheeks. As I looked at the sisters seated near me, they seemed to be experiencing similar feelings. There was so much in the proclamation that I couldn’t wait to get a copy and study it. The proclamation affirms the dignity of women. And to think that it was first given to the women of the Church at the general Relief Society meeting—I know President Hinckley values women.
We are all here as Church leaders. We’re busy. But I have to remember—just like you do—that our first responsibility is to our own family. Remember, they are one of the few blessings we get to take with us to the eternities!1 Newel K. Whitney was a bishop in the early Church in Kirtland. Like you bishops today, he must have been pretty busy doing lots of good things. But he was chastened by the Lord and commanded to “set in order his family” (D&C 93:50; italics added). Sisters and brothers, this counsel applies to all of us.
Many of you are parents or grandparents, or someday you may be. But married or not, we are all members of families. Take a minute and think about your own family. What do you love about them? One thing I love about mine is I rejoice that my four sons love to be together.
What doctrine on the family does the proclamation teach? I’d like to focus on one paragraph: “By divine design, 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. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”2
I love the words “by divine design.” Parenting is part of our Heavenly Father’s divine design for His children. As parents, we have divine responsibility to provide, protect, and nurture our families.
How can these guidelines—to provide, protect, and nurture—help us to rear righteous children?
The proclamation says parents provide “the necessities of life.” But what are those necessities? Yes, they are a roof overhead, and they are food on the table. But because of the gospel plan, we know there is more than that. They include skills—the things that build character. Let’s look at just a few.
We provide for our children as we teach them how to work. Let me tell you about my grandson Jacob. He did not want to go to school. His mother had tried so many things. Finally she sat him down and said, “Daddy’s job is to go to work and earn money. My job is to stay home and take care of you and your brothers and sister. And your job, Jacob, is to go to school.” When Jacob understood the principle, he accepted it and went to school.
We also teach our children to work by expecting them to do chores and, when appropriate, to work outside the home. We help our children provide for their lifetimes by teaching them the value of work. Start early! My husband says the greatest gift his father gave him was independence—because he taught him to work.
Managing our finances also helps us to be good providers. As parents, plan together to live on a budget. Teach your children the difference between wants and needs. Don’t place unreasonable financial demands on your spouse. When President Hinckley counseled us to get out of debt, a father I know sat down with his married children and asked them about their finances. He was surprised to find that two had serious debt. He then asked them if he could help them make a plan.
Education and training enable parents to provide. Encourage your children to get all the education they can. In some countries, young people cannot qualify for Perpetual Education Fund loans because they have not completed secondary schooling. In today’s world, it is so important that parents continue to learn.
The second guideline I would like to talk about is protect. Protection from what? From harm—both physical and spiritual. We protect when we teach our children that they have divine worth, when we go to church as a family, when we have family home evening, when we have family prayer, when we study the scriptures together. That’s all pretty simple stuff, but I testify to you that it provides powerful protection.
The proclamation teaches that parents have a sacred duty to protect their children. Abuse can be emotional, such as talking down to a spouse or a child, treating them as worthless, or withholding love and affection. Fathers do not protect their families when they beat or strike their wives or children. A West African sister said that before joining the Church, her father beat her mother and the children. “Now,” she said, “he treats us with respect and tenderness because he understands we are children of God.”
Parents protect their children by knowing their choice of friends. One teenage girl was angry when her father questioned her about her evening’s activities. The father explained that the proclamation said he should be a protector of his family and that he loved his daughter, and that was why he wanted to be sure she was safe.
We must also protect our children from the influences of the media. Know what your children are watching on the television, in the theaters, and in their friends’ homes. If you have a computer in your home, make sure it is a tool for those things that are “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” (A of F 1:13).
We are protected as we follow the living prophet. How have you been protected as a family by following President Hinckley’s counsel to read the Book of Mormon? I recently received a note from a sister in England. She wrote:
“My family has struggled in the last year with a father who has chosen not to attend church any longer. He has been active all his life and has been in bishoprics. My heart has cried to the Lord about what I can do to not feel resentment and bitterness. I have family home evening and prayer on my own with the children. While in the temple I felt prompted, because of the challenge to read the Book of Mormon, to not have scripture time alone with the children but take the children and the scriptures to my husband, wherever he may be in the house. So off we march, every night at 9:00, to find him. He reads with us—not at first, but now he does. He is coming to church, meeting with us in family home evening, and leading gospel discussions. My children were the Lord’s feet and carried the words of redeeming love to my husband. This has been a great blessing to my family.”
The third and the last guideline is nurture. What does nurturing look like? What does it feel like? What does it sound like? Nurturing looks like, feels like, and sounds like this scripture: “By persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness” (D&C 121:41–42). Let me share just a few examples.
I think nurturing looks like disciplining with love. One young mother stops her child when he doesn’t obey. She cups her hands around his face, looking him in the eyes, and says, “Listen to my words.” We must teach our children to make wise choices, but we can’t remove the consequences of their actions. Remember, the basis of our Heavenly Father’s plan is agency.
What does nurturing feel like? Much of the teaching and relationship building in families takes place in those brief, unplanned moments during our daily routine. The dinner table is a place to connect with each other, share our daily activities, listen to and encourage each other, and even laugh together. I know laughter lightens the load. Dear mothers and fathers, make a regular mealtime for the people you love.
Are you done parenting when your children are all grown and on their own? No, the deal is that you’re never done. But we’re in this great business of creating eternal families. While my husband and I were serving a mission in England, one of our sons and his family came to visit. I remember him saying, “We came because we needed to be nurtured.” Once a parent, always a parent. Isn’t that the best? As I finished reading the Book of Mormon in December, I was struck with the realization that even Mormon counseled his adult son Moroni: “My son, be faithful in Christ; … may Christ lift thee up … and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and eternal life, rest in your mind forever” (Moro. 9:25).
What does nurturing sound like? Sometimes it’s hard to get more than one-word answers from a teenager. Here’s a question that I’ve found to be extremely helpful in changing that: “What is the biggest challenge or struggle you have right now?” This question opens the door for youth to share. And when they do, just listen! Don’t judge or counsel or anything else. Just listen. You’ll be amazed at the connections and bonds that will be formed. Bishops and counselors, this very same question can be powerful as you interview the youth in your wards.
Nurturing sounds like family prayer. One of my most lasting memories of my father is kneeling with my brothers and sister by my parents’ bed in their small room and hearing my father plead with Heavenly Father to bless our mother, who was in the hospital. Hearing my father pour out his heart helped me know that there was a God in heaven who listens. Pray for your children about their schoolwork and for their protection during the day. Our children know of our love and expectations when they hear us pray for them.
As a leader, how do you strengthen and support the families of those you serve? You can use those same guidelines—provide, protect, and nurture—to strengthen your ward families.
Leaders support parents by honoring them, not by stepping in front to take over a child. You can be a mentor, you can share like interests, but defer to how the parents would like to have things done. One mother shared: “It has often seemed to me that the last people my teenage sons wanted to listen to were my husband and me. At times, my sons, yielding to peer pressures, have turned the parent volume down. I’m thankful for wise Church leaders who have counseled our sons. They never took over our role as parents. They listened but gave support to our guidance and redirected them back to us.”
As families, we all have needs. Just a few heartfelt words about mothers who parent alone: Let me share with you the story of a mother of five whose husband was deployed overseas. She relates:
“When my husband left in early February, we had reliable vehicles. However, by November, they had broken down, and we were not able to repair them. During this same time, my 17-year-old son let me know that he wasn’t planning to serve a mission because he wasn’t sure if the gospel was true. If ever there was a time in my life that I needed the blessings of the priesthood, it was then. I don’t remember all the details or when and where, but I distinctly remember receiving more than one blessing from caring priesthood holders during that time. I always knew that I could call on my home teachers and they would be there. Neither one could fix my van, but they could give me much-needed priesthood blessings, and they found someone who could fix the car.”
Devoted home teachers made a difference for this family, and they can make a difference for all single-parent families as they come to know them, gain their trust, and provide priesthood blessings. Bishops, high priests group leaders, and elders quorum presidents, these mothers need the blessings of the priesthood in their home, as do our remarkable single sisters.
President Hinckley warned about the “slow stain of the world” 10 years ago when the proclamation was issued. This prophetic declaration reaffirms the Lord’s “standards, doctrines, and practices relative to the family.”3 In contrast, the world tries to dictate the roles of women and motherhood. Women today are told they need a thriving career, organizations to belong to, and, if they have resources, children. The honored role of mother is increasingly out of fashion. Let me make it clear: we must not allow the world to compromise what we know is given to us by divine design.
Sisters, let me speak directly to you for just a few minutes. As members of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is our blessing and our responsibility to nurture and sustain the family unit. Everyone belongs to a family, and every family needs to be strengthened and protected.
My greatest help in becoming a homemaker came first from my own mother and grandmother and next from the Relief Society sisters in the different wards where we have lived. I learned skills; I saw modeled the joys that come from creating a home where others want to be. Effective January 2006, there were new guidelines for home, family, and personal enrichment meetings and activities. They provide increased flexibility in order for all sisters to participate in Relief Society. Now, Relief Society leaders, make sure that the meetings and the activities you plan will strengthen the homes of all your sisters.
Visiting teaching is another vehicle to support the family. I hope all of you have opportunity to be visiting teachers. Visiting teachers not only strengthen a sister spiritually but are also in a unique position to nurture and to assess needs. Relief Society leaders, be proactive in your welfare committee meetings, and report on spiritual and temporal needs identified by your visiting teachers.
For those of you who are married, think back. What made you fall in love with your spouse? Remembering this can give you a forgiving heart. Express your love to each other. A wife can make a difference in her husband’s life as she builds his self-confidence. A husband can brighten even the darkest day with three simple words: “I love you.” One of the greatest gifts parents can give their children is to show them they love each other.
Our role as parents in rearing righteous children is to provide, protect, and nurture, and we do that as equal partners. We do the same as leaders. Being a leader is hard work. Being a parent is hard work. We get discouraged, but we just keep going. I think we learn so much about the pure love of Christ in our families and through Church service.
As parents and leaders, we need to give to our children the love our Heavenly Father extends to us. In Moroni 8:17 we read, “I am filled with charity, which is everlasting love.” Add to this the Lord’s words: “Clothe yourselves with the bond of charity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and peace” (D&C 88:125). I invite you, in all of your dealings, to put on the mantle of charity, to envelop your family in the pure love of Christ.
As families and leaders, may the Lord bless you to encircle those you love with the mantle of charity, that all of us may return to the presence of our Father in Heaven and live with Him together forever. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Photography by Steve Bunderson, Robert Casey, Craig Dimond, and Matthew Reier
Photograph by Derek Smith