“Faithful Parenting in Today’s Changing World,” Liahona, April 2021
My own childhood is a testament of the powerful influence a Christian adult can have on the life of a child. My mother died when I was four years old, and my grandmother helped care for me and my siblings. She belonged to the Salvation Army church, and she taught us to pray, love our enemies, and treat others kindly. Her guidance during those few critical years laid the foundation for my future choices.
Now I’ve spent more than 40 years as a mother and childcare professional, and I’ve seen the values and norms of society become more and more opposed to the Saviour’s teachings. Evil seems to influence everything from books and music to daily language. But we need not feel overwhelmed. The Lord will guide us to know how to teach, protect, and strengthen our children in this current cultural climate. Here are three specific lessons I have learned that might also help your family.
Having grown up without the “ideal family” as a model, I constantly doubted myself and my abilities whilst raising our children. This quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles comforted me: “If you … will strive to love God and live the gospel yourselves; … if you try your best to be the best parent you can be, you will have done all that a human being can do and all that God expects you to do.”1 Doing our best will require the Saviour’s help—and if ever there was a time in history when parents needed to rely on Him, it is now!
Instead of worrying about lots of rules and whether our children fulfil them perfectly, we can focus on building our relationship with them and with the Saviour. Our beloved prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, said it this way: “Do not try to control your children. Instead, listen to them, help them to learn the gospel, inspire them, and lead them toward eternal life. You are God’s agents in the care of children He has entrusted to you. Let His divine influence remain in your hearts as you teach and persuade.”2 From my experience, this advice rings true.
One way we built relationships with our children was through family activities. These were often simple times, like going for a walk or having fish and chips at the beach. Our children knew we genuinely loved spending time with them.
We tried to listen to our children so they would feel comfortable talking to us about their problems. When a family challenge would arise, we would sit down with our children, discuss our concerns, listen to their responses, and try to come to a decision together.
I was not a member of the Church when my children were little—it took me 18 years to decide to be baptized—but my husband was. He helped our children build a relationship with Heavenly Father through family prayer, scripture study, and family home evening. We were far from perfect, but my husband was persistent and patient.
I believe that my husband’s example of living the gospel was the biggest influence on our children. They saw him read scriptures, pray, and attend church—even if on his own. This had an impact far more powerful than anything we formally taught.
Even if you do not have an ideal family environment, you can still guide your children. Do not get disheartened.
As parents, each of us will eventually need to let go of our children, trusting them to make their own choices. Hopefully at that time, we will feel confident in echoing the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”3 We can start today to be a source of gospel guidance to our children, no matter what is being taught in the world around us.