I’d Done All I Could as a Parent. How Could My Children Still Leave the Church?
April 2024

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I’d Done All I Could as a Parent. How Could My Children Still Leave the Church?

The author lives in Utah, USA.

When some of my children left Church activity, I wondered why I wasn’t experiencing the promised blessings of all the gospel activities we’d done together as a family over the years. Three general conference talks helped me move forward with faith.

a family laughing together

When I became a parent, I felt a heavy responsibility to support my children on the covenant path and make sure they followed Heavenly Father’s plan.

Beginning in my teenage years, I’d noticed counsel to parents in nearly every general conference, including the following:

  • President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) told us that if we would “begin a serious study” of the Book of Mormon, we would “find greater power to resist temptation[,] … the power to avoid deception[,] … [and] the power to stay on the strait and narrow path.”1 So I knew my family would read the Book of Mormon as a family each day.

  • The family proclamation taught that “parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, … to teach them to love and serve one another, [and to] observe the commandments of God[.] … Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.”2

  • President M. Russell Ballard (1928–2023) reminded us that in order to “protect and preserve and strengthen our homes and families in a world pulling so hard in opposite directions,” we had to “be consistent in holding daily family prayer and weekly family home evenings[,] … teach the gospel and basic values in your home[, and] … create meaningful family bonds that give your children an identity stronger than what they can find with their peer group or at school or anyplace else.”3

As a young mother, I interpreted all this instruction to mean that it was my responsibility to save my children. I felt that if I did all these things with my family then my children would be inoculated from temptation and threats to their testimonies.

However, over the last few years as my children have faced increasing threats to their testimonies and some have stopped attending church, I have felt betrayed. I wondered why we didn’t seem to be experiencing President Benson’s promise that my children would be protected with power to resist temptation and deception and to stay on the strait and narrow path.

I approached the April 2022 general conference with a heavy heart. Another child had just informed me that she was struggling with her testimony. I started watching general conference asking the same question later addressed by Elder Adrián Ochoa of the Seventy in his Saturday afternoon talk, “Is the Plan Working?”4 In my mind, I feared it was not.

I prayed to know what I could do to help my children desire to return to church participation. Preferably immediately. Answers came during general conference. But the answers that came were not what I expected.

Three lessons helped me change my heart.

Lesson 1: I can’t earn my children’s way to heaven.

On Sunday morning, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:

“Some misunderstand the promises of God to mean that obedience to Him yields specific outcomes on a fixed schedule. They might think, ‘If I diligently serve a full-time mission, God will bless me with a happy marriage and children’ or ‘If I refrain from doing schoolwork on the Sabbath, God will bless me with good grades’ or ‘If I pay tithing, God will bless me with that job I’ve been wanting.’ If life doesn’t fall out precisely this way or according to an expected timetable, they may feel betrayed by God. But things are not so mechanical in the divine economy. We ought not to think of God’s plan as a cosmic vending machine where we (1) select a desired blessing, (2) insert the required sum of good works, and (3) the order is promptly delivered.

“God will indeed honor His covenants and promises to each of us. We need not worry about that [see Doctrine and Covenants 82:10]. The atoning power of Jesus Christ—who descended below all things and then ascended on high [see Doctrine and Covenants 88:6] and who possesses all power in heaven and in earth [see Matthew 28:18]—ensures that God can and will fulfill His promises. It is essential that we honor and obey His laws, but not every blessing predicated on obedience to law [see Doctrine and Covenants 130:20–21] is shaped, designed, and timed according to our expectations. We do our best but must leave to Him the management of blessings, both temporal and spiritual.”5

I’m sure I had heard similar teachings before, but this time it struck deep into my heart. This time I was ready to hear it, and I needed to hear it.

I was also reminded of an earlier general conference message from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, then the Second Counselor in the First Presidency:

“We cannot earn our way into heaven; the demands of justice stand as a barrier, which we are powerless to overcome on our own.

“But all is not lost.

“The grace of God is our great and everlasting hope. …

“Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God [see Acts 20:28].”6

I knew this. I knew that I couldn’t earn my own way to heaven. But for some reason, I thought my obedience could earn my children’s way to heaven. The more I studied Elder Christofferson’s talk and others, the more I realized that I had been duped by Satan’s lie that my children didn’t need a Savior as long as I was a “perfect parent.” As I studied and reflected on those talks, the Spirit helped me begin to understand that all the work to protect my children against temptation and deception and to shore up their testimonies is essential but does not guarantee my children will stay on the covenant path.

Agency is a crucial part of Heavenly Father’s plan. We are all given the gift of choosing for ourselves, even if that means our children may choose to turn away from what they’ve been taught. Even so, the Lord is always reaching out to His wayward children in love, and as earthly parents we can do the same.

In the October 2018 general conference, Elder Dale G. Renlund taught:

“Though God wants us to be on the covenant path, He gives us the dignity of choosing.

“Indeed, God desires, expects, and directs that each of His children choose for himself or herself. He will not force us. Through the gift of agency, God permits His children ‘to act for themselves and not to be acted upon’ [2 Nephi 2:26].”

I find great comfort in what Elder Renlund said next:

“No matter how long we have been off the path or how far away we have wandered, the moment we decide to change, God helps us return [see Alma 34:31]. From God’s perspective, through sincere repentance and pressing forward with a steadfastness in Christ, once back on the path, it will be as if we were never off. The Savior pays for our sins and frees us from the looming decrease in happiness and blessings.”7

I know that we all need the Savior. This truth brings me profound relief. While it remains my responsibility to teach my children and support them on the covenant path, it is not my job to save myself or my children. That is the Savior’s work, and He is doing it perfectly. It is Heavenly Father’s work and His glory “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). He has a plan of salvation for all of His children. I need to trust in His plan, not my plan. And I’ve been trying to remember that He does keep His promises to protect and strengthen our families. I have faith that He is always inviting my children to come unto Him, and He will comfort and strengthen me as I strive to do the same.

Lesson 2: Waiting upon the Lord can be a sacred place.

A second lesson I learned was from Sister Amy A. Wright, First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency, who spoke immediately following Elder Christofferson. She taught:

“Oftentimes we can find ourselves, like the lame beggar at the gate of the temple, patiently—or sometimes impatiently—‘wait[ing] upon the Lord [Isaiah 40:31].’ Waiting to be healed physically or emotionally. Waiting for answers that penetrate the deepest part of our hearts. Waiting for a miracle.”8

My prayer going into that general conference had been for immediate results. I knew this wasn’t realistic, but I hadn’t anticipated learning lessons about the importance of waiting.

Sister Wright continued: “Waiting upon the Lord can be a sacred place—a place of polishing and refining where we can come to know the Savior in a deeply personal way. Waiting upon the Lord may also be a place where we find ourselves asking, ‘O God, where art thou?’ [Doctrine and Covenants 121:1]—a place where spiritual perseverance requires us to exercise faith in Christ by intentionally choosing Him again and again and again.”9

I have given this concept a lot of thought since that general conference. Learning to wait, to be patient with my children and their choices, and to trust that the Lord is ever seeking after them has required a lot of effort on my part. I wish it were as simple as making the choice one time to believe and then being filled with peace for the rest of my days, as I pray that my children will choose to reach out to the Savior and exercise faith in Him. But it has not been that way for me. Some days it has felt easier to give in to hopelessness and despair, to give up because it may seem like “the plan isn’t working.” It has required great effort and spiritual perseverance to exercise faith and maintain hope in Heavenly Father’s plan when I’m seeing my children make choices that don’t reflect the divine truths I taught them. Yet, every day that I choose hope over despair, I am choosing Him. Again and again and again.

This struggle has brought me closer to God. It has made me turn to Him through prayer. It has focused my scripture study. It has turned me to the temple. Most of all, it has made me immensely grateful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I am so grateful to know that He loves my children and that He gave His life for them.

Learning to wait upon the Lord has become a sacred place for me. It has become a refining experience. Studying these general conference talks and focusing my gospel study has deepened my understanding of doctrine and strengthened my faith. I am learning line upon line, precept upon precept to trust in the Lord and in Heavenly Father’s plan of redemption while still praying that my children will choose to follow Jesus Christ and His gospel. And I am looking forward to the next general conference to add to my learning and my testimony.

Lesson 3: God has provided a way to turn stumbling blocks into stepping-stones.

A third talk that gave me hope that conference was Elder Larry S. Kacher’s. As I have studied this talk, it has taught me powerfully. I have learned that the Lord allows us to experience the complexities of life to help us turn to Him. Elder Kacher taught that “there is simplicity on the other side of life’s complexities as we remain ‘[steadfast] in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope’ [2 Nephi 31:20].

“Part of life’s purpose is to allow these potential stumbling blocks to become stepping-stones as we climb what I call the ‘ladder of faith’—a ladder because it suggests that faith is not static. It can go up or down according to the choices we make.”10

I have grown through this trial of my faith. In my puny wisdom, I want to spare my children from the trials of life. But would I deny my children this same growth? In God’s mighty wisdom, He has provided a path for us to follow, His plan of salvation. As we navigate that path, we encounter challenges that test our faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It is up to us to use our agency to choose to follow Christ in our own ladder of faith, allowing our trials to be stepping-stones rather than stumbling blocks. Elder Kacher reminds us that “our progression is an eternal one.”11

My children’s story is not over. God’s plan of salvation is real, and I need to have faith in His plan and trust in His purpose. As my children continue to exercise their agency, I strive to remember that the Lord will continuously reach out toward them and that He will help them return if they choose to do so. He is mighty to save.

I am finding hope in Proverbs 3:5–6:

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

I am sure there are others experiencing their own trials of faith. Yours may be similar to mine, or you may struggle with different questions. May I suggest that you take your concerns to the Lord before general conference and also through an ongoing study of general conference and the scriptures. Put in the effort to “hear Him,”12 then trust Him to teach you what you need to hear. I know that He loves us and that He has the power to save us and to save our children as we—and they—each individually choose to turn to Him in faith.