Teachings of Presidents
Chapter 16: The Noble Calling of Parents

“Chapter 16: The Noble Calling of Parents,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay (2011), 152–61

“Chapter 16,” Teachings: David O. McKay, 152–61

Chapter 16

The Noble Calling of Parents

Protect your children. Guide them … through the example of a kind father, a loving mother.1


President David O. McKay often expressed appreciation for his parents and their influence in his life: “From [my father] I learned the lessons of work and worship which apply to the moral and spiritual activities as well as the immediate, temporal things. Whatever duty we assume, whatever task, we must do it and give our best to it.

“My mother’s beautiful example has always remained with me also—her gentleness and patience and sincerity.”2

President McKay in turn had a powerful influence as a loving father. When one of his sons, David Lawrence, was a young boy, he accompanied his father in a horse-drawn carriage. “We forded a swollen river in a thunderstorm,” David Lawrence later recalled, “and got caught between that river and a mountain torrent. I thought the end of the world had come, and started to cry. Father held me on his lap in his arms all night until we were rescued in the morning. It’s hard to disobey a man who loves you and puts his arms around you.”3

David Lawrence remembered that David O. and Emma Ray McKay made their expectations clear to their children and that they, as parents, “were so self-disciplined that we were never confused by seeing them behave in a way different from the way we were supposed to behave. … Our parents’ expectations provided the path for us to follow, and our love for them provided an irresistible motivation for us to walk that path. We learned to love them because they first dearly loved each other and us.”4

President McKay’s example and counsel to Latter-day Saint parents demonstrated his understanding of their important influence and reflected his conviction that “no other success can compensate for failure in the home.”5

Teachings of David O. McKay

Parents have a divine responsibility to care for and guide their children.

A newborn babe is the most helpless creature in the world. The protecting care of parenthood is essential to its survival, as well as its growth. … Our most precious possessions, our treasures of eternity, are our children. These merit and should receive our greatest and our most constant care and guidance. …

The bringing of children into the world bears with it great responsibilities and opens to view the noblest purpose of life, namely, a co-partnership with deity “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.)6

The Father of all mankind expects parents, as his representatives, to assist him in shaping and guiding human lives and immortal souls. That is the highest assignment which the Lord can bestow upon man.7

Parenthood … should be held as a sacred obligation. There is something in the depths of the human soul which revolts against neglectful parenthood. God has implanted deep in the souls of parents the truth that they cannot with impunity shirk the responsibility to protect childhood and youth.

There seems to be a growing tendency to shift this responsibility from the home to outside influences, such as the school and the church. Important as these outward influences are, they never can take the place of the influence of the mother and the father. Constant training, constant vigilance, companionship, being watchmen of our own children are necessary in order to keep our homes intact.8

The inspiration of God is seen in requiring the Latter-day Saints to keep their homes intact and to teach their children the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.” This command from the Lord, given to us in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 68, verse 28, leaves no question as to the responsibility of parents to teach their children—a responsibility too frequently shifted to the shoulders of the Church, public schools, and officers of the law.9

Three groups carry the responsibility of training children: First, the family; second, the Church; third, the state. The most important of these is the family. By divine edict the Lord has placed upon parents the responsibility, first to teach the doctrine of repentance; second, faith in Christ, the Son of the living God; third, baptism and confirmation; fourth, to teach children to pray; fifth, to teach children to walk uprightly before the Lord [see D&C 68:25–28]. Parents who shirk this responsibility will have to answer for the sin of neglect.10

The greatest trust that can come to a man and woman is the placing in their keeping the life of a little child. If a man defaults who is entrusted with other people’s funds, whether he be a bank, municipal, or state official, he is apprehended and probably sent to prison. If a person entrusted with a government secret discloses that secret, and betrays his country, he is called a traitor. What must the Lord think, then, of parents who, through their own negligence or wilful desire to indulge their selfishness, fail properly to rear their children, and thereby prove untrue to the greatest trust that has been given to human beings? In reply the Lord has said: “… the sin be upon the heads of the parents.” (D&C 68:25.)11

There is nothing temporary in the home of the Latter-day Saints. There is no element of transitoriness in the family relationship. To the Latter-day Saint the home is truly the basic unit of society; and parenthood is next to Godhood. The secret of good citizenship lies in the home. The secret of instilling faith in God, faith in his Son, the Redeemer of the world, faith in the organizations of the Church, lies in the home. There it is centered. God has placed upon parents the responsibility of instilling these principles into the minds of children. Our schools, our Church organizations, and some worthy social institutions are all helps in the upbuilding and guidance of the youth, but none of these—great and important as they are in the lives of our youth—can supplant the permanence and the influence of the parents in the home.12

Mothers can have a powerful influence for good on their children.

One of the greatest needs in the world today is intelligent, conscientious motherhood. …

Motherhood is the greatest potential influence either for good or ill in human life. The mother’s image is the first that stamps itself on the unwritten page of the young child’s mind. It is her caress that first awakens a sense of security; her kiss the first realization of affection; her sympathy and tenderness the first assurance that there is love in the world.13

The noblest calling in the world is motherhood. True motherhood is the most beautiful of all arts, the greatest of all professions. She who can paint a masterpiece, or who can write a book that will influence millions, deserves the admiration and plaudits of mankind; but she who rears successfully a family of healthy, beautiful sons and daughters, whose immortal souls will exert an influence throughout the ages long after paintings shall have faded, and books and statues shall have decayed or have been destroyed, deserves the highest honor that man can give, and the choicest blessings of God.14

Mothers sow the seeds in childhood that determine to a great extent life’s harvests in adulthood. A mother who instills into the souls of her children respect for one another and love for motherhood and fatherhood, renders a great service to the Church and to humanity in general. Children from such homes go out into the world as good citizens—citizens who will render the service which their parents have rendered, to fight the battles which their fathers and mothers have fought. …

Motherhood is the one thing in all the world which most truly exemplifies the God-given virtues of creating and sacrificing. Though it carries the woman close to the brink of death, motherhood also leads her into the very realm of the fountains of life, and makes her co-partner with the Creator in bestowing upon eternal spirits mortal life.

All through the years of babyhood, childhood, and youth, yes, even after her girls themselves become mothers and her sons become fathers, the mother tenderly, lovingly sacrifices for them her time, her comfort, her pleasures, her needed rest and recreation, and, if necessary, health and life itself. No language can express the power and beauty and heroism of a mother’s love. …

… Among my most precious soul-treasures is the memory of Mother’s prayers by the bedside, of her affectionate touch as she tucked the bed clothes around my brother and me and gave each a loving, goodnight kiss. We were too young and roguish then to appreciate fully such devotion, but not too young to know that Mother loved us.

It was this realization of Mother’s love, with a loyalty to the precepts of an exemplary father, which more than once during fiery youth turned my steps from the precipice of temptation.15

No nobler work in this world can be performed by any mother than to rear and love the children with whom God has blessed her. That is her duty.16

Fathers should take an active part in rearing their children.

One evening, about five o’clock, four brethren were riding down Main Street [in Salt Lake City, Utah] in an automobile. Just as they passed First South Street, they heard a little plaintive cry, “Papa! Papa! Papa! wait.” The father was the driver, and his ready ear recognized his son’s voice. He brought the machine instantly to a standstill. As the men looked out, they saw coming out of that bustling, jostling crowd of humanity, a little nine-year-old boy, out of breath, panting, crying, because of his effort to overtake the machine. …

The father said, “Why, where have you been, my son?”

“I have been looking for you.”

“Well, did you leave the place where we agreed to meet?”

“Yes, I went up to see where you were.”

The boy understood that they were to meet in front of the Tabernacle. The father evidently meant to meet the child farther down the street. Through this misunderstanding the son had become separated from his parent, and the little child was thrown into that vast throng, unprotected.

I believe that illustrates the keynote of warning that has been sounded frequently. Fathers, is there a misunderstanding between you and your sons? Is there one wandering amidst the throngs of life, surrounded by all kinds of temptations, and you expecting to meet him at an appointed place which he does not know? He may not come out from that throng and cry, “Father, Father!” and if he should, your ears might be deaf to that call, because of the concentration of your mind upon the affairs of life. So you might speed by him and leave him in the midst of evil, to find his own way home. Take your sons with you along this road of life, that you may have them with you in that eternal home where there is everlasting peace and contentment.17

The father who, because of business or political or social responsibilities, fails to share with his wife the responsibilities of rearing his sons and daughters is untrue to his marital obligations, is a negative element in what might and should be a joyous home atmosphere, and is a possible contributor to discord and delinquency.18

Parents should lovingly teach obedience and reverence.

Reverence and obedience to law should begin at home. Indeed, too much emphasis cannot be laid upon the responsibility of parents to teach their children reverence for God in all things sacred, and to honor and uphold the law.19

Obedience is heaven’s first law, and it is the law of the home. There can be no true happiness in the home without obedience—obedience obtained, not through physical force, but through the divine element of love. There is no home without love. You may have a palace and yet not have a home, and you may live in a log house with a dirt roof, and a dirt floor, and have there the most glorious home in all the world, if within those four log walls there permeates the divine principle of love, [which creates] that blessed obedience and compliance that makes life worth while.20

There have been rampant some wild theories about the self-determination of children, and the preservation of their individuality. Some of these theorists believe that children should be permitted to solve their own problems without guidance from parents. There is some virtue in this, but there is more error. …

… The child should learn that there are limits to his actions, that there are certain bounds beyond which he cannot pass with impunity. This conformity to home conditions can be easily obtained with kindness, but with firmness. “Train the child the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” [See Proverbs 22:6.]21

Youth [need] guidance, direction, and proper restraint. “Let thy child’s first lesson be obedience, and the second will be what thou wilt,” said Benjamin Franklin. … The child should learn early that the world is not created for him alone; that he has an obligation to others. …

Parents, too, have a responsibility in this training not to provoke children to wrath [see Ephesians 6:4]. They should be considerate not to irritate by vexatious commands or place unreasonable blame. Whenever possible they should give encouragement rather than remonstrance or reproof.22

Parental example is a powerful force in the lives of children.

There is a responsibility upon all, and especially upon fathers and mothers, to set examples to children and young people worthy of imitation. Parents must be sincere in upholding law and upholding the priesthood in their homes, that children may see a proper example.23

It is the duty of parents and of the Church not only to teach but also to demonstrate to young people that living a life of truth and moral purity brings joy and happiness, while violations of moral and social laws result only in dissatisfaction, sorrow, and, when carried to extreme, in degradation.24

It is our duty as adults and [our children’s] parents to set them a proper example in the home and in society. It is our responsibility to impress our children with our sincerity in our belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Never should parents teach one thing about the gospel and do another. Children are very susceptible to insincerity.25

The family gives to the child his name and standing in the community. A child wants his family to be as good as those of his friends. He wants to be able to point with pride to his father, and to feel an inspiration always as he thinks of his mother.26

God help us to defend the truth—better than that, to live it, to exemplify it in our homes. … God give you power so to have that influence, that your children may be true to the last, to death if necessary, to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.27

Let us be more determined to make [righteous] homes, to be kinder husbands, more thoughtful wives, more exemplary to our children, determined that in our homes we are going to have just a little taste of heaven here on this earth.28

Suggestions for Study and Discussion

  • What are the roles of parents in God’s plan “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life” of His children? (See pages 154–56.) How do fathers and mothers share the responsibility for bringing up children in righteousness? (See pages 156–58.)

  • Why should parents make their children and the home their main priority? What kinds of influences or activities compete for family time together? How can parents keep activities outside the home in proper perspective? Why is it important to involve all family members in these decisions?

  • What special relationship should exist between a mother and her children? (See pages 156–57.) In what unique ways can mothers influence their children for good?

  • What can fathers do to take an active part in rearing their children? (See pages 157–58.) What blessings can come to fathers and children as they spend time together?

  • What are some effective ways for parents to teach children obedience and reverence? (See pages 158–59.) Why is love such an important part of this effort? What can parents do when children choose to disobey and become wayward?

  • What is the effect on children when parents “teach one thing about the gospel and do another”? How have you seen parental example influence children in positive ways? (See pages 159–60.)

  • In what ways can we help single parents who are striving to raise their children in righteousness?

  • Why do you think the Lord has placed the responsibilities of parenthood above all other responsibilities? Why is it important to understand that the home is the basic unit of the Church? What similarities do you see between President McKay’s teachings on the family and “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”?

Related Scriptures: Colossians 3:20–21; 1 Nephi 1:1; 1 Nephi 8:35–38; Enos 1:1–3; Alma 56:41–48


  1. In Conference Report, Oct. 1967, 97.

  2. Secrets of a Happy Life, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay (1960), xii.

  3. Quoted in John J Stewart, Remembering the McKays (1970), 30.

  4. David Lawrence McKay, My Father, David O. McKay (1989), 99; paragraphing altered.

  5. Quoted from J. E. McCulloch, Home: The Savior of Civilization (1924), 42; in Conference Report, Apr. 1935, 116.

  6. In Conference Report, Oct. 1954, 8–9.

  7. In Conference Report, Apr. 1955, 27.

  8. In Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 7.

  9. In Conference Report, Apr. 1966, 107.

  10. In Conference Report, Oct. 1954, 8.

  11. In Conference Report, Apr. 1955, 25–26.

  12. Stepping Stones to an Abundant Life, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay (1971), 358.

  13. True to the Faith: From the Sermons and Discourses of David O. McKay, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay (1966), 167–68.

  14. Pathways to Happiness, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay (1957), 116.

  15. Man May Know for Himself: Teachings of President David O. McKay, comp. Clare Middlemiss (1967), 262–65.

  16. In Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 81.

  17. Gospel Ideals (1953), 489–90.

  18. In Conference Report, Apr. 1965, 7.

  19. In Conference Report, Apr. 1937, 30.

  20. In Conference Report, June 1919, 78.

  21. In Conference Report, Apr. 1955, 27.

  22. In Conference Report, Apr. 1959, 73.

  23. In Conference Report, Oct. 1927, 12.

  24. In Conference Report, Apr. 1967, 6.

  25. In Conference Report, Apr. 1960, 120.

  26. In Conference Report, Apr. 1945, 143.

  27. In Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 97.

  28. In Conference Report, Apr. 1952, 128.