Sunday, April 1, 2012

Seven Principles of Parenting

As I have read and studied the assigned readings for Parenting, I have come to realize that nearly every principle taught from these books falls under the broad umbrella of charity. As latter day saints, we know that one of the main purposes of this life is to develop charity. I believe that parenthood is a divine calling, and one that will almost inevitably motivate the development of charity. In Moroni 7, we read, 

"And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, and endureth all things . . . for charity never faileth . . . but charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever;" 

This scripture reminds me exactly of what a parent should be. In fact, I think it would be appropriate to say, "And [a good parent] suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity . . . "

As this scripture is the basis of what a good parent should be, I have chosen to highlight seven points from it.

1. A good parent is patient. Although children bring so much happiness into our lives, there is no doubt that, at some point, any normal parent will feel inadequate, frustrated, annoyed, and hopeless. I can imagine that these emotions are normal, however, we should try to remember that some things take time. Your child will not become a happy responsible adult all at once. It is a process, and one that takes continuity and consistency. We can do this by taking the perspective of the child. Alfie Kohn stated in his book, Unconditional Parenting, "Perspective taking makes us more patient with children's moods. When we see the world as they see it, we're more likely to respond with kindness and respect than if we were just looking in from the outside" (Kohn, p. 206-207).
     Alma 7:23 reads, "And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering;" It is vital that we be patient with our children, especially when they are young and still learning. Give them time, and teach them in the moment, and slowly they will begin to understand the principles behind the applications. They will be more understanding of you, and you will be more understanding of them. 

2. A good parent is kind. This is such a simple thing, yet so important in building and maintaining a good relationship with your child. We read in Laurence Steinberg's book, The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting, "Give [your child] the same courtesies you would give anyone else. Speak to him politely. Respect his opinion. Pay attention when he is speaking to you. Treat him kindly. Try to please him when you can. Don't worry-- you can do all of these things and still maintain your authority as the parent" (Sterinberg, p. 182). Each person deserves to be treated with respect, no matter their age. As children learn how it feels to be treated with respect, they will be more likely treat others in the same way. They will understand the importance of kindness, and in effect, they will treat you and others with more respect.  
     Ephesians 4: 29-32 says, "Let no corrupt communication proceed our of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers . . . let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another." 

3. A good parent is humble. Today in general conference, Elder Larry Y. Wilson of the 70 gave a talk on the importance of righteous dominion over our families. He made the point that unrighteous dominion (constant control of others, withholding of love, relentless criticism, and all decision making power) is an easy trap to fall into. Be cautious. Don't deprive your children of learning experiences. Let them exercise agency. They will make mistakes, but they will learn with them. It might be hard to stand back and watch your children do things differently than you would do them, however, this is how they grow. Steinberg explains, "To be a good parent, you must accept that there are things in your child's life that you cannot control" (p. 61).  
     It is important for parents to be open to their children's criticism. Steinberg continues, "Acknowledging one's errors or misjudgments is a sign of maturity. If you behave stubbornly as a parent, it's hard to see why your child should behave any differently" (p. 173). Alma 32:13 says, "And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye;" A wise parent will work towards the development of humility.

4. A good parent is mindful. Steinberg clarifies, "By 'mindful' parenting, I mean parenting that is intentional, where the consequences of your actions toward your child are the ones you've actually intended, rather than those that just happened by chance" (10). The lessons you teach your child should be heartfelt and spontaneous, they should never be haphazard or random. In Deuteronomy 11:29, we read, "And ye shall teach them your children, speaking unto them when thou sitteth in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." We cannot be mindful parents if we never take the time to talk with out children. We should know them deeply. We should know their friends, their interests, their quarks. We can only be mindful parents if we make deeply knowing our children a priority.   

5. A good parent is not easily provoked. A good parent is merciful. A parent who focuses on justice says, "you made a mistake, and because of that, you need to be punished." A merciful parent says, "you made a mistake, but I understand that you are still learning. Let me help you learn why what you did is wrong." It is at this point that a parent might even consider altering their expectations. Of course parents should hold their children to high standards, but remember, it's necessary to be humble enough to realize when these expections might be too high. Steinberg reminds us, "What is obvious to you may not be evident to [your child]. He doesn't have the priorities, judgment, or experience that you have . . . Children of all ages, even when they have reached adolescence, need a lot of specific direction" (p. 160-161). By being merciful, we can pick our battles and teach our children to do the same. By being merciful, we can avoid contention in the home. 
     3 Nephi 11:29 reads, "For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend one with another." 

6. A good parent rejoiceth not in iniquity. Our children will make mistakes. When it is possible, we, as parents, should try our hardest not to dwell on these mistakes. Kohn states, "Some parents talk about 'choice' not in the context of allowing kids to have more say but rather as a way of blaming them for deliberately deciding to do something bad" (p. 177). We should realize that children rarely choose bad things on purpose. Steinberg reiterates this point when he says, "Avoid turning the [mistake] into a failure experience for him and don't dwell on what went wrong. Focus instead on what went right and help him figure out what he might have done differently or better" (p. 163).  
     I believe it will be easier for us to do this if we remember the mercy and unconditional love that has been extended to us from our caring Heavenly Father. In Alma 29:10, we are reminded, "Do I remember what the Lord has done for me . . . do I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me?" I think we should always keep this in mind as the perfect example of how to handle our children when they make mistakes. Love them unconditionally, and make that point obvious to them. Help them through it, don't make their misery worse than it needs to be.

7. A good parent endureth all things. Children can bring so much joy, so much pain, heartache, laughter, and love into a home. It would be unreasonable and unrealistic to expect a parent to enjoy each moment of parenting. However, parents should strive to see the wonderful in the moment. Let children act their age, even if it means you have a messy house. Let them experience things for themselves, even if it means you have to watch them struggle for a time. Let them grow up, but don't push them too fast. Get to know them on a deep personal level. And make sure that they know they are unconditionally loved every step of the way. Steinberg explains that "your relationship with your child is the foundation for her relationships with others." This reminds me of a quote from President Gordon B. Hinckley that states, "Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured." Though there will be moments to endure as a parent, there will also be many beautiful moments that should be fully recognized and enjoyed for what they are. 

I know that if we apply these seven principles to our parenting, then our children will "find it easier to make friends. They will find it easier to be successful in school and at work. They will find it easier to have a happy marriage. And they will find it easier to be a better parent to their own children" (Steinberg, p. 192). Parenting is the most divine calling we will ever have on this earth, and it is something that should be taken seriously. As we live righteously and apply principles and doctrines to our lives, our children will begin to understand those doctrines and principles, and will have a real desire to live by them. 

Parenting is a gift, and we should view it as such.