Even with our pure motives and diligent efforts to improve, I have noticed a disturbing trend among us parents. Too many of us say we want to improve and change but only if it fits into our paradigm, assumptions, upbringing, traditions, experiences, and so forth. Out of all the parenting advice out there the number one thing you can do for your children is to seek truth and then parent accordingly. It will be the hardest thing you will ever do. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf put it this way:
Part of the reason for poor judgment comes from the tendency of mankind to blur the line between belief and truth. We too often confuse belief with truth, thinking that because something makes sense or is convenient, it must be true. Conversely, we sometimes don’t believe truth or reject it—because it would require us to change or admit that we were wrong.
Let me share a few of the many ways in which this occurs (you will hopefully see a fair amount of overlap).
I Turned Out OK
Every semester I hear the same thing from several students who challenge a parenting idea that they personally disagree with. They may take issue with the fact that traditional time-outs or bribes are counterproductive to character building. Or that you don’t have to punish to discipline a child. The rebuttal comes in many shapes and sizes but regardless how it is phrased, it ultimately comes down to “But my parents did ____________ with me growing up (fill in the blank) and I turned out OK!”
Even if we don’t say it or think it, we’ve probably fallen victim to this philosophy more than once. Research and common sense have made it pretty clear that—for better or for worse—the way we were raised will be the primary source for how we will raise our children. Too often these built-in biases go undetected and “shape the quality of our societies as well as our individual characters” (President Uchtdorf).
Before I go further, I need to offer two important disclaimers:
1. I believe that the majority of parents love their children.
2. Parents are doing their very best with what they know.
However, while most parents are well-intentioned, we all have room to improve. Examining our parenting practices is an essential aspect of growing as a parent.
Conscious & Unconscious Traditions
In her book For Your Own Good, the psychoanalyst, Dr. Alice Miller observed: “Many people continue to pass on [false ideas, unhealthy attitudes and parenting practices] to which they were subjects as children, so that they can continue to idealize their parents.”
She goes on to say that we have a powerful, unconscious need to believe that everything our parents did to us was based in love, informed, and in our best interest, so we do the same things to our kids to ensure the truth of our assumptions.
However, the Lord rebuked the early leaders of the LDS church because they had “not brought up their children in light and truth” due to “the [false] tradition of their fathers” (D&C 93:39-40). Traditions can be a powerful source of teaching and unity within a family. However, if they are not rooted in truth they can do untold damage. In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye had to confront the wisdom in his own traditions.
Another related barrier to accepting truth is the almighty power of personal experience. In the documentary, Minds of Our Own, recent electrical engineering graduates of an Ivy League school could not solve a basic electrical problem in trying to light a light bulb. The reason is simple: their personal experiences and assumptions had overridden 4 years of training and they were unwilling—consciously or not—to let go of them.
Frankly, I get a little worn out from debating with students who refute truth because it doesn’t fit into their personal experiences. Even more frankly, although this is a natural man tendency we all share, it is a bit egotistical. Again from President Uchtdorf:
“All too often the ‘truths’ [we hold on to] are based on incomplete and inaccurate evidence, and at times they serve very selfish motives.”
“Often, truth is rejected because it doesn’t appear to be consistent with previous experiences. When the opinions or ‘truths’ of others contradict our own, instead of considering the possibility that there could be information that might be helpful and augment or complement what we know, we often jump to conclusions or make assumptions that the other person is misinformed, mentally challenged, or even intentionally trying to deceive.”
“Unfortunately, this tendency can spread to all areas of our lives—from sports to family relationships.”
What to Ask Yourself
I get the “I turned out OK” challenge so often from students and parents that I now bring it up before they do. I tell them that if they are tempted to use this argument, they should first seriously reflect on 5 questions:
1. How am I defining “OK”?
2. Am I really “OK” and could I have been better than “OK”?
3. Don’t I want better than “OK” for my children?
4. Did I turn out “OK” in spite of rather than because of certain traditions?
5. If I am willing to dismiss research and doctrine because of my own biases, am I really as “OK” as I think?
If we really want to become the parents our children need and God wants us to become, we have to be willing to throw out pride, tradition, or personal experiences that are not based in truth. That is the challenge! Truth is our barometer and nothing else.
The prophet Alma explained that if we harden our heart—consciously or not—we will “receive the lesser portion of the word” about parenting (Alma 12:9-11). We raise our children to live more within God’s laws than our laws.
This quote from A Parent’s Guide—a phenomenal resource produced by the LDS church—sums it up:
A righteous parent gives and explains the laws of the Lord to his children. Through prayerful study of the scriptures and the writings of the living prophets, you can come to know and understand the laws of God. Inquiries of the Lord through prayer will enable you to know how to reach the heart of your child with the truth of the Lord’s laws. Prayer is the parent’s as well as the child’s avenue of communication with our Heavenly Father. With careful, attentive effort, in prayer and study, a parent is more likely to apply the Lord’s laws appropriately. Parents should do all they can to ensure that what they require of their children is in accordance with His laws.
Truly we can be hardening our heart and resisting the change that we need most and may not even be aware of it.
So I have to ask a question:
Are we causing unnecessary problems because we fail to see things as they really are?
In Alma 32 there those who were compelled to be humble and those who are humbled because of the word. Let us choose to feast on the word to discover truths we need. If you “humble [yourself] and call upon the Lord” (D&C 136:32-33)—“with real intent” (Moroni 10:4)—the Spirit will show you your parenting philosophies and practices “as they really are” (Jacob 4:13).
I promise you will be given the direction and correction you need “as fast as [you] are able to receive [it]” (D&C 111:11). Stay tuned for more good things to come!