Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lessons on parenting

Sometimes themes emerge in my life. Recently several areas of my life have converged to teach me a couple of lessons on parenting.

I have seven children, and just the youngest two are at home. One is a teenager and the other is right on the cusp of that turbulent period. You'd think by now I'd have this parenting of teenagers down, but one lesson I learned long ago is that each one is different and it takes some time to learn the individual approach required.

In conference I heard two talks that hit me in the eyes as a father. First (in the order it impressed me, not the order given) was Elder Lawrence's talk on courageous parenting. In it he suggested that parents who have misgivings about their children's choices should express those misgivings. But it was the subtlety of a story he told that really impressed me:

Years ago our 17-year-old son wanted to go on a weekend trip with his friends, who were all good boys. He asked for permission to go. I wanted to say yes, but for some reason I felt uncomfortable about the trip. I shared my feelings with my wife, who was very supportive. “We need to listen to that warning voice,” she said.

Of course, our son was disappointed and asked why we didn’t want him to go. I answered honestly that I didn’t know why. “I just don’t feel good about it,” I explained, “and I love you too much to ignore these feelings inside.” I was quite surprised when he said, “That’s OK, Dad. I understand.”
What impressed me is that he expressed his concern for his son without a rule, without citing a higher authority (or demanding deference to himself as the authority). He simply told his son that he didn't feel good about the decision.

The second conference talk that hit me was Elder Uceda's in the priesthood session, in which he told of a father who demanded compliance with his plan for family scripture study. The father, after his daughter ran from the room, did two things that were impressive to me. First, he prayed, acknowledging to the Lord his error in the way he spoke to his child. Then he humbly apologized to the child. It may seem too much a coincidence that the child was also ready to apologize and seek her father's forgiveness, but I'm not at all surprised by that. The father was humble enough in his apology to accept his daughter's reading about the natural man as applying to him when the daughter intended it for herself.

That prayerful humility is powerful.

The third lesson came from Sister Sylvia Allred, First Counselor in the General Relief Society presidency. She spoke at an Interfaith event sponsored by my company last week about strengthening families. After reviewing the pressure on families' time in recent years (citing a time-diary study from the University of Michigan using data from 1981 and 1997) she reiterated (without explicitly saying so) the lessons of Elder Oaks' "good, better, best" principle of priority setting in the use of scare family time. And, among other things, she urged the audience (which included people of many faiths) to have dinner with their families. That simple act of eating together would, she said, contribute to family unity, allow for conversation, and help improve family diets.

Having missed dinner at home a few times in the past two weeks, I know that I have missed that interaction with my children.

Listening for the promptings of the spirit, prayerfully and humbly seeking reconciliation when needed, and spending quality time together – what great and simple lessons for parents, especially for me.


  1. Thanks for sharing the conference parenting advice. Good stuff.

  2. That's cool that Sister Allred spoke to your company. How did that come about?

  3. I don't know the exact chain of events, but our Interfaith Network has sponsored a number of these "strengthening the family" events in recent years. The head of our interfaith group is our former stake president, and I assume he was looking for an LDS speaker who could come. Sister Allred's son also works for our company, so I suspect he was part of the deal. Her visit was co-sponsored by our interfaith network, our Hispanic network and our Parenting network, so I assume they all chipped in to pay her plane ticket.

    She agreed to come on the condition that she could also conduct training for the RS leadership in the four stakes in our area.

    She was quite impressive and also well received.

  4. Thanks for this entry. I know i'm not a mother to any teenagers yet, but David and I decided before having kids that having dinner together will be a priority. I know it definitely brings the families together.

    I have a teenage sister at home that I'm taking care and this reminded me how I should correct her and teach her. Thanks a lot, Uncle Paul!

  5. Cassie, thanks for your comment! I think what works for teens works in a lot of our family communications. It's just that teens make so clear that they will exercise their agency it can be a little scary to parents to strike the right balance.

  6. Great talks all three. All three have also impressed me. I am the father of nine children. Only the two oldest are teenagers. They are wonderful and turbulent.

    What a wise Father in Heaven we have in allowing us to be fathers.

  7. Rich, thanks for your commment. Yes, Father in Heaven is wise, and sometimes, I think, he has a pretty healthy sense of humor...