The Eyres and host Eric Huntsman were discussing the fact that our kids come to us not as a lump of clay just for us to mold, but that they bring genetic elements and (according to our LDS belief) they also bring something of who they were in the premortal existence. As Linda Eyre said, they come as who they are.
This principle is important when we think about those families who have apparently perfect children and parents who seem to take credit for their children’s perfection. Richard told this story:
We were in a Sunday School class once where we were visiting. No one knew us. And it was on parenting. And, uh, there was one guy there who, bless his heart, he just was a know-it-all. You know, he had all the answers and he just kept bragging, and he’d say, “Well the way we did it with my son the valedictorian and the quarterback…” and then he’d give some thing, you know. This happened maybe ten times during the class, and you just got the impression that all his kids were perfect and he was perfect and blah, blah, blah, and I knew it was bothering people.
And then, at the very end of the class a little fellow who hadn’t said a word got called on and he stood up and addressed this guy that had all the answers. I’ll never forget what he said, Eric. He said, “Excuse me, sir, but God must not have thought too much of you, sending you all those easy kids.”
I loved this story. It reminded me that as parents we do have a role to teach and guide our children as best we can. But in the end, our children will make choices and they own those choices, their parents do not.
Years ago I read an article in which Martin Sheen was telling how he had at the time intervened in his son Charlie’s life. At the time (this was years ago, not the most recent binge of Charlie Sheen weirdness), Martin did something to move Charlie toward recovery from his addictions. Charlie subsequently said his father had saved his life. Martin corrected that thought: He said he did not save his son. Charlie saved himself. Charlie owned his recovery.
I believe that we should neither take responsibility for our children’s mistakes, nor credit for their successes. Of course we can mourn with them when they fail. And we can celebrate with them when they succeed. But it is their failure and their success, not ours as parents.
To be sure, environment is an important element in rearing our children – both the environment of our home and the world in which we live.
Elder Packer has said:
The measure of our success as parents, however, will not rest solely on how our children turn out. That judgment would be just only if we could raise our families in a perfectly moral environment, and that now is not possible.
It is not uncommon for responsible parents to lose one of their children, for a time, to influences over which they have no control. They agonize over rebellious sons or daughters. They are puzzled over why they are so helpless when they have tried so hard to do what they should (Ensign, May 1992, p 68).
He goes on to speak of the power of the sealing ordinance eternally to help our children find their way home.
I believe this concept serves as a comfort and a warning to parents.
If we acknowledge that our children are each unique spirit children of loving heavenly parents, then part of our role as parents is to understand them for who they are (something the Eyres also advocate). And part of our role is to influence them in ways they will understand. And to provide alternatives to the evil influences of the world.
If, however, we seek to force our children into our mold of what we believe they should be, ignoring who they are to begin with, then we are, in my view, violating the principles of Doctrine & Covenants 121:
…when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved… (D&C 84:37).When, on the other hand, we succeed at recognizing who our children are, when we influence them with love and kindness, teaching them well, even if they take paths divergent from ours, we may know the blessings of Section 121:
…thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever. (v.48, emphasis added).