Parenting Paradigm: Servants and Friends

This is the fourth and final article in a series about parenting based upon the way God parents the children of the covenant (from the Old Testament to the present day). Please read the other articles first. Little Patriarchs deals with babies and toddlers; Israelites is about kids to around age 12; Independent Disciples corresponds to teenagers. It is important to read them all, even if you only have teenagers because I believe this paradigm is a progression. It won’t really work if you just skip right to the style that is less work and more comfortable as a parent. No matter where you or your children are, love should always be the bedrock. Rules matter. Independence should be earned and then honored. Gracefully transitioning into being a parent of an adult is the scope of this article.

trust them to do good

God is still talking to us. He still has prophets leading His church, even today. This article will use the more recent revelations (given from 1830 to the present). This selection of scriptures was given in 1831, and I think it is an interesting view of how God sees us as we have matured. No more rules for every occassion. No more “feed my sheep” three times. We know what was expected of our ancestors and we build upon it.

26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

29 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.

Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-29

As our Heavenly parent, He doesn’t want to command in all things, and we shouldn’t wait to be commanded. He has given us all the rules in previous generations, now He is asking us to apply them according to our talents and strengths. Think of good things and do them. Amaze and delight our Father with what we come up with.

Parents of adults can adopt the same trust and attitude of being “pleasantly surprised” by the way our children use their talents and knowledge. As our children turn 18 and graduate high school, we need to let them act for themselves. They, too, can do many things of their own free will, and not wait to be commanded. This is probably the biggest step we will ever take as parents. It’s a mentality shift away from the day-to-day parenting and into the role of supporter and encourager. They may goof up big time, but at that point, words of guilt, shame or anger won’t bring them happily back to us; words of love and support will remind them where they ought to be, and how nice it feels to be loved.

Teaching for broad understanding

Christ’s church returned in its fullness to Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1830. Joseph was a prophet just like Abraham, Moses or Elijah. As part of his calling as a prophet, he received new revelations–scriptures. Through Joseph Smith, the Lord intended His people to have a full understanding. His revelations weren’t couched in symbols–like the Israelites, or in parables–like the Disciples. This time, the Lord repeated often that He wanted the Saints to understand.

The Lord gave really in-depth explanations for spiritual creation, the commandments, intelligence, the way heaven will be laid out, more details about the Fall, and a close-up view of Gethesmane. There is an entire section where Joseph Smith asks the Lord questions about the symbols in Revelation and He explains them. Not simple stories, but dense, meaty sentences that you want to stop and chew on until it all comes apart in your mind. He brought it down to our level because He wanted us to understand–There is a humbling amount of respect in His condescension towards us.

Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord, reason with you that you may understand.

Doctrine and Covenants 50:12

45 Verily, I say unto my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., or in other words, I will call you friends, for you are my friends, and ye shall have an inheritance with me—

46 I called you servants for the world’s sake, and ye are their servants for my sake.

Doctrine and Covenants 93:45-46

Adult children thrive with the same sort of understanding. They have lived through the rules, the stories, the memories–now it all comes together for them experientially as they move out and strike out on their own. All of the things you’ve been trying to teach them piecemeal suddenly make sense as part of a great whole called “Independent Life.” Conversations between parents and adult children should aim for understanding; reasoning through big-picture questions and how all of the things you were teaching them as they grew up will benefit them.

I cherish the conversations that I have had with my parents about raising children, gospel topics, canning questions, gardening ideas, and building projects. Everything that they taught me as a child now makes sense in the larger scheme. The conversations are often tangents that wind around and intertwine with other thoughts until the whole discussion becomes a round, dancing, lively thing that increases my understanding of a larger philosophy of living and learning. I take the spirit of that instruction and apply it in a myriad of ways into my life.

Specific advice

The Lord continued to answer their specific questions as they asked them–what about baptism? How should we organize the Church? What should I do as a member of the Church? He answered their questions when they asked Him, and often expounded on the underlying principle to teach in context and for more understanding.

My parents have been amazing at this principle. There are times that I really need specific answers and advise from my wise parents. They have been patient enough to wait for me to ask them, without volunteering it uninvited. This has kept a good spirit of trust and love in our relationship. I’m sure it is difficult for them to keep it inside, but I’ve heard my mom say several times, “That’s why we are here on earth–to learn how to do things. You will figure it out.” I appreciate her faith in us and in the Lord teaching us. Because I am not “commanded in all things” by my parents, I have learned to turn to the Lord to help me solve my problems. I have become independent from my parents as I become more dependent upon the Lord.

Allowing Hard Things

After the church was restored, it grew tremendously and quickly. European immigrants flocked to America to gather with the other Saints and soon the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was a political force to be feared. At least that’s what the mobbers in Illinois and Missouri assumed. They drove the Saints from place to place until finally they left America proper, and went out into the western territories. They sold everything and uprooted their families to go walk across the great plains. But it wasn’t a stroll in nature–the Willie and Martin handcart companies got stuck in early winter storms in Wyoming and had to be rescued. Many of their company members succumbed to the impossible conditions, and the survivors were in really bad shape.

“A man who crossed the plains in the Martin handcart company lived in Utah for many years. One day he was in a group of people who began sharply criticizing the Church leaders for ever allowing the Saints to cross the plains with no more supplies or protection than a handcart company provided. The old man listened until he could stand no more; then he arose and said with great emotion: ‘I was in that company and my wife was in it. . . We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? . . . We came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives, for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.'”

Our Heritage, pg. 78

What is remarkable to me about the whole exodus of the LDS people was that in 1869, the Transcontental Railroad was completed, linking east and west United States together in a pretty effortless journey. The first group of Mormon pioneers reached Salt Lake City in 1847, just 22 years before the railroad; the wagon and handcart companies kept streaming into the valley for the next 25 years. It seems like if the Lord wanted to get them to the Salt Lake Valley more efficiently, He could have done it. Whether by speeding up the railroad process (both sides of the railroad joined up in Utah, for heaven’s sake), or giving the Saints a safe place to wait until it was completed. But the Lord encouraged them to walk. Probably for the reason the survivor of the Martin Handcart company explained–to bring them closer to God. To make them stronger. To provide a shared experience that would unite the ever-growing community. For a myriad of reasons, the hard thing was necessary.

He said as much to Joseph Smith. Joseph was imprisoned in Liberty Jail, the Saints were being mobbed, raped, killed and driven out of their homes. He felt helpless and abandoned, and he prayed to know why all of these horrible things were happening. His answer brought more understanding and comfort to everyone who has read the words since.

My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.

Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8

As our teenagers grow up, they need to be encouraged to do some “walking” too. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints sends missionaries all over the world at age 18 and 19. This is the first of many “hard things” for young adults. Joining the military, going to college, moving out to have their own place, going across the country for training or school, marrying, and raising children. These “hard things” are the springboard into a successful life. Parents should encourage their adult children to go out and be brave. We humans are very smart and very resiliant. Parents need to let them discover their strength.

When I was 19, I spent a summer teaching English in Taiwan. It was literally and figuratively a lot of walking. I recall a rainy summer night, standing in my pajamas at the payphone across the street from my apartment and bawling into the phone. “I am so unhappy here! I want to come home. I hate that I just got ripped off for the new camera I bought. I hate that I can’t speak the language. I hate. . .” just slobbering into the phone. My mom and dad listened. They empathized. Then they said, “You’ll feel better tomorrow. You can do it. I know you can.” It was the best thing for me. It was great to be listened to, and get it off my chest, and to just whine and cry a little. And it was great to not be rescued, but just to be encouraged and built up for the next day’s battle. When I went to Russia as an English teacher, I didn’t have a single “sobbing into the phone” experience. And as a missionary, I felt pure excitement about it–having gotten all of my culture shock out of the way beforehand. I could see myself growing in my hard times. The encouragement they gave me continued and gave me confidence in the harder things ahead.

Coda

These four articles are a paradigm, a new way of seeing things. I’m not saying that they are what the scriptures intend for us to learn–just my interpretation of them. In thinking about parenting and how God parents us, it has opened my eyes to how God can treat the various groups of people differently in the scriptures, and yet be an unchanging God. He is a parent and He knows exactly what each group of people needs in order to gather us all home as He intended. He loves us in all of our messy and disobedient times and we ought to emulate what a loving parent does in these various life stages. It’s not always easy, kind or pretty, but at the root of it all, there is an endless amount of love.

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