When parenting our teenagers I used to ask myself: Am I doing enough to prepare them for the challenges ahead? Is our family prayer and scripture study making a difference, when their body language doesn’t always evidence it? Am I loving them unconditionally, teaching them effectively, laughing with them agreeably, and modeling behavior commendably? Consider this example of how our efforts really DO make a difference, even when we can’t measure them immediately from external cues. “People are like hyacinth bulbs. All we can do is make a good place for them to grow, but each person is responsible for doing his own growing in his own time” (Torey Hayden). Sometimes growth is a very silent thing, like what happens when we store hyacinth bulbs in the refrigerator waiting for the planting season. It doesn’t look like growth is taking place at all. Our children are like that. We can’t always tell growth is happening, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t. In fact, providing a milieu of respect, love, and learning in the home is the perfect soil for development. Silent, imperceptible growth is taking place deep inside which will one day unfold into lovely blossoms. Our children will learn from what they see in the examples around them, how much they feel our love, what they hear, and what they experience as we teach and model correct principles.
We were standing in the wind, rain, and cold at the end of a long queue to tour the Payson Temple open house on the busiest of days. Three teenage girls in front of us were shivering in short sleeves and bare legs—jumping up and down to generate heat. Finally, one girl said to her friends, “Ok, guys—enough of acting wimpy. We’ve gotta be tough. We can do this!” It made me smile—because I think she had heard these words many times before. Good parents teach their children to do hard things. They teach them to work, to endure, and to be “tough.” In this context, “tough” means to weather the storm instead of quitting. It means—no whimpering allowed! But how do parents teach this important skill when it’s our natural instinct to swoop down and pluck a child from distress? It’s a delicate balance to minister compassion while giving challenging responsibilities and accountability. A child will gain confidence when a parent says, “You can do this!” instead of rescuing. Does the Savior rescue us from every distress? No. He allows us to grow as we push through hard things, although He guides us to the finish line. He cheers us on and enables us to do what we could not do on our own. When our children were young, we gave them tasks to perform. If they complained—another task was immediately added, without scolding. Lessons were learned quickly this way. I want to be able to say these words at the end of each day: “I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).
Here’s a little parenting tip that I learned years ago about talking to teens. At age 14, our son had very few words to share in conversation. He kept a lot inside. Then gradually things began to change. It was during our long commutes in the car to school, work, and activities while building our new home. My initial attempts to spark conversation failed because I peppered him with too many questions. He felt interrogated, and his answers were brief, usually one or two words. It was obvious that the kind of communication I wanted was more than a volley of questions and answers. So I shifted gears. I decided to share my struggles, hopes, victories and even failures—and what I was learning from them. At first I was doing most of the talking. But as I entrusted my innermost feelings into his safe-keeping—he gradually began to reciprocate. He told me about his struggles and victories, even his failures—and what he learned from them. We responded to each other with empathy and support as friends navigating a difficult world. The car is like a cocoon that can provide intimate communication. Not long after, while tucking him in bed at night, he said, “Mom, I can tell you everything.” Then he quickly qualified it. “Well, almost everything.” In the many years since that time, we have continued to share freely with each other “almost everything.” Now a father of six, our son makes a conscious effort to continue the tradition of talking openly with his children. They have learned to value conversation and unplug from electronics. Talking builds relationships. Unplug. Utilize time in the car for real communicating.
Our main role as parents is to teach our children. But how do we teach them most effectively? We know the lecture format doesn’t work very well. Our monologues are tuned out as we drone on and on. During His mortal sojourn, Jesus Christ modeled for parents, many instructive methods, such as teaching as He went—walking and talking along the way. When my children were young, we spent lots of time in the car driving to lessons, sports events, and youth activities. In an era before electronic devices, imagine this—WE TALKED! Time in the car provided opportunities to share experiences and what we learned from them. We discussed struggles and brainstormed solutions. We laughed over humorous or embarrassing moments in school. We told each other details about our day. We shared goals and dreams and anecdotes. These exchanges also happened while we worked side by side at home—washing dishes, weeding the garden, painting a room. Subtle teaching happened as we went through an ordinary day. And relationships were strengthened. Little seeds of insight and counsel slipped unperceived into fertile soil. Snatching priceless in- between moments to subtly teach values to our children can provide the seedbed of great lessons remembered and lived.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF LIFE? Before we came to earth, we lived as spirit children of Heavenly Father. We gathered together in a great council in heaven where Heavenly Father presented His plan for us to come to earth, obtain a physical body, gain experience to progress toward perfection, and ultimately realize our divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. A Savior would atone for the sins of all mankind, making it possible for us to repent and become clean again. In that premortal realm, we chose to accept Heavenly Father’s plan and Jesus Christ as our Savior. Because of the Savior’s Atonement and Resurrection, we can return to God’s presence and progress to live the kind of life He lives. We shouted for joy at the opportunity to come to earth, progress through experience, and prove that we would be faithful to our premortal promises. This is the greatest of all Reasons to Rejoice!
I have more to say about good mothers. This is the kind of mother I want to be: “If you need a woman to rear children in righteousness, Here am I; send me. If you need a woman to make a house a home filled with love, Here am I; send me. If you need a woman who will shun vulgarity and dress modestly and speak with dignity and show the world how joyous it is to keep the commandments, Here am I; send me. If you need a woman who can resist the alluring temptations of the world by keeping her eyes fixed on eternity, Here am I, send me” (M. Russell Ballard). What I say to every mother about to give birth to a daughter is this: I’m glad you’re having a girl because the world needs good mothers! A good mother LIFTS, BENDS, and BALANCES with near superhuman strength. “Motherhood is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to the angels” (David O. McKay). We mothers need to be reminded of this beautiful description of our career.
The world is in critical need of good mothers. Good mothers “are willing to live on less and consume less of the world’s goods in order to spend more time with their children—more time eating together, more time working together, more time reading together, more time talking, laughing, singing, and exemplifying” (Julie Beck). Quality of time is certainly important, but quantity of time spent with children is essential. Because there are limited hours in a day, we have to make choices—and often these choices come in three sizes: good, better, and best. That’s the tough part—prioritizing and making time for the best things. Good mothers are constantly growing, continually learning so they can be effective resources and role models. When children are grown and have flown from the nest, a good mother’s influence continues into the next generation. In fact, her legacy impacts many generations.