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.
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.
I know something of the colossal EFFORT parents give while rearing children to become responsible adults. Yet our children don’t understand this concept until they become parents themselves. I embrace the truth that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are “united in purpose, in their love for us, and in the WORK they are doing in our behalf” (Robert D. Hales). We are like toddlers, getting ourselves into dangerous situations as we explore our mortal world. Just as earthly parents keep a constant vigil on their accident-prone toddlers, we, as Heavenly Father’s children, are constantly watched, rescued, redirected, disciplined, taught, comforted, fed, washed, and nurtured by divine hands. Someday when our vision is expanded to see all, we’ll likely be astounded to recognize the patient, loving WORK performed in our behalf. “The ultimate goal, the purpose of all God’s work, is not merely to save us from death and hell, as wonderful as that is in itself. The ultimate goal for sons and daughters is to grow up to be what their parents are” (Stephen Robinson). God is teaching me, step by step, to grow up to become like Him, providing every needful thing. I appreciate my Father’s WORK to get me there.
When I was a teenager, my father and I had a code word to indicate my need for a private talk. When the cue was given, Dad abruptly stopped his work and we popped in the car for a drive. With eyes facing forward, words seemed to flow easier. At first I unloaded my heartache or injustice—often through a flood of unreasonable tears. Dad listened…and listened…sometimes interjecting a question. He deserved a purple heart for his excruciating endurance to receive my avalanche of words while restraining even a single word of lecture. As I captured feelings into words, I began to understand myself better. My inner storm gradually subsided. Before our “discussion” was over, Dad always offered a suggestion of something to try, a possible action. It wasn’t pitched as, “This is what you should do”—but rather, “Here’s something you might try.” He affirmed his love for me and described some aspect of my worth that I couldn’t see. Climbing out of the car, I felt emptied and filled at the same time—while clutching something concrete to try. And if that plan didn’t work, there were other plans queued up. My father didn’t have training in psychological counseling. But his formula helped me through the rocky terrain of adolescence, and became my desired model for parenting much later. What do you see as the benefits of talking to your teen in the car?
The words, “treehouse and hot chocolate” spark a precious memory for my daughter and me. It started when I noticed signs that my little girl needed time alone with her mom. But when? Family life was demanding and fast-paced. An idea came. Crawling out of bed before dawn, I filled two thermoses with hot chocolate, tiptoed to my daughter’s room, and shook her awake with these words: “Hey, let’s climb in the treehouse and watch the sun come up!” She bolted out of bed with surprised delight. (Obviously she was too young to value sleep yet.) Bundled in blankets, we stumbled silently outside and up the ladder following the bouncing glow of a dim flashlight. We shared and bared our souls to each other—conversation free-flowing. She confided a friend problem and we explored a remedy. She told me her thoughts and dreams and goals. I expressed respect for her qualities of character. Perched so high, we noticed that the world looked different—peaceful, fresh and fine. As darkness yawned into light, we were disappointed that our sacred snuggle-time was ending and the bustle of family school preparations must begin.
She wanted to do this again the next day, and so we continued for a while. I discovered that marvelous communication happens during one-on-one time with children, while doing almost anything—no need for the spectacular or expensive. What makes it valuable? It says, “You are important.” What are the rewards? Real talking happens—the kind that doesn’t occur in groups, and a tighter bond of friendship follows. Through the years, I’ve tried to carve out time for frequent “one-on-ones” (as we call them) with each of my children, and now grandchildren, even as they grow older.
Our son was digging sprinkler ditches in his yard while his little two-year-old looked on curiously. “What doing, Dad?” His father smiled and answered, “I’m digging.” The toddler didn’t know about sprinkler systems or even that grass needed to be watered. His father could have told him that he’d rented a trencher and prepared the ground for PVC pipe, but since it had rained, the trenches needed to be carved out so that the sprinkler heads would stand at the right height. All these details would have sailed over the toddler’s head. The answer, “I’m digging” satisfied the youngster completely. It was enough. Our son related the parallel of how prayers are often answered. Our loving Heavenly Father reveals the right balance of information to match our spiritual maturity. Profuse detail would sail over our heads to confuse and overwhelm. God gives just enough light to illuminate the immediate steps we need to take.
Observing each of our children growing-up was an adventure. They came with individual talents and personality traits. Even though they were raised by the same parents, ate the same food, interacted with the same family members and attended the same schools, they were each different. From a parent perspective, this is one of the enriching elements of raising children. The fact that they came to this earth with unique characteristics raises an associated question in my mind: Why do some children make it through their adolescent years without striking out against their parent and family values? And why do others struggles who were reared in the same environment? We are faced with choices each day regarding the direction we will take, indeed many forks in the road of life. As a parent, what have you discovered to be most influential in guiding your child toward the path leading to real happiness?