I remember life with 4 littles under the age of 10. Some days it was definitely a game of "Survival of the Fittest" and usually, that was not me. Between temper tantrums (from the kids AND from me), sibling arguments, battles of will, and living in a constant state of piles of stuff strewn about the house, most days I went to bed feeling defeated. This was not how I imagined motherhood.
I wish that I knew back then what I know now. After studying parenthood and families over the last two years, I have come to see things that I would like to have done better as a mother. Even though I feel that my kiddos have turned out alright, I am definitely not proud of some of the parenting moments I had when they were younger. My hope with this post is that I can share some insights that may help other parents recognize areas in which they could improve their parenting as I have recognized ways in which I can (and must) improve mine. Even though my kids are not little anymore, I can still make adjustments/improvements in how I parent them as I strive to become more like my Heavenly Parents.
Rearing Children in Love and Righteousness
In "The Family" A Proclamation to the World", parents are instructed to "rear their children in love and righteousness" (The Family para 6). The very first word of instruction given to us from the Lord is that we parent with love. "Righteous parenting emphasizes charity, gentleness, kindness, long-suffering, persuasion, and appropriate discipline in a warm and nurturing relationship" (Hawkins et al 105).
What are you envisioning the role of parenting that I am describing right now? Are you seeing a parent who is just lovey-dovey all the time and who allows their children to walk all over them? That is not what the Lord means when He admonishes us to parent with love, charity, gentleness, and kindness.
Think about how God parents His children. Is He long-suffering with us? Does He persuade us to make good choices while allowing us to suffer the natural consequences of our actions (AKA discipline)? Does God parent with charity, gentleness, and kindness? The God I know does and following His parenting model is what I am striving to do.
Research suggests and the Lord's prophets agree that "warm and responsive parenting tends to promote lasting bonds between parents and children...specifically, research has documented that children are less aggressive and more sociable and empathetic if they have parents...who are more loving, patient, playful, responsive, and sympathetic to children's feelings and needs" (Hawkins et al 108).
I feel it goes back to the "golden rule" of treating others as you would want to be treated. When I look back on things I have said to my children in moments of anger, I cringe. I would never want someone to speak to me in the way that I have spoken to them at times. Your children will respect you more and be more inclined to be obedient when they feel you respect them and hold them as a high priority in your life.
Setting Limits with Room for Compromise
Helping children learn how to regulate their behaviors using limits and not coercion is one of the greatest challenges parents face. "In all cases, discipline should be motivated by a sincere interest in teaching children correct principles rather than merely to exert control, exercise dominion, or vent anger" (Hawkins et al 109).
When we set limits for our children, we are essentially creating a safety net. We don't want them to not walk on the tightrope and learn how to do hard things, but we do want them to have a safety net to catch them when they fall.
Our Heavenly Father has set limits for us--in other words, He has given us commandments to follow. When we follow those commandments, we are allowing the safety net to catch us when we fall. When we disregard the commandments, it's like walking the tightrope with nothing beneath us, flirting with the danger of the situation.
"Setting limits and following through with pre-established consequences when rules are violated is one way that parents can help children learn to be self-regulating" (Hawkins et al 109).
Just because you have to enforce consequences when the limit barrier has been breached, does not mean that you have to do it in a menacing or contentious manner.
"When consequences need to be enforced, the scriptures teach the principle of 'showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved' (D&C 121:43). When the child has been corrected in a calm, controlled manner, that same Spirit that prompted such correction can create a sense of compassion, charity, and forgiveness toward the child" (Hawkins et al 110).
Reproving a child in a calm manner is SO much easier said than done. I have definitely not perfected the art of it yet. That is why the information I am learning in this class has been so valuable to me!
Here are some ways that you can reprove/correct and show that increase of love afterwards:
*Physical Affection: "Maybe you can sit here on my lap for a while until you feel like playing nicely with your sister."
*Affirming Verbal Statements: "Although I am disappointed that you did not obey, I love you very much."
*Humor to Break up the Tension: "Okay, enough of this serious stuff. Time for a hug!"
*A Change in Activity: "Will you be my helper in the kitchen? I need a junior chef to help me whip up some cornbread."
*Expressing Confidence in the Child: "I know it's been a hard day. We all make mistakes. I know you will do better next time."
Latitude: Making Choices Within the Limits
Here is where we really get to see what our kids are made of and how they can shine in the choices that they make. "Children benefit from being given choices and appropriate levels of latitude to make their own decisions in a variety of domains" (Hawkins et al 112).
I also feel that not only do the children benefit from being given choices, but the parents benefit as well. You want your kids to learn how to make responsible decisions, right? I definitely do, and I want to be confident in their abilities to make wise decisions BEFORE they leave the safety nest of our home. Giving your children appropriate levels of latitude to make their own decisions is how you accomplish this. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught:
"Helping children learn how to make decisions requires that parents give them a measure of autonomy, dependent on the age and maturity of the child and the situation at hand. Parents need to give children choices and should be prepared to appropriately adjust some rules, thus preparing children for real-world situations" (Hawkins et al 109).
I'm not going to lie, sometimes I am terrified to let my kids use their agency. What if they make horrible choices that they will carry with them for years? What if those choices lead to other choices that ultimately lead them away from the Savior and His gospel? I have done a lot of soul searching about this because I want my kids to know that, at the end of the day, my love for them is stronger than any disappointment I may have from choices they have made and that I am here to support them in the decisions they feel are right for their lives. I love the counsel that Elder Robert D. Hales has given us:
But I also know that as I continue to strengthen my own testimony of Jesus Christ and His everlasting gospel, I will have the tools I need to continue to face the challenges that surface and that my family will be blessed because of my willingness to look unto the Savior and His teachings, no matter what.
"Family: A Proclamation to the World." (1995, November). Ensign, 25, p. 102.
Hawkins, A. J., Dollahite, D. C., & Draper, T. (2012). Successful marriages and families: Proclamation principles and research perspectives. Provo, UT: BYU Studies and School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.