20902_000_005Three fathers share insights learned while rearing children.
From Lecturing to Loving
When our daughter Jamie was younger, she awoke nearly every morning tired and cranky. It was an everyday occurrence to find her staggering out of her bedroom whining about being tired and not wanting to go to school. My typical response was to nudge her along, reminding her that if she didn’t hurry she would be late for school. This usually caused her to cry even more loudly, increasing my frustrations over this morning ritual.
Before long, the entire family became part of the early-morning pattern. If I wasn’t getting after her to hurry things along, one of our other children would walk by her as she was crying on the floor outside her room and call her a crybaby. Naturally this only made matters worse. Few mornings passed without this frustrating cycle repeating itself over and over in our home.
Then one day the pattern changed. It began early one morning when I was in my office studying the scriptures and preparing for the day. The brilliant autumn sun was just rising on a stunningly beautiful day. I felt at peace, calm, and relaxed. Then I heard Jamie open her bedroom door and start to cry as she had so many times before. She was sitting on the floor outside her bedroom. We all knew the drill. But this time I paused and responded differently. I sat down beside her on the floor, took her in my arms and held her, rocking back and forth humming softly. It was chilly sitting on the floor, and she snuggled close to get warm. I kissed her forehead, stroked her soft brown hair, and whispered how much I loved her. In mere moments, her crying stopped and she settled comfortably in my arms.
“Are you cold, honey?” I asked. She nodded her head, and I picked her up and carried her into my bedroom and tucked her in where I had slept the night before. Then a remarkable thing took place. She looked up at me and said, “Daddy, I’ll stay here for a minute and get warm, then I’ll get up and get ready for school.” We had yearned to hear these simple words for months, and now they came so easily.
As I walked downstairs, I paused to reflect on what had just happened, seemingly so simple but so important. The differences between this morning and so many others before were striking. In those moments of quiet reflection, I came to understand that this time the difference had been me and my reaction to my daughter.
A few minutes later Jamie bounded down the stairs smiling, ate her breakfast, and dashed out of the house for the bus—with no tears, no angry words, and no negative emotion. Later I gathered the rest of the family together and shared with them my unique experience. We talked about how we treat one another and how the way we treat one another greatly affects how we feel about being a part of the family. We also talked about each one’s responsibility to behave in ways the Lord would have us behave toward one another, especially family members.
I thought specifically about the counsel the Lord has given to all of us but particularly to those who hold the priesthood: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41). That scripture was verified in our home when a negative pattern of pain was transformed into the beginning of a positive pattern of gentleness, meekness, and love.
“Daddy, What if I Do My Best?”
One misconception I had about being a parent was that I, as an adult, had already acquired all the knowledge necessary to raise children to be responsible, loving, and capable people. Much to my surprise, my children are giving me an education.
My daughter Molly was beginning to compete in organized athletics and was playing recreational soccer with other six-year-olds. The girls were not skilled players: they could hardly spell soccer, much less run and kick the ball at the same time. I noticed they did not take practice too seriously; they seemed to be laughing a lot rather than concentrating on developing skills they would need to win a game. I voiced my concern to Molly, who assured me she was trying.
For our first game, Molly and I arrived early and found other teams playing a game on the field. While we waited for that game to end, Molly ran off to play with friends, but I called her to my side and began to point out to her the teams’ good and bad plays. Among other things, I pointed out opportunities to score that were missed, bad passes, and players that were out of position. I had no doubt that my insightful critique of the game would help her in a few minutes when her own game began.
As game time approached, I could feel my anxiety build. Did Molly really understand my expectations for her performance? I decided to increase the rewards. “If you score a goal, I will buy you a package of gum,” I told her. Feeling I had properly motivated my child, I settled back to watch.
After a few moments I realized Molly was still looking at me, and then she said: “Daddy, what if I do my best and don’t score a goal? Do I still get the gum?” Her innocent blue eyes looked trustingly into mine, and her comment pierced my heart.
“Of course, Molly,” I managed to stammer. “That is what I really meant. Just do your best. That is all I expect.” I watched, dazed, as we continued to observe the game. Then I felt ashamed. Molly’s participation in athletics was for her development—to have fun, to get some exercise, and to learn skills. It wasn’t to fulfill my expectations.
I don’t remember much about that game, except the important lesson I learned from my six-year-old daughter about being a father.
Repairing the Relationship with My Son
For some time my son hadn’t been living the kind of life he should be living, and my relationship with him had seriously deteriorated. He was in his early 20s and still living at home, and I decided to ask him to move out. I hoped that by being responsible for his own needs he would soon make better decisions about his life.
Our problems had begun when he finished high school. Until then he had always been active in the Church, but when he started college, he also started working part time and found it difficult to attend church. He also spent most of his free time with a girlfriend, and religion was not an important part of her life either. At school, too, he made new friends whose standards had a negative impact on him.
My wife and I felt powerless to influence him for good. The more we tried, the more he rebelled. When he had turned 19, he told our bishop he didn’t want to serve a mission. We were deeply disappointed.
His schoolwork began to slip, and this caused more arguments. I finally declined to pay any more tuition if he couldn’t take his classes seriously. With no money for school, he got a construction job. The breach between us seemed to widen. He was no longer the son we had always known, and I had finally come to the point where I felt it was best for him to live on his own.
My wife, however, disagreed. She felt he would only drift further from the Church and from us. I loved my son and felt a keen responsibility to do what was best for him, but I was uncertain what that was. I decided to study out a solution and seek confirmation in prayer. First I prepared a detailed written analysis of the pros and cons of asking our son to move out. It seemed clear in my mind that we should ask him to leave.
I knelt in prayer, having made the best decision I knew to make, and asked Father in Heaven to confirm that decision. The confirmation didn’t come. I wondered if that was my answer or if I simply was not spiritually in tune. After further deliberation, I decided I could not ask my son to move out without having received a confirmation, so I decided to let him stay. I prayed again for a confirmation and felt, somewhat to my surprise, a distinct burning in my bosom. I couldn’t mistake the sensation. I now knew what to do.
The experience caused me to reflect on my relationship with my son. If living with us was the best answer, there might still be a way we could reach him. After much soul-searching, I concluded to change my attitude toward him. My dictatorial attitude had caused me to criticize nearly everything he said or did. No wonder he was seldom at home; it wasn’t a pleasant place for him to be.
I determined to follow gospel principles that teach us to respect others’ agency, to love our fellowman, and to forgive. I began by deciding I would not criticize. Instead I would look for the good, positive things he did and praise him for them. I began expressing my love for him and accepting him for what he was. I greeted him pleasantly when we met, and I asked how his job was going. I found noncontroversial subjects to talk about, and I took an interest in his life.
Our relationship soon began to improve, and we began to grow closer. One Sunday morning I found a note from my son: “Dad, will you get me up? I would like to go to church with you.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. It had been over three years since he had attended any Church meetings. I went to his room and woke him. He attended all his meetings with us that day. A few days later he asked if I would support him on a mission. I assured him I would.
I realize that other parents have exercised faith without seeing hoped-for results, but I’m grateful that my son chose to serve a mission and be married in the temple. The Lord’s concern that day wasn’t just for a troubled son but also for a father who needed to learn an important lesson about giving love and respect to others.