Could We Let Our Children Choose?

By Denise Fitzpatrick

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We thought we had tried everything to get our teens to come to family prayer and scripture study. What would happen if we let them decide for themselves?

“It’s time for scripture study,” I called from the bottom of the stairs. No response. “Come on, children. I know it’s early, but we agreed to this.”

I felt a familiar frustration and irritation begin to grow as I listened to their excuses.

“I have to take a shower,” one said as she ran down the stairs.

“But I’m too tired to get up,” came a sleepy voice from a bedroom.

“Well, I’m ready, but you’d better make it short,” said one as he came down the stairs, a scowl on his face.

By the time we were all assembled, my husband had to leave and the rest of us were wearing frowns like my son’s. We struggled through our reading together and managed to mutter a prayer.

“What a flop!” I thought as we finished. Why did we continue to put ourselves through this? Surely no good could come while such a bad feeling prevailed at a time when we wanted the Holy Ghost to be present. It seemed so futile.

My husband and I felt we had done just about everything we could to establish the habit of daily scripture study and prayer for our family. We had urged, prodded, and encouraged. Our patience was diminishing with each word we spoke.

When our children were younger, we rarely had a problem with cooperation. They had looked forward to scripture study and prayer and even helped keep us from missing. But for the past two years, everything seemed to have gone amiss.

Recently we had moved so my husband could return to college. Consequently, we had a smaller income, less time, and less security—less of everything. We struggled to work out our new, ever-changing schedules. But no matter how hard we tried, what had always worked before wasn’t working now. I reasoned that our lives had changed and that our children were older and had more independence. But the bottom line was that our family was failing miserably at having the kind of family prayers and scripture study that we desired.

That evening as we tried to gather for family prayer, we repeated the morning’s fiasco. We seemed to be caught in a vicious cycle of either fighting with our children or throwing up our hands and saying “forget it.”

Then a solution came to my mind as I was reading in the Doctrine and Covenants. It was one of those times when a passage of scripture seems to jump out:

“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.

“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;

“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” (D&C 58:26–28).

The words of the scripture echoed over and over in my mind. I could barely think of anything else. In our eagerness to teach our children the things of God, my husband and I were guilty of demanding, and at times forcing our children to come to family prayer and scripture study. Painfully I realized that forcing is Satan’s way, not the Lord’s. All five of our children had been baptized and were now accountable for their actions. It was time our children began acting for themselves, and that meant we had to let them choose whether or not to participate.

That night my husband and I called a family council and explained to the children that we had been wrong to force them to come to these family occasions. We told them it was important that they begin making their own decisions now. We felt they understood the importance of scripture study and family prayer, but we wanted them to come to these family times because they wanted to partake of the Spirit. We decided each person in our family would be free to choose for himself or herself to come to family prayer and scripture study. As their parents we would provide the opportunity, but the choice of attending would be theirs.

After the children left, I sat in disbelief. What had we done? For a moment I was panic-stricken. But deep inside I knew it was the right decision for our family. Our children had to begin making their own spiritual decisions, and we decided we would rather have them stumble while they were still at home where we could set the example than when they were on their own. We had to have faith that they would feel the spirit of these activities.

Amazingly, the very next time all five participated without any argument or hesitation. A few nights later they were all going to bed when one said, “Wait, we haven’t had family prayer yet.” Relief! We were finally back to the way it used to be.

We were grateful that none of our children chose to miss family prayer and scripture study. In fact, they were more eagerly involved than ever before. The arguing, contention, and bad spirit that once prevailed were gone. Occasionally we had someone in a bad mood because that individual was struggling to make the right decision. We reminded him or her that being there was not a requirement, but that those who chose to come were expected to contribute to a good spirit. When one of our children could not participate in family scripture study because of a legitimate conflict, my husband and I took time to have scripture study and prayer with that individual.

We learned the importance of allowing our children to make their own decisions concerning their spiritual progression. We learned it was important to let go of them spiritually just as we had to let go of them physically for them to grow and mature.

By encouraging our children to exercise their agency, we were able to draw more fully upon the strength that regular family prayer and scripture study provide.

Let’s Talk about It

Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions. The following questions are for that purpose or for personal reflection.

  1. In what ways can I help my children grow spiritually by encouraging them to use their agency in righteous ways?

  2. How has Heavenly Father shown love and helped me when I have made wrong decisions? What can I learn from this that will help me strengthen my children?

Show References

  • Denise Fitzpatrick is a member of the Buffalo Ridge Ward, Cheyenne Wyoming Stake.