Love of Mother and Father


Published in the Improvement Era, Jan. 1910, 276–79. Punctuation and paragraphing have been modernized.
President Joseph F. Smith

Joseph F. Smith, sixth Church President, was born on 13 November 1838 at Far West, Missouri, to Mary Fielding and Hyrum Smith. He was set apart as Church President on 17 October 1901 and served in that capacity for just over 17 years. In 1910 the Granite Stake set aside every Tuesday evening for a “Home Evening.” Every family was asked to be at home, and the parents were to teach their children the gospel, sing songs with them, read scriptures, play games, enjoy refreshments, and take counsel together. This practice was started after a large meeting of parents in the stake tabernacle. At this meeting President Joseph F. Smith delivered a stirring sermon on “Family Government.” The following is an excerpt from that address.

President Smith’s feelings on this topic are better understood in the context of his personal history. He was only 5 years old when his father was martyred, and his mother died 8 years later when he was not quite 14 years old.

I learned in my childhood, as most children probably have learned, … that no love in all the world can equal the love of a true mother. … I am at a loss to know how it would be possible for anyone to love her children more truly than did my mother. … It was life to me; it was strength; it was encouragement; it was love that begot love or likeness in myself. I knew she loved me with all her heart. She loved her children with all her soul. She would toil and labor and sacrifice herself day and night for the temporal comforts and blessings that she could meagerly give, through the results of her own labors, to her children. There was no sacrifice of self—of her own time, of her leisure, or pleasure, or opportunities for rest—that was considered for a moment, when it came in comparison with her duty and her love to her children.

When I was 15 years of age and called to go to a foreign country to preach the gospel … the strongest anchor that was fixed in my life and that helped to hold my ambition and my desire steady … was that love which I knew she had for me, who bore me into the world.

Only a little boy, not matured at all in judgment, without the advantage of education, thrown in the midst of the greatest allurements and temptations that it was possible for any boy or any man to be subjected to—and yet, whenever those temptations became most alluring and most tempting to me, the first thought that rose in my soul was this: “Remember the love of your mother. Remember how she strove for your welfare. Remember how willing she was to sacrifice her life for your good. Remember what she taught you in your childhood and how she insisted upon your reading the New Testament.” … This feeling toward my mother became a defense, a barrier between me and temptation, so that I could turn aside from temptation and sin by the help of the Lord. …

A wife may love her husband, but it is different to that of the love of mother to her child. The true mother, the mother who has the fear of God and the love of truth in her soul, would never hide from danger or evil and leave her child exposed to it. But as natural as it is for the sparks to fly upward, as natural as it is to breathe the breath of life, if there were danger coming to her child, she would step between the child and that danger; she would defend her child to the uttermost. Her life would be nothing in the balance, in comparison with the life of her child. That is the love of true motherhood—for children. … I have learned to place a high estimate upon the love of mother. I have often said, and will repeat it, that the love of a true mother comes nearer being like the love of God than any other kind of love.

The father may love his children, too; and next to the love that the mother feels for her child, unquestionably and rightfully, too, comes the love that a father feels for his child. … Fathers, if you wish your children to be taught in the principles of the gospel, if you wish them to love the truth and understand it, if you wish them to be obedient to and united with you, love them! And prove to them that you do love them by your every word or act to them. For your own sake, for the love that should exist between you and your boys, however wayward they might be, … when you speak or talk to them, do it not in anger; do it not harshly, in a condemning spirit. Speak to them kindly: get down and weep with them if necessary, and get them to shed tears with you if possible. Soften their hearts; get them to feel tenderly towards you. Use no lash and no violence, but argue, or rather reason—approach them with reason, with persuasion and love unfeigned.

With these means, if you cannot gain your boys and your girls, they will prove to be reprobate to you; and there will be no means left in the world by which you can win them to yourselves. But get them to feel as you feel, have interest in the things in which you take interest, to love the gospel as you love it, to love one another as you love them, to love their parents as the parents love the children. You can’t do it any other way. You can’t do it by unkindness; you cannot do it by driving—our children are like we are: we couldn’t be driven; we can’t be driven now. We are like some other animals that we know of in the world: You can coax them; you can lead them by holding out inducements to them and by speaking kindly to them, but you can’t drive them; they won’t be driven. We won’t be driven. Men are not … made that way.

That is not the way that God intended in the beginning to deal with his children—by force. It is all free love, free grace. The poet expressed it in these words:

Know this, that every soul is free
To choose his course and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is given:
That God will force no man to heaven.

[“Know This, That Every Soul Is Free,” Hymns, no. 240]

You can’t force your boys, nor your girls into heaven. You may force them to hell—by using harsh means in the efforts to make them good, when you yourselves are not as good as you should be. The man that will be angry at his boy and try to correct him while he is in anger is in the greatest fault; he is more to be pitied and more to be condemned than the child who has done wrong. You can only correct your children in love, in kindness—by love unfeigned, by persuasion and reason.

Helps for Home Evening

  1. 1.

    Ask one group of family members to report what President Smith said in the first four paragraphs about the love of a mother. Ask another group to report what he said in the last four paragraphs to fathers. Make a brief list of what he said on a large piece of paper and display it in your home.

  2. 2.

    Write on paper three quotations or ideas from this article you feel your family should consider. Discuss what each quotation or idea means and how your family can apply it in the home.

  3. 3.

    In a loud, demanding voice, ask a family member to do something. Then, in a kind, gentle voice, ask another person to do the same thing. Read together the last three paragraphs of this article and discuss how family members can use love, not force, in their relationships.

[illustration] Painting by Anne Marie Oborn

[illustration] Painting by Anne Marie Oborn, courtesy of Michael Murphy