“The family is most important in our quest for exaltation in our Heavenly Father’s kingdom,” taught President Harold B. Lee.1 With this high purpose in mind, he spoke often about the importance of love in strengthening family ties. He encouraged parents and children to apply the spirit of the mission of Elijah to their living family members and turn their hearts toward one another in love. He said:
“You’ve had recalled to you something that you’ve applied only to temple work—the mission of the prophet Elijah where Malachi said, and it has been repeated in a modern revelation: ‘Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.’ (D&C 2:1–3.)
“Today that scripture undoubtedly has a more significant meaning. Unless the hearts of the children are turned to their parents and the hearts of the parents are turned to their children in this day, in mortality, the earth will be utterly wasted at His coming. There was never a time when so much was needed as today in the homes of the Latter-day Saints and the world generally. Most of the ills that afflict youth today are because of the breakdown in the homes. The hearts of the fathers must be turned to their children, and the children to their fathers, if this world is going to be saved and the people prepared for the coming of the Lord.”2
It has been my privilege to visit, with the others of the General Authorities, regularly in the finest homes of our people, and it is from those visits that I have gleaned some … of the elements that build for strength and happiness in the home. …
I see these families showing respect towards each other; father to mother, and affection for her, and mother to father; no quarrelings, no bickerings before the children at least, misunderstandings talked out sensibly—I saw one such home with nine lovely children where the children bear testimony to the fact that they have never heard their father and mother quarrel. The result is now that in the nine homes of these children, following this period of instruction, and the good example of parents, there are nine more lovely and secure families living happily together. …
The maintenance of spiritual contacts, the exercise of family prayers, the constant attention to Church duties have all been some of the things that have helped these homes to be successful.3
I had a father who came to me a few years ago agonizing over the fact that all members of his family—all of his children—were having trouble in their own families, now they were married. He said to me with great sorrow, “What in the world is the matter in my family that they’re all having difficulty? None of them have happy, congenial homes.” Well, I didn’t say it, but I saw into that man’s home when those children were yet unmarried around the table. I saw selfishness, unwillingness to sacrifice for each other’s welfare. I saw grabbing, hollering, scolding, fighting, and jangling. I knew what they’d been feeding on in their youth. I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t have happy homes.4
Happiness comes from unselfish service. And happy homes are only those where there is a daily striving to make sacrifices for each other’s happiness.5
The love of God is not something that you get just for the asking. It was John who said, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20.) You cannot love God and then despise your brother with whom you are associated. Any man who thinks he is a spiritual giant and his home is in disorder because of neglect and his failure to care for his wife and his own children, that man is not on his way to cultivating a love for God.6
Let us not forget Paul’s wise urging when he said “confirm” our love to those around us, especially to those who may be swallowed up in sadness (see 2 Corinthians 2:7–8). Peter said much the same thing in 1 Peter, the first chapter, in urging members to not only exhibit “unfeigned love” but to “see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Peter 1:22). In the kingdom our capacity to love is crucial because we live in a time when “the love of men shall wax cold” (D&C 45:27).7
Strengthen your family ties and be mindful of your children. … Be sure that the home is made the strong place to which children can come for the anchor they need in this day of trouble and turmoil. Then love will abound and your joy will be increased.8
I had an experience that taught me something as a grandfather. It was the night of [a Church] dance festival up at the stadium, and my daughter’s two oldest … were giving her a lot of bad time, as she called it. So I said, “How would you like it if I take your two boys up to the stadium to the dance festival?”
She said, “Oh, Daddy, if you’d do it, I’d be so happy.”
I didn’t know what I was getting into. … As that spectacle began, I didn’t know there was so much difference between a seven-year-old and a five-year-old. The seven-year-old was entranced by that spectacle down on the football field. But that five-year-old, his attention span was pretty short. He’d squirm and then he’d want to go and get a hot dog and he’d want to go get a drink and he’d want to go to the toilet, and he was just on the move all the time. And here I was sitting in the front with the General Authorities, and they were smiling as they saw this little show going on and as I tried to pull my grandson here and there, trying to make him behave. Finally, that little five-year-old turned on me and with his little doubled-up fist he smacked me to the side of the face and he said, “Grandfather, don’t shove me!” And you know, that hurt. In that twilight, I thought I could see my brethren chuckling a bit as they saw this going on, and my first impulse was to take him and give him a good spanking; that’s what he deserved. But, I’d seen his little mother do something. I’d seen her when he was having a temper tantrum and she had a saying, “You have to love your children when they’re the least lovable.” And so I thought I’d try that out. I had failed in the other process.
So I took him in my arms and I said to him, “My boy, Grandfather loves you. I so much want you to grow up to be a fine big boy. I just want you to know that I love you, my boy.” His little angry body began to [relax], and he threw his arms around my neck and he kissed my cheek, and he loved me. I had conquered him by love. And incidentally, he had conquered me by love.9
A successful mother of sons and daughters will tell you that teenagers need to be loved and be loved the most when they are the least lovable. Think about it, you fathers and mothers.10
I recall an incident in my own family where one of my young granddaughters was being criticized by her father for not properly taking care of her room, making her bed, etc., etc. And then with considerable feeling she said, “Well, Daddy, why do you only see the thing to criticize and never see the good things that I do?” This brought the father to some serious reflections, and that night he placed under her pillow a letter of love and understanding telling her of all the things that he admired in her, and thus began to bridge over the hurt that had been implied by his constant criticism with no approval for the good things.11
I remember a little boyhood experience. We had pigs that were tearing up the garden, causing great mischief on the farm. Father sent me two miles to the store to get an instrument so we could ring the noses of the pigs. We had great difficulty rounding them up and getting them in the pen, and as I was fooling around with this instrument that I had been sent to purchase, I pressed down too hard and it broke. Father would have been justified in giving me a scolding right there, after all the effort and money wasted, but he just looked at me, smiled, and said, “Well, son, I guess we won’t ring the pigs today. Turn them out and we’ll go back tomorrow and try it over again.” How I loved that father, that he didn’t scold me for an innocent little mistake that could have made a breach between us.12
A father may have to discipline his child, but he should never do it in anger. He must show forth an increase of love thereafter, lest that one so reproved were to esteem him to be an enemy (see D&C 121:43). The Lord forbid the feeling of a child that his father or mother is an enemy.13
Parents, remember that now is your opportunity; you may feel yourself harassed as you struggle through the days with an unruly child, but you are living the happiest and the most golden years of your life. As you tuck them into their beds at night, please be kind to them. Let them hear a kind voice amid all the angry, vile voices that they will hear throughout life. Let there be an anchor to which these little ones can turn when all else fails. The Lord help you so to do.14
I had a doctor come to me. He is a brain surgeon. … [His] little child had had a sled given to him for Christmas and there was no snow. The first snowfall came about thirty days after Christmas that year. [The doctor] said, as he rushed away to the hospital, “When I come home we’ll go for a snow ride,” and the little boy answered, “Oh no you won’t, Daddy, you haven’t time for me.” All through the morning he had been disturbed by this childish remark because, all too true, he had spent so much time in his profession that he hadn’t taken the time he ought to with his little children. So his troubled question was, “Will you discuss a little while how I can balance my life? With brain surgery advancing so rapidly today, I could bury myself and think of nothing else in order to keep pace with my profession.” As we talked, we concluded that a man has responsibility to himself, he has responsibility to his family, he has responsibility to the Church, and he has responsibility to his profession; and in order for him to live a balanced life he must so try to find the avenues by which he gives service in each of these areas.15
If a father’s love for his sons is strong, and from their infancy he has taken them into his arms in loving embrace and let them feel the warmth of his affection for them, I believe that such comradeship will ripen with maturity and keep them near when a crisis in the boy’s life requires the steadying hand of a father who understands. The mother who awaits with anticipation the return of her daughter from a late dancing party to receive the goodnight kiss, together with treasured confidences expressed at the height of girlish bliss, will be richly rewarded with the daughter’s undying love that will be an eternal bulwark against sin because mother trusts her.
Parents who are too busy or too tired to be troubled with the innocent disturbances of children and push them aside or out of the home for fear of their disturbing the orderliness of immaculate housekeeping may be driving them, because of loneliness, into a society where sin, crimes and infidelity are fostered. What will it profit a father, otherwise worthy of the Celestial Kingdom, if he has lost his son or daughter in sin because of his neglect? All the pleasurable uplift societies in the world, social or religious, will never compensate the mother for the souls lost in her own home while she is trying to save humanity or a cause, no matter how worthy, outside of her home.16
I have frequently counseled, and I repeat it to you again, to all of you here: “The most important of the Lord’s work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own homes.” We must never forget that.17
I had a troubled couple that came in just the other day. They have a sixteen-year-old daughter who is the oldest in the family and she is causing a lot of trouble. They were about to give up. I quoted what Brother Marvin J. Ashton said, that home is not a failure so long as it doesn’t give up (see Conference Report, April 1971, p. 15). Now, that’s true. The home must continue to love and to work with [young people], till we get youth past that dangerous age. No home is a failure unless it quits trying to help.18
The greatest demonstration of the power of the Almighty we see today is the redemption of human souls from spiritual darkness into spiritual light. I saw and heard such a miracle recently when a man who had been incorrigible much of his life, now reaching up to his middle-age years, spoke by his own request at the funeral services of his elderly mother. His father and mother, obedient to the Lord’s instruction, had persisted in teaching their children, including this son, who vigorously and rudely resisted their efforts. Despite this opposition, the father continued in his role as a faithful father should; he not only taught, but every Sunday he fasted and prayed, especially for this wayward son. The father was shown in a dream, as though to reassure him, his unruly son walking in a dense fog. In the dream he saw this son walk out of the fog into bright sunlight, cleansed by genuine repentance. We have seen that boy now a changed man and enjoying some of the Lord’s choicest blessings in the Church because of his faithful parents who didn’t fail him.19
Now this I would like to say to you mothers: Don’t give up on that [wayward] boy or girl; one day he may, like the Prodigal Son, return to the home from which he came, as a ship in a storm returns to a safe harbor.20
As a youth one may become divorced from the influence of a good home and he may become careless and wayward, but if the good mother’s teachings of his childhood have been impressed upon his heart, he will return to them for safety, as does a ship to safe anchorage in a storm.21
Don’t give up on the boy or girl in that insufferable state of [egotism] through which some teenagers go. I plead with you for those boys and those girls. Don’t give up on the boy or girl in that impossible stage of independence and disregard of family discipline. Don’t give up on him or her when they show a shocking display of irresponsibility. The know-it-all, self-sufficient person wants nothing of counsel, which to him is just a preachment of an old-timer who has lost step with youth. …
We had a missionary grandson in the North British Mission. He hadn’t been there very long until he wrote back an interesting letter in which he said the advice of his parents now comes back to him with great force. It is like a book on a shelf that has been there for nineteen years and he has just begun to take it down and start to read it for the first time. That is your son and your daughter. You may think they are not listening. They may think they are not listening, but one time yours may be the book that they will take down and read again when they need it most.
There are forces that come into play after parents have done all they can to teach their children. Such a force influenced the younger Alma, who, with the sons of Mosiah, set out to destroy the work of their great fathers. An angel, you remember, was sent, and he knocked Alma down. Alma lay as though he were dead for three days and nights, and the angel said:
“Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.” (Mosiah 27:14.)22
Perhaps there is no mother or father who hasn’t said, “May the Lord help me to live ‘twenty-five’ hours every day to dedicate my life to motherhood and fatherhood so that no child of mine can ever rightly say that I didn’t do everything in my power to persuade him to desist.” Some of our children remain firm and true, and yet others begin to stray away, and sometimes we don’t understand why. But may we all resolve that as parents today we will live close to our children, we will counsel with them, we will give them the foundation of rock-bottom principles of divine truth.23
As parents, what has helped you to strengthen the love between you and your children? How can parents pay attention to each child’s special needs?
Why should parents always show respect for one another in public and within their home?
How can parents encourage unselfishness and sacrifice for the good of others in their home?
Why is it important for parents to love their children even when they are the least lovable? In what ways can parents show approval for the good things their children do?
How can parents balance the demands of family, church, and work?
What do you think President Lee meant when he said, “The most important of the Lord’s work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own homes”?
How does the gospel help parents to keep their children from going astray? Why is it important to recognize that after all we can do, our children may still make some wrong choices? What assurances does the gospel provide to faithful parents who continue to love and work with their children?