Chapter 16: Marriage and Parenthood: Preparing Our Families for Eternal Life

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, (2011), 160–71


Guided by righteous and loving parents, families can unite to help build up the kingdom of God and partake of all the blessings of heaven.

From the Life of Wilford Woodruff

Wilford Woodruff and Phoebe Whittemore Carter were married on April 13, 1837, in Kirtland, Ohio. Throughout their life together, they endured many trials, thus growing in their devotion to each other, their children, and the kingdom of God. One such experience came in the winter of 1838, about five months before Wilford Woodruff’s call to the apostleship. As Brother Woodruff led a group of Saints on a journey to gather with other members of the Church, his wife became very ill. He later recounted:

“On the 23rd of November my wife, Phoebe, was attacked with a severe headache, which terminated in brain fever. She grew more and more distressed daily as we continued our journey. It was a terrible ordeal for a woman to travel in a wagon over rough roads, afflicted as she was. At the same time our child was also very sick.”

In the ensuing days, Sister Woodruff’s condition worsened, even though they had been able to pause on their journey and find places to rest. Brother Woodruff recalled: “December 3rd found my wife very low. I spent the day in taking care of her, and the following day I returned to Eaton [a nearby town] to get some things for her. She seemed to be gradually sinking, and in the evening her spirit apparently left her body, and she was dead.

“The sisters gathered around her body, weeping, while I stood looking at her in sorrow. The Spirit and power of God began to rest upon me until, for the first time during her sickness, faith filled my soul, although she lay before me as one dead.”

Strengthened in his faith, Wilford Woodruff gave his wife a priesthood blessing. “I laid my hands upon her,” he said, “and in the name of Jesus Christ I rebuked the power of death and the destroyer, and commanded the same to depart from her, and the spirit of life to enter her body.

“Her spirit returned to her body, and from that hour she was made whole; and we all felt to praise the name of God, and to trust in him and keep his commandments.

“While this operation was going on with me (as my wife related afterwards) her spirit left her body, and she saw her body lying upon the bed, and the sisters weeping. She looked at them and at me, and upon her babe, and, while gazing upon this scene, two personages came into the room. … One of these messengers informed her that she could have her choice: she might go to rest in the spirit world, or, on one condition she could have the privilege of returning to her tabernacle and continuing her labors upon the earth. The condition was, if she felt that she could stand by her husband, and with him pass through all the cares, trials, tribulations and afflictions of life which he would be called to pass through for the Gospel’s sake unto the end. When she looked at the situation of her husband and child she said: ‘Yes, I will do it!’

“At the moment that decision was made the power of faith rested upon me, and when I administered unto her, her spirit entered her tabernacle. …

“On the morning of the 6th of Dec., the Spirit said to me: ‘Arise, and continue thy journey!’ and through the mercy of God my wife was enabled to arise and dress herself and walk to the wagon, and we went on our way rejoicing.”1

Faithful to her promise, Sister Woodruff stood by her husband, even when his duties as an Apostle required him to be away from the family for long periods of time. On May 4, 1840, when Elder Woodruff was serving a mission in England, she sent him a letter, saying: “I know that it is the will of God that you should labour in his vineyard; therefore, I feel reconciled to his will in these things. I have not been left to murmur or complain since you left me, but am looking forward to the day when you shall return home once more to the bosom of your family, having fulfilled your mission in the love and fear of God. You are always present with me when I go before the throne of grace, and when I am asking for protection and blessings upon myself and children, I claim the same for my dear companion, who has gone far from me, even to a foreign nation, to preach the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”2

At such times of separation, President Woodruff also expressed a longing for his family, combined with a resolve to do the will of the Lord. On April 3, 1847, he prepared to travel with the first pioneer company to the Salt Lake Valley. He wrote in his journal: “I have never felt more weight upon my mind at any time while leaving my family to go on a mission than now. My prayer to God is that He will sustain myself and family to meet again on the earth as he hath done in the many missions I have taken on the earth in the vineyard of the Lord.”3 Four days later his family watched him depart from the Saints’ settlement at Winter Quarters, Nebraska. Stopping at the top of a ridge not far from the settlement, he took time to look back at his family through his field glasses.4

Wilford Woodruff rejoiced in the knowledge that his family could be eternal. This truth gave him strength to endure the difficulties of life. He said, “I have thought many a time that if I labored until I was as old as Methuselah and by that means could have my family dwell with me in glory in the eternal worlds, it would pay me for all the pain and suffering I could endure in this world.”5 The promise of an eternal family influenced his actions toward his family members. In a letter to his daughter Blanche, he observed: “We are all expecting to live together forever after death. I think we all as parents and children ought to take all the pains we can to make each other happy as long as we live that we may have nothing to regret.”6

Four generations of Woodruffs

Four generations in President Woodruff ’s family. Clockwise from top left: son Wilford Woodruff Jr., grandson Wilford S. Woodruff, great-grandson Charles W. Woodruff, and President Wilford Woodruff.

Teachings of Wilford Woodruff

The blessings of marriage and parenthood are far greater than worldly wealth.

The Lord has informed us that marriage is ordained of God unto man [see D&C 49:15]. The institution of marriage, in some communities of which we read, is falling almost into disrepute. It is alleged that there is a growing tendency in this direction among us. The cause is, doubtless, traceable to the increase of wealth and the disinclination of young men to take upon them the burdens of a wife and family. As we depart from the simplicity of early days, we may naturally expect that this tendency will increase as young men may be restrained from offering marriage to young ladies unless they can give them something like as comfortable a home as they enjoy under their parents’ roof. Extravagant or luxuriant habits of training on the part of the girls will also have the effect to deter young men from marrying. … The young of both sexes should be taught that it is not necessary to happiness in marriage to be in the possession of wealth.7

When the daughters of Zion are asked by the young men to join with them in marriage, instead of asking—“Has this man a fine brick house, a span of fine horses and a fine carriage?” they should ask—“Is he a man of God? Has he the Spirit of God with him? Is he a Latter-day Saint? Does he pray? Has he got the Spirit upon him to qualify him to build up the kingdom?” If he has that, never mind the carriage and brick house, take hold and unite yourselves together according to the law of God.8

It is the duty of these young men [in] Zion to take the daughters of Zion to wife, and prepare tabernacles [physical bodies] for the spirits of men, which are the children of our Father in Heaven. They are waiting for tabernacles, they are ordained to come here, and they ought to be born in the land of Zion instead of Babylon.9

I call upon parents throughout Zion to do what you can to induce your sons and daughters to walk in the paths of righteousness and truth and to improve the opportunities before them. Do not let your hearts be altogether upon the vanity and affairs of the world, but learn to appreciate the fact that faithful children are among the choicest and greatest of blessings.10

The blessing that God has revealed to us in the patriarchal order of marriage—being sealed for time and eternity—is not prized by us as it should be.11

We should prize our families, and the associations we have together, remembering that if we are faithful we shall inherit glory, immortality and eternal life, and this is the greatest of all the gifts of God to man [see D&C 14:7].12

Through parents’ teaching and example, children can prepare to serve in the Church and remain true to the faith.

I have never had any doubts with regard to the truth and final triumph of this work. I have none today. I have no doubts about Zion becoming all that the prophets saw it, in its glory, its power, its dominion and strength, with the power of God resting upon it.

In view of all these things, the question which has arisen in my mind, and which has caused me a good deal of thought, is, who is going to take this kingdom and bear it off? Unto whom is the Lord going to look to take this kingdom in its final triumph and prepare it in its perfection and glory for the coming of the Son of Man? To our sons and daughters. … Upon their shoulders this kingdom has got to rest, when their fathers and elders have passed to the other side of the veil. This is before me just as plain as the light of the sun in the firmament of heaven. And when I consider this, I ask myself, what condition are our young men and women in? Are we, as parents, doing our duty towards them? Are they trying to qualify themselves and preparing for the great destiny and work which lie before them?13

None of us know what course our children will take. We set good examples before them, and we strive to teach them righteous principles; but when they come to years of accountability they have their agency and they act for themselves.14

Family home evening

“Let us try and bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

In our zeal to preach the Gospel to the people of all nations, we should not forget the duties devolving upon us in regard to the proper bringing up of our own children, instilling in them, when young, a love for truth and virtue, and reverence for sacred things, and affording them a knowledge of the principles of the Gospel.15

Let us try and bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord [see Ephesians 6:4]. Let us set them good examples and teach them good principles while they are young. They are given to us by our heavenly Father; they are our kingdom, they are the foundation of our exaltation and glory; they are plants of renown [see D&C 124:61], and we should strive to bear them up before the Lord, and teach them to pray to and to have faith in the Lord as far as we can, that when we are passed and gone and they succeed us on this stage of action they may bear off the great latter-day work and kingdom of God upon the earth.16

Those who live under what is called civilized rule, are taught the moral law—the ten commandments—they are taught not to lie, not to swear, not to steal, in short, not to do those things that are counted ungodly, unholy and unrighteous in the midst of society. When parents teach their children these principles in early youth they make an impression upon their minds, and as quick as children arrive at years of accountability, early impressions will have an influence upon their actions, and throughout the rest of their lives. Children so impressed and so trained, are ever after shocked when they hear their associates swear, and take the name of God in vain, and if ever they learn so to swear it first requires a great effort to overcome their early impressions.17

It is … a great blessing to children to have parents who pray and teach their children good principles, and set a good example before them. Parents cannot properly reprove children for doing things which they practice themselves.18

If we set a good example before our children, and try to instruct them from their childhood to maturity; teach them to pray and to honor the Almighty; teach them those principles that will sustain them in the midst of all trials, that the Spirit of the Lord may rest upon them, … then they will not easily be led astray. Good impressions will follow them through life, and whatever principles may be presented, those good impressions will never leave them.19

Wise parents will not allow outside concerns to take precedence over their families.

I have long been satisfied that the devil was making great exertions to drive a wedge in between parents and children, trying to inspire and instil into the minds of the sons and daughters of the saints those corrupting notions that will prevent them from following the footsteps of their fathers and mothers. …

… How important it is that we should be wise fathers and mothers, and that we should act wisely in instilling into their youthful minds all those principles that will lead them to that which is just, and to carry out in their lives the principles of righteousness and truth. …

… It is a great thing to know how to act so as to gain the feelings and affections of our families, that will lead them in the path wherein they may be saved. This is a study and a work that should not be laid aside by parents. … Many times we may consider business so urgent that it must crowd these things out of our minds, but this should not be. Any man’s mind that is open, and who looks forward to the work that lies before us, will see and feel that the responsibility that rests upon him concerning his own family, and especially in the rearing up of his children, is very great.

We want to save our children, and to have them partake of all the blessings that encircle the sanctified, to have them receive the blessings of their parents who have been faithful to the fulness of the gospel.20

Let us all look at home, and each one try to govern his own family and set his own house in order.21

Each father should preside in his family with kindness and righteousness.

When I was a boy and went to school, the schoolmaster used to come with a bundle of sticks about eight feet long, and one of the first things we expected was to get a whipping. For anything that was not pleasing to him we would get a terrible thrashing. What whipping I got then did not do me any good. … Kindness, gentleness and mercy are better every way. I would like this principle instilled into the minds of our young men, that they may carry it out in all their acts in life. Tyranny is not good, whether it be exercised by kings, by presidents, or by the servants of God. Kind words are far better than harsh words. If, when we have difficulties one with another, we would be kind and affable to each other, we would save ourselves a great deal of trouble.

… You go into a family where a man treats his wife and children kindly, and you will find that they will treat him in the same way. Complaints reach me of the treatment of men to their wives. They do not provide for them. They do not treat them kindly. All this pains me. These things should not be. … We should be kind to one another, do good to one another, and labor to promote the welfare, the interest and the happiness of each other, especially those of our own households.

The man stands at the head of the family. He is the patriarch of his household. … There is no more beautiful sight on earth than to see a man stand at the head of his family and teach them righteous principles and give them good counsel. These children honor their father, and they take consolation and joy in having a father who is a righteous man.22

A mother’s teachings and example can influence her family through time and eternity.

As a rule, we regard the mother as the one who gives shape to the character of the child. I consider that the mother has a greater influence over her posterity than any other person can have. And the question has arisen sometimes, “When does this education begin?” Our prophets have said, “When the spirit life from God enters into the tabernacle.” The condition of the mother at that time will have its effect upon the fruit of her womb; and from the birth of the child, and all through life, the teachings and the example of the mother govern and control, in a great measure, that child, and her influence is felt by it through time and eternity.23

Upon the shoulders of you mothers rests, in a great measure, the responsibility of correctly developing the mental and moral powers of the rising generation, whether in infancy, childhood, or still riper years. … No mother in Israel should let a day pass over her head without teaching her children to pray. You should pray yourselves, and teach your children to do the same, and you should bring them up in this way, that when you have passed away, and they take your places in bearing off the great work of God, they may have principles instilled into their minds that will sustain them in time and in eternity. I have often said it is the mother who forms the mind of the child. …

… Show me a mother who prays, who has passed through the trials of life by prayer, who has trusted in the Lord God of Israel in her trials and difficulties, and her children will follow in the same path. These things will not forsake them when they come to act in the kingdom of God.24

Our sisters … have their duties to perform to their husbands. They should consider his position and his circumstances. … Every wife should be kind to her husband. She should comfort him and do what good she can for him, under all circumstances in life. When all the family are united together, they enjoy a heavenly spirit here on the earth. This is how it should be; for when a man in this Church takes unto himself a wife he expects to remain with her through all time and eternity. In the morning of the first resurrection he expects to have that wife and his children with him in a family organization, to remain in that condition forever and forever. What a glorious thought that is!25

Suggestions for Study and Teaching

Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.

  • What impresses you about the relationship between Wilford and Phoebe Woodruff? (See pages 161–63.)

  • Review President Woodruff’s counsel to his daughter Blanche (page 163). Think about or discuss specific things you can do to help your family members be happy.

  • What impresses you as you read President Woodruff’s counsel to the youth about marriage and parenthood? (See page 164.) How might his counsel apply in the lives of all Church members?

  • Read the final three paragraphs in the first section of teachings (pages 164–65). In what ways can “the vanity and affairs of the world” distract us from the joys of family? How can we counteract such influences? How can we show family members that we prize our association with them?

  • Read the first full paragraph on page 166. What do you think it means to “bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”? What are some things you have done to accomplish this?

  • Review the third and fourth full paragraphs on page 165. How can parents help their children gain a desire to serve in the Church?

  • As you read President Woodruff’s counsel about teaching children, what specific principles do you find? (See pages 165–66.)

  • Review the section that begins on page 167. What can parents do to make family relationships a top priority?

  • What principles can parents learn from young Wilford Woodruff’s experiences with his schoolmaster? (See page 168.)

  • What did President Woodruff say about the influence of husbands and fathers? (See pages 168–69.) What did he say about the influence of wives and mothers? (See pages 169–70.) How can husbands and wives help each other in their responsibilities?

  • How do the teachings in this chapter relate to grandparents? What experiences have shown how grandparents can have a righteous influence on their grandchildren?

  • What examples have you seen of parents and grandparents fulfilling their responsibilities toward their families?

Related Scriptures: Enos 1:1; Mosiah 4:14–15; Alma 56:45–48; D&C 68:25–31; 93:38–40

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    “Leaves from My Journal,” Millennial Star, October 3, 1881, 638–39.

  2.   2.

    Quoted in Millennial Star, August 1840, 90.

  3.   3.

    Journal of Wilford Woodruff, April 3, 1847, Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  4.   4.

    See Journal of Wilford Woodruff, April 7, 1847.

  5.   5.

    Deseret Weekly, August 17, 1889, 226.

  6.   6.

    Wilford Woodruff to Blanche Woodruff, September 16, 1894; quoted in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols. (1992), 4:1582.

  7.   7.

    “An Epistle to the Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Millennial Star, November 14, 1887, 728.

  8.   8.

    The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham (1946), 271.

  9.   9.

    The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 271.

  10.   10.

    “Y. M. M. I. A. Annual Conference,” Contributor, August 1895, 636.

  11.   11.

    Deseret Weekly, June 26, 1867, 202.

  12.   12.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, March 4, 1873, 3.

  13.   13.

    Deseret Weekly, August 17, 1889, 225–26.

  14.   14.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, July 20, 1875, 1.

  15.   15.

    Salt Lake Herald Church and Farm, June 15, 1895, 385.

  16.   16.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, July 20, 1875, 1.

  17.   17.

    Deseret News, February 22, 1865, 162.

  18.   18.

    “Selfishness,” Juvenile Instructor, March 15, 1867, 45.

  19.   19.

    Deseret News, December 26, 1860, 338.

  20.   20.

    Deseret News, December 26, 1860, 338.

  21.   21.

    The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 264.

  22.   22.

    Deseret Weekly, June 22, 1889, 823.

  23.   23.

    Deseret Weekly, August 17, 1889, 225.

  24.   24.

    Deseret News, April 24, 1872, 152.

  25.   25.

    Deseret Weekly, June 22, 1889, 823.