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Parenting

Teaching Our Children to Love and Serve Each Other

Quarreling and bickering among siblings are painfully common in family life. It seems that the natural child is an enemy not only to God but also to brothers and sisters.

While children are declared innocent because of the atonement (D&C 93:38), it is also true that “when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts” (Moses 6:55). Everyone who works with children knows that they can be not only charming, sweet, and delightful, but also selfish, pouty, and demanding. They are not automatically or naturally cooperative and peace loving.

How can parents prevent contention between their children?

The natural parent

There are two popular methods for dealing with sibling conflict. One is parental intrusion. Parents separate the children or punish them for their contention. This method can only work as long as there is a parent available to intervene in the conflict. Even if this method interrupts the conflict it does not solve the problem; children do not learn new ways of dealing with their differences with their siblings.

The second method is lecturing. The main problem with lecturing is that it doesn’t work—and it generally insults and demoralizes children. Children respond to accusation with defensiveness; they blame their siblings and excuse themselves. The result is an increase in the contention in the family.

Parents almost universally will agree that we want loving and helpful relationships between our children. But how can we make this happen?

Helping children find something better than quarreling

Imagine that your 5-year-old daughter wanders into her older brother’s room. He is concentrating on building a Lego structure. Sister picks up some Legos to do some building of her own. He grabs the Legos from her, pushes her toward the door and shouts that she should stay out of his room. Little sister runs to you crying.

You are frustrated and angry. You are tempted to lecture your son about being kind and inclusive with his sister.

But this response does not teach your son to love and serve. What would God have you do? The vast research on moral development together with God’s perfect guidance can help us establish five steps.

1. Engage your son in a gentle way. Harsh approaches arouse anxiety and block learning. When we are upset, we are not able to parent effectively. We may need to take time out to get peaceful. If a situation requires immediate action, we might invite our children to also take a timeout in their rooms to prepare for a productive dialogue. God counsels us to use persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and genuine love. It is important to get his attention without arousing fear: “Son, we need to talk. Your sister is very upset by the way you treated her.”

2. Give your son credit for anything you can: “I’m sure you didn’t intend to hurt your sister’s feelings.” We are often tempted to magnify the misdeeds in order to get our children to take our message seriously. Yet when we “exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved” (D&C 121:37). In contrast, when we see our children through the lens of charity, we set the stage for love and learning. When we appreciate their good intentions and sincere striving, we are more likely to find common ground.

3. Show that you understand your son’s point of view: “You just wanted to build without being distracted or interrupted.” Compassion is the key to connecting. When accusation rather than compassion is in our hearts, we alienate. When, in contrast, I see from the child’s point of view, I am able to guide effectively. Compassion is the heart of the healer’s art.

4. Draw the child’s attention to the distress of the victim: “When you ordered your sister to leave you alone, she felt sad. She felt that you don’t like to have her around. Maybe she even felt that you don’t like her.”

There are really two parts to this step. Just as the Lord teaches us in our minds and in our hearts (See D&C 8:2), so we must inform our children’s minds and hearts. Both are essential for right behavior.

We teach the mind about the law of the harvest. When we are unkind, we damage relationships. Instead we invite the child to learn his sister’s point of view: “I think your sister just wanted to be with you.”

We also train our children’s hearts. We gently invite our children to feel love and compassion for their siblings. “You might not know that your sister looks up to you. She wants to be like you. I hope you can find a way for her to be with you while still accomplishing the things you set out to do.”

The objective in this approach is not for your son to be sunk in guilt but to be stirred to empathy and compassion. When we use harsh approaches with our children, they focus on their own distress and are likely to become stubborn and defensive. That’s not what we want. We want to help our children get outside their provincial view of their own needs and be able to see the needs of others.

We cannot rush this process. When the child protests, “But she is the one who messed up my work!” we do not have to argue. We return to the third step, showing understanding for his point of view: “It’s pretty frustrating, isn’t it!” When the child feels genuinely understood, then he is ready to learn in his mind and in his heart.

Help the child to feel genuine compassion for the one he has hurt. Naturally your child will resist your challenge: “She can’t start grabbing Legos when I’m building something.” If we want our child to show compassion, we must model compassion. Rather than squabbling with the boy, we can show empathy: “It’s hard when you’re in the middle of a project and she interrupts you or starts using your Legos.” When we show him compassion, he is more able to show compassion for his sister. It may take several rounds of expressing understanding and compassion before he is ready to show compassion for his sister.

5. Once the child feels understood and is calm and peaceful, then we can help the child think of a way to make repairs: “How could we help your sister feel loved and welcome without messing up your project?”

When hearts are right creativity can rule. “Maybe I could help her build a house” or “I could provide her with some of the blocks.”

Any parent might reasonably protest that this process takes a lot of time. You’re right! Parenting is not quick, simple, or convenient. Parenting is a large and continuing sacrifice. Yet it is also true that, when we teach children correct principles, they are more likely to govern themselves in righteousness. An hour spent teaching them in their youth can save years of conflict, struggle, and waywardness.

In the midst of sibling conflicts, it is common to try to figure out which child is the offender. This is rarely productive. Rather than try to weigh offences, we invite all toward repentance. In the above process, the focus was on the son’s repenting, but a parallel process could operate with the daughter. We could show her compassion and help her understand her brother’s need to be able to concentrate.

Of course this approach is not the perfect one in all circumstances. When a child is in danger, action is needed more than instruction. When a child is so tired or upset that reasoning is not possible, some time for calming is called for. When a child is holding a parent hostage—requiring them to prove their point to the child’s satisfaction—this is not the right approach.

Getting our hearts right

Perhaps the greatest challenge to effectively teaching children is that we simply cannot do it right unless our hearts are right. We cannot teach them the principles of love and goodness while bubbling with anger or annoyed by distractions.

The Christlike parent recognizes our dependence on God, calls out for mercy, continues in prayer, and draws on the power of heaven. In parenting as in all things, He is the way, the truth, and the life.

Invitation: The next time contention arises between your children, rather than add more contention, see if you can bring the peace of compassionate teaching as outlined.

Recommendation: For applied approaches to parenting, see Haim G. Ginott, Between Parent and Child or John Gottman, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

For more about the science of parental control, see Martin L. Hoffman, Empathy and Moral Development: Implications for Caring and Justice; John C. Gibbs, Moral Development and Reality; Wendy S. Grolnick, The Psychology of Parental Control.

This article is a revision of an article previously published at Meridian Magazine. Thanks to Barbara Keil for her excellent editing.

Self Development

Do You Want to Fill the Measure of Your Creation? The Lord’s Program for Being Useful

I grew up trying to overcome my strengths. I didn’t like the excesses that came from my native enthusiasm, so I determined to be moderate. I hated the distractibility that came with my creativity, so I resolved to be steady.

I was a man at war with himself. I was neither happy nor productive.

It was immensely liberating for me when, as an adult, I read the recommendation of brilliant psychologist, Martin Seligman:

I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weaknesses. Rather, I believe that the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your signature strengths. (p. 13, Authentic Happiness)

Our focus should be on using our strengths! What an intriguing idea! How does that fit with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? What is the Lord’s program of gifts?

Tucked away in the Doctrine and Covenants (section 46) is God’s program of spiritual gifts and personal development. His instruction can guide us to a full life. Five points seem very clear:

1. “…To every [person] is given a gift by the Spirit of God” (v.11).

God equips every child with a gift or some combination of gifts. The question is not whether we have gifts, but whether we have discovered them.

Each of us should study and pray to come to know the gifts we have been given. I recommend that you take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths to learn your signature strengths. The Keirsey Temperament Sorter or Myers-Briggs test can also be a resource. The first two of these can be taken free online.

We can also become more aware of our gifts as we notice what kind of work we love.

This scripture also encourages us to notice and appreciate the gifts and strengths of others.

2. “To some is given one, and to some is given another . . . ” (v.12).

The human tendency is to compare ourselves to others and feel we don’t measure up. But we are not given the same gifts as others. Joseph Smith had different gifts from Brigham Young. Peter had different gifts from Paul. You have different gifts than I do.

“For there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God” (D&C 46:11).

Rather than worrying that we do not measure up to the gifts of others, we should understand and celebrate the gifts we are given. If we fail to use our gifts because we consider them inferior to someone else’s gifts, then we are unwise servants. It is better to rejoice in the gifts given to others and combine them with our own in service to worthy causes.

“Now, seeing that I know these things, why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?” (Alma 29:6).

It is worth remembering that God gives us weakness (Ether 12:27) so that we recognize our desperate need for Him. Thus, the angelic directive to our first parents and all of us since is: “Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore” (Moses 5:7). Only He can ultimately eradicate our weaknesses.

3. “And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God” (D&C 46:26).

For those who are tempted to covet others’ gifts, God has given the good news that all gifts in all people belong to all of us in a community of caring and service. God has not given us gifts so that we may win trophies and impress our neighbors. He has given us gifts so “that all may be profited thereby” (v.12).

Discoveries from research have shown that using our gifts to serve others actually contributes to our level of happiness in life. God has always known the growth-promoting and healing benefits of serving and loving. When our gifts are woven together in a tapestry of caring, we are filling the measure of our creation. We are becoming more like Him.

Prophets of every era have counseled us to serve and bless one another. It is essential to our growth. We can do God’s work by pondering how we can better use the specific gifts He has given us in ministering to others.

4. “Seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given” (v.8).

God encourages us to keep growing. We pray for God to enlarge and refine us. For example, we pray earnestly for the gift of charity. We pray for any gift that will enable us to bless His children.

The fact that God calls these “gifts” should remind us of the source. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).

5. “Ye must give thanks unto God in the Spirit for whatsoever blessing ye are blessed with” (v.32).

Gratitude opens the windows of heaven. “O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!” (Mosiah 2:19). All gifts are a divine bestowal intended to bless all of our brothers and sisters. Part of gratitude is acknowledging and magnifying our gifts.

So is Seligman right? Should our focus be on using our gifts more than eliminating our faults? God’s program of gifts seems consistent with that idea. When we fill the measure of our creation, we have inexpressible joy. We use the gifts God has given us and we pray for His mercy to manage our faults.

Invitation: What are the gifts God has given you? How can you use them to bless His children?

Recommendations: I recommend that you seek to become more aware of the gifts God has given you. You may also be interested in Seligman’s book, Authentic Happiness.

Parts of this article were drawn from my book, Modern Myths and Latter-day Truths.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful contributions to this article.

Parenting

Teaching Our Children to Trust God

“Believe in yourself.” “Love yourself.” “Trust yourself.” These messages abound. The very modern and progressive remedy for mortal misery is to build faith in the self. Many of us have tried this formula in our own lives. We have taught it to our children. And by doing so we miss teaching them about the only Power in the universe that can transform us. There is a God and I am not He.

The modern prescription flies in the face of God’s consistent counsel throughout scripture. Nephi’s inspired observation is typical: “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm” (2 Nephi 4:34). Nephi was very clear that his only hope was trusting in God. “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.”

The celebration of ourselves and our powers can keep us from recognizing our utter dependence on God. It can keep us from showing our children how to find the power that can save them.

Perhaps the single most important thing we can do as parents is to teach our children to love, trust, and call on God. We cannot rescue our children from the fall, but we can point them to the power that can. How can we do that?

1. We can have a loving and vital relationship with God. I love how Rebecca Harding Davis has said it:

“For, after all, put it as we may to ourselves, we are all of us from birth to death guests at a table which we did not spread. The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet…. Shall we think of the day as a chance to come nearer to our Host, and to find out something of Him who has fed us so long?”

When our lives are overflowing with gratitude for the God who loves us, guides us, and redeems us, we are building our family foundation on the Rock. We can regularly model that gratitude for our children.

2. We can teach our children to embrace repentance as the path to becoming better people. We will make lots of mistakes as parents and as people. We can show our children that we are thankful for the opportunity to repent and turn to God for forgiveness and help in becoming better.

We can patiently teach our children to repent. And then we show them what mercy and compassion look like by the way we respond to their mistakes.

“All of God’s faculties, all of his inclinations are poised and bent on blessing at the slightest provocation. Oh, how God loves to be merciful and bless his children! Perhaps that is his greatest joy. It is the inherent quality that drives him with tireless vigilance to save his children” (p. 313, Tad R. Callister, Infinite Atonement, 2000, Deseret Book).

We can show the kind of love and goodness to family members that God shows to us. We will do it imperfectly, yet our children will recognize our growing discipleship.

3. We can live our faith in Christ. We will, at times, be unsettled by doubts, bothered by imperfections, or wearied by burdens. This is when our examples can be most valuable to our children. As Fosdick asks:

“Are we to trust for our guidance the testimony of our worse or better hours? . . We have cellars in our houses. But we do not live there; we live upstairs!” (p. 203).

In times of challenge, our lives can be governed by our discontents or they can be guided by the Light and Life of the world. When we feel pressed down, do our children witness us looking up with faith? Even when we are struggling, do our children see us noticing and acknowledging God’s blessings? When our children are struggling, do we invite them to look for His goodness and mercy?

“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:26).

We can help our children know that they can never save themselves. We can help them learn to throw themselves on the merits, mercy, and grace of Him who is mighty to save. Our personal examples of humility, repentance, faith, and rejoicing will teach our children the most important lessons of life.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Invitation: As you read this article, what do you feel inspired to do to help your children love and trust God?

Recommendation: My life continues to be blessed by Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ. I recommend it heartily.

Thanks to Barbara Keil and Emily McIntosh for their insightful suggestions for this article.

Marriage

As a Couple Thinketh

Two amazing people were struggling in their marriage. In desperation, they went to see a therapist. He told them to go home and each spend the week until their next visit creating a list of frustrations with their partner. He promised to help them discuss those frustrations at their next appointment. All week long their lists and their irritations grew. By the time they returned to see the counselor, each had a soul-full of exasperation. And that is what they discussed during their sessions. Each accused. Both felt hurt and defensive. Any hope for their marriage disappeared. They divorced.

A different therapist took a different approach. When a couple came to see him, each partner anxious to confess the spouse’s sins, he asked if he could first get to know their history. He asked if each of them would tell what first attracted them to each other. They thought back and began telling their stories. Both softened as they recalled the good qualities that had brought them together. Good feelings returned. Problems seemed more manageable.

John Gottman, the preeminent marriage scholar, observed: “In a happy marriage couples tend to look back on their early days fondly. When they talk about the tough times they’ve had, they glorify the struggles they’ve been through, drawing strength from the adversity they weathered together. But when a marriage is not going well, history gets rewritten—for the worse” (p. 42).

Our stories are not objective facts. They are personal creations. We choose to forgive or not, to appreciate or not, to work together or not.

Without realizing it, during times of marital dissatisfaction, we “re-script” our memories of our marriages. Perhaps we think: “Now that I think about it, he has always disappointed me.” Or, “As I look back, I’m not sure I ever really loved her.” We re-script the history of our relationship to align with our current unhappiness. This causes us to think our unhappiness is more “real” than earlier times when the marriage flourished. And so we justify our thoughts of abandoning the marriage.

Gottman’s research shows that couples whose marriages are less likely to survive make the assumption that their dissatisfaction is permanent. They assume that their unhappiness is the new reality that likely cannot be changed.

In contrast, couples whose marriages are more likely to survive view their dissatisfaction as temporary—they hold onto the belief that, with patience, compassion, and commitment, they can weather the current winter storm and the marriage will blossom again.

Let’s add gospel perspective to the scholarly view.

1. Don’t let pains harden your perspective. We can let pains turn into positions. We can move from frustration or hurt to resentment to recalcitrance. That is the natural course of relationships in a fallen world. Paul offers the remedy: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Rather than offer condemnation, we can offer mercy and kindness to those who hurt and frustrate us—even those who are closest to us.

2. Cherish good times. Notice, remember, and cherish your good experiences. We look at each other “with kindness and pure knowledge” (D&C 121:42). Gottman observed: “I’ve found 94 percent of the time that couples who put a positive spin on their marriage’s history are likely to have a happy future as well. Despite what many therapists will tell you, you don’t have to resolve your major marital conflicts for your marriage to thrive. In other words, [successful couples] are constantly working it out, for the most part good-naturedly. These couples intuitively understand that problems are inevitably part of a relationship, much the way chronic physical ailments are inevitable as you get older” (pp. 64, 131).

Marriage is intended to stretch us toward being more like the Savior: gracious, forgiving, helpful, and encouraging—even redemptive. We can welcome our irritations and differences as an invitation toward godliness.

Caveat: Some marriages are too destructive to survive. To see if your is one of those, read Hawkins’ and Fackrell’s excellent article: https://ldsmag.com/should-i-keep-working-on-my-marriage-perspectives-and-tools-at-the-crossroads-of-divorce/

Invitation: Set your mind and heart to think differently about irritations. Choose to be gracious and generous. Also, track through your relationship history looking for the “glory in your marital story.” Make a record of the great moments in your marriage.

Recommendation: Gottman’s quotes in this article are drawn from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work which is the classic marriage book. My book, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, provides a gospel perspective on marriage.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful edits to this article.

Self Development

Out of Small Things Come Great Blessings

When we moved to Little Rock, Nancy launched her traditional “meet the neighbors” campaign. One day, after I got home from work, she told me about her visit to Elizabeth Howitt who lived directly behind us. “She is the most amazing woman! She is a remarkable seamstress, a vibrant woman, and a delight to talk to. She is 80-something years old and a widow from Scotland.” Nancy had already fallen in love with her.

Nancy suggested that, since Elizabeth’s family all lived far away, we become a support system for her. I agreed.

Every week during the summer we mowed her lawn. She baked us royal biscuits. We painted her living room. She made us dinner. We made repairs around her house. She told us stories and taught us expressions from her homeland. “I looked at the yard and felt like a dog with two tails.” “My bag was packed like a dog’s breakfast.” “I lit the heater and took a bath and oh! I wouldn’t call the queen my cousin.” “Bob’s your uncle.”

She would sweep up the dust in the alleyway to add as fill dirt to her yard. She ate steel-cut oats daily for breakfast. She walked laps within her home. She read and reread hundreds of books from the library. We were amazed by her breadth of knowledge and enthusiasm for life.
What a vibrant person!

When we went out for a burger or a barbecue sandwich, we took her along. Though she was a tiny little person, she ate more than either of us.

She learned about our family and kept track of each person even though they lived across the country. We celebrated holidays together. She introduced us to her family when they visited.

What started as a service project became something quite different. We became dear friends with Elizabeth.

My beloved Nancy wanted to share the gospel with her. Elizabeth listened attentively and courteously. But, as a witness to decades of religious fighting, she was not interested.

After six years of beautiful friendship, Elizabeth became ill. She was found to have an advanced case of cancer. She died within a month of the diagnosis. It was then that we fully appreciated how much she had changed our lives. We missed her stories, her friendship, her zeal, her “biscuits.” We missed her.

Before she died she gave to us a lovely chair that she had upholstered. The chair sits proudly in our living room.

Service—heartfelt service—changes people. It enlarges hearts and enriches lives. Atop the pyramid of happiness-building recommendations of science is this one: Serve. I suppose that shouldn’t surprise us; God has been recommending service from the beginning of time. The One who washed His disciples dirty and reluctant feet commanded us to love as He loves.

Of course, there is a potential problem with serving. Some of us feel quite guilty if we do not show up for every service project, assist in every move, and visit every widow. So, we totter between exhaustion and guilt. That approach to service is not healthy.

I love the idea that we bring a willingness to every invitation to serve. We want to serve. We gladly serve. Yet we carefully follow God’s direction. For some neighbors we offer fellowship and a plate of cookies. Every once in a while, God will send an Elizabeth into our lives. We seize the blessing when it comes.

God will call us to serve many people in many ways.

We thank God for Elizabeth Howitt. We can’t wait to visit with her again and enjoy Royal Biscuits in heaven.

Invitation: As you read these words, whom do you feel God is calling you to serve? What would He have you do for them?

Recommendation:
Seligman’s Authentic Happiness reviews the great research on happiness. I heartily recommend it. (He has written a more recent book, Flourish. I believe that Authentic Happiness is a stronger book.)

Parenting

Effective Parenting is More than Limits and Consequences

Imagine that your 5-year-old is playing with his toys when a neighbor child comes to the door asking your child to come out and play. Let’s imagine that you had established earlier in the day that you expected your son to put away his toys before he went out to play. So, you ask your son to put away his toys. The boy begs: “Mom! I promise I will put them away later. Please! Let me go out and play!”

What should a wise and balanced parent do?

1. You might say, “Do you promise? I will hold you to it! Okay then. You may go out to play.” That parent is so anxious for good will that he or she sacrifices responsibility.

2. You might say, “You may not go out until you have put everything away.” As the parent you send the neighbor child away with the words: “He will be out if he gets his cleaning done.” This approach emphasizes rules over relationship.

3. You might hesitate. Your child begins to cry, “Oh, please, Mommy. I really want to go out and play.” Tears and begging. Mom, wanting to be kind, lets the child go. And the child learns that emotional displays can undermine parental resolve.

4. You might say: “Son, I can see that you really want to go out and play! I will go get your jacket while you put away your toys. Maybe your friend would like to help you.” This approach honors the child’s feelings while still honoring the earlier agreement about putting toys away. The parent is neither a pushover nor a prison guard but a facilitator and encourager.

The very best parenting shows profound compassion and love for the child while still honoring responsibility and accountability. This is the balancing act in parenting. There are certainly times when rules and agreements may be adapted. Children may stay up late for special occasions, etc.

Each parent has a different natural inclination between guidance and nurture. You may be a great nurturer who does not adequately set and enforce limits. Or you may be a person who is focused on enforcing limits even if it interferes with your relationships with your children. Or you may be so anxious for peace that you surrender your good sense when your child becomes upset in the face of consequences. Or you may be some other combination.

All of us need to honor both core principles with our children. “And, ye [parents], provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

It can be remarkably difficult for frustrated parents to discern among effective consequences, resentment-creating punishments, and unhelpful manipulation.

Sometimes we justify harsh consequences because “children must learn the lesson.” I absolutely believe in the law of the harvest and that children who do not learn to be responsible for their behavior are likely to become irresponsible adults who have painful lives.

However, I also believe that many books and discussions are so completely focused on consequences, that parents forget about nurturing the relationship of love. We must not lose a sense of balance that respects both appropriate consequences and the loving relationship with our children that will promote their best development.

One of the core truths of research and the gospel, is that people grow, learn, and flourish best when their development is governed by someone who loves them dearly.

God also gives the law of love priority.

The profound statement by Urie Bronfenbrenner is foundational: “Every child should spend a substantial amount of time with somebody who’s crazy about him or her. There has to be at least one person who has an irrational involvement with that child, someone who thinks that kid is more important than other people’s kids, someone who’s in love with him or her and whom he or she loves in return.”

Research teaches that no control techniques work in the absence of a loving relationship. A person may use the most effective control techniques on the planet, but they will have limited effectiveness if the child does not feel loved.

What are the markings of proper consequences? Parents don’t overreact to misdeeds. They stay calm and helpful. Parents retain a spirit of good will and helpfulness. They ensure that the child takes on reasonable, developmentally-appropriate responsibility for keeping commitments and making repairs related to their behavior.

The real-world challenges often require the wisdom of Solomon; yet they are solved with a commitment to both essential processes: nurture and guidance.

Invitation: See if you can determine what your personal balance is between nurturing and guiding. Think about ways you can honor both processes in your parenting.

Recommendation: Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child provides excellent examples of nurturing while setting limits. Books by his students Faber and Mazlish also do this well.

Marriage

The Secret to Showing Love Effectively

Dave Barry ironically observed that “Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the past 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages.”

It’s human nature to expect people to learn our language, to do things our way, to meet our needs. No where is that more evident than in marriage.

Despite decades of marriage, Nancy has not reorganized her life, personality, and priorities around meeting all my needs. She is amazingly considerate and accommodating. But she still has her own preferences. She has not become another Wally or a servant to Wally. She is a unique person with her own strengths and her own inclinations. She still speaks her own language.

That is exactly God’s point in marriage! We may care very much about each other, but God wants us to do more than settle comfortably into our own ways. He wants us to stretch beyond our egocentric preferences. He wants us to truly learn how to love. And as part of that assignment, He wants us to spend a lifetime learning someone else’s language. We may one day speak it naturally and fluently. But, without effort, we will hardly be able to communicate.

You have probably heard of languages of love—the idea that we all have different preferences for the ways people show us love. Gary Chapman has written a popular book in which he lists five love languages:

Words of affirmation
Quality time
Receiving gifts
Acts of service
Physical touch

His book is good. And I love the concept! Yet his system seems unnecessarily complex. I never remember all five languages. So I use a system with three love languages instead:

Show me. “I’m not convinced by words but by actions.”
Tell me. “I love words and messages of love.”
Touch me. “I love to touch and snuggle.”

I find those three love languages easy to remember and simple to classify. Of course, most of us like to be loved in some mixture of the three languages. We want to see the actions. We value the words. We like to be held. We may value all three to some extent, but each of us likely places greater importance on one or two.

To add challenge to our relationships, our preferences may change over time. For example, sometimes we most cherish what is least available. Heavenly Father wants us to learn to pay attention to our partners and their needs on a continuing basis.

In addition to the three specific languages, I sometimes add two universal languages—ways of expressing love that everyone desires:

Understand me. “Listen to my thoughts and feelings. Try to value them and make sense of them.”
Spend time with me. “Join me in doing things I love to do.”

I wish I could say that I was a quick learner. The truth is different. Because I love (LOVE!) stuff, I tended to give Nancy stuff. When I wanted to show her love, I would buy her a new dress or a lovely mixer. Yet I could tell that Nancy wasn’t excited by those gifts. She would be gracious, but I could tell that I wasn’t speaking her language.

After almost three decades of marriage (Yes. I’m a quick learner!), I decided to try a different approach. I asked myself, how does she like to receive and show love? What are the gifts Nancy has received that she most cherishes? What makes her feel loved? It was instantly clear to me that I had not been speaking her love language. She loves sincere notes. I decided to write her a note for Christmas.

Having never been knowingly guilty of moderation, I decided to review the entire year and write to her about the sweet blessings we had shared that year. It took a lot of time to review my records for the year and write a letter that covered all that time. I worked at it many hours. As Christmas approached, I printed out the 4-page letter on quality paper, put it in an envelope, and put it under our Christmas tree with her name on it.

When Christmas arrived, our youngest, Sara, handed out presents from under the tree. After a time, she got to the letter and handed it to her mother. Nancy was puzzled. But she opened it and read, “Sweetheart, I am so grateful for the joyous experience we have shared this year. . . .” Nancy had read only a few paragraphs of the letter when she began to cry. She turned to me and said, “Wally, this is what I really want for Christmas!”

I instinctively responded, “Yes, Dear. But there will be some great sales after Christmas!” Despite my natural tendency to buy Nancy stuff, I am learning to love her in her language.

Nancy also likes me to help her in the yard. Of course, that is not what I prefer to do. Showing love requires sacrifice. It will always cost us to effectively show our love to another person. But if we wish to learn God’ lessons of love, we must be willing to do be stretched.

Of course, this same principle of customizing our love applies to our relationships with our children, other relatives, and anyone to whom we would convey genuine caring. To be effective, we must notice what matters to them.

There is an exception. In new and casual relationships, we appreciate any evidence of interest. A half-can of broken Pringles may touch our hearts at the beginning. But, in a mature and committed relationship, we must care enough to notice and to act in the ways that are meaningful to our loved ones. This stretches us. It challenges us to be more like the Savior, focused on the needs of others instead of focusing on our own convenience or preferences.

Invitation: Think about your loved one. What expressions of love would be most meaningful to him/her? Are there ways you can better customize your messages of love?

Recommendation: Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages is a good book for understanding the idea of customizing our love.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her help with this article.

Self Development

Defeating Dark Messages

“I don’t feel like I’m doing anything important. And I don’t feel connected to the ward members. In fact, I feel inferior to them. I feel pretty worthless.”

The good woman who shared these feelings with me is not alone. Joseph Smith confessed:

“I have visited a grove which is Just back of the town almost every day where I can be Secluded from the eyes of any mortal and there give vent to all the feelings of my heart in meaditation and prayr. I have called to mind all the past moments of my life and am left to morn and Shed tears of sorrow for my folly in sufering the adversary of my soul to have so much power over me as he has had in times past, but God is merciful and has forgiven my Sins and I rejoice that he Sendeth forth the Comferter unto as many as believe and humbleth themselves before him” (Joseph Smith to Emma Smith, 6 June 1832, Church Archives).

Squeaky clean Nephi also felt inadequate:

“O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins” (2 Nephi 4:17-19).

I join Nephi, Joseph Smith, and all others who grieve over their follies and failings. Several times a day a thought of a foolish moment or a stupid mistake drops on my soul, making me squirm.

“When I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins.” Often our sins and weaknesses are all mingled in a puddle of humiliation. In this world, sensitive people are likely to feel stupid and inferior.

Do you have faults that discourage you? Do you ever feel like giving up on yourself? Do you feel clueless and weak?

One of Satan’s greatest deceptions is to convince us that discouraging thoughts are from God. “He is disappointed in you.”

This truth is essential: God does not speak to His children that way. He does not chide, scold, and harass. “That which doth not edify is NOT of God” (D&C 50:23, emphasis added). He does send specific instructions, but He does not torment us.

Dark messages come from Satan. He is the father of lies and the master of misery.

How do we explain our self-disappointment? “Because of the fall, our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3:2). When we recognize that our eternal spirits are regularly burdened by our earthly realities, we are ready for the companion truth: There is only One remedy for the Fall: Jesus.

Nephi set the example for all of us who are discouraged. After expressing his despair in his spiritual failures, he pivoted away from himself and toward God: “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh” (2 Nephi 4:19-21).

Melancholy is transformed in a minute if we turn from our fallenness to His redemptiveness. Alma provides a powerful example of the principle:

“There could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. . . . On the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy (Alma 36:21).

Alma’s transformation came when he cried out, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me” (Alma 36:18). That is not theoretical religion; that is applied faith.

When I feel assaulted by my recollection of mistakes and failings, rather than brood, I call out with Alma, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me.” I throw myself on the merits, mercy, and grace of Him who is mighty to save. I pray that He will forgive me of my sins and heal those I have injured. Instead of dwelling on my inadequacies, I ask that Him to use my gifts. Rather than feel defeated by my weaknesses, I pray He change my nature and make me more like Him. That is what He loves to do. And the key to accessing His power is calling on Him with full purpose of heart.

When we understand this principle, we rejoice with Paul:

“And [the Lord] said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

When God graciously reveals my inadequacy to me, He is inviting me to call on heavenly power. For that reason, every awareness of my imperfection is a blessing.

I am not recommending tired resignation. Quite the contrary. I recommend that we humbly acknowledge our weakness and throw ourselves on the merits, mercy, and grace of the only one who can fix us. It is surprisingly liberating. We stop expecting ourselves to do the impossible—to make ourselves virtuous. And we turn to the one who loves to heal broken things. What are the steps in the process?

1. We transform nagging feelings of spiritual inadequacy into active faith: “O Jesus, thou son of God, have mercy on me.”

2. We cheerfully do those things we are able to do (See D&C 123:17). We repent. We make amends. We try to act on Divine invitations to change for the better.

3. We show our trust in Him by pushing away Satan’s attempts to discourage us. We choose peace.

This process works because we understand His process. We know that Only He can make us holy.

Invitation: The next time you feel burdened by weakness or assaulted by failings, try Alma’s words, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me.” Cast Satan out of your mind and heart and invite Jesus in.

Recommendation: I recommend Believing Christ by Stephen Robinson.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her editing of this article.

Parenting

Better Ways of Disciplining

I was chatting with a friend in the entrance to his garage one Saturday morning. As we spoke, his young son rode into the garage on his bike and parked it in front of the old family station wagon. Apparently, the family had a rule about the proper place to park bikes and the boy had violated that rule.

What should a father do to be sure his son learns that he must not park his bike in front of the car? Dad has several options.

He could punish the boy. But can we punish children into submission? Perhaps. We certainly can punish them into bitterness and resentment. Punishment creates resistance.

The father could remove privileges. “I am going to lock up your bike until you learn a lesson.” That consequence might make the boy take the rule more seriously. Yet instead of teaching better thinking, this assumes that the only way to learn is through the threat of unpleasant consequences.

Let’s talk about what the father did do. The father interrupted our conversation to stomp over to his son, grab him, hold him up in the air and start yelling the Standard Parental Lecture. “Why do you always…Why can’t you ever…Won’t you ever learn…What is it going to take…”

Such expression of strong emotion may help the father feel that he has made his point. But let’s leave our parental perspective and see the situation from the child’s view. What do you think the son was thinking as he was suspended in mid-air with his father’s angry face yelling at him? Do you think he was saying, “I am so glad that dad is bringing these things to my attention. He has a valid point. This will really help me remember.”

I don’t think so. I don’t think the boy was doing any quiet reflecting. I suspect that he was flooded with emotion. Fear. Anger. Humiliation. Hurt. If my discernment is correct, the boy was overwhelmed and forlorn.

When the father had finished his harangue, he paused, still panting from the angry lecture. Then he bellowed: “I love you.” He set his son down and returned to pick up the conversation with me.

Again, let’s take the child’s perspective. Do you think the boy left the conversation feeling loved? I don’t think so. I think he felt humiliated! The person who should have been his friend, protector, teacher, and advocate had acted in total disregard for his feelings. He could have taught him, encouraged him, and helped him. Instead he demeaned him.

In an earlier post I recommended the use of parental induction in which we minimize the use of power, we reason with children and help them understand the effects of their behavior on others.

This agrees with the Lord’s instruction: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of [parenthood], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (D&C 121:41-42).

Imagine that the dad, upon seeing the son’s parking violation, called out to his son, “Ethan.” Maybe simply calling his name would spark the son’s remembrance of previous discussions about bikes and parking.

Maybe not. If not, the father could invite: “Let’s talk!” The son trots to his father who kneels to face him. “Do you remember what we’ve said about parking your bike?” Almost surely the son will remember. “I would like you to park your bike on the side of the garage. Are you willing to do that?” If Ethan has any hesitation, Dad might teach the reason for the rule. Then he might suggest, “I know it may be hard to remember. What can we do to help you remember?”

This approach assumes that the son will respond to reasonable guidance but may need reminders. So the focus is on helping him remember.

How might the son respond to this approach? He is likely to feel that his father is on his side, that they can work together in peace and love. He is likely to learn that rules are reasonable guides that help us live together. This is in perfect harmony with the research on induction which shows that children guided by parental induction are likely to become mature, caring, and conscientious adults.

There are innumerable challenges in family life. Kids forget their chores. They are unkind to each other. They do things on impulse. They sneak Twinkies. Induction is a process that can be customized to the behavior of each child. It helps parents go beyond simply enforcing obedience through discipline. Instead, the parent enters the mental and emotional world of the child in order to teach effectively. With an understanding of the child’s world, the parent teaches responsible behavior while preserving a positive relationship.

I recommend teaching as the key to guidance.

“For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own” D&C 88:44

Invitation: Sometime soon your children will do something that irritates you. Be prepared to help them learn through the use of gentle and patient instruction.

Recommendation: I heartily recommend Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child. For ways to guide children without anger, I recommend my Soft-Spoken Parent.

The bike story used in this article is adapted from my book, Finding Joy in Family Life.

Marriage

Showing Understanding in Marriage

Imagine that my wife Nancy has been in hard labor for hour after long hour through an entire night and most of the next day. I am by her side trying to comfort her. She is exhausted from relentless and inexpressible pain. Image that she groans, “I just don’t know if I can keep going.”

Let’s imagine that I say, “I know just how you feel.”

Nancy would have every right to rise out of her bed and smite me.

I don’t know how she feels! My body has never experienced 14 hours of labor. And, even if it had, it would still diminish her current and painful experience if I redirected attention from the one in crisis to the experience of the one who is sitting comfortably at the side of her bed.

There is hardly a poorer way to show understanding or compassion than to say to someone in pain, “I know just how you feel.” That is equally true whether the pain is physical or emotional.

By the way, I did not say that to my wife. Unfortunately, when our firstborn was placed in my arms, I marveled! “Amazing! We need to have more children!” Those were not the words that Nancy was ready to hear immediately after hard labor. It is hard for us to think outside our own experience and fully enter someone else’s experience.

There are times when a dear one is suffering, and we want to offer words of comfort and compassion. What are the best ways of doing that?

Let’s start with INEFFECTIVE ways to show understanding. Many of our efforts to show compassion may have the opposite effect. They make a person feel mad or misunderstood. Following are some examples of things that we should not do:

• Don’t jump in and immediately give advice.
“Here are my thoughts on that…”
“What you need to do is . . ..”
“When something like that happens to me, here is what I do…”

• Don’t talk about your own feelings and experiences instead of theirs.
“I know just how you feel.”
“That same thing happened to me.”
“That’s nothing. You should hear what happened to me.”
“That just makes me so angry because…”

• Don’t make your spouse’s pain seem unimportant.
“I think you’re over-reacting.”
“Everything will seem better tomorrow.”
“That’s too bad…. Now I have something else we need to discuss.”

When people are in emotional pain, the first gift you can give them is the willingness to listen. Provide them a safe harbor in which to express whatever they want to share. Don’t interrupt with questions or opinions. Don’t immediately begin offering counsel. Avoid becoming distracted by planning what you are going to say when it is your turn to talk. Don’t become impatient and signal they are taking too long to share their experience.

While someone is struggling with emotional pain, that experience is very personal and very significant to them in that moment. They don’t feel anyone really understands. And they are right—even if you have listened carefully or been in similar circumstances, you can’t fully understand how the other person is feeling That’s why a person who is hurting would probably rather have you say, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you. I wish I could understand just how sad (or hurt or lonely) you feel.” Sometimes the best way to show understanding is to admit that you can’t understand exactly how they feel.

The key to understanding what the other person feels is identifying the person’s feeling. After we have listened and watched carefully to learn how a person is feeling, we might do and say one of the following EFFECTIVE things:

• Acknowledge or identify the person’s feeling.
“You feel strongly about this!”
“You seem to feel very (concerned, hurt, upset, confused, frustrated, lonely, sad).”

• Invite more discussion.
“I would like to understand how you are feeling. Will you tell me more?”

• Use active listening.
“Let me see if I understand. You feel like . . .? “
“It sounds like you feel (lonely, confused, sad, etc.).”
Effective compassion keeps the focus on the person in pain. It sets aside my own discomforts to minister to one who is suffering. When the good Samaritan was ministering to the wounded and half dead man, he did not say, “I know you’re in bad shape, but my bunions are killing me!” No! We set aside our discomforts to minister to those who are suffering.

All of this gets more complicated when both partners in a marriage are feeling hurt and distressed. When one person can set aside his or her pain to offer comfort, healing is advanced. But that is rare. When we feel attacked by another person, we tend to counter-attack. When a wife enumerates a husband’s faults, he is likely to respond in kind. Sometimes the best we can do when we are both in distress is to take time out. During that timeout, we are wise NOT to rehearse our own complaints but to try to understand our partner’s pain.

There are many times every day when our spouses express pain, dismay, or discouragement. When we regularly offer genuine compassion through the ordinary challenges of life and marriage, we build a bond of trust and love.

Invitation: Next time your partner expresses pain, pause your natural reactions. Turn your full attention to his or her distress. Offer words of understanding.

Recommendation: For an LDS perspective on marriage and compassion, read my Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her excellent additions to this article.

Examples of poor and good ways to show understanding are adapted from my publication, Being Understanding, written for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.