Imagine that you own a modest farm in rural Wyoming. You enjoy your work. You make just enough to get by. But one day everything is changed. You get a call from a powerful monarch. The king is inquiring whether you might allow the crown prince to come and work on the farm with you. “We want him to get some experience.” You are speechless. “We don’t expect you to change the way you live and work. Just be a good farmer and let him learn from you.” You mutter a weak assent.
Thus it is with parenting. The heavenly King asks us to take a crown prince (or princess) into our home. At first we are unnerved by the responsibility. But as the weeks and months pass, the duties of the farm eclipse the awesome responsibility of mentoring royalty. In time our irritation over spilled milk and neglected chores exceeds our awe of office.
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!”
(William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1959), p. 99.)
Viewing our parental responsibilities in an eternal perspective should change everything. Could I speak harshly and carelessly to my royal charge? Even after occasions of misbehavior, could I ever fail to see the nobility and potential in the growing child? Could I ever believe that a television program or magazine article was more important than a walk in the fields with the cherished guest? When his or her ideas are silly and childish, would I mock them? Or would I listen, understand, and counsel? In times of trouble would I shrug carelessly or would I beseech heaven with my whole soul in behalf of the errant child?
Enos paid high tribute to his father: “for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it” (Enos 1:1). “Taught in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Our best loving and teaching is none too good for God’s children. In all things our teaching should point them to their eternal destiny.
In the last two years we have added two princes to our family. Those two grandsons, seen from the perspective of a man who has gained some experience since he raised his own children, are a heavenly gift. To hold them is an honor. To speak of them is a blessing. When our daughter called recently to tell us that their infant boy was ill and might require an operation, our hearts sank. As soon as the phone call was over we fell to our knees to plead for heavenly help. We would gladly give our lives to protect our cherished charges. God asks instead that we live our lives in loving and teaching them.
Maybe it is only in times of crisis that we fully recognize the blessing and responsibility of caring for the children of the divine King. In ways we don’t fully understand we are eternally connected to each other and to Him. “Say your prayers always before going to work. Never forget that. A father—the head of the family—should never miss calling his family together and dedicating himself and them to the Lord of Hosts” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 44).
Given the magnitude of the parenting task, God has given scant direction to parents. Surely it is not because of indifference. It must be because His instructions on gospel living are as apt for being good parents as for becoming sanctified saints. He simply counsels parents to be good Christians.
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates” (Deuteronomy 6:5–9).
The secret of effective parenting is to be a humble follower. When our words and deeds bespeak our love and devotion to God we are ready to be good parents.
Parents should never drive their children, but lead them along, giving them knowledge as their minds are prepared to receive it. Chastening may be necessary betimes, but parents should govern their children by faith rather than by the rod, leading them kindly by good example into all truth and holiness” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 208, emphasis added).
An admired friend told about an experience with her 8-year-old daughter. The little girl wrote a song and sang it to her mother. The mother was amazed at the deep message. In her heart she asked: “Heavenly Father, who is this woman?” For a moment the veil parted and she saw her little girl as she really is: a magnificent woman, a glorious spiritual being! “I wanted to kneel at her feet.” It changed the way she treated that child because she had seen her divine nature and heritage.
When the great King calls us Home, we will return with our dear children to His glorious presence. We will sit with Him at that heavenly feast. And we will thank Him that He entrusted us with some of His dearest children. Then will we all be Kings and Queens to the Most High God.