If it is true that “the natural man is an enemy to God,” (Mosiah 3:19), then maybe it is also true that the natural parent, that parent unrefined by the Spirit of God, is an enemy to both God and His children.
King Benjamin observes that the opposite of the natural man is to become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love . . . .” We are invited, even as adults, to hold onto our childlike openness.
In my years of working with parents I have concluded that one of the most “natural,” instinctive, and unhelpful things parents do with their children is to deny them their feelings. We are often tempted to impose our adult meanings on their childish experiences.
Haim Ginott, the great child psychologist, told the story of 12-year-old Carol who was tense and tearful because her favorite cousin was going home after staying with her during the summer. Carol approached her mother with tears in her eyes: “Susie is going away. I’ll be all alone again.”
If Carol were your daughter, what would you say? What is your natural or instinctive response to the fretful daughter?
Ginott reports the following exchange between mother and daughter:
Mother: You’ll find another friend.
Carol: I’ll be so lonely.
Mother: You’ll get over it.
Carol: Oh, mother! (Sobs.)
Mother: You are twelve years old and still such a crybaby.
Carol gave mother a deadly look and escaped to her room, closing the door behind her.
The impulse to judge, control, and fix children is strong in the natural man. “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion” (D&C 121:39).
What is the better way? How does the Lord direct us to act? The Lord recommends that we influence “by persuasion, by long suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge” (D&C 121:41–42).
Consider whether the following responses recommended by Ginott feel more in line with the Lord’s counsel:
Mother might have said to herself, “Carol is distressed. I can help her best by showing that I understand what pains her.”
To her daughter she might have said any or all of the following:
“It will be lonely without Susie.”
“You miss her already.”
“It is hard to be apart when you are so used to being together.”
“The house must seem kind of empty to you without Susie around.”
Such responses seem to me to be filled with gentleness, meekness, and love. When Mom responds with compassion, Carol is soothed and begins to heal; if Mom judges and lectures her, her loneliness is compounded with defensiveness. Healing begins with understanding.
We are taught by Alma that one of the reasons Jesus suffered was so that he would know “how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12). His suffering fully qualified His compassion. There is nothing we will bear that
He has not already borne. And, because He has been touched by the feeling of our infirmities, we may “come boldly unto the throne of grace, [and] obtain mercy (Hebrews 4:16).
Mercy and compassion are the spirit of charity. We stop being “natural” parents and start becoming heavenly parents when we show compassion for the pain of others. The next time we are tempted to respond to a child’s complaint with a lecture, we can think of the perfect example of Jesus who has invited us to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5).