They hold heir thrones in stewardship from God--responsible to Him.
Consciously or unconsciously, all parents have adopted some
form of government for their home. Some the tyrannical or dictatorialapproach, others the democratic, still others thematriarchal/patriarchal style. There are those who have chosenanarchy--with no law and even less order--while some jump from onetype to another, employing tight and rigid control one moment andpermitting laxity the next.
The proper role of parenting can best be described as the
principle of stewardship, in which authority over the child existsbecause the parent represents the interests of the Supreme Creator.
The child is “endowed by [the] Creator with . . . life;” the parent hasbeen given, by the Creator, the right to govern the child. A stewardmanages the interests of another, often in the other’s absence; but inthe instance of parenting, the Creator and the parent work hand inhand for the development of the child.
Neil J. Flinders, professor of educational psychology, has defined
The art of encouraging and assisting individuals (withoutexercising unrighteous dominion) to conform to the eternallaws (or principles) and forces which will enable the child tofulfill his divine nature. The methods would be: 1) Beingpersonally an example of one on his or her way to the goal,2) Being a channel through which divine influence flows, 3)
Protecting the inherent element of choice that resides in theindividual as a child of God. (Principles of Parenting)
This principle of parental stewardship sets the foundation for
sound home government; its implications reach into all the others andwill be developed throughout the book. The third aspect of parentingoutlined by Dr. Flinders has already been discussed; the second willbe treated hereafter. This chapter focuses on the first; Beingpersonally an example of one on his or her way to the goal.
Stewardship Over Oneself
The steward-parent knows that if he is going to convert anyone
to his way of life, he must first convert himself. He must not say, Doas I say, but, rather, Follow me. However--and this is the crucialprerequisite in all leadership--the counsel to follow me must alwaysbe preceded by the leader’s ability to be a follower. He must bewilling to be led to higher ground by a higher power, and he must firstapply the principles he wishes to impart to himself. “How can I controlothers if I cannot control myself?” asked Mohanda K. Gandhi.
Socrates framed the same thought in these words, “Let him whowould move the world, first move himself.”
A scholar was once asked which of all the translations of the
Bible he liked the best. His reply was that he liked his mother’stranslation best. His mother had translated the teachings of the bibleinto her own everyday life. We cannot lead where we have not been.
We cannot expect of others what we do not expect of ourselves. Wecannot expect children to obey when we ourselves rebel. Our firststewardship must then be to ourselves. To do anything less is to livein a state of self-deception and hypocrisy.
This factor is important for Christian parents who wish tosell their concept of God to their children. They must firstsell themselves. If they are not worthy of respect, thenneither is their religion or their morals, or their government,or their country, or any of their values. This becomes the
generation gap at its most basic level. . . . the conflictbetween generations occurs because of a breakdown inmutual respect, and it bears many painful consequences.
(James Dobson, Dare to Discipline, p. 26)
The different methods of leadership can be described in the
terms of the shepherd/sheepherder principle. The sheepherderattempts to direct the sheep from behind, like the sheepdog. He tapsat backs and heels, barks commands, and weaves from side to sidein an attempt to keep the sheep together and head them in a certaindirection. The shepherd, on the other hand, walks out in front,showing the way by example.
A friend who had recently visited Israel first described this to me.
He said that when the shepherds gather at the local market place,their sheep converge together. It appears impossible to tell one man’sflock from another--they are not branded in any way. However, whenone shepherd is through discussing the business of the day, hemerely walks away and his flock of sheep rises and follows him. Theanalogy of shepherding and sheep herding perfectly illustrates thedifference between parenting by example and parenting by directiononly. While the sheepherder parent attempts to direct by nipping andbarking from behind, the shepherd parent is out front, leading thechild in the direction he would have him go.
In effect he is saying, “Look at me--I will show you the way. This
is the way to live. It has brought me fulfillment and happiness--it cando the same for you. I would like you to follow me because I love youand desire the same happiness for you.”
This reminds us of the Savior’s words, “These things have I
spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joymight be full” (John 15:11). In this simple statement he gives hismotives for his sacrificial mission among men--to bring us abundantjoy. Often we, as parents, violate this principle. We expect children todo well in their education when we ourselves have dropped out ofacquiring knowledge. We urge our sons and daughters to bephysically fit when we make no effort to do so ourselves. We pleadfor our children to make friends--to be sociable--while we remain
isolated. We expect our children to have the courage to stand for theright and to withstand peer pressure, when we succumb tocomplacency and withhold ourselves in fear of controversy. We wantthem to love others--while we turn away. We want them to live--whilewe wither with faces turned down.
James Madison warned that, no government, any more than an
individual, will long be respected without possessing a certain portionof order and stability (The Federalist Papers, p. 382).
Respect cannot be mandated or established by law or authority--
it must be earned. If we would gain respect, we must pay the price.
There is no running from the voice within that whispers,urges, and even commands--grow, learn, become, share.
There can be no satisfaction without exertion,No peace without obedience,No knowledge without learning,No self-respect without self-sacrifice,No victory without teeth-gritting perseverance,No winning without trying,No mountain top vistas without enduring the mundane
of the valley floor. (Richard L. Evans, An Open Road, p.
This does not mean that parents must be perfect, but they must
be progressing--not just with the intent of becoming good parents, butwith the intent of becoming good persons--alive, vibrant, and happywith the thrill of becoming. To progress is to be truly alive. BertrandRussell has said in effect that to be creative--alive--one must take thewhole process of life as a process of birth, and not to consider anystate or stage as the final one. Most people die before they are fullyborn. To be creative--alive--is to be born before one dies.
There is a child in every parent who needs to learn discipline.
“Respect the child and the parent within yourself as you wouldrespect the child whom you are parenting.” (The Joys and Sorrows ofParenthood, p. 77) In my personal experience of mothering, I havefound that my children mirror my attitude. If I am despondent or
unhappy they will likely be the same. Tenderhearted children canbecome frustrated in their inability to lift mommy’s spirits. On theother hand, while in the presence of a parent who radiates warmthand serenity, a child will likely reflect these same qualities.
It has been wisely said that the greatest gift you can give your
children is to love their mother or father--but an even more basic giftmust be to love yourself--not in an egocentric, selfish way, but inbecoming a blessing to oneself, as well as others. To be a blessing tooneself means to retain that childlike curiosity, awareness, spirit ofdiscovery, and excitement. It means to learn--not for a degree, but forthe delight of learning; to love and to reach out to others simplybecause the most fascinating creatures on this earth are the people--behind every face is an interesting story! To love oneself means toeat well of those foods that enhance the alertness of mind and bodyand to reject substances that might cause damage or harm. To loveoneself means to partake of life. If the greatest crime is to take a life,then equally tragic is to have never lived.
Possibly, the greatest joy in parenting is to be associated with
little children. Why? They break rules, destroy things, and annihilatethe peace and serenity of life--but they do live! They live abundantly,love abundantly, see abundantly, hear abundantly, romp abundantly,and feel abundantly. What an irony it is that we adults, who have lostso much of this capacity for life, should be called upon to teach ourlittle ones how to live!
The savior said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it
more abundantly” (John 10:10). He also counseled us to, “be . . . aslittle children” (Matthew 18:3). This, then, is the first principle in greatparenting--to be as full of life as a little child.
Some mothers have adopted the notion that to be a good mother
one must be selfless, faceless, and lifeless--must sacrifice life, limb,and soul to the cause. But service that contributes to the weakness ofother’s is not good mothering--it is criminal. Mothers who givethemselves totally to the cause are teaching their children that slaveryis acceptable--they give up their greatest asset--their identity--in orderto pacify a selfish craving to be needed. Children do not needexamples of how to surrender one’s life to another; they need
examples of how to live life to the fullest. Far greater than the parent’sdesire to be needed is the achievement of being unneeded butwanted. Ultimately, the parent-child relationship is meant to blossominto a complementary friendship; this cannot happen if parents arebound in eternal servitude to their children, causing the child’sincapacity to learn independence.
In making such strong statements as these I do not mean to
refute the value of service. Indeed our Father in Heaven hascommanded us to love and serve one another (see Galatians 5:13).
But while it is generally right to serve the needy, it becomes wrongwhen that service contributes to debilitating weakness, continueddependence, and insecurity. It is also wrong to allow so-called serviceto smother one’s need to serve oneself in the quest to become abetter individual. Even the Savior spent time alone to restore hisfaculties. He could not give when there was nothing left to give.
Parents must learn to achieve a reasonable, unselfish balance in thetime they devote to others and to themselves.
I personally, have found this principle to be so liberating! There
was a time when I believed that a good mom was totally selfless,giving, serving; that the less she thought of herself and her needs, thebetter mother she was. Then I began to question the theory that agood mother must be selfless. What is a good mother? I began towonder. I came to the conclusion that even the idea of being a goodmother made about as much sense as being a good daughter, or agood brother. All around us there are opinions on what it means to bea good mother.
I remember an occasion when my son, Donnie, came home from
school and was delighted to smell fresh-baked cookies, “Now you’rebeing a real Mom,” he said. “Donnie, what is a real mom? I’m notquite sure what that means,” I asked. He looked at me as if to say,(“What’s the matter--didn’t you receive training somewhere in being areal mom?”) He responded, “Real moms serve people; they just hangout in case someone needs them.” I replied, “I believe that’s thedefinition of a slave. Real moms are real people. I like to bakecookies, but not to be a real mom; I bake cookies because I like toshare them with great friends like you.”
When mothers abandon themselves, they can become resentful
and bitter, or even more tragic lose themselves--their individuality--forrole-playing with someone else’s script. When I become discouragedwith my performance as a mother, I realize that there is always mypersonal quest, and that through this example my children may verywell discover the greatest joy of life--to bloom and grow forever.
A woman shared this story--I believe it has great insight. She had
a dream in which she was asked, “What are you doing with your life?”She answered, “Well, I try to be a good mother.”
She was asked again, “But what are you doing with your life?”
Confused, she answered, “I am trying to be a good wife and mother.”Once again, he asked, “But I am asking, what are you doing with yourlife?”
She almost blurted out, But I don’t have a life; I am just a wife
and mother. Instead, she replied, “I always thought that being a goodwife and mother was what I was supposed to do with my life; that itwas selfish to think of myself.”
He gently counseled, “The greatest contribution you can make to
your husband and children is to be yourself, to develop yourself, tobecome all that you can as a daughter of God. Your potential islimitless, remember that.”
She awoke the next day with a new resolve.
In the book The Joys and Sorrows of Parenthood we read:
After centuries in which children were considered to bechattel and to have little rights of their own, a swing of thependulum has taken place. . . . In the process parents havebeen designated as the villains. The present state ofconfusion among parents, their anxiety and guilt about theirrole, may force a period of thought and reflection andconsideration for a change in priorities. Parents are notonly vehicles for the care of their children. They werepersons before the child arrived; are persons while they are
parents; and will be after the children leave. . . . Parentsshould respect their own values and live by them. Theywere once told to listen to their parents. They are now toldto listen to their children. Both directives are valuable. Theymust, in addition, listen to themselves. (pp 130-31).
Remember:It is impossible for parents to give the example of how to live
It is impossible for parents to share knowledge, wisdom, and
understanding that they have not gained.
It is impossible for parents to radiate faith, hope, and charity
without first having obtained these qualities.
It is impossible for parents to present to their children a window
of enchantment, through which to view the world, unless they see itthat way themselves.
Parents have been placed by the Creator in positions of
stewardship over the children in their homes. As stewards rather thanowners, they are obligated to protect the rights of their children onbehalf of the Creator. For instance, if parents cannot claim ownershipover children, neither can children claim ownership over their parents,their time, their life, or their property. Parents are within their rights torefuse in instances such as these:
Child comes home from school; mom is on the floor doing
Child: “Mom, would you make me a sandwich?”Mom: “I could, but so could you. You make the best sandwiches-
-besides, I need to finish exercising.”
Children sometimes get the idea that parent’s possessions are
community property. Parents have the right to control their personalproperty.
Parent walks into bedroom to discover a teenage daughter going
Mother: “Are you looking for something?”Daughter: “I’m looking for a blouse to wear tonight.”Mother: “I would be happy to lend you a blouse, if I don’t plan to
Daughter: “I didn’t think I needed to ask you--after all, you are my
Mother: “I know, but it’s important to ask when you want to
borrow another person’s belonging-no matter whose they are.”
Little children, as well as adult children, sometimes assume
ownership over parent’s time, but the rule works both ways--a parentcannot claim ownership over a child’s time, likewise a child cannotclaim ownership over a parent’s time.
Married daughter: “Mother, I plan to take and evening class this
term. I thought if you could watch Johnny then his dad would be freeto go out with his friends.”
Mother: “I would love to watch Johnny, but it’s important that I
have time in the evenings alone. Maybe you could find a friend whohas a baby the same age. Babies love being together.”
Daughter: “But that’s not possible; I thought you would be willing
Mother: “I’m sorry--it doesn’t work out with my schedule. If you
changed it to an afternoon class, I might be able to work it out.”
Just as children cannot assume ownership over parents,
spouses cannot assume ownership over each other. The freeexchange of opinion in a marriage is vital: dominance thatsuppresses the freedom and conscience of another eventually erodesthe relationship. I have seen wives and husbands who ruthlesslyjudge their mates; some spouses live in such rigid fear of thatjudgment that they lose their spontaneity and personality. The humanspirit cannot bear bondage--neither by chains nor by domineeringmind-control. Love relationships can only exist in a warm, sunnyenvironment. Enlightenment and assertiveness does not need to leadto conflict and confrontation, however, a firm, good-natured responseis often all that is needed. In fact, it is said that you can tell how solida person is in their argument or position by how they respond when itis challenged. Great energy--anger--usually reflects a weakness ofposition. Those who have truth and reason on their side rarely needto resort to confrontations. Note the following examples:
Husband: “I don’t want you to take that class. You don’t need to
learn how to tole paint. Besides, who is going to fix my dinner?”
Wife: “I determine what I need to do with my life, and I’ve
determined that I need to learn how to tole paint. You can cook--besides, you might even find it fun to be alone for a change.”
Husband: “The guys are planning to go fishing next Saturday. I
would like to go with them, do you see any problem with that?”
Wife: “Yes, I see lots of problems. You’ve neglected the garage
for weeks. How can you even think about leaving it like that?”
Husband: “Well, I don’t know--it seems garages always need to
be cleaned. I’ll try to get it straightened in the evenings, but I reallyneed to get away for a day. My job has been getting to me; I need todo something to relax. I’ll be looking forward to it.”
An understanding of the principle of parental stewardship
enables parents to see their responsibility in governing the home witha proper perspective. It suggests that parents act as coaches to theirchildren in showing them how to live--and live abundantly. The threekeys to success are to respect oneself, to reverence life, and to honorthe child within oneself. The parent who has chosen this style ofgoverning in the home must realize that he is an unfinished projecthimself. Children are likely to have greater compassion for their ownweaknesses when they realize that parents are growing and learningas well. Parenting is not for perfect people; if that were so, no onewould qualify.
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