Years ago, when we brought our first baby home from the hospital, my mother-in-law gave me What to Expect: The First Year saying it was the closest thing to a parenting handbook. It is true, these little ones don’t come with a book of instructions, but with the touch of a few keys, we can google just about any parenting problem today. The advice we find might be helpful, but the truth is no two children are the same, and there will always be an exception to any rule.
As we nurture and train our children to be happy, well-adjusted individuals it is often our example that teaches more than our words. From their first responsive smile to their following us around with a broom, children love to mimic. My mom often recalls stories of how I would mimic her as a 3-years-old. With a hand on one hip and my other shaking a finger of authority I would say: “I wanna weep! I mean it, momma! 1-2-3!” Or the time I took baby powder and sprinkled it in the corners, imitating her efforts to deter some ants.
“Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate.” -Anonymous
What Example Do You Follow?
Our responsibility as parents can be daunting at times, especially when we realize how watchful their eyes can be. It is easy to get caught in all of the developmental milestones and academic progress. We spend our time fretting over how to make our children’s lives happy while helping them become a superhuman in the process. The truth is most kids are average, and the greatest thing we can give them as a parent is a good example.
In studying Jesus Christ’s words and actions, I’ve become aware of how perfectly His example can teach us as we parent. In fact, Nephi even tells us “the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” (2 Nephi 32:3) He loves us, and He loves our children. The scriptures are His words to us – a tool chest, so to speak – to navigate all aspects of our lives.
Example of Love
Christ’s example of love and compassion includes how He loved His Father. “Jesus said, […] Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” (Matthew 22:37). I cannot think of a more powerful example in my life than to have parents who taught me to love God – and to do it with all of my heart.
In a recent general conference address Elder Dale G. Renlund said:
“The Savior’s compassion in the face of imperfections draws us toward Him and motivates us in our repeated struggles to repent and emulate Him.”
-Dale G. Renlund
Love is always the most important first step! As we emulate Christ’s love for our children, they will be motivated and drawn towards us. Loving as Christ loves does not mean that we tolerate or excuse anything they do. It means we set boundaries with consequences because we love them. Relationships characterized by boundaries, consistency, and support teach our children hopefulness (The Gifts of Imperfection, page 66).
Lori introduced me to Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. Read my review here.
Example of Trust
Hope is at the foundation of trust. In fact, it is part of its definition When we begin by cultivating hope in our children we are helping them to “learn some of the keys to being resilient adults that are better equipped to bounce back from difficult times in their lives, and process stress and anxiety in a more healthy way” (The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 66).
Heavenly Father knows the end from the beginning, and Christ submitted to the Father because He trusted Him. To submit to the Lord and leave our lives in His hands requires an incredible amount of faith, hope, and trust – especially when it seems all will be lost if we don’t intervene. Trusting that pain and suffering will all be for our good is sometimes hard to comprehend.
I inflicted pain on my children as I subjected them to immunizations. There were always tears and protests about the pain, but I would whisper it was okay in their ear, explaining this would protect them from disease and make them healthy and strong. We are like infants in our understanding; we can barely grasp how our choices in mortality will affect us in the eternities. Just the words “everything is going to be okay” plants hope within our heart, and those are the words I quite often hear as I pray to Heavenly Father.
Example of Prayer
Christ sought help from God in the midst of His challenges. He prayed “more earnestly” in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). Our example of praying earnestly should begin early. Teaching by rote is an easy way for our children to learn to pray, but it misses the earnest sincerity. I remember as each of our children were stuck in this common habit we started talking about what we needed to remember before each prayer. Sometimes we would frame it as a question, “Who has something we need to pray for tonight?” Other times it was “Remember Aunt Kathy is in the hospital.”
Following the Savior’s example of earnest prayer helps us as well as our children to develop our faith. Sometimes the answers we receive from Heavenly Father may not remove the trial, but instead, strengthen us as we pass through the experience. As with the followers of Alma, He can “ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs.”(Mosiah 24:14) Adhering to this example of prayer helps us to become more sincere and faithful rather than bitter and uncommitted.
Example of Attitude
Christ did not complain or murmur in the midst of a trial.
“Wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of His loving kindness and His long-suffering towards the children of men.”(1 Nephi 19:9)
The Savior did not dwell on questions like “Why me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” Elder Hales said these types of questions are useless to dwell on because they detract from our spirituality, destroy faith, and will likely never have an answer in mortality. “To receive the Lord’s comfort, we must exercise faith. […] We need to spend our time and energy building our faith by turning to the Lord and asking for strength to overcome the pains and trials of this world and to endure to the end for greater understanding” (Hales, Nov. 98 “Healing Body, and Soul).
In our attempts to correct a problem or overcome a trial the better questions to ask might be, “What can I learn?”, “What do I need to do?”, or “What do I need to change?”
Our ability to maintain a positive attitude while doing hard things sets a powerful example for our families. Murmuring and complaining plant seeds of contention. No matter what our attitude is, it will always be contagious. The adage “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” is all too true.
We All Learn by Example
I guess I’m a paint-by-numbers kind of gal. I like to know there is a plan to follow. I’ve always appreciated a pattern with examples to help me achieve the desired outcome. Our Savior’s example is the same kind of pattern. His life was meant to help us know how to live a happier and more fulfilled life. It is true, we all fall short most of the time, but His example is one we can turn to again and again. He will make up for any of our imperfections as a parent if we but diligently strive to follow Him.
What are some of Christ’s examples that have helped you as a parent? Comment below.
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