Talking to Children About Covenants After Divorce
Now let’s take up the prickly subject of helping children understand covenants following divorce. I decided to tackle this subject as a social scientist might—I began a small personal research survey. I asked children of divorce (including my own) if they were concerned about their parents’ temple covenants or sealing. To my surprise, most of my admittedly limited sample said it never crossed their mind. In fact, those were the most common words that were used in response to my question: “It never crossed my mind.” Honestly, this came as a surprise to me.
Like a good social scientist, I needed to come up with a theory to explain this finding. My theory is that most children of divorce are too busy navigating their post-divorce world of two homes, changes in living arrangements, and relationships, and perhaps even schools, trying to making sense of their own life and get their needs met, while at the same time, their parents might be moving out into employment or dating or even remarrying. I remember one woman writing about her divorce and telling how one of her children asking plaintively, “How will we eat?” Indeed.
However, I also discovered that, as noted above, concerns about sealing of parents following divorce, or sealing of parents to children, came mostly in adolescence. Intellectually, adolescents are now able to look at more than one side of an issue and even develop hypotheses of their own. One young teenage girl tearfully asked her older brother what would happen to their family in the next life. But she didn’t talk to her mother about it until many years later. So it may be that there are concerns that exist but that are not voiced in childhood. Or it may be that when a child asks about the parents’ sealing, it’s too hard for the parent to give a full and complete answer without perhaps implicating the other parent in a negative way, so a less than satisfactory answer may be given.
Certainly there are some children who have questions about the sealing covenants. How will you handle these? Let me answer that question with another question: How do you answer your children’s tough questions on any topic? Let me suggest that you begin by really listening to their question. Ask them what generated their question before you launch into a lecture or explanation. You may end up answering a question they didn’t actually ask! Ask them about their feelings or thoughts on the subject, or what concerns them, or why it is coming up now. If you begin this way, you may find your own answer about how to approach it.
Take into account the child’s developmental level, as discussed at the beginning of this article. Remember the younger child may have fears or guilt or magical or black-and-white thoughts that needs to be addressed. Remember that your older child may be angry or confused or scared or feeling undue pressure to take on an early adult role.
Sister Linda K. Burton, former Relief Society general president, taught us that faithful parents are entitled to know how to best teach to meet the needs of their children. "As parents seek and act on personal revelation, . . . they will have power to strengthen and protect their families. Other family members [such as grandparents] can also help" [Sister Linda K. Burton, “The Power, Joy, and Love of Covenant Keeping,” October 2013 General Conference].
Single parents, as well as children of divorced parents, may feel “less than.” Sister Linda S. Reeves, of the Relief Society general presidency, compassionately acknowledged this:
We may sometimes feel that we need to be part of a "perfect LDS family" in order to be accepted by the Lord. We often feel . . . like misfits in the kingdom. . . . [W]hen all is said and done, what will matter to our Father in Heaven will be how well we have kept our covenants and how much we have tried to follow the example of our Savior [Sister Linda S. Reeves, “Claim the Blessings of Your Covenants,” October 2013 General Conference].
Perhaps the best way, and frankly, in the end, the only way a parent or other relative can help a child understand covenants following divorce is to worthily live up to his or her own covenants.
Remember all your covenants. Divorce need not disrupt the baptismal covenant, the temple ordinances, and even parts of the sealing blessings, as explained earlier. Elder Talmage reminds us what some of the temple covenants are: to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant, and pure; . . . maintain devotion to the cause of truth; and . . . seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the earth may be made ready to receive her King [Elder James E. Talmage, House of the Lord, 84].
Or as President Boyd K. Packer simply put it, “We covenant to do good” [Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple (1980), 170].
Promises and Blessings
We can do these things—and we can teach our children to do them. And when we do, we are in the covenant path. This is where we want to be because, as Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught us, “In the covenant path, we find a steady supply of gifts and help” [Elder D. Todd Christofferson, “The Power of Covenants,” April 2009 General Conference]. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland enumerated some of these gifts when he taught that if we make and keep covenants with confidence, we can be assured of “God’s power over . . . troubles of every kind.” In fact, Elder Holland promises that if we will keep our covenants, we will “see the clouds of darkness lift[ed] . . . by the hand of a Father who is eternally committed to our happiness” [Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Patricia T. Holland in Green and Anderson, To Rejoice as Women, 99–100]. These promises and blessings belong to all of us, single or married, divorced or remarried.
There are some circumstances worse than divorce. I know this because Elder Oaks said so. But he also acknowledged that "[a]ll who have been through divorce know the pain and need the healing power and hope that come from the Atonement. That healing power and that hope are there for them and also for their children" [Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Divorce,” April 2007 General Conference].
Even though the thing which I feared most came upon me, I have since been granted what Elder Richard G. Scott refered to as “compensatory blessings” that come when we have been deprived of something we want very much (see “Finding Joy,” Elder Richard G. Scott, April 1996 General Conference).
These compensatory blessings can come when we do as Elder Oaks counseled us: "Don’t treasure up past wrongs, reprocessing them again and again. . . . Festering is destructive; forgiving is divine (Oaks, “Divorce”).
Many of you who have been touched by the pain of divorce, whether as a spouse, a child, or even an extended family member, may find it difficult to believe that you can forgive a person when there seems so clearly to be a victim and a perpetrator—a person in the right and a person in the wrong. Even when this is the case, forgiveness is still called for. You may think that forgiving a perpetrator is the same as excusing his or her behavior. This is not true. Forgiving is divine.
Elder Oaks continues his counsel:
We cannot control and we are not responsible for the choices of others, even when they impact us so painfully . . . . Whatever the outcome and no matter how difficult your experiences, you have the promise that you will not be denied the blessings of eternal family relationships if you love the Lord, keep His commandments, and just do the best you can (Oaks, “Divorce”).
In fact, by forgiving someone, we may participate in the Atonement with the Savior.
This is how President Packer taught this astonishing doctrine:
In one sense we ourselves may participate in an atonement. When we are willing to restore to others that which we have not taken, or heal wounds that we did not inflict, or pay a debt that we did not incur, we are emulating His part in the Atonement [Boyd K. Packer, “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” October 1995 General Conference].
I believe this is what Isaiah means when he talks about being the repairer of the breach and the maker of paths to walk in: "And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in’" (Isaiah 58:12).
I want with all my heart to build up the old waste places of relationships. I want to raise up the foundations of many generations and ultimately be a repairer of the beach and a restorer of paths to dwell in. I believe with all my heart that through keeping of covenants and participating fully in the Atonement, this can be possible for me and for my family. In the end, I believe with all my heart that God knows how to do his work.
This article was based on a talk given at BYU Women's Conference. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Brigham Young University or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.