The following is excerpted from 10 Secrets Wise Parents Know written by researchers and authors Brent L. Top and Bruce A. Chadwick and is based on a major, 10-year study they conducted with more than 5,000 LDS teens and an additional 1,000 young adults. Here are a few parenting principles they found that surfaced again and again in the happiest families.
As parents, we all have felt a commingling of emotions when a newborn child is placed in our arms for the first time. We feel joy and excitement. Our highest hopes and aspirations are reflected in the eyes of that beautiful baby. But anxious emotions flood over us as well. The sense of responsibility can be overwhelming, and we ask ourselves, “What do we do now?” . . .
As the wise author of the book of Proverbs declared, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
[Here are four secrets wise parents know that will help you build a stronger family.]
1. Lead children to a personal relationship with God.
A wise man once observed, “Our children are born through us, not to us.” Although we may possess an eternal relationship with them—a sealing link that binds us together—our children are not our possessions. They were our Heavenly Father’s children long before they were ours. . . .
As parents, we must be . . . preparers of the way for our children to come to know the Master themselves. We can teach, love, nurture, strengthen, serve, and exemplify, but ultimately only the Savior can transform, forgive, secure, and save. . . .
[In the vision of the tree of life, it is] important for parents to note what Lehi didn’t do, as well as what he did do. Any loving parent can relate to Lehi’s desire that his family also partake of the love of Christ, which had infused his soul with unspeakable joy. Virtually every father would fuse desire with deeds, even extraordinary efforts, to ensure that his children partake of the fruit. Lehi also did all he could. However, he understood that there are some things parents cannot do.
We see Lehi exhorting his children “with all the feeling of a tender parent” (1 Nephi 8:37). What we don’t see, however, is Lehi loading bushel baskets full of the fruit of the tree and carting them back to feed his family. We don’t see him making applesauce from the fruit and mixing it with meals for Laman and Lemuel because they were unwilling to partake of the fruit themselves. We don’t see Lehi force-feeding his children or providing some special shortcut through the mists of darkness to the tree. Each must come to the tree on his own. . . .
Lehi couldn’t partake of the fruit for Laman and Lemuel. They had to do it for themselves. There is no other way to enjoy the fruits of the love of God. . . . We cannot obtain a personal testimony of the gospel or develop a personal relationship with God for our children, but there are certain things we can do that will help them build their own foundation.
Distinguish between Means and Ends
Many youth, however, exhibit high levels of professed belief and may even regularly attend Church meetings and activities, yet they fail to live the standards or abide by the values espoused by the Church. There seems to be a major disconnect. Why? Perhaps the answer lies in the tendency for all of us to focus more on external behavior—such as attendance—than on internal conversion, which is difficult to observe and measure. In a way this can create a disconnect for parents as well if they are not careful. . . . All is not necessarily well with our children just because they attend seminary, never miss a sacrament meeting, obtain their Young Men and Young Women achievement awards, and go to Especially for Youth. All of these things can be important helps along the way, but they aren’t the end of the road.
The Importance of Personal Prayer and Scripture Study
If we were to identify one thing as the single most important factor in helping our children internalize gospel principles, gain a testimony, and develop spiritual strength to resist temptation, it would undoubtedly be personal prayer. It is the catalyst for the development of all other spiritual traits and strengths. . . .
We want our children to be diligent in saying their prayers, but we may not explicitly give that message to them. Sometimes it takes so much effort to hold family prayer that we may figuratively (or sometimes literally) breathe a sigh of relief and think, “We did it!” Yes, we had family prayer, but we are not done praying, and neither are our children. . . .We need to teach by personal example—saying our own prayers—and by explicit counsel that personal prayer is one of the most important protections against temptation. Daily personal prayer combined with regular family prayer becomes doubly powerful. . . . Prophets and apostles have also urged all of us—young and old—to partake of the personal power that comes from daily reading the scriptures.
Provide Opportunities for Spiritual Experiences
For our children to develop a personal relationship with God and obtain their own testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel, they need to feel the spirit of the Lord in their lives. That is what we hope for them. One of the means to that end is to provide our children with opportunities for spiritual experiences. Note that we can only provide the opportunities, not the actual spiritual experiences. Those come from the Lord on his terms and timetable, not ours. The influence of the Spirit cannot be contrived or manipulated. All we can do is provide our children with experiences that are conducive to the Spirit and pray that their hearts will be touched.
For more powerful tips and tools to help your relationship with your children, check out 10 Secrets Wise Parents Know: Tried and True Things You Can Do to Raise Faithful, Confident, Responsible Children.
When it comes to raising your children, how do you know what works? One way is to go to the kids themselves and ask them, which is exactly what researchers and authors Brent L. Top and Bruce A. Chadwick have done. Based on a major, 10-year study they conducted with more than 5,000 LDS teens and an additional 1,000 young adults, they have honed in on 10 parenting principles that surfaced again and again in the happiest families.