This lesson is a tough one. It is extremely long, and has a lot more material in it than a normal lesson. In addition to having all the normal information about President Benson, and the counsel he has for fathers and mothers, he also has 10 points he talks about for fathers, and another 10 points for the mothers. Covering this in just the space of a class period will take careful selection of the most valuable points. Don’t be afraid of the sensitive subjects, these will provide for lively conversation in class, and (spoiler alert!) possibly result in some personal growth.
President Benson as a Father
Most of the glowing examples of the kind of father President Benson was are not specifically highlighted in the lesson. The best points are mentioned in passing, so I decided to put some of them together to highlight them. I have italicized all of the quotes from the lesson.
“President Benson and his wife, Flora, worked closely together in fulfilling their sacred responsibilities as parents.”
Too often these days we see fathers and mothers treating their individual role as parent as a solo performance. Admittedly, single parents are solo, but there is no excuse for married people to act like they don’t have a spouse. I am surprised at how many parents make comments that make it sound like what they do as a father or as a mother seems to have nothing to do with what their partner does as a parent.
Parenting is designed to be a two-person job. There is more to raising children than just supplying money for their clothing and food. To be good parents, it takes lots of communication, cooperation, and support for each other’s role in the process.
Referring to their home, their child said, “It was a refuge from the storm. Mother was the protective element, and Dad was there with his strength.”
This is a great description of the cooperative, but different roles each parent takes in raising a child. The comment about Dad being there with his strength is an important point. His strength was not his physical strength, but his ever-present supporting and nurturing role as the father. No matter how busy he was in his job, when he was home, his children and his wife were the most important priority in his life. They were always the first to get his attention. He always made sure they put God first in their lives, even over their own desires.
“When President Benson was away from home, he always sought ways to watch over and strengthen his family. He maintained regular contact with them through phone calls and letters. When he was home, he spent as much time with them as possible.”
In a society of texting and emails it might be difficult to understand the amount of effort it took to write letters every day, address and stamp them, then put them into the mail to send home. Letter writing is a time consuming activity. Yet if you look at some of the most valuable things ever left behind by your ancestors, you will find that it is their letters that are treasured the most. I still have letters my grandmother wrote to me more than 50 years ago. I imagine that his children greatly prize, to this day, the letters he sent them from his trips. It showed that he valued communicating with them enough to spend the time to put it into writing and send it to them.
“He also spent extended time individually with his children.”
Learning to spend time with a child is often very difficult for a man. Somewhere in the process of growing up and getting employment, we forget how to play and speak with the innocence of a child. Spending time with a child helps us relearn how to listen and to speak openly and honestly.
Children love to talk about whatever is on their mind at the time. Just being willing to be quiet and listen attentively to what they have to say means a lot to them. Our children will give us ample opportunity to show them that we care enough to listen to what they have to say. But eventually, if we keep proving that we won’t do it, they will stop giving us the opportunity. At that point we have lost them, and it is very difficult to re-earn their trust.
“He frequently took the children with him on out-of-town trips, both as a means of cementing good relations and of educating them.”
This is a brave move. Taking his children individually on a road trip with him shows how much he valued the training Flora had given the children. They knew how to behave in public. The lesson even mentions that the press was so impressed with his seven year old daughter’s poise at an official government function that it was her picture that landed on the front page of the newspaper the next day. This speaks volumes about the care and concern she received from both her parents in the home.
Sometimes parents view the teaching and training of their children with about as much concern as that shown for a pet. They don’t recognize that these are tomorrow’s adults and leaders that are needing to be trained today. It is a lot of work, and takes many repeated lessons to train a child to handle themselves in various social situations. This is something the parents need to plan for and prepare their children to experience.
Personal example: My father was an officer in the military. Sometimes he would invite another officer over to the house for dinner. Unfortunately, after dinner we were all required to sit politely in the living room while they carried on their conversation. It was also unfortunate that my father would fall asleep sitting in his chair, leaving us four children staring at his guest. We knew that if we left the room we would have to answer to Mom for being rude to our guest, so we learned to carry on polite conversation with a complete stranger. It was one of those sink or swim moments. It does not show off my father’s parenting and hosting skills to advantage, but it does make my mother shine. It was her teachings well before we were ever in such a situation that left us prepared to salvage an otherwise very awkward predicament.
Flora Benson as a Mother
“I could see that I had a spiritually perceptive woman at my side ...”
Hopefully when an LDS man chooses a wife, he is smart enough to realize that he is not just choosing a companion, but the mother of his children. She had better be spiritually perceptive. There is so much that a mother has to deal with each day that having the Spirit with her is of great importance.
“They worked together to create a home where their children could grow and learn—and where their children wanted to be. “I would have rather been home than anywhere,” their son Mark said.”
One of the really difficult things about being a parent is making your house the center of your children’s lives. If you really want to be influential in your children’s lives, make your house the place they want to bring their friends to. If you cannot do this, then they will be asking to go to other people’s homes. In their homes your children will be learning what those parents want them to learn, and who knows what else.
“Mother had more faith than any woman I’ve ever known.”
This is a compliment every mother should hope for from her children. Who better to show a child our daily and hourly dependance on the Lord than the mother? It is usually the mother who demonstrates to the children how to recognize the Spirit, how to do kind services to others, and how to be Christlike in behavior and attitude. It is her personal devotion to God that instills in the children a love for the Lord.
“The home is the center of our mortal affections,” she said. Mark recalled, “Mother absolutely loved home. And she loved us—not because it was her duty to, but because that was her life.”
From all that I can read about Sister Benson, Flora was not a mother because she had to be. She was not a mother because is was socially expected. She was a mother because it was “her life.” She loved being a mother. She loved her children. She loved her husband. She loved the Lord. Being a mother she was in her element. She thrived as their teacher, exemplar, friend, and guide. Being a mother wasn’t something that just happened by accident. She wanted it to happen. She recognized the commitment that was needed, and was willing to make the investment of herself and her abilities to raise the best children into the best adults she knew how to.
Now, a final note about the Bensons - I do not pretend that either of the Bensons were perfect parents. All parents make mistakes. What sets apart the better parents from the mediocre-to-poor parents, is that the better parents commit themselves to the process of parenting. They seek the Lord’s guidance, and accept the counsel of the Lord’s servants, and plan on being there for their children for the long haul. A good parent doesn’t just parent when it is convenient. The Bensons, by this definition, were good parents.
Kelly likes to keep the gospel simple. For more of his articles and lesson helps go to his website, http://mormonbasics.com.