As parents, we love to imagine heavenly Come, Follow Me discussions with everyone joining in, sharing testimony, and flooding the home with light; however, we are earthly beings with day to day hassles, struggles, and quirky personalities that can be barriers to those uplifting moments we strive for.
Our family scripture study sessions will most likely mirror the daily relationships we have with one another, not transport us to an unfamiliar celestial plane. This is why it is crucial that we work on creating relationships with one another that are open, sincere, and meaningful on a regular basis. If we never discuss significant issues, if we can’t talk about hard things, if we don’t question or disagree respectfully in our everyday life, why would we expect to be able to do those things during our more spiritual discussions?
Here are a few daily practices you can try to help build foundational relationships that lead to meaningful discussions about day-to-day life, the gospel, and everything in between.
- Elevate the conversation. The best gospel discussions, the ones that really get kids and teenagers involved, are the ones that go beyond the surface, so practice digging in often. Instead of asking the same, expected questions: “How was your day?” “Did you have fun?” “What did you do?” Go deeper. Get your child’s opinion on a current event or a social issue. Ask them how they felt about something you know happened in your community or the world. See if they can help you solve a work problem or something going on at home. When they know you respect them and consider their mind and opinions valuable, they will be more willing to engage in all areas.
- See the good. Would you choose to associate with or confide in someone who was consistently negative about you or always telling you what you were doing wrong? Of course not. If a parent/child relationship is solely focused on the bad, it puts kids in a defensive position every time a conversation is initiated which then trickles into gospel discussions. If every interaction ends on a sour note or dreaded lecture, it makes sense that they will try to keep these moments to a minimum, so be wary of this habit. Be sure that your relationships and interactions with your children include a good amount of positive, complimentary and uplifting talk. Knowing that they will often be met with good news and positive ideas will help kids be more willing to engage in all areas of life, including spiritual discussions. This habit also allows them to take correction more seriously when it comes, which is helpful since that is part of parenting too.
- Be Open. Great ideas and great thoughts come in many different packages and from every different angle. While you may see an issue one way, your child may see it very differently. Do your best to understand where they are coming from and how they arrive at a certain conclusion without shutting them down. Honor the time they took to think, explain and share. Then, respectfully share your point of view. Converse about the similarities and differences in your ideas or solutions. You don’t have to agree on everything or walk away the winner. Feel satisfaction in being able to communicate your feelings honestly and respectfully with one another. This practice will help so much as you discuss gospel topics and will allow your children to bring up their own gospel issues and questions in a safe, loving environment that in the end with help buoy up their testimony and yours!
- Share shortcomings. Being authentic, real and relatable is a big deal for kids today. If you want them to feel comfortable discussing their problems and feelings, you can’t seem too high and mighty to understand their struggles and issues. Make it a habit to open up and let them into some of your hardships. This reminds them that you, as their parent, are also a real person who is trying to overcome your frailties and become better and that you are willing to let them do the same. For example, if you struggle with a co-worker, share about it and what you are doing to have more patience. If you are having a hard time saying morning prayers, see if your family has a suggestion for how they remember to kneel down every morning. It is also important to sincerely apologize when you make a mistake. Say sorry for losing your temper, being late, forgetting a plan or overreacting. This creates a home environment that is willing to admit, forgive and improve, which is central to the gospel of Christ and imperative if we want to have the spiritual discussions that matter.
- Withhold judgement. Our kids are tracking our reactions all of the time. So, if we seem quick to judge or voice condemnation about every situation that crosses our minds, it is easy to understand why they might wonder if perfection is the only standard acceptable or if we will withhold love if they mess up in big or small ways. This can make kids more closed off, less honest and unwilling to engage in important ideas. So, the next time they tell you about a big scandal or the mistakes of a friend, use it as an opportunity for conversation instead of judgement. For example, if they tell you someone got caught for cheating, instead of lecturing them on honesty and reminding them about how mad you might be if they got caught doing something similar, open the conversation by saying, “That is too bad he felt the need to cheat. Do you ever feel pressure to do that? I hope you will come to me for help if you ever feel like you need to cheat in order to perform.” This kind of response will allow you to share your values but also let them feel safe in opening up to you during hard times or about significant issues.
- Preserve the relationship. If we want meaningful gospel discussions in our homes, we must have relationships! Work on them. Do fun things together, find out about their likes and dislikes, get into something they enjoy, play together. Never let one choice, one action, or even many instances of disobedience ruin your relationship. Be consistent and firm in your consequences but dole them out with love. Make sure your children know that they aren’t just loved, they are liked too, even if they don’t hold to a perfect standard or gospel ideal. I often think of the way Christ treated those who didn’t conform….He treated them with patience, love, forgiveness and hope and we can do the same. As our children feel those genuine feelings from you, they will be more willing to engage, explore and add to the spirit regardless of where they are on their gospel path.
Each of these relationship ideals take serious effort and discipline on the part of parents and you won’t see a transformation overnight, but the effort is worth it as we watch our homes slowly become safer, more open, and a place where there is a willingness to engage and where the spirit can abide.