Feature Stories

How to partner with Christ to become the listener your children need

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Girls with Deep Roots, by Caitlin Connolly
Used by permission.

Our relationship with Christ can transform our capacity to listen. Learning to listen well can deepen our spiritual rootedness with God and our loved ones.

Between our two families, our parenting stages currently span tweens, teens, young adults, and parents now beginning the cycle again in their own homes. If you are like us, as we mature in our parenting, we are striving to foster warm relationships and develop emotional resilience in ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.

As the quantity of our time with our growing children decreases, how can we improve the quality of our interactions? How can we embrace the dynamic tension of their increasing independence and find ways to nurture healthy interdependence?

We don’t have all the answers, but we have the most important one: we can seek to partner with Christ.1 As Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf declared, “Jesus Christ is the strength of families, … the strength of youth, … [and] the strength of parents.”

Raising children, as Elder Uchtdorf suggested, is like helping flowers grow. There’s plenty of weeding, watering, and waiting involved while we “let God work His miracle.”2 Christ is the Master Gardener who invites us into a covenant relationship with Him to increase our capacity to nourish our family ties.

Our relationship with Christ can transform our capacity to listen; as the Perfect Listener, He teaches us to hear with our hearts. Learning to listen well is a vital practice of discipleship that can deepen our spiritual rootedness with God and our loved ones. Collaborating with Christ, covenant listeners see, heal, create, and empower others.

Covenant Listeners See

Developing a godly gaze helps us embrace a loved one as they are while simultaneously seeing who they can become. When we let God’s love fill us with light, His grace can transform our vision and soften our gaze. Author David Brooks calls this work of seeing someone deeply illuminationism, and the first step is how we look at people. Our kind gaze reflects and radiates God’s love, offering reassurance as they approach, perhaps silently asking, “Am I a person to you? Do you care about me? Am I a priority for you?”3 Our body language, facial expression, and posture answer that they matter. Before anyone says a single word, the ground has been prepared for a positive interaction. We are each primed to hear with our hearts.

In her encouraging October 2023 general conference address, Sister Tamara W. Runia recounted how her father’s godly gaze nourished her teenage confidence during a time of struggle. She recalled, “My dad was … practiced at zooming out and taking the long view. He’d learned from experience that worry feels a lot like love, but it’s not the same. He used the eye of faith to see that everything would work out, and his hopeful approach changed me.”4

When we focus on seeing others as God sees them, God’s perspective enlarges our own. In contrast, when we are distracted or distressed, our vision contracts, making hope hard to find. Our daily digital landscape so often divides our attention, inadvertently limiting our presence with the people we love. Additionally, judgment can shrink our capacity to create vital connections with our children; they need less judgment and more love.5

When we focus on seeing others as God sees them, God’s perspective enlarges our own.

Covenant Listeners Heal

As hard as we try to provide the best possible growing conditions, our children will face struggles. Since suffering and sadness are part of our human experience, compassionate listening is fundamental to our covenant relationships. How we respond to each other’s grief matters; being heard heals.

Christlike listening helps us process pain; sheer suffering simply hurts. “If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers,” wrote Anne Morrow Lindbergh, herself no stranger to sorrow. “To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”6 When we mourn with those who mourn and comfort those in need of comfort, we witness God’s love with one another; these are Christ’s ways of healing wounds.7

As we willingly sit in discomfort with loved ones, not knowing what to say, the Comforter will show us how to listen. Most emotional tides ebb and flow; some waves last longer than others. Sometimes infusing stillness into someone’s distress is our most powerful witness of God. This may require us to do serious internal work beforehand so we can set aside our fears, worries, and concerns. Quieting our own mind helps us calmly listen to our loved one’s heart.

As we willingly sit in discomfort with loved ones, not knowing what to say, the Comforter will show us how to listen.

As every parent knows, navigating these challenging interactions can be difficult. Occasionally it may be beneficial to simply ask, “Is this a helping, hugging, or hearing conversation?”8 That humble question, posed sincerely, can reduce misunderstanding between you and your child.

When a child is struggling, our calm proximity and emotional presence can alleviate their suffering. Parents of older children sometimes long for the days when their little ones could curl up in their lap when they craved that closeness. In our experience, even teens and young adults still have that need and desire, though they might not show it. Sitting close, side by side on the couch, with your arm through theirs and your head on their shoulder, might be just the role reversal they need to open their hearts to your tender care. Your closeness can settle both your racing heart and theirs—a physiological phenomenon called co-regulation.9 Calmness can literally be contagious.

It seems our Heavenly Father understands this. During our Savior’s agony in Gethsemane, Christ pleaded with His Father to remove the bitter cup. Our loving Father heard His Beloved Son and, rather than taking away His burden, sent an angel from heaven to strengthen Him.10

Similarly, Christ helps us co-regulate with each other, offering healing in His stead. At every age, when we know we are not alone, we find the strength to hold on to hope for healing.

Covenant Listeners Create

Jesus Christ is the Creator of heaven, earth, and all things. He designed a celestializing space for us to learn how to live and love like God—and His creating continues every day as He patiently works with us to create fresh starts and beautiful futures. “Everything we do in our lives can be made with Christ,” educator Lizzy Jensen recently shared. “If there’s something I want to make in my life right now, like more peace or solutions or meaning or laughter …, I just need to go to Jesus Christ, the Creator.” 11 Partnering with Him allows us to co-create the good we seek in this world and within our families.

As our children mature, we may not always agree with their choices, but we can always choose to love them. It can be hard to listen when we don’t like what we hear, but differentiating between their current ideas and our eternal relationships is essential to developing Christ’s unfailing love. As President Thomas S. Monson so memorably cautioned, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”12 Detangling the problem from the person creates space to nurture deeper, lasting love—the kind of love Rabbi Jonathan Sacks defined as “the space we make for that which is not me.”

Differentiating between our children’s current ideas and our eternal relationships is essential to developing Christ’s unfailing love.

Rabbi Sacks also wisely observed that “by opening ourselves to something bigger than ourselves, we grow.”13 This divine love is crucial in raising young adults, and it can be a difficult transition for parents to make. Accepting this fruitful tension as a natural part of the developmental process helps us adapt and cultivate compassion for ourselves and those we love.

Creation often includes renovation, and our desire to listen well might nudge us toward humble introspection and needed repairs. Latter-day Saint psychologist Dr. Wendy Ulrich recommends that parents mindfully self-evaluate how they communicate.

We might ask, “Have I responded to my child in the past in ways that might make it hard for them to share?” If so, according to Dr. Ulrich, “it may be time to apologize, sincerely and freely. Then I could ask if they would be willing to tell me how I could make it easier for them to share now.”14 Modeling humility can revitalize the flow of communication between us and our child.

When we wrestle with reconciling our maturing children’s choices with our parental preferences, it can feel like the kind of juggling that’s sometimes called “holding both.” The shift in parent-child dynamics toward expanded agency, autonomy, and accountability is tricky. Vulnerability, curiosity, and collaboration become increasingly valuable. The late Dr. Kate Holbrook wisely taught that “when we learn to hold true things together in their natural tension, we find our hearts and souls stretched wide.”15 These spiritual stretch marks yield the nonperishable fruits of meekness, faith, and hope, highlighting Christ’s love in, for, and through us.

Covenant Listeners Empower

As we shift the balance of power during the teen and young adult years, we work to transition from being the problem solver to empowering the problem solver. We gradually adjust our focus from day-to-day human management to long-view soul development.16

When kids are grappling with a challenge, we must lean in to hear them and the Spirit clearly. All our best advice may bring us some relief, but it doesn’t empower them if it doesn’t engage their agency and hope. Dr. Ulrich suggests asking these two constructive questions as a way to teach problem-solving skills: “What have you tried?” and “What else could you try?”17 Such active listening can build a trusted partnership when they are in our presence that will continue in our absence.

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Holding Holy Things, by Caitlin Connolly
Used by permission

Christ has perfectly modeled for us what we hope to model for our children: covenant listening or hearing with our hearts. He not only showed Himself to the brother of Jared; He showed the brother of Jared the endless horizon of his infinite potential. Christ expanded the brother of Jared’s capacity by asking him questions that empowered him to find creative alternatives for his family’s journey.18 Christ is the infinite source of power to help us innovate solutions to propel us toward a joyful promised land. He is the Light that illuminates our eternal eyes to see Him and our loved ones as they really are.

▶You may also like: Elder Andersen’s sweet advice to a young father fearing his children will leave the Church


Notes

1. Russell M. Nelson, “The Answer is Always Jesus Christ,” Liahona, May 2023.
2. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Jesus Christ is the Strength of Parents,” Liahona, May 2023.
3. David Brooks, How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen, 32.
4. Tamara W. Runia, “Seeing God’s Family through the Overview Lens,” Liahona, November 2023.
5. Russell M. Nelson, “Peacemakers Needed,” Liahona, May 2023.
6. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1929–1932 (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1973), 3.
7. Mosiah 18:9.
8. See Charles Duhigg, Supercommunicators. “Supercommunicators with Charles Duhigg,” the Greg McKeown podcast, episode 275.
9. “Co-Regulation from Birth through Young Adulthood: A Practice Brief,” Center for Child and Family Policy, Duke University. Accessed online, fpg.unc.edu, March 5, 2024.
10. Luke 22:42–43.
11. “Lizzy Jensen: A Revolution of Answering God’s Call,” All In podcast, February 21, 2024.
12. Thomas S. Monson, “Finding Joy in the Journey,” Ensign or Liahona, November 2008.
13. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “Continuing the Conversation: Sivan Rahav Meir and Ishay Ribo: The Rabbi Sacks Legacy,” 2020.
14. Wendy Ulrich, “What to Say to Help Your Missionary through a Hard Time.” LDS Living, Jan./Feb. 2024, 51.
15. Kate Holbrook, Both Things Are True, xiii.
16. McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding, In the Image of Our Heavenly Parents: A Couples Guide to Creating a More Divine Marriage, 65.
17. Wendy Ulrich, “What to Say to Help Your Missionary through a Hard Time.” LDS Living, Jan./Feb. 2024, 52.
18. Ether 2–3; Moroni 7:48. See Liz Wiseman, “Tell Less, Ask More” [Ensign College Devotional, March 21, 2017], ensign.edu/devotionals.

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