Being a “Dad” is one of life’s greatest honors. The call of a child, “Daddy’s home,” is one of the sweetest and most beautiful calls I’ve heard! The role of “Daddy” comes with the most profound joy and the indescribable feeling of pure love. But it also comes with the sacred responsibilities of protecting our children, teaching them correct principles and helping them to become valuable contributing members of society. These are noble responsibilities that should not be taken lightly. I know at times being a Dad can be a challenge for most of us; and, to be certain, it has been a difficult road for me. I wish I could say I’ve always been a good Dad. I know I’ve been okay; I wanted to be better. But frankly, I’ve had one major setback and several personal struggles during my years as an enterprising young Dad. Regardless, over time I’ve come to a knowledge of some fundamental conclusions, and I’d like to share them. So, I write this, not because I’m an expert, but because I’ve learned some lessons over many years of being a Dad (49 years).
Being a parent is a sacred and spiritual responsibility. These little ones are literally children of God, our Heavenly Father. He loves them more than we know! And in His great plan, He wants them protected, taught divine truths and principles, and prepared spiritually to return to Him! As parents, we need to understand that relationship; and, God expects us to understand it, too. If we are alert to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, there are many times when we look at our little ones, and we can see the spark of divinity. And at those times, we know of its truth!
Having children is not necessarily the same as being a parent. Parenting is a lifelong commitment of love, caring, nurturing, education and example. To prepare for the many responsibilities, you and I need to be our best, and we need to be spiritually prepared. To do that, we need to:
- Be personally healthy and productive,
- Understand the Great and Eternal Plan of Salvation,
- Live the Gospel of Jesus Christ (keep His commandments),
- Make and keep (Honor) sacred covenants, and
- Learn to feel and rely on the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
With the help of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to respond appropriately when our children (or grandchildren) present us with teaching opportunities. ”Some of the best teaching moments start as a question or concern in the heart of a child.” Devin Durrant
Brief Overview of My Story:
My personal parenting experiences are probably very different than most. My wife and I decided early on that we wanted to have eight (8) children (that was her number, and I agreed)! We had both observed that large families seemed to be “happier” than small family units. That’s not always the case; but at the time, it seemed that way to us. So, we began our family with eight children in mind. Sadly, shortly after the birth of our seventh child, my dear wife became seriously ill and passed away suddenly. At that moment, parenting for me took on a new dimension. Our seven (7) children (ages four months through 13 years) became my sole responsibility. This was for me a near overwhelming responsibility.
My wife was a great woman, a great wife, and a great mother. In our family, she was a rock. Adored by each of us (…and, loved by everyone she knew), we all relied on her. It was a shock to us all when she died. Sadly, at the time of her death, I was ill-prepared for the sheer volume of responsibility that came with being a single parent and homemaker. In addition to my professional career, I became fully responsible for the care and well-being of the children. Add to that; there was housework: cleaning, laundry, shopping, meal preparation, washing dishes, care for an infant, helping with school assignments, yard work, and general home management. And, on top of that, there were expectations I had as the spiritual leader in the home: regular Dad duties, church attendance, Family Home Evening (FHE), Family Prayers, scripture reading, bedtime stories, and counseling. Poor me!
Anyway, I struggled for many months; and, there were good people with good intentions, who said: “it was not possible for me to manage.” They wanted to find homes for all my children. However, I would not allow that. I was their Dad; and, I wasn’t going to allow anyone to take them away (or separate them from each other), nor would I have someone else teach them.
Fortunately, during the first month or so, the Ward Relief Society was there to provide needed “compassionate service.” They were wonderful and at times overwhelming in their service. But they were great! Also, my two oldest children were daughters: a 13 and an 11-year-old. Both were determined to fill in for their mother. They were very helpful, and we all grew together. They were perfect evidence of the saying “the Lord makes compensations.” But at the time of the crisis, I still had to somehow get my arms around the burden of my new responsibilities. I knew I lacked many of the skills of a homemaker, and I needed to learn those skills.
I was a military man, and for me the solution was obvious. I had to “organize my unit.” I’m not recommending the following actions as the perfect solution, but for me, they worked. We got organized. I began by writing our Family Vision and Mission Statement. Then, we identified all the routine tasks that we needed to do. I created Operating Procedures/Instructions and wrote checklists for completing each household task. We also established Family Rules: what to do and what not to do! I wrote the initial draft; we met as a family council to discuss them; we modified them as necessary; and then, we voted as a family to accept and follow the final draft. Of course, we also maintained a detailed family calendar of activities and kept it up to date, as necessary.
In addition to these basic family instructions, checklists, and rules, we tried to follow guidelines from the church and “align with the Brethren.” At the risk of sounding overly simplified, we generally tried to follow the list of “key teaching opportunities” below. They are provided here for your general consideration:
- Family Home Evening (FHE): Plan them ahead of time; joyfully, and faithfully follow through.
- Family Prayer: Daily and meaningful.
- Family Scripture Study: Learn to love and share this treasure.
- Parental teaching by example (integrity): Practice what you Teach.
- Listen to the Holy Spirit: Humbly respond to promptings.
Over the years, I have come to appreciate the wisdom and counsel from “the Brethren” that we should emphasize these basic activities in our homes. I say “over the years” because I know how infrequently I held an effective Family Home Evening or a meaningful Family Scripture Study. We usually held them, but I’m not sure how successful they were. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we were more successful than I thought. I guess I’m just admitting my sense of a shortfall and expressing my sincere regret.
Now, organizing the work and writing procedures are important, but they don’t accomplish the work by themselves. They were like a compass which points the way and gives us guidance and instruction. However, I found that knowing what to do didn’t always translate into accomplishing what needed to be done. We did okay with many things, but we were less successful with others.
(Note: I learned to pray a lot in those days and years; but I confess, FHE, Family Prayers and Family Scripture Study suffered. I sometimes wish I could have a “do-over,” but it is what it is. My children put up with a great deal, but they have been forgiving, and they still love me. And, there was a “silver lining.” Being a single parent has been a growing experience.)
A New Adventure and a Wonderful Blessing:
After six (6) years as a single-parent family, the “Captain and Seven children” began a new adventure. I met a beautiful woman at a Regional Single Adult Conference in Long Beach, California. I could tell she was a good and kind person with a powerful testimony of Jesus Christ and the Great Plan of Salvation. Plus, we found we had much in common. She also came from a military background, so my operating procedures and checklists didn’t frighten her. And, she actually liked me. Kathy had two (2) young children of her own; and, it didn’t frighten her away when she found I had seven (7) children. After about eight months of dating and getting acquainted, we fell in love and were married and sealed together in the Holy Temple. About a year and a half later, we added an additional child to our family. We became the proverbial “yours, mine & ours” family.
Today, all our ten children are on their own, with children of their own, but we are still on-call, ready to find additional opportunities to love and teach our grown children and our grandchildren. Frankly, we are never released from these Eternal callings. And, today our responsibility to teach correct principles, is as important as ever. As I look back on those years with the children, I think we did okay! They somehow survived, and we all still love each other.
However, I’ve often thought “what more could I have done?” “What important truths and principles should I have emphasized more?” “What truths and principles would have blessed and helped them the most?” As I’ve thought about this, I made a list. What should a parent teach his children? The answer to this is probably a “no brainer.” I know we all know this! But I wrote them down anyway to formally record and document these simple but Eternal principles we need to teach our children. So, here’s my list:
Parental Training Topics for Teaching our Children:
- Introduce them to Jesus Christ (our Savior and the perfect example to follow). Live like the Savior. They already know and love Him but talk to them about Him.
- Teach them to Love God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
- Teach them to pray, and to learn to talk to our Heavenly Father.
- Teach them to love the Scriptures, our spiritual guidebooks to learning the Commandments and the nature of God.
- Teach them to keep the commandments and to “live like the Savior.”
- Guide them along the Covenant Path, the path to Eternal Life (Baptism and beyond).
- Teach them to stay on the Covenant Path.
- Teach them about the glorious and Eternal Plan of Salvation, the Plan of Happiness.
- Teach them to listen to the Holy Spirit, to receive revelation. Revelation is all around us. Learn to connect Spirit to Spirit.
- Strive to help them prepare for and serve full-time missions.
- Teach them to prepare for Eternal Marriage in the Holy Temple.
- Pray for them, and with them, during the trials and challenges of youth, and beyond.
Today our responsibility to teach our children correct principles is as important as ever. So, in conclusion, please know this, we cannot do it effectively without the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit (aka the Holy Ghost) in our lives. He is our friend! If we are prepared and worthy, He will teach us of Christ and guide us to become more like Him. He is the one who will prepare us to come unto the Savior. Ultimately, He will bring us into the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ. And, He is the one who will inspire and guide us as we strive to teach our children the truth and guide them unto Jesus Christ.
“…in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost. I urge you to stretch beyond your current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation. Choose to do the spiritual work required to enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost and hear the voice of the Spirit more frequently and more clearly.” President Russell M. Nelson