In the last three blogs, we’ve been trying to solve the puzzle of balance between being too lenient or too strict as a parent. This last blog talks of what we might think of as being “strict” – responsibility for our choices and consequences.

President Boyd K Packer mormonMormon apostle Boyd K. Packer tells us that knowledge, choice and responsibility are indeed the three pieces of the parenting puzzle:

“There is no true freedom without responsibility, and there is no enduring freedom without a knowledge of the truth.” “Agency and Control,” Ensign, May 1983, 66.

When we start talking about consequences, we wonder “What is too strict? What is not strict enough?” These hard questions stump most parents, including me. I believe that the words of our Father in Heaven are the only balanced answer. Even with His words, actually doing it right at home is a continual learning curve and work-in-progress.

Figuring out consequences starts with a basic: We have the freedom to choose, but there are good and bad outcomes for those choices:

“…the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God. (Romans 2:5-11)

Obviously, our Father in Heaven wants us to choose the good. In the movie, Meet the Robinsons, the innovating father’s motto is “Keep Moving Forward.” Our eternal Father’s motto is the same. Keep improving. Keep overcoming. Keep becoming more like Him. Keep your eye on the target of eternal life – eternal life with Him. Mistakes are inevitable and a way has been provided to overcome these errors, but “Keep Moving Forward.”

His goal is progression, not punishment. He knows that when we obey natural laws, we reap blessings:

If we eat well and exercise, we can prevent disease and can enjoy good health.
If we are honest in our relationships, we gain credibility and trust.
If we stay out of debt and save a little, we have mental peace and a financial backup plan.

It’s the same for our children:

If they are kind to siblings, they form loving relationships.
If they are honest with parents, they earn trust and greater freedoms.
If they clean their rooms, they have a peaceful environment and a happy mother.

But we are going to make mistakes and so will our children. What does our Father in Heaven do when we make intentional or unintentional mistakes? He walks us through three steps: Stop, Repent, Keep Moving Forward.

When we start making mistakes, we may not even know it. A bad consequence makes us stop and take notice of what we were doing. We may experience the bad consequence of breaking a natural law, or our Father may place in front of us what he calls a “stumbling block.” Either way, things stop going smoothly. We are in discomfort or pain. We feel guilt. We lose the companionship of the Holy Ghost (Mosiah 2:36). He does not want to support our bad behavior and allow us to think our actions are fine. He knows where we are headed and wants to get our attention before we get too far down the path.

For behold, the Lord hath said: I will not succor my people in the day of their transgression; but I will hedge up their ways that they prosper not; and their doings shall be as a stumbling block before them. (Mosiah 7:29)

When our kids are making mistakes, they may hit a bad consequence by breaking a natural law, but sometimes that consequence is pretty far off. A ten-year-old is going to have a hard time seeing the consequence of not building good homework habits. Parents can initiate “stumbling blocks” of their own.

Stop computer or TV time if the homework is not getting done.
Stop playing with a friend if treatment of a sibling is unkind.
Stop extra activities for a time if chores are not completed at home.
Stop their activity if they are screaming or throwing a tantrum.

Like our Father in Heaven, we can also take away extra support that we are giving:

Stop providing financial assistance for irresponsible spending.
Stop providing electronic devices for entertainment instead of study
Stop offering cars or insurance for reckless driving.

But isn’t this “harsh”? It is only becomes harsh if we make one critical mistake. If we think that this step alone changes behavior, we will get stuck here. We will be surprised when the behavior doesn’t change and even gets worse. We may say we are “not getting through” to them and think they need stronger, more severe consequences. They may get more angry as they feel their choices being taken away. If we end here, we give out punishments without an ultimate purpose.

If your 3-year-old colors on the wall with markers, you may take away the markers (a “Stop”). If you do nothing else and they do it again, you may take away the markers and put them in time out. (A double “Stop”) If done again, you may throw the markers away, put them in time out, and send them to bed early.(A triple “Stop.”).

But this escalation in “consequences” misses a big point. The “Stop” step can raise awareness, but it usually does not change behavior. The next step seeks to change behavior by changing the thinking that causes the behavior in the first place.

When our Father has our attention, He then asks us to repent. The word “repent” comes from a Greek word that means “change of mind” (i.e. a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world.”) (BD)

He doesn’t want to take away our blessings. What He is trying to do is change our thinking to become more like His. He wants us to understand truth and natural laws. He wants us to know, as Einstein did, that there are governing, unchhangeable principles at work.

“Ethical axioms are found and tested not very differently from the axioms of science. Truth is what stands the test of experience,” Albert Einstein

This is where love and listening are key. Parents sometimes mistakenly assume we know what our children are thinking. Unless we spend some time listening, we may be really off the mark.

One day my 5-year-old son was throwing a fit about going to a piano lesson. I assumed he didn’t want to go to the lesson. I could see a battle of wills in the making. Instead of making him get in the car anyway, I decided to take the time to really understand and practice some active listening skills I had just learned. After asking some open-ended questions, I was shocked. He was really upset because the day before I had promised ice cream after a doctor’s visit and hadn’t followed through. After we resolved the issue, he went to the lesson cheerfully. I assumed I knew his thinking, but I really had no clue until I asked some questions and listened.

Thoughts drive behavior. To change the behavior of our children we need to first understand their thinking. We find the holes in their logic or the misunderstanding of a principle. Then we can teach truth, a new way of thinking and what to do next.

“There are several vital steps to repentance. Each is essential for complete forgiveness. President Joseph F. Smith identified some of these steps this way: “True repentance is not only sorrow for sins, and humble penitence and contrition before God, but it involves the necessity of turning away from them, a discontinuance of all evil practices … a thorough reformation of life, a vital change from evil to good … to make restitution, so far as … possible, for all the wrongs we have done. … This is true repentance, and the exercise of the will and all the powers of [the] body and mind is demanded, to complete this glorious work of repentance.” 6 (Richard G. Scott, “The Path to Peace and Joy,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 25–27)

The 3-year-old wall artist can have the markers removed, but can also be taught to have a change in thinking and in doing. “Do you like having a clean house? Me too! We color on paper so we can keep our house clean. I would love to keep your pictures and keep our house clean.” He can help clean up the mess to experience full repentance.

Replacing a damaged toy, apologizing for bad language, and re-planting flowers destroyed in a neighbor’s yard are all ways parents can walk their children through the steps of repentance. The focus then moves from punishment to restitution and includes a hope of becoming better.

Repentance is a glorious gift made possible by the Atonement of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Only He can help us to fix the violation of natural laws and ultimately overcome our weaknesses. If we are willing to repent, we are able to move forward as quickly as we are able:

Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. (D&C 58:42)

Keep Moving Forward
Before, during and after repentance, our Father in Heaven never ceases to point out the positive. He stresses the joy, blessings and happiness that come from obedience.

When His prophets preach repentance, they never fail to mention the redeeming power of the Atonement and the ability we have to overcome and “Keep Moving Forward.” The words of God are optimistic, happy and hopeful.

“The glorious thing about the whole matter of repentance is that the scriptures are as full of the Lord’s assurances that he will forgive as they are full of his commands for us to repent, to change our lives and bring them into full conformity with his wonderful teachings.

God is good. He is eager to forgive. He wants us to perfect ourselves and maintain control of ourselves. He does not want Satan and others to control our lives. We must learn that keeping our Heavenly Father’s commandments represents the only path to total control of ourselves, the only way to find joy, truth, and fulfillment in this life and in eternity.” (Spencer W. Kimball, “The Gospel of Repentance,” Tambuli, Mar 1983, 1)

I find it overwhelming that He always invites us to come back and enjoy the blessings He so willingly offers. Even if our behavior is terrible, He never sends us away and neither should we send our children away or give up on them.

He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation. Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price… he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance. (2 Nephi 26:24-27)

We can remain positive and hopeful with our kids:

“Your picture is so nice. I want to hang it on the wall so I can see it for a long time. I love the way you kept our house so clean.”
“I know you can do this. You will be so happy when you are done!”
“Hang in there. You are working hard for…”
“I like the way you…”
“I noticed how well you…”
“How can I help you?”

They can know that the blessings are worth every good choice. We can point our children to the redeeming power of the Savior that enables them to “Keep Moving Forward.”

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