Parenting

Good Control and Bad Control in Parenting

Imagine that you find a policeman at your door one Saturday morning. You’re surprised. You ask how you can help him. “Apparently your teenage son was out with his friends last night and they blew up Mrs. Jones’ mailbox. She is very upset. I need to take your son to the station for questioning.”

Let’s use this situation as an example as we consider three categories of control described by parenting scholars. The first is power assertion in which the parent approaches non-compliance with force: “If you don’t do as I say, you will suffer,” said ominously. Or: “You’ll do it because I say so!” with an assumed threat of violence. You won’t be surprised to learn that power assertion is associated with bad parenting outcomes. Children tend to become either passive or rebellious. They tend to be less socially competent and have less conscience.

A parent who uses power assertion might respond to the news from the officer by marching to his son and shouting threats. “You are grounded until you are 65! I hope you enjoy prison!”

The second category of control is love withdrawal which sends children the message: “I don’t want anything to do with you if you act that way.” The parent may walk away from the child leaving him feeling unlovable. Love withdrawal has not been shown to work successfully in controlling children. And it creates children who feel guilty.

A parent who uses love withdrawal might approach the son and express disappointment. “I thought you were becoming a good boy. I was wrong.” You can see that this is likely to create guilt without helping your son learn better ways.

Fortunately, there is a third child control technique which is effective. Scholars call it induction and it is defined as parental behavior that minimizes the use of power, uses reasoning, and helps the child understand the effect of his behavior on others. This kind of parenting sounds remarkably similar to what the Lord recommends:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of [parenthood], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— (D&C 121:41-2)

As we should have expected, the Lord has always understood principles of effective influence. Parental use of induction is associated with many positive outcomes for children including greater success, social competence, and moral development. Induction is powerful parenting.

We should note that induction can only be done correctly by a parent who feels peaceful and appreciative of the child. Your heart must be right.

What would effective induction look like in the situation described above? The parent might ask the officer if she could have some time with her son and then bring him by the station later. A good parent is worth 100 police officers when it comes to moral development in children.

The initial approach to the son is vitally important. An angry, screaming parent creates a child who is worried about safety more than goodness. A parent who expresses disappointment does not teach the child anything. The best approach engages the boy’s mind and heart without overwhelming him. We want to educate his soul. The parent might calmly say: “A policeman was just here to see you.”

That should get his attention.

It is almost always unproductive to ask a question for which you already have the answer. Rather than ask, “Did you do anything stupid or illegal last night?” you might say: “Apparently you and your friends used your newly-acquired fireworks to blow up Mrs. Jones’ mailbox last night.”

And here is a vital element of induction: We give the child the benefit of the doubt. “I know how much fun it is to use fireworks. And I know that you and your friends like to have fun. I’m sure that you intended Mrs. Jones no harm.”

Your son may sputter: “Why is that such a big deal? It was just an old mailbox!”

“It might seem like an old mailbox isn’t that big of a deal. But just as your property is important to you and you wouldn’t want someone destroying it, that mailbox was important to her. And it’s against the law to destroy someone else’s property.”

Obviously, this discussion requires wisdom, diplomacy, and sensitivity. The objective is to activate your son’s mind and heart without causing distracting anxiety or resistance.

Son: “That’s crazy! It’s not like we are criminals!”

Mom: “I think we can work this out. If you would like, I will go with you to the police station. We can offer to buy Mrs. Jones a new mailbox and install it with the appropriate apologies. Does that sound okay to you?”

It is possible that processing the situation may be upsetting to your son. A break or pause may be necessary: “Should we take a break so you have time to settle down?”

When he is ready to sustain a calm conversation, he might say: “You’re right. We should buy her a new mailbox.”

“Thanks, Son. I’m glad you are willing to take responsibility.” The process of educating your son’s mind is well begun. Now comes the educating of his heart.

“May I share a part of the situation that would be easy for you to miss? You might not know that Mrs. Jones is a widow and has lived alone since her husband died some years ago. I wonder what it was like for her to be awakened in the middle of the night last night with the sounds of stomping on her porch and then explosions. I know she was already uncomfortable living alone. She felt very vulnerable. I wonder if she is now overwhelmed and panicked.”

The objective is not to fill your son with guilt but with compassion. He might respond: “Oh, Mom! I didn’t think of that. I am so sorry! We did not want to frighten her. We were just having fun with fireworks.”

“Yes. I know you would never want to hurt her or frighten her. I’m glad you are compassionate. Do you have any ideas how you can help her feel safe again?”

“The guys and I could apologize to her and offer to mow her lawn this summer. Do you think that would help?”

“Son, I am so glad that you want to help her. May I go with you when you go? Together we can help Mrs. Jones feel safer.”

No parent-child conversation follows a tidy script. But we can apply eternal principles. The induction process is intended to educate your child’s mind and heart. It helps children anticipate how their behavior will affect others. It involves appropriate consequences. Wisely used, induction results in the heart and soul of moral development: an internalized concern for others.

While power assertion and love withdrawal may or may not control behavior, induction invites the child to think about other people and their needs. It changes children into ever-better people. It helps them to begin the important process of regulating their own behavior.

This is “persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned.” It is the best kind of parenting. It is the same kind Heavenly Father uses with His children.

Invitation: Think how you might have applied induction in a parenting challenge you recently faced. See if you can be prepared to use these principles the next time you face a need to redirect your child.

Recommendations: Martin Hoffman has written scholarly works on the uses of induction. The more practical approach to parenting is given by Haim Ginott who combined compassion with limits. I heartily recommend his Between Parent and Child. (Disclosure: I helped update his work for the current edition.)

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful suggestions for this article.

Self Development

Making Grace Personal

Stephen Robinson was the person who awakened me to the new LDS understanding of grace. He replaced my spiritual do-it-yourself attitude with an understanding of the infinite and eternal atonement. His book, Believing Christ, has changed my life—and the lives of thousands of Latter-day Saints.

Maybe Hafen, Wilcox, or Givens or someone else awakened you. Thank heaven that the light has dawned! We understand now better than ever that we cannot save ourselves. We can allow ourselves to be humbled. We can throw ourselves on His merits, mercy, and grace. But we are saved through His redemption. His is the only name under heaven whereby we can be saved (See Acts 4:12).

That doctrine is central to the Book of Mormon message. And the Bible’s message. Yet it required a new generation of messengers to break down our cultural resistance.

It seems to me that there is one thing still missing even after this remarkable revolution. It is a great first step to recognize that Jesus is a Savior who saves. It is quite another thing to fully accept that His saving can reach through my weakness, my contrariness, my fallenness and encircle me in the arms of His love (See Lehi’s words in 2 Nephi 1:15).

It is great to know that Jesus and His plan are so amazing. But it doesn’t change anything for me or any of us until we accept that He loves and fully intends to save us. The plan must become personal to be meaningful.

For years I believed and taught that Jesus loves us with an incomprehensible love. But I did not accept that He loved me because I knew that I often acted foolishly, selfishly, and wickedly. I often made bad choices while knowing better. As a result, I did not truly believe that He could love me or rescue me. I felt that His love could not reach past my badness.

I wish I could say that I matured into a wiser view of His redemptiveness. That’s not what happened. No. He tricked me into accepting His love.

When I was serving as a bishop, He sent a deeply troubled woman to visit with me. She described a life that was filled with the wreckage of bad choices and regrettable behaviors. I saw little hope for her. When she asked for counsel I was worried. What hope could I offer to someone whose life was in total shambles.

But then something astonishing happened. God reached to one of His troubled children through a weak messenger. I found myself telling this troubled woman that there were three things the Lord wanted her to do. I had no idea what they were. But the Lord told me there were three things. When I wrote the number “1” on a piece of paper, a clear, wise, loving, and encouraging message came. We discussed the idea. When I wrote the number “2” on the paper, another wise and loving bit of counsel came; likewise, with #3. God loved her, taught her, and sent her forth with hope and a plan.

I was dumbfounded. I was astonished by His love for even His most troubled children. I knelt on the floor and shook my head: “I had no idea how much You love your children! I just didn’t know.” If He could and did love her despite all that she had described to me, then He must also love me the same way.

Ever since that day, I have rejoiced in His love. I still grieve at my mistakes. But I repent more gladly and live more fully because I know that His love extends to me.

Dozens of readings of Believing Christ helped me understand the plan. I grew in my love and appreciation for Him. But His message did not become fully personal until God broke through my defenses and surprised me with His love!

I suspect that there are many saints who are committed appreciators of Jesus but not yet surrendered disciples. How do we move from appreciators to disciples? What are the steps?

I don’t know. He had to trick me. And the way He breaks through your defenses will be different from the way He broke through mine.

I suppose that we can lower our defenses. We can learn of His magnificent plan. But the experience of His love will always be a miracle. Maybe the best we can do is pray for it and embrace it when it comes. And we must trust that, because of His love, He does stand ready to save and redeem us. He carries each of us to glory.

As the years go by, I become more and more aware of “His relentless redemptiveness.” Story after story in scripture deliver the same message: God is faithful. He presides in our messy learning process. When we are foolish and contrary, He offers a fresh start through the atonement of Jesus Christ. With infinite patience, He oversees our development toward godliness, line upon line.

If you haven’t already felt that life-changing love, I wish I could tell you how to find it. I pray that you will persist in seeking it until you are swamped by the personal good news: Jesus loves YOU and intends to teach and bless you until you are ready to go to your Heavenly Home and join Him in the work of redemption.

Marriage

You Create the Story of Your Relationship

We can tell the story of our relationship in many ways. We can take the facts of our togetherness and form a comedy, a tragedy, a romance or a satire. We have full power to create whatever narrative we choose. And we can make it fully convincing.

Let’s take an example. A family needed a new refrigerator. The husband consulted reviews and settled on a good choice. He presented the data to his wife. She shook her head. Nope. She wanted one specific brand. He showed her data that favored other brands. She was undeterred; she knew what she wanted. He was frustrated.

When faced with experiences like this, we can form biased perceptions of our spouse: “She is irrational!” “He doesn’t care what I think!”

With that perception in place, we find plenty of evidence to confirm anything we want to believe. The next time he disagrees with or neglects her request, her hypothesis is supported. The next time she says something he doesn’t understand, his view of her is solidified. We continue to look for evidence and continue to find it.

Natural spouses are enemies to their partners. Unless. Unless, instead of looking for evidence to convict, we look for reasons to appreciate. The condition of our hearts determines what we see in people—especially those we are close to. When our hearts are self-focused, irritated, and resentful, we will see lots of offenses. When we are gracious, generous, and compassionate, we see very different people and tell very different stories.

You may recognize the story about the refrigerator as one that Steve Covey told. He and his wife Sandra could not see eye-to-eye on refrigerators. Some months later they were relaxing together when Sandra told Steve an important story from her childhood. During the depression, their family struggled. Her dad worked two jobs including running an appliance business. Only one appliance company had been willing to front her dad needed inventory in those tough times. He often expressed appreciation for that company to his family. Because of her deep love for her father, she had an enduring devotion to that company.

We never know enough to condemn another person. Only God knows that much. (And He uses His knowledge to redeem.)

So, when we’re frustrated with the actions or positions taken by our partners, our best bet is to become detectives. Why does that behavior make sense to my spouse? Why is that position so important to my spouse?

For example, in one couple the wife loves tidiness and order. It is hard for her to feel peaceful without neatness. For her, tidiness is a sacred duty. Her husband loves to hang onto old clothes, household items she believes have out-lived their usefulness, and all kinds of random “stuff” in the garage. He doesn’t like to throw out things that might still be useful. For him, frugality is a heavenly mandate. When she is irritated by all of what she views as “junk”, she faces a choice. She can see him as a slob who doesn’t care about tidiness or her preferences and probably would annoy all heaven’s inhabitants (if he had any chance of being admitted). Or, she can try to understand his mindset. “Why is his desire to hang onto things so important to him?” It may be difficult to understand, but, until she sees why it makes sense to him, she has not arrived.

In addition, she can also make requests that would help resolve the situation while trying to honor what is important to him. “Sweetheart, could we pack up some of the clothes you haven’t worn in a long time and store them in the attic so our closet is less cluttered?” “Would you consider organizing what’s in the garage as a birthday present to me?”

Understanding our spouse doesn’t mean we can’t make our own needs known. But when we truly gain understanding and compassion, we are more likely to tackle issues with kindness and creativity rather than blame, threats, or withdrawal. We are more likely to discover solutions that are agreeable to both partners.

In a marriage there are unnumbered opportunities for irritation. Intimacy. Finances. Priorities. Communication styles. Household chores. Children. If you didn’t know better, you might think that God was trying to stretch us towards greater godliness through our marriages. I often say: Irritation is an invitation. When we are irritated we should imagine it as an invitation from God to display greater understanding and compassion—what we call Christ-like charity. We can also pray to be given that divine gift of charity.

Please note that none of this discussion excuses destructive, abusive, or immoral behavior. In extreme cases we may need to leave a relationship. However, in most relationships we need to stop any narratives that condemn our spouses without any understanding or compassion. Instead, we need to soften our hearts and seek to comprehend the other side of the story.

Look for the good. Seek to understand the irritating. Be ready to forgive. Be wise in making requests.

If you want a vibrant relationship, one of the best things you can do is to collect memories of your best times. “Find the glory in your marital story,” Gottman advises. Make a habit of noticing and cherishing good experiences in your marriage. And elevate the ordinary experiences by the way you interpret them.

Marriage is God’s training ground for godliness. He invites us to bring compassion, patience, and kindness to those flawed and fallen humans to whom we are married.

Application: Watch carefully for irritation with your spouse. Next time you spot irritation welling up, take a deep breath. Try seeing the world through your spouse’s eyes. Pray for heavenly kindness.

Recommendation: The classic secular book on marriage is Gottman’s 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work. For an LDS perspective, see my Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her helpful comments on this article.

Parenting

Reading Children’s Instruction Manuals

I have heard the saying “children don’t come with instruction manuals” hundreds of times. The saying has always annoyed me; I don’t believe it.

Children do come with manuals. They are the manuals! In everything they say and do they are giving us instructions. The problem is that we don’t use the manuals they give us. We don’t understand their instructions, or we don’t take them seriously. But the instructions are there. Clear as day. If we read them.

An amazingly sensitive and insightful mama called me this week. She told me about her son in kindergarten who has started misbehaving. Rather than his usual happy and docile self, he has been angry and contrary. He has picked on his sister and has rebelled against his mother’s influence. None of the usual family systems are working for him. He seems to have become a rebel.

The natural response is to punish the child into submission. “You will not act that way in this family.” There is an enticing logic to such a response. We love to set limits and ladle out consequences. And we try to convince ourselves that they are necessary for children. Yet unwisely done, our usual punishments are like pouring gasoline on a fire. They make things worse. They make life more confusing and lonely for children without teaching them how to manage themselves. And they damage the relationship of trust that should exist between parent and child.

I don’t believe that the rebel boy was just letting his badness take over. I think he was trying to tell his mother something important.

So that sweet mom and I talked. I asked her what was different in her son’s life. What was he trying to tell her about his experience? Could kindergarten be upsetting to him? Could the addition of the baby to the family make him feel less noticed and appreciated? Had a friend moved away or turned against him?

Mom thought. “Actually his just-younger sister has recently become the star of the family. She has been cheerful and loving and may have crowded him out of his starring role in the family.” Mom thought some more. “And his dad uses too much sarcasm with him. I’m sure it feels like criticism and maybe even mocking to our son.”

There it is! Mom is reading her son’s manual! Using her natural compassion and great insight, she is getting vital instructions for helping him.

I suggested that she take one-on-ones with her son and ask him what he is loving about his life and what is bothering him. There is nothing quite like listening attentively and lovingly to learn what’s happening in a child’s life. She reported later that she spent a day with her dear boy and learned many things about his life, worries, and joys.

A great deal of misbehavior in normally-pleasant children is a plea for help. “I feel lost! I feel unimportant and worthless! Do I have a place in this world?” I suggested that her dear boy might need more mama time and more opportunities to work through his worries and burdens.

Will extra love teach him to misbehave in order to get extra attention? It can. But usually only when children think that is the only way to get some attention. When their misbehavior gets them needed help, they learn that their world is a safe place.

The child’s manual will also help a parent know when a child needs firm limits and appropriate consequences. I definitely don’t believe in smiling benignly while children destroy the world around them. But our actions should match their needs rather than our mood. Sometimes they need someone to clearly state that certain words and actions are not acceptable in our families. They often need teaching. There is a place for consequences. Yet, more than anything else, they will need parents to reassure them that we will help make the world a safe place for them.

Haim Ginott tells of a boy who visited his prospective kindergarten with his mother. As the teacher provided a tour, the boy gruffly asked, “Who made the ugly pictures on the wall?” Mom was embarrassed: “Those are lovely pictures.” But the teacher recognized what was written in that boy’s manual. He wondered if only children who were good artists would be appreciated in this classroom. The teacher wisely responded: “We are glad for all kinds of pictures in this class.” The boy was pleased.

Of course new chapters are always being added to each child’s instruction manual; we must keep reading carefully. And mastery of one child’s manual does not make us masters of another child’s; we must study each child as a unique creation.

It’s not true that children don’t come with instruction manuals. I hope we will all become fluent in reading the manuals we have been given: Our children, their moods, their words, and their actions.

Invitation: Do you have a child who is particularly hard to understand? Pay close attention. Can you find sensible, adaptive reasons why the child does what he/she does? How can you read that child’s manual?

Recommendation: John Gottman, the world’s leading relationship scholar, recommended Ginott’s Between Parent and Child in strong terms: “This is the most important book ever written on parenting and the emotional world of children. It is a must that every parent and teacher master the skills taught in these pages. Written by Dr. Haim Ginott, renowned child psychologist—and in my opinion, a true genius—Between Parent and Child goes far beyond telling us how to discipline and control our kids, and explains how to raise children who are not only well behaved, but are also emotionally strong, independent thinkers, and compassionate toward others. This newly revised edition is better than ever. Take my advice—buy this book! Read this book! You and your children will be forever grateful.”—Dr. John M. Gottman, author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

Self Development

Getting Heavenly Guidance

Our friend John wondered why there were so few crickets. They used to make a racket every summer evening. Now they were almost silent. What was the reason? Pesticides? Winter freeze? Migration?

Then he got hearing aids. The first night after getting those devices, he asked his wife, “The crickets are so loud! Have they been that loud all along?”

Many of us know someone whose hearing has declined and finds it difficult to interpret the voices around them. The same thing can happen to our “spiritual hearing”. Over time our sensitivity to spiritual messages can diminish or disappear. We can become spiritually deaf.

“Ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words” (1 Nephi 17:45).

There is an older high priest I know. When asked about his greatest spiritual experiences, he still referenced his mission which occurred 60 years ago. While he certainly should remember and treasure wonderful spiritual experiences during his mission, it is unfortunate that he doesn’t seem to acknowledge any more recent meaningful encounters with the Spirit. Has he stopped seeking the Spirit or craving heaven’s counsel? Does he imagine that the Spirit has gone silent regarding his life?

I contrast that high priest with David Biliter. When he was in our stake presidency, he typically began temple recommend interviews by asking, “Do you mind sharing with me the last time you felt the Spirit?” Every time he asked me that question, we were both flooded by heavenly light. Just asking the question invited the Spirit into our lives.

Our responsiveness to God is like being a horse on whom God is the Rider. When he pulls the bridle one way or the other, a reluctant horse may resist—having his own course in mind. A good horse will respond to the direction. A great horse will turn when God merely leans in the saddle. Our whole orientation can be welded to His will. But only if we welcome it.

How do we enjoy more of His influence and guidance in our lives? There are stock answers to that question. But those stock answers can be somewhat shallow. And they suggest there is a standard “one-size-fits-all” process to follow in order to listen to the Spirit. That is not the case. Each of us has our own communication style and learning process. Our Father understands us individually and customizes the way that He reaches out to each of us. Instead of trying to follow some standard recommendations, we should explore how God tailors His communications to us.

For some, the surest way to bring Him present is music. For example, I cannot play Glorious by the One Voice Children’s Choir without weeping with joy. It always touches me!

Others are inspired by nature. Time spent in God’s creation makes a heavenly connection for them.

Some connect best through prayer. Yet there many ways to pray. When we try to follow someone else’s formula, we may get frustrated. Elder Douglas Callister recommended that instead of offering the same rote prayers every day, “Choose what you want to talk to Father about. Just one, or two, or three things, not a great deal. But talk to him the way a child talks to a father that is much loved. When you get up from your knees, you’ll remember what you prayed for and it won’t be the same thing as the night before or the night which follows.” (“Take Control”, Devotional at Snow College)

Some may be uplifted by testifying. I love speaking and writing about God’s amazing work! As I share, He teaches me new things.

Some find the Divine through pondering. Some connect with the Spirit by asking questions and then listening for answers to come.

We can learn to hear the voice of God in scripture. There are thousands of different ways to find Him from reading and reflecting to using study guides and studying with friends. Our study program will change as our needs change. And they will vary by our personality.

What works for you? As you think of the best experiences you have had with the Spirit, how have those experiences been achieved? In what way does Heavenly Father connect with you individually? How do you best seek His voice and receive His messages? How can you have meaningful experiences with the Spirit more often?

Each of us must earnestly seek to find the way to cultivate the Spirit in our unique individual lives. The Holy Ghost is dedicated to the very serious business of getting us through the mess of mortality and back to Father. It makes sense for us to cooperate with Him.

If you had the opportunity for a great historical figure to visit you, how would you prepare for that visit? Chances are you would take that opportunity very seriously. Probably you would prepare carefully. You might think of questions you would want to ask. You likely would listen carefully and respectfully. You might earnestly take notes. You would probably reflect back upon the conversation afterwards. So shouldn’t we approach the opportunity to spend time with Heaven’s Messenger as seriously? We should grab that opportunity as often as we can! We should notice and honor His presence. We should be respectful of impressions He shares with us. We should give serious consideration to the truths He delivers and take action upon them.

For that reason I keep a small joy journal. Every day I record the things that went well. Naturally that includes any messages from Heaven. They come wrapped in joy. They inspire, comfort, and guide. I want to notice them, remember them, and guide my life by them.

Invitation: What could you do to be more mindful of God’s messages? What can you do to better guide your life by them?

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful contributions to this article.

Recommendation: Consider reading a book on personal revelation such as Hearing the Voice of the Lord by Gerald N. Lund or Personal Revelation: How to Recognize Promptings of the Spirit by JoAnn Hibbert Hamilton

Marriage

Discoveries: Fitting the Parts Together to Make a Marriage

Marriage is like combining two halves of a house to make one home.

Imagine that a person has many friends in the construction industry. When it comes time to make a new home, he calls a couple of his buddies who make prefabricated homes. He asks each of them to send him their best half-home. They ask for specs but he says: “Just send me your favorite half.” He doesn’t specify size, style, or layout.

So one builder sends a sleek, modern half that is intended to be part of a contemporary structure. The other sends half of a geodesic home that is efficient and practical.

When the two halves arrived at the site, the halls do not line up. The roofs do not match. There are two kitchens and two living rooms but no bedrooms. The electrical, plumbing, and heating are not compatible. The styles are jarringly different.

Marriage is much like that construction challenge. Two people are built in different “factories” (or families) with different tastes, traditions, styles, preferences, and experiences. Neither family coordinates with the other in the creation of their half of a family-to-be. They just build things their way.

One family is loud, exuberant, and expressive. The other is quiet and avoidant. One family is relaxed, the other is exacting. One family is rigorous in their religious practices, the other is more casual. One loves sports and informality. The other is more serious and task-oriented.

When two people come together from two very different backgrounds, the challenges in connecting the two halves into a functioning whole are immense and continuing. We do not create a well-connected home overnight.

The challenges are also often unexpected. We imagine that, coming from two good LDS families, we have almost everything in common. Yet one partner thinks that a rousing political argument at the dinner table counts as family home evening while the other wants hymns, quiet reflection, and healthy snacks. The different perspectives on holidays, affection, food, time-use, chores, money, and communication seem quite insurmountable. Further, the differences between marriage partners are not due simply to their different families of origin. They also have different personalities, different values, and different sets of experience.

Nothing in the dating experience prepares us for the vast surprises in combining two people from different traditions into one cohesive, functioning family. The only solution is to activate powerful gospel processes. Only then can we hope to create a successful family.

The first key to combining the two halves is humility—the openness to other people’s ways of doing things. There is a tendency to believe that our way of doing things is the best way or the right way. I recommend that we become good private investigators. When our spouses do something that does not make a bit of sense to us, we might ask ourselves, “I wonder what that means to my spouse?”

Here is a great truth: People do what they do for reasons that make sense to them. When their actions do not make sense to us, it is because we don’t understand them. We can judge them or we can seek to understand. The spouse who takes time to understand the partner’s logic has a good start for connecting the two sides of the house.

A person who loves tidiness believes that cleanliness is next to godliness. The person who creates a junkyard wherever they are may see themselves as creators or savers. Each preference has its logic. And, if we are humble, we will be able to discern and honor our differences rather than condemn them.

Of course, we can, as Gottman recommended, start a dialogue with our unresolvable differences. We can make good-natured jokes about her love of order or his passion for tools. We laugh about the ways our different styles create surprises in our lives. This is compassion—the willingness to look kindly on someone who—like us—is afflicted with quirky fallenness.

The other key to managing our persistent differences is positivity—the willingness to keep our focus on what is good, admirable, and loveable. Van Wyck Brooks issued the invitation: “How delightful is the company of generous people, who overlook trifles and keep their minds instinctively fixed on whatever is good and positive in the world about them. People of small caliber are always carping. They are bent on showing their own superiority, their knowledge or prowess or good breeding. But magnanimous people have no vanity, they have no jealousy, and they feed on the true and the solid wherever they find it. And, what is more, they find it everywhere.” (Brooks, V. W. (1948). A Chilmark Miscellany. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., p. 6)

So the jarring differences between the two halves of our marriage can lead to frustration, contention, and discord. Or they can lead to amusement, patience, and charity. Every time we choose to use humility, compassion, and positivity, we choose to create a strong home.

Application:

We all feel irritation in marriage. The difference between successful and unsuccessful relationships depends on what we do with that irritation. Notice your irritation with your spouse. Become a private investigator; see if you can figure out the logic behind your spouse’s choices. Then apply compassion; find appreciation for that point of view. Then keep your focus on the many things you love about your partner. Try it. It will make a difference.

Invitation:

The perspective of marriage as a God-given and character-building enterprise is the focus of my book, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage. It recommends gospel thinking and covenants as the path to relationship success.

Parenting

The Perils of Praise

590001.TIF

What’s your reaction if I tell you that you are the sweetest, finest, brightest, most talented and beautiful person I have ever known?

You will probably have several reactions:

1. It’s nice to be appreciated. It feels good.

2. I’m not sure you know me very well. Or you don’t know the real me. I have lots of faults and limitations.

3. I’ll be a little anxious when I’m around you for fear you will find evidence that your high appraisal of me was mistaken. Or I will choose easy tasks so I can appear to be successful.

This last reaction is just what Carol Dweck found in her research with children. When we tell kids how amazing they are, we make them uncomfortable. They don’t want to appear as failures so, in the future, they choose easier tasks. Praise can be disabling.

This discovery fits well with the gospel. When Jesus commanded us not to judge, He did not say, “Do not judge negatively.” He said, “Do not judge.” Apparently it can be damaging to hang heavy labels on people—either positive or negative ones.

But here is the key point: Positivity is extremely important! It is vital for feeling valued. It is wonderfully encouraging and motivating. But we can encourage people without hanging heavy labels on them. What should we do instead of praising and judging them?

1. We can describe our reaction to them. “I love your laughter.” “I am amazed at the way you concentrate.” “It is a joy to be with you.”

2. We can describe our reaction to their doings. “Your picture made me feel the warmth of the sun.” “Your story made your characters so real!” “I can’t believe that you could get your room so organized!”

As the brilliant psychologist Haim Ginott observed, our words should “deal only with children’s efforts and accomplishments, not with their character and personality” (2003, p. 32).

I want to be balanced in discussing the problems of praise. Every child will survive an enthusiastic aunt or grandpa gushing: “You are the sweetest thing on the planet! You are the best!” In fact we are all glad for such an explosion of appreciation from people in our lives. Positivity is absolutely vital for all of us. It is only as we feel the burden of unrealistic expectations that positivity becomes immobilizing. It is better to appreciate effort than evaluate character.

So show appreciation and affection to the children in your life. Children need a steady stream of encouragement. But try to describe your reaction to their efforts rather than hang a heavy label on them.

Invitation:
For most of us the challenge is that we correct our children too much. We may not be consistently positive and encouraging. Watch your children—especially the child who is difficult—and look for opportunities to be more positive. Make special efforts to notice and appreciate their efforts.

Recommendations:
Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child is the classic parenting book. [Disclosure: I helped revise the original book to create the new edition.] Many agree; this is one of the most important books ever written on understanding the emotional world of children. I think it is the best parenting book in print.
If you want to know more about Carol Dweck’s research, her book, Mindset, is a readable and sensible book.

Self Development

Who Deserves Our Compassion?

A good friend called to talk about a difficult uncle. He is distant and prickly. She is tired of trying to be nice to him when he shows only rudeness to her. I suggested that she try to understand his struggles and pains. She commented that he doesn’t deserve her compassion.

Deserve her compassion? It struck me instinctively that the proper question is never one of deservingness. None of us deserves compassion. We are all narrow and selfish. We all deserve condemnation.

Yet “if we demand an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we will all soon be blind and toothless” (variously attributed).

We humans expect mercy and compassion for our misdeeds while offering justice and retribution to others for their misdeeds. We cluck at those who text while driving. But, when we text (or check movie schedules, or read emails) while driving, it is only for truly vital matters.

We resent any snubs from the people around us. Yet we ourselves sniff at or ignore unnumbered people every day.

We all know this is wrong but it is so common that our offences become like Muzak at the mall; we hardly notice. We become Pharisees humming Come, Come Ye Saints.

Occasionally our consciences tweak us. We feel the discomfort of acting at odds with our values. And we make a choice. We set aside conscience or we embrace it.

Let’s imagine we embrace conscience. For the woman dealing with a difficult uncle, it may be impossible to go directly from pain to compassion. She may need first to feel God’s compassion for her. He grieves at her suffering. He feels her pain personally and profoundly. When we allow ourselves to be filled with His compassion, it becomes possible for us to show compassion. When we have a vibrant, loving relationship with Him, it becomes possible to be His messengers.

How do we get there? What if we feel like spiritual failures? What if we can’t seem to find His love despite a lifetime of trying?

I don’t have any easy answer to those questions. In my case, Heavenly Father tricked me. He showed me how much He loved His most broken and desperate children. As I witnessed His love for them, I finally stopped resisting His love for me. I finally sang the song of redeeming love in a personal way.

I don’t know how He will reach you. But I am sure it is always good for us to drop our defenses against Him. It is good to beg for an outpouring of His love. I cannot say what your path will be but I know that He is anxious to fill you, to bless you, to love you, to heal you, and to partner with you.

If God weeps with the suffering of His wicked children (Moses 7), He certainly grieves over our struggles. Feeling His compassion and devotion prepares us to act like Him—offering compassion to our fellow travelers.

Because we are in a fallen world, we are all injured, broken, damaged, and fragmented. Rather than scoff at each other’s injuries, we can be kind; After all, “everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” We can offer a crust of bread and a kind word to every person we meet. We can work to notice each person God places in our paths.

When we are filled with the love of God, we can turn toward people with warm and loving curiosity: What unique gift has God given this person? What can I learn from this child of God? What might God call me to do for this person?

The surest way to draw heaven into our lives is to show compassion—undeserved compassion. “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38).

I love Joni Hilton’s invitation: “Next time you’re in line at the market, or pumping gas, or in the workplace, notice the people around you and the quick conclusions you’re tempted to draw. Catch yourself judging unfairly and rewind the tape. Instead, see this person as a child of God who is loved and hoped for. Know that a Patriarchal Blessing awaits this person. Realize they cheered in the Pre-mortal World when they heard the Plan of Happiness. Ask a silent prayer to see if your path was meant to cross theirs today, to help them and bring them the truth” (Joni Hilton, Meridian Magazine, Are You More Judgmental than You Think? http://www.ldsmag.com/article/1/12281)

It feels good to show love.

Invitation:

Ask Heavenly Father for the gift to really see people—especially to see them as He sees them. Pause to offer compassion, to pray for them, to appreciate them. If appropriate, ask them about themselves. Enter their worlds with interest and compassion. Express appreciation. Pray for them.

Recommendations:

I recommend that everyone read Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ.

Uncategorized

Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships Making Each Other Crazy

Top view of different tapas food recipes. Delicious table of foods.

People are as different as foods on a buffet. For example, I am an extrovert. I do my thinking on the outside. I think out loud. Nancy is an introvert. She likes to think before she talks (in spite of my consistent example to the contrary).

Sometimes it makes me crazy when I ask Nancy a question and she goes into a trance. I want to know what she’s thinking; I want to participate in the process. She, however, likes to mull ideas over before she offers a considered opinion—after several minutes. In the meantime, I tap my toe impatiently.

Of course, I have a talent for making her crazy (thankfully she is amazingly patient and forgiving!). When I am playing with an idea, I talk about it from different angles. Each time I talk about it, I make small refinements. But, to the untrained ear, it sounds like I’m saying the same thing over and over. It could make anyone crazy!

That is an enduring difference between us. Unfortunately there have been times when I have gotten impatient and pushed her to talk. I’m sure there are times when she wondered if I would quit talking.

Differences can irritate and grow. They can become defining issues. After all, the natural man is an enemy to his spouse. And always has been. And always will be.

There simply is no hope we will get along unless we can change the way we feel about our differences—“unless [we] yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19). Even then we will still be different. But the differences won’t bother us like they do when our fallenness is talking.

Daniel B. Wile, the insightful marriage therapist, observed:

There is value, when choosing a long-term partner, in realizing that you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unresolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or fifty years. (p. 13, After the Honeymoon)

Wile notes that we can get disgusted and leave our marriages. We can find new partners. And it will take a few years before we discover our unresolvable differences with our new partners. At that point we can leave those marriages and find new partners again. And thus we have the great American marriage pattern, serial monogamy. We stay frustrated and keep looking for the partner who is the perfect match, the one who completes us.

Or we can subscribe to God’s purposes in marriage. We can turn our discontents into humility and openness. We can try to understand and appreciate someone else’s perspective. We can seek to learn from each other.

If you have been paying attention, you have discovered the unresolvable differences in your relationship. You may have also discovered that they are not resolved as the result of candid discussion. Nope. Often they get worse. We get entrenched in our way of thinking and feeling.

There really is only one solution: heart-changing humility. When we become truly humble, we seek to understand our partners. We appreciate their uniqueness. We adapt to their ways. We even learn to appreciate them.

After all, God does not intend that we spend our lives coasting along in easy happiness. He intends to provoke us toward charity. Sure, God intends that we have times of peace and contentment. He also intends that we ascend the mountains of godliness. That will require real climbing—spiritual transformation. We “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love . . . that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:47).

Of course we must cooperate with God. When we feel ourselves getting irritated we must do more than wait for Him to patch our souls. We must actively call on Him as Alma did: “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.”

Will the differences go away? Nope. God wants us to get disgusted enough with our grumbling and complaining that we beg Him for the mighty change that brings us charity.

The leading relationship scholar, John Gottman, has recommended that we start a dialogue with our unresolvable differences. Whether our differences are about relatives, money, sexuality, housework, or parenting, we can set aside our demands and seek to truly understand what matters to our partners.

We can stop thinking of differences as problems to be fixed and embrace them as opportunities for appreciation. We can stop holding up our own preferences as the standard of rightness. We can become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19).

As we learn to appreciate our differences, we become more like our perfect Father.

Invitation:

Think about the things that irritate you most often in your marriage. How would you feel about those things if/when you were filled with the Spirit of God? How can you turn irritations into appreciations?

Recommendations:

For more about coping with our differences, read Gottman’s The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.

For more about cultivating charity in marriage, read my Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.

Parenting

Crazy About You!

When 3 year-old Ian comes to visit his adoring Papa, we fall easily and naturally into joyous companionship. We play with wind-up toys. We “cook” meals with play dough. We pop popcorn and watch Robots yet again. Loving him is easy.

But what about the child who is harder—who is too loud, too negative, too demanding, or too hyper—the child who grates on our nerves? How in the world do parents get a loving perspective on difficult children?

That is where God invites us to grow. As I regularly say, irritation is an invitation. We can stay stuck in our this-child-is-a-mess view or we can choose to open our hearts to the child. We can see all the muck in a fallen child or we can see the glory just barely concealed by mortality. We can see past dirty hands and abundant mistakes to see one of God’s cherished children who comes trailing clouds of glory, who will learn and grow, will face discouragement and pain but will choose God and goodness. We can shout for him to stay out of the cookies or we can provide a glass of milk. We can see her grumpiness or recognize the difficulties of being a child.

A brilliant psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner, taught: “Every child should spend a substantial amount of time with somebody who’s crazy about him or her. There has to be at least one person who has an irrational involvement with that child, someone who thinks that kid is more important than other people’s kids, someone who’s in love with him or her and whom he or she loves in return.”

Research is clear: The single most important factor in the way a child develops is nurturance. Does each child feel loved, valued, cherished, and supported? Nothing matters more for healthy development.

But how do we change from irritation to appreciation? The answer is surprisingly simple: we can choose to see with compassion.

We all make sense of what we see. And, quite unnoticed by us, we all have default settings for our evaluation switches. We stand ready to be irritated by certain behaviors or certain personalities. But we can throw those switches from irritation toward appreciation. When a child splashes in mud, we can interpret it as stubborn disobedience or joyous exploration. When a teen asks a prickly question we can see impertinence or exploration. We can focus on the inexperience and fallenness or on the goodness and earnestness.

When little Vivi scribbled in my scriptures, the natural man wanted to slap her hand. But we love Vivi! So, when she finished her creation, I put a small notation at the bottom of the page acknowledging the artist and noting the date.

I must confess. I continue to pray for an outpouring of charity toward some children. Some children and some actions are especially difficult for each of us. They challenge us to think differently.

It will be much easier for us to offer the loving view to our children if we grew up feeling understood and cherished. Unfortunately most of us did not get nearly enough love. There is one great remedy: We can let the immense and perfect love of God heal our wounds and fill our empty places. When we are filled with God’s love, it is natural for us to be patient and loving with our children.

Just gritting our teeth with the child who irritates us will never lead to effective parenting. We need an outpouring of the heavenly gift: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:48).

But the gift of charity is not simply imposed on us by heaven. We must cooperate. We must work with all the energy of our souls to see the goodness that God sees. We must give children the benefit of the doubt. We must be willing to understand their world and their needs. We must spend time building a relationship with them. We may need to lovingly counsel with them about how they can best manage their strengths.

In addition to loving wholeheartedly, a good parent must also set limits and impose consequences. But when these are done by a parent who is striving to parent with unstinting love, the result will be gloriously redemptive.

Invitation:

Notice irritation. As it arises with a specific child, ask God how you can build a positive relationship with that child. Based on His direction, make deliberate efforts to build a connection and strengthen the relationship.

Recommendations:

I wrote Bringing Up Our Children in Light and Truth to provide a gospel overview of parenting. You will find balanced answers for the challenges of parenting in that book.