Thursday, August 18, 2011

Righteous Parenting

Peter and I spoke about Righteous Parenting last week in church and were asked for copies of our talks, so I thought I would post mine here. Peter spoke from notes, so you'll have to ask him to give it again-- I'm sure he'd love you for that :)

When the bishop asked us to speak, I was hoping for some topic like, “faith” or “fasting.” They always say you learn more about your subject than you impart to your audience and those are the things I figured I’d like to learn about. So when he said, “We’d like you to speak on righteous parenting,” I felt nauseated. Righteous parenting? Please. I can barely spell that phrase, let alone speak on it.

Our foray into parenting has not been an easy one. Our oldest, Caleb, suffered from recurrent intusseceptions from 13 months to 20 months. It’s a condition where the bowel would fold over on itself, causing internal bleeding and necrosis of the bowel. It’s as painful as it sounds. He would vomit blood routinely, and the doctors were at a loss. In August of 2009, he had surgery, which miraculously, fixed his problems, even though the surgeons couldn’t pinpoint the exact cause. In October 2009, we found out were were pregnant again and by December, I had lost a significant amount of weight-- so much so that my body was in organ failure. “morning sickness” didn’t even begin to cover it. I had a PICC line placed, which allowed me to inject a miracle drug directly into my blood stream. Unfortunately, it was not a big enough miracle. In February of 2010, our daughter Charlotte was born 16 weeks early, weighing 1.2 pounds and measuring 11 inches. She spent 208 days in the NICU, and has had 7 readmissions since coming home. She’s gone through five surgeries, is fed through a tube, and sleeps with a BiPAP machine. At 17 months old, she just learned to crawl, roll over, and clap.

At one point in her hospital stay, Charlotte had a test done to check how quickly her stomach empties. For this test, infants have to be perfectly still, so they tape the children down to the table. I had a flash back. Caleb had this test as well, while the doctors were trying to solve his medical mystery. I laughed and called Peter. “There comes a point, when both of your children have been taped to a table at the Children’s Hospital, that you have to ask, where did we go wrong?”

So yeah, righteous parenting. Where did we go wrong?

The first week, I avoided thinking about this topic at all costs. Righteous parenting. Good one. I’m certain there are those “goodly parents” out there, but I’m just not one of them. Caleb, our three year old, has been going through the world’s longest hissy fit-- we’re talking about 7 weeks now-- and let me tell you, there has been very little righteous parenting in response to it. I’ve tried bribery, yelling, ignoring him, taking things away, putting myself in time out.... and that was just this morning.

The second week rolled around and I knew I would have to put something together. I listened to the talks from last general conference, I read about parents in the scriptures, but it still felt a bit hollow to me. Sure, it’s easy to talk about parenting 505 when you are sitting in the Conference Center and someone else has your children. It’s much harder to discuss it when you are telling your three year old to “please stop dumping dirt on your immunocompromised little sister” for the ninth time in four minutes, and for heaven’s sake, please put on some underwear. Plus the timer on the stove is going off, and the laundry needs to be switched and oh my goodness, did you just dump the entire bag of flour on your train table? No no no. That is not how it snows on the island of Sodor. When is your father coming home?

Until finally, one night this week, probably around midnight, I had a realization. Righteous parenting is not the same thing as perfect parenting.

When written in a conference talk, righteous parenting can sound a lot like perfect parenting. And that’s OK, because that’s what conference talks are for-- to help us strive for perfection.

But then there’s reality, where righteous parenting isn’t so much about discussing scripture study around the dining table and praising a child for working diligently. For me, righteous parenting is more about having the faith that I will be able to accept the purpose my children have in life. Righteous parenting comes into play when I say, “Heavenly Father, I desperately want my little girl to live. But I understand if she has another calling.” Righteous parenting is holding my son up to an isolette, and saying, “Caleb, this is your little sister Charlotte. She can’t come home for awhile, but she loves you,” and then holding him as he cries, knowing he’s scared, and admitting that you are scared as well. Righteous parenting is the ability to watch a disabled child and honestly say, “She’s doing exactly what she needs to be doing right now.” Righteous parenting is playing in five pounds of flour that your son thinks is snow on his train table. Who needs to make bread anyway? Righteous parenting comes when I can say, “Caleb, I didn’t do the best job today being a mom, but I promise I’ll try better tomorrow,” and he responds, “But I need you to be the best mommy ever. You’re the only one I have! And, uh, can I have a cookie?”

Righteous parenting is not an act, it is a continuum. Somedays we are much closer to the “goodly parents” end of the continuum. Other days, we fall short. But it is not our actions, or our tempers, that make us righteous parents. It’s our desire to remain on that continuum. Our daily struggle to maintain a balance between our current abilities and our hope for the future. Our focus on remaining righteous, instead of our failure to be perfect. Those things, that’s what makes a righteous parent.

My own experience in parenting has not been the one I imagined as a child. Despite our circumstances, or maybe because of them, I’ve come to believe that few experiences with parenting are as we imagined. Few are the mothers who fit the idolized fantasy: marry the prince, have a baby (or four), enjoy the task of raising the perfect children, and step back to watch them continue the cycle.

For so many of us, true righteous parenting occurs when that fantasy is shattered. We don’t get married, or we can’t bear children, or our children are sick, or die, or grow up only to go astray. Maybe we find ourselves divorced or widowed, with children still to raise. Maybe we find ourselves grandparents, raising another generation long after we though we would be done. Maybe our husbands lose their job, or we have chosen to be the breadwinner. Maybe in the quiet moments of honesty we admit that we’re exhausted, overlooked and worn out.
And yet, in those moments, when our lives are nowhere near the picture painted in Sunday School lessons or Family blogs, we turn to the Lord and we find our way through the mist.

If we turn to Alma 7:11, we read:

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and aafflictions and btemptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will ctake upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

Notice Alma doesn’t say, “except in the case of parents,” or “but only if you make handmade crafts for every child in your son’s class for the Columbus Day party.” Like anything else in our lives, righteous parents can gain strength through the atonement.

Not only can we hug our children and say, “I’m so sorry, Mommy should never yell like that, can you forgive me?” but we can also turn to our Brother, our Savior who has born our pains, our frustrations, and our fears, and say, “I need help through this difficult day. I feel like I cannot take another moment of parenting.” And our Father in Heaven, the only perfect parent, through grace, and by our faith, can, as Alma says in verse 12: succor his people according to their infirmities.

That word. Succor. It means, “to give assistance or aid to.” If we read it again, we read that the Savior went through the entire atonement, again, in verse 12, that he may know according to the flesh, how to succor, or “give assistance or aid to” his people according to their infirmities.

The entire purpose of the atonement was so that the Savior might know how to assist us. Brothers and sisters, if we do not ask for that assistance, if we brush it aside, saying, “Ehh, parenting is not a big enough deal for the atonement, surely He meant for us to use it on something larger, or more important,” we are determining the purpose of the atonement; we are declaring the scope of the atonement, the single most grand act in all of the eternities.
Righteous parenting is indeed a continuum. One that we constantly move along. Sometimes in the forward direction, sometimes not. It is when we place our faith in the Savior and his everlasting atonement, that we can find real progress in the realm of righteous parenting.

In Joshua, Chapter 1, the Lord speaks to Joshua and prepares Israel to enter Canaan. I cannot help but think of the parents who wandered in the wilderness. Entire generations were raised out there, void of the luxuries their parents were so accustomed to.  How difficult was it, how stressful, to raise a child without any of the conveniences with which you were accustomed? I image many of them were torn from friends and family, raising their children not only without physical items, but also without emotional support. Imagine the wear and tear that must have occurred, the constant yearning to have a home. Imagine the frustration and irritation that must have risen inside, each time a child’s pain could have been avoided, had they had a home. Imagine knowing that your child may never have a home. In verse nine, we read:

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the aLord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

The same is true for us. We are invited to turn to the Lord and be strong and of a good courage, for the Lord is with us. Often we may feel as though we are experiencing our own 40 year journey through the wilderness. Or maybe we watch our children, terrified as they face their own battles, like those stripling warriors of the Book of Mormon. We watch, as our children, much too young, go out to battle the world around them. I think the poignant part of the story of the stripling warrior is not that none of them perished, but as read in Alma 57: 25

And it came to pass that there were two hundred, out of my two thousand and sixty, who had fainted because of the loss of blood; nevertheless, according to the goodness of God, and to our great astonishment, and also the joy of our whole army, there was anot one soul of them who did perish; yea, and neither was there one soul among them who had not received many wounds.

The stripling warriors did not avoid pain in their battle. They did not escape wounds. They were injured and beaten, but not fatally. They “received many wounds.” Too often we feel as though if we are righteous parents, we and our children will be spared many wounds. In our minds, we are entitled to avoid pain and affliction and temptation if we are righteous. Unfortunately, as Alma the elder, and Alma the younger can testify, as Lehi can portray, righteous parenting does not mean our children will be perfect, nor will they be free from injury. Righteous parenting does not mean we ourselves will be spared from pain. Even our Father in Heaven has experienced the pain of parenting, and does so on a daily basis.

We will not be perfect parents. We can, however, be righteous parents. Our reliance on the atonement only brings us closer to the Savior, and to our children-- our Father’s children, with whom we have been entrusted. I testify that there is indeed, no better use of the atonement, than to guide His children back to Him.

The atonement is there for us to use, through trials and triumphs, through joy and pain. The Lord has not placed a limit on the atonement. Nor shall we.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians chapter 4:

 8 We are atroubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in bdespair;
 9 aPersecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not bdestroyed;

We have the atonement of the Savior Jesus the Christ. Through it He can assist and give aid to us in our darkest moments, and our most wonderful achievements. Through the atonement, we all walk along the continuum of righteous parenting.