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Parenting with rules and relationships

Published: Sunday, March 13 2011 6:00 a.m. MDT

A friend was in a family relations class at BYU when the professor said, “Rules without a relationship create rebellion. Relationships without rules create chaos. Rules with a relationship create maturity."

This advice is applicable not only for parenting but for employers, missionaries and, most importantly, in obtaining an ideal relationship between us and our Heavenly Father.

In my youth, I believe we trended in the direction of "rules without a relationship." Parents were stricter, they believed in discipline and relationships often took a backseat to enforcing the rules. Over the last 20-plus years, we have watched as parents have become extremely permissive, attempting to be best friends with their children, in many cases even afraid of their kids and more concerned about alienating them than enforcing any rules or boundaries. Now the tide seems to be shifting; as parents are frustrated with the laziness, disrespect or chaos they have in their homes, rules are starting to take the front seat again.

It is as if both rules and relationships cannot share the front seat. They can and they should! And instead of rebellion or chaos, we can have maturity.

I believe that one of the key formulas behind a successful business is the enforcement of high standards or rules with employees, combined with a loving and trusting relationship. I have seen this firsthand.

Swim school directors have traveled from all over the country to watch our swim school in action. They want to know the secret behind our success. My mom, who is the owner, makes it very clear that we have more rules and higher standards than anyone else in the business — everything from modest swim suits, appropriate language, can-do attitudes, a strong work ethic, positive conversations and continual smiles.

Our visiting employers worry that their employees would rebel if they required such compliance. However, the key is that coupled with those high standards is a loving and encouraging relationship with these employees. One without the other would never produce the results we have enjoyed.

I have noticed that the missionaries I see who struggle so much with the rules do not seem to have a relationship with their Heavenly Father. That seemed to be the difference between Laman, Lemuel and Nephi in the Book of Mormon. Laman and Lemuel were constantly fighting the rules, boundaries or commandments, and did nothing to nurture the relationship with their Heavenly Father. Nephi, on the other hand, was constantly nurturing that relationship and embracing the commandments the Lord had given him, even when he didn’t know why. A combination of the two produced the spiritual maturity in Nephi that many of us admire and gain strength from today.

I love the relationship between Alma and his son Corianton (Alma 39-42). They, along with many others, had traveled to preach to the Zoramites who had fallen away from the gospel teachings. Corianton "didst forsake the ministry" and went the way of the world. As we read Chapters 39-42, we see a father who is not going to back away from the rules, standards or commandments of the gospel. He preaches them with boldness, but we also see embedded in his words a kind, caring and loving relationship with his son. After this teaching moment between Alma and his son, it appears that Corianton is back on board and busy teaching the gospel once again.

There are many in the world who believe that if we have a relationship with God, that is all we need to be happy and saved. They do what they want, whenever they want because, after all, their "relationship with God" is enough. It doesn’t take long to see the chaos in their lives.

Others believe that God is defined only by rules and commandments. They see him as punishing, overbearing and without empathy or concern for their personal lives. This would most definitely encourage rebellion.

The good news is that we have a Father in Heaven who fathers with rules and provides an opportunity for a relationship if we will embrace it, which allows us to mature and grow in this life. He is a perfect Father. If we see him otherwise, perhaps it is because of our limiting beliefs or our lack of desire to follow. He has offered us prayer, the influences of the Holy Ghost and the blessings of the Atonement so that we can connect and keep a relationship with him. He has also given us commandments and principles to follow to ensure that we can progress and receive joy in this life and in to the next.

Take a look at either those in the scriptures or those around you. Chaos and rebellion will follow those who are only embracing one side of the equation; however, those who follow the rules and invest in the relationship with our Heavenly Father acquire amazing spiritual maturity.

Whether we are parenting, teaching a Sunday school class, serving a mission, running a business or trying to be a disciple of Christ, rules with a relationship create maturity.

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