Duce's Wild: LDS family therapist says families need love and a plan

Published: Tuesday, May 24 2011 4:00 a.m. MDT

The worst-case scenarios of parenting without a plan can be devastating for families, said Dr. Galen Cole, a Mormon psychologist from Atlanta, Ga., and author of many books including his most recent, "Precious Time: The Psychology of Effective Parenting with Parenting Plans."

He said planning takes time but is worth every minute invested with healthy results not only for unruly children but also for parents who are trying to lead with unity.

Cole is a BYU alumnus and employed full time by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but he also has a family counseling practice on evenings and Saturdays that has never been busier.

"I'm seeing families in crisis with the economy," he said. "It's a dubious thing, but it's been my busiest year as a therapist. People are coming in with lots of stress and difficulties trying to keep families together and keep kids out of drugs."

Some of his clients are referred by court order, others are trying to be proactive, but his advice to all has been similarly driven by the idea that families must develop and implement an effective parenting plan.

"When a couple puts together a plan, they have to negotiate what they're trying to accomplish with their children, and lots of good can come of that for their marriage," he said. "For LDS families, you decide together if your kids are going to drink Coke or not, go to church faithfully or not … you decide not to ever disagree in front of the kids, which I call 'shooting yourself in the foot' if you don’t decide that ahead of time."

Cole's philosophies as a cognitive therapist using action-oriented therapy aren't just theoretical; they're time-tested by him, his wife and five children, now grown.

"We have a unique understanding of what families go through with unruly children because we have a child who was raised in the church but at age 13, she went the wrong direction and took us through a lot of experiences we needed to have," he said. "One thing I've learned from the first book in the Bible is that Adam and Eve were really great parents but had a son who murdered his brother. In the Book of Mormon, Lehi and Sariah were great parents with two children who were murderous in their hearts. All children have free agency and make choices no matter how they’re parented. So, we have a shot to follow Joseph Smith's advice to teach correct principles and let them govern themselves, but it’s very common for LDS families to become desperate when teens waver.

"We used to be young single adult leaders with about 300 inactive young single adults in our stake," he said. "We could be desperate about that. We could wring our hands or pull out our hair, or we can realize that it's part of the plan and love them."

They had a personal experience where that love was needed.

"With our daughter, that’s what worked. We never gave up on her, and that saved her life. If any person could have easily been given up on, she was the one," Cole said. "When she ran away from home as a 14-year-old, it was a gift from Heavenly Father who taught us charity. We loved her, and then one day she was OK. We learned our lessons, and she learned her lessons. All our other kids saw what she did and fell in line because they saw the consequences of bad behavior. We must follow what is taught in Corinthians that 'charity never faileth,' … but it's always easier to do that when we have a plan.”

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