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From the Homefront: Tiffany Gee Lewis: Pint-sized Pharisees How to avoid raising self-righteous children

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 28 2010 7:30 a.m. MDT

We stepped outside on Sunday for our ritual family walk.

I immediately heard shouts from my kids.

"Mom, the neighbor kids are riding their bikes on Sunday!"

We have had this conversation a thousand times: Our family has rules that don't apply to other families. They go to different churches. All churches are good.

We are in that stage with our children where we try and do the delicate balance of teaching them correct principles without turning them into Pharisees for the rest of the neighborhood.

I'm sure you've all had that experience where you go out to a restaurant, your child stands up in the booth and yells across the room, "That man over there is smoking!"  And you whisper between clenched teeth, "That's OK. They don't know better. We don't judge others. Sit down, please."

We're not big soda drinkers, so every time our kids see an aluminum can emblazoned with the Coca-Cola symbol, they go into hysterics. The same goes for coffee makers. My oldest son was crushed when he discovered that his beloved kindergarten teacher drank a cup of coffee every morning.

It's a tricky thing, this teaching business. I feel strongly that our children need to learn right from wrong. If we don't teach it to them, they'll learn to judge by the world's standards, which at the moment are pretty low.

So we teach them about honoring the Sabbath, keeping the Word of Wisdom, sharing their toys, being baptized and growing up with very specific commandments.

We couch it all by trying to explain that these are our beliefs and our family rules. They only apply to us. But children see things in black and white.

So they trudge into the house, as my son did on a recent afternoon, looking very dejected.

"Mom," Jackson said, "Jimmy doesn't want to join our church. He only reads the Bible, even though it's incorrect. And he said he believes in one hundred different gods. I don't know if we can ever be friends again."

I put my arm around his shoulder.

"Jimmy is Catholic," I told him. "Catholics are wonderful. He believes in one God. He was probably referring to Catholic saints. And your friendship with Jimmy is not over. You can be friends with all people." Jackson shrugged and looked relieved.

"OK, well I'm going out to play."

These are important conversations. It shows that my kids are actually trying to ponder and fit their own belief system in a world filled with various ideologies. I believe it's an important step in religious development.

And sometimes kids simply have to learn the hard way.

When I was 9 we visited family in Washington State. A group of us cousins gathered around my cousin Darcy for some sobering news.

"Grandma and Grandpa smoke!" she told us.

This was an absolute shock. Didn't they know about the Word of Wisdom, not to mention lung cancer?

We decided Grandma and Grandpa needed to be informed. We ran inside and drew "No Smoking" signs on paper plates.

Then we gathered outside in a circle around Grandma and Grandpa's trailer and chanted "PEOPLE THAT SMOKE— ARE PEOPLE THAT'LL CHOKE!"

We bellowed and marched, determined to educate our grandparents and bring them back to the fold.

My grandparents didn't say a word to us. They were so offended they simply packed their bags and drove back to Florida.

That day I learned a whopping lesson in tolerance and love. My grandparents were outstanding people. They were fully aware of the Word of Wisdom and lung cancer. It was not my place to judge them. More than a decade later, they were present at my marriage in the Portland Oregon Temple. They remained faithful to the gospel until the end of their lives.

How to explain these shades of gray to my children?

At the recent General Relief Society Broadcast, President Monson gave a remarkable talk on judging others.

It was a reminder to me that I teach my children right and wrong, but they learn to apply love and tolerance by watching my day-to-day actions. The application doesn't always happen in an instant. Sometimes it takes years for our children to really grasp these principles.

In the meantime, I will continue to gently remind my children that it is not their job to call the neighborhood kids to repentance. You can ride bikes on Sunday and still go to heaven. You can drink coffee and still be a fantastic kindergarten teacher.

You can smoke and learn to forgive an obstinate granddaughter brandishing a paper-plate sign, and love her enough to be present at her wedding.

The learning continues for all of us. You're never too old to stop judging.

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