Have you heard the story of the boy who came home from school on report card day and sheepishly handed his not-so-good marks to his father?
The dad studied the document, and color started rising up his face. But before he could say anything, the boy, with an artful shrug of his shoulders and a palms-up gesture of dismay, said:
“Gee, Dad, what do you think it could be, environment or heredity?”
The questions for us parents are, “How did our kids become who they are? Where did they get their personalities and their propensities? Why is it so hard to change them?"
The world has only two answers: As the boy said, “heredity and environment.” Genetics and training. Nature and nurture.
The problem with that binary answer is that it doesn’t explain the differences. Two siblings from the same gene pool, reared in the same home, yet different in almost every way. Even twins. And it drives most of us parents to distraction. Just when we think we have one child figured out (“I’m all practiced up now for the next one”), along comes another one for whom nothing works the same.
Is there another, third variable? We know the answer of course, and it is a huge one, probably more consequential than either of the other two. The biggest variable is eternity. The missing piece in the puzzle is the premortal life, where each of our children began their journey and became who they are.
As a brand-new, first-time mother in the delivery room, I (Linda) remember being so thrilled at the prospect of doing my very best to mold the sweet, little angel who had just emerged into the world into a wonderful individual. I had plans to make her into just the perfect balance of all that was admirable and good.
Now, after raising nine children, we have a whole new paradigm. We firmly believe the following: They are who they are! These beautiful people we joyfully greet and hold in our arms in the delivery room with eternity behind their eyes come already intact with a distinct personality, certain gifts and definite passions.
Knowing our children are our spiritual siblings and have been becoming who they are for the first side of eternity does not mean we cannot help them, teach them, improve them here in “middle earth.” On the contrary, if we go about it lovingly and wisely, we can make a huge difference in the rest of their lives, not to mention the other side of their eternity.
But we need to understand that we are not starting from scratch. We are not their creators, or their makers, or their owners, nor are we fully responsible for all that they are.
One of the worst parenting analogies we have ever heard is the one that says, “Children are lumps of clay, and parents are the sculptors.”
Do you have any lumps of clay? We don’t! Mold them into whatever we want them to be? We don’t think so! First, they’re not that malleable, and second, even if you could make them into some perfect little cookie cutter of clay that extended your own ego and caused you no trouble at all, would you really want to, knowing that they are unique children of God with their own destinies and foreordinations?
A much better analogy would be seedlings in a nursery. You know how all the little plants look the same when they are just little green sprouts? But until you stop to read the little label on each one, you don’t know if it is an oak tree, an apple tree or a lilac bush.
The fact is that we will never turn a pine into an oak, but the more we know about what each little seedling is, the better we can apply the right amount of water, the right kind of nutrients and make it the best pine tree it can be.
And that should be our goal.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who are in demand throughout the world as speakers on parenting and life balance. You can visit them anytime at www.TheEyres.com or at www.ValuesParenting.com
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