Mormon Parenting: We don't 'own' our children, but we can make an enormous difference in their lives

Published: Friday, Dec. 28 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

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 it can be.

Larry Sagers

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How do children become who they are? Is it environment or heredity? Nature or nurture? And if it’s only a combination of those two, how are siblings so very different from each other? Just when we think we have become “experienced parents” with one child, the next one comes along and everything is different!

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, I have a whole new paradigm. I firmly believe the following: They are who they are! These beautiful people whom 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.

What a blessing of the Restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to know who our children really are and where they came from. What an insight to realize that it is not just environment or heredity that makes our kids who they are, and to include the third and even more profound variable of the premortal existence.

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 or 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, makers or 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 shoots? But until you stop to read the little label on each one, you don’t know if it is an oak tree, a fir 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 it can be.

If you are looking for a New Year’s resolution as a parent, this might be a good one: “Treat each child as the unique and eternal being that he or she is!” Now that is a resolution that will make you watch and pray about each child and perhaps appreciate a little bit more how our Heavenly Father knows and deals with each of us — his own unique children.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com.

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