We were visiting a little ward in rural Idaho, and the Sunday School lesson happened to be on parenting. We sat quietly and anonymously and listened.
There was another visitor there, kind of a sophisticated city slicker who seemed to have all the answers. He also seemed to have perfect kids because he prefaced each comment he made with something like, "Well, the way I communicate with my son, the student body president ..." or "The way I handled that with my daughter, the valedictorian ..."
If it had just been a couple of times, it would have been fine, but about the sixth time he gave his perfect, pat answer about his perfect kids, you could almost hear the groans about this self-righteous guy who seemed to have no problems.
Then, just after the first bell, a small, quiet-voiced farmer raised his hand, got called on, stood up and turned to face the big bragger. "Excuse me," he said with a high-pitched country twang, "but God must notta thought much of you as a parent, sendin' ya all them easy kids."
There were some soft giggles from every directions and an almost audible murmur of agreement among the class members. We gave each other's hand a little squeeze and both mumbled, "Amen!" No offense was taken, but we all knew exactly what that good man was saying.
Knowing what we know about our children's pre-existence, about the eternity they have already spent becoming who they are, we had better not take too much credit for who they are. As LDS parents, most of us recognize that we have much less to do with who our kids are than their own growth and development over their past parts of eternity. So we had better not feel too much pride for their gifts and goodness.
And for the same reason, we had better not feel too much guilt for their imperfections and problems.
Because that courageous little farmer could have also said, in another situation to another parent, "God musta thought quite a bit of you as a parent, sendin' ya that difficult kid."
When we see other parents struggling with serious behavioral problems, instead of judging them as poor parents, perhaps we should respect them for how hard they are trying and for the fact that they were selected by some divine process to be worthy of very difficult parenting challenges.
Part of eternal perspective parenting — and a big part of looking for spiritual solutions — is remembering and understanding that we didn't create our children; that they come as who they are from a Father who entrusts us with stewardship for them. We do our best to help our children grow and develop in ways that are uniquely right for them, and we seek God's help.
Thus, we try not to judge other parents or ourselves. We replace pride with gratitude when a child does something well or shows promise in some way, and we replace guilt with perspective and added love when a child falls short or makes a mistake.
The Eyres are the founders of Joy Schools and of valuesparenting.com and the authors of numerous best-selling books on marriage, parenting and family. Their mission statement, developed while presiding over the England London South Mission, is FORTIFY FAMILIES by celebrating commitment, popularizing parenting, bolstering balance and validating values. Their next book is "5 Spiritual Solutions for Everyday Parenting Challenges," and their blog can be found at www.deseretnews.com.