CHARITY: THE PURE LOVE OF CHRIST
“Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”
THOMAS S. MONSON
A few months ago I stood in my kitchen scrubbing the floor late at night (because that’s when all my deep thinking happens) and I was in tears. I had just realized that my love for my children is conditional; when they are cute and loving I can’t get enough of them, but when they are obnoxious and frustrated I send them away until they can “behave” and “calm down.” When their behavior is not meeting my expectations, I feel that loving warmth quickly replaced by feelings of resentment, irritation, and sometimes anger. What it comes down to is this: I put more value on my child’s behavior than on them as people.
I confessed this realization and consequent discouragement to my husband. I asked him how I can love my kids for who they are and not for their achievements and behavior. To me, that is what makes a person who they are, so how can I love them despite that?! My husband simply said, “You can’t. That kind of love is a gift.” After pondering that for a while, I have come to believe that as parents we have been endowed with the beginnings of love, but we do not automatically love our children unconditionally. Heavenly Father created us with the instincts to protect and care for our children, but ultimately the pure love of Christ is a gift. A gift that is given to those who truly desire it above all else. A gift that is essential to the finest of the fine arts: teaching.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail— Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ;”
Without charity, the power to discipline and teach our children is ineffective. If we think we can parent our children solely based on instinctual love we will fail. It is essential that we receive charity in order to teach effectively, and the only way to gain charity is to desire it more than anything else, prove that desire by sacrifice, and earnestly pray for it.
SACRIFICE DEVELOPS LOVE
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. “
We may not be required to sacrifice our physical life for our children, but when we become parents we are metaphorically laying down our lives for our children. Becoming a parent is not inviting children to be a part of your life, where they get what is left of you after you are done living “the dream.” Your life, at least a short phase of it, is now dedicated to nurturing a human soul who needs every aspect of you: physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Many people resist this change and expect their relationship with their child to remain secure and healthy, but this view is wishful thinking. We simply cannot have it all. Parenting requires serious sacrifice because love is ultimately developed by sacrifice.
Not all sacrifice is created equal, though: it can create resentment or joy, depending on your reasons for sacrificing. In one research study, the researchers found that when people sacrificed because they felt pressured or feared negative consequences, they felt resentment toward the person they sacrificed for. But when people chose to sacrifice because they wanted to, they felt an increase in love and connection in their close relationships.
The key to sacrifice is desire: the more you want to love someone, the more you sacrifice for them. Conversely, the more you sacrifice the more you love. As an example, let’s say your toddler needs to feel connected to you, but you really just want to zone out and browse Instagram. If you put your phone down and play with your son, you are strengthening your love for him. If you choose to turn on the TV for your son so you can be alone with your phone, who are you strengthening love for? Yourself? Your friends? It’s definitely not your son.”
If you are continually sacrificing your children’s needs for your wants, you will only strengthen love for yourself and make it more difficult to develop unconditional love for your children. When a child seeks connection it is not a want or a bad habit; connection is a need, especially for young children. If you want your children to feel connected to you, you need to be sacrificing for them.
The parent-child relationship is not a one-way street; we cannot expect our children to continue to sacrifice for us and prioritize their relationship with us when we do not do the same for them. Secure attachments with our children should be our number one priority as parents.
I WILL GIVE YOU REST
“Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart. And ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Matthew 11:28-30
It is an eternal truth that when we feel loved we can rest, and therefore learn and grow. When a child feels that their parent loves them for who they are and not based on their performance, they are able to “rest” in their parents’ love. In her book, Rest, Play, Grow, Deborah Macnamara explains that only when children feel connected and safe will they be able to play, and therefore grow. If they feel that their parent’s love is conditional, or that their parent values other things more than them, all the child’s focus will be on reestablishing that connection. This can come out in the form of negative, clingy behavior, as well as the inability to focus and learn.
It’s a humbling thought to realize that parenthood provides the perfect opportunities to become more like Christ: by sacrificing for our children, developing an unconditional love for them, and providing a relationship where they can rest and feel loved for who they are.
I believe that one reason Jesus Christ invited all people to become like little children is because of their natural instinct to attach to their parents. They instinctively attach themselves to someone whom they feel is experienced and knowledgeable because they need safety and connection. When they are securely attached they seek to emulate and learn from whomever they are attached to. The child trusts that their parents have their best interest at heart and therefore they obey their parents’ requests and guidance.
When there is a loss in connection (whether that is physical or emotional), it is rarely the child’s fault. As the mature adult in the relationship, it is our responsibility to maintain a healthy connection with our child if we expect to parent them. Today, our generation faces more obstacles to the parent-child attachment than any generation before us; both parents working outside the home, children starting school younger and attending more hours each day, smartphones (biggest culprits), and television. All of these things disconnect parents from their children both physically and psychologically. When that connection is weakened or broken, we lose the authority to parent.
AUTHORITY + ATTACHMENT
“The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary, and fundamental;”
When a child attaches to a parent, they do so in stages, starting at birth and ending in late childhood. Children develop their attachment to you all the way through middle school. Although their needs change and lessen as they mature, their attachment needs are just as important in adolescence as they were in toddlerhood.
Attachment starts at birth when a baby needs to be physically close to their parent; around two years old they want to be like their parent, to imitate them; also around that age they seek for a sense of belonging (“my mommy!”); at around age four they want to know they have significance, that they are valuable to you; around age five they seek attachment through feelings of love and affection (hugs, holding hands,“I love you,” etc); and around the time a child starts school they want to attach by being known through sharing secrets, desires, thoughts, and ambitions. (see Hold on to Your Kids, pages 20-24)
Here are a few ways you can connect on a daily basis with your child:
- When your child is trying to tell you something, stop what you are doing, and make eye contact, and always ask follow up questions. This can be hard, but do your best!
- Ask them to teach you about something they love. Video games, books, sports, etc.
- Wrestle or steamroll them.
- Play hide and seek.
- Tell them stories about when they were little; funny things they said or did.
- Leave notes on their pillow or in their lunch.
- Ask them what they are doing and if you can do it with them.
- Give your child a hug, and let them decide when to break.
- Give eskimo or butterfly kisses.
- One-on-one time every week. Even if it’s just running errands with you.
- Ask them to hold your hand while you walk together.
- Whisper a secret in their ear (usually just jokes or silly words)
- Tell them funny quotes from books you’ve read together.
- Ask them to tell you a joke.
- Write words on their back with your finger.
- Cuddle with them before bed.
- Write messages with your finger on their back (my four year old LOVES this)
- If you notice your connection is suffering, take your child on a date night, or maybe even a whole weekend if needed.
Psychologists are just starting to uncover the vital role that attachments play in human behavior and development; self-regulation, aggression, maturation, and learning. In this article I will only focus on how attachment affects learning and discipline because those are what most affect teaching, but if you read the books recommended in the “Resource” section you will gain a solid understanding of how attachment affects all facets of human development.
Through a secure attachment, a dependent, inexperienced person gives authority to someone more experienced. In this case, a child gives authority to their parents. Despite common belief, authority is not imposed on children by parents, it is given to the parents by their children. Authority has always worked this way. In fact, the Lord describes unrighteous authority in Doctrine and Covenants as,
“when we undertake…to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.”
Parenting is an authority given to us by Heavenly Father and our children, but we can lose that authority when we try to make our children obey just because we have authority. Charlotte Mason confirms this truth about authority in her volumes on education: “But we have been taught better; we know now that authority is vested in the office and not in the person; that the moment it is treated as a personal attribute it is forfeited. We know that a person in authority is a person authorised; and that he who is authorised is under authority.” (Volume 3, pg 11-12)
There are many ways parents and teachers exercise control, dominion or compulsion in children.
I was surprised to read Charlotte Mason’s list of ways that we exercise unrighteous control over children. In her Twenty Educational Principles she states: “…these principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon, whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.”
So, how do we maintain righteous authority? Once again, turn to Doctrine & Covenants section 122 to find the answer:
“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of priesthood [or parenthood], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile-
Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.”
There is so much truth to unpack in those verses. Read them again and see what you can find. Here is what I learned:
- Our parental power comes from unconditional love.
- Our authority comes from our child’s dependence on us; they need our knowledge, experience, safety, and connection. When they do not feel connected, safe, or loved, there is a void which will be filled by someone else, and amen to the authority of that parent. This is when parents and teachers feel they need to resort to bribery, punishment, and coercion to get children to obey.
- Heavenly Father does not hold children under the age of eight accountable for their actions and neither should we. This is a stage that should be dedicated to teaching and connecting. Correct your child when he/she makes a mistake, teach them good habits, and connect with them so they know that you love and cherish them more than anything else.
- Discipline does not mean punishment; it means to lead, to teach, to guide, to invite (my new favorite parenting word.) Discipline is teaching your children about choices and consequences, and not shielding them from the natural consequences of their actions. Many parents feel that shielding their children from consequences is kind, but they are doing their child a great disservice. Children should learn from their mistakes when they are young and their mistakes are still insignificant.
HEART BEFORE MIND
“It is the business of the heart for a long time before it is the business of the mind.”
The Master Teacher
Jesus Christ is known as the Master Teacher because he loved people unconditionally and they knew that their worth was not tied to their righteousness or performance. One major teaching method that Jesus is known for was teaching by example. Scientists now know why teaching by example is so powerful: a little something called “mirror neurons.” The human brain contains neurons that light up areas of the brain that essentially imitate the behavior they see. When a child is attached to someone (hopefully the parent) they will mirror that person’s behavior. Our greatest teaching tool as parents is to form a secure attachment with our children and then be a good example of the behavior we want to see in them. I just love how science eventually catches up to eternal truths.
In Hold on to Your Kids, Dr. Gordon Neufeld states four essential qualities that “are primary in determining a child’s teachability: a natural curiosity, an integrative mind, an ability to benefit from correction, and a relationship with the teacher.” Learning is essentially the act of making mistakes, encountering problems, and then drawing the appropriate conclusions. Failure is essential in learning, and children need to feel that their worth is not tied to their performance. When parents punish by shaming their child or withdrawing love, the child feels vulnerable and afraid to make mistakes. It is essential to the learning process that your children know you love them no matter what. In order to learn, a person needs the humility to acknowledge they have made a mistake. When a person is afraid of punishment or shame they deny they made a mistake to protect themselves and do not seek guidance or help. Secure attachments allow a child to acknowledge failure and seek help from a parent, whether that failure was academic or moral.
“Knowledge is information touched with emotion”
In Memoriam: A Tribute to Charlotte Mason
Last, but not least, before a child will whole-heartedly learn about a subject they must love it. The brain does not retain information very long if there is no meaning tied to it. We must ignite curiosity, love and enjoyment of every subject before we try to teach any information. Love is truly the foundation of all learning; a child must feel loved and connected to their teacher and their hearts must be stirred before their minds will remember.
“Children learn best when they like their teacher and they think their teacher likes them. The way to children’s minds has always been through their hearts.”
Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Hold on to Your Kids
There is so much to say about this topic and so little time. Stay tuned for PART TWO of this article, where I will discuss what Christlike discipline looks like and how we can implement it in our homes.