This article is adapted from Parenting for Spirituality Summer Welch and Professor Jensen.
[According to] Professor Jensen, spirituality refers to a state of being that includes an inner preexisting spirit combining with the many external spiritual experiences that can come to the person including the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Ghost, and communications with God. When one or more of these things happen spirituality increases. You can feel it in yourself and you can observe it in others. From these experiences or states of being come the common expressions we hear so often such as: “I was filled with the spirit”, “She became so spiritual”, “My spirit reached out to him”, “I felt more spiritual than at any time in my life”, or “The spirit withdrew from me”, “My spirit shrunk”, “He is a mean spirited man.” Notice that these statements refer to both an existing spirit within and the presence of other spirits combining and being inseparable to produce varying quantities and qualities of spirituality.
Start With Your Own Spirituality
Here is an example of not growing when opportunities for development come.
Although we are given multiple chances to listen to that inner voice inside of us, by denying it, we take on a new darker countenance. One sure way to deny our spirit is to focus on the negative actions of another rather than listening to what we know we should be thinking or feeling. If we were to listen to our spirit we would have feelings like kindness, compassion, and peace. Then when we act with those feelings then we are certain to brighten our countenance.
If you believe your child is spiritual then it just follows that you also believe you are spiritual. Realizing this will help you communicate on a spiritual level with your child and to also demonstrate for your child how to respond spiritually. The importance of relating with your child on a spiritual level cannot be underestimated even though it is almost always overlooked in traditional books on parenting.
Worldwide, among all peoples, there is the common belief in God and spiritual forces associated with deity. The opportunity to learn and to feel the spirit of other people is a resource. Find ways to relate with the many good and spiritual people in this world.
Your Child Has Agency
Once, while a group of mothers [were] discussing nature vs. nurture, a middle-aged mother complained that her adopted daughter made wrong decisions her biological daughter had avoided because of her genes. She said that she had tried so hard to take care of her daughter’s wrong behavior multiple times, but that she had decided she might as well give up because she could not change her daughter’s genes. When hearing this my heart sunk through the floor. No one can underestimate the love of a mother, or the challenges of motherhood. There are times in mothering where we really are walking through the valley of death, whether physical, spiritual, or emotional. I do not doubt the love of this mother, but I wished to discuss with her reasons behind her daughter’s behaviors. The academic world has drilled into us that all our decisions stem from two factors; genes, and environment. But if it were true that these were the only two factors that cause our behavior, then how could there be any agency? Our choices would not be our own, but only what combinations of genes and environment have determined us to be. When we introduce a third part into the equation, the spirit, we also introduce agency. Because we have a spirit, because our spirit is unique, we ultimately are led to make choices. The choices that we make are an expression of who we are. This means children need to be given opportunities to make decisions that are uniquely theirs.
Agency is a central belief among the LDS people. It becomes more than a belief; it is an inner feeling that you can choose what you do and that you alone are responsible for your actions. In the popular culture an opposite way of looking at human behavior dominates. It is that heredity and environment combine to determine what each person does. Problems will emerge when your child believes that only the environment causes behavior. Such a child will be prone to use excuses, rationalize, and be less responsible. But how can you teach your child to assume personal responsibility for personal behavior in a world that teaches the opposite form of determinism?
A direct answer to this question has to do with spirituality. First believe that your child has personal agency because of your child’s essential spiritual nature. If your child is spiritual rather than just a body with a brain then that spirit has a lot to do with motivating, choosing, and directing behavior. Believing in spirituality makes it impossible to believe that a child is determined solely by heredity and environment. So, early in life help the child know that he/she has an inner spirit that was created by God. This is the first step. Tell your child that within the body is a spirit that makes choices. Your child must come to believe that he/she is an active agent making personal choices
Secondly, explain life in terms of choices in the present. You, your child, and all people are determined by choices made in the present, even though they may also be strongly influenced by stimuli from a distant past or from surrounding influences in the environment. Of course, these environmental pasts influence the present influences to impact the decision- making process, but if you want the child’s spirit to become strong the child must first learn to recognize the spirit as the controller of action. This will lead to responsibility for self- direction and governance. The way you talk and relate to the child can communicate you believe there exists within the child a spirit that is an eternal part of one’s identity. This student knows this.
I have a friend that grew up a nonmember. His mother divorced his biological father when he was less than three and then remarried when my friend was six or seven. Though his parents were generally good people, their parenting styles, as well as their own relationship, were a little questionable. They did not treat each other with respect – talking down to one another and never offering much positive support. They never encouraged their children to go to college (they said they couldn’t afford it) but wanted them to stay home and work. When my friend was in high school he typically treated people as his parents treated each other – with little respect. One day he said that he couldn’t let his parents hold him back so he decided for himself that he needed to go to college. He again decided when he joined the church and got married that he could not blame his own inclination to treat others with little respect and an air of inferiority on his parents, but he had to take responsibility for his own actions and change how he behaved. My friend has become one of the most wonderful people I know. He knows that he has had a difficult past, but he also knows that no one can improve the present and future except him. He continues to love his parents unconditionally and just works on making his own behavior better. He never makes excuses for himself.
Personal Growth through Parenting
Students in Professor Jensen’s parenting class administered questionnaires to parents they had known who had successfully raised one or more children. He asked parents to identify the areas where they felt personal growth in themselves and saw it in their spouse. Almost all parents said they and their spouses became more (1) intelligent (2) organized (3) happy (4) self-confident (5) cheerful (6) kind (7) spiritual (8) affectionate (9) wise. Isn’t it good news to know that as parents we are becoming better people and as you can see there are many ways that parenting will help you become more spiritual. The older sister of this student illustrates how much growth is possible.
As I have watched my eldest sister, Mary, and her children, I have noticed some changes in her personal growth that parenting allowed in her. She was the first born and therefore was always in charge, organized, efficient, hard-working, and diligent. As a sister she had troubles being patient with me and her other younger siblings when we were not as responsible as she was. She would get upset and get pushy, or just do the task at hand by herself.
When she became a mother her patience grew very quickly. Her children didn’t know any better and she did not expect them to act older than they were. They also have taught her how to play. My oldest sister is now more patient than I have ever been.
The Spirit Should Guide Your Life
Perhaps the greatest gift for daily living is the opportunity to be led and guided by the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. Christ says that He is the way the truth and the light. He invites all to follow him and promises that he will be with us at all times. He said to just ask and his spirit will be with us. He also promises us the companionship of the Holy Ghost who will let us know what we should do. Because there is no higher or better way to live than to be guided by the spirit we naturally desire the same for our children. Certainly we can teach them all the wisdom, rules, laws, and other things we have learned about living but they pale in comparison with having Christ as our daily light and beacon. If we want Christ to guide our children throughout life we must first believe that this is possible and then model for our children how to do this.
If you want this for your child then be a parent who successfully navigates life’s trials, day- to- day events, and opportunities by following the spirit. Again, the best person to do this is you. Let the child see you follow the light of Christ and use spiritual direction in your moment to moment decisions.
Sometimes your child will not recognize what you are doing unless you directly explain and show your actions such as praying, listening for the spirit, or doing other things in your life that will increase the likelihood that you can be guided by a spirit. Model with clarity and confidence so that your child realizes that following the spirit is the best guide for daily living. The visits of this young girl with her aunts are illuminating in this regard.
When I was a young girl I would often visit my aunts, Susan and Becca. They were only a few years older than I was so we were very good friends. One day when we were visiting, Sarah and I had an argument with my brother. I was very angry at the time, but Sarah took me with her to a closet in the bedroom. She said that we should pray for forgiveness and tell d my brother we were sorry. I know she was following the spirit, and it has left an indelible impression on me. I have always looked up to her because of her spiritual strength. The lessons she taught me that day be following the spirit were much more powerful than any reprimand or lecture.