Discipline and the Plan of Salvation

I am the kind of person who overplans and overanalyzes pretty much everything. Lest you think I am exaggerating, at the age of thirteen, I worried that someone might break into our home, so I practiced walking around barefoot in the woods in case I had to flee, shoeless, in the middle of the night. So you can only imagine how far into overdrive I shifted before I gave birth to my daughter five and a half years ago. And if you are a parent, you can also imagine how much of that has gone out the window. Not that it matters – I sit down and re-evaluate my parenting techniques almost every night.

One of the biggest points I struggled over is how to discipline my three children. Before they were born, I knew exactly what every other parent was doing wrong. Not long afterwards, I realized all of my theories – and all the books I had read – weren’t going to cut it. Having grown up in the deep South, I fully supported spanking as a punishment. Then, while still single, I distinctly remember hearing President Hinckely comment that there was never a need to strike a child. Of course, even with the help of the gospel library at LDS.org, I still can’t find the talk – sometimes I wonder if I just heard what I needed to hear. Then I made the mistake of reading Alfie Kohn’s Punished By Rewards and started wondering if stickers, grades, and a salary were good things. On top of everything else, I learned that each of my children are individuals (the nerve!), and what works as a punishment for one doesn’t work for all. For my oldest, the merest threat that we are throwing away her books moves her into action, while a gruff ‘no’ brings my youngest to tears and breaks his heart. And after almost four years, I have no clue what to do about my second child, who thanks you if you spank him. !!!

The best books I have ever read on parental discipline, however, are the scriptures. (Trite, I know, but true.) I’ve looked at various prophets, such as Lehi and Alma the Elder, and wondered how they handled their children. Mere mortals, they are far from perfect. Heavenly Father has scattered various verses throughout my quad that reference parenting, each insightful and helpful. But for an overall example, I decided to look at the only perfect parent I know – Heavenly Father himself.

Looking at Heavenly Father, I have pondered his relationship with his children. He had the means to make sure that every son and daughter would behave themselves, but did not take it. I’m not sure I would have made the same decision (proof I am far from perfect), but then again, I bet the youngest child didn’t come to the Council in Heaven with Balmex smeared military-style across his face thanks to his older siblings. Then again, who knows what antics my kids were up to in the premortal existence?

But God didn’t want perfect, well disciplined, seen-and-not-heard children. He wanted children who obeyed him because they love Him. He didn’t want us to obey out of fear. He didn’t want us to obey out of hope for a reward. He wanted us to obey because we love Him. He wants us to try to be like our Savior because we love Him. He wants us to serve Him – and by extension, others – because we love Him.

I have the theory, now, of how to parent. Sadly, since I am very, very (obscenely) human, the follow-through has not been perfected. I am not certain how to bring my children to the point where they want to obey. I’ve seen it done by other parents, and even participated in it with my dad – while I feared spankings from my mother, far worse was disappointment from my father, though this may have been aided by how little we did get to see him. I’ve read, and of course, prayed. I suppose the reality is the part I struggle with. I don’t want to sit there making sad faces while my two year old reaches for a hot stove – and I seriously doubt Heavenly Father wants me to, either. And is “I’m very disappointed” enough when my daughter hits my son? I have trouble believing that.

But the one thing I am sure of is that the only way to get that kind of love from our children is to love them the way Heavenly Father loves us – unconditionally, openly, and obviously. We have to be there for them when they mess up, even if we are disappointed. We don’t need to rescue them from the consequences of their actions – if they cheat at school, for instance, they need to bear whatever punishment they are served from the teacher. But we need to encourage them, to let them know we believe in them, and to hug them.

Like many parents, I never truly realized the depth of Heavenly Father’s love until I had children. Perhaps, as we model the rest of our lives after Him, we should model our parenting after Him, as well.

Related articles:
Six Universal Rules of Discipline

Discipline Vs Punishment