Imagine the struggle it would take to put together a one thousand piece puzzle without being allowed to see the picture on the box top first. The only thing visible would be a thousand tiny puzzle pieces. Starting with the edges might help, but it still gives very little guidance for which way is up or the measurements of each side and nothing of the picture itself. On the other hand, having the box top visible is extremely helpful. The picture guides our decisions for how to separate all the pieces of one pattern, gives us dimensions, and, most importantly, shows us the goal we’re aiming for. Parenting can sometimes feel like doing a puzzle without the picture on the box top. Similarly, having the picture on the box to help assemble the puzzle is an example of how Intentional Parenting works.
Perhaps a good way to describe what intentional means is this: there is always a big picture reason behind the actions of an Intentional Parent. Important actions are not decided on a whim, a certain mood, or as a reaction to something else. What we’re talking about is much more than just deliberately choosing to become a parent. It’s about choosing a parenting style in which the big picture or end goal is the deciding factor for all important decisions. The key is deciding on the end goal and having it always clearly in mind.
What would be an end goal or big picture for parenting? If I want my kids to be independent and strong, it takes a different type of parenting than raising dependent children. End goals matter. Once we have a goal or big picture in mind, making a plan to get there is much easier.
Of course, parenting isn’t the only thing that counts. Among other things, agency and personality play a big part as well, but parents do have a huge role! Many just don’t realize how big it really is. The more deliberate and purposeful a parent is in raising a child, the better effect that parent will have. Any style of parenting, good, bad, or just average, will have a big impact on a child. Great planning doesn’t mean there won’t be many surprises and unexpected events along the way, but Intentional Parents will almost always have better outcomes.
The best example of Intentional Parenting is our Heavenly Father since He is the Perfect Parent. One example of God’s Intentional Parenting is His interaction with Nephi:
. . . I have received a commandment of the Lord that I should make these plates, for the special purpose that there should be an account engraven of the ministry of my people.
Upon the other plates should be engraven an account of the reign of the kings, and the wars and contentions of my people; wherefore these plates are for the more part of the ministry; and the other plates are for the more part of the reign of the kings and the wars and contentions of my people.
Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.
But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen.
The Lord knew He needed an alternate plan for the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon translation. To accomplish this, He had Nephi make a second set of plates. The Lord was looking at the results or end goal He wanted more than 2000 years in the future, and that plan would shape how he interacted with Nephi. Because He deliberately asked Nephi for two sets of plates, we still have the first 450 years or so of the Book of Mormon.
Another example is how God sent Nephi and his brothers back for the Brass Plates. We learn how this actually gave them a way to teach their children to read and write as well as to teach them the gospel. Having those plates made a big difference for Nephi’s posterity. The Lord had a specific outcome He wanted and this colored the decisions made.
Similarly, if parents have an end goal in mind, it’s easier to make decisions concerning what would be good for the family and what wouldn’t; what would be needed to accomplish those goals and what would be detrimental. So much confusion exists today about parenting. If we follow God’s pattern of keeping the end goal in sight, we’re bound to be more successful.
Surprisingly, choices we make usually have both good and bad consequences almost every time. This happens because of many short term and long term factors. An easy example would be eating potato chips, ice cream, or chocolate. At the time, it tastes delicious and having more tastes even better, but later on, it adds to those few nagging pounds to be lost. Family Night is another good example: when the children are fidgeting and teasing each other and won’t sit quietly even for the thirty second lesson, it just doesn’t seem worth it. But years down the road, when those same children are teens and understand the gospel principles within their own budding testimonies, it becomes obvious how very worth it all those crazy family nights were.
It’s all in our perspective: if we only look at the short term consequences, the picture will always look strikingly different than if we see the long term consequences. But the trouble comes in how easy it is to ignore the long term consequences and focus on the short term as though that’s all there is. Choices will often be dramatically different when the focus is on the long term.
When my kids were still very young, my husband started earning enough money that I felt we could afford to have someone come in and clean our house. I thought it was such a great idea because it would give me more time with my kids. It was working out great until my oldest daughter turned 13 and I realized she had never dusted or cleaned anything in her life. It finally dawned on me how this might affect her when she grew up and had her own home and family. I let the cleaners go on the spot and started teaching my kids to clean.
Our Intentional Heavenly Father shows us these ultimate end goals when we study the Plan of Salvation. It’s also why we learn about Adam and Eve and the Creation. Those truths help us see the big picture, the eternal consequences, which can be vastly different from the short term worldview. He gives us those examples to guide us as we intentionally make our choices.
By Jennifer Jensen, author of “Raising Intentional Parents“