Intentional Parenting: The Intricacies of Agency

Venny Soldan-Brofeldt "Yes or No" - (Ja eller Nej)

Venny Soldan-Brofeldt “Yes or No” – (Ja eller Nej)

I once heard a young wife, expecting her first child, comment on how she planned to teach her child about modesty, “I’m not going to take away my daughter’s agency. I’m going to be a good example for my daughter by acting and dressing modestly and then I won’t have to say anything to her; I just know she will follow my example and be modest too.” That is an excellent goal! However I think most mothers who have experienced teen-aged daughters will admit it doesn’t quite work that way. There is excessive pressure from media and friends teaching how immodesty is cool and beautiful. Going shopping and trying to find cute, modest clothes doesn’t help much either. Immodest outfits are effortless to find while it takes searching to find modest, trendy fashions teens will love. All this causes most girls to dress immodestly to fit in. The good example from their mothers, whom they consider old anyway (sorry, Moms, but it’s true), are not going to convince them to act and dress modestly when almost everyone their own age is doing just the opposite. Example is a crucial part of raising children, teaching one thing and doing another never works, but Intentional Parenting takes more than just example.

The fallacy of using example by itself becomes obvious when the same rule is applied to other things 46b5c943498392e2f18e7ff83363595fchildren do. Will children always brush their teeth—and do it consistently every night and morning following all the correct procedures—because they watch their parents do it? Will children always fasten their seatbelts in the car without any reminders simply because they watch their parents buckle up? Will parents never have to tell children no more sugary snacks because they should just notice their parents’ healthy choices? Will parents never have to grab a wandering child out of the busy road because their example of staying on the sidewalk should be enough?

Most parents are comfortable setting rules for issues like hygiene, safety, and sugar. They naturally understand rules are necessary for this. Yet somehow this doesn’t carry over to religious matters such as modesty, church attendance, or good media habits. These parents may say, “But it’s about saving our children’s lives when it comes to busy roads and seatbelts and it’s about keeping them healthy when we’re talking about snacks and brushing teeth.

That apparently makes it different than religious matters, but does it really? Is a child’s spiritual health any less important than their physical health? If we think about what Christ taught; “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man,” children’s spiritual well-being is just as vital—or even more so—than their physical well-being. Rules at home need to reflect that.

Setting these types of rules is usually where parents begin to worry about hurting a child’s agency. The problem comes in how to find that line between taking away children’s freedom altogether and allowing children to abuse their agency, others, and/or themselves. Neither extreme constitutes good parenting. Between them is a middle ground where parents can help children learn to use their agency to bless the world around them.

As part of our church teachings, we often hear the Creation story, and it’s easy to wonder why. The Creation is the only connection we have to a place outside of this world. It draws us out of our normal personal experience and allows us to view the big picture of why we are here and what God’s purpose is. Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught in the minute details; we forget the overarching perspective our Heavenly Father has. That reminder is the key to thriving in this life and really understanding the importance of returning to our heavenly home. Our world is full of ways to help us forget there’s anything more to living than having a good time. We all need reminders of that big picture over and over again.

Our Heavenly Father gave us all agency; it’s part of our eternal natures and an essential part of God’s plan for us, but agency never stands alone. To help us learn how to use our agency, the Lord, as part of His Plan of Salvation, established laws and their consequences. How we follow those laws shows whether we are choosing Christ or not. Their consequences, both good and bad, are to emphasize those laws and help motivate us towards better choices next time.

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

What a perfect pattern for parents to use as a model! Choices are permanently tied to consequences. But those everyday choices don’t have just physical consequences; they have eternal consequences as well. Intentional Parents need to teach their children about the connection between choices they make and their consequences, both physical and eternal.

Alma explained this connection to his son Corianton:

. . . How could he sin if there was no law? How could there be a law save there was a punishment?
Now, there was a punishment affixed, and a just law given, which brought remorse of conscience unto man.
Now, if there was no law given—if a man murdered he should die—would he be afraid he would die if he should murder?
And also, if there was no law given against sin men would not be afraid to sin.

"Sermon on the Mount" by Maurice Denis, ca. 1927.

“Sermon on the Mount” by Maurice Denis, ca. 1927.

God instituted laws with consequences giving us a path to follow. With those laws in place it’s pretty hard to plead ignorance. While children may be too young to follow this path set by our Heavenly Father, He solved this problem by giving them parents. As parents search for correct principles to teach and guide their children, it enables children to learn what obedience and choosing correctly feels like. Homes should be small replicas of God’s Plan. There are rules to follow and consequences in place for those rules. This helps children understand how God and His Plan of Salvation work. He leads and inspires us but follows through with the bad consequences when a choice is made which breaks His laws. As children grow up watching their parents’ example and experiencing the rules and consequences their parents utilize, children also learn how God’s Plan works.

By Jennifer Jensen, author of “Raising Intentional Parents