The other day I was having lunch with our grown daughter, and she was talking animatedly about some wonderful ideas she was getting from a book she was reading on parenting. She said that they were helping her see how to encourage her four-year-old son to make good choices for himself - to take responsibility for his actions without always being told what to do.
The approach she was sharing sounded very good, but I couldn't help thinking back to 23 years ago to my own sincere and idealistic attempts to do parenting the "right" way.
I read books, talked with other young mothers, and willingly sought advice from the older generation. The advice was often conflicting. At one extreme there was "Spare the rod, spoil the child," and on the other there was "Don't make your child do anything she doesn't want to do; she'll learn naturally when she's ready."
Intuitively, I knew there was a balance somewhere in the middle of these extremes that was probably closest to right, but it wasn't easy to find, and I worried that this might leave me with no approach at all.
The implementation of parenting approaches based on popular theories can be a nightmare. Not only is the advice strongly conflicting, but every child responds differently to each approach. With all of these variables, and especially with the current outpouring of information on the Internet, is there any such thing as an unfailing guide?
Through the years, I've found one source that is an unfailing guide, and that's God. As a student of mathematics goes back to the principle of mathematics to know how to work out an equation, we can turn to God when we need guidance. The principle is fixed, invariable, and reliable no matter who is using it; no matter where it's being used. It doesn't react to variables outside itself, but instead it brings those variables into line with its laws.
In this way, I've found God to be the great Principle of the universe - the cause of all ideas, the Father-Mother of all. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, wrote: "God creates and governs the universe, including man. The universe is filled with spiritual ideas, which He evolves, and they are obedient to the Mind that makes them" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 295).
What a comfort it has been to realize that we are all, in truth, God's ideas and so are obedient to the Mind that makes us. When we respond directly to God, our Principle, we know what to do because of our relation to Principle. We are not at the mercy of the uncertainties of circumstances. Our children are directly obedient to the Mind that makes them, too, and Mind, God, enforces and coordinates its ideas.
I remember one weekend when we saw this in our family. Our preteen daughter had plans for a slumber party on Friday night, but she also knew that there were some chores she had to accomplish before she'd be free to go.
When the time came for her to leave, these chores weren't done, and I faced the unpleasant parental duty of telling her that she would not be going to the party. At first she pleaded, saying that she'd go do her chores now if I'd take her when she was finished. It was tempting. I didn't want her to miss this fun time. But I also had a clear but quiet intuition that it was important for me to stick with the agreement. "No, honey," I told her, "not this time."
She burst into tears and stormed out of the room, slamming her bedroom door behind her. I sat there in the living room, praying and listening. "Did I do the right thing, God? Should I run after her and try to explain my decision?" "No," came the assurance, "she is listening to Me, and she will hear."
In a few minutes, she came out of her room and asked, "Mom, how do you keep from digging a deeper hole when you're already in one?" I hugged her, and we had a good talk about accepting consequences graciously. Although we didn't allow her to go to the party, we included her in a fun family outing when she'd finished her chores.
Parenting is by far the hardest job I've ever done. It has forced me to turn humbly to God for support every day that I've been a mother. But the rewards have also been immeasurable. Finding that I can turn to God, the divine Principle, any time of the day or night for clear, strong guidance has been the biggest blessing of all.