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Feelings of a Tender Parent

I can relate to a phrase Nephi uses to describe his father’s counsel to his children. 1 Nephi 8:37 states that “he did exhort them then with all the feeling of a tender parent.” As my oldest child prepares to serve a mission, I find myself frequently returning to the phrase: “with all the feeling of a tender parent.”

For me, there are three aspects of this parental tenderness. The first is coming to terms with the fact that my children are growing up and will eventually leave our home to be on their own. The second is closely related to this, as I wonder whether we have taught our children well enough before they leave us. And third is considering what words of counsel I most want to give my children before they leave.

Because my son has attended two years of college, I have previously faced the first two junctures. The summer between his high school graduation and his first year of college, I agonized over his leaving. “Have we taught him enough? He will never truly be ‘home’ again, not as a child. He is now an adult – oh my!” This was my first, my baby who absolutely refused to go to sleep on his own until he was nearly 18 months old. At the worst times of frustration, I would often claim that I would be nursing this child to sleep when he was 15 years old, not just 15 months! He did, of course, eventually claim his independence. While we have, at times, butted heads (particularly over issues of control / independence), my oldest has become a young man who is confident, funny, interesting, and articulate.

That summer of 2006 is when I came face to face with the reality that while my most important role is motherhood, eventually I will have an empty nest. My active participation in that role will eventually evolve from my children needing me for everything to my children (hopefully!) needing or wanting me on occasion. I had to grieve in a way for that loss of being “everything.” However, there is one thought that helped me adjust to this new frame of reference. I realized that having productive adult children is the ideal towards which we were working. As much as I love my children, and miss them when they are gone, our efforts have been to teach and help them become compassionate, helpful, considerate people who live their standards and accept others. I came to understand that I really do not want 30-year-old children living in my basement, dependent on us for the necessities of life, unable to fend for themselves. (Though this option is always available when necessity dictates. Our home is known as the Hotel D, after all!) I want my children to grow up, become educated, have jobs, serve missions, get married, have their own families, and be productive citizens in their wards, communities, and the world. That is what we have aimed to teach, guide, and train them to do. And that means I need to enjoy the seasons of my life with my children while I have them, for they are fleeting.

We are taught in D&C 68:

25 And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.
26 For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized.
27 And their children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins when eight years old, and receive the laying on of the hands.
28 And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.

This offers some concrete principles with which to start as we teach our children. There are, of course, many other things to teach them – gospel principles and values that will help them return to Heavenly Father, as well as practical attitudes and tools that will assist them in their earthly life. But these verses have been a good starting point for me.

Another concept I had to accept was that whether or not we had taught our oldest son “enough” – it was a little late to change the past. We have always believed and tried to emulate the teaching of Joseph Smith: “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” That summer of stretching for me included the agonizing questions of whether we had done enough, had we taught our oldest son well enough, would he be strong enough to stand on his own? The perspective of two years of college shows that we could have done better in some areas, but in the areas that really count, we didn’t do such a bad job. My son has truly come to know and accept himself. He went to a college in the Southeast. He could easily have been swayed by friends, video games, independence, love of theater, and Evangelical mindsets to continue with his education, to leave behind his childhood desire to serve a mission. We weren’t there to provide personal and immediate feedback of his values. He chose himself what he wanted and needed to do. He has gotten some grief over his decision. Yet he stood his ground. Yes, we made some mistakes, but I am so proud of who he has become – and who he still is becoming.

As my son prepares to leave to serve a mission, I have come to realize that his two years of college have been good preparation for me as a mother in saying temporary good-byes and in trusting the Lord – and in trusting my son. This trust comes easier when I remember scriptures such as these:

“Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand … That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.” (D&C 88:78, 80)

And from D&C 68:

2 this is an ensample unto all those who were ordained unto this priesthood, whose mission is appointed unto them to go forth
4 And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.
5 Behold, this is the promise of the Lord unto you, O ye my servants.
6 Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come.
8 Go ye into all the world, preach the gospel to every creature, acting in the authority which I have given you, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

And so I come to what, in my mind, now becomes most important. What words of advice and counsel do I offer my son? I have tried to remember everything I told him before he left for college: Be good. Be true to yourself. Be kind. Do your homework. Don’t stay up all night! Learn to balance everything you need and want to do. Keep in touch! Remember who you are. Read your patriarchal blessing occasionally. Go to church and Institute. Never forget how much I love you and how proud I am of you!

I am still sorting through my mission farewell to my son. I have a few months to bring it into concise focus, offering loving (rather than nagging) advice. But I know that once again my oldest son is going to return a changed and better person. And I will have done my best to teach and share the feelings of this tender parent.

{ 16 comments… add one }

  • davidson March 29, 2009, 2:38 pm

    Your article, dear, comes on a weekend when I most need to hear it. My children are gone over spring break to stay with their sister, just for fun–and I am alone in my house. My husband will be gone until sometime tonight with his bishop work. It is dark and storming hard outside, and the wind is howling, and I am alone with my thoughts. This is a day to reflect on my motherhood, my wifehood, my daughterhood, a day to evaluate and determine what is good and what isn’t in those relationships, and what I need to do to improve. Your words reminded me how grateful I need to be for those relationships, and how fleeting they can be on earth.

    I especially loved this:

    “What words of advice and counsel do I offer my son? I have tried to remember everything I told him before he left for college: Be good. Be true to yourself. Be kind. Do your homework. Don ?t stay up all night! Learn to balance everything you need and want to do. Keep in touch! Remember who you are. Read your patriarchal blessing occasionally. Go to church and Institute. Never forget how much I love you and how proud I am of you!”

    I can see your tender heart in those words, to which we mothers (and fathers!) can all relate. Hugs to you, Michelle.

  • Michelle D March 29, 2009, 3:06 pm

    Well, I am glad that I was able to finish editing it and posted it this morning before choir/church – just so you could read it today, Serena! I’m grateful it helped. Focus on your blessings and do your best to appreciate your children while you have them. I know that has made one of the biggest differences for me as a mother. Hugs to you, as well, Serena. I respect you and your desire to do your best in everything you do.

    People keep asking me if I’m sad or nervous about our son’s mission. My heart is a bit tender as I described in this post, but honestly I’m not sad or nervous – not yet. I am excited and relieved. Our circumstances have dictated a delay of many months, and I am relieved to see that his mission is finally reality. It also really helps my perspective to have had his two years of college. Well, at least at this point – granted, on June 24 when he enters the MTC, it will be a whole new ballgame!

  • spande2 March 29, 2009, 5:43 pm

    Well said, Michelle. I understand the heart being tender. Mine is still a little tender too. :)

  • Tinkerbell March 29, 2009, 6:19 pm

    My mom said that the first one (me) was actually the easiest to let go. In the back of her mind, she thought I would come back. But, after realizing that I wouldn’t – I was really “gone” – it was harder to let the rest go. She keeps trying to convince #5 at college to move back in with her (which is ridiculous – she lives in a tiny room in a basement in someone’s else’s house). But, I can tell she just misses her kids.

  • spitfire March 29, 2009, 8:12 pm

    I appreciate your thoughts…..I remember when my son gave his “farewell” in Sacrament meeting & I was asked to speak. I equated his leaving to a “mini” insight to what Heavenly Father must have felt knowing He was sending His only Son to our world on His very important Mission. I know He (HF) had a perfect love for his Son, but I’m sure His heart was tender & concerned as His Son exercised His agency to embark on His Mission. The only comfort I had as a parent & the counsel I gave to my son was he was not going alone, the Comforter would be with him, as long as he was worthy to guide & direct him. To soothe his nerves & bring joy to his heart when he was troubled.

    It will be ok Michelle…remember our Heavenly Father set the example for us as parents…..He sent His Son first…..

  • facethemusic March 30, 2009, 11:21 am

    Alison, we need somekind of a “grab a tissue” warning icon at the beginning of any article that might cause someone to sob all over their keyboards and short them out. Maybe an icon of a tissue being pulled from the box or something like that?

    Michelle, this was so sweet and heartfelt. I’m still 4 years away from this– but I KNOW that 4 years will fly by like the blink of an eye. I’m already gearing up for it. There’s the part of me that’s excited to see my kids as adults, to be out on their own, on missions, at college, starting their own families, etc. Then there’s the selfish part of me that would be perfectly happy to have them stay right where they are for the rest of their lives!
    I kind of feel like “Can’t you grow up without really growing up?”
    The wonderful thing though– is that you can see how “truth” really IS an absolute. Because the same things we say to our kids NOW, when they’re spending the night at someone’s house, going on a school field trip, to a dance, etc are the same things we’ll say to them as they’re leaving “the nest” and going out on their own. Remember who you are, stand as a witness, look for opportunities to help someone, return with honor. No matter the situation, those things remain the same. And they’re probably the same things Heavenly Father told US when we “left the nest”.

  • kiar March 30, 2009, 4:08 pm

    I needed this today! I had two little boys run away from home, which then brought a teeball team mom into it, a 911 dispatcher that thankfully knew my sons and husband, and my husband bring them home to me, hysterical. It does me goos to know that they do grow up, even if it is hard, and that someday, though not today, I will laugh about this. Today, all I can do is thank God that it was a friend that found them a mile from home. I keep trying to teach them and to ignore the “I hate church, its boring, I hate school, its boring… ect” and try to teach the correct principles. I guess all I can do is hold on and wait it out!

    Ok, now I have a migraine from all the blubbering.

  • Tinkerbell March 30, 2009, 7:58 pm

    Kiar, sounds like a very rough day. Hope things get better!

  • Tinkerbell March 30, 2009, 8:39 pm

    We (my husband, kids and I) took my brother to be set apart tonight. He flies to UT tomorrow, where he will say goodbye to my mom and the rest of my brothers before going into the MTC on Wednesday. Granted, I am not his mother. I have been raising him every summer from 2001 to 2005 when he finally moved in with us for a few years. I thought I was done last summer, but with the delay in his mission, he came back here for another three months. Honestly, it is a relief to finally ship him off. Like I said, I am not his mom. I love my brother, but it has been hard work to get him to this point. In a lot of ways, it’s been like I’ve had five sons instead of four. The younger ones have more physical needs, but he has the emotional/spiritual needs. I would often stay up late talking to him to help him sort out his life and then have to get up early and take care of my own kids. So, this is a big relief to me that he is officially a missionary. I hope he is prepared, but these last few months have taught me that he is as prepared as he is going to be. It’s time for him to jump ship and swim.

    I wish I could relate to the “tender feelings” aspect of sending off a missionary. Maybe when it is my own. Don’t get me wrong. I do love my brother. But, it’s been hard being his sister and mom, too.

  • mlinford March 30, 2009, 11:20 pm

    Thanks for this. Parenthood is such a journey. We grow up in some ways as much as they do. :)

  • Tinkerbell March 31, 2009, 6:38 am

    I admit my heart is very tender this morning after sending my brother off at the airport. I just hope he knows how much he is loved.

  • spande2 March 31, 2009, 8:28 am

    Don’t forget about dearelder.com. You can send him letters before noon (Mountain Time) and have them in his mailbox at dinner time.

  • spande2 March 31, 2009, 8:29 am

    Don’t send emails because they only get to read them once per week and it takes up their computer time. Send letters.

  • agardner March 31, 2009, 8:38 am

    Hugs Tinkerbell! How are you doing spande2?

  • Michelle D April 1, 2009, 1:54 pm

    I love you guys! Thanks for your comments.

    Kiar and Tink, you deal with tough situations. Don’t give up. No matter what happens, your efforts will be worth it! Hugs and prayers.

    My son will celebrate his 21st birthday in the MTC. There were times when I wondered quietly if he would really go or not… even though I understood his decision to attend 2 years of college instead of 1 because of the timing of his classes for his major; and even though the last 6 months have been out of his control (and ours).

    Tracy, that 4 years will fly by so quickly!! 4 years ago my oldest son was just beginning to drive and date. 4 years ago my second son was diagnosed with diabetes. 4 years ago my oldest daughter was entering YW. 4 years ago DD#2 was nearly 10 (and now will be able to attend youth conf and stake dances this summer!) 4 years ago DD#3 was in 1st grade. 4 years ago my youngest was being potty trained. In some ways, these milestones feel like forever ago, and in other ways they seem like yesterday. Time certainly goes by so fast!!

    Michelle, you are right – parenthood is a journey and we grow up as much as our kids do!

    Oh, and Tracy, I laughed at your comment about needing a tissue icon!! :rolling:

  • Michelle D April 1, 2009, 1:57 pm

    spande2, will dearelder.com print out your letters and send them as letters rather than emails? I haven’t had time to check out their site, so I’m just wondering how the system works.

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