I know a couple whose returned missionary son is considering moving out of the house and into his own place. What seems like a normal move for a twenty three year old male does not appear that way to his mother. She is not ready to have her baby leave the nest just yet. There are still things she feels she needs to have a say in, so she and her son have been going at it for weeks now over his plans to move out, who he is dating, how he spends his time, in short, everything but the real issue.
As my wife and I were raising our five children we had every expectation that they would graduate from high school, go to the university until they were ready to go on a mission, serve a mission then come home and finish their education, get married, have little bouncing babies, and the world would have fulfilled its destiny. Our second child ended up moving in with relatives at the age of fourteen, had her first child at fifteen, and would not speak to us for at least two years. Our oldest would not leave home. She needed the time away to help her grow and get ready for life. She finally moved out and had a wonderful time at the university. A wonderful time that ended when she met her husband to be and both of them forgot that the university still required them to attend class and study. We ended up having 24 hours to plan a wedding to get her married before her fiancé got deported.
Our third child started his family early and it took a couple of years to get his wife into the country. Child number one and number three eventually made it to the temple. Yea! Child four went off the deep end and is still struggling with life in another state. We love her dearly, but there is only so much that can be done to help. The fifth child insisted on leaving home before she was ready to leave. She did everything we told her not to do. Her life has been difficult, and she is still struggling, though she recently went to the temple with her husband, and we are so happy for them.
TMI! Too much information! you say. Well, at least I did not give you the gory details. This is the point. My wife and I thought we were rearing our active LDS family to go on missions, marry in the temple on the first try, not the second try, and then start having children. Where did we go wrong? If you have ever had a child who did not go down the path perfectly, you probably know how much abuse a parent can heap on their own head over this question.
It takes every parent a different amount of time and experience to learn how the Lord sees agency. We tell our children that they have their agency, their right to choose, but then let them know that their choice is limited to being obedient to what we say. I believe there was a plan introduced that included that option, but our Father in Heaven rejected it a long time ago.
Agency is the ability to do or to act. In 2 Nephi 2:14 the Book of Mormon prophet, Lehi was dying. As he neared the end of his life he called each of his sons in to talk to them and encourage them to keep the commandments. When Lehi got to his son Jacob he gave arguably the best sermon on agency in all of the scriptures. In the following verses he apparently included all of his sons in his sermon.
14 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.
Every creation falls into one of two categories, either to act or to be acted upon. God’s children were created to act for themselves. There is only one circumstance where God acts upon them, and that is when they have forfeited their freedoms by their actions, and He is forced to impose punishments upon them. In all other instances they are free to act for themselves. 2 Nephi 2:26, 27 spell out the conditions upon which God will act upon us.
26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
27 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.
Did you catch that last bit in verse 27? Men are free to “choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil.” What? God allows that? I thought he loved us? That is where the misunderstanding of agency comes in. It is because He loves us that he does not interfere with our right to choose for ourselves. It is not a matter of us being too immature to make these decisions on our own. We are countless ages old. We, as God’s children were prepared and mature enough that we were ready to leave His presence and come to earth to receive mortal bodies, the precursor to our receiving an immortal body like God’s own body.
Our time on earth is one where we have come to learn, to make choices, and live with the results of those choices. Christ performed the Atonement for us so that when we mess up and make the wrong choices we can be forgiven. As parents, it is difficult to accept sometimes that the principles of agency apply to our children just as much as they applied to us when we lived at home and wanted to make our own decisions. So where does that leave this poor mother at the beginning of our story? She obviously loves her son, but she also is not willing to let him have his agency. They have a problem.
How are we, as parents supposed to let our children go out and mess up their lives, as we sometimes fear they might or will? What does the Lord do? He is our perfect example of how to rear children, right? The Lord has taught us as much as we are willing to listen to. We teach our children as much as we can while they are growing up. But the Lord has let us leave home. We are on our own in a potentially bad place, but He has not left us defenseless. We have scriptures, prophets, the Holy Ghost, our conscience, the love and support of those who have been here longer than we have and who have learned a thing or two. At some point we as parents have to realize that our time at parenting a little child is coming to an end. We now have an adult on our hands. In some cases we have someone who thinks they are an adult, and we cannot convince otherwise.
All we can do is what the Lord has done with us. We love them, offer them our support, pray and fast for them, and plead that the Lord will send people into their lives to help them along their journey. What we as parents must never do is stop loving, caring for, and being there for our children. No matter how badly we mess up, our Father and Christ are always at home awaiting our return through prayer and fasting. How can we do any differently. Our children may not do what we think they ought to do, but we should never lessen our love and support, our concern or our prayers in their behalf.
Letting our children have their agency, as the Lord himself lets us have ours is not an easy things for many parents. But sooner or later we all have to learn to let our children have their chance to carve out their eternal destiny for themselves, no matter what it may look like when they are done. The only thing they really need to know is that, like the love of our Lord for us, our love and concern for our children never changes.
If you have had, like me, a struggle with honoring the agency of a child, I would appreciate hearing your story.
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Being “Little Miss Fix-It” has given me no end of trouble with my children. At 79 I am FINALLY allowing them to just do their thing. It still hurts when they do something I know will hurt them or their children. But I THINK I can finally keep my mouth shut and just LOVE them.
Thanks for the article.
Your wife helped me through a wayward childs problems. She said that agency always seemed like a good idea until her kids started making bad choices, then she truly wanted to just “suspend” that principle until they listened and changed. Then our brother said “Satan would love that idea, wouldn’t he?” She is living a lifestyle I cant approve of, but she is close by, she doesnt drink (much), doesnt do drugs, is in school and working. I can only recite a Carol Lynn Pearson poem: “I cannot talk to you of God since sober-wise you grew. My one alternative will be to talk to God of you.”
I’ve heard of children of apostles talk about how their parents would teach or remind their kids of a principle before a decision was made and then it was up to the child to chose right or wrong (or even good, better, best). They didn’t always make a good choice but their parents DID let them choose. It makes me want to bite my fingernails when I think of letting my kids make really big decisions on their own. But you make a good point that Heavenly Father rejected a plan without agency a long time ago and I need to honor that, least of all because I love him and I trust in His plan.
As someone pointed out to me, that is why we teach them to make good choices when they are young, so when they are of legal age they know how to make better choices.
I was like that mother of course and then I realized I needed to do something to help my teenage daughter understand free agency. I know now that explaining the law and consequences to our children until they understand it’s crucial for them in order to exercise agency correctly. She went through the consequences, that we as parents had to apply on the infractions, she finally understood through frustration that poor choices are not going to make her happy. Now that she is an adult and serving a mission obedient to the commandments of God, I pray that she will continue until the end to be faithful for it is the only way to be truly happy. And just like Lehi, I will be a loving reminder of the unsurpassed Love our Father in Heaven has for all his children through his commandments.
Those lessons are sometimes more painful for the parents to learn than for the child. The parent often is so focused on other issues they forget that it is, as you say, a matter of agency and consequences. I join you in wishing your daughter well.
My comment may be a little different……. i wasn’t really raised in the church and neither was my husband. In our ward in Texas, my husband, kids, and myself were treated as outsiders and some people ignored us and didn’t want us around. But we went to church anyway because we had testimonies! We let our children make a lot of their own decisions. We were not going to force the gospel down their throats so to speak. We were judged harshly! Neither one of our boys served a mission…… A travesty! All of our kids married or were sealed in the Temple and we have a grand daughter leaving on a mission in a few days. One of our sons is a Bishop. All of our kids are active. But it was really hard when they were growing up because members kept telling us that we were “doing it wrong.!” There’s lots more to this story but I’ll tell you that agency is everything. It teaches the atonement. Even to me and my husband….
I agree with you Evelyn, agency is a tough subject. As parents it is our obligation to teach our children how to use agency to bless their own lives. But the reality is that there is not only one way to do it. We can only do it the way we hope is right, and that feels good, and hope we are giving them the skills they need to live healthy spiritual lives. I’m sorry to hear when people are harsh in their judgments. That only hurts others.