Leading by Example

The other day a friend said to me, “I noticed that none of your boys swear.  How do you teach them to do that?”

I shared my thoughts with her which mostly included the quote from President Kimball (don’t ask me to cite the source…I’ll see if I can find it…...I found it!!  Here!!), “Profanity is the effort of a feeble brain to express itself forcibly.”  In our home we usually tell the children that using those words is the sign of a lack of intelligence because they cannot come up with more descriptive words than swearing.  (One of my personal favorite examples is from the movie Hook.  Hang on, I’ll see if I can find it…)

Oh…here it is:

They are calling each other names, which isn’t OK at our house either.  They are trying to belittle each other but doing all of it without any swearing and it is obvious that a higher intelligence can come up with plenty of words to express himself.

At our house, the goal is not to hurl insults at all.  I want my children to build up one another in love, kindness, and support.  I want our family to be cheerleaders for each other.  So we do not tolerate unkindness toward one another.  Ever.  We jump on it hard!  No hitting, no pushing, no nastiness, no name calling, etc…  The children learn that their parents will not tolerate such behavior in our home because we want everyone to feel safe and feel like they belong here.  There are certain rights that everyone in our home has, among them being treated kindly by others.  I think each child has had us step in when they have been treated unkindly and likewise, they have been on the other end where we have ‘jumped all over them’ for behaving negatively–even in words–to one of their siblings.

One of the things I have realized in teaching children anything, is the concept of leading by example.  You cannot expect your children to have a behavior you yourself have not embraced.  If you want them to be kind, you need to be kind.  If you want them to read, they need to see you reading.  If you want them to pray, read their scriptures, go to church, you need to set that example.

I grew up in a home where we were told to behave one way, but my parents did not teach those things by their behavior.  What do you think made a greater impression on us, the things they told us to do or the way they lived?  You are right.  It was the way they lived.  We learned that what they said wasn’t important enough for them to change their behavior.  And in our minds we thought, so why should we change ours?  Most of us didn’t.

copyright:  Karen Larsen photography

Many years ago, I was serving in the Young Women’s organization.  I was asked to give a talk for our annual YW leadership training.  My assignment was this scripture:  Alma 17:11

 And the Lord said unto them also: Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.

My emphasis was to be the “ye may show forth good examples unto them”.  That was the assignment.  Now I will quote from the talk I gave.

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     As I pondered about this topic, I had thoughts of discussing personal habits of kindness, prayer, fasting, scripture study, temple attendance, you know, the basic Sunday school answers.  But as I prayed about the topic, the Spirit had a much different idea of the direction this talk should go.  As I have prepared, I have prayed mightily that we might have the Spirit with us to hear with open ears and humble hearts.  And before I give the rest of my talk, I would just like to remind us all that we are not here to pass judgment on any and we are all here because we are trying to live the gospel of Jesus Christ and follow His teachings.  With that note, I will finish the rest of my remarks.

            The young women whom we have been called to serve, are the future mothers of the next generation.  How important is that calling?
     It is important enough that President David O. MacKay quoted another author in expressing, “No success can compensate for failure in the home.”
            “I regret to say that so many of our young people fall between the cracks…it is you mothers who bear the burden of sorrow that flows therefrom.  They are your sons and daughters.  And so tonight with the hope that I may be helpful, I plead with you…I plead with you [to]…Sit down and quietly count the debits and the credits in your role as mother.  It is not too late.  When all else fails, there is prayer and the promised help of the Lord to assist you in your trials.  But do not delay.  Start now, whether your child be six or 16…
            “…I know of no better answer to these foul practices that confront our young people than the teachings of a mother, given in love with an unmistakable warning.  There will be failures, yes.  There will be heartbreaking disappointments.  There will be tragedies, bleak and hopeless.  But in the very many cases, if the process begins early and continues there will be success and happiness and love and much of gratitude.  Opening your purse and handing a son or daughter money before you rush off to work will not do.  It may only lead to more evil practice.
            “…Teach your children when they are very young and small, and never quit.  As long as they are in your home, let them be your primary interest.”

            “Do not trade your birthright as a mother for some bauble of passing value.  Let your first interest be in your home.  The baby you hold in your arms will grow quickly as the sunrise and the sunset of the rushing days.  I hope that when that occurs you will not be led to exclaim as did King Lear, ‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!’.  Rather, I hope that you will have every reason to be proud concerning your children, to have love for them, to have faith in them, to see them grow in righteousness and virtue before the Lord, to see them become useful and productive members of society.  If with all you have done there is an occasional failure, you can still say, ‘At least I did the very best of which I was capable.  I tried as hard as I knew how.  I let nothing stand in the way of my role as a mother.’ Failures will be few under such circumstances…May you not trade a present thing of transient value for the greater good of sons and daughters, boys and girls, young men and women for whose upbringing you have an inescapable responsibility.”
            Sisters, the words of the prophet are clear.  Our primary interest should be in our homes.  The very spiritual lives of our children depends upon us being there.
            As leaders of young women, do we understand our calling of motherhood well enough to teach these future mothers of its importance?  Are we teaching the truths of eternity, by following the counsel of our prophet and exemplifying our most sacred and eternal calling of motherhood?  Or in our own lives, are we looking more and more like the women of the world?
            Take a moment with me to see a vision.  Picture in your mind what would happen if every single woman in our stake, regardless of circumstances decided to follow the counsel of our prophets and they chose to stay home.  Now, there are exceptions to this counsel, but I do not want to discuss the exceptions.  Let’s just pretend everyone whether they have children or not, whether they are single or not, whether they are grandmothers or not—what ever their circumstance, in their hearts, they have decided they are not an exception to the prophet’s words & they have chosen to embrace their calling as mothers.  What would those women do with their time?  Would they not tend to the elderly and home-bound, relieving the burdens of the bishops and relief society presidents?  Wouldn’t they help young mothers tend and discipline young children and assist them with overwhelming household responsibilities, strengthening those sisters in their testimonies of the importance of motherhood?  Wouldn’t they provide tutoring to struggling youth and college students?  Would they help young women create and alter clothing to strengthen their values of modesty and help them become beautiful?  Would they be more available to put their heart into their visiting teaching, preparations of their family home evenings, their personal scripture study & personal and family prayers?
            Sisters, our choice to work outside of the home directly impacts our ability to attend to our eternal calling and the example we set for the young women.  As mothers and leaders, Heavenly Father is trusting us to help instill and foster within these young women a testimony of their value before Him in fulfilling the role He designed for them.  A woman, young or old who has such a testimony and understanding will find immense joy in her role as mother.  She will not be unsatisfied or easily lulled away from her primary responsibilities.
            Sisters, at this time in our lives, we have been given the charge to teach and train some of the most spiritually valiant young women the world has ever seen.  Are we teaching them to value what the Lord values, particularly through our example?   We are those beacon lights for them.  Are we shining and climbing in the direction the Lord wants them headed?  Do we look different enough from the world?  Do we have a personal testimony of the eternal calling given to us by our Father in Heaven?  (my talk ended here, but I can’t seem to get the italics off…)

The most important teaching tool we have is our example.  That is true for others around us, but most importantly for our children.  We need to live what we want and expect of them.  If you are serving in the YW and you want them to do their Personal Progress, as leaders, you should be working on your personal progress, even if you completed it before.  If you are at girls’ camp and you want your YW to certify, you need to complete the certifications right along with them. 

Leading by example shows our children that we value what we are telling them.  Our words are important enough to us that we live them.  Those children see the intimate details of our lives.  They know what they are taught in church or school or by us.  When our behavior does not match our words, they notice.  Their brains are working and trying to figure out why we tell them one thing but  do another.  They are usually left to come up with their own conclusions for the in-congruence of  our behavior, because it isn’t something they feel like they can talk to us about.  At least while they are little.  As teenagers, they will call us on our behavior and if we are at all dismissive or defensive about the conversation, they will know they now have a weapon to use anytime they do not want to do what we tell them to.  (Power struggles ensue from here.)

 I love my role as Mother!  I know there is nothing I can do that is more important than the teaching and training of my children.  No amount of honor, worldly prestige, or money will compensate me if my children have difficult lives because they have not become moral and righteous people.  And if I spend all my days working toward that goal and they still turn out badly, I can stand proudly before God and tell Him that I did everything within my power and ability to help that child make better choices, and I will be satisfied that I did what I was called to do.

And I will close with this quote from President Eyring (We Must Raise our Sights, Ensign September, 2004):

            “The world in which young people live is changing rapidly.  When their older brothers and sisters return to visit the same schools and campuses they attended, they find a radically different moral climate.  The language in the hallways and the locker rooms has coarsened.  Clothing is less modest.  Pornography has moved into the open.  Not only has tolerance for wickedness increased, but much of what was called wrong is no longer condemned at all and may, even by our Latter-day Saint youth, be admired.  Parents and leaders have in many cases bent to the pressures coming from a shifting world to retreat from moral standards once widely accepted.
           “The spiritual strength sufficient for our youth to stand firm just a few years ago will soon not be enough.  Many of them are remarkable in their spiritual maturity and in their faith.  But even the best of them are sorely tested.  And the testing will become more severe.
            “The youth are responsible for their own choices.  But as faithful parents, teachers, leaders, and friends, we shore up the faith of young people.  And we must raise our sights.
          “The place to begin is with our aim, our vision of what we seek in the lives of our young people.”

As we raise our sights, and what we expect of them, and lead them by our example, our youth will follow and be the beacon, guiding light our world so desperately needs.


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