Today we have another excellent guest post from Janey.
I ran across this story in an LDS publication about pornography addiction:
I was introduced to pornography when I was around eleven years old. I loved it and I hated it from the beginning. I think I soon became an addict. I grew up in what I call a “religid” family and culture. My mom cried when she found out I drank Dr. Pepper. There was no way I could tell my parents that I was viewing pornography, though I desperately wanted help. I felt there was no one I could trust with this shameful secret.
This story showcases one of the challenges of trying to raise a righteous child. If parents are too emotionally invested in their children making righteous choices, the children learn that their parents can’t be trusted with serious problems. Let’s be real about this anecdote – this young man was sexually abused at age 11, though he doesn’t tell the story that way. Saying someone introduced him to pornography means he didn’t seek it out voluntarily [fn 1]. He kept it a secret, because his mother couldn’t even handle finding out that he drank Dr. Pepper.
A woman in Relief Society in one of my past wards frequently shared her sadness about her brother’s life choices. She always included a mention of how upset she was with her brother for hurting their mother. The subtext was that the brother was doubly a sinner – not just because of his drug use and stealing to support his habit, but because he made their Church-going mother feel like she’d failed as a mother. This sister once told me that sometimes they (the siblings) worked to keep some of their brother’s worst behavior from their mom, so as not to upset her even more.
Can we be too righteous as parents? Is our household “religid”? In our goal to teach our children to be obedient, can we shatter their trust in our ability to handle the hard stuff? On Judgment Day, I picture Heavenly Father congratulating someone on teaching his children to go to Church every week and pay tithing, and then saying, “now let’s go through the list of things your children kept from you because they didn’t trust you not to freak out.”
Parents and grandparents, watch your words. If your child (adult or a youngster) hears you casually condemning someone in trouble (“they deserved it!”), then that child may think twice about asking you for help if they’re in trouble. This goes for more than just parent-child relationships. I had a college roommate who broke up with a boyfriend after hearing him say that an assault victim “probably just didn’t fight back hard enough.” She had an assault in her past, and there was no way she was ever going to trust him with her history after he made that comment. She didn’t trust him enough to tell him the real reason she was breaking up with him either.
How do we build trust in relationships? I’ve worked on this with my children. It means I’ve had to overcome my flash temper – my first reaction has to be to sit down and listen, not snap at somebody. I also worked hard to overcome being judgmental – I say something compassionate about people in trouble rather than finding a way to blame them for creating their own problems. Another thing I’ve had to work on is my own inner strength. I can’t rely on my children to validate me. If I guilt-trip my children into being obedient, I’m manipulating them and that damages trust.
I think one of the greatest signs of parental success is when your child comes to you, having created their own problems, and asks for your help, trusting you to be compassionate and strong. This is what Heavenly Father and Jesus ask us to do over and over.
The story of the prodigal son is probably the best example of this teaching. The prodigal son definitely created his own problems, and yet when he returned, his father ran to give him a hug and welcome him home (see Luke 15:11-24).
The Church does us all a disservice when talks and teachers suggest that we can disappoint Heavenly Father, or that he feels bad when we sin. That weakens our trust in him. We’re not going to pray to somebody who’s up in heaven, shaking his head about how stupid we’ve been or crying into his hands that we’ve disappointed him. The truth is that “he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted” (Psalm 22:24). We can’t sin so badly that he abandons us. “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there” (Psalm 139:7-8).
You can’t demand trust as a parent. You have to actually be trustworthy. There’s a whole other essay I could write about people who don’t believe in God because their trust in him was broken, but the main focus of this post is on our own parent/child relationships. What does it take to be a trustworthy parent?
- Do you trust your parents? Why or why not?
- Do you believe your children or friends trust you?
- Do you trust Heavenly Father?
[fn 1] Something society in general, and the Church in particular, fails to acknowledge about child sexual abuse is that victims will commonly act out sexually as a result of the abuse. A porn addict, like this young man, may be a child sexual abuse survivor. I remember a friend in a Young Women’s Presidency who talked to me about her concerns about a sexually active Beehive. It took about three sentences before we were discussing the very real possibility that this ‘promiscuous’ 13-year-old was a sexual abuse victim.