“This We Can Do!”

This is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

The interview above with Dr. Samantha Callan of the UK’s Centre for Social Justice, which are based on the think tank’s reports Breakdown Britain and Breakthrough Britain,1 demonstrates the power and importance of family structure and stability. In my view, Elder ElRay Christiansen’s April 1972 address is very complementary to the research mentioned above. For this week’s post, I want to attach the social science associated with some of Elder Christiansen’s claims. Let the interview above act as the evidence for his introduction: “If you and I are to help restore this sick world to its spiritual health, we must begin at the proper place—that is, with ourselves and with our families. This we can do!” Here are some other selections:

One of the most rewarding of all human undertakings is that of making a success of marriage and of rearing children in a manner acceptable to the Lord. It calls for the best in all of usParenthood is a sacred trust. It is an approach to the divine—a God-given privilege that, with its never-ending responsibilities, brings rich and lasting rewards.

There have been a string of studies over the years arguing that parents are less happy than non-parents. But it’s far more complicated than that. A wide range of variables can influence the happiness of parents, including age, parenting style, emotional bonds, child characteristics, and family situation. Furthermore, there is the debate over the (non) difference between happiness and meaning. Researchers like psychologist Roy Baumeister find that happiness is more present-oriented, while meaningfulness integrates past, present, and future in the construction of purpose and identity. This may play a significant role in teasing out the differences between parents and non-parents. There is at least some research that indicates parents report higher levels of happiness and meaning in life.2 As for the “rearing children in a manner acceptable to the Lord,” it turns out that religion is good for families and kids. Regular attendance to religious services leads to less cheating on spouses, less abuse, happier marriages, less divorce, and more time with children. Religious teens are more likely to eschew lying, cheating and stealing and to identify with the Golden Rule. Religious children also have better self-control, social skills, and character traits such as grit. They also are happier and less likely to abuse drugs, alcohol, and suffer from depression. Unfortunately, religious attendance has been declining along with marriage, mainly in less-affluent communities.

Some worthy institutions have been developed to help improve the home and family life. But helpful as these agencies may be, I am convinced, and I believe you will agree, that there is not and never will be a better institution for improving the home than the home itself. Parents cannot, without regrettable consequences, shirk the responsibility of teaching and showing their children through their example the attributes of character that lead them unhesitatingly to appreciate and accept the good, the decent, the beautiful, and help them to develop the desire and the courage to turn from that which is coarse or crude or wrongSuccess in family life calls for parents who take time to enjoy their children; who read with them; who play with them; who let them participate in planning special occasions, seeking to make wholesome family traditions a proud part of family life.

Elder Christiansen should be convinced because that is what the research shows: policy interventions and public programs are no substitute for parents when it comes to child well-being. Growing up with both parents (in an intact family) is strongly associated with more education, work, and income among today’s young men and women. The kind of parenting, not merely marriage alone, has a large impact on children. Teaching children to build character, including “soft skills” like drive and prudence, is important for their flourishing. Parental involvement is a must as is being an actual parent.

Another essential in successful parenthood is for fathers and mothers to avoid disputations…I plead with parents to rise above pettiness and to spare their children the inglorious and painful insecurity of having to endure petty disputations and offensive situations.

High-conflict marriages can have negative effects on children, particularly their relationships with their parents. According to some research, “children can become distraught, worried, anxious, and hopeless. Others may react outwardly with anger, becoming aggressive and developing behavior problems at home and at school. Children can develop sleep disturbances and health problems like headaches and stomachaches, or they may get sick frequently. Their stress can interfere with their ability to pay attention, which creates learning and academic problems at school. Most children raised in environments of destructive conflict have problems forming healthy, balanced relationships with their peers. Even sibling relationships are adversely affected—they tend to go to extremes, becoming overinvolved and overprotective of each other, or distant and disengaged.” This does not mean avoid conflict altogether or pretend that everything is alright (kids can pick up on this). But learn to “rise above pettiness” goes a long way in sparing both spouses and children a lot of hurt.

In conclusion, Elder Christiansen says, “Historians almost without exception point out that one of the greatest contributing factors in the downfall of nations is the disintegration of the home and family life. A complete rebirth of satisfactory family life is needed. It is needed even in the so-called better homes. It must begin with proper love and respect between the husband and the wife and then, by their example, transferred to their children. No nation can long endure unless the great majority of its families and its homes are made secure through faith in God—an active, living faith.”

Let’s start with securing ours. As Elder Christiansen put it, “This we can do!”

Check out the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!