When one spouse does not follow the Word of Wisdom but is not being irresponsible (e.g. drinks alcohol responsibly, drinks coffee or tea), what can parents in such a family say to help children understand and not judge the parent due to teachings they receive at church? Would your advice differ if the spouse is a non-member vs. one who has left the church or chooses not to comply with this aspect of his/her religion? Is it best for parents to be open about this or to keep those things (alcohol, coffee, tea) outside the home? How can husbands and wives respect these differences while achieving a common ground on parenting? How can parents help kids understand that what may be okay for adults is still not okay for children?
Any time there are differences between spouses on how to raise their children, trouble and tension can brew. And since a parenting structure consists of two unique individuals, there will in almost all cases be some differences that present themselves over the developmental cycle of raising children. It is a sometimes unnerving fact that the people with whom we choose to have children with are individuals in control of their own thoughts, ideas and behaviors: individuals we have little, if any control over. Therefore, our children will be subject to the beliefs, testimonies, ideas, discipline styles, habits, strengths, sins and gene pools of both individuals. There is no getting around this. Hopefully, most of the time, we are OK with the examples our spouses offer our kids. However, here are some things to consider when this is not the case:
- Children and adolescents are incredibly savvy and creative when it comes to figuring out what their limits and bounds are within their family systems. Any time that the parents are in disagreement on ANY issue, it will present a prime opportunity for children to take advantage of the situation. And they will! This is their job actually: to figure out their limits, and they are very good at it. It is in your and your childrens’ best interests to find what your common stance can be as the parental authorities and then present it as such.
- It is important for parents to be able to move beyond their individual concerns and anxiety to a team approach in parenting. At times this may take painful compromise. But, again, it is better and healthier for your kids to see a united front, than for you to win a fight with your spouse. And by this I do not necessarily mean that you are in agreement or that your children are not aware that you do not agree (they have undoubtedly already figured that out anyway). It can be beneficial for children to see their parents struggle with an issue at hand and then see a resolution. This teaches kids that a marriage takes work and compromise. For instance, in the situation where one is going to drink alcohol and the spouse opposes it you could say something like: “Your father believes that drinking is an OK thing for him to do. I do not agree with your Dad but I still love him and respect him. Drinking alcohol causes changes in our brains that affect how we act. However, your dad is a grown up and part of being a grown up is making your own decisions. You will have to make your own choices when you are grown up too. However, as long as you live in this house you are not allowed to drink alcohol and your father supports me in this position.” These kinds of statements should be made in front of both parents, so that the child understands that the stance is united, even though the parents disagree. Parents should come to an agreement of what types of statements are acceptable to be positioned in front of the children and be prepared to present them jointly.
- My advice does not change regardless of whether the couple finds itself just beginning to struggle with these issues (i.e. one spouse has lost their testimony regarding alcohol use as presented in the word of wisdom) or if they have had these issues all along (i.e. one spouse is a non-member and has always drank alcohol). The additional challenge for the first couple, however, is that there is a sense of change from the original “contract” both spouses thought they entered into. In other words, the position of one spouse has changed from what was originally agreed upon. In these situations, I would caution the one who is doing the changing to walk with caution and respect for their spouse – and lean on the side of the original plan of parenting so that the important relationship of the marriage isn’t damaged further.
- It is important to note that regardless of what the word of wisdom says on the matter, the statistics overwhelmingly show that children will more than likely follow their parents’ examples regarding oral habits (i.e. overeating, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, coffee drinking, etc.). Therefore, it is our responsibility as parents to try to provide our children with as healthy of an environment as possible in our homes. Agreeing to what this will specifically look like is ultimately up to each couple to decide.
- In cases of divorce, children are often finding themselves in homes where different rules apply. I would hope that in their co-parenting efforts, divorced couples attempt to keep this at a minimum. The parenting relationship should not end with divorce and couples therapy and/or mediation can be helpful in achieving a higher level of harmony in both homes. However, if faced with these issues, open communication with the children is paramount. “I know that when you are at your mother’s house she lets you watch rated R movies. That is her choice and her right in her home. However, I want you to know that I do not believe we should watch these types of movies as they can introduce powerful and inappropriate ideas in our minds.” Because children in these situations are dealing with huge issues of loyalty and confusion in general, I would not berate a child when they have gone along with the parent who has a rule you are in disagreement with. I would just be open to talking about the situation, state your position and make clear why you have that position. I realize that these situations cause high levels of anxiety and can be extremely painful.
- If you are a newlywed, or engaged to be married, it is imperative that you discuss these types of issues now and know where each of you stand. If you are marrying a non-member, it is even more important to discuss how you plan on presenting differing belief systems, rituals (i.e. baptisms, blessings, etc.), etc. And don’t assume that just because you are marrying someone within your faith, in the temple for example, that you will have automatic agreement regarding parenting. Although you will not be able to foresee every parenting struggle you will come across, communicating now about basic parenting styles will save yourselves a lot of grief later.
- I want to reiterate that the number one thing you can model to your children is our basic Christian foundation of love and respect for oneself and for others. If you cannot win the “word of wisdom battle” brewing in your home, you can show a deeper example of how to handle situations where we love, respect and live amongst those we disagree with. That is the most important lesson you can ultimately teach. No other doctrinal teaching trumps it. It is basic and applies to almost any situation you can find yourself in. Hopefully as parents with your child’s best interests in mind, you can at the very least present this united stance.
How would you handle (or have you handled) similar situations in your home?
Are certain things “deal breakers?”
Do you agree with my advice or not? If not, what would your advice be?