President Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, "I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go."
It's not clear what the circumstances were when Lincoln said this, but he well could have been talking about parenting!
All parents have felt it. Being at our wits end. Not knowing what to do. Not being able to meet all the needs of a child. Feeling powerless to keep a kid on the right path. Sensing that we have less influence over our son or daughter than their peer group. Just plain feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility and everyday tasks of parenthood.
Indeed, we are often driven to our parental knees by the overwhelming conviction that we have no place else to go.
It can be a desperate feeling, but it can also be a good feeling for a person of faith who, when at the end of the rope, can turn to a higher power and ask for help.
And in the U.S., where 89 percent of people say they believe in God, according to a Gallup survey, that is a lot of praying parents!
We have always felt that there is no more natural kind of prayer than an earthly parent praying to a heavenly parent for help with a child. The beautiful implication of such a prayer is, "You are the real parent of this child, God, so please help me as the temporary parent." And sometimes real answers come from such prayers.
But prayer is not the only kind of spiritual approach that parents can take in raising their children. We know many families where the best traditions and the best parenting methodologies are more spiritual than they are mental or social or emotional.
When we ask parents about what they think their most effective and most memorable efforts have been with their kids, we get answers like "reading scriptures together" or "worshiping together" or "having family prayer."
In our own family, when we ask our grown children what they remember best and most positively about their childhood and about our efforts as parents, they are most likely to reference something spiritual like "those early morning family devotionals" or "the testimony meetings we had on Sundays" or "the quotes and scriptures we memorized together."
Now we'll be honest: In our own recollection, we don't have entirely pleasant memories about any of these. It was hard to get kids up early to have little devotionals before school, hard to get them to pay attention to scripture reading, hard to get them gathered for even a short prayer together. (We often settled for a quick two or three sentence "huddle prayer" where we put our arms around each other and bowed our heads for a moment as they headed out the door for school.)
But it's interesting — and gratifying — to realize that, as they look back, our children don't remember the distractions or the somewhat perfunctory nature of some of those spiritual traditions. What they remember is that we tried to do them and that they felt good when we did.
Parenting has never been more challenging than it is today. As we watch our children raising our grandchildren, we are struck by the greater complexity and increasing distractions that they face. Trying to build a strong family culture these days — when kids are pulled so hard by the peer culture, the internet culture, the celebrity culture, and all the other cultures that swirl around them — is a difficult proposition indeed.
But what seems to make it work for many of the young parents that we admire is that they create a family culture that is full of the things that all these other cultures lack, namely the spiritual things, the things that involve faith and trust and unity and prayer to a higher power. This is what sets so many families apart from the rest of a child's world and what draws them back in whenever they venture too far out.
We join with a friend and fellow parent who said, "As I look back on my often-failing efforts as a mom, the things that saved our kids were not my ideas but God's."