My Uncle Bruce was a famed psychologist. He often spoke about the need for children to "have their ticket punched" by their parents. By that expression, he meant parents held in their hands the indispensable key to their children's existence. If parents believe their children have value and they are able to transmit that belief to them, children can go on to becoming worthwhile and productive adults. Withholding that validation sometimes proves ruinous to the development of children.
The stories are legion of parents who neglect their children. Sometimes that neglect is overt and openly hostile. We've been watching a lot of Christmas movies this month where the theme has been the destructive separation that occurs in families when parents and children become estranged. We've witnessed so many contrived and seemingly petty plot lines this month. Of course, in all Christmas movies there must be conflict, resolution and happy endings. But sometimes in life it is not always so simple. Everyone in real life will tell you "it's complicated." The dynamics of human relations are always complicated, and by design we get ample experimental lab material to work on - that material comes to us in the form of parents, children, siblings and in-laws. Each of us has what sometimes seems like an inexhaustible supply, and we would wish for less if we could escape having to deal with "Uncle Harry" in our life. However, we are expected to experiment on each other until we, not they sometimes, get it right. It's Heavenly Father's plan for us.
And life is fleeting. We have all learned in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre that even the most innocent children can be snatched away in death in an instant. There are no guarantees when we live in a world where evil is ever-present before us.
Spouses are separated, become indifferent to each other and become strangers, even enemies of each other in some cases, when love at the altar was first sealed in their marriage vows. Husbands who were once loving and treated their wives well become angry and bitter. They are repeatedly warned by Church leaders that they will be held accountable for every tear their wife sheds that can be traced to him as the cause. Protecting and cherishing that most important of all human relationships with our spouses is paramount.
Parents often reject their offspring for a host of reasons. Once filled with hope and a positive outlook for their children, parents become disillusioned over the lack of "acceptable performance" in their children. And that is a highly subjective standard. It is hard sometimes for parents to communicate adequately what those standards look like, and confusion and resentment result. Instead of helping their children's development, they will often look outside their family circle for examples of other people's children who are excelling and achieving. To the detriment of their own children, parents will cite others as the shining example and sometimes without even knowing what they are doing destroy the self worth of their own children.
Children often look at their parents and see all the warts, the hypocrisy and the double standards their parents deploy to impress others at the expense of their integrity. Honesty, which earnest parents once sought to instill in their offspring, is sacrificed for one worthy contingency after another. Children lose confidence in parents, when all that was necessary was a proper teaching about the gospel of self-awareness and repentance. Admitting one's own flaws and demonstrating a desire to do better through deeds, not mere words, does much to bolster confidence of children in their parents.
Once again, that is a highly subjective standard. Most parents will fail in those judgments their children make about them. Children can judge harshly and unfairly, often failing to recognize pure motives where there was no intentional desire by the parents to harm them. What so often happens is that parents and children become estranged because of distance in miles from each other. It becomes easier and easier to stay away, to distance themselves from each other in ways that go beyond the miles of separation. Emotional support for one another erodes until there is no relationship left.
There are such simple acts of kindness we are willing to bestow upon total strangers, but withhold from our "less worthy" family members. For years, expressions of love and validation are sparingly dispensed if at all. Time stretches into years. You've all seen the movie plots. So many of them are based upon true stories.
In those true stories sometimes there is never a reconciliation at Christmas time or any other time. We mortals are prone to hold grudges, pass judgments, and write people off without so much as a preliminary hearing from them. We are more confident in our own judgments and decrees against those in our families than we ever are when we hear similar stories about total strangers. Why is that?
I can't help wondering if it is because Satan has as his stated purpose the work of destroying families in every way imaginable. The legalization of gay marriage is guaranteed to produce no offspring. From the moment Adam and Eve set foot in the garden of Eden, he has always known if he could separate the man from the woman he could thwart the plan of salvation, which is dependent upon "the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39 and Moses 4). In order to bring about immortality and eternal life, there must first be mortal life, created in partnership with God by a man and a woman united in the holy bonds of the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.
So in this effusive spirit of Christmas goodness and perfection, try validating those closest to you. Instead of making them pass some sort of litmus test of your own devising, try suspending judgment. Try forgiveness. Try saying the words, "Will you forgive me?" Or better, "I forgive you." Or if they've never heard you say it before, "I'm sorry." My mother used to refer to those as "magic words."
They are magic because they have healing power. They validate. They punch someone's ticket.
And when you say them, make sure there's a smile on your face.