When I started serving my mission, I was assigned a trainer—another missionary who had enough experience and trust to show someone new the ropes. My trainer, Elder Alderman,1 was from southern Utah and was a lot different than I was. We didn’t share a lot of the same interests. But he loved me and helped me learn how to be a Christlike missionary.
Sometimes, elders and sisters refer to their trainers as “dad” or “mom,” respectively. Though these terms are slang and not encouraged, they made me think about what really makes a father a father. I’ve believe that the term “mother” or “father” is more a functional term than it is descriptive of a biological relationship.
Like my trainer, parents have some of the the same responsibilities of a missionary trainer. My parents were here to train me how to be successful in the world, specifically by teaching me about Jesus Christ and how to follow Him. They are responsible to provide for my needs and ultimately want me to grow so that I can provide for myself and my children.
Similarly, I am here to love my children and help them come to know that God loves them too. Sometimes that happens quickly, and more often it takes some time. Ultimately, part of my measure of success as a parent will be the kind of people my grandchildren and great-grandchildren turn out to be.
Fortunately, we can show love and care to all children, whether or not we are their birth father or mother. There are many men and women who remarried after a marriage ended in death or divorce and cared for their spouse’s children as if they were their own. Conversely, becoming someone’s biological parent does not automatically grant you the qualities that make you a successful parent.
Similarly, many married couples who are not able to have children despair that they will never be parents. But they are able to provide love and care to nieces, nephews, those they babysit, and others.2 In a lot of ways, Elder Alderman was more a father to me than many biological fathers I’ve seen.
Our modern scriptures give us one of the most succinct definitions of a parent’s purpose:
“And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents” (D&C 68:25).I think following this simple scripture as a governing guideline can be simpler than the mountains of parenting guidebooks available today.
1. Name has been changed.
2. Of course, this does not excuse married couples who are able to have children from bearing and raising children.