The soccer game was just five minutes old and several parents were already hollering at their 12-year-old daughters competing on the field. A few moms and dads demanded their children go harder to goal. "Take the shot!" they shouted. Others ordered their young athletes to hold the ball longer. "Don't be so quick to pass!" The coaches on both sidelines soon found themselves shouting over the parents' din simply to be heard.
Ten minutes into the game and the parents were hollering at the referees. From opposing sides, they barked the same, tired protests the officials had likely heard countless times at countless games: "Hey Ref, call the game both ways!" and, of course, "Open your eyes, Ref!"
Fifteen minutes into the game and the parents were hollering across the field at each other. Some accused their counterparts of instructing their daughters to play rough. "Shut you mouths!" snapped a woman. One dad challenged another dad to meet him behind the goal post where he could best "explain" the rules. A faint threat of violence had degenerated into a distinct possibility.
Exasperated, the center referee blew his whistle, bringing the match to an early halt. He walked to one sideline and told the parents that no one had come to the game to listen to them moan, yell and whine. He admonished them to do better by their children and, well, behave. Then he turned to the folks on the opposite sideline and offered the same plea.
Meanwhile, the girls inside the lines were left to witness the awkward scene of their moms and dads being scolded by another adult. Some of the soccer players were likely embarrassed by their parents' actions. One or two might have decided at that moment that the game wasn't much fun anymore. Maybe they quit at season's end. But other young players might have left that field believing, wrongly, that passionate, competitive play justifies poor conduct and abandoned self-control. They would follow their parents' bad example.
Parenting is tricky business. Mothers and fathers generally do the best they can to perform its difficult, daily tasks. Most parental training happens on the job. But at the moment children enter this world, their parents can commit to be good examples. It seems an obvious pledge — yet most will likely admit to a few "do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do" moments when raising children. Still, Church leaders remind us of the importance of living our lives in a Christian manner that children can observe, respect and, yes, follow.
It was Brigham Young who said almost 150 years ago: "We should never permit ourselves to do anything that we are not willing to see our children do. We should set them an example that we wish them to imitate."
President Young's modern-day counterpart, President Thomas S. Monson, has also emphasized the importance of being an "example of righteousness" through gospel living and service.
"Ours is the task to be fitting examples," he said during the April 2008 general conference. "We are strengthened by the truth that the greatest force in the world today is the power of God as it works through man. If we are on the Lord's errand ... we are entitled to the Lord's help."
In the most recent general conference, the Church's Presiding Bishop, Bishop H. David Burton, listed several virtues that form the foundation of a Christian life: integrity, charity, spirituality, accountability, civility and fidelity. Such personal and absolute virtues, he said, appear to be in decline in our communities. It's vital that those charged with rearing children stand tall and firmly fixed in perpetuating those Christlike virtues.
"Teaching virtuous traits begins in the home with parents who care and set the example," Bishop Burton said. "A good parental example encourages emulation; a poor example gives license to the children to disregard the parents' teachings and even expand the poor example. A hypocritical example destroys credibility."
Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve once posed a pointed question that mothers and fathers in the Church must ask themselves: How will our children remember us?
"The calling of father or mother is sacred and carries with it great significance. One of the greatest privileges and responsibilities given to us is that of being a parent — helping to bring to earth a child of God and having the sacred responsibility to love, care and guide children back to our Heavenly Father. In many ways earthly parents represent their Heavenly Father in the process of nurturing, loving, caring and teaching children. Children naturally look to their parents to learn the characteristics of their Heavenly Father. After they come to love, respect and have confidence in their earthly parents, they often unknowingly develop the same feelings toward their Heavenly Father.
"No parent on earth is perfect. In fact, children are very understanding when they sense and feel that parents truly care and are attempting to be the best they can be. ... Parents are counseled to teach their children by precept and example" (October 1993 general conference).