"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
July 4, 2013
To Speak or Not to Speak
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

My stepson has a mission call, a girlfriend, an obsession with the girlfriend, some possibly resolved chastity issues (possibly not) and some contradictions between what he told his brother and what we think he told his bishop. 

I have fear, anger, confusion, a difficult time feeling excited about his call, an inability to communicate with him, and doubts that I'm properly respecting his privacy and sustaining the bishop. 

Suggestions?

Answer:

I think you need to back off.

I have complete sympathy for your position. You think your son is unprepared and possibly unworthy to be a missionary. When you think of him on a mission, all you can see is a train wreck waiting to happen. You imagine the shame and difficulty of him coming home early or doing a terrible job.

You wonder why the bishop didn’t catch the problem and do something about it. You have tried and tried to talk to your son, but he doesn’t listen.

So I understand your concern. I would be concerned, too.

But there comes a point when you have said your piece, offered your advice, and made your position known. And despite your efforts to persuade, the person is not persuaded.

At this point, the foremost question in your mind should be, “Should I say something? Or should I say nothing?”

There can be great power in saying nothing. When you are silent, you are more able to listen and observe. You are less likely to criticize. The other person has a chance to talk. A relationship that has become dominated by criticism, nagging, and disapproval can begin to repair. As your relationship improves, the person will become more likely to seek and heed your counsel. And you will be more aware of problems, if any, that need your attention.

Saying nothing does not mean you have given up. It is just another plan of attack, in which you build your relationship with a person regardless of your other disagreements. It is a way of showing unconditional love.

So before you attempt to “communicate” anything else to your son about his situation, stop and ask yourself if you should say something, or say nothing.

Also, your son has clearly been the topic of much conversation in your family. To some degree, this is appropriate. There is nothing wrong with a child telling a parent something about his sibling that causes him great concern. And there is nothing wrong with the parents then discussing the issue privately.

But a family should not openly discuss the failings of one of its members. So if you are discussing your son’s failings with his siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors, ward members, or the rest of the world, you need to stop. It is disloyal and disrespectful to your son.

Some other points to ponder.

First, if you have doubts about whether you are respecting your son’s privacy, you are probably not respecting his privacy. Privacy between minor children and their parents is a balance. The child’s privacy interest is often properly outweighed by the parents’ interest in keeping the child safe.

But your son is entering adulthood. To the extent you want to know the exact nature of his sins and what he told the bishop, you are over the line. If the bishop wants you to be involved, he will let you know.

Second, what boys tell other boys they have done is often an exaggeration of what really happened.

Third, stop trying to break your son’s obsession with his girlfriend. It will not work. Don’t spend any personal capital trying to break them up or make him see sense.

Fourth, I suggest you re-think what you mean when you say you have an inability to communicate with your son. Instead of thinking that you are not getting through, consider that he hears you loud and clear but does not agree with you.

Fifth, what does your spouse think? Does he share your concerns? If not, perhaps things are not as dire as you think. And if you think your spouse does not have an opinion, stop and wonder if he has actually expressed an opinion that you have been unwilling to hear because you do not agree with it.

Sixth, no matter what you think of your son’s preparedness, it is not your role to judge him worthy or not to serve a mission. That is the bishop’s job.

Seventh, it seems you expected your son to change in some fundamental way as he prepared for a mission. And that you expected the bishop to be instrumental in this transformation.

But bishops cannot make people change. And they don’t always or automatically know when people are not telling the truth. Instead, people are held accountable for what they tell the bishop during an interview.

I polled a number of bishops on what they would wish a parent in your position to do, and I got as many answers as I asked bishops. Even those who gave me similar answers gave different reasons for their position.

One said he would absolutely want you to come and talk with him so he could ask your son more pointed questions in future interviews. One said he would want you to talk with him because you are carrying a burden. One said he would advise you to talk to your stepson directly and asked why you didn’t talk to the bishop before your son started the mission interview process. One said you should butt out and mind your own business.

The one thing they all agreed on is that if you go to your bishop with your suspicions about your son’s worthiness, you will be making an accusation against him. You will be asked to provide evidence. And you will be asked to leave the issue in the bishop’s hands.

(Actually, they agreed on two things. The other is that is doesn’t matter if he is your son or stepson. They all felt that your duty to him as a parent was the same.)

Finally, your son wants to serve a mission!

This is no small thing! Missions are not (in my experience) Disneyland fun. His willingness to go is a righteous desire that will grow and give place for other righteous desires. Even if he is only doing it to meet his girlfriend’s or his family’s expectations, it is still an act of obedience and faith.

So think of something about your son that will make him a wonderful missionary, and tell him about it. Let him know that you have confidence in his ability to serve.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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