How a Person’s Age and Stage is Important in the Eyes of the Lord

“Everyone according to his age” is a phrase in the Book of Mormon that caught my eye this week. Nephi had completed the ship and his family was preparing to board. The family then gathered meat, honey, seeds, provisions, “and whatsoever thing we had brought with us, every one according to his age.” With those simple words, Nephi acknowledges differing stages in human development…..meaning, he recognized and understood that each stage or age in life is truly different and unique…and ought be respected.

Though our families may not be boarding a large boat, every person in a family DOES bring to a home “whatsoever things”….(learning or growing opportunities, challenges, abilities, needs, etc)…..”according to his age.”  Children are different from adults and teens differ from elderly. Each stage has wonderful and difficult things. Often it is just a matter of perspective. For example, my mom often says, “Some call it the terrible twos. I call it the terrific twos, because children have begun to exercise their agency.” Ha ha.

A BYU professor Lynn Scoresby once taught that the more we understand about the stages of development/behavior before we or our children get there, the less likely we are to worry unnecessarily and respond negatively. As families we will also be blessed when we know what we might expect and will be better prepared and recognize how we may help ourselves or a child through misbehavior, struggles, or just regular life….til the next stage or challenge. Lol.

Sister Michaelena Grassli a former General Primary President once pointed out, “The people I see who seem to have the best relationships with children are those who understand that children grow and develop. They treat children in ways that are appropriate for the child’s age. For example, three-year-olds wiggle and have an attention span of about five minutes, if we are lucky! So we don’t expect them to sit still very long. A five-year-old boy needs to use his muscles, so it shouldn’t surprise us when he uses his muscles to push someone. Ten-year-old girls cry. These are normal behaviors for children. While we need to help children learn to control behaviors that are not constructive, it is helpful to remember that those actions are not necessarily misbehavior. And when children do misbehave, they usually do so not because they intend to be naughty, but because they are being the best they can be for their age.”

With babies and young children it is easy to understand and see different stages, capabilities and needs. We know diapers and sleepless nights don’t last forever…so we do our best to endure and help them through the stages. We also know that at some point most children will be able to dress themselves and eventually understand how to share toys. So we patiently wait while a child tries to put their own shirt on for 15 minutes or we recognize a few tantrums or fits about sharing is somewhat expected.

However, as kids enter teen/early adult years…it becomes increasingly difficult to recognize some of the things that they bring “according to their age.”  Often as parents of teens, we may personalize or misinterpret the reasons for bad behavior. We become easily frustrated, embarrassed, hurt or shocked by our children’s behavior….when the behavior of a child is just really “according to his [or her] age.”

I love this analogy written by W. Timothy Gallwey about a rose:

“When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.”

I recently spoke to a friend who was somewhat frustrated about her nearly-adult son. She is grateful he is a good kid, but he seems annoyed to have to spend  any time at home or with the family even though he’s at an age where he’ll be leaving home soon. I shared with her that my experience (with 4 of my kids now) is that older teens….even the very best….begin to feel the need to pull away….AND that is a good thing! It is a normal thing! Some teens feel the need a lot sooner than we’d like. That can be a tough road. Regardless of when it happens though, we need to give teens permission to feel the need to start that pulling away…and allow that “pulling away” to be appropriate and good. If we want our children to live away from home some day and to be independent, it actually starts in their teens while they are still at home. We don’t necessarily let them leave whenever or do whatever they please, but we do want them to think for themselves and to begin to plan their own life while they are still at home. Sometimes that thinking/planning by teens is done out loud as complaining or thrown at us with rude or insensitive tones and actions. Sometimes a child compares or prefers the way a parent or family does something to another parent’s or family’s way. Oh boy, this can feel hurtful, but with humility we can acknowledge and validate that it is normal for them to begin observing what they want and don’t want in their lives. When a child begins pulling away from doing certain activities with the family….it can put parents into a panic or cause a power struggle, but often as we humbly acknowledge it is understandable and normal….we are better able to maintain or expect a respectful relationship. We can allow their desire for independence to be normal and a very good thing while still holding to values, family traditions, expectations, and fostering strong relationships.

I love the advice that then Elder Eyring gives about teens and family scripture study. I think it is a perfect example of what I’m trying to emphasize. He shares:
“It’s important to read the scriptures together in a way that lets your children know you include them because you love them. However, reading together may break down during the teenage years. Teens may say, “I’d rather read on my own.” My encouragement to families in that situation is to see that as victory, not defeat. Your child may be saying, “I’m getting something when I’m alone that I don’t get when we’re all here together.” Take that as a wonderful sign that scripture study is beginning to take hold in your teen’s heart. The main purpose is to fall in love with the scriptures and feast upon them, whether we are alone or together.
You have to be realistic. Let teens know you love them. Make sure they know you love the scriptures. However, if they want to go to their rooms and read, let them. They’ll find their own pattern and fall in love with the scriptures.”

It’s also important to recognize that each family functions “according to [its] age.” No two families are alike, but there are definitely similarities in the various stages. Sister Linda Reeves a former counselor in the General Relief Society shared the following about her family when they were in the beginning or younger years,
“Some of you have heard me tell how overwhelmed my husband, Mel, and I felt as the parents of four young children. As we faced the challenges of parenting and keeping up with the demands of life, we were desperate for help. We prayed and pleaded to know what to do. The answer that came was clear: “It is OK if the house is a mess and the children are still in their pajamas and some responsibilities are left undone. The only things that really need to be accomplished in the home are daily scripture study and prayer and weekly family home evening.”
We were trying to do these things, but they were not always the priority and, amidst the chaos, were sometimes neglected. We changed our focus and tried not to worry about the less-important things. Our focus became to talk, rejoice, preach, and testify of Christ by striving to daily pray and study the scriptures and have weekly family home evening.”

I don’t think it’s coincidence that in 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul is beautifully teaching about charity…that never fails…..and is the greatest attribute or possession of all, He also writes about learning/progressing “each according to his age.”  He explains, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

I love that Paul, Nephi, Sister Grassli, Elder Eyring, and Sister Reeves each understood and explained that there is definitely some importance in recognizing people and families “according to…age”. I’m not entirely sure I understand the complete significance of it, but it is definitely worth considering.

How would recognizing and anticipating the ages/stages that our children, ourselves, or our families are going through, cause us to make different choices? Where can we turn to better understand ages and stages of individuals and families? How would that understanding help us to have different reactions? How would it allow us to have more charity or peace in our lives, families and homes?