When we understand agency it opens up whole new vistas of gospel knowledge. As I learned these things, it changed how I parented. I realized that I wasn’t the monitor of right and wrong. That’s the work of the Spirit. I also realized that when I manipulated or coerced or lectured too much I created so much "noise" my children couldn’t hear the Spirit speaking to them. My job wasn't to "pour" knowledge into them, but to create an environment where the Spirit could teach and direct them.
One of my first experiences with this was especially interesting. Breana was always a picky eater and I tried everything I could to make sure she got the proper nutrition. One day we came home a little late from running errands. Quickly I made her a tuna sandwich and then, to encourage her to eat it in time to leave for kindergarten, told her she could have ice cream as soon as it was finished. Then I went to the nursery to put the baby down for a nap.
Seconds later Breana came into the nursery and told me the sandwich was gone and could she have her ice cream. I knew she hadn’t eaten the sandwich, and at this point I would have normally begun to lecture her about honesty, the importance of good nutrition, being obedient, etc. But I had just learned about agency and realized that the light of Christ was working in her own heart and telling her what to do so instead of lecturing, I looked her in the eyes and said, "Breana, you know what is right and you know what is wrong." Then I went back to the baby.
What happened next astounded me. When I lectured, Breana always responded with a corresponding fit. You know how it goes, arguing that grows into demanding and down on the floor kicking and screaming. But this day she stared back at me as if I’d learned how to fly and quietly walked out of the room.
I finished putting the baby down and then filled with curiosity at the silence walked back to the dining room where I found Breana sitting on the floor Indian style eating the sandwich right out of the garbage can. While I try not to think about the sanitation aspects of that moment, I do think about what happened. Breana’s conscience (the light of Christ) led her to do what I had tried on countless occasions to do and had failed at. To this day (she is now in her late 30s!) she tells me how much she hated it when I told her it was up to her. She fast learned that it is much easier to argue with someone you think is imposing something upon you than it is to argue with your own heart. I learned that instead of helping my children, my behavior actually interfered with their ability to hear the Spirit speaking to them.
As we trust the Spirit to guide and facilitate that Spirit to speak to our children, spouse, friends, co-workers or anyone else we are dealing with, things work out better. Yes, sometimes they will choose incorrectly, but even that can be a great learning experience if we allow it to be.