On Nurturing, Punches in the Mouth, and Unearned Love
[Given by Chris Juchau at the Back-to-School Fireside for Parents August, 2016.]
Tonight I would like to speak on three different topics. They may or may not seem like they are related, but they all are core to our task and privilege of parenting and so they do share some commonality.
I will use a slide to illustrate each of my three topics.
Topic 1: Nurturing Your Faith and Testimony
Let me describe for you a simple scenario that I experience frequently. It’s a Sunday or a weekday evening and in the context of my calling I am meeting with a man or a woman (or both) from our stake. He or she arrives and I invite him or her into the office and I ask the question, “How is your testimony? Tell me about your testimony.” And the person answers in any of a large variety of ways ranging from describing why their testimony feels so solid to acknowledging that their testimony is thin or even non-existent. And then I ask, “Do you nurture your testimony?” Which isn’t a very good question to ask because it’s a “yes/no” question, but I ask it anyway—and I never get a straight “yes” or “no.” Very frequently the answer is comprised of words like these: “I could do better.”
Now, pretend you’re me. You’ve just asked someone if they prioritize time and energy to nurture their testimony and they answer with “I could do better.” What does that mean? How do you interpret that answer? Of course we can all do better at everything, so it doesn’t really answer the question.
It sounds like an answer driven by some sense of guilt, but it’s still ambiguous. On the one hand, a person might do nothing or next-to-nothing to nurture his or her testimony and so “I could do better” is just a gentler way of saying “no,” perhaps without wanting to say so so abruptly. On the other hand, Mormons—and particularly Mormon women, perhaps—are really good at making up reasons to feel guilty when in fact they are doing plenty to nurture their testimony.
I bring this up, though, because in too many cases it seems evident after some discussion that we really don’t prioritize the nurturing and development of our own faith and testimonies enough. We are busy Moms and busy Dads and taking time for spirituality is easy to neglect and too many of us are neglecting something that will take its toll on our children.
I’m not sure that it’s true that we have to love ourselves before we can love someone else or that we must learn to forgive ourselves before we can forgive other people. The scriptures don’t seem to support those ideas very clearly.
But where it comes to nurturing testimony and where we are talking about parenting, I do not believe we can escape the reality that you are going to have to take care of #1, so to speak, if you’re going to be able to help #2 and #3 and… #8.
I have on a few occasions encountered a less-active parent who believes their child will benefit from an upbringing in the Church in spite of their own inactivity and so they facilitate getting their kids to Church but do not back that up through their own practices at home or by their own consistent attendance at church. How well does that work?! You can love and forgive a child even while you are in the process of learning about Heavenly Father loving and forgiving you. But the likelihood of your children ending up with deep spiritual roots in the gospel is pretty low when you are not establishing strong roots, yourself.
Why are faith and testimony so important for both you and your kids? Let me suggest four reasons:
- Salvation. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Way—the only way to overcome the effects of our sins and errors which separate us from a perfect God. We cannot go the Savior’s way without exercising faith in Him. Faith in Him is the first principle of the gospel and neither we nor our children will realize a cleansing from our sins without faith in Him. Your children are much more likely to exercise faith and nurture a testimony if you
- Happiness. We believe that the greatest, most genuine happiness—both ultimately in eternity and immediately in the present—are found through the Savior and in realizing His We learn to see ourselves and others the way He does and we discover our own value and acceptability through Him. The highest form of happiness is only available to those who truly and deeply receive the Savior. And your children are much more likely to nurture a testimony and receive the Savior if you do.
- Adversity. Faith and testimony provide a firm, resilient foundation during the inevitable storms that come to each of us during our lives (and which do not appear to be meted out equally; some people seem to face more difficult storms than others). The Savior spoke of having a house built upon a rock. Helaman spoke of that rock being Christ, himself, and about wind, whirlwinds, hail, and mighty storms that will not “drag” us down to “misery” if we build upon the rock of faith in Christ. Your children will be better equipped to understand and withstand adversity if they do so from a position of faith, which they’re more likely to develop if you
- Family. We believe that the greatest family unity depends upon family members choosing the Savior and receiving the ordinances and observing the covenants made available to us in temples. This is true in eternity where we believe such marriages and families can live in an exalted unified state. It is also true in a very practical sense right now on the earth. This is painfully illustrated when two church members marry in the temple under the belief that their spouse will maintain beliefs in Church doctrine and maintain a commitment to commandments and covenants—but then one of those two parties changes their mind post-marriage. In such a case, the difficulties in the marriage and family can be staggeringly painful and the family may not survive intact. The promise of strong eternal families is much more likely to be realized for your children if you nurture your own faith and testimony and help them do the same.
So faith and testimony are important. For your kids, your example is huge. Your setting a good example, won’t guarantee anything, but it will increase the chances. Whether you set a good example or a poor example in this regard, it will be noticed!
Now, how do you nurture your testimony?
- You speak to God personally through prayer morning and night. You won’t be nurturing anything, though, if you just go through the motions. You pray meaningfully morning and night.
- You seek out and listen to God’s voice daily through scripture reading and through paying careful attention to the words of modern prophets (of which there are 15 on the earth today, not just one).
- You make the temple and temple worship part of your life. You do work for the dead and return again and again to learn and to renew covenants. If the ceremony and ritual of the temple are uncomfortable to you, come see to me or one of my counselors and let’s talk about it.
- Lastly, and very importantly, you live the gospel like you’re truly committed to it. Let me give some examples:
- You maintain high standards for your consumption of media. How serious do our kids think we are about the gospel if they know we watch inappropriate media. After all, I can still get a temple recommend after watching R-rated movies, so what’s the big deal?!
- You make family prayer a priority. How serious do our kids think we are when they hear references to family prayer over and over again in church but it doesn’t seem important to their father or mother?
- You approach modesty as if your body really is sacred and that words of Church leaders matter. How serious do our kids think we are when we wear immodest exercise clothing or swimwear and/or don’t seem very anxious to get back into our garments?
- You honor the Sabbath in meaningful, noticeable ways. How serious do our kids think we are when our Sabbath consists of three hours of Church followed by hours of football and other things that really have no basis at all in worship?
Some will accuse me of over-emphasizing the letter of the law and being Pharisaical with such examples, but here’s the deal: 1) These are exactly the kind of things that strengthen or weaken our children spiritually. And, 2) You are not nurturing your testimony if you are not striving to live the gospel in deep and meaningful ways, including observing practices that invite the spirit. The Savior taught that those who do the will of God find out the truthfulness of his gospel. Those who go primarily just through the surface-level visible motions are far less likely to be increasing in testimony.
Brothers and Sisters, for your children’s sake, please place a significant priority on nurturing your own faith and testimony. And do all these things with an attitude of gentleness, love, and affection toward your children that they may know that this is a gospel of love and not come to suspect that it is just a gospel of strict rule-keeping.
Topic 2: Punched in the Mouth
There is a quote that seems to be attributed to the boxer Mike Tyson, although I’m not sure it originated with him. He was apparently asked once, just before a fight, about his plan. And in talking about what he wanted to do and what the other boxer was expected to do, Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Most Mormon children, during their childhood or during their youth or during their adult years, eventually get punched in the mouth. Some seem to get punched extremely hard. Some seem to get punched over and over and over again. Many here in this room probably know what it is like to be punched in the mouth.
How do we help our children prepare for this? There is much we can teach them to help them avoid adversity in life and the troubles that will come to them through their own poor decisions. We can teach them to follow the prophet, to keep the commandments, to stand in holy places, to understand agency and consequences. And if we teach them these things and they adhere to them, they will, in fact, avoid a lot of trouble.
But it will not exempt them from troubles that come through the poor choices of others or the troubles that are simply inherent in this mortal experience. It will not exempt them from the very purposes of mortality, which include testing and gaining experience with opposition, temptation, and agency, including others’ agency. It may not exempt them from abuse at the hands of others or from tragedy through the fault of no one in particular.
Do we teach our children the doctrine of adversity and opposition? What is the doctrine? The doctrine is that, for our own benefit, there must be opposition in all things and that that opposition isn’t pretend or hypothetical—it’s real. The doctrine is that we came here to learn under different and more difficult circumstances than existed in the pre-existence. The doctrine is that a veil exists so that we can make choices and deal with opposition with faith and without a perfect knowledge—and without immediate relief from difficult circumstances every time we ask Heavenly Father to provide the relief we want in the way we want it.
Let me mention three specific types of punches to the mouth that we need to be prepared for and that we need to prepare our children for. These three things can overlap each other.
First is the broad category of unexpected life-changing challenges, disappointments, and tragedies. This includes things like loss of a loved one; a sudden physical or mental health challenge, loss of a job, birth of a seriously limited child, abandonment from a parent, betrayal of a spouse, divorce, absence of an acceptable marriage offer, inability to have children, etc. You could add other things to that list.
Keeping the commandments does not exempt us from difficult things in life—including very painful experiences and tragedies that come to us through no choice of ours. Can bad things happen to good people? Can horrible things happen to good people? Yes. And they do every day. Might they happen to us? Yes. How do we prepare for them?
- We understand the doctrine of adversity and opposition.
- We accept that we are not exempt even though we may do many things correctly.
- We develop faith and testimony.
- We develop deep, sincere, real humility and submissiveness.
- We develop a work ethic.
We can soften the pain of life’s inherent unfairness by understanding and accepting the doctrine and by recognizing that, while each of us is special, we are not special in the sense of being exempt. Then, when extreme hardship or tragedy comes, we turn to the Lord, we place our submissiveness on the altar and our trust in Him, and then we humbly but resolutely and patiently go to work on whatever it is we need to do or endure. As we know, the Lord is not likely to change or remove even the worst circumstances during the moments that we are on our knees asking Him to change them. What He will do is enable us to work through or around those things—or sometimes to simply endure them—after we plead with Him and then go about doing our best to resolve or handle the difficulty.
More easily said than done. But that is what makes such elements of preparation all the more important.
We need to teach these principles to our children. We also need to model them.
Second is the category that I will refer to as the Absent God. It sometimes comes immediately upon the heals of the types of challenges, disappointments, and tragedies I just listed. In some cases, a person turns to God—perhaps repeatedly—but doesn’t feel like He’s listening and then wonders if He’s even there at all. It can also happen when a person seeks a testimony through a personal spiritual witness but doesn’t feel like that witness has come. In these types of situations, it seems like God is absent.
He is not absent. But connecting with Him can seem elusive to the point of generating doubt and disbelief. When you get punched in the mouth and turn to God and do not immediately find Him or evidence of Him, but you expected to, it can feel like you’ve just been punched in the mouth again and are going down for the count.
What is the doctrine? The doctrine is that God is our father. And the doctrine is that He wants us to become like Him, which surely means that we eventually become spiritually and in every way self-reliant and capable, just as He is. In order to help us do so, there will be moments where he helps us in obvious ways and there will be many moments where He offers His love and emotional support, but allows us to lean into the wind ourselves. There are simple but profound truths here. A parent cannot help a child become all that the child can become without allowing the child to experience growth through struggle.
Our daughter, Anne, just went through her first transfer—or six-week period—of her mission in Texas. She was assigned to a trainer who would not or could not work. Her trainer was dealing with depression to the point that she could not bring herself to leave their apartment until very late in the afternoon and so Anne became—or at least felt like—a bit of a prisoner in that apartment. It was very hard for her. She left the MTC excited and was anxious to be a missionary and to learn how to be a missionary. Getting up at 6:30 in the morning and having nothing to do for the next 10 hours but read your scriptures, study Preach My Gospel, and practice Spanish verb conjugations, mostly by herself, was hard. In fact, it was miserable and, perhaps worst of all, she felt a lot of guilt and began feeling very depressed, herself.
As her parents, we were very worried about the situation. I knew it was taking a toll on her and I felt very tempted to intervene. I imagined conversations I might have with her mission president. I thought about calling her. Texas isn’t so far away I couldn’t have just gone to see her! Anne would have liked a hug from her Dad and Mom. She would have appreciated a phone call. She probably would like to have exchanged texts and letters every day. Instead she heard from us once or maybe twice each week in a letter or email and she was mostly left to herself to work her way through it.
Meanwhile, she was turning to her Father in Heaven, but he didn’t send any angels to help her and things seemed to get worse and worse before they got better.
What happened, though, is that Anne turned to the Lord and then went to work on loving her companion and developing patience. To make a long story short, she came to love that companion and she found meaning in their experience together. She grew in ways that those difficult circumstances encouraged. Neither her earthly father nor her Heavenly Father intervened to make the problem go away and at moments were or seemed absent. But these things ended up fostering instead of hindering her growth.
Even the Savior, at the most extreme moment in human history, was left by His Father to struggle through something staggeringly enormous on His own. Apparently that was necessary.
We must teach our children the purposes of mortality and the meaning of growth and struggle and effort and the ways in which our Father in Heaven will and won’t help us or reveal Himself to us. We must teach our children also about the ways He communicates with us, which occasionally may involve an intense “burning in the bosom” experience, but most often is more quiet and subtle—sometimes to the point of not even being noticed.
My third category of being punched in the mouth regards those members of the Church who have not been exposed to criticisms and difficult-to-resolve questions in Church history. And then when they are exposed to them, feel very much punched in the mouth and, in some cases, worse, like they’ve been betrayed by Church leaders they trusted who, they may feel, actually conspired to keep truths from them. For some members, this picture behind me is a fairly accurate representation of how they feel. To make matters much worse, some members in those circumstances become suspicious of who to trust and who not to and they develop fears over the response they’ll receive if they confide their fears and concerns and doubts and questions and mistrust and sense of betrayal in church members they should be able to trust and lean on.
So, of course, there are two categories of things we should be doing about this. The first relates to nurturing our own testimonies. Moms and Dads need to understand their own faith and how to approach these issues. It may help to begin with the reality that while the internet can connect you with many disaffected members of the Church, you also have, right here within an arm’s reach, members of the Church who are very familiar with the issues, appreciate the doubts and questions those issues can inspire, and who are yet full of faith and devotion to God and His Church. We are happy to listen and happy to share and we don’t condemn, accuse, or belittle people who have honest questions. And you will find us reasonably capable both of us using our brains objectively and approaching spiritual matters spiritually.
Now, do I think that you need to do hundreds of hours of research into each of these issues in order to become secure in your faith and testimony? No, I don’t. Faith comes through agency and testimony comes through evidence. And the fact is that agency can be exercised and evidence can be accumulated independent of exploring criticisms of the Church. However, there is a problem. While a person can have a strong, legitimate faith without being expert in Church criticisms, you run a risk as a parent if you cannot be somewhat conversant on these issues and, perhaps, if you cannot say, “Yes, I am familiar with those things but here are my answers and here is why I am not losing my faith and testimony because of things critical, unpleasant, or unknown.”
Some people feel that the Church’s approach to helping members build faith and testimony has amounted to a betrayal because the Church has not made an open discussion or even rebuttal to these issues part of Church curriculum or Sacrament Meeting talks. Similarly, our children may lose confidence in their parents where they think their parents are unwilling or unable to address a faith-based approach to the issues.
My suggestions tonight are that 1) you become comfortable with your own testimony, 2) that you do so with some familiarity with the issues your children will surely encounter and question in the digital age, and 3) you teach your children a faith-based, thoughtful and honest approach toward spirituality and toward evidence and unknowns.
A couple of years ago, the Church was about to release its essay on Joseph Smith’s polygamy. While our family culture has always invited awareness and questions and I have talked to my kids about various critical topics and they certainly have known that Joseph Smith was a polygamist, I had never spoken with them in any detail about Joseph Smith’s polygamy and about the particularly difficult-to-understand aspects of it. I knew, though, that I wanted them to hear about that from me before they heard about it from someone else and began to feel critical of either my “ignorant faith” or of my “withholding information.” So I gathered them together and we talked about it.
I invite you to understand faith, agency, testimony, evidence, and unknowns and to teach the related principles to your children.
By the way, don’t raise your kids in an overly black-and-white environment. Not all doctrine is settled; answers to both historical and present questions of “why” are often not readily available; people’s motives are not always known; and faith, by definition, includes uncertainty. There must be opposition in all things. Agency matters. All these things indicate that while God will give us spiritual helps (confirmations, etc.), he is still asking us to live by faith including with matters of uncertainty and things that are not entirely known.
Topic 3: Consistent Unearned Love
My third and final topic this evening relates to these pictures…
…both of which focus on the father of the prodigal son. I am particularly fond of the picture on the left. I think that artist captured very well in the father’s face the anxiousness and concern and focus of a father who loves his son and yearns mightily for his happiness. I have long believed that the whole point of the Savior telling that story was to teach us not about the son but about the father because he is a representation of Heavenly Father. We note from this story that the father respected the son’s agency, that he watched for him, and that, at the first sign of his son’s willingness to accept him, the father closed the gap between himself and his son and embraced him.
I wish to emphasize one point. We must not condition our children to believe that God’s love for them and His acceptance of them is conditioned upon their performance. On the contrary, we must help them be receptive to the idea that at their very worst moments of life, including moments of extreme personal shame, embarrassment, and disappointment, their Father in Heaven will love them and accept them in His arms. We will do this by their seeing this type of treatment from us.
When our children do poorly, which, of course, we have all done, whether it is by mistake, poor judgment, or outright rebelliousness, at these moments we need to withhold criticism or any kind of “I told you so!” or “Why didn’t you just listen to me?” or “See! That’s what I’m talking about!” or “Didn’t I warn you?” or all those kinds of things. Instead, they need to find us at their worst moments receptive to them, patient and understanding and empathetic.
When we hug our children and lavish praise on them after they do well and then we distance ourselves from them, perhaps by sending them to their rooms, or stopping talking to them or withholding affection from them when they have done poorly in our eyes, then we are conditioning them to believe that this is how God is, which isn’t true.
At each of our worst moments in life we need the Lord and we need the support of those who love us and whom we should be able to trust to have patience with us. Let us help our children to find safety in us at those tough times just as each of us can find safety in our Heavenly Father and in the Savior at our worst times. By the way, I believe I can say with complete confidence that there are nine bishops in this stake [now 10] along with myself and my counselors who you can trust to be supportive of you and not judgmental and condemning when you have erred. All of us are familiar with our own shortcomings and errors.
So, brothers and sisters, I am suggesting three things tonight:
- Make a priority of nurturing your own faith and testimony.
- Teach your children how to prepare for and handle adversity.
- Help your children discover that your love is not conditioned upon their earning it.
Brothers and Sisters, we have the true gospel. We don’t know everything, but we know the critical things. We do know the path to happiness and peace and wholeness. Parenting is a sacred privilege and it is one of the great schools of mortality. It is certainly tough.
Do not waste time lamenting your shortcomings. It’s good to recognize and acknowledge them and to work on them. But it’s no good to marinade in feelings of inadequacy. Were all inadequate. That goes without saying and it’s just the way it is. I always think of that book, “I’m OK, You’re OK.” We could write one called, “I’m Inadequate, You’re Inadequate. So What?”
We do have a Father in Heaven. He will help us in our inadequacies. He will help us work on or around our shortcomings. He will be with us and magnify our efforts. He loves and cares about your children—His children—with a perfect love and enjoys a perspective of seeing the end and not just the present. The fact that He knows how this ends and is happy must surely tell us something.
God bless you. You are wonderful. Whether listening to Becky and me tonight was worthwhile, your coming speaks very highly of your interest in being a great parent. May the Lord bless you and may you increasingly feel his presence in your life. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Left-Handed Smoke Shifters (and raising our kids)
[Given by Becky Juchau at the Back-to-School Fireside for Parents, August 2016.]
It was the summer of 1984 and I was 16 years old. My sister was the Girls Camp Director at Camp William Penn, a camp in the Pocono mountains for underprivileged children from Philadelphia. One of her counselors needed to leave abruptly before the last 2-week session of camp and I was asked to fill in. A few days after my arrival, our 9- and 10-year-old group went on an overnighter which consisted of walking about a half a mile around the lake, heading into the woods, and camping in tents for the night instead of in the regular cabins. When we had almost arrived at our camp site, the head counselor of my unit asked me to return to the main camp for the forgotten left-handed smoke shifter.
Now, I’ve never been accused of being the sharpest tool in the shed and, remember, I was 16 and the new kid. So I dutifully headed back to camp to retrieve the left-handed smoke shifter from the nurse who’d reportedly had it last. Surprisingly, she didn’t have the left-handed smoke shifter, so she sent me to the Activities Director who sent me to my sister (Benedict Arnold) who sent me to the Head Cook, who finally took pity on me and told me that there was no such thing as a left-handed smoke shifter.
Well, I went to my cabin, laid down on my bunk, and pouted for a while; then returned to the camp site and took my revenge. But that is a story for another day….
So I ask you: What are the left-handed smoke shifters of our day? What are the views the world presents to us as fact and truth, which simply are not?
- “Wealth = happiness.”
- “If you’re busy, you must be important.”
- “You CAN have it all.”
- “You’re an unsuccessful parent if your children can’t read, multiply single-digit numbers, and play the hymns on the piano before they go to kindergarten.”
Tonight I’d like to address one left-handed smoke shifter that I feel we sometimes struggle with as parents in Highland, Utah. It’s the lie that our children need to be good at everything or the best at something; that our main job is to keep them busy, whatever the cost; and that being at home is somehow second best. (So I guess that’s actually three lies!) I think buying into these lies stems from the harmful practice of comparison and the sin of pride—both of which I’m sad to say, I know about first hand!
I know that all families are different. All children are different. Only you can know (with the help of the Holy Ghost) the best way to avoid the worldly lies that you might struggle with. But may I suggest six things we did in the Juchau home to combat those dreaded left-handed smoke shifters. And if you’re tempted to leave feeling depressed or inadequate; please don’t. These are just ideas that you’ll hopefully consider.
Before I begin, let’s be clear. We were not and are not the perfect parents. Here are some painful examples:
How about the time when our daughter Sarah stepped in a hole while playing night games and came home with a swollen toe and a big cut on the bottom of her foot. We looked at it, pronounced her fine, told her to “walk it off” and sent her to Girls State in Cedar City the next day. When she came home a few days later and we finally took her to the doctor (because her foot was oozing, bruised, and still swollen) we found that she had a broken toe and an infection in the cut.
Or the time our daughter Anne left on her mission and Chris and I both sent our emails to her old email account so she didn’t receive an email from either of her parents her first week.
Or the literally hundreds of times I’ve called one of our kids by the wrong name (mostly I got them mixed up with each other, but sometimes I called them Otis, who is the dog).
Or the times we disciplined out of anger.
Or the times I was impatient when one of our normally quiet kids felt like talking—usually around 11:00 at night.
Here’s a note our daughter wrote to us when she was in first grade (she was very precocious).
[“Derar family, I Do Not Want To Give you enethin Agen Bekols No Won Is Paeien Atenchen To Me. From: Emily”]
I don’t know what’s more pathetic: the content of this note or that I think it’s kind of funny.
Here’s another note (from Anne; with each letter glued onto the page separately, serial killer style).
[“DEAR DAD I’M SORRY I HIT Adam IN THE STUMICK! Anne”]
Anne must have spent an hour painstakingly placing all of these stickers. She probably had plenty of time after she was sent to her room for her misbehavior. (Please don’t tell President Scoresby that we sent our kids to their rooms!)
We aren’t the perfect parents. We don’t have perfect children. We didn’t do the following six things perfectly. But we tried to do them (then tried again when we failed) and I think they were all important.
#1: “Quiet time”
Every day before our kids went to school, and also in the summers when they were school age, our family spent one hour a day having quiet time. This was time to nap (for young children) or to quietly play by themselves or to read. Through this practice, our kids learned how to amuse themselves, they learned to be creative, and they learned to recognize that they could be quiet for a little part of each day. It wasn’t a punishment because we started it way before they knew normal people didn’t do it and we were consistent.
The world today has so little peace. Children need to learn how to be reflective and how to be by themselves (and not have to be entertained by electronics!). I found that we even got along better after an hour apart each day. And maybe children have a greater capacity for reverence at church when they spend some regular time being quiet at home.
I recognize that most of us are past the stage of very young children and an official “quiet time” isn’t an option, but I hope you’ll recognize the need for older children to have time to be quiet, too. At the Mt Timpanogos baptistry they encourage all patrons to spend a few moments in the quiet chapel even if the font is empty when they arrive. The temple presidency believes that our youth need time to sit quietly, read the scriptures, and think. I agree.
Psalm 34: 14 says: “…seek peace, and pursue it.”
#2: Family Home Evening
Prophets have been counseling us to have Family Home Evening since 1951—that’s longer than most of us have been alive! It’s hard, I get it! If it was easy, we’d all be perfect at it and we’re not.
My husband is an organized fellow. This is how he handled family home evening assignments for many years.
Every Sunday night this spreadsheet would appear magically on the refrigerator. We would look at our assignments for the following evening and prepare to varying degrees. Sometime after Chris became a bishop, the spreadsheets stopped appearing on the fridge. As time became more limited, our family home evenings became a lot more casual. Now, many years later, with just Adam at home, our family home evenings consist of prayer, a calendar review, a short gospel discussion, and scripture reading. Sometimes we go to a movie or we go bowling. Sometimes we go out for a treat.
Family home evening, no matter how messy or imperfect, teaches our families that we try to follow the prophet. It teaches our families that we have a desire to share testimony and gospel principles with them—that we don’t just rely on the church to instruct us. It shows a commitment to Heavenly Father and His plan.
#3: Read with your children
Some of my most tender moments with my children have happened with a book open in front of us—whether it was snuggling with a toddler at bedtime or reading aloud all day the very first day a new Harry Potter book came out. We read to our children every day and our children read to us every day [when they were young]. Our kids received books as birthday and Christmas gifts.
Jim Trelease wrote The Read-Aloud Handbook which was the text used in my Teaching Reading class at BYU almost 30 years ago. He has since printed six additional editions which include lists of great, current read-aloud books. If you want to know why you should read with your kids, read his book. If you want the short answer, Mr. Trelease writes:
“Students who read the most, read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don’t read much, cannot get better at it.” (readaloud.org)
To those of you who can’t fit your children on your lap anymore, may I suggest setting an example for your older children of reading often and reading varied material. They will learn that you value learning and knowledge and education, all without one parental lecture!
Please read the scriptures together as a family. When you do, you send the message that Heavenly Father and His word are a priority in your family.
#4: Eat dinner together
Those of you who know me well know that around 3:00 every afternoon I am shocked and dismayed to remember that I’m expected to feed people in a few hours. I frankly find it annoying that my family wants to eat every single night and that there should probably be some vegetables involved. Making dinner is not my strength. But I know family dinner time is important. Elder Oaks knows it’s important, too. That’s why he encouraged it in his talk, “Good, Better, Best.”
Researchers have found it to be important, also. Dr Anne Fischel, a family therapist and professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School wrote in 2015,
“For school-age youngsters, regular mealtime is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports, or doing art. Other researchers reported a consistent association between family dinner frequency and teen academic performance.”
She also wrote:
“In most industrialized countries, families don’t farm together, play musical instruments, or stitch quilts on the porch. So dinner is the most reliable way for families to connect and find out what’s going on with each other…. Kids who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and have a better relationship with them….” (Washington Post; January 12, 2015)
It doesn’t matter what you make for dinner or how well you make it. It does matter that you are spending time together talking and laughing and listening; that children are learning how to help with food preparation and clean-up. Which leads me to # 5.
#5: Work together
Elder L. Tom Perry said:
“Teaching children the joy of honest labor is one of the greatest of all gifts you can bestow upon them.” (The Joy of Honest Labor; Oct 1986)
Every family handles work at home differently. Some parents ask their kids to make their beds and have a tidy room before they leave for school every day. Some parents have chore charts. Some parents pay their kids to do jobs and that’s how their kids earn spending money. I’m not sure that there is a right or wrong way to teach your children to work but I do think children should learn to work. They should have responsibilities that contribute to an organized and (at least, relatively) tidy house and yard.
The fundamental reason we’ve had a garden the past sixteen years is to give our kids a job in the summer—we certainly never had any intention of harvesting or actually eating what we grew!
There is nothing better than waking up on an early summer morning and looking out of your back window to see your child squatting over the vegetables, weeding before it gets too hot. Now, to be honest, that only happened a few times over the past sixteen years, but it did happen!
Teaching kids to work is difficult. It takes a lot of consistency and a lot of effort. I’m not suggesting our kids be our slaves and that we make their lives a drudgery, but I am suggesting that unless you were born a Kardashian, you need to learn to work. You need to learn to start and finish something, even if it’s not fun. You need to learn to clean up after yourself. You need to learn to contribute to a household.
Sometimes we think we can do a job better and more quickly than our kids so we just do it ourselves. I have been and still am guilty of this. Make sure you work with your children so you can show them how to get things done.
Sometimes we are quick to hire people to do work in our homes and yards that our children can and should learn to do. We think, “Our kids are too busy.” Or, “We can have more fun as a family if certain chores are hired out.” Or, “We have more money than time.” This is, of course, an individual family matter, as every family’s circumstances differ, but Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:
“Work is always a spiritual necessity even if, for some, work is not an economic necessity.” (Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel; April 1998)
#6: Carefully consider out of home activities
Sometimes we believe the left-handed smoke shifter that says, “If my kids aren’t really busy with lots of worthwhile activities, they’re sure to become overweight, unhealthy, unambitious, couch potatoes who play video games all day and eventually turn to a life of crime!” This kind of frantic and false thinking can come from many sources, all of which lead back to Satan. When deciding which activities are best for your children, ask yourself:
How will this activity benefit my child? Will it benefit our family?
Why do I want my child to participate in this activity?
Is it something I wish I’d gotten to do as a kid, but didn’t?
Am I trying to keep up with what my neighbors are doing?
If I’m completely honest, is my pride dictating this choice?
Will this extra activity cause stress in our home?
Are we already too busy for one more thing?
And maybe the most important questions: Who do I want my child to be and will this activity help him or her become that?
Picking and choosing activities would be a worthwhile discussion in a family council. Be deliberate and careful in your choices and plan well so you have the time and energy to be a family!
Please understand that I’m not against every sports team and music lesson and dance class. The Juchau children were involved in all of those (and more) worthwhile activities. Our kids need lots of opportunities to learn and grow outside of the home. I hope, though, that we can be excellent at “intentional parenting” as Elder Nelson has encouraged, and not just let our kids’ activities run our family lives.
Elder Oaks said:
“The amount of children-and-parent time absorbed in the good activities of private lessons, team sports, and other school and club activities also needs to be carefully regulated. Otherwise, children will be overscheduled, and parents will be frazzled and frustrated. Parents should act to preserve time for family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, and the other precious togetherness and individual one-on-one time that binds a family together and fixes children’s values on things of eternal worth.” (Good, Better, Best; Oct 2007)
And President Uchtdorf said:
“Strength comes not from frantic activity, but from being settled on a firm foundation of truth and light.… It comes from paying attention to the divine things that matter most.” (Of Things That Matter Most; Oct 2010)
What divine things matter most to your family? How can you pay attention to them?
I’ve never been a big fan of the artist, Vincent Van Gogh, but a few years ago my daughter and I visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and I discovered something that made me appreciate him much more. In that beautiful museum, there is a room filled with Van Gogh’s art depicting houses and rooms and people at home. Apparently, he had a bit of a fascination with every day, ordinary home life. He liked to use the Dutch word, “menessesten,” translated into English as “people-nest.” He loved to think of, and paint, families cozy and safe in their homes the way birds find comfort and shelter in their nests. I, too, love that image. Home should be a place where our children find safety and refuge.
I like to think of our homes filled with reading and gospel learning. I like to think of them filled with fun family dinners and a little quiet time. I like to think of our children learning how to work at home. I like to think of us being “intentional parents” and helping our children choose wisely the activities that take us away from home and each other.
Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson said:
“All of us—women, men, youth, and children, single or married—can work at being homemakers. We should make our homes places of order, refuge, holiness, and safety. Our homes should be places where the Spirit of the Lord is felt in rich abundance and where the scriptures and the gospel are studied, taught, and lived. What a difference it would make in the world if all people would see themselves as makers of righteous homes. Let us defend the home as a place which is second only to the temple in holiness.” (Defenders of the Family Proclamation; April 2015)
I pray that this school year and always, we will find ways to make our homes holy. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Three Keys to Happy Relationships
A year or two ago, we administered an anonymous, on-line survey in the Highland 22nd ward among the adults. 62 people responded, including 25 men and 37 women. Most had been married between 10 and 25 years, but some less and some more – and a few not at all.
In the survey, we asked five questions, including these three for which they had to come up with their own answers:
- If I had a daughter, I would advise her to look for the following 1-3 characteristics in a potential husband.
- If I had a son, I would advise him to look for the following 1-3 characteristics in a potential wife.
- I appreciate these three things the most in my spouse.
After tallying up the answers and identifying the top three responses to each of the questions, it was interesting to note that all three questions yielded the exact same top three answers. The more I have thought about those three things, the more profound they have become to me – their simplicity contributing greatly to their profundity. It you want to be a good spouse, you should (in no particular order, according to our survey):
- Be nice
- Be committed
- Be productive
Recently I’ve wondered if these aren’t also three critical keys to being a good parent. I’m fond of thinking that parenting might be best measured using the same yardstick Preach My Gospel promotes for measuring missionaries – by our commitment to bringing souls to Christ. The three ideas of being nice (including a whole host of kindness-related attributes), being committed (to Christ; and also to our families), and being productive (demonstrating our commitment through discipline and hard work) seem like three important ways we can help our children know and love the Savior.
Here’s a quick look at what these three things do and don’t look like. Without beating yourself up about your imperfections (seriously! my goodness, ladies, give yourself a break – God does!), ask yourself if being better at something here wouldn’t improve your effectiveness as a spouse or parent (or probably fill in the blank for any other relationship).
Being nice looks like:
- Being patient
- Showing interest in their interests
- Being gentle
- Being affectionate
- Acting happy to be with the person
- Pulling your weight
Being nice does not look like:
- Being critical or sarcastic
- Using harsh language
- Ignoring people or being non-communicative
- Being manipulative or controlling – even with kids
Being committed looks like:
- Acting as well at home as we do at church
- Worshipping privately
- Attending the Saturday evening session of stake conference (and similar)
- Serving in callings; loving those we serve; and magnifying the calling
Being committed does not look like:
- Putting anything else in our lives ahead of the Savior, his gospel, and his church
- Worldliness, including the pursuit of things or excessive emphasis on our own appearance
- Selfishness or a lack of humility
Being productive looks like:
- Being busy / “anxiously engaged”
- On the things that matter to the Lord
- And that matter to our spouses and children
Being productive does not look like:
- Watching T.V.
- Living an unordered life in an unordered home
- Over-indulgence in hobbies and personal interests
- Being the person who never shows up to help someone move or clean their home
The Savior showed us these three things. Living prophets today also demonstrate them. The better we are at them, the better our relationships can be. And relationships are everything. Don’t you think?