I speak all the time for Power of Moms, but I'm always careful to only include the most generic references to my faith so as to be inclusive (as I'm usually speaking to people from many walks of life and want to focus on principles that are universally applicable without throwing in any lingo that might not be familiar to some people). It was so nice to be able to share my feelings about families as related to my specific religious convictions - and I think much of what I shared applies to all families regardless of their religion or preference to not be part of a religion.
Anyway, here's the talk in case you're interested. And I'll get those other posts up one of these days (I've been working like crazy on this big online Mom Conference that Power of Moms is co-hosting in October plus working on Joy School - got a sale on Joy School going on until midnight tonight in case you're interested. Kids go back to school on Monday and then maybe, just maybe, I can get my feet back under me again! But I sure will miss them. Summer seemed so short this year!)
Becoming Goodly ParentsI was asked to talk to you today about an address that Elder L. Tom Perry gave in the October 2012 conference called “Becoming Goodly Parents.” I’ve so appreciated the opportunity over this past week to really think about what I am doing as a parent and what more I can and should be doing. I’ve also enjoyed reflecting back on what I learned from my own “goodly parents” and recognizing what a huge difference “goodly parents” have made in my life.
Elder Perry points out that “The first instruction to Adam for his mortal responsibility is found in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
God went on to command Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply.
So the very first act that was performed on the earth was a marriage and the start of a family! Clearly, marriage and family is of utmost importance to our Heavenly Father. And isn’t it interesting that out of all the titles he could have asked us to call Him, God chose for us to call him our Heavenly Father. This shows us that God puts his role as our Father above all else.
Elder Perry goes on to explain:
“Lessons taught in the home by goodly parents are becoming increasingly important in today’s world, where the influence of the adversary is so widespread...Parents must resolve that teaching in the home is a most sacred and important responsibility. While other institutions such as church and school can assist parents to “train up a child in the way he [or she] should go” (Proverbs 22:6), this responsibility ultimately rests on the parents. According to the great plan of happiness, it is goodly parents who are entrusted with the care and development of Heavenly Father’s children.”
“In our remarkable parental stewardship, there are many ways that goodly parents can access the help and support they need to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to their children. Let me suggest five things parents can do to create stronger family cultures:
First, parents can PRAY in earnest, asking our Eternal Father to help them love, understand, and guide the children He has sent to them.
I know that when I pray with real intent about specific concerns I have about my children and take my ideas to the Lord for confirmation, I am a much better mother.
2. Parents can fully avail themselves of the CHURCH’S SUPPORT NETWORK, communicating with their children’s Primary teachers, youth leaders, and class and quorum presidencies. By communicating with those who are called and set apart to work with their children, parents can provide essential understanding of a child’s special and specific needs.
3. Parents can SHARE THEIR TESTIMONIES often with their children, commit them to keep the commandments of God, and promise the blessings that our Heavenly Father promises His faithful children.
I have such fond memories of the testimony meetings we had each fast Sunday as a family when I was growing up. After church, we’d gather in the living room and everyone had a chance to bear their testimony. In this more intimate setting, we felt comfortable sharing the feelings of our hearts with our family members. I loved that I got to hear my parents bear their testimonies every single month. Plus they bore their testimonies in less formal ways all the time through their actions and as they read scriptures with us and said prayers with us and taught us in Family Home Evening.
4. Parents can hold FAMILY PRAYER, SCRIPTURE STUDY, and FAMILY HOME EVENINGS and EAT TOGETHER as often as possible, making dinner a time of communication and the teaching of values.
5. Parents can organize their families based on clear, simple family rules and expectations, wholesome family traditions and rituals, and “family economics,” where children have household responsibilities and can earn allowances so that they can learn to budget, save, and pay tithing on the money they earn.
These suggestions for creating stronger family cultures work in tandem with the culture of the Church. Our strengthened family cultures will be a protection for our children from “the fiery darts of the adversary” (1 Nephi 15:24) embedded in their peer culture, the entertainment and celebrity cultures, the credit and entitlement cultures, and the Internet and media cultures to which they are constantly exposed. Strong family cultures will help our children live in the world and not become “of the world” (John 15:19).
To explain a bit more about what it means to have a strong family culture, Elder Perry shared excerpts of a letter he wrote to his Mother on Mother’s Day 1945 from his marine outpost on the island of Saipan in the Pacific during World War II. The letter demonstrates how much he valued not only the physical comfort that his parents lovingly provided but also the family culture that his parents built.
“For the last four years I have had the great misfortune of spending Mother’s Day away from you. Each year I have wanted to be with you and tell you just how I love you and how much I think of you, but since it is once again impossible, I will have to do the next best thing and send my thoughts through the mail.
“This year more than any of the others I can see just what having a wonderful mother has done for me. First of all, I miss the little things you used to do for me. Whenever I got out of bed in the morning, I never had to worry about whether I’d find a clean shirt and clean socks. All that I had to do is open a drawer, and I would find them. At mealtime I always knew that I would find something I liked, prepared the best way possible. At night I always knew that I would find clean sheets on my bed and just the right amount of covers to keep me very comfortable. Living at home was really a great pleasure.”
Sometimes it takes having to live without certain things to really come to appreciate them! His letter continues:
“But deeper is the feeling for you because of the example you set for me. Life was made so enjoyable for us as a family that we wanted to follow in your footsteps, to continue on through experiencing the same joy that had been ours in our younger days. You always found time to take the family into the canyon, and we could count on you to do anything from climbing mountains to playing ball with us. Now that I am away from home, I always like to talk about my home life because it was so enjoyable. I couldn’t turn from your teachings now because my actions would reflect on your character. Life is a great challenge to me to be worthy to be called the son of Nora Sonne Perry. I am very proud of this title, and I hope that I will always be worthy of it.
“I hope that next year finds me with you to show you the good time I have been planning to show you on Mother’s Day for the past four years.
“May the Lord bless you for all the wonderful things you have done for this troubled world.
“All my love, Tom”1
Through this letter and throughout his talk, Elder Perry helps us see that it is not only important to provide for our family’s physical needs, it is also important to create our own special family culture that involves fun things that we do together as well as regular practices that bind our hearts and help us learn and grow. I especially loved hearing Elder Perry mention that his parents took them up into the mountains and played ball with him. These kinds of family activities are important alongside family scripture study, family prayer, family dinner time and going to church each week together as a family. I know that some of our greatest family bonding experiences have come through hikes up the canyon, simple after-dinner walks around our neighborhood, or through simple activities like playing football together on the beach at Bear Lake yesterday when we were up there for part of Girls Camp.
Building a strong family culture doesn’t need to involve elaborate traditions or fancy vacations. In fact, time and time again, we find as parents that the things our children remember and cherish the most are the kind of very simple things that Elder Perry mentioned in his letter to his mother. Our children will remember the feeling of warmth and security in their home. They’ll appreciate the laundry we did for them and the meals we prepared for them once they have to start doing that for themselves. And the times we laugh together and play together will bind our hearts together and make us actually WANT to be together forever as a family!
I’d like to focus the bulk of my talk on the regular traditions that our leaders have instructed us to have in our homes - family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, family dinners. We’ve all heard that these practices are important time and time again. And we may have tried and felt like we’ve failed with some of these things. As our children zone out or bounce around the room while we try to read scriptures or as they grumble about family dinner or family home evening or as we try to cram in a rushed family prayer, we might feel like our efforts are in vain. But they matter. We may not do a perfect job with scriptures or prayer or family home evening or family dinner. But if we do our very best and keep trying things different ways and turn to the Lord for guidance about how to make things work better, we will teach our children important habits and have opportunities to find many important teaching moments. Plus these regular activities offer us daily opportunities to capitalize on teaching moments and strengthen family relationships.
In the end, our children may not remember a whole lot of specifics about what they learned during family scripture study or what they discussed at family dinner or what was covered in family home evening, but they’ll remember the feeling and they’ll remember the pattern and relationships will be strengthened.
I remember that my parents tried lots of different ways of doing family scripture study and family prayer and family home evening. Some of the ideas worked. Some did not. But the important thing was that they kept trying.
I remember we struggled to have consistent family scripture study growing up and tried lots of different times of the day. We had family scripture study at 6:54 every morning when I was in high school (my parents picked 6:54 because they thought a specific and sort of odd time involving descending numbers would be easier to remember - and they were right - I still remember it!). I remember that as my mom or dad would read, the younger kids in their PJ’s snuggled with their blankets and sort of fell back asleep while my parents tried to keep us older kids engaged by having everyone read one verse. I don’t remember anything specific that I learned in our family scripture study. But I remember that we read scriptures together and I remember feeling the Spirit as we did plus feeling the happy warmth of family time.
I remember that Family Home evening was often chaotic and that for several years, we had it on Sundays instead of Mondays because it ended up working better that way. I only really remember one family home evening lesson in particular. One time my parents were teaching us about the Holy Ghost and they had one of us pretend to be the Holy Ghost and then had a few of us pretend to fight. Then the kid pretending to be the Holy Ghost ran away. Then they had a few of us pretend to read scriptures together and the kid pretending to be the Holy Ghost came and sat down by us with a smile on his face. Out of hundreds and hundreds of family home evenings, this is the only one I can readily recall - and it really helped shape my understanding of the Holy Ghost.
I remember that dinner time was a serious thing in my family growing up. With 9 children and two busy parents, it was tricky scheduling a time for dinner when everyone could be there. But very nearly every day of the week, we had dinner together (sometimes at 5pm, sometimes at 7pm, depending on the day!). We discussed the best and worst things that had happened to each of us that day (our sweet and sour), we’d learn the definition of a new word or work on memorizing a scripture, and often my parents had us stand up and give one-minute speeches about some random topic like doorknobs or what would be the coolest family vacation (being speakers themselves, they wanted to start us early!). But ultimately, the exact content of our dinnertime conversations and activities wasn’t important. What was important was that we were together and we were learning from each other and building our own unique family culture.
I remember kneeling on the floor together every evening to pray before family dinner. I remember my parents praying with us individually at bedtime and often reminding us to pray with real intent and to avoid vain repetitions. I remember that as teenagers, whenever one of us was heading out the door on a date or to work, whichever parent was handy would call whoever happened to be around to come join in a quick “huddle prayer” where we’d stand together in a circle with our arms around each other and pray for safety and for the Holy Ghost to be with the person who was heading out the door. I remember my dad giving us father’s blessings on or around our birthdays each year and giving us blessings as a family whenever he let on a business trip. I remember that before each blessing from my father, my mother would offer a prayer, inviting the Spirit to be with us and to send the right words to my father’s head and heart so that he could pronounce the blessing Heavenly Father would have him pronounce.
While I couldn’t tell you the exact details of what I was taught and when I learned it, and while we weren’t totally consistent, and while sometimes family time involved sheer chaos, I know that each family scripture study and family dinner time and family home evening and family prayer and priesthood blessing was a small rock in the foundation of my understanding of the gospel and the foundation of my relationships with my eternal family. And thanks to all the hard work my parents did, my foundation has been able to hold up to all the crazy stuff that life throws my way. And now my husband and I are working to build that same foundation for our children.
I know that as we work to build our family cultures as directed by our church leaders and as directed by God and as we pray for guidance to know what sort of scripture study and family prayer and family dinner and family evening would be the best for our unique family, we will find great joy and we’ll be able to set our children up for happiness and success in life. In our family, we are far from perfect with our family scripture study and family prayer and family home evening and family dinner time, in fact we’ve been off-track quite a bit this summer. But I think our children can see that these things are important and that we’re trying. And with school schedules starting up again, we’ll get back on track now!
Our Heavenly Father is there to help. These are HIS children. He wants nothing more than the success and happiness of each of our families. But we have to reach his reaching and do our part. And when things don’t work out the way we wanted them to work out, we need to tweak what we’re doing and try again.
I wish you the very best as you build your family culture and keep working towards becoming the goodly parent that God needs you to be.