"Strengthen Home and Family"
Susan W. Tanner
Young Women General President
years ago after general conference, we asked our children what they had
liked about conference. Our then 16-year-old daughter was elated. She
said, “I loved it! I loved hearing inspired,
intelligent prophets and leaders affirm motherhood.” Then she told
us that this was one of the disturbing anxieties in her life. “We
just don’t hear it from anyone—not at seminary, not in Young
Women, and definitely not at school, nowhere except at home.” I
don’t know if her experience is similar to other young women, but
I suspect that it is. I know that for some time it has not been vogue
for women or young women to extol the virtues of motherhood or to express
the desires of their hearts to be mothers.
I particularly noticed this a few weeks ago when
I met with a group of about 20 Laurels whom I had never met. I asked
them what their goals were. The first few mentioned educational goals
like getting a PhD in biology; some said they would like to go on a mission—all
worthy goals. Finally one girl timidly expressed the desire to be a mother
and have children. Then a few more girls talked about other goals. After
one more girl mentioned motherhood, the rest of them hopped on board.
But it was quite courageous for those first two girls to admit they wanted
to be mothers. And this was in a very safe setting.
Besides the fact that admitting this may set the
girl up for ridicule, it may also set her up for failure. She may feel
that this is a goal that she doesn’t have the control to achieve,
which may make her feel vulnerable in stating it. It is also a goal that
requires great unselfishness; it may require setting aside other more
glamorous goals. I am sensitive to the many issues facing our young women,
but I still feel that I must teach eternal principles.
One day when our presidency was first called, we
were meeting with one of our priesthood advisers. He asked us about our
vision for young women. Among other things, we said that we want to help
them prepare for their future roles. He waited expectantly for us to
say more. Finally he said to us, “Then why don’t you say
it? Just say the 'M' word—motherhood. You must be
bold about it. The young women and their leaders need to hear it. They
hear it from the world, so they must hear it from you.”
I went back and read those talks that inspired
our daughter. I also read President Kimball’s talks from the first
general women’s meetings, President Benson’s and President
Hinckley’s talks to women and young women, and other talks from
our prophets. The beautiful truths from these talks are now carefully
stated in the historical proclamation to the world on the family.
I am elated, as was our daughter, to be affirmed
and strengthened in my roles by wise, loving apostles and prophets. I
have memorized every word of that proclamation because I want to understand
it better, to think more deeply about its meaning, and to have those
words in me so I can express doctrine correctly and testimony articulately
whenever I need to.
In a recent training session, Sister Dalton encountered
a brother who kept raising his hand and verbally disagreeing with everything
she said. She told of the importance of using our Young Women programs
to prepare our girls to go to the temple and to become wives, mothers,
and homemakers. Again he opposed her. At that moment the words from the
proclamation on the roles of fathers and mothers came to her mind and
a warmth filled her body as she said them and added her testimony to
the truth of that statement. Her witness of those sacred truths filled
the room with the Spirit and dispelled any further opposition.
Listen to the power of these words from the proclamation: “By
divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and
righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life
and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible
for the nurture of the children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers
and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners” (“The
Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995,
102). Fathers have the huge responsibility to preside, provide, and protect.
Mothers have the sacred responsibility to nurture. What a rich word is nurture,
meaning to train, to educate, to foster development, to promote growth,
and to nourish or feed as in the Savior’s injunction,“Feed
my sheep” (John 21:16). And then together as fathers and mothers
we support and help one another.
So today I would like to affirm motherhood, to
talk about the beautiful recent addition to our Young Women themeto “be
prepared to strengthen home and family.” I want you to hear it
from me, and I hope your young women will hear it from you. Here are
five things we must teach them: (1) We must teach them how to strengthen
their current homes and families. (2) We must prepare them with skills,
both temporal and spiritual, that will bless their future homes. (3)
We must inspire them to want to be wonderful wives, mothers, and homemakers.
(4) We must help them have the courage to face a world which is desecrating
families and family values. (5) We must emphasize the eternal responsibility
and privilege of motherhood and help them understand that each of them
will make a home and influence children whether or not they have the
opportunity to marry in this life. We must make sure that they know that
their righteous womanly role in the home is, as President Hinckley said, “the
one bright shining hope in a world that is marching toward self-destruction.” “When
you save a girl, you save generations” (“Standing Strong
and Immovable,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan.
10, 2004, 20).
Let me discuss these five points.
We must teach young women how to strengthen their current homes
What a blessing the newest phrase in the Young
Women theme is for us, to remind us of this most important duty. All
families, from the best to the most troubled, are in need of strengthening.
Elder Robert D. Hales said, “If we think other families don’t
have any difficulties or any problems, we just don’t know them
well enough” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1993, 10; or Ensign,
Nov. 1993, 10). He further said, “If the example we have received
from our parents was not good, it is our responsibility to break the
cycle. . . . Each person can learn a better way and in so doing bless
the lives of family members now and teach correct traditions for the
generations that follow” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1993, 10–11;
or Ensign, Nov. 1993, 10). We need to encourage girls to turn
to their mothers and fathers not only to receive help but to give help.
Our young women can encourage family prayer, family
scripture study, and regular family home evenings. I know one happy Laurel
who always brought the family together for these activities with her
ebullient spirit. The Personal Progress goals encourage young women to
support their families in these activities.
Several of our general board members grew up in
homes with parents who were less active in the Church. One of them had
a very wise Young Women leader who counseled her to be with her family
when they did recreational things on Sunday but to maintain her personal
standards. So if they went to a swimming club, she would go with them
to visit with them, but she herself would not go swimming. She was able
to build a tender relationship with them.
I know a young woman who ruefully saw her brother
associating with the wrong group of friends. After praying fervently
for him one night, she followed an impression to pick him up from the
party he was attending. She drove around with him for some time just
talking to him about who he was as a member of their family and who he
was as a member of Heavenly Father’s family and of his responsibility
to honor those identities. He was able to turn things around in his life,
partially because of the love of his sister.
Youth often feel lonely or isolated either socially
or spiritually. Friendships and close ties with their brothers and sisters
are the best antidote. One teenager was rejected by a group of girls
at her school. Her brothers and sisters eased her sorrow by including
her in their activities and giving her extra doses of love.
All these are examples of young women who strengthened
their current homes and families. When young people serve their families,
they receive faith and hope and strength in their own lives. Serving
families is a way of covenant keeping, and covenant keeping reaps the
promised blessing of having the Spirit in our lives. So to reiterate
the first point, we must help our young women begin where they are, in
whatever kind of family they are in, to strengthen their homes and families.
We must prepare young women with skills, both temporal and spiritual,
that will bless their future homes.
When I think about preparation, I think of Captain
Moroni. He was a master at preparing his people, both temporally and
spiritually. He prepared them in three ways: he fortified their cities
as places of refuge (Alma
49:4); he prepared soldiers with strong armor (Alma
43:19); and he prepared the minds and hearts of the people by strengthening
their ideals and resolves (Alma
How do we fortify our girls? Like Moroni’s
people, they need places of refuge from the world in the home and Church.
They need minds and hearts strengthened with faith, testimony, and knowledge
of who they are. And they need to be armed with the temporal and spiritual
skills that will prepare them to go out into the world and establish
strong, righteous homes. I believe that one way we can arm our girls
spiritually is to give them temporal skills, or talents. We know that
to the Lord, all things are spiritual. As He tells us in Doctrine
and Covenants 29:34, “I say unto you that all things unto me
are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which
An example which illustrates this is cooking. If
a young woman learns how to cook delicious, nutritious meals, she will
acquire skills to bless her future family, not only temporally but spiritually.
Cooking skills can provide young women a way to create enticing times
in her home where people gather to talk and to bond with each other.
Cooking skills provide a chance for important spiritual things to happen
in a family. Sister Janette Hales Beckham thought of her dinner table
as a place where the family gathered not just for physical nourishment
but for spiritual food. Those who learn to make homemade meals have a
skill that can help them also make good homes.
Homemaking skills are becoming a lost art. I worry
about this. When we lose the home-makers in a society, we create an emotional
homelessness much like street homelessness, with similar problems of
despair, lack of self-esteem, drugs, and immorality. In a publication
called The Family in America, Bryce Christensen discusses this
issue. He writes that the number of homeless people on the street “does
not begin to reveal the scope of homelessness in America. For since when
did the word home signify merely physical shelter, or homelessness merely
the lack of such shelter? . . . Home [signifies] not only shelter, but
also emotional commitment, security, and belonging. Home has connoted
not just a necessary roof and warm radiator, but a place sanctified by
the abiding ties of wedlock, parenthood, and family obligation; a place
demanding sacrifice and devotion, but promising loving care and warm
acceptance” (“Homeless America: What the Disappearance of
the American Homemaker Really Means,” The Family in America, vol.
17, no. 1, Jan. 2003, 1).
So we must teach homemaking skills, including practical
ones like cooking, sewing, budgeting, and beautifying. We must let young
women know that homemaking skills are honorable and can help them spiritually
as well as temporally. Making a home appealing physically will encourage
loved ones to want to be there. The temporal preparation is spiritual
to the Lord, for it will create the kind of atmosphere that is conducive
to the Spirit.
In such an atmosphere, spiritual skills like peacemaking
and selflessness will be more readily learned. Surely the Lord’s
pattern for preparing His temples is the pattern we should follow in
our homes: “Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and
establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house
of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a
house of God” (D&C
88:119). Using any talents, practical or spiritual, for the purpose
of making a home will invite the Spirit into your home.
Sunday lessons, Mutual, and Personal Progress are
all programs that provide times and ways to teach these necessary lessons.
I hope we will use the rich resources of our Relief Society sisters to
help us. I think you all know my own personal story as a Laurel adviser.
These young women had one year until they would be out in the world on
their own. I reminded them of that and then asked them what they still
needed to know to be ready for that independence. From their list of
needs—balancing a checkbook, applying for colleges and jobs, cooking
something besides cookies, and so forth—we planned our Mutual activities.
I no longer had any problems with attendance because we were preparing
in the ways the young women needed to fulfill their important future
roles. As we worked together to learn new skills, I could see that in
the process of learning the temporal skills, some of the spiritual ones
were developing simultaneously. There was more genuine friendship and
concern for one another. Mothers told me that the spiritual tenor of
their homes improved as they shared some of their newfound skills.
I witnessed a beautiful example of a ward in Oklahoma
who used Mutual and Sunday lessons to teach an important life skill that
could bless their current and future homes and their communities. As
they taught the skill of sign language, another skill developed within
the girls. They started reaching out to someone in need, giving selfless
service. Alexis, a hearing-impaired girl, would soon be entering Young
Women as a Beehive. The Young Women president had been earnestly praying
about how to best help her. In a vivid dream one night, she saw all of
the girls signing the Young Women theme to Alexis. She knew what she
was supposed to do.
Even though she knew no sign language, she began
the task of learning it and teaching it to the girls. It was a huge effort,
taking several months to learn. On Alexis’s birthday she came to
Young Women for the first time. Her mother was by her side to interpret
for her. The Young Women president said to her in sign, “Will you
and your mother please come up. We have a surprise for you.” Then
every young woman and leader signed the theme as they said it. The Spirit
was so strong because the silent message rang out loud and clear that
she was one of them. Everyone had a small taste of loving like the Savior
loves. They liked the way it felt.
This triggered continued learning and continued
service. Some of the girls learned more sign language so they could better
serve Alexis by interpreting for her at camp and in meetings and be her
communicating friend at school.
Then the priests in the ward wanted to be part
of this, so they learned the sacrament prayers in sign language. Alexis’s
mother told us this incident: “One of the young men learned the
sacrament prayers. The first week that he did it his father caught me
after sacrament meeting and said, ‘Would you have my son do that
all the time?’ And I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘There
has been such a different spirit in our home this week as our son has
practiced the sacrament prayers. He has been practicing an ordinance.
He has felt the Spirit as he has done it. And our whole family has benefitted.
So we want him to do it every week.’ ”
I learned many good lessons from the experiences
of this ward. The Young Women leaders followed the promptings of the
Spirit to know how to meet the needs of one young woman. They included
all of the young women in the solution to their dilemma. They taught
a practical, or temporal, skill, which in the process helped the girls
in their spiritual development as well. Mutual was profitably used each
week to reach their goal. When this skill was put into practice, it served
and blessed another person. The young women tasted the sweetness of service,
the sweetness of the Spirit.
To reiterate, this is what we as leaders must do.
We must prepare the young women with practical skills and spiritual skills
that will bless their future homes.
We must inspire the young women to want to be wonderful wives,
mothers, and homemakers.
The two most powerful tools we have to inspire
our young women are (1) our examples and (2) our sincere words.
Again we can pattern our leadership after
Moroni’s. One of the ways he taught the people best was through
his own example. He wanted them to be firm in their faith in Christ.
They knew what that meant because they could see him live with faith
in Christ. “Moroni was a strong and a mighty man; he was a man
of a perfect understanding; yea, a man that did not delight in bloodshed;
a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, . . . a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, . . . a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people, . . . a man who was firm in the faith of Christ” (Alma
48:11–13). He was a marvelous example in every way for his
people. Somehow, when we can see it done, we know how to do it better
I’ve seen many inspirational Young Women
leaders who exemplify living their roles with nobility and joy. I remember
the powerful example of my Laurel adviser, who was faithful in rearing
her children in the Church even though her husband was inactive. I know
a young woman whose parents weren’t active in the Church. She was
very impressionable and teachable and learned well from the examples
of her leaders. She learned to fast and how to hold family home evening
by participating with her teachers in these activities.
My best and most consistent example in learning
the joys of homemaking and mothering was my own mother. She told me many
times every day how much she treasured being a mother and homemaker,
and then she lived those words in every action. She sang as she folded
laundry; she rejoiced in shelling tender green peas from the garden;
she exulted over the clean smell in a freshly scrubbed bathroom; she
taught me how to read and write, sew and cook, love and serve. She treasured
each of her children individually and taught us and affirmed us. She
worked selflessly and tirelessly and always had the temple as her model
of an ideal home. Because she emanated the Spirit and His fruits of love,
joy, peace, meekness, long-suffering and temperance, I felt it, and I
knew I wanted the same things in my life. Her example continues to mean
everything to me and still teaches me on a daily basis.
I want all of you to know the great joy I feel
in being a mother, wife, and homemaker. We should express it often and
live with that joy in our actions and countenances.
We must help the young women have the courage to face a world
which is desecrating families and family values.
When I was having children, nurses and doctors
boldly told me to stop after our first two children were born, and even
strangers in the grocery store offered their unsolicited opinions about
my family decisions. But that opposition seems like nothing compared
to the challenges facing our young women now.
Same-gender attraction, abortion, cohabitation,
divorce, immorality, and violence are issues that are screaming in our
faces at every turn. It has been somewhat alarming to me recently to
feel the full fury of Satan’s attack on families.
Even though I feel alarm, I do not feel fear. Fear
is the opposite of faith. Paul told Timothy that “God hath not
given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound
I feel faith in Jesus Christ and in His restored
gospel upon the earth. I feel empowered by the truths of the gospel succinctly
stated in the family proclamation. It takes a stand on each of the issues
I just mentioned, as well as others. Listen:
Same-gender attraction: “Gender
is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and
eternal identity and purpose. . . . We further declare that God has
commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed
only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.”
Abortion: “We affirm the
sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.”
between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan.”
Divorce: “Husband and
wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and
for their children.”
Immorality: “We warn that
individuals who violate covenants of chastity . . . will one day stand
accountable before God.”
Violence: “We warn that
individuals who . . . abuse spouse or offspring . . . will
one day stand accountable before God.” (“The
Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov.
Not only do I feel strengthened by these truths,
I feel so loved by a wise and all-knowing Father in Heaven who has blessed
us with prophets and apostles to guide this Church. I am so grateful
for a personal assurance that we are His children. We are numbered to
Him. He knows us by name. If our young women can know of His love, if
they can be embedded in the truths of the gospel, they will not fear.
We are taught that “if ye are prepared ye
shall not fear” (D&C
38:30). President Packer promised us that our youth could grow up
without fear and with happiness in these trying times if they are prepared
with strong testimonies. He said: “They need not fear. We need
not fear. Fear is the opposite of faith. I have been in the councils
of the Church and seen many things. I have seen disappointment and shock
and concern. Never once have I seen any fear. Our youth can look forward
with hope for a happy life. They shall marry and raise families in the
Church and teach their little ones what you have taught them. They, in
turn, will teach their children and their grandchildren” (“The
One Pure Defense,” [address given to CES seminary and institute
teachers, Feb. 6, 2004], 6).
With strong testimonies of the gospel and a firm
knowledge of eternal doctrines, our young women will have the courage
to face a world that is desecrating families.
We must emphasize the eternal responsibility and privilege of
motherhood and help young women understand that each of them will make
a home and influence children whether or not they have the opportunity
to marry in this life.
In the premortal realm, men and women had full
equality as Heavenly Father’s spirit children; however our roles
and assignments were different. These differences are eternal differences.
Men were given the responsibilities of fatherhood and priesthood, while
women were given the roles of motherhood and sisterhood. The proclamation
states that “each [human being] is a beloved spirit son or
daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature
and destiny” (“The
Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995,
Women of God will live to bless and influence the
lives of others. This is our assignment, whether or not we have the opportunity
to marry in this life. My cousin Carrie was a sterling example of a single
sister who was a happy, generous, loving woman, blessing all with whom
she associated. She was killed in an automobile accident when she was
in her late 30s, but her final act of goodness prior to her untimely
death was finishing scrapbooks (or mini life histories) for each of her
nieces and nephews. She was fulfilling her mission to the degree that
she could within her opportunities.
President Kimball talked about the influence of
strong women of God upon the world. He said: “Much of the major
growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because
many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner
sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers.
This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness
and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of
the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from
the women of the world” (“The
Role of Righteous Women,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 103–4).
We are distinct and different in happy ways because
we know who we are eternally. I appreciated a wonderful talk on motherhood
by Sister Sheri Dew. It was not only powerful in its doctrine, but it
was also powerful in its delivery, because she is a single woman who
understands and believes the doctrine that we are all divinely appointed
to these womanly roles of mothering and nurturing. So the fifth point
is that we must emphasize to the girls the eternal nature of their calling
to motherhood and sensitively teach them to fulfill their calling within
their earthly opportunities.
Now a word of praise for you wonderful leaders.
I’ve thought a lot about the mantle you carry as you are set apart
to lead. It feels very real to me as I watch the little miracles you
perform. I recently reread that little section in 2
Kings 2:8–15, where the prophet Elijah’s mantle falls
upon Elisha. Before Elijah was taken up in a chariot of fire, he said
to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away
from thee.” The one request of Elisha was “let a double portion
of thy spirit be upon me.” And when the sons of the prophets saw
him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha.” So
he was blessed with that request, and that is what the mantle is—the
Spirit. When I see the great work you do, I think it is a double portion
of the Spirit that is upon Young Women workers.
I know you need the Spirit in your busy roles.
I hope that the Spirit will help you know how to simplify. By that I
mean to spend what valuable time you do have with the important things.
Teach principles and doctrines. Give love. Be examples. Make your teaching
appealing and as simple as possible. Think again of the Oklahoma ward.
Many Mutual activities were spent learning to sign. There were no bells
and whistles, but look at the important and ongoing results.
While what we are doing with young women now is
crucial to saving this world, what we are doing with our eternal callings
is of even greater importance. We also carry a mantle for our callings
as wives, mothers, and homemakers. We need to call upon the Lord for
a double portion of His Spirit to be with us in these eternal roles.
Our homes may be our last and only place of refuge, as our prophets are
Recently I sought refuge in the home of my parents.
Soon after I was called to this position I visited my parents. They are
serving as the temple president and matron of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple.
Though the home they live in is lovely in every way, it is not the home
of my early years, nor does it have any particular nostalgic memories
for me. But as I entered that home that night after a long day of travel
and a few long weeks of feeling overwhelmed, I knew I had come home.
Home was not just a place but a feeling. I had come home to love, to
nurturing, to comfort, to wisdom, to good conversation, to humor, to
rest, and even to my favorite homemade soup. I spent a couple of days
being renewed and buoyed up in ways that happen best at home. Although
my parents were carrying the mantle of their calling to serve in the
temple, they did not forget their more important calling—that of
parenthood. I am pleading with you to be exemplary leaders but not to
neglect your home responsibilities.
As I sought refuge in my parents’ home in
historic Nauvoo, the city of Joseph, my thoughts quite naturally turned
to the Prophet Joseph Smith. I remembered that after the most glorious
heavenly vision of this dispensation had occurred, this 14-year-old young
man went home. He returned to a sanctuary of love, acceptance, and understanding.
His mother, who was sensitive to her son’s spirit, asked him what
was the matter. She sensed something. He knew the climate was right for
him to confide in her. She believed him. As the word got out, though,
others persecuted him, and his home truly became his sanctuary amid storm
It is through the Prophet Joseph Smith that the
Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ occurred. Because of that Restoration,
we have the priesthood again upon the earth. It is through that priesthood
that we have all of the ordinances to bind and seal us as families. And
those binding ordinances build the foundation for homes where we can
find refuge from the storms.
President Boyd K. Packer said to seminary and institute
teachers recently: “The very purpose for the Restoration centers
on the sealing authority, the temple ordinances, baptism for the dead,
eternal marriage, eternal increase—centers on the family!
“The Lord placed the responsibility upon
parents first, saying: ‘Inasmuch as parents have children in Zion . . . that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith
in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the
Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin
be upon the heads of the parents. . . .
“ ‘And they shall also teach their
children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord’ (D&C
“There is ‘the shield of faith wherewith’ the
Lord said ‘ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the
“This shield of faith is handmade in a cottage
industry. What is most worth doing ideally is done at home. It can be
polished in the classroom, but it is fabricated and fitted in the home,
handcrafted to each individual.
“Many do not have support in the family.
When that shield is not provided at home, we must, and we can, build
it. You and the leaders and teachers then become the first line of defense” (“The
One Pure Defense,” [address given to CES seminary and institute
teachers, Feb. 6, 2004], 4).
Once again we look to Moroni as a leader who was
on that line of defense, who prepared his people for war. However, those
valiant 2,000 stripling warriors in his day were protected not only with
shields of armor he made but also with shields of faith that had been “handmade
in [the] cottage industry.” That faith had been taught by their
mothers, “that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And
they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not
doubt our mothers knew it” (Alma
How significant are our roles as mothers! How crucial
are our roles as leaders! How imperative that we properly train the future
righteous women of God! This is the “one bright shining hope” in
our world today. I love you; I have the utmost confidence in you. I know
that this work we are engaged in is His work, and I am grateful for the
wonderful privilege we all have to be His instruments. I pray that the
Lord will bless you with a double portion of His Spirit in your important
and eternal callings.