“Dearest Marjorie, Cameron, Heather, Warren, Holly, Heidi. Above all I seek for eternal life with all of you. These are important: temple marriage, mission, college. Press on. Set goals, write history, take pictures twice a year.”
A short letter, to be sure, but compressed within those half-dozen lines is a marvelous testimony from a father to his family. The recipients of the letter were too overjoyed to mind the forced brevity of its contents. Each word was treasured. They had waited for two and a half years for some indication that the writer of the letter was still alive.
The father, a United States Air Force pilot, had been shot down by enemy fire during a combat mission over North Vietnam. Then silence for thirty long months, while he was in an enemy prison.
Five months after the first letter came, a second one arrived, wherein the father once again expressed to his family those things which were closest to his heart:
“Fondest greetings all. I’m well. I hope you have continued family home evening, the food plan, and the reading program, expanding it to include a song and a few verses with the family at breakfast time. Marge, I’ve thought you might enjoy a class at the university. Consider children’s literature, art and music appreciation, something in home economics, personal finance. Jay.”
Here was a father who was forced to weigh every word as he communicated with his family. He advised them to continue holding family home evening. He evidently saw something that would assist his children during their formative years.
Picture your own son who has just become a man. He is responsible, he desires to serve his fellowmen, he loves virtue, he stands in valiant testimony of the divine nature of the restored gospel, he loves and is loved.
Would you hope to rear such a son or daughter? Would you be willing to deliberately, patiently, and persistently invest your greatest effort to do so?
If this is your desire, your time is short. The span from babyhood to manhood is just a flicker. Know then that no opportunity to be with and to teach a child can be ignored without an irretrievable loss.
Parents who harbor a dream for their children’s destiny know that the Lord’s family home evening program is like a gift from heaven. It is not something that we have to do. It is something that we get to do.
Most parents have similar aspirations for their children. Why then have some parents made home evenings part of family life while others have not? Is family home evening, for some, just another burden added to an already overburdened life? Do some fathers feel that they aren’t equipped educationally or spiritually to teach their children? Have some tried and been discouraged by the restless or the rowdy resistance of their children?
To such parents we can honestly say that family home evenings don’t have to be a burden; father doesn’t have to be the only teacher; children don’t have to be resistant.
Are home evenings for you a burden among other burdens? Then assess your life’s real goals; perhaps you might cast off something of lesser significance. Remember that being a father or a mother is in the fullest sense “church work.” Remember too that burdens become light when shared. With father directing and all family members helping, home evening burdens are lessened and the blessings are increased.
One father explained, “I’m not afraid to ask for help. One night when we really weren’t prepared, I suggested that mother and two of the children pop some corn while the two older ones and I had a look at the family home evening book. Getting ready is just as much a part of our family home evening as is carrying out what we get ready to do. If there are charts to be made, pictures to be colored, stories to be acted out, we prepare them together as a family.
“While mother and the children were popping the corn, I could hear them practicing a song. The three of us chose a topic. We read it together in just a few minutes. Rich said he would retell a story and Julie said she would read the scriptures and explain them. I agreed to listen and to bear my testimony to the happiness I’d found in living the principle we were to discuss. What a thrill it was to be on the same team with the family.
“We had a pleasant and inspiring home evening, and if it was a burden, I didn’t realize it.”
The behavior of the children sometimes makes parents cross and the home evening becomes unpleasant. One father said, “After one trying evening I took stock of myself. I decided that the problem wasn’t with the family. It was with me. I vowed to never get upset again in a home evening. If something happens that causes me to get steamed up, I call ‘time out,’ and go get a drink of water. I drink a lot of water but I’ve kept my vow.”
Learn to relax. Family home evening isn’t a formal class. It is a time when family members in their own home have an evening together. The children need not sit in rows. What does it matter if they want to lie on the floor or get in some other comfortable position? They can listen that way. It’s all right for father to put his arm around mother. It might even teach the lesson that dad loves mom. If children know that, they know something of eternal importance. If all-day suckers are available, they might help create a listening atmosphere while the family members talk.
If a child seems inattentive, let him sing, or dance, or lead the family in a game. If little ones want to play with a toy car while you talk to teenagers, that’s all right. Families with wide age spans can’t realistically be expected to act like a class in which everyone is the same age.
One key question in determining the worth of a home evening is, “Kids, did you enjoy it?” Those who have developed a relaxed, casual atmosphere find that their children do enjoy family home evenings. They also make the discovery that it is in these circumstances that they are best able to communicate heart to heart about the gospel. Fathers of such families find that their insecurity about teaching disappears. A lesson becomes more of a conversation and less of a lecture.
One father tells of digressing from the lesson as his eyes fell upon his eleven-year-old daughter. From the abundance of his heart he said, “Kathryn, you are so beautiful. Someday when you’re grown up, you’ll meet a boy and he’ll like you and you’ll like him. You’ll tell me that you like him, and I’ll tell you that I want to fight him because you’re my sweetheart. But then I’ll meet him and I’ll like him too. After awhile, you might find that you love him and he loves you. Then one day, we’ll all get up early and we’ll go to the temple. You’ll be married for time and eternity. Won’t that be something, Kathryn, when you get married just like your mother and I got married? Children, the temple is the place to get married.”
Such a statement made in an atmosphere of love and mutual respect is not a lecture but a clear example of a father transplanting, from his heart to the hearts of his children, the things that he so dearly values. There is no force involved. Those things we cherish as divinely inspired beliefs can never be forced into the hearts of our children. But in those certain moments when the time is right, the message can be sent heart to heart. In a home evening where all are free to speak and all opinions are respected, children feel they are being treated like people, and their responses are revealing and inspiring. Teenage boredom changes to vital interest, as the conversation strikes right at the heart of everyday problems.
When parents learn the secret of better listening, they automatically learn the secret of better teaching. One teenager, when asked to state what was on his mind, said, “One thing that really bothers me is that we have carrots so often.”
The mother quickly replied, “Carrots are good for you and I don’t want to hear any more about your meals.” The boy had no more to say about carrots or anything else, and the rest of the home evening to him was endured rather than enjoyed. If only the mother had said (and it would have taken strength to do so), “You really do dislike carrots, don’t you?” The boy then might have said a lot more, and not all of it would have been critical. It’s when we talk and explain how we feel that our hearts become receptive to change, and here again we teach by love and respect and not by force.
This does not mean that parents do not take a stand. It merely means that things can be talked out in such a way that the children stand with the parents because they want to and not because they have to.
One father says he has observed his children and has discovered that for every thing they do wrong, they do at least nineteen things right. “Therefore,” he says, “I refuse to give equal time to their errors. I spend my family home evening time praising my children rather than criticizing them. I’d rather tell them what I’ve seen them do that’s right than what I’ve seen them do that’s wrong.”
Home evenings are a time to express love. One boy said, “If I said all the good I know about Mom, we’d be here all night.”
The father was touched and added, “I feel the same way. I love her with all my heart.” The mother beamed.
The father later added this postscript, “The next week we had some of the finest meals you could imagine.”
Home evenings are a time to let the children tell about schoolwork. What greater thrill could a little child have than to read chapter one of Dick and Jane to the family. He can display the great talent he has just acquired and at the same time he might decide that schoolwork really is important. Children who have such experiences do their best in school.
You don’t have to have family home evening—you get to. Over a period of years, in a thousand ways, you get to say, “Children, the Church is true. We, as your mother and father, love each of you, and we’re so proud to be your parents. This is the greatest family in the world. We can all be together forever. Remember, children, Joseph Smith did see God the Father and his Son in the grove. Jesus Christ lives. He is our Savior. This is his church. Follow the brethren whom the Lord has chosen and you’ll never go astray.”
The prophets have said, “Children coming from such homes will not go astray.” You can have sons and daughters who are responsible, who desire service, who love virtue, who are strong in testimony, who love and are loved because you have family home evening and share this spirit in your home continually.
Brother Durrant, executive secretary of the Priesthood Home Teaching and Family Home Evening committees, is a past director of the Lamanite curriculum for North and South America and the Polynesian islands. He serves as Explorer leader in Imperial Second Ward, Wilford Stake, in Salt Lake City.