A Home Is Also a House

The Physical Environment of the Latter-day Saint Home

Our seven children have convinced us that living the gospel in the home is a practical business; and the nearer we come to meeting practical issues successfully, the easier it is to have a happy family. One of the most interesting discoveries we have made is that the house has a great deal of effect on the home.

The stress of going through graduate school and swapping living quarters often as we added four boys and three girls in ten years forcibly emphasized the importance of physical structure in a house.

As survivors of that experience, we now read with considerable appreciation comments such as those of Elder Boyd K. Packer given at a BYU devotional:

You cannot always choose where you live, but often you can. And when you can, keep in mind that it is a wise thing to live so that children can be dominated by the home environment rather than by the neighborhood environment. That is, have a place where your children can play by themselves. If others venture into their playground area, they come as guests and must meet the standards that have been set and the limitations that are established by the ideals that are yours.

Many homes are designed and many neighborhoods are designed as though no one was going to raise any children. …

… an extra partition or two in the house would make a big difference in how frantic and haggard a poor mother would get. …

It would be simple with doors that would close and spaces that could be private and quiet, and some spaces that could be littered, and, if you will, spaces that could be messed up like little kids want them to be. …

Now another word on this home. You can do a great deal to create in your home an atmosphere of peace and homeyness and reverence and tranquility and security. You can do this without much to live on.

Or you can create something angular and cold and psychedelic and artificial. In a thousand different ways your youngsters will be influenced by the choice you make. You can set the tone. It can be quiet and peaceful where quiet and powerful strength can grow, or it can be bold and loud and turn the mainspring of tension a bit tighter in the little children as they are growing up, until at last, that mainspring breaks. (Boyd K. Packer, Eternal Marriage, Speeches of the Year [Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1970], pp. 7–8.)

Even though what we are is more vital to our family’s well-being than physical circumstances, it seems only realistic to do all we can to shape a helpful environment. Our experiences showed that the physical environment was often a barrier, rather than an asset, to our goals; so we faced the problem of designing and developing a home environment that would help us teach Mormon values to our children.

Three years ago it became painfully obvious that certain things—the stairs necessary in a small trilevel home, nine people in two and one-half bedrooms, and no real kitchen—were definitely a family-life hazard. Although the view was beautiful and the yard ideal for our desired life-style, we decided another setting would help us achieve our goals. Although this meant financial stress, it also had some positive aspects.

By coincidence, this decision to buy or build a different house occurred at a time of professional involvement in a survey of values and moral education. These two interests began to feed each other, and it became obvious they had much in common.

My research showed the critical importance of the home on values education and moral development. For example, E. B. Castle, the English scholar who tediously traced the efforts of parents and educators to train children in values from the pre-Christian Hebrew and Roman cultures to the 1950s, had observed two clear lessons from these four thousand years: (1) a religious home is the most effective center for moral education; (2) only those individuals “worth growing up to” can really educate youth to higher moral levels. Data such as this significantly confirms counsel given to the Saints by the prophets.

We found other ideas intriguing. President Joseph F. Smith, for instance, stressed the “unmobile” home:

“From Abraham sprang two ancient races represented in Isaac and Ishmael. The one built stable homes, and prized its land as a divine inheritance. The other became children of the desert, and as restless as its ever-shifting sands upon which their tents were pitched. From that day to the present, the home has been the chief characteristic of superior over inferior nations. The home then is more than a habitation, it is an institution which stands for stability and love in individuals as well as in nations. …

“The disposition among the Saints to be moving about ought to be discouraged. … let the home be erected with the thought that it is to be a family abiding place from one generation to another, that it is to be a monument to its founder and an inheritance of all that is sacred and dear in home life. Let this be the Mecca to which an everlasting posterity may make its pilgrimage. The home, a stable and pure home, is the highest guaranty of social stability and permanence in government,” (“Home Life,” Juvenile Instructor, 38:144–46, March 1903. See Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, ed. John A. Widtsoe et al. [Deseret Book Co., 1952], pp. 300–301.)

This 70-year-old pronouncement seems ironically prophetic when such contemporary social studies as Vance Packard’s recent A Nation of Strangers attributes the moral decline in the United States to the “sense of rootlessness” created by family mobility. When one considers that the average American moves 14 times in his life, and that one-fifth of all United States families move one or more times every year, it is easy to understand how the stress of relocation could threaten the nation’s moral stability.

As we thought further, we found ourselves uncomfortable that so many middle-aged couples without children at home would sell their houses and get a trailer or apartment. We heard young couples saying, “We’d visit Grandpa and Grandma more often, but since we had our last two children, it’s just too much of a hassle. They don’t have room anymore and it’s pandemonium all the time we’re there. Besides, since they moved, it’s just not the same as going to the old home where we grew up.” Somehow this situation seems to conflict with our concept of patriarchal responsibility to influence our children and grandchildren. Grandparents caught in the retirement house trend could inadvertently cut off second- and third-generation relationships.

The more we thought and talked, the more exciting and challenging became the responsibility of providing more than just shelter for our family. Some homes we looked at were ideal for the family with little children, but hardly a place where teenagers would be likely to come with their friends after a dance or activity. We wanted a place so preschoolers could be near their mother without being constantly underfoot. Experience had taught us the futility of trying to send our toddlers down in the basement to play in a family room—they wanted and needed to be near their mother.

Joan also felt it would be wonderful to have one room away from the central traffic pattern that could be more or less off limits to the children, a room that could remain reasonably uncluttered. Then when the doorbell rang, she could retain some composure and not rush through the house to pick up when company dropped in.

We knew our children needed a place to be physically active. Our children, including twin boys, had successfully taught us that one couldn’t expect them to behave like miniature adults. They needed someplace to use up their energy without shattering our lives as parents.

We had also discovered youngsters frequented the bathroom day and night. How nice it would be if they didn’t have to trek through the entire house with all their little friends every time. A bathroom by the door—in and back out, leaving the minimum mud, dust, etc.—seemed to be a good idea.

And toys, blocks, balls, and other sundry paraphernalia! There ought to be a place where they could be shoveled behind a door so dinner didn’t get cold waiting for unmotivated little “workers” to pick them up.

We also knew that five years from now we would have first to twelfth graders, and fifteen years from now we wanted a place where our children would feel free to come with their babies. Furthermore, we wanted our home to give our children legitimate experiences about their heritage as well as such gospel principles as food storage, family home evening, training in various skills, and so forth. Research and experience had impressed us that values are not taught by simulation; they are acquired from the context of reality. We wanted our children to have somehow a tie to the experiences of our youth and our childhood homes. The gas lantern Joan’s grandfather had used on a New England railroad, the ice tongs her father used to carry block ice to the old icebox when he was a boy, the flatiron she had ironed with at her grandmother’s house, the harnesses I had put on our horses, the old blue fruit jars that used to appear in our basement fruit room—these were the things that could meaningfully convey the importance of genealogy to young hearts and minds. These articles from our heritage were worth preserving; they could become effective teaching tools. We needed places to put them.

Some of the investments we are making in our home do not necessarily save money. Planting a garden, feeding a horse, milking a cow, raising rabbits, chickens, and so forth, may not make sense unless one sees where natural experiences with birth, life, death, responsibility, discipline, and sacrifice are having an impact on a growing child.

As one of our insightful neighbors observed during the emotional trauma of his daughter when her little dog was killed: “She doesn’t understand it now, but this experience is preparing her to handle death in her own family in the years ahead. When the Lord said he created this earth and placed all things on it for the benefit of man, he was thinking deeper than most of us realize. It’s too bad so many of us are being separated so far from the educational environment he designed.”

The counsel from the Lord to the fathers of families has always been to do all they could to improve the comfort, convenience, and well-being of their wives and children. As Latter-day Saints, we ought to make the design and utilization of our homes conducive to instilling correct values in the lives of our children. Our homes should extend Latter-day Saint theology into the real world in which we live. Too often, perhaps, we are satisfied to live in houses and follow life-styles developed by the world for worldly purposes.

If the vision we have of a home is that in it we can rear a family with character and a high potential for eternal success, the house itself would undoubtedly have some unique characteristics. Such a house would more than likely provide for apprenticeships in the skills and appreciations of life that will prepare its inhabitants for their roles as fathers and mothers of the coming generation in the kingdom of God!

One way of understanding home living as an educational opportunity is to think of the home as an educational center. It can have such things as laundry and dormitory facilities, a kitchen, a physical education and recreation center, a library-study, a shop, music facilities, rest rooms, storage for food and other items, and an instructional center complete with chalkboards and other instructional aids.

From our experience, one of the most interesting and satisfying experiences to be had by us and other Latter-day Saint parents is designing and/or living in a home bringing together these concepts.

The effort to consciously consider our home in such a light has been an influence for good on our family. It has meant hard work, worry, and sacrifice but it brings us satisfactions. For example, as we realize that we are able to satisfy most of our personal needs at home we are to that extent freer to serve effectively in Church and vocational assignments. Joan has observed that other challenges grow pale in comparison with the awesome task of being a successful wife and mother.

As we understand it, our children learn parenthood as a natural result of living in a home administered by conscientious parents. Girls can learn to cook, sew, wash, iron, tend children, appreciate art and music, love others, know themselves, get in tune with life, have faith in their Creator, and respond to the priesthood. Boys can learn to be obedient, respect women, discipline themselves, discover their vocational aptitudes, develop their talents, care for the environment, pray for strength, respect and administer justice, control wealth, and honor and exercise their priesthood.

All of the functions of living and learning that we have mentioned are natural to the home. The house and the yard that surrounds it—the home—is a miniature school divinely designed to be run by a loving administration and faculty who are appointed to serve the students unselfishly on behalf of their Father in heaven.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Ralph Barksdale