Parents, answer this honestly: The Church expects an awful lot from us, doesn’t it? Think about it. It’s true.
From the minute we learn that we actually are children of God the expectations start to become cosmic in scale. First we find out that a tremendous work is happening around us, one that was planned from before the foundation of the world and ultimately will involve all the nations of the earth, past, present, and future. We know it’s the Lord’s work and that he has set up an organization, the Church, to carry that plan to completion. But then we find out that the basic unit of that church is the family, and that it’s the family that’s supposed to produce the special kind of people who have the seemingly endless talents and fortitude that will be necessary to carry out the Lord’s vast work in his name. And who’s in charge of the families who have that great responsibility? …
Well, we all know who, and just about the time we have to face up to it we begin to think about all the demands of parenthood and family life as compared to our weaknesses and we almost feel like shrinking back and saying you must have the wrong guy, I was listening from the fence when all those plans were made premortally and couldn’t think of a thing to say and, look, I’ll do what I can but I’m not so-and-so and … my mortgage … and so on and so forth and maybe just a few stripes? We almost want to step aside for a minute with someone in charge who has a sympathetic ear and explain how our particular problems make it tougher for us than it is for that superfather or supermother of that superfamily down the street that every ward seems to have at least one of.
But usually we find, don’t we, that the Brethren don’t indulge us very far in that direction. They know our true potential. They keep telling us that we were sent here to succeed, that we were foreordained for the work, that we can do it, and that if we are true to ourselves and what we know we will do it. Soon it becomes clear enough that the spotlight isn’t going to move to anyone else, that we parents are simply going to have to come through and that no one is going to ratify the excuses we had ready to use in case we failed. But that’s all right, isn’t it?—because the work is true. Would we really want it any other way?
So how do we begin? Although most families have had at least some success already, most of us know we can do better. But in a world with as many distractions as ours has today, how do we get our families together and functioning the way the Lord expects us to?
Well, one very important part of the solution for you and your family can be Personal and Family Preparedness as introduced by Church Welfare Services within the past two years.
President Marion G. Romney has said that welfare is the essence of the Church. (See Welfare Services Handbook, 1974, p. 1.) Personal and Family Preparedness is an essential part of welfare. Its purpose is to encourage the economic, intellectual, physical, and spiritual preparedness of families and members. Its effect is to help them live an abundant life and to prevent them from becoming poor and needy or distressed. In the whole scheme of things it seems to fit right between missionary work and temple work. First, we are brought into the kingdom through the missionary program or birth; then, by applying the many great welfare principles that have been articulated over the years, we can establish a solid base from which to perform our labors in the kingdom; and finally, having become a temple-building and temple-attending people, we can organize and seal ourselves into the eternal family of God in preparation for exaltation in the celestial world.
What is this Personal and Family Preparedness that is so central to the purposes of the Church?
Personal and Family Preparedness encourages families and individuals to become self-reliant in six different areas: (1) literacy and education; (2) career development, (3) financial and resource management, (4) home production and storage, (5) physical health, and (6) social-emotional and spiritual strength. (See chart.)
Right away, several things become obvious when we look at Personal and Family Preparedness as a whole. First, we see that welfare in the family is by no means food storage alone. Home storage is an important part of family welfare, but it is only a half of a sixth of the whole program.
Second, from the titles alone we can see that Personal and Family Preparedness isn’t just preparation for some kind of disaster; it’s preparation for life—the “foreseen, anticipated, almost expected needs which can be met through wise preparation.” (Bishop H. Burke Peterson, Welfare Services Meeting, April 5, 1975, p. 5.)
Third, Personal and Family Preparedness is designed around the realities of everyday family life in a remarkable balance. You can scarcely think of a problem that could arise in the life of any family member—or the family as a whole—that could not be taken care of if preparation were solid enough and early enough in one or more of these six areas. Through this kind of “provident living” (a favorite term of Sister Barbara B. Smith, Relief Society General President), families in most cases really can live happier lives because economic, physical, and emotional problems are held to a minimum and the things that make life worth living are encouraged to a maximum. Sister Smith defines provident living as being “wise, frugal, prudent, making provision for the future while attending to immediate needs.” (Ensign, May 1976, p. 118.)
Here are some of the standards that the Church would like individuals and families to meet in Personal and Family Preparedness:
1. Literacy and Education. “The prepared person reads, writes, and does basic mathematics; regularly studies the scriptures and other good books; and uses local resources to teach these skills and habits to all family members. Parents and children should take advantage of public and other educational opportunities.”
2. Career Development. “Each head of a household should select a suitable vocation or profession and pursue appropriate training. Each young person should receive counsel to help him select a career that will satisfy family economic needs and provide personal satisfaction.”
3. Financial and Resource Management. “The prepared person should establish financial goals, pay tithes and offerings, avoid debt, wisely use and preserve economic resources, and save during times of production for times of nonproduction.”
4. Home Production and Storage. “Each person or family should produce as much as possible through gardening, sewing, and making household items. Each person and family should learn techniques of home canning, freezing and drying foods, and, where legally permitted, should store and save a one-year supply of food, clothing, and, if possible, fuel.”
5. Physical Health. “Every member should obey the Word of Wisdom and practice sound principles of nutrition, physical fitness, weight control, immunization, environment quality and sanitation, mother and child health, accident prevention, dental health, and medical care. In addition, each member should acquire appropriate health-related skills in first aid and safety, home nursing, and food selection and preparation.”
6. Social-Emotional and Spiritual Strength. “Each person should build spiritual strength to meet life’s challenges and stresses with confidence and stability by learning to love God and communicate with Him in personal prayer, by learning to love and serve his neighbor, and by learning to love and respect himself through righteous living and self-mastery. Each family should understand that social and emotional strength is a blessing that results from spiritual growth through obedience to revealed principles of family living.” (See “Personal and Family Preparedness Standards,” a worksheet distributed in many stake conference Saturday evening leadership meetings earlier this year.)
Now, can you see yourself sitting down with your husband or wife and a sheet of paper and a pencil and taking a serious look at your own family to see how it measures up in each of these categories? A thousand ideas will awaken within you. Maybe you’ll realize that your children are learning to read all right, but they only read when they have to. Or that because of a lot of small influences in your home, Cathy doesn’t like math and doesn’t really care if she’s good at it or not. Or it may strike you that Bill is graduating from high school next spring and none of you has given any thought to what he’ll do after that. Or you might go downstairs and look at your one-eighth of a year’s supply and that pile of boards you were going to make into shelves. Or in a moment of self-honesty you might admit to each other that you’re in debt over your heads and at the rate you’re going you’re not going to get out. Or you might look out the window at that pathetic thing you optimistically called a garden when you planted the seeds but abandoned when only a few things came up and you wished you knew as much about it as grandma used to. Or you might look at your beltline and think wistfully of the days—not all that long ago, either—when you used to run around the track every other night and go swimming once in a while. Or maybe while you’re sitting there you’ll stick the end of your tongue into that cavity you’ve been meaning to let the dentist look at for two or three months now. Or maybe you’ll remember with some embarrassment—and concern—that little Ralph clings desperately to you and screams whenever you try to get him to go into the nursery; he seems to be afraid or unsure of something and you don’t know what to do about it. And the list could go on practically forever, right? This hasn’t even scratched the surface of all the possibilities.
But enough of the problems. When you’ve got a list of them under each category (and perhaps you should keep the list fairly short at first), then the fun begins and the ideas begin to fly. Now you begin to see one or two things that might help with one or two of your problems. Dad, maybe you decide you’ve been spending too much time away from home—be honest now—avoiding this or that problem because it was a little too much to face. So you see that you’d better—not so much that; you want to—plan to be home a little more and maybe sit down and read with the children or show them some of those mathematical puzzles that used to fascinate you so much. Or you might find your hammer and tape measure that the children have had in their toy box for months and decide that this Saturday you’re going to build half of those shelves, and get Bill to help you too. Or you might get some scissors and have a little fun (once the withdrawal symptoms subside) cutting up the credit cards and charge cards that seem to have control of you. Or you might think of a way to get that big pipe welded and fixed up into a basketball standard that you and the children could set up next to the driveway. Or you might look over all your old medical records and see how long it’s been since each one of you had this or that taken care of. Or you might decide to swallow your maternal pride and go ahead and ask Sister Pearson how they finally got little Margaret to let go of her mother’s leg and go into her Primary class without throwing a tantrum. And the list of solutions goes on as long or longer than the list of problems. It almost invariably happens that way; identify a problem and actually write it down and pretty soon the ideas begin to flow and bubble and solutions begin to show themselves—maybe not the right ones at first, but eventually they come.
Suddenly you realize that you’re in the rudimentary stages of something really promising: you’re planning, just like that superfamily down the street, only not like them because you’re going your own way and you’re beginning to set your own house in order. Later on you begin to see that bit by bit your family’s way of life is beginning to flow more nearly parallel to gospel concepts and you feel like you’re beginning to get in stride with Church programs. And that’s a great feeling.
It’s not all a dream. Elder Sterling W. Sill has said, “Planning is the mother of almost every ability. It is the place where man shows himself most like God.” And in this case the planning is all that much easier because the Church has provided an inspired model for us to build from in Personal and Family Preparedness. Try it.
Exactly how you do it is perhaps a lot less important than the fact that you are doing it. Still, it’s wise to introduce a little formality into your methods from the beginning—a notebook, a wall chart, or whatever—because the very act of recording the goals you set tends to make you more accountable to yourself and your husband or wife. Your resolve won’t dissolve before you begin to get a taste of success.
One father does it this way: He keeps a three-ring binder that serves as his family workbook. It is divided into several sections: “Missionary,” “Welfare,” “Temple/Genealogy,” “Family Home Education,” and a section for each of his Church callings. Thus he has his responsibilities as a father categorized in a pattern identical with that of the priesthood programs of the Church. His “family home education,” which includes family home evening, home teaching, and assistance from the Church auxiliaries, serves to tie all of the other programs together. In each section of his binder he can keep a list of the goals his family has established for the year, along with a list of what he believes the Church expects of him. Whenever he finds something that might be useful to him, he can stick it in the binder.
In the “Welfare” section this father has a typed sheet with the headings “Literacy and Education,” “Career Development,” and the other four categories of the Personal and Family Preparedness program. Then under each heading he has listed three or four goals that he and his wife and children committed to in their first family home evening of the new year. Also, this section of his book is getting fat with other loose material: a layout sheet for the perfect garden, clipped from a magazine; a booklet that discusses how to make a will; some plans for a food dryer; a bar graph that he uses to record his jogging mileage; his old school reading list; and a dozen or more other things that could only be useful to him in his particular role as a father. His binder is useful to him because it truly is a workbook, and with it he can keep his goals and his plans for meeting them and his current activities in front of him all the time.
However you decide to do it, do it! With one caution: keep your method simple. It won’t do you any good to have an elaborate system that you get weary of using and then drop. Simply set down some basic, realistic, short- to medium-range goals and a few of the steps you think will get you there.
Yes, parenthood is demanding and the Church does expect a lot from us; but that’s because the Lord expects a lot from us. But at the same time, he has given us inspired direction and programs that can make it simpler for us to succeed. When we’ve succeeded in solving our problems ourselves, we and our children will be happier, healthier in every way, and more useful to the Lord. Let’s give Personal and Family Preparedness a try—the right way.