How We Lead Our Family Together


How We Lead Our Family Together

Calling the family together, we assembled ourselves in the living room—children grouping informally around parents. We were ready for this meeting—as parents we had planned it carefully. All eyes turned to Ron, who began speaking:

“The new year is upon us and it’s time to reassign responsibilities in the Zirker Family Organization. Kathy, we have noticed that you have a special talent with scrapbooks. This year, will you accept the responsibility to update our family scrapbook and mount all important papers, certificates, photos, news clippings, etc. for us?”

“Okay,” she responded, “but mom, could you put in a box everything you want me to mount and get me some good scrapbooks to work with?” Her smile indicated that the assignment was already on its way toward completion.

“Carolyn,” Ron continued, “you’ve worked all year on physical fitness and seem to know how to arrive at success. Would you lead us all in that direction this year?”

“What will I do?” the sixteen-year-old asked.

“Take a look at our needs and help us each get to where we ought to be.”

Before the evening was over, she had asked for some graph paper and had marched each of us to the bathroom scales for weighing in. She indicated that she would not reveal our weight to the family as a whole, but would keep a chart and announce who had gained or lost weight each week.

Turning to twelve-year-old Connie, Ron said, “You have progressed so much in your music this year that we would like you to be music chairman.”

Connie gasped and giggled in the same breath. “What does a music chairman do?”

“You could work to be able to accompany us in the regional music festival,” Kathy and Carolyn suggested.

“You could accompany me on the cello,” said David.

Connie blushed with pleasure. Then Ron suggested that she also plan the hymns for family home evening each week—learning them or assigning them—and that she meet the other musical needs that we would request of her.

Eleven-year-old David looked up, waiting for his assignment.

“David, the calf needs fattening for the freezer, and the outside grounds need constant care. Will you accept the responsibility to be physical facilities chairman?”

“Do I still have to do the dishes?” he asked.

“We all do our share in the home—and we will all give you a hand outside. But you are in charge, and you need to let us know what needs to be done.”

His face brightened and he nodded his assent.

“Now for Steven. Since you are learning how to read, we would like you to serve as cultural refinement chairman. You will need to select good books for us to read to you, and assign each of us the opportunity to listen to you read. Will you do this for us?”

Six-year-old Steven flashed us a crooked grin, and did a somersault on the floor.

We then announced our own assignments in the family organization: Mom would be nutrition chairman and dad would be financial chairman. When the meeting came to a close, Connie jumped up to the piano and chose a closing song. We sang with gusto to a faltering top-hand attempt, but no one criticized, for this was her stewardship and she would improve.

As parents, we smiled at each other during the song, feeling that we had scored another mark for progress in our family. We savored that feeling while it lasted, because we knew that trials of our faith would ever be with us—that it takes a continuing effort from the whole family to keep things running smoothly.

But we also knew that success was dependent on our ability as parents to work well together as leaders of the family. Looking back over our nineteen years of marriage, we’ve discovered that our failures and successes can all be traced to the correct or incorrect use of certain family leadership principles we’ve developed along the way.

It is sobering to realize that we didn’t start out with a list of principles to follow. At the time of our marriage we knew we wanted to have love and unity in our home, to be active in the Church, to have children, and to help them develop testimonies and correct values. We were committed to family and individual prayer, we subscribed to the Church publications, we attended and served in the Church regularly, and we had been married in the temple. We did have a basic understanding of our goals.

But building a kingdom on earth within a family unit is a “learning-by-doing” experience. We know of no Church manual that can suggest to each individual precisely what you do when your child is failing in school—or whether popping corn on Sunday is or isn’t keeping the Sabbath holy. Ask two individuals raised in different homes to create a home of their own, to achieve a oneness, and yet appoint one as head of the home, and you have a real challenge.

How well we remember one of our first challenges! Early in our marriage we were struggling to get enough money to live on and to pay tuition besides. After quite a bit of prayer, Sherri felt that the solution was to sell a little piece of property we had. She mentioned it a few times, but Ron was so busy going to school, holding down a full-time job, and spending a lot of time in Church assignments that he never got the message.

But one day at the dinner table, Ron said: “I’ve just thought of a great idea! What do you think of selling that little piece of property?”

That led to the first Zirker family principle: “Although father is head of the home, mother is entitled to revelation, too, and father should always be open to her input. And we should have a time to discuss as husband and wife the family’s problems and goals.”

So now we have a husband/wife council every morning when the children are still in bed, before family scripture reading. Sometimes it’s quite informal and unstructured—merely a calendaring of activities. Other times, though, it is more structured if either of us sees something more important to discuss.

We’ve found that when we make decisions together, we’re both more committed to them than if one had made the decision alone. We had an experience a few years ago that truly tested that principle.

One of our daughters was reportedly failing in school. But upon having her tested, we found her to be equal in ability to her sister who was achieving great success. After praying about it, we both came to the same conclusion: she needed an interest uniquely hers, an area she could achieve in but where she wouldn’t always be compared with her older sister. Although we both felt that was the answer, Ron was the one who came up with the specifics: she should learn to play the violin—an instrument that had never been in our home previously. One of his colleagues, an accomplished violinist, agreed to teach her—on one condition: that Sherri learn along with her so that help could be given on a daily basis.

Sherri’s reaction? “That meant taking an instrument I had never touched before—and a difficult one at that—and submitting myself to be taught as a beginner with my daughter. I understood the principle behind the decision—I had helped make the decision—so I dug right in, week after week. But it was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. I squeaked and I scratched—and so did our daughter. There were times I would burst into tears (privately) from the pressure. (It was either that or jumping with both feet on the violin.) I controlled my emotions, however, because I had faith in the decision we had made. How Ron put up with those awful early morning noises, I’ll never know. They went on morning after morning, weeks into months.

“After about six months of what was simply dutiful compliance to our decision, a change began to take place. Scratches were giving way to actual tones, and my daughter and I were relating in a new and special way. By the end of the year, it was evident that the stringed instrument was her element, and I found to my amazement that I was really enjoying it, too. And only a few months after we began to see some success on the violin, the teacher at school told us that a change was taking place there, too. The quiet girl who wouldn’t try, who was withdrawn and shy, became talkative and friendly. Her grades shot upwards and she began making friends. She and I developed such a special closeness that the whole family wanted to be in on it, and before long we were all playing violins. This led to putting on programs together and playing before hundreds of audiences.

“We are a living testimony that if we call upon the Lord in our weakness, he will make us strong. Oh, what we all would have missed if I had given in to the temptation to quit! We learned for ourselves that faith precedes the miracle.”

And so another Zirker family principle was born: “Although it may take years to see the results of a decision, stamina to follow through can come if husband and wife take time in the beginning to work the problem out and receive a witness that their decision is right.”

We’ve found that another important part of counseling together—since we don’t know all the answers—is seeking advice from experts we trust and prayerfully tailoring their suggestions to meet our specific needs. We feel that by doing our homework—studying the problem, fasting, and praying—we can receive inspiration to lead our family.

Remember when rock music came into its own? We both objected to it and became quite concerned when we saw our daughters’ enthusiasm for it. When we went into the living room one day years ago and found our five-year-old daughter and her friend gyrating with gusto to some rock music they had been able to dial on the radio, we felt we had to do something. We didn’t excuse it as a childish whim, but took it seriously enough to fast and pray about it.

About that time, we read an article that suggested one way to avoid problems in this area by teaching our children to appreciate the good. The article presented a list of one hundred musical selections that we could choose from, explaining that this music would inspire and uplift them. The list included Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms—the great classics—none of which we had in our home or were well acquainted with.

We decided to try it out; if listening to this music and teaching appreciation for it would fortify our children, we would proceed at once.

Now we don’t presume to insist that this would be the answer for every family, but it worked for us.

We had a fine stereo, but went a step further, installing an intercom system into the children’s bedrooms and ours. Then we began collecting piece by piece, as we could afford it, the music suggested on the list. We also bought season tickets to the community concerts and faithfully took our children to all of them. Their reaction was one of boredom at first—and frankly, so was ours.

Our children would fall asleep during long violin sonatas, yawn and squirm during cantatas, and whisper frequently, “Is it time to go home yet?” But we kept at it—dressing them in their best clothes, stopping for an ice cream cone, doing what we could to make it pleasant.

Can you believe that we kept at it for three years—going to concerts, playing the music every night for them to go to sleep by, starting them on the piano and then on the violin—three years before we really started to like it!

We then began to notice a change in our piano player. She would be wide awake watching every finger movement of the concert pianist. And our violinist would crane her neck to catch all she could of the visiting artist.

Our daughters are teenagers now, and though they whistle popular tunes now and then, rock music has never been an issue in our home. They have never desired to watch the TV midnight specials or craved to see any rock concerts. By their own choice, they don’t have posters of rock stars hanging on their walls. They have never purchased any rock music. Friends have given them records as gifts, but they remain unused. Instead, their own talents have flourished; the children keep beautiful music alive in our home through their own efforts. So we feel we made the right decision for us.

And this experience gave us two more Zirker family principles. First: “When counseling together, allow experts to help—especially those found in the scriptures and Church publications. Through prayer, we can apply their suggestions to our own family.”

And the other principle: “Faith and fortitude to follow through with a decision will lead to success undreamed of!”

In our efforts to be good leaders in our home, everything we have learned has been preceded by a problem to solve. We have had to struggle, pray continually, apply careful and diligent study, think it through, plan it out, then take what we think is the best solution to the Lord and seek his confirmation.

In every case we’ve found it important to counsel with each other. Other family members have ample opportunity to express their feelings in regular monthly father’s interviews and in family councils, but when the decision is made, we as parents follow the advice of Paul to the Philippians to “be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Philip. 2:2), for a house divided against itself cannot stand (see Mark 3:25). Because we have persisted in that pattern, our children know they can’t play one parent against the other, so there is no dissension once a decision is made. When we have paid that price, we have solved problems and have grown as a couple and as a family.

Our four Zirker family principles have helped us develop great faith and trust in each other as husband and wife, and we really believe that we are worth more together than we are apart. Answers aren’t always laid out clearly for us to follow; a book of instructions isn’t always available. But we believe that as parents—leaders of our family—we are entitled to inspiration for our family. That inspiration has given us the fortitude to work through and carry out our joint decisions. We have found that the sweetest, most productive times in our lives are when we are working well together.

[photo] Photography by Marilyn L. Erd

Ronald and Sherri Zirker, parents of five children, live in Mesa, Arizona, where Ronald serves as a counselor in his ward bishopric and Sherri as stake Young Women president.