“The simpler we keep them, the more regular we are about having them,” says Mark Baer of the Marston Lake Ward, Columbine Colorado Stake. “We learned long ago that for our busy family the only way to assure a weekly family home evening is to keep the preparation and presentation time as short as possible.”
Mark and Jane Baer have six children, ages seven to twenty. “With a thirteen year age spread, we have tried lots of different approaches to interest everyone,” Brother Baer smiles. He used to think they “had to prepare a full-scale lesson every time, but that was too much. The wonderful thing about home evening is that it has become, for us at least, a guaranteed thing, a true break from any other obligations.”
For families around the world, family home evening has become a night of the week different from the rest. For some, it’s the sound of popcorn popping or the smell of cookies baking. Maybe it’s a game laid out on the floor. Or it may simply be a charge of low voltage tingling through the members of the family in anticipation of the time together.
Twenty years ago, the Church designated Monday night as family home evening, providing families with manuals and teaching materials and prohibiting other Church events from interfering with this important time together.
In 1965, under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, the newly inaugurated correlation program unified and strengthened all teaching and administration under the priesthood. And parents were urged to strengthen their families by teaching the gospel in the home more regularly.
During the following twenty years some important changes have been made which emphasize the need for the home to be the spiritual learning and teaching center of the Church. The Family Home Evening Resource Book is the most recent addition to a long list of helps made available to parents responding to that shift of emphasis.
Many of the children who were taught from those first family home evening manuals are now parents, like Norwin and Karen Burbidge of Tumwater, Washington. “Much of our confidence as parents stems from the deep roots planted and nurtured by parents who taught us in home evenings,” Karen explains.
“I was a junior in high school when my parents first tried these lessons,” she remembers. “Their own lessons and very personal styles of teaching us really required no additional materials. But they latched on to these new manuals enthusiastically, as if they needed them. Their lessons never changed noticeably, but the manuals began to allow others of us to share the responsibility of preparing and giving the lessons.
“Dad sat us down often and taught us well. I can still remember the vivid way he shared the stories of the scriptures and taught about service and work. One backyard cleanup project is a favorite memory. That one experience permanently affected my attitude about work.
“I can almost smell the burning leaves and hear the rakes hissing through the dry grass. The whole family worked together. Our father could make us feel good no matter what we were doing, it seems.”
Karen’s father traveled often, but he rarely missed a family home evening. “If he was not going to be home,” she continues, “he would always call to let us know that he knew what night it was and would have some word about the subject of our lesson.
“One particular home evening illustrates best his commitment to the time with us. He called from the East Coast saying he would try to make it home to Idaho for family night but might be late because of the difficulty making connections. He said he would do everything within his power to be home.
“He was a fun person whose sense of humor was always used to put people at ease and to make occasions memorable. This was one of those times.
“While he was aboard the airplane it was announced that they were running late, so he wrote a note to the captain. It said in essence, ‘Captain, I am en route to the most important meeting of my week. It is my family home evening, for which I hope not to be late. I would deeply appreciate your every effort to get this jet to our destination on time. If I miss my connection in Chicago, I won’t get home tonight. Thank you, sincerely, Nephi Grigg.’
“The note came back to him with an indication that the captain would pour it on and that he admired my father’s urgency. Dad arrived home only minutes late, but we were waiting. We knew that if he said he would be there for home evening, we could count on it.
“When he burst through the door that night in his hat and overcoat, he created in my mind an indelible picture of a father who would do anything to be home with his family. And that made me—made all of us—feel very, very important.”
Karen’s husband, Norwin, sees another effect. “My memory of individual lessons is less clear than is my memory of our family being together often, feeling the power of the gospel blessing us, preparing us for our lives. As a result of that lesson from my own childhood, Karen and I emphasize feeling as much as content in our lessons.
“Even now that my brothers and sisters are all married and gone from home, our parents keep that circle complete,” Brother Burbidge explains. “Regular reunions, letters, and celebrations keep us close.”
Brother Burbidge believes that family home evening “spills over into other things—outings, activities, attitudes, support for each other. As parents, we hear all the time that we can’t expect that our children will learn all they need to in school or Church classes. It’s true. We must teach them at home—or help teach them—everything from table manners to patriotism to faith in the Savior, as well as how to express and accept love.”
Good habits require effort to maintain, even if the habit is acquired in youth. “Even though we both had home evenings in our parents’ homes, keeping them happening is a challenge,” Karen Burbidge states. “Recently, we had gotten locked into a hectic sports schedule, and had slipped out of the habit of regular home evenings. We missed the feeling of togetherness. One Saturday morning I was overcome with the desire to have my family close around me.
“Norwin and I asked our children to plan to stay home that night with the family,” she explains. “Our teenagers, Jared and Jennifer, protested at first, asking why I was grounding them. We explained that it wasn’t a punishment, but that we enjoyed their company and needed them near. They agreed to join us, and it turned out to be a special time together.”
Back in 1915, the First Presidency introduced the notion of home evenings with a poignant promise to parents. That promise was reaffirmed in 1965 by President David O. McKay in his preface to the first edition of the home evening manuals.
He promised families that if they faithfully hold home evenings “love at home and obedience to parents will increase, and faith will develop in the hearts of the youth of Israel, and they will gain power to combat evil influences and temptations.”
These and other great spiritual blessings have been promised by each prophet since President McKay.
Barbara and Jay Facer of the South Cottonwood Ninth Ward, Salt Lake City, attribute much of their success as parents to regular family home evenings and scripture study time. Their four sons are all Eagle Scouts. Two have served missions, one is now serving, and the fourth is preparing to serve.
“There were times,” explains Sister Facer, “when I would wonder, ‘Why are we having this home evening? Is anything getting through?’ Four little boys didn’t always sit still or cooperate. In my frustration I would ask, “Is this really worth it?” Other times, the boys would get interested and ask good questions. We were glad we had the manual and the scriptures to help teach them. Those moments were thrilling and they made the rest worthwhile.”
“The promise made by the Brethren, of ‘love at home and obedience to parents,’ and ‘increased faith,’ has come true in our home as we have followed the counsel,” added Brother Facer.
Besides the family home evening on Monday nights, the Church introduced six years ago an additional means of obtaining personal spiritual time for families. In March of 1980, the Church adopted a block meeting schedule for worship services. Parents were encouraged to set aside on Sunday a predictable family hour, or set of hours, when no other distractions would be allowed.
This was to be a time of scripture study, writing in personal journals, and sharing discussions and stories that would promote faith and family unity. It was not intended that this replace the Monday home evening, but complement it.
Families are finding that some activities work better on Sunday and other activities on Monday. The two combine to give form and order to the week. The comings and goings of one or another family member for work, school, play, and even church meetings, tug at the family unit like an interminable tide. To coordinate and control this, a “curriculum” should be agreed upon in a family council: What time of day is best for our family to sit together to read scriptures aloud together? Should our home evening lesson be on Sunday or Monday night? When and what should our regular family activities be?
These questions can be agreed upon whether the family contains nonmembers or less active members, whether both parents work, or whether the family has a single parent. Fitting home evening to family needs will allow the family to determine the size of the anchor needed to steady itself. In an ambitious moment, we can take on too much, like putting a ship’s anchor on a row boat.
For some families, Sunday is scripture study time, then on weekdays they read them for a few minutes aloud. Some use Sunday to prepare the lesson for Monday. Others prefer to have lessons on Sunday and activities on Monday night. Families that spend both Sunday and Monday times together have reported increased spirituality, steadying them in the tide.
The Baer family, for example, reads the scriptures each morning. This allows them to choose among many family-centered activities on Sunday. They can study the scriptures in more depth, engage in Sabbath service projects, visit other family members, have family council, and so on. On Monday, they have a simple lesson—often enhanced by filmstrips, tapes, and videos checked out of their meetinghouse library. “The children love the stories I save from Relief Society and from Church magazines, manuals, and books,” says Jane Baer. “I use these materials at home evening, at mealtimes, and often in the car when there is time.”
Besides other activities, the Baers use family home evening as a time for the whole family to write to their oldest son on his mission. “As part of home evening every week, we all write a little something,” Mark Baer explains. “I’ve never been much of a letter writer, but we haven’t missed a week yet.”
A family curriculum works for the Bill and Shelley Davies family, who have divided their Monday night activities into various family welfare categories. The first Monday of each month is service night: they weed grandma’s garden, visit a widower, or perform some other act of service. The second Monday is culture and education night: sometimes they dabble in watercolors, attend a concert, or take a ride and talk about various subjects. The third Monday, physical fitness night, has included hopscotch tournaments, croquet, aerobics, and swinging at the park. The fourth Monday is family project night: everyone works on something together. If there is a fifth Monday night, they invite another family over for a social night. Often, these are spent friendshipping less active or nonmember friends.
“There are two great benefits to this arrangement,” Sister Davies says. “It gives the family similar interests so we are growing together rather than separately. And the structure has made our family home evenings happen consistently. Instead of Monday night being a hassle, we all look forward to it.”
One mother describes a Sunday activity that has brought her family both peace and pleasure. She says, “For years now, we have enjoyed our family time writing in our journals.
“When the children were young, my husband and I wrote the entries they dictated. We would take turns being scribe for them. With very little prompting, they would go into wonderful detail about certain things that had been important to them that week. We always let them illustrate their own stories and accounts of incidents in their lives. So the journals have become quite colorful.
“The consequence of this time together has been very satisfying. All of the children have developed a keen sense of language and are growing in faith. And now that the older ones are recording their own entries the details are often just as rich as when we had coached them during the dictation. Their own feelings sometimes begin to creep in among the record of the events, and the journals are becoming valued treasures full of memories.
“One of our sons, eleven-year-old Andrew, is filling his third volume. Reading old entries aloud to each other has been a great source of warmth and delight on Sundays.”
In homes where it is successfully and regularly observed, family home evening has won the hearts of the children. They are frequently the ones who keep the vigil and keep parents aware of the need to plan on and prepare for it.
“Time is of the essence,” says Raymond E. Kimball, patriarch of the Littleton Colorado Stake. “Parents now more than ever need to guard against intrusions into their homes from the outside. They need to make it as easy as possible to have a definite time to really be with their children. And the whole family must pledge to preserve that time.” Brother Kimball and his wife, Ad, reared “five lovely daughters. And they are all doing a better job than we did,” he muses.
“Recently, while I was in one of their homes, I noticed a brightly colored mariner’s wheel on the wall in the kitchen. Each section of the wheel contained that week’s assignments and names for home evening responsibilities. The grandchildren love it, and they all take part. And that wheel hanging there reminds them of their mutual commitment to the time together.”
He recalls that when the manuals came out, they were “a welcome resource to parents, especially the lessons about holidays and what families could do to make them special. They were wonderful, and we shared them with friends as a tool in raising families. But by and large the discussions or lessons had very little in the way of visual aids or props as we see today.”
“With the children all married now,” he continues, “Ad and I enjoy reading together the scriptures or the First Presidency message in the Ensign. Couples and families need more than ever a time to commune with each other without all the distractions.”
Ralph and Sheila Jackson of Denver, Colorado, where he is a stake president, have held family home evenings for nearly fifteen years, with results that they call “gratifying.”
“Home evenings and times together have provided our family with an open forum for each of us to freely air views and problems,” explains Brother Jackson. “Our children tell us that home evenings have helped them to see our family differently than their friends at school see their families.”
He relates an incident that illustrates this. One night when their mother was feeling blue, feeling she had not been the mother she had hoped she would be, their two daughters and one of their sons told her how they felt about her. They told her how most of their friends at school talked about their homes as if they were living in a hotel, and they could hardly wait to get out. The children shared with their mother, candidly, their friends’ negative and disrespectful comments about parents. It was evident that her childrens’ friends believed that their families were unloving, unfair, and critical. Then the children each expressed gratitude to their mother for making theirs a home where frequent expressions of love kept the communication lines open.
“I attribute these special feelings in our home to the understanding of the gospel gained through daily prayer, home evenings, and scripture study,” Sister Jackson says. “We aren’t perfect at it, but we keep going and it has made a great difference.
“Time together cannot be overemphasized,” she says. “Often it takes only one or two points in a lesson and conversation begins to flow, like priming a pump. Lessons at home evening have been the springboard for some of the best conversations at our house, a great way to start the ideas flowing.”
Organized lessons and family councils lead to more than just good conversation and teaching moments. For the Jacksons, one family council “led to a memorable family testimony meeting in the mountains that drew every member of the family closer to each other and to the Lord.”
“Family home evenings have given our family a definite feeling of a home base, physically and spiritually,” Brother Jackson concludes.
The anchor of family unity is lowered into place as families discuss, sing, teach, and make time for each other. Then, in the storms and changing tide of life, the family remains secure against becoming lost or drifting apart.
An anchor neither prevents the storm nor assures still water, even in the harbor. Family prayer and scripture study, home evenings and activities likewise cannot always promise immediate solutions to life’s problems. But there is something inherent in the nature of love that makes one thing certain. The family that openly and frequently shares the challenges of its individual members is at once able to endure with greater understanding life’s sorrows and rejoice more fully in the celebration of its triumphs.