“Let’s meet,” Dad calls to the five children. Recognizing the familiar words, the family comes from all corners of the house and yard to gather around the kitchen table. It’s time for a family council meeting.
Church members are taught that there is a difference between a family council and a family home evening. “When family members gather each Monday evening to learn the gospel, to enjoy one another, and to have fun together, that is a family home evening.
“When family members gather to make important decisions, … to discipline, or to plan events, that is a family council.” (When Thou Art Converted, Strengthen Thy Brethren, Melchizedek Priesthood study guide, 1974–75, p. 167.)
“The family council is the most basic council of the Church. Under the direction of the father and the mother, this council can meet to discuss family problems, work out finances, make plans, support and strengthen each other, and pray for one another and the family unit.” (Our Family, pamphlet, 1980, p. 6.) In such a council, the family can be organized and respond as a unit to counsel from the brethren.
Problems or decisions that concern only one child—missions or individual discipline problems, for example—might be more effectively handled in a one-to-one talk.
Before a council meeting, parents should determine what items need to be handled by the family. One mother explained that she and her husband come to family council united “because we’ve resolved any differences of opinion we might have on these matters before we meet. We’ve come to an agreement about the problems that need our attention. We know the direction our family should be headed. We’ve prayed together for inspiration to lead as the Lord would have us do.”
There are, of course, no set guidelines on how often a family should meet together. Family councils should be held often enough to meet the needs of the individual family, but not so often that they become meaningless. Some families have a council every week after family home evening. Others hold them every Sunday or on fast Sunday, and still others hold them when there is a special need.
The format of this meeting may differ from family to family and will change as the family’s needs change. A family council for planning genealogy work will probably be different from one used to coordinate activities or to establish family rules.
Ideally, the father should preside. In a home without a father, the mother presides. If necessary, parents could assign one of the children to record the matters discussed, the decisions reached, and any assignments made. The meeting should be opened and closed with prayer.
Because it is a family council, all family members should participate. Each should be encouraged to express ideas and offer suggestions. One father recalls: “At first I had to call on the quiet ones. ‘Greg, what do you think about it?’ ‘Sylvia, how do you feel?’ As soon as they realized that we really wanted to hear from them and that their opinions were valued, they participated freely.” Another father assigned family members to think about a specific family problem for a week. Each was to come to the next council prepared to offer possible solutions. This approach gave family members the opportunity to think about what they wanted to say, so they felt more comfortable participating.
“An atmosphere of listening, honest communication, and respect for the opinions and feelings of others is vital to the success of these meetings.” (Our Family, p. 6.) If the youngest member of the family proposes digging worms for a fishing trip as the next family activity, the older children should not say it is a stupid idea. Allowing everyone to give input before deciding on an issue will help family members become more courteous and help them see that there is more than one way of looking at things.
After each family member has expressed opinions or feelings, ideally all will agree on the decision to be made. If they cannot agree, parents may ask them to further consider and pray about it. If they still don’t agree, the parents make the final decision as the presiding authorities. The parents should do this by carefully weighing everyone’s suggestions, along with using their own experience and the inspiration they are entitled to receive. “This is no problem in our family,” one father said. “The children are usually willing to go along with family council decisions because they have a big part in making them. They know their input is valued. We appreciate their support and willingness to abide by our decision.”
Some matters discussed in family council may be confidential. Family members need to know that these items are confidential and that they should not be discussed outside the family. When this rule is strictly observed, feelings of loyalty and unity within the family increase.
A family council is not the place to solve every family problem. There may be matters that parents, as the leaders in the family, should decide without family discussion, and family councils should not be used to vote on God’s laws. There would be no sense in discussing whether or not family members will obey the law of honesty, for example.
A family council can, however, be used to discuss family concerns and procedures. Appropriate items for a family council might be subjects like these: How can we divide up the work so everybody feels good about it? How much television should we watch and which programs should we select? How can we afford to buy some much-needed furniture? How can we have a more orderly home? What can we do as a family to eliminate quarreling? What family rules should we establish? What activities will encourage us to keep the Sabbath day holy?
The more effectively a family can meet needs and consider family interests in a council, the more successful it will be.
A family council can also be used to schedule and correlate individual and family activities. Sometimes one person may need the help of the family; the council can plan to meet these needs. One family keeps things running smoothly around home by having each member report on planned activities, then discussing conflicts, encouraging feedback from everyone, and establishing priorities so that less important activities are set aside to make time for more important ones.
Many times activities conflict and require decisions and adjustments to the schedule. To avoid conflicts of this kind, one family selected a calendar with squares large enough to record appointments, school events, birthdays and other special family occasions. As family members list their activities for the coming week in family council, the events are recorded on the calendar. A morning glance reminds each person of special involvements that day.
A final purpose of family councils is to further the work of the gospel within the family unit. The four basic areas of priesthood emphasis might be used as a guide for planning and evaluating family progress in this area. Let’s see how these can be applied to families.
When you look at your Book of Remembrance, do you see a sadly thin book with the picture of a temple insistently reminding you of the work you need to do? Is your personal history and that of your children still just a jumble of memories that haven’t yet been recorded on paper? And how long has it been since you last went to the temple? Why not discuss and plan for these things during a family council? Family members can set goals for genealogical research. Maybe none of you really knows what to do or where to start. Perhaps family members could plan to find out more about the people whose names fill their pedigree charts. One family member could be assigned to interview grandparents or other relatives. Someone else could write letters requesting information or verification documents.
The council could also work together on personal histories, brainstorming ideas on how to organize the histories and how to keep them up-to-date. Together, family members could establish work periods and a deadline.
Then, there’s the temple. Perhaps younger children would be willing to help around the house, giving family members who hold recommends time to attend the temple. Or if the family lives far away from the temple, they could plan ways to save money needed to make the trip.
Have you noticed your clothes getting a little tighter? Are the shelves built to hold the family’s food supply empty? How many bills do you pay each month? Are your children in their teens with no plans for a career which would offer financial stability?
Again, family councils can help. As financial situations are explained to your children, and they help solve problems, they may be more willing to do without the new bicycle, or other items they’ve been clamoring after. One family, following a family council, even decided to give each other food storage items for Christmas.
Maybe you have a fitness enthusiast in the family. Could he or she be assigned to get a physical fitness program going for the family? Would everyone else participate? They probably would if everyone had discussed it as a family in family council.
Every day you pass his house on the way to work. “I really should share the gospel with him,” you think, but every day you continue on your way. Then there’s your son. He’s fourteen. Is he preparing for a mission? Is he saving for it? What about you? Are you and your spouse planning for a mission?
Perhaps the family could discuss missions. After a family council, the entire group may decide to open a special savings account for missions—an account everyone contributes to. A council meeting could also help determine bow to fellowship that family down the road. Is your daughter a friend of their daughter? Well, maybe that’s a place to start.
Finally, there is the spiritual growth of your family. Your family might decide in a council when to read the scriptures together and when to hold family prayer. The council could plan family service activities. Perhaps Dad is the deacons quorum adviser. How can the family help him magnify his calling? And what about Susan, who is the president of her Laurel class? Maybe her younger brother would be willing to help her with her household chores so she will have time to fulfill her calling.
Family councils can help you work, play, and grow together as a family. They help you become more sensitive to the needs of others, and help you set family goals and evaluate progress. They create an atmosphere of respect, understanding, and harmony. Your children are more committed to family plans and goals because they have helped to formulate them. And all family members grow in spirituality, unity, solidarity, and love for one another.