The Forever Formula: Family = Friends = Fun


The power to transform your family life is contained in a simple formula anyone can apply.

Hey, what’s that? some kind of new math where opposites are equal?

No, it’s the 3F formula. If you use it right, it can change your sister from a pesky brat into a friend. It can make your brother enjoy spending time with you. It might even help your parents understand their children!

But I don’t see how it can work in real life, you say. All right, how about if I introduce you to a family that tried this formula and found that it worked?

I’d like you to meet the Thordersons, an LDS family from Livonia, Michigan.

There are six children in this family: five boys and one girl. They range in age from 28 to 13, and since they have spent their lives perfecting the 3F formula, their experiences are a good example for teenagers who are thinking about trying it in their own families. Here are some of the truths they learned:

Service Strengthens Family Bonds

There are lots of ways the Thordersons learned this truth, but one of the most important ways they learned to serve was through Grandma Julie. Grandma Julie was really Eva Julie VanGard. Sister Thorderson was her visiting teacher for ten years. For the last six years of her life (she was 102 when she died in the spring of 1989), Grandma Julie lived with the Thordersons.

“Having Grandma Julie move in with us was the greatest thing that ever happened,” says Sister Thorderson. “A lot of kids do not know how to relate to older people, and these kids are so good with older people; it’s wonderful.”

They all remember Grandma Julie fondly and love to tell funny stories about her. Kurt, who is the second oldest, remembers Grandma Julie as a natural part of their lives. “She would be here when we would have friends from church and school over. The room would be packed with people, and she’d be right in the middle of everything.”

Jim, the third oldest, said Grandma Julie loved to tell them stories about her life—usually more than once. But that didn’t matter to the Thordersons, because they loved this little, fragile lady as if she were their own grandmother. They learned to give unselfish service in their family because of the care she needed and the love she gave. Grandma Julie prompted them all to be more considerate and loving toward each other, which is a big part of being friends with your brothers and sisters.

Family Comes First

The Thordersons learned this one because they lived it. Even sports, which can pull some people away from family time, became a family activity under the 3F plan. Eric, the oldest, started the tradition by playing basketball in grade school, and the others followed him. Kurt said, “I just followed along because he needed somebody to play with. And then he went to junior high ball, and then high school, and that kind of dragged the whole family in.”

Jim agreed. “We all went to everyone’s games. Jed (the youngest) was practically raised at basketball games because we were involved in so many different leagues and stuff.” Julie, the only sister in the group, who is now on a mission at the Salt Lake Visitors’ Center on Temple Square, said, “Our parents were always there at everything we did, and so were the rest of us. If you went to all the different games everyone was involved in you were busy five nights a week!”

By supporting each other’s activities, the Thordersons realized that doing things together as a family really can be fun, and they learned about each other’s talents and likes so they could become closer as friends.

Laughter Really Is the Best Medicine

If you spend any time at all with the Thordersons, something will become immediately apparent: they love to laugh. Tera is a sister-in-law, and a relative newcomer to the group, but she recognized this trait immediately. “They are the biggest jokesters I know,” she said. “I think they are all friends because they take everything lightly. Everything is funny, even when they fight!”

They love to tease each other and play practical jokes. In fact, Eric is notorious for his practical jokes, like the time he stuck a “Just Married” sign on the back of the car Kurt was taking to the prom. “But the funniest part of that story is that Dad drove the car to the cleaners by himself and he couldn’t figure out why everyone was honking at him!” laughed Julie.

This is probably one of the biggest keys to their version of the 3F formula: they love to be together, laughing and having a good time. They know the teasing is all in fun, and they have learned that getting along is a lot more fun than fighting.

Being Different Is Okay

There are two ways the Thordersons learned this lesson: one, because they are all different from each other, and two, because as members of the Church, they are very different from most of their friends.

With six kids in a family, you can hardly expect them to all have the same likes or dislikes, virtues or vices. Sometimes this makes getting along with each other difficult, but in the Thorderson family, having different talents was encouraged. Jim said, “Our parents always let us do what we were interested in, like when Kurt wanted to be a photographer, he worked to earn a camera and they helped him. They always helped us pursue what we wanted to do.”

Consequently, Eric, Kurt, and Jim, the three oldest, have grown up to be very different people. Eric is a businessman, Kurt is doing a residency to get his M.D., and Jim is making a name for himself as an artist. But these differences have never stopped them from having a good time with each other. For instance, the year before Jim went on his mission, all three of them played on the basketball team at Wayne State University in Detroit. They know from this and many other experiences that being different doesn’t mean they can’t be friends.

And all of the Thordersons know that being different because of their values is more than all right—it’s the way to set a good example for others around you. Kurt said, “While we were growing up, Eric and I were the only LDS students in our high school, and we were in a graduating class of about 650. And then when I went to Wayne State, the only other Latter-day Saints out of 30,000 people were Eric and Dad (he works as an administrator there). It was hard, but it also made me stand up for what I believe.”

Seminary Makes a Difference

The Thordersons went to seminary at 6:00 A.M. throughout high school, and they all talk about what a great program it is. “Early morning seminary, I think, was a big boost for us,” said Kurt. “It really takes a lot of commitment to go, and I think it’s worth it.” Nels, the fifth child, who is on a mission in Salt Lake City, said, “It starts your day out right to see your Church friends early in the morning before school starts.”

Jed, who is 13, hasn’t started seminary yet, but the example of his older brothers and sister has inspired him to read the Book of Mormon each morning before school with his mother. They read one chapter a day, and they have already read through the book three times. Because of this experience, Jed is sure he’ll have no trouble getting up for seminary when the time comes. As the youngest of this clan he has probably benefited the most from the 3F formula because it was well established by the time he came along. “I think all of these big brothers are great—I get to wear all of their old clothes!” he laughs. You don’t have to ask Jed twice if he thinks the 3F formula works. He has learned its power through example, and it’s not a lesson he’s likely to forget.

So, now that you’ve met the Thordersons, do you believe the formula works?

Maybe you think, yeah, I guess they have a pretty good time together, but I still don’t understand how that little 3F thing can make such a difference.

Well, to tell the truth, it’s not the formula that makes the difference. The formula is just a reminder of the results that come when you apply the truths the Thordersons learned. Add some of your own activities, too. Things like going to your brother’s football game, or living the principles you learn in seminary, or laughing at your little sister’s corny elementary school jokes are what makes the 3F formula work. Those things have more power to change your earthly and heavenly home than you imagine. The 3F formula is powerful—you’ll have a lot of fun with it if you give it a try. Just ask the Thordersons, who are living proof; they’ll tell you they’re working on the 4F formula, too. That’s family = friends = fun = forever.

[photos] Photography by Phil Shurtleff

[photo] Many different personalities and talents can be blended into a harmonious whole.

[photo] Loving service to “Grandma Julie” made family members more thoughtful of each other, too.