A family is …
There are many ways to fill in the blank.
A family is people who care.
A family is a place to feel love.
A family is something to work for.
A family is people to have fun with.
And the descriptions go on and on. Families can be traditional with a mother and father and children. Or the definition of a family can expand to include feelings you have for special people and special places.
When the world gets discouraging, it’s nice to know that there is a place to go where you are loved. For a moment, you can draw on the strength of your family to again face the challenges of life.
Your earthly family can be a place to learn about your eternal family and a loving Father in Heaven who is continually concerned about his sons and daughters.
Families fill many needs in our lives. It is in our families that we learn about work, the importance of education, having fun together, gaining support from extended family, expressing love, and understanding the eternal nature of our relationships. Here are some brief glimpses at LDS families throughout the world.
When Thomas Lillbäck was 11, his father was killed in a train accident. When he was 12, his mother died of cancer.
“It was very difficult,” the 18-year-old from the Vasterhaninge Ward, Stockholm Sweden Stake, explains. “My mother knew in advance she was going to die, so she made arrangements for me and my younger brother, Mathias. My parents were recent converts to the Church, but they knew some good people in the stake. They agreed to take care of us when she was gone.”
Thomas and Mathias have been part of the Simonsson family ever since.
“The Church has helped in building our relationships,” Thomas says. “We came into a gospel-centered home, and that made the transition easier. We had the same ideas. We had faith in the Lord, in the scriptures, and in prayer. We all knew that someday we’d see my mother and father again.”
The Simonssons live near the Stockholm Sweden Temple. Brother Simonsson is a temple worker, and Thomas often goes to the temple to do baptisms for the dead.
“When I’m in the temple, I give thanks for my present earthly family,” Thomas says. “I know they have blessed me a lot and I love them dearly. But I also think of my parents who are now in heaven. I know the Lord has promised that someday, if I live worthily, I can see them both again.”
It’s a bit quieter in the early mornings at the Dunlop household in Capalaba, Australia, these days. Oldest brother, Craig, is serving his mission in the Australia Perth Mission.
“He would come out of his bedroom about 5:30 and, bang, he would shut the door. He would bang down the hall,” said his mother, Kathryn. “We miss that, the big bang of the morning.”
The other seven Dunlop children feel there’s a big hole now that Craig is away from home. Nathan, 14, said, “Craig used to mug me and wrestle me to the floor.”
“He would keep us in line and tell us what we should be doing. Have we practiced our sport? Have we done our homework? Have we read our scriptures? Now he does it long distance,” said Melissa, 17.
This is love at home?
Yes, you feel it when each child grins, as they try to tell their favorite story about their brother.
Maybe the Dunlops learned to love each other from the example of their parents, particularly their father, Robert. Right while they’re talking about their family, Dad arrives home after having been away from home all week because of his work. Everyone is so glad to see him.
Leanne explains, “We miss him. When he gets home, we all bolt for the car when he drives up.”
Robert Dunlop tells of a sad experience in his past. “The last time I saw my dad was when I was going to boarding school. He was ill, and he wanted me to give him a kiss good-bye at the station. I was embarrassed and didn’t give him a kiss in front of all the other kids going away to school. It was the last time I ever saw him. I keep telling my own children of that.”
“So we give him kisses all the time,” said Leanne quickly.
But how does a parent let his children know he loves them when things don’t always go smoothly? “After we have an argument, Dad always says, ‘But I still love you,’” Melissa explains. “He always comes back and gives you a hug—always. Even if I am so angry that I think I don’t like him any more, then he comes back with that. He tells us all the time that he loves us.”
And the Dunlops make happy family memories. One of their favorite things to do together is bike riding—their Maleny bike ride. Sarah explains, “Mom and Dad take the older kids right to the top of the hill. Mom will usually drive down with the babies in the car, and the rest of us coast all the way down the mountain. We love that.”
Then the family all starts talking at once about who had bumped into whom and the funny things that happened, like when Sarah ran over a snake and they didn’t tell her because she would freak out.
Love at home? For the Dunlops it is.
Nobody ever said it was going to be easy. But nobody ever said it wasn’t going to be good, either.
The Crittenden family of the 18th North Ward, Eagle Gate Stake, in the heart of Salt Lake City, work hard. That’s all there is to it. But you never hear them complain. In fact, they’re often right there volunteering, doing a number of things that most people don’t hear about.
They work hard outside of church too. Fourteen-year-old David has a paper route and is looking forward to the time he’ll be old enough to start at McDonald’s. Seventeen-year-old Lisa is in demand as a baby-sitter, has worked at a department store, and takes on various other jobs in the summer. Their mother Judy works as a secretary at an elementary school, also works in the department store, and helps David with his paper route.
Lisa and David’s parents were divorced about 11 years ago. But you won’t hear them complain about that, either. “We were so young when the divorce happened that we don’t really remember what it’s like to have a dad around all the time,” says Lisa.
Among the things they do have that bring them together as a family are their pets. There are three terrier poodles and a cat to care for, and they love it. When one dog had puppies, the family helped and watched in awe.
The Church brings them close, too. You can often find Lisa helping her mother, the ward greeter, at the chapel door, handing out programs. David is usually one of the first to volunteer to pass the sacrament, and the family is very supportive of Lisa in her duties as first counselor in the Laurel presidency and as devotional counselor in seminary. Also, the time they spend praying and reading the scriptures together is a real unifier.
Of course this is not a fairy tale family. They have their fair share of spats. David felt like he had to work forever to pay Lisa back for her Walkman that got broken when he borrowed it. And Lisa and her mother are not always in agreement about who uses the car and when.
But those kinds of things are inevitable. Every family has disputes—it goes with the territory. But so can love and unity and support. They can be there if you work for them. And working hard in one area can teach you to work hard in the others. The Crittendens know that with the Lord’s help they can work their way through anything that comes along.
Ask about teenagers in the Brooklyn First Ward, and inevitably you’ll meet the Petrus family. It’s not that they’re the only teenagers in the ward—far from it. They just seem to be the ones involved in everything.
“Whatever the youth of the ward are doing, the Petrus kids are there,” says Blake Ricks, the ward Young Men president. “They set a great example.”
On any given Sunday, you might find Michael, 15, in a teachers quorum presidency meeting, or see Sarah, 16, sharing her scriptures with an investigator. Raquel, 17, is checking to make sure all the Young Women know which subway to ride to a youth fireside. And Gregory, 11, … well, Greg is usually telling someone a joke. But don’t misunderstand. Humor is a Haitian custom, a way of putting people at ease. And Greg loves to make people feel at home.
The Petrus teens are examples of dedication to the gospel and involvement in the Church. But a lot of the reason they’re good examples is that someone has been a good example to them: their mother.
Mireille Petrus returned to school after her husband left. Faced with raising her children on her own, she knew she needed better skills. As a nurse’s aide, she now spends her days helping elderly people in their homes.
“She works hard,” Sarah says. “But she loves the people she serves. She’s taught us all to work and get along with people. She’s good at that.”
She’s also taught her children a lot about being a family.
“She’s a very independent woman,” Raquel explains, “but she needs us as much as we need her. We help with the little things, like cleaning up the house. That’s a way to show her we care.”
“She’s taught us how to talk through things, too,” Michael says. “Around here, we’re always talking.” Sometimes conversations last long into the night, but they always end on a positive note.
“She’ll say, ‘Just come give me a hug,’ and everything’s all right again,” Sarah says. “Of course, we still have to work things out.”
Sister Petrus is more than willing to share her philosophy: “My children know I will always be here for them. But they also know that my most important role is to help them return to their Father in Heaven. I will do everything in my power to help them choose the path back to him. Everything else comes after that.”
There are lots of other good influences in the Petrus teens’ lives. Their grandparents live on the first floor of their home, a step-aunt lives with her children on the second floor, and the Petruses live on floor three. “Grandpa is always checking up on us,” Sarah says. And relatives are always dropping in. Home teachers and visiting teachers and friends from the ward are also like part of a great big family.
But it’s their mom the Petrus children honor the most. It’s a Haitian custom. “In American houses you’re more casual,” Michael explains. “You’ll say, ‘Hi, Mom.’ But in Haitian houses, if you don’t kiss your mother in greeting, you’re being extremely disrespectful. You always kiss your mother when you walk in the door.”
When Rebecca, 17, sits down to play the piano, she isn’t alone for long. Pretty soon her brother Michael, 19, joins in on the guitar or saxophone. And younger sister and brother, Alesha, 14, and Logan, 10, might sing or dance.
For the Raymond Maire family in Silverdale, New Zealand, music is something that brings a special harmony to their home. And it is a connection they have with their aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.
“I play six instruments,” said Michael. “I like to jam with my friends. I listen to a lot of old jazz.”
“We all play something,” said Rebecca.
The Maires get their musical ability from their grandfather. Their mom, Raewyn, explains, “Michael learned the guitar first from his grandad. He spent a lot of time with Michael and helped him understand the basics of music. Once he picked that up everything else was easy.”
Family, including their extended family, is very important to the Maires. Michael explains, “We are lucky because pretty much our whole extended family is just around the corner. Our grandparents are just down the road.”
“My best friends are my cousins,” said Rebecca. “We are so close that when we see each other, even if it is just the next day, it’s a really joyful reunion. We all support each other through everything we’ve had to go through. It’s a neat feeling.”
One of the things that brothers and sisters and cousins can support each other in is their commitment to living the gospel. “The word gets around that we won’t do certain things,” said Rebecca. “We don’t realize that people watch us all the time until someone says, ‘You’re a Mormon, aren’t you?’ Or they say, ‘I saw some missionaries from your church. Is that what your brother is going to be?’”
When Michael is serving, he’ll know that there are a lot of folks at home supporting him. And maybe Grandpa will be teaching yet another grandchild about music.
Inside a farm house in tiny Hanna, Utah, the Park family sits together, reading scriptures, sharing what they learn. Outside, the sun is just breaking over the Uinta Mountains. It’s 6:00 A.M.
In this home, each day brings new opportunities for growth, spiritually and temporally, personally and as a family. The Parks call the learning process “education,” but that’s a broad definition. They try to simplify it: “Education is school, church, work, play—in short, everything we do. Education is applying what we’ve learned to our own lives to make them better.”
But getting a well-rounded education isn’t easy when you live on an isolated farm in the mountains. And finding time for education is hard when you’re one of ten children (plus a Costa Rican exchange student) and have duties on the farm and in the house.
Those difficulties, however, are what made the children of the Park family develop a secret of success: be responsible and learn from each other.
“With a family this size we have to teach each other,” says Brook, 15. “My mom and dad are involved in a lot of things in the community and at church so the older kids make sure the younger ones understand their homework and can do things around the house.”
“We all feel responsible for everybody else’s success,” adds mother, Rene.
Ben is the oldest child left at home. At 17 he is beginning to feel the eyes of the younger children upon him. More responsibility. More growth.
“I’ve come to realize it’s important to study and learn because I set an example for the rest,” says Ben, who will graduate in Tabiona’s largest senior class ever—20 people.
Ben also recognizes the educational value of the things he takes for granted, things he learned from his father. He helps his brothers and sisters learn to work around the farm and with the cattle.
Bob, the father, is the principal of the Tabiona Public School, ten miles down the valley. So, of course, academics are important in the household, but the children have never been limited to just a classroom education. The family also learns from activities like 4-H, Scouting, music, drama, sports, and traveling.
“We try to be well-rounded people, participating in all aspects of education,” Bob said. “We then teach each other the gospel by using life—trying to show how our lives relate to the scriptures and then how the scriptures relate to us.”
Education is a family business for the Parks, and the gospel is at the center of all they learn. At dawn in the Uinta Mountains, the Parks are discovering a world of opportunity.