Growing up in Bunkerville, Nevada, my siblings and I had many chores to do. One of my chores was to open a headgate that allowed water to pass through to our gardens. If I didn’t do my job, the plants would die, and we wouldn’t have food from the garden. We also did housework, washed dishes by hand, and took care of pets. We were taught to work, and we thought we worked pretty hard.
When I was nine years old, my parents, who were both school teachers at the time, made a dramatic decision. They decided to leave teaching to become farmers. My family moved to a farm in Idaho.
When we moved to the farm, work took on a new meaning for us children. We had to milk the cows; clean out the sheds; take care of the pigs, chickens, and calves; and still take our turn opening the headgate for the irrigation water. All of us, even my sister, hoed sugar beets, detassled corn, planted and topped onions, and harvested onion seed.
Taking care of the farm was a family activity. We learned to work together and rely on each other. There was so much to do, and the family got it done. We learned that “family first” is not just an idea; it’s a principle of taking care of ourselves.
If the family is to be eternal, the family has to be first—the highest priority. Sometimes the family needs the teenagers to help earn a living. Sometimes the family needs them to take care of younger children and share in the workloads. Sons and daughters can prepare dinners and clean the house. There’s a lot of day-to-day work in making families succeed.
Fun times are important for families too, but our days shouldn’t be organized around entertainment. Our days should be organized around the family and its needs and work requirements. Then entertainment and fun times can give us some relief and a lift of mind and spirit.
I remember how fun it was when the farm work was done and the three of us boys used to go into the pastures to play stickball. We did lots of things like that because we didn’t have time for organized sports. We made our own family fun. But we played only after the work was done. The fun times rewarded us for the hard work.
I’m grateful for a father who organized well. Breakfast was a time not only for eating but also for organizing. During breakfast, we planned the day’s work and made the day’s assignments.
We also benefited from having family home evenings. We grew up on stories of faith. We had a healthy reverence for the apostles and prophets. Their words carried a lot of weight in our family.
In your own family, try to think of family home evening not as an obligation but as a great chance to do a number of things: to plan what the family is going to do, to decide how to meet the needs of the family members, and most of all, to learn the gospel. Remember that family members learn the gospel best when they teach each other.
Family home evening can also include something fun. But don’t let the desire to be entertained overshadow the need to learn. We’re blessed when we learn together.
One of the most important things I learned by working hard on the farm is that everyone must be involved. We knew that if we were going to have a home, a car, reasonably good clothing, and a few other things, we all had to work at it. We all had a sense that we were helping.
One of the major stresses on families today is that the individual—the child or the parent—sees himself or herself, rather than the family, at the center of life. Focusing on ourselves, and not on the larger vision of bringing the family together, can lead to contention.
We have to work together to make a family succeed. But it’s not something we can do by assignment. It’s a matter of the heart. Children and parents have to have in their hearts a desire to make each other happy.
A happy home takes work, but if you can focus more on others than on yourself, you’ll find that you will be taken care of and will be happier. Our greatest happiness comes when the family is healthy spiritually and emotionally. Whether you live on a farm or in a city, you’ll find that a healthy family is the seedbed from which personal growth and personal happiness really rise.