Richard and Linda Eyre -- Joy School Grows Up
By Kathryn H. Kidd

Richard and Linda Eyre didn’t just wake up one morning, look at each other across their bowls of breakfast Cheerios, and decide they were going to become the nation’s foremost experts on families.  In fact, it took a little divine intervention to push them in the right direction. 

Richard and Linda happily met with local people on their round-the-world tour.

Richard, a Harvard Business School graduate and a political junkie who had already worked on high-profile national election campaigns, was four days from announcing his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives when a phone call from President Nathan Eldon Tanner changed his life.  He and Linda reported to President Tanner’s office and learned that they were being called to preside over the England London South mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Richard was only 30 at the time, and a Mission Presidency call was the last thing he was expecting.  It was also not a call he could turn down.  The political career would have to take a break for three years until he returned.  He figured he could wait.

What he and Linda did not anticipate was that the two of them were beginning an odyssey that would last for the rest of their lives.  As Richard shepherded – and Linda mothered – missionaries who had come from all walks of life to serve in London, they started seeing a pattern.  Without exception, their missionaries’ best qualities could be traced to their families and their parents, and the missionaries who had the most serious problems were always the missionaries who had grown up without solid family foundations.

“That mission is where we began to understand that everything revolves around the family,” Linda, a teacher and musician says.  Richard adds, “I’d interview missionaries and find out that both their good qualities and their problems were basically due to the influence of their parents.  When I came home as an old man of 33, I had come to understand that the family really is the underpinning of society.”

Timely Wisdom

This understanding was a huge revelation for the Eyres, who were well on their way toward producing a family of nine children. (They went to London with four children and came home with six, and the two boys born there are joint citizens to this day.)  The family connectedness they learned from the mission was also a bit of wisdom that was extremely pertinent in the early 1980s – at a time, Richard said, “when people were really starting to understand how much trouble families were in.”

Linda poses with a friend. Although their faces look different, their parenting goals are the same.

Excited to share their newfound understanding, the Eyres sat down and wrote a book – Teaching Your Children Joy.   They found a publisher through Deseret Book’s then-new Shadow Mountain imprint. “We had  four pre-schoolers of our own as we were writing” Linda said.  “We were just basically trying to write our own philosophy of raising young children – that the most important thing to teach them while they are so young and impressionable is the basic capacity for various kinds of joy.”

“I’d like to say we planned it out,” Richard said, “but all we did was write that first parenting book and everything else snowballed.  We almost immediately started getting a lot of feedback.  This was during the days when educators were preaching that children had to get a lot of intellectual training before kindergarten, and parents were teaching their kids to read almost as soon as they were born.  There was a backlash building up,” as parents instinctively knew this early drilling of their children was wrong. “Our book taught parents to let children be kids and not worry about academics, but instead worry about their social wellbeing.  We got deluged with calls and letters asking for more.  This was one of those occasions where the idea came just at the right time.  People wanted to hear what we had to say.”

Parents were so excited to learn what the Eyres had to teach them that Linda and Richard knew they had to learn more so they could teach more.  “We set up a lab school in Logan, Utah, where Richard’s mother, Ruth (an early childhood education specialist), and others took the ideas from the book and tried to see how to put them to work,” Linda said. The Eyres used their own children as guinea pigs as they developed a program to teach children the fundamentals of a joyful life. 

This was the genesis of Joy School – Linda and Richard’s school that was designed to teach preschoolers joy.  Based on the premise that a child’s “J.Q.” (joy quotient) is more important than the child’s I.Q., do-it yourself Joy Schools were set up by mothers’ groups in homes throughout the West and then across America and then around the world.

Joy Schools focus on basic joys of life.  Lessons include such easy concepts as “The Joy of the Body” and “The Joy of Sharing and Service” – all designed for preschoolers to understand.   The concept immediately struck a chord with parents who wanted to raise happy children.  More than 100,000 parents have officially signed up as Joy School teachers during the lifetime of the program, but Richard and Linda estimate the number is twice that because so many people have passed the course materials on to sisters, daughters and friends.  After more than 20 years of mailing out teaching manuals and CDs, Joy School is now entirely on line at .

“After that first year we were sending out dittos to people, giving them all our ideas,” Richard continued.  “It was one of those rare occasions where word of mouth did everything.  As our book caught on, Shadow Mountain sent us on a book tour to four cities.  As part of the tour, we appeared on a television show called ‘Good Morning, San Francisco.'”

National Exposure

Although the Eyres didn’t know it at the time, the San Francisco television show was as instrumental in shaping their lives as their mission call had been a few years earlier.  The president of Random House publishing company happened to be in San Francisco that one day, and she happened to see the Eyres on early morning television.  She immediately purchased the publishing rights for Teaching Your Children Joy from Deseret Book and published it under the Random House imprint.  The book sold like gangbusters – and the Eyres’ readers wanted more. Suddenly Richard didn’t have time for politics, or even for his management consulting business.  He had to cut everything else back to allow time to write, speak, and do the media appearances that started coming the Eyres’ way.

Richard plays the role of befuddled tourist on the world tour.

If preschoolers had Joy School, the obvious next step would be to offer a follow-up course of study for elementary school children.  The Eyres’ next book, Teaching Your Children Responsibility, picked up where Teaching Your Children Joy left off.  Richard explained, “When we wrote Teaching Your Children Joy, we wrote about things like the joy of having a body.  The follow-up book taught older children that they needed to take care of their bodies.  We began to feel strongly that the age of accountability is the age of transition, and thought that parents should focus on joy with small kids, but at about age eight they need to teach the same principles, but in the context of being responsible.”

Time and again, Richard and Linda’s instincts have paid off.  Teaching Your Children Responsibility was as popular as the original book had been.  The next thing they wanted to focus on was teenagers.  Teaching Your Children Charity (which was eventually renamed Teaching Your Children Sensitivity) focused on “the prime need of teenagers,” which Linda said “is to get them away from their incredible self-centeredness.  Teenagers tend to have a ‘mirror existence,’ which means that they see everything in terms of how it affects them.  If you can get a teenager to get outside of himself and help the less fortunate, that’s the way to get him out of the mirror existence.”

The capstone of the Eyre’s parenting series was the Simon and Schuster book Teaching Your Children Values, which became the first parenting book in 50 years (since Dr. Spock’s classic) to go to number one on the New York Times bestseller list.  Widespread publicity followed, with books translated into eight languages and regular appearances on national talk shows such as “Oprah,” “Good Morning America,” “The Today Show,” and “Prime time Live.”  For a time the Eyres were the family and parenting experts on “The CBS Early Show,” and the demand for their speeches and presentations became global.

From Guinea Pigs to Role Models

As the Eyre children got older, they couldn’t help but see that they were the models for all their parents’ research.  Richard said he and Linda were fortunate in having nine children who were completely different from one another.  The only thing in common was that they were “incredibly strong-willed.”  

“This worried us a lot until one night when Elder Brockbank told us that all real leaders were once strong-willed children,” laughed Linda.

Being teenagers, the Eyre children good-naturedly complained about being set up as the children of parents who knew everything.  “They said, ‘People think we’re supposed to be perfect,'” Richard said.  “We told them that was the whole point – to put pressure on them.”  But the nine Eyre children thrived with this sort of pressure.  They knew their parents put them first, and their responses to the Eyres’ theories told Linda and Richard they were on the right track.

Having those nine completely different children has served Linda and Richard well.  As they have traveled around the world as advocates for the family, parents have asked them how to deal with their children.  “We’ve been in Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim countries,” Richard explained.  “You’d think the parents would be completely different from us, but nine out of ten questions we’d answer by saying, ‘We had a child who did just that same thing.’  We’ve faced almost every one of the common, everyday challenges that parents can face.  Parents like that because they realize they’re not the only ones making a particular mistake or worrying about a certain problem.”

As the children have aged, Richard and Linda have seen the rewards of their work.  “The neatest thing,” Linda said, “is that five of our nine children are now parents, and every one of them is a vastly better parent than we were at that age.  The dads are so much more involved.  They’ve all done Joy School (with the kids who are old enough to take it), they love it, and our two oldest daughters have written the Joy School newsletters for the past couple of years.”

Richard and Linda Eyre preach joy, but they also practice it.  Richard says there are two great joys in his life.  “The first is that we’re in the arena where the Lord wants us to be,” he said.  “We may not be doing everything right, but our ladder is leaning against the right wall.”

He said the other great joy in life is “watching your kids and knowing without question they’re better than you in every way.  They’re the new and improved version.  I was sitting at a dinner with my son Noah earlier this week.  A little old lady came up to me and said, ‘Is that your son?  He looks just like a better version of you.’  What a great thing that was for a parent to hear!”

Worldwide Concerns

Linda and Richard have spoken all over the world, telling parents the importance of close-knit families.  Recently they went on a months’-long round-the-world tour that took them to numerous countries in India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.  The Eyres were surprised and gratified to see that no matter who was in their audience, they all had similar concerns as parents.

The Eyres even had a world tour t-shirt made up to show the stops they made around the world.

“It was fascinating to be in a situation where we were in so many diverse cultures in such a short time,” Richard said.  “We were worried that we’d have to alter our talks in order to compensate for religious and cultural and economic differences.  We didn’t have to alter anything at all.  When it comes to what parents feel for children, we are completely united.  We have the same concerns and the same passionate love for our children.  We began to relish it as we went from place to place.  Once you start talking about parents and children, you have a common ground.

He offered two instances that illustrated his point.   First, he said, there was a cabinet minister in Malaysia “who was very political.  We were talking about politics, and he said parents are all the same.  He told us that a good definition of a conservative is a flaming liberal with a teenage daughter.  How true that is!”

In Indonesia, he and Linda met a woman “who was fairly wealthy.  She wanted to send her kids to the U.S. to attend Ivy League colleges so they could get the best possible education – but she didn’t want them to pick up Western values.  Than she said, ‘I want them to be able to operate in the world, but I don’t want them to be of the world.’

“Isn’t that amazing?” he added.  “Here you have a mother in Indonesia saying the same thing a Utah mother would say.  Whether you’re a Mormon or a Muslim, you want the same kind of things for your children.”

Being a parent is “infinitely harder” today, he added, even though parents want the same thing for their kids that they wanted a generation ago.  “The reasons are the internet and the media,” Richard explained.  “The peer group makes it more difficult too, but the peer group is feeding on the internet.  Fifty years ago, all the larger entities – the government, the private institutions, and even the clubs – supported and supplemented families.  Today those same institutions sabotage families and substitute for families.  This is a hard time to be a parent.”

New Horizons

Because of today’s extra challenges, the Eyres are rededicating themselves to work as advocates for the family.  “We are linking ourselves to a lot of pro-family groups,” Richard said, “but we’re linking ourselves in an interesting way.  We want to be the offense that goes with their defense.”  There are numerous organizations that are working to protect and defend the family through legislative and political means, he said, and this work is vital.  However, he and Linda are focusing their work on the families themselves – teaching them to get stronger from the inside out.  In addition to this “micro-offense,” they are committed to the kind of “macro-offense” where they try to be catalysts in encouraging lager institutions from businesses to media to take better care of the families that they depend on as customers, employees, and audience.

For example, the Eyres are working with a major discount store to organize a “value of the month.”  Under this program, the store would concentrate on one value each month, and distribute a CD or DVD every month that would teach the corresponding value to customers and their families.  “When parents leave the store,” Richard said, “they can pop the CD in the player and listen to it on the way home.”

Similar campaigns may be sponsored by fast-food chains.  “Instead of giving a plastic toy with their kiddie meals,” he added, fast food places could pass out the CD on the value of the month – one that would teach a particular value or a form of responsibility in a way that entertains and reaches kids.  And that’s not all.  In terms of the media, we’re trying to get more family-friendly programming on the air.  In all of these arenas, we’re trying in our own small way to turn the herd just a little.  Sometimes, just a little turn is all it takes.”

Meridian Magazine will soon be launching its own values program. Starting August 1, the Eyres are going to work in partnership with Meridian to assist in developing the Meridian Family Value of the Month. A monthly story, on the first weekday of each new month, written by Richard and Linda, will focus on that month’s value – teaching principless that can be used in the home to strengthen the family. These columns will supplement the Eyres’ two current Meridian columns, “Turning Old Clichs into New Maxims” and “What Manner of Man.” (Both columns have been on hiatus during the Eyres’ travels, but are scheduled to resume next week.)

Richard, who is big on alliteration, said that Meridian’s new values series will help to “fortify families by popularizing parenting, bolstering balance, and validating values.”  After all, he said, “neither the requirements of parenting nor the needs of children will ever change.”

Looking back now with thirty books in print and more speaking and media invitations than they can handle, the Eyres’ main concern is taking advantage of and maximizing the opportunities the Lord has given them to help parents and strengthen families.  They love President Lee’s quote, Richard said, “about the Church being the scaffolding with which we are to build eternal families.  Whether parents are in or out of the Church, their highest priority is their family, and they all – we all – need help in that area.”

Thinking back to the time when they came within four days of going to Congress instead of to the London Mission, Linda said, “We take absolutely no credit for anything we may have been able to do for parents and families.  We just feel blessed to have been guided and to have had this chance to ‘choose the better part.’  Most of all we feel blessed to have been given great kids.  We never judge parents by how their kids are doing, because we believe that the Lord sent some of his toughest challenges to the parents He trusted most.”