We’re finishing off the topic of how to juggle family life and church work, and there seems to be a common theme in today’s letters. The thing we need to remember, no matter how essential our church callings are, is that nobody can do it all.

I felt a sting when I read the comments of the less-active woman who had bad memories of her mother being a Relief Society president. I hope my children don’t feel that way. I have been an auxiliary ward president five times and my husband, well, he runs the gamut from bishop to everything else.

Our children seem to have good things to say about being young and helping my husband and me in our callings. They set up rooms, cleaned up after socials, got food from the grocery for poor families, and delivered countless cookies and visiting teaching letters. They went early with us to set up and stayed late to clean up.

There is no way to count the presidency meetings they have sat through (or bounced basketballs through), or the hours they have spent helping us. Maybe a few of these things helped their good attitudes about it today:

We asked for their help kindly and always said thank you. We did our best to include them in everything we could. We tried to make it fun for them – home teaching always included Sonic, for example. When they were little, there was elaborate praise and thanks for being there for me and Dad and, in return, we had to be there for them – coaching, team mom stuff, school programs, whatever.??I don’t know the number of times I had my kids accompany me on visits, sometimes to scary places. One memorable visit, I got out of the car at this really sketchy place. My 17-year-old muscle-bound jock of a son yells out the window, “Mom, this is just like the beginning to The Hills Have Eyes (a horror movie)! Run!” I ran, leaving the brownies in the mail box.

When I made treats, I left some at home. If I didn’t, I heard about it big time! And I got with the program and left more the next time. It would be appropriate to say that my kids don’t swallow their feelings; they let me know if they’re not happy.

We tried to make it fun for them. Setting up for the Halloween party always included extra treats. Also, letting them off the hook sometimes – “You go home, I’ll finish up here. Thanks, babe!” But I think that kids benefit in so many ways by being included in service in our callings. It’s no fun for anyone to be alone in all the work we put in.

The best way I can judge the success of our life that has been lived serving in major callings is that all our children are active today, and they seem to have good attitudes about our family’s growing up years. They serve willingly in their callings. If they don’t include their own children in their service, if they don’t make it fun, if they don’t cut them slack sometimes, if they don’t in return be there ready to have fun outside of the realm of the church building – I will be very disappointed!??Texas Mom

I like your idea of making service fun, Texas. There’s a whole lot that can be said for having a good attitude. In fact, if you don’t go into something with a positive outlook, it’s awfully hard to make a positive experience out of it. (It can be done, though. I’m sure all of us have trudged off to do our home or visiting teaching, only to have something wonderful happen and be profoundly grateful for the experience.)

Balancing church callings and family responsibilities can be tricky, especially because as parents, we want our children to have a positive example of service in the Church and a positive experience of family life.

Too often we see the unfortunate results of parents whose time and attention are absorbed by their involvement in church callings, to the detriment of their marriages and their children. The parents have forgotten that no matter how visible or important the church calling, it is only for a finite period of time, but the family calling is for eternity.

Here are a few things my husband and I learned while both doing the balancing act and watching others:

Always have family prayer and family scripture study every day. Without fail. Maybe that goes without saying.

Maintain an attitude of respect for each other, both in your callings and in your roles in the family.

There should never be an attitude of, “I’m more important than you.” ??My husband and I both had heavy callings for a few months when our children were small; then I was released. Even though he was in the bishopric, if kids were sick and needing to stay home, he made sure I didn’t miss sacrament meeting twice in a row. He stayed home to take care of the sick child (even if it was the baby) and let me go the second week. He also came home (we live very near the church) after early-morning meetings to help get the children ready and out the door for church. ??When I was heavily involved in my calling on Sunday, my husband fixed dinner. He’s not really a cook, so dinner was pancakes, and the children loved it. There was no resentment and no competition.

Involve the children as much as possible in your calling. With some callings, it’s easy to involve the kids; with others, there might not be a way to do that directly. ??Some of my fondest church memories as a child were helping my mother clean up after Relief Society back when it was held on weekdays. The older ladies who were quilting were always so sweet to me and my brother. I’m not sure we helped Mom much, but we grew to love those sisters and knew they loved us, too. It helped make up for the great deal of time Mom had to be involved without us. ??In our own family, my husband’s callings haven’t lent themselves to children’s involvement much, but when he was in the bishopric, he called to let us know when he was finished counting tithing so the kids could be ready to go with him and the clerk to take the deposit to the bank. The kids looked forward to that trip each week. ??My callings have often been easier to involve the kids in – we discovered children are a great resource for fielding and generating ideas for, and the actual carrying out, of activities of all kinds; they’re terrific cleaner-uppers; they can sharpen pencils and put stuff away in the library; they are great for testing recipes; they can help with computer stuff way more than your ego is ready to let them; and the list goes on.

Actively teach your children. When my husband was called into the bishopric, our children ranged from seven years old down to a few months old. The stake president issued a calling to them along with their daddy’s calling. The children were called to help their mother, since their father would need to spend time away from the family doing church work and would be sitting on the stand at sacrament meeting. That helped us with teaching our children about serving in the Church, how we all help each other, and how we need to fulfill our responsibilities. We became more active in teaching our children about callings and service – instead of merely setting an example, we talked with them about it.

Be engaged in the family. When you are with your family, really be there with them. We had a bishop whose family never answered the phone on Monday nights. He knew that if there were a crisis, since our ward is very small geographically, someone would come to his door, and he could take care of the problem. ??When their kids were involved in competitions or performances, that time was sacred, too. Their kids couldn’t hang out with friends, babysit (much to the chagrin of some of us), or do other non-family stuff. The whole family went to the competition or performance. ??I don’t know, of course, if sometimes he wasn’t available for those events because of church commitments, but I’m certain he minimized those conflicts as much as possible. They set a terrific example of the whole family being engaged in the family. There was no double standard. (And their kids were the best babysitters because of it, too.) Also be engaged with your family in little things and small moments.

Be conscious of your own actions and honest with yourself about your motives. Your church calling shouldn’t become a dodge to get you out of unpleasant, difficult, or tedious situations at home, nor should a little fun with the kids get you out of unpleasant, difficult, or tedious situations in your calling.

The visibility and respect that come with some callings can be intoxicating, or at least addictive. Don’t forget that your family needs you. Remember also that your children’s faith isn’t built when you slide by on a minimum of effort in your church callings, even if their well-being is your excuse. The work of the Church does need to be carried forward, and we are blessed both in magnifying our callings and in fulfilling our family responsibilities as we prayerfully and earnestly strive to do our best on both fronts. Our oldest is now serving a mission and our youngest is a Scout, so we’re not finished with the balancing

act yet, but our children have all thanked us for how we have handled our callings and their needs. They’ve been grateful we taught them to take responsibility and wished other parents had taught their kids more.

Our missionary has seen enough to appreciate our example of continuing faithful even when it’s been really hard. Their telling us how they feel is just part of the ongoing dialogue we have on the subject as we continue doing and teaching and they are now shouldering callings themselves. Our eternal callings in our family have benefited from our finite callings in the Church, for which my husband and I are most grateful.

Active with Children in Utah

P.S. Our fifteen-year-old just told me the answer is to “follow the Spirit and counsel with the Lord in all thy doings.'” Well said.? ?What a great letter, Active! You had a lot of concrete suggestions and excellent comments. (Please thank your fifteen-year-old on our behalf.)

One thing your letter pointed out that was especially important to me was the part about how your children have been grateful for learning responsibility and wish other parents were as diligent as you about teaching this important concept. I’ve seen far too many instances in the past few years of kids coming home from their missions after only a few weeks because “it just wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be,” and Clark has pulled out most of his hair trying to convince the high priests that if they are home teaching companions with their sons they need to set an example of reliability or their sons will never be good home teachers. There are so many parents that just don’t get it, but fortunately there are a whole lot of parents who do.

My sister-in-law uses the excuse that she does not want to return to church because she does not want a calling. Her mom was Relief Society president, but she is also a chronic martyr.

I have had some demanding callings and brought plenty of meals. I always cook extra of whatever I am making for my family. I include my kids in to the work so they are part of it. My daughter loves helping me and has often been my visiting teaching companion when my own could not go. My boys have helped their dad. We have also at times said no to requests when it really is too much.

If the kids are part of things and the parents show joy, then resentment will not be as much of a problem. Mothers at home can do a lot to support their husbands who have demanding callings. They can make sure all the work at home is done so home time is time the dads can spend with kids.

When my husband is gone I loosen up and we goof off. My husband does the same when I am gone, and these are special family times with a different dynamic. If both parents have demanding callings, they can talk to their leaders and ask for relief. Family really is first. That is why the leadership has told us we are only supposed to have one calling each. Even so I know people with several. Learning to say no can be key here.

One thing that can help if we are uncertain about a calling is to request a week for prayer before accepting. I once requested that the bishopric pray about my calling, and if they still felt right in a week I would serve willingly. It was not right, and I did not hear from them again. Later the person who took the job bore her testimony about how much the experience had meant to her, and I knew I had done the right thing.

Some times in our lives we don’t have balance and it is just ok.

The sooner our kids learn that life is not always ideal, the better. Our attitudes can go a long way toward how they deal with such things later when they are making hard choices.

Los Angeles Reader

Los Angeles, your letter is the only one that pointed out our lives aren’t always balanced, and that’s okay. I see where you’re coming from here, and I appreciate it. It goes along with the idea that life isn’t supposed to be fair. We strive for fairness just as we do for balance, but this is not the celestial world.

I also appreciated your sharing the story about asking the bishopric to pray about a calling that didn’t seem right to you. It was neat that you expressed willingness to take the calling if that was really what they wanted, but it was also impressive that the bishopric went back and prayed about it and got a different answer.

A wonderful regional representative’s wife met with the wives of the stake presidents while her husband met with them.

After some very real concerns were shared and some tears were shed, she gave us this advice.

Your family can endure very well with one parent doing most of the parenting. If it is you, remember your family comes first. You should not feel guilty if you can’t be as involved at church as usual. Don’t worry, your time will come.

She quoted the scripture from Mosiah 4: 26 and 27.Paraphrased:Do all that you can, but do not do so much you begin to fail. She told us that only we and God knew how much we could do and to faithfully pray to Him to know what that is.

Then, she gave us one final bit of advice. Many people will disagree with it, but it was music to our ears.

She said that sometimes our survival word would have to be no.

One of the things that hurt our feelings was that people (leaders included) were not mindful enoughof our situation and would ask too much and then make us feel guilty if we fell short. Example: A sister with five little ones was asked to take a group of youth to the temple. The temple was two hours away. She said she just couldn’t leave them that long, and her husband would not be home. The person who called said, “Well, it is up to you, ifyoudon’t think you need the blessings.”

Over the years, I have prayerfully used the word only three or four times, but I was so glad to be able to doit and know my Father in Heaven understood even if others did not.

When our five children were all grown (and they are so good), I asked our oldest son how he had felt about his dad being gone so much. He replied that he sometimes felt cheated when his dad wasn’t at his activities, butit was okay becausehe always knew wherehis dadwas and that he was doing something good. It also taught our family about service and to look for the blessings that come.

My personal, and I think most important advice is that, mothers should be home and available at all times. A child should never feel insecure because no one is there for him.

I know, this is way too long, but it is so important to me that I am gratefulfor thisforum to share it with others. Thank you.

Carol in Arizona

Thanks for a great letter, Carol. The part about saying no really helped me. I’m still smarting from the time, many years ago, when a dear friend called me late on a Friday morning to say her husband had a cold and would really appreciate some of my chicken soup for dinner that night. I didn’t have any of the ingredients in the house, and my chicken soup takes hours to make because I boil the chicken to make the stock. Add that to the fact that I had to drive for a half hour to pick up Clark at 2:30 to get to the temple in time for our shift, after which we wouldn’t be home until after ten.

With anxiety making a lump in my stomach, I told her I just couldn’t do it. She sighed and said, “Kathy, service isn’t supposed to be easy.” To this day, I still feel the guilt – and in fact, the lump of anxiety returned as I typed these two paragraphs. I didn’t want to let her down.

Despite what the lump of anxiety is saying to the contrary, we have to be realistic.

People, we can’t do everything. If you have to say no, say no.

Face it. Outside of Utah, Arizona and Idaho there are far fewer members to whom one can delegate activities and responsibilities. In our marriage we feel free to let each other know when someone is going overboard in a way that negatively affects the family.??When one person has overcommitted, the other can ask, “Can’t your counselors handle that? Why not?” Sometimes the answer is unconvincing, like: “Yes, they can, but I’d rather do it myself.”??Then the concerned spouse can say, “Well here’s what I see happening, and the price this is exacting from the rest of us….” By holding up that metaphorical mirror, the spouse can then make the case for a reasonable compromise. It’s an opportunity to develop healthier leadership/delegation skills.??I think you should add scoutmaster to the list of heavy-duty callings since it requires campouts and 50-milers and time away from family. And of course, early morning seminary teacher, which while technically not a church calling because it is administered through CES, requires an enormous commitment of time. (I counted about 170 45-minute lessons given over a school year.)??SER

SER, you have just convinced me that I shouldn’t lobby for the calling of seminary teacher. What a time commitment!

I like the way you pointed out how one spouse can hold up a metaphorical mirror to show the other one how excess service is affecting the family. Thanks for reminding us that church leaders have counselors for a reason.

Our last two letters on the subject also remind us of the importance of counselors. Here they are:

Your recent article regarding balancing time consuming callings got my interest. I am the executive secretary on my second bishop. I have seen both these bishops effectively balance their callings, job, and family, and have been amazed by their ability to do so.

I might add that I am also the cub master in addition to being executive secretary, so I have to balance somewhat myself. But I have learned some things by observing both of these men in action over the years. My comments tend to focus more on bishops but many of the same lessons can be applied to other callings.

Make good use of counselors, clerks, and secretaries: It never fails that those leaders whose families suffer the most tend to not utilize counselors and secretaries. Trying to go alone will destroy your health and family. Time and again I see ward leaders who try and do everything themselves. Not only is this dumb, but when you do your calling and your counselors’, you are also robbing them of the potential blessings they need and also teaching them the wrong way to do things. Those counselors may be the ward leader themselves someday, and they need to see you model the right way to do things. If they can’t handle the delegating, then get new counselors. For bishops, other than serious stuff requiring a “judge in Israel,” the counselors can do most things. They can do temple recommend renewals and issue callings. They can deal with 99% of the day-to-day problems in the auxiliaries. I have seen way too many clerks and secretaries in name only. If they are called, they need to be given assignments.

Handle all phone calls, appointments, and requests go through the secretary: Bishops should not be getting calls all of the time at home from the general membership. If they are, it is because ward members think that is the way things are normally done in the ward. I told both bishops I worked for and their wives that if they let people go straight to the bishop and not

through the secretary (me), they will never have a moment of peace in their families. The wives can also act as gatekeepers and evaluate if the problem is a real emergency and direct them to call the secretary if it is not. A call about a child in the ward being in an accident can be directly put through by the wife while one where someone wants to talk to the bishop about how they think another person is doing a bad job as elders quorum instructor can be directed to the secretary. The first one is a true emergency, while the second one could be directed to a counselor by the secretary. Of course this means you need an effective secretary and counselors.

Get real counselors and secretaries, not someone who has his name attached to a calling: I find too many leaders allow counselors and others to sit in callings without doing anything.

If you have someone who is not willing (or unable) to do the work, then you need to find a counselor who is. You can’t sacrifice your family because you hope that your counselor will suddenly overcome that drinking problem and start coming back to church. (I actually saw this happen once in an elders quorum presidency.) It would be nice if they would, but your family cannot suffer for six months while you hope that they change. Get another counselor.

Keep meetings short and have an agenda: Nothing is more worthless than endless meetings. Fixed times that butt up against something else, along with an agenda prepared by the secretary, will help keep things on track. There is no reason for endless meetings other than poor planning. Too often there is endless chit-chat that eats up time in meetings. End it today. A good secretary can take a quick email from a leader and put together a decent agenda to keep things on track, but the leader has to follow the agenda.

Have a set schedule for interviews and meetings: My bishops have met with people on Sundays and one other night of the week, usually mutual night. Walk-ins are discouraged, although if there is time they would take one on occasion. But even these would have to wait for everyone else to get done or fill a time slot left vacant by someone else. Time limits should be enforced. If you can’t get it done in the time specified, ward members need to set a second or follow up appointment. Time management is crucial. If someone walks in with an emergency, a good secretary can get them to see a counselor and evaluate if they need to see the bishop or other ward leaders. Counselors can act as gatekeepers similar to a good spouse.

Delegate needy people to others: There are always a few people who are just way too needy about wanting time with the bishop or the Relief Society president. Give them to a counselor – or better yet, their home teachers and visiting teachers. If that doesn’t work, refer to #2 because a good secretary can often space the appointment schedule out enough to bring some sanity to the situation.
Take vacations and family trips where you will be gone from the ward: You don’t have to be there every Sunday. Go visit extended family and go to their ward for Sunday services. You have counselors for a reason. Things will not fall apart without you. I’ve had bishops who may have attended only one ward meeting (or even none) during the month due to work and/or vacation. I’ve seen Relief Society presidents leave for several weeks at a time to visit family or go on vacation. Things were fine in the ward because they used their counselors. Nothing fell apart. They clearly communicated what needed to be done and let the others doe their callings.
Go to the kid’s games, recitals, pack meetings, and go on date nights with the spouse: That is the best use of time in the good, better, best list of choices. Does that mean you might miss something in the ward once in a while? Sure, but that’s why you have counselors and a secretary. You have to use them. Get your priorities strait. I’ve missed many activities and meetings over the years to go somewhere or do something with my kids and amazingly, life went on because I told those I work with that I wasn’t going to be there and gave them my assignment or found someone else to fulfill it.