We have a brand new topic to discuss this week, but first there are three leftover letters from our last topic of balancing the needs of our families with the requirements of our church callings.  The way things often work, they all make a similar point that hadn’t been brought out previously.  Ideas seem to come to several people at once, and all of us can benefit:

 

It’s not only the family that needs to balance things out, but the leaders that call us as well. 

 

When we were living in Mexico City, my husband and I had stake callings at the same time.  We’d pack up our three children and go to a different ward almost every Sunday, where they would attend Primary in Spanish.  Our stake was three hours in each direction so our trips were real family excursions.

 

When we were both released, we stood up for our thanks and then the wonderful stake president asked our children to stand, and they were given a vote of thanks as the “stake children.”  What a wonderful leader to recognize the sacrifices our children had made to sustain us in our callings.

 

Parent of “Stake Children”

 

What an inspired stake president you had, Parent!  Most of us recognize that when one spouse has a calling, the other spouse often shares in it.  But I’ve never heard of formal recognition being given to children for sharing a calling, too.

 

I don’t remember a time in my youth where one or both parents were not involved in high leadership callings somewhere.  Mom was involved in a variety of stake callings, from Relief Society board, president, or something else, to Young Women.  Dad was a ward mission leader back when our mission extended for hours in all directions, then on the stake Sunday School board, and later called to be on the High Council.

I remember that my parents took us everywhere with them because their many meetings would have meant lots of babysitters, and there was no money for such.  Although some events included a nursery, others did not, and yet there was no other option but to bring us to a meeting.

 

Our stake was huge, encompassing at least three counties.  Wards and branches began one to two hours west of us and ended one to two hours east of us, meaning that my parents had to travel up to four hours roundtrip in order to attend stake meetings.

Because I grew up before the consolidation, this meant that they had activities on both Sundays and weekdays.  My first memories include crawling around underneath quilts while the sisters stitched, and thinking, “When I grow up, I’ll get to learn how to do this, too.”  I remember that several sisters would take me under their wings, allowing me to do a simplified version of the craft underway (like the sister who gave me a sticker and showed me how to apply mod-podge to the plaque).

 

Then there was the cake decorating class, where Mom allowed my brothers and me to decorate her cake.  She still has a picture of it.  We kids thought that we were the cat’s meow because we got to frost that cake! As an adult, I realize it was unsightly and Mom would probably have rather done frosted roses or some such lovely thing, but she made us feel that we were important by giving us the opportunity to learn alongside her.

I remember attending several different meetings in venues that ranged from rented rooms to actual chapels.  It was interesting to see that the Church doesn’t need a fancy building to operate in, and that the Saints can apply the gospel to their lives in many different situations. 

 

I remember that my folks would try to make things fun for us by allowing us to participate as much as we could, wielding paintbrushes or trash bags during service projects, or simply setting up/taking down chairs.  As kids, we thought it a special treat to ride the empty chair/table holders below the stage in order to grab other carts for the adults who couldn’t fit comfortably to retrieve them. 

 

Because Sunday School was held in the morning, and sacrament meeting in the evenings, Dad would try to find a park where we could have a picnic between the two meetings, or he would find some interesting place to take us, thus teaching us about the area we were in.  I remember thinking that our weekly picnics/family excursions were the best part of Sundays.


 I’m sure that finding ways to include us and to make the in-between meetings part of things fun for us was difficult, but they somehow figured out ways to do it. 

I can’t say that I never felt upset about being dragged along from pillar to post.  I remember waiting for what seemed eternities as my folks were involved in meetings before and/or after Sunday School and sacrament meetings.  I was too young to understand what they were doing, and simply wanted to go home.  Then there were the days that my brothers and I felt like we’d much rather attend Primary or Sunday School with our friends in our home ward, but had to accompany our parents to a different ward hours away.

 

There must have been moments when my parents dealt with kids in total meltdown, although I don’t remember those.  I simply remember that accompanying my parents to their respective meetings gave Sundays a sense of adventure and the promise of some exciting discovery as my parents took us to some spot where we’d learn about our state’s history and our Father in Heaven’s creations.

I was in my final year of Primary when the consolidation instituted the three-hour block.  In retrospect, there were probably several things that ended these family outings, such as the fact that the stake boundaries were redrawn within a year of the consolidation, thus making it possible for my parents to attend meetings locally, instead of having to travel for hours in any direction. 

 

The fact that my brothers and I were now teens and tweens, with ward activities and responsibilities of our own, probably didn’t help matters any.  All I know is that in my teenage mind, I felt that the consolidation had the opposite effect of its intent.  For 11-1/2 years of my life, Sundays had meant family time together and the opportunity to visit other wards.  After the consolidation, I seldom ever saw my parents on Sundays, because they were now at one three-hour block meeting after another, after another, after another.

 

Because meetings were now local, they seldom had need to bring us along.  They simply deposited us at our own meeting house, while they went to their meetings at another building.  I grew not to resent the Church, but rather the three-hour block, because I felt that its institution stole not only my family away from me, but also put an end to “fun” activities that were held on weekdays. 

I’m still an active member in the Church, and love the gospel.  But what I would like to know is how people in high leadership callings still find time to do family things when 6 to 12 hours of Sunday meetings literally makes it impossible for families to see each other?

Anonymous in Stockton, California

 

What wonderful parents you had, Anonymous, to create those adventures for their children!  I suspect that even without the advent of the three-hour block, those family outings would have been cut back or ceased altogether once you became teenagers.  But your parents were so inspired to make something an adventure for you that could have been a real trial.  Between the kid-decorated cake (which your mother no doubt treasured far more than she would have treasured a cake she had decorated herself) and the under-the-quilt quilting events, your parents knew how to make church service fun.  I hope a lot of parents read your letter and do likewise.

Here’s our last letter on the subject.  How can I say no to someone who can’t sleep at night and writes in to share suggestions with the rest of us?  Easy answer:  I can’t.



Even if you don’t plan to publish any part of this response, perhaps you could forward it to the woman who wrote in about balancing church and family and sorting out good, better, and best. I woke up at 6 this morning and can’t get the topic off of my mind, so if she could at least benefit from my response (such as it is), that would be great.

Our family has learned something about sorting out good, better, and best over the years. Some of my ideas are little unorthodox, but they have worked for us. We still have a lot to learn. I definitely think that balancing church service/activity with family responsibilities is always a work in progress. You get a system down, then boom — one of you gets a new calling.


 

 

We have seven children so far. My husband is in the military and travels a lot.  The past eight months he’s been gone almost two weeks in every month. He has served in church leadership positions in almost every ward we’ve lived in since we got married. I haven’t usually been in a leadership position, although I’ve been in a presidency twice. Some of my callings have been very time consuming, however. In addition, I home school our children, so it is almost impossible for me, as the mom, to get my “calling done during the day” like many of the women who responded.

Here are some of the things that have worked for us:

1. Any time we can take our children with us for a church responsibility, we do. Our kids always come with us when we clean the church, set up for activities, go to baptisms (well, almost always), or sometimes even when either of us has meetings at the church. When my husband and I hosted the youth etiquette dinner, my younger children helped serve and clean up while the little ones watched a DVD in the classroom next door. When my husband had to be at the church for interviews during the week, I would bring the kids and we would play games in the gym. My husband takes along our teacher-aged son early Sunday morning for PEC (he loves to play the piano and set up the sacrament). I’ve even taken my older daughters with me visiting teaching when my companion wasn’t available.

2. In general, my husband is never out more than two nights a week for church stuff. I asked him to do this when he was in the bishopric and there were a few times he was gone more than that, but it felt like too much. I was gratified to hear President Packer give this very same instruction in the leadership training a few years back.

3. We put our relationship as our first priority. We go on a date every week that he’s in town. Sometimes it has to be worked around a church responsibility, like attending a meeting or visiting some inactives, but we make sure it happens somehow. Admittedly, this is a lot easier since our oldest children have finally grown old enough to babysit. A spontaneous trip to Sonic after the kids are in bed is always a possibility for us now.

4. We plan every week. OK, this can get kind of hard. I’m the family planner, and my husband goes along with it (although he sees the value in it). Every Sunday afternoon or evening we sit down and look at our week: kids’ activities, work responsibilities, church meetings or activities — whatever. We discuss and plan meal times and rides for those crazy days in advance. I’ll often make a note or two in my planner ahead of time so I don’t have to think about it later — things like “crock pot day,” “phone visiting teachees,” “check on new mom in neighborhood,” “visit Office Max and Costco during activity days on Wednesday,” stuff like that.

5. We have family meals, all together if possible, every night. Although my husband makes a decent salary, we can’t really afford to take our large brood out to eat very much. Fast food isn’t only unhealthy, it’s very expensive, and then everyone is hungry two hours later anyway. When we first married, I didn’t know how to cook anything, so this has been quite a learning process for me to figure out how to cook everything from scratch.

6. We let kids help us whenever possible. When I’ve got to get meals ready for someone, I’ll pull a kid or two into the kitchen to help me assemble things. They think this is great fun. When we get tasked to bring a dessert to a church activity — which, incidentally, happens with far more frequency than one would expect or even want — my older daughters are in charge of this, and they whip something up. No, it isn’t cute, it doesn’t look or taste like something from a Pampered Chef party, but I love Linda Eyre’s maxim from her book, A Joyful Mother of Children:  “If something is barely worth doing, then just barely do it.” I do keep a few brownie and cake mixes on hand for moments like these.

 

7. We don’t do sports.


Yes, you read that right. Oh, we tried to do them. The first few years our older kids starting to be elementary ages, we dutifully signed them up for soccer and basketball. We quickly saw that for us anyway, sports are definitely in the “good” column when it comes to good, better, best. And for our family, that means they don’t happen. There are many other ways, better ones in fact, for children to gain confidence and enjoy exercising their bodies. If your kids are public school, and your kids are in middle school or high school sports, you might want to ask yourself what your children are being exposed to on the bus trips to and from sports activities. If what we saw as children in the 80s is any indication, your child might be losing more than he or she is gaining from being involved in that sport. If you have boys, your future daughter-in-law will thank you someday that your son didn’t obsess about becoming a NFL or NBA star, and spends every extra moment as an adult watching professional sports on television.

 

8. We don’t do other stuff that other families do. As a homeschooling mom, I had to cut the fat from our lives a long time ago just to keep up. I don’t regret it at all, because I feel it has really helped me focus on what’s most important. For me, this means no crazy, time-consuming birthday parties. No long extended play times with friends (no, your kid does not need to play 8-10 hours a day in the summer).  Family work and activities come first. I don’t host multi-level marketing parties, nor do I attend them. I don’t go to ward “girls’ night out” nights — I don’t find them to be particularly spiritually or emotionally fulfilling anyway. I don’t do very much ancillary shopping; you won’t find me browsing the clearance rack at Old Navy or wandering through Target to pick up one or two items, simply because I don’t have time. Most of my non-Walmart-type shopping is done online. We don’t attend every little event that comes our way in the community. In our current ward, this means not attending the “ward breakfast,” held on Saturday mornings, as our Saturdays are usually too full to squeeze this in. We don’t watch any TV. I know this sounds Spartan, but over time I’ve come to believe it’s better for us all anyway. Do your kids really need to be watching “Sponge Bob”? Are you really better off for watching “Lost” or “American Idol”? It’s a lot harder to feel the spirit with that stuff in our lives.

9. Home organization is essential. As the mom, and slightly more compulsive than my husband, I have found that if the house goes to pieces due to busy church weeks, then I start to feel crazy. Over a period of time, I have developed a decent system for keeping the house in order. It’s still always a struggle of course, especially with so many kids at home with me all day long, but I feel it’s important that we have order, for them and me. Because I home school, I can’t keep the house up myself, so the kids help at least a 1/2 hour a day. In addition, I tie other things they want to do — have bowl of cold cereal at night time, play the Wii or computer, stuff like that — to doing family jobs. Even my six-year-old does household chores to earn a Wii turn. When my husband is out of town, the house is out of control, and I’m super tired, I’m not above bribery. A call of, “Let’s clean the house up in the next 15 minutes, get in p.j.s, and we can watch half of a movie!” (or eat an ice cream cone, play games and eat popcorn, or whatever) usually brings everyone running. Some fun, upbeat music and a timer makes the work go quickly.

10. Family times are essential. We hold FHE every week.  This is made easier because we don’t do sports (hee hee). We have a family devotional every Sunday night. If my husband isn’t home on Sunday, which he often isn’t, I still hold our devotional. It’s such a great way to connect with the kids spiritually. My husband tries to interview the kids every Fast Sunday, which usually a down day for church activities, so he has a little more time.


We try to take the kids on dates every few months. We always bring along a kid or two when we head to Walmart, Home Depot, or the grocery store.

 

11. When my calling is taking a lot of time, I try and set aside one night a week after the kids are in bed to devote to my calling. What I don’t get done that night I plan into the rest of my week. For example, I might plan sharing time on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, then write down in my planner what I need to purchase at a store during the kids’ piano lessons later that week to finish my lesson. I might send emails out to my visiting teachees, clean out my church binder, or type up lists of Cub Scout leaders that we share with another ward. Sometimes it’s just making a few phone calls to some women who seem lonely or stressed out. I try to plan my “church calling night” for the night my husband is out with this calling. That way I’m not missing time with him. In addition, I try and make phone calls to other women who seem to be in need during the day while I’m doing some mindless housework, like folding clothes or cleaning up lunch.

R in Texas

 

 

What a great list, R.  With all that’s going on in your life I’m amazed that you had time to sit down and write it, but your effort was to the benefit of many people.  I hope people latch on to a lot of your points.  I’m especially an advocate of the idea of a date every week.  Husbands and wives need time together for the marriages to stay strong.

Now that we’ve finished this topic, we’re on to our new one — as promised.  It comes from a “Dismayed Ward Member,” who wants to know if her meetinghouse is the only one that is regularly abused, and what other church members do to solve the problem in their own meetinghouses.  Let’s see her dilemma in her own words:

One of my big struggles is how our building is used and abused. It has three units, plus Institute, and is used for most regional activities as well as random groups using it because it is close to the temple. There seems to be an attitude that it is just an adjunct to home — I can leave dishes in the sink and my junk strewn around. I can run around and use it for my own pleasure. I can hardly see a person that remembers it is the house of the Lord. It is hard to get anyone to clean it and we also have the misfortune to have the Church’s stingiest facilities manager so it is poorly maintained. It drives me crazy! What can (and should) we be doing to respect our ward buildings?

 

Dismayed Ward Member

 

I know where you’re coming from, Dismayed.  In our own stake we waited for a long time for a stake center, and it was so beautiful that I was very sad our ward wouldn’t meet there.  Imagine my horror to walk into that building six months later and see it had been abused.  There was stuff smeared all over the walls, the kitchen was filthy, and the carpets were stained.  I was sick at heart.

Readers, is this the situation in your own home meetinghouses?  If it’s not, how do you get people to keep it clean?  A lot of people want to know!

Send your responses to [email protected].  Put something in the subject line to let me know your letter isn’t spam.  And sign your letter the way you want to be identified, whether with your own name or with a pseudonym.  I want to make writing as easy as possible for you!

Until next week — Kathy

 

“Splendor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, absence of malice, and absence of pride;

these are the qualities of those endowed with divine virtues.”

 

Bhagavad Gita