Tell me if this picture sounds familiar: Dad gets home from work, to the loving greeting of his sweet children and lovely wife, who has prepared a wonderful dinner that is to precede a well-planned family home evening.
After a loving meal together, the family happily gathers in a circle in the living room, and little Johny (cute as a button in his little collar shirt) conducts the meeting with the chart designed from a primary/relief society special event, in which the names and photos of each family member are crafted into adorable moving parts, which rotate between the following activities: prayer, choosing a hymn or primary song to sing together, memorized scripture recitation, baring of testimony, lesson, display of talent, a wholesome recreational activity, closing prayer, and enjoyable refreshment, allowing each of the nine members of the family (you are Mormon, aren’t you?) a turn at each over the course of nine weeks.
After a tear-filled devotional, Mary Lou gets out the flannel board (or, in the case of Dad, the laptop), and shares a lesson planned during the post-sacrament meeting hours of the sabbath.
The family sits around the large family dinner table eating chocolate cheesecake, laughing over the hilarious time spent during the game of Monopoly together, in which Jed and Gary argued about who was going to get the best price on the auctioned Park Place when Mary Lou didn’t want to buy it. Ultimately Jed had won the argument, allowing him to make Gary take the property for the generous price of $150.
With hugs and kisses around the family prayer circle, each of the children file into their rooms and beds, still humming, “There is beauty all around. . .”
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! HAHAHAHAHA, ha, ha. . . heh, heh.
Ahem. . .
I know, I know, it’s not at all familiar, but I couldn’t resist the laugh. Sorry.
But don’t we tend to put that up as the ideal? Don’t we tend to beat ourselves up (and our kids. . . well, emotionally anyway) when our family home evenings don’t at least remotely resemble that?
Well, we shouldn’t.
But what about all the things the brethren have said about the importance of family home evening? Shouldn’t we be giving it the highest priority? Shouldn’t we be spending a lot of time and effort to make sure our family home evenings are effective, spiritual, fun, edifying, and filled with the Spirit?
Here’s President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s answer:
Insisting that you have a picture-perfect family home evening each week—even though doing so makes you and everyone around you miserable—may not be the best choice. Instead, ask yourself, “What could we do as a family that would be enjoyable and spiritual and bring us closer together?” That family home evening—though it may be modest in scope and execution—may have far more positive long-term results.
Ensign Nov 2011
Doesn’t that quote just make you want to run to church headquarters, go through all the metal-detectors, customs, breathalyzers, and church security necessary to walk up to President Uchtdorf and give the man a bear hug? He gets it! And believe it or not, all the general authorities do. And most, most, of all, the Lord gets it. He doesn’t expect or even want us to spend unnecessary time and effort trying to perfect something that was never intended to be perfect. He wants us to have time together, have some kind of spiritual experience together (notice I said, “some kind,” not “an amazing”), and have an enjoyable time together.
Can I share with you a couple of our spiritual/enjoyable family home evenings? You may or may not want to imitate them, but they’ve been great for us.
As the kids finish dinner (messes left on table, shirts, faces, hands), Baba starts popping a batch of popcorn. The kids abandon the last of their food (or first bite, in some cases) at the distinctive sound of kernels pouring into the machine. Two of the kids insist on helping, by either pouring in the butter (Baba’s worst nightmare), or stirring the popped kernels as Baba pours the butter.
Everyone piles into the living room. Mama attacks the worst messy faces and torsos with a towel from the floor, and as quickly as is physically possible before the impatient bawls start, pops in a church-related video, such as Testaments or Legacy, and Baba sets the bowl of popcorn into the midst of the ravenous masses.
That’s one. It results in a horrid mess in the living room, but it has semblance of both spirituality and enjoyment (at least in those few occasions when Mama and Baba can turn a blind eye to the popcorn popping in the apricot jam on the floor. . . where on earth did we get apricot jam?!)
Here’s another: After said dinner routine, we change diapers (another fiasco), pile in the car, pop-in a random Book of Mormon CD, and drive off into the sunset.
Different times of year give different focuses to the drive. In the fall, it’s to see the leaves, in the spring it’s to see deer, in the winter it’s to see the Christmas lights, and in the summer it’s to experience the wonderful air-conditioned vehicle (we don’t have AC in the house, so this is a real treat).
At some point along the ride, before the small ones have fallen asleep—but not too soon before, we hand out cookies. If you do a treat in the car, just remember that the trip could potentially end as soon as the treats are gone, since one or all might tantrum at not getting more. Just saying.
There you have it. Two traditional Hathaway family home evenings. I was hard pressed to think of any others that actually went well, but we do these—especially the first, a lot.
I guess what I’m getting at is, don’t sweat the small stuff, or the big stuff, or the medium stuff, with family home evening. Have something at least vaguely spiritual about it, and do something fun. For kids, the inclusion of a treat is always fun. And just a hint about the treat on especially rough days: when it comes to toddlers, plain-old apples can be a treat.
Family Scripture Study
Jenni and I haven’t yet come up with an organized, workable system for scripture study with the kids. Gratefully, however, we have been fairly consistent doing it. We generally aim for reading together during dinner, since that’s the one time of day that we are all around—though we have to be quick, because by the time I’ve served up the kids’ food, and I’m scooping up my own, the first kid bounds off after four bites, shouting, “I’m full now!”
“Get back in here!” I shout.
“But I’m all done!”
“I know, but we need to read scriptures.”
Child flops to the floor and begins a shameful tantrum.
“Or,” I say, scooping the gnashing child you can wait in your room while we read scriptures.”
Sometimes the best we get is popping in the Book of Mormon CD. If we’re feeling really adventurous, we might even jump a few tracks before pushing play. The point is to do it together (minus the tantrum-ites), and do it every day.
Sometimes we’ll use the scripture readers for kids that the church puts out, and often we’ll listen to a conference talk.
Which brings up another idea we’ve played with before. For a little while two of our kids were struggling to go to bed at night. So we made a CD with a mix of conference talks on it (especially if there was a talk about children heeding their parents) and let them listen to them as they drift off to sleep.
It worked remarkably well. For a while, they went to bed willingly and calmly. It also had a cool side effect. By the next general conference, both kids knew the first presidency by face and voice, as well as a couple other apostles.
I especially loved hearing our five-year-old boy say Uchtdorf.