Not too long ago my family was gathering around the kitchen table as we got ready for dinner. I can’t remember now what exactly I had done, but I remember doing something stupid. This is not an altogether unusual experience in my home. Jokingly I exclaimed “Ah man, I’m so stupid”.
Thinking this was more of a funny, rhetorical statement, I was surprised when one of my kids instantly, and consolingly retorted “Dad, you’re not stupid… you just act stupid”.
Uh, thanks. I think.
Still, as I reflect on his profound “encouragement”, I think he may just have got it right. At least as it pertains to parenthood.
I think that, at least in general, we’re not stupid. But sometimes we sure act that way. Sometimes, we act like we don’t know any better.
While we often find ourselves doing stupid things (things we’d later reflect back on in utter dismay), often it’s less because of what we do, and more because of what we don’t do.
It comes from a casual attitude, from laziness, and apathy.
It’s just so easy to let life go by, with no effort to shape it. Suddenly your kids are 8, then 13, then 16, and 19, and it all just went by, and we just watched it, like it was playing out on some big TV screen.
If you were to ask yourself, or even force yourself to write down a list of all the principles you hope to teach them before they leave home, a list of all you want them to know, of all the experiences you want them to have, of all the experiences you want them to NOT have, of all the memories you want to create, of all the memories you want to avoid… how well would you be tracking against your list? How actively are you ensuring these things happen? They certainly don’t happen by themselves.
But it’s your family! And it’s under attack. Society itself totally undervalues the family. I still marvel at the fact that anybody can have a baby and start a family, but I have to have a license to catch a fish.
But the family is the core unit of society, and we have to make our families stronger.
I believe there are three primary steps to strengthening your family.
1. You find your family when you lose yourself.
One of the single greatest barriers to building strong families is simply that it’s difficult, it takes effort, commitment, and endurance. As anything of value does. So the only practical way to invest what is required is with personal commitment to overcome selfishness – that self-centered focus that all too often preoccupies our thoughts, time, and energy, and prevents us from observing our families, measuring our progress, and engaging to make them stronger.
You have to realize, with complete and absolute clarity, the importance of the work to which you have been called.
As parents we have a divinely sacred stewardship, called to raise the choicest of our Fathers spirits. Spirits which have been saved from the foundation of the world until now. Spirits which have been sent to fight a mighty battle against a common adversary preparatory to the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. A battle for which we have been called to prepare them. But are we?
Our children will be our most important converts.
The Lord has revealed: “If it so be that… ye bring save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father. And now if your joy will be great with one soul… how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me.”
Mothers, the sacred trust God our Father must have in you as the primary caregiver leaves me in awe. Fathers, we must remember that no amount of success can compensate for failure in the home.
If we can arm ourselves with that sobering realization and perspective, commitment and resolve naturally follow.
In line with this is the profound importance of personal righteousness. The more closely your life is sculpted after the pattern of our Savior, the more apparent will be the changes you need to make in your life and with your family, and the more natural those changes will come.
2. Fortify your family
The inspired military leader Moroni established an example of such fortification over 2000 years ago on the ancient American continent. He cast up walls around his sacred cities, protecting them from their adversary and severing themselves from the dangers of total exposure. These walls have recently been discovered by archeologists still intact, having endured all these years.
These fortifications protected these city’s inhabitants from their adversary, guarding them against the dangers of total exposure.
In like manner, we must our families by erecting barriers and boundaries to protect us from our adversary, boundaries that prevent total exposure to things that would cause us harm.
Spiritual fortification comes from daily family scripture study and family prayer. From teaching your children eternal principles, and acceptable standards as found in For The Strength of Youth. From dedicated devotion to Monday night as family night. It can even come from the simple yet inspired practice of family mealtime.
Spiritual fortification also comes from severing our exposure to the adversary, and that, in large part, is through moderation of media.
One of the direct products of passive parental behavior running rampant in our society, is the quantity of media our children consume.
Research shows that the average American household has 2.55 people, and 2.73 televisions. The average American child consumes 40 hours of media per week. The average 8 year old has already watched more hours of television than they’ll ever have talking to their fathers over their entire life. Who then has the most lasting impact in that child’s life? The average teenager will spend almost twice as much time in front of the television as they will in a school classroom by the time they graduate from high school.
(for much more information on research of the impact of media in our homes, see the “Strengthening our families” pamphlet).
The Lord sets forth a standard in the Word of Wisdom, which we tend to view as a temporal law. But the Lord has revealed “Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal.”
It doesn’t teach us about food, it teaches us about consumption. Consumption in moderation, wholly avoiding consumption of ALL things that would cause us harm.
If I gave you a recipe that called for cocaine in the ingredients, you would immediately discard it. You wouldn’t even think twice.
Yet baked into nearly every program, on every channel at every hour, are the ingredients of the adversary. Sex and drugs, violence and greed, complacency and addiction… the philosophies of men and the standards of the world.
It’s not even masked anymore. It’s there without obscurity. It’s part of the ingredients. And advertisements are just marinated in it. Yet somehow, with this medium, unlike with food, we find ways excuse it, even to justify it. Partially because it’s so effective at tending our kids.
Isaiah, who saw our day, submitted the most accurate description of today’s media. “Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter”.
Cunningly crafted and brilliantly packaged, the television is an open conduit that pushes these destructive ingredients directly into the minds of our children.
I just can’t figure out how you can fortify your family against the adversary with the television on.
So I encourage you to just turn it off, as we have. We got rid of our television entirely and cancelled our cable subscription, recovering almost $80 a month that we can now instead invest in books, games, and activities. Wholesome things done together, as a family.
When we did this, our kids grades went up, they found a love in books, all ages EVEN TEENAGERS (and we have 6 kids). We have books in every room. I regularly walk into a room and find the littlest kids all sitting on the couch listening intently as an older sibling reads a book to them. Even our 6 year old daughter, who doesn’t read much, will sit down with our 1 year old and our 3 year old, and flip through picture books with them, making up stories to go along with the pictures.
And even though they’re so young, they will just sit and listen, for 30-45 minutes (or as long as the older sibling is willing). What a wonderful sight that is for a parent.
They play better together, get along better, help each other more, and they have longer attention spans. My 8 year old’s grades improved and whereas he was struggling with reading, he’s now top in his class in reading and math (another topic he struggled with).
They haven’t become social outcasts because they aren’t level 40 wizards on World of Warcraft, or because they don’t know what Glee is, or who got kicked off American Idol. Instead, we find they have more social strengths because they have more practice socializing.
They have more confidence, and stronger testimonies, because they’ve recovered those precious quiet moments. Those opportunities for thought and reflection, those opportunities to hear the still small voice, which is otherwise muted by the constant stream of images and audio.
Turning off the TV was difficult. It took a couple long months before we became totally acclimated to our new lifestyle. But now life is so much easier, because of the positive effects this change has had within our home.
Moderating media, or simply turning it off altogether, is crucial to strengthening our families.
But whatever you choose to do, choose to fortify your family.
3. Be anxiously engaged.
There are so many good things to do together, especially with time freed by placing greater restrictions on media, or by eliminating it all together. Sometimes, in moments of boredom, it’s difficult conjure up something entertaining AND constructive, which frequently drives us back to the television.
But there are vast amounts of things we can do, and lots of places to get ideas. On the last page of the pamphlet “Strengthening your family” is a list of “101 (or more) things to do when you turn off the TV”. It’s just a quick list to spark ideas.
Each of them are activities you can do together.
Family activities create powerful and lasting memories. They develop strong, meaningful relationships among siblings and with you as parents. It and can also be the platform for teaching great lessons about eternal principles or other important concepts about life.
I recommend you tailor projects to your children. Just as a good manager learns his employees strengths and tailors their jobs to leverage those skills, parents can follow this same managerial mindset to create incredible projects of lasting value.
Last summer, I had an idea to give each of my older kids a job such as this, tailored specifically to their own interests. I had one child who was passionate about inventing. So I got him a bunch of stuff he could use to invent something, and told him I’d buy the invention from him at the end of summer, if it met certain guidelines that I outlined for him.
I had another who had a lot of fun making a movie out of photos for his football team. I told him if he made and produced a family movie from our vast digital photo album, I’d buy it from him at the end of the summer. The pay was determined by the length and quality of the production.
Another child, who is incredibly creative, was given the project to write and illustrate his own book, which I would then purchase from him at the end of summer.
None of these tasks were mandatory, each were voluntary, but because they were things that interested them, they got engaged with them. It occupied their free time, it gave them something constructive to do, built valuable skills, and became a rewarding experience, not to mention they were able to learn the value and association of work with reward.
In conclusion, I want to share my personal testimony of the importance of our families.
Growing up I had 4 fathers. I had two mothers. I experienced three divorces. Had three separate sets of siblings. I had no stability for most of my childhood. I moved 8 times. I was surrounded by all the wrong substances. We experienced a substantial amount of poverty, sometimes living for extended durations on seed meal, bread, and water. But more than just temporal poverty I experienced spiritual poverty. But I was fortunate to have been removed from that environment and placed into a strong family, a family that taught me correct principles, that provided an example of love and engagement.
And now I have an incredible family of my own. A beautiful wife and 6 unbelievable children. I’ve been blessed to walk both paths in life, to experience both ends of the spectrum. My life experiences has given me incredible insight as to the importance of the family, and our role as parents in making our families strong.
It is my testimony that we must do what we must do. That we must forget ourselves, fortify our families, and be engaged. As parents, we have been called to create those bastions of paradise we call families, in the sacred environment we call home.
I testify that we have been called and chosen of God, and have a sacred obligation to be proactive in our responsibilities, to magnify this, our greatest calling.
Let not negligence condemn us. Rather, let us be engaged, and galvanize our families that the fabric of our society might be strengthened, that our children might know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins, and grow up walking in the light of truth.