David O. McKay, president and prophet of the Mormon Church from 1951 through 1970, said the following: “With all my heart I believe that the best place to prepare for…eternal life is in the home.” He also said that no success can compensate for failure in the home. Mormon doctrine declares that the marriage covenant is sacred, and that the ideal union between husband and wife, and parents and children, is an eternal one. With the world becoming increasingly immoral, a strong family unit and moral upbringing for children becomes increasingly important. Mormonism, however, does not hold up an example of joyless strictness, but of happiness. The family must be a pleasant sanctuary for children, where love and fun abound in an environment that upholds the laws of God.
One of the main challenges Mormon families face is the use of time. It’s difficult to establish family togetherness if nobody is ever home. Time spent on activities, lessons, classes, vocational pursuits, and athletics must be apportioned wisely so the family has time to simply be at home together, sharing meals and communicating. As far as the successful child becoming a successful adult, happy family time appears to be more important than participating in sports or the arts. Balance is key. Many Mormon families have found a way to do both.
The old adage, “the family that prays together, stays together,” holds true in Mormondom. Sunday meetings are organized to be enriching for members of all ages. Nursery for children 18 months old to 3 years is more than playtime, but also includes rudimentary religious instruction. Primary for children 3 to 12 provides religious classes and activities for young people. Sunday School provides religious instruction for all members over 12. Sacrament meeting is a worship service where families attend together and partake of the emblems of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Mormons are encouraged to “keep the Sabbath Day holy” by refraining from recreational or commercial activities on that day. Since the Mormon Church has a lay clergy, it is tempting to schedule leadership meetings on Sunday, but the Church encourages large blocks of time to be made available for families to be at home.
Families are encouraged to pray together in the morning and at night, with family scripture reading to accompany one of those sessions. Suggestions for more successful family prayer and scripture reading are often given by church leaders, especially within the pages of church magazines. One evening each week is set aside as Family Home Evening. Monday night is the night chosen by the Church, and no other church activities are scheduled for that night. The family gathers together for a short lesson, activity, or outing. Sometimes the family home evening is oriented towards religious instruction, and other times towards secular learning or fun recreation. Manuals have been created by the Church with family home evening lesson suggestions and activity ideas. The state of Utah in the U.S. upholds this tradition, since a large part of the state’s population is Mormon. Community activities scheduled for Monday nights are oriented towards strengthening families.
A current subject of interest is media in the home. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to be keenly aware of media exposure in the home and filter television shows, music, video games, and internet sites that might depict violence or sexuality. It is the parents’ responsibility to set a mood of happiness and spiritual well-being in the home. Outside the home, parents should encourage clean living, avoiding questionable entertainment.
Example is the best way to influence children. Parents who express their love to one another and treat each other with respect, who love gathering the family together to play or pray, who rejoice in the personalities and achievements of their children, and who live cleanly and responsibly themselves, are likely to raise children who will do the same. The bottom line for a family to succeed is to find joy in living the gospel. Family togetherness and gospel learning should be fun. Good, clean recreation and family work projects, sing-alongs, gardening, scripture reading, and story-time should be engaged in with unabashed enjoyment.
Mormon family life is oriented towards the temple, where Mormons make eternal covenants to seal their families together forever. Sealings in the temple are the promise of an eternity together, as long as individuals continue on in worthiness, keeping the commandments of God. Many families have the motto, “no empty chairs,” referring to seating in the celestial room of the temple, or a gathering in heaven. The hope is that all family members will be worthy to dwell in the kingdom of God after resurrection and judgment. Underlying this, is the idea that families will want to be together. Happy family life can ensure that desire.