A guest post by Mette Harrison
When I got married, I did NOT want to do Family Home Evening.
There was a simple reason for this. In my childhood, Family Home Evening had been a time of constant stress and conflict. I’m sure I should feel sympathy for my parents, trying to deal with eleven children, but mostly I blame my father. He had a temper and it almost always came out on Monday nights with all the kids around, especially when we were teenagers and began to assert our own opinions.
I can’t tell you the number of times Family Home Evening ended with shouting and threats, or with actual physical violence. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Family Home Evening is supposed to be about, but it was the reality of my childhood.
My husband gently asked what had gone wrong at Family Home Evening at my house. I told him, but I’m not sure he believed how bad it was until later in our marriage, when he had his own encounters with my father’s temper. In any case, he kept assuring me that Family Home Evening wouldn’t be like that for us, that we could make it into whatever we wanted. We did a few test runs before we had kids and I calmed down a bit. Then when we had our children, we learned quickly how to adjust lessons for small children, how short Family Home Evening lessons should be, and how long the other parts should last (Activity and Treat are very important at our house).
For some years, we had teenagers in tricky situations. My second daughter left the church when she was about fourteen. The other kids were still very active. We continued to have a rotating schedule of Family Home Evening assignments posted on the wall (Prayer, Song, Talent, Scripture, Lesson, Activity, and Treat). But as my ex-Mormon daughter began to be more vocal about her changing beliefs, the lessons she led were often about a topic she wanted us to learn about. She did lessons about leading the music to help the rest of us who were music-impaired, and some on music history and composers. She also taught us more about historical or political topics she thought were of importance.
This tradition passed down to another child who later became inactive. Lessons were chosen by the child and only they decided if it was appropriate or not. We literally had a lesson once on the Zodiac Killer. We had lessons that were trivia games. We had a lesson on Presidential candidates. Of course, my husband’s lessons tend toward the more spiritual, but he was aware of the need for some change, so he has also added lessons with videos about elephant mating (it made sense at the time) and so on. One year, I did all of my lessons on other religions, because I wanted my children to be more tolerant and understanding, and because I was interested in other religions at the time, as well.
Probably the best Family Home Evening lesson my husband ever did was when he passed out ten dollar bills to each of the children and instructed them that they were to find someone at school or around the neighborhood who needed help and give them the money. There were no other rules for it. He wanted them to come back and explain what had happened and who they gave it to (no names necessary) and how they felt about it.
This was a lesson in compassion: how to exercise it and how it felt. He wanted our children to be more aware of others in need, and this was how he did it.
The results were amazing, by the way. First of all, it was much more difficult to decide who to give the money to than any of us had thought it would be. Some kids wouldn’t take the money if it was offered to them. It was harder to give away a full $10 than it was to give away $1. Some kids would only take something if it was purchased for them. Others kept insisting they didn’t need it, or that someone else needed it more.
This was such a valuable lesson for my children, to understand that people don’t always want to be seen as in need. People have their pride and want to do things for themselves. It also taught them that money isn’t always what is needed, and that you have to be thoughtful about what to offer someone else.
We all still talk about this Family Home Evening lesson. It wasn’t in the manual. It wasn’t directly from General Conference. It didn’t take a lot of effort to hand out some cash. But what a lesson it was.
And for someone who used to hate Family Home Evening, let me tell you, I’m a convert. We make it work for everyone. It’s family bonding at its best, and if you ask me, that’s what Mormonism is great at.
OTHER POSTS BY METTE HARRISON:
- 10 ways former Mormons can connect with devout family members
- “Mormon families are forever” shouldn’t be a threat
- An open letter to my Mormon family and friends