At the World Congress of Families V in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on Aug. 12, 2009, Russell M. Nelson spoke to the delegates about the importance of the traditional family. Elder Nelson is an apostle for The Church of Jesus Christ ofLatter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes informally referred to as Mormons. He said,
“Dear friends, future happiness and even the future of nations is linked to children. Families with children need to be re-enthroned as the fundamental unit of society. We simply must children more than we do! Without a new generation to replace the old, there is no wealth; without families, there is no future.”
The traditional family is a fundamental principle of Mormonism. Mormon beliefs center around Jesus Christ as the head of the church, and the family as the fundamental building block of society. Children learn their first values from their parents, and parents should always be the primary teachers of values. Churches and other organizations can only support the family in this process, not replace it.
Mormons have many programs to support families. Some involve practices carried out in the home. A practice that has received much attention and has been emulated by many who are not Mormon is the Family Home Evening program. Every Monday night, Mormon families turn off the telephone and close the doors to outsiders. This evening is devoted entirely to strengthening the family. Generally, the family-only meeting begins with a song and prayer and the conducting of family business. Then a lesson on an essential spiritual or moral lesson is taught. Following the lesson, families play games and enjoy treats before closing with a song and family prayer.
A unique feature of Family Home Evening is that each family member participates in the program. Most families have a chart that rotates assignments, often pairing young children with someone older. In the security of the home, children learn to lead a meeting, conduct a song, offer a public prayer, and teach a lesson. The meeting gives parents an opportunity to share sacred beliefs with their children and for children to learn and share their own beliefs. It also serves to strengthen the family bonds, which increases the ability of the parents to influence their children over the years.
The prayers offered in this meeting are only two of many given in the home. Mormon families gather for family prayer twice a day, in addition to their personal prayers and the prayers of the husband and wife together. Generally, the morning prayer includes a brief devotional, in which family members read the scriptures together and discuss them. Once again, parents have an opportunity to demonstrate how important Jesus and His gospel are to them, and to spend time with their children.
On Sundays, families attend the main worship service together. Even babies and small children are welcome and the increase in noise and movement from the little ones is accepted without complaint by church members because they understand how critical this meeting is for children. Even though the toddlers and babies do not understand much of what is said, they are experiencing church snuggled in a parent’s arms or playing quietly beside them, making their first memories of church pleasant. As they become a little older parents are able to begin training their children to be reverent in the church setting, rather than leaving it to teachers. All learning begins in the home.
The Mormons value their children. They have worked to create programs that support parents in the challenging work of training children to live the gospel. Organizational leaders and teachers understand they do not replace or come first before the parent, but only support them in their efforts by being an additional witness of the truth.
Formal classes begin at eighteen months. After attending the main worship service, known as Sacrament Meeting, as a family, families split up for various classes. The toddlers, ages eighteen months to three years of age, attend the Nursery Class. Here, although there is some playtime, children learn in age-appropriate and fun ways about Jesus Christ and His teachings. Older children have more structured classes, but which also teach through activities and music. Children ages eight to twelve have a weekday program as well. In most areas, boys belong to the Cub Scouting program through the church and girls belong to Activity Days. In areas where Boy Scouting isn’t approved, the boys use the girls’ program.
In these programs, children learn to set and achieve goals, to put gospel principles into action in the real world, master practical life skills, and serve others. For instance, girls might learn to hand sew and then make hand-sewn toys for needy children after learning that Christ taught us to serve others. A group of young boys might learn to cook simple meals for themselves and then make cookies to take to a retirement home. The gospel taught on Sunday is put into practice during their weeknight activities.
Mormon families are regularly counseled to put their families first, making certain employment and civic activities don’t get out of balance and deprive children of active parents. The Church offers parenting classes and many lessons include help for parents. Church men and women can turn to other parents for support and mentoring on an informal basis as well, because congregations are assigned by geographical boundaries and normally include a wide range of ages and experiences.
These support systems are one reason Mormon families are noted for their lower divorce rate. Both marriage and parenting are considered priorities in a Mormon home. Because marriage that takes place in a Mormon temple is forever, and not just until death, Mormons have a strong motivation to create strong loving families that can continue into eternal life. Husbands and wives can continue to be married after death, and children can continue to belong to their parents.
Society has a vested interest in the well-being of its families. At the same conference, Sheri L. Dew, also a Mormon, said, “We all know that every nation is ultimately at the mercy of its families. If families are riddled with problems, society eventually collapses under the weight of problems too vast for any government to meet. If families are strong, society is strong.”
In order for our society to succeed, we must begin to put families first and value the work of the parents who care for children. We must treat the children as if they matter.
Those who read the Bible remember that there was a day when Jesus had been working long, hard hours. A group of parents showed up late in the day with their children, but the apostles turned them away. However, the Savior summoned the children to Him, instructing His apostles to never turn away children. He demonstrated for His followers that day that He made children a priority, even during times of exhaustion. He understood that what children learn as children they generally take into adulthood. For this reason, we can’t wait until we have time to take care of the children of our world. As Elder Nelson said in the statement at the start of this article, “Families with children need to be re-enthroned as the fundamental unit of society.”