"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
September 13, 2012
School Activities on Sunday
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

My preschool-aged daughter attends a private school. The students, parents, faculty, and staff make up a very close-knit and involved community that hosts many activities and fundraisers.

Nearly all of these events take place on Sunday. We are often asked to attend or volunteer at these events, but we politely decline, as we are uncomfortable attending such events on Sundays.

I have never mentioned our reasons for not participating. These events have taken place on Sunday for many years, and there is a strong consensus that Sundays are a good day for families to be together, making Sunday the perfect day for these family-oriented activities (a logic I can understand).

Also, the community is made up of families of many different faiths, and I would never want to imply or seem to presume that the school's customs should change because of one family. However, after declining to attend nearly everything for two years, it must seem that we don't want to be involved and that we don't care about the community (which definitely isn't the case).

What makes it even more awkward is that each family is encouraged to give 10 hours of service each year helping out at these events, and we haven't been able to keep that commitment (not that anyone is keeping track).

I'm not looking forward to another year of missing nearly every school function. Should I say something? Or continue as is, especially since this is our last year at the school? If I should say something, how should I word it?

Answer:

First, I applaud you for declining the Sunday activities! Being different and behaving differently are key ingredients to successful Mormon living, and a habit most easily learned young. Every time you forgo an inappropriate activity on Sunday, you are teaching your daughter that keeping the commandments is more important than social considerations.

I think you are also wise not to give your daughter the “choice” to participate or not. She is, after all, in preschool. When you give a preschooler a choice, it usually means you will be satisfied with whatever she decides. (“Do you want to wear the green shirt or the blue shirt?”) It is unwise (and unfair) to give a preschooler a choice where one of the options is actually wrong.

Instead, have a Family Home Evening lesson about why your family chooses not to participate in the Sunday activities. Teach her the principles behind your family’s decision and help her understand how you and your husband make decisions about what activities are appropriate for the Sabbath. That’s a big concept to cover within a preschooler’s attention span, so think out the lesson carefully before you present it.

Now to your actual question.

Since these activities are a big deal at your daughter’s school, and it obviously bothers you to be excluded, I would say something. It might not occur to anyone at the school that your family is excluded from activities on Sunday because of your religious beliefs. They will not know unless you tell them.

It’s neither pushy nor presumptuous to let people know why you have never attended. You are not asking anyone to apologize to you for your exclusion, nor are you demanding that all activities be scheduled in a way you find convenient. Instead, you are making them aware of a situation they probably want to know about.

It is neither pushy nor presumptuous to ask if any of the activities could be scheduled on a day other than Sunday. But you will need to be clear about what you want, and you’ll need to talk to someone with the power to make it happen, probably the school principal or director.

For best results, practice out loud what you plan to say. Start with some positives, then hit the negative.

“Mrs. Lewis,” you might say to the principal, “Beatrix has had such a good experience here at Loving School these past three years. Her teachers have been wonderful, and we really enjoy the community.”

Mrs. Lewis will probably smile and say something nice, too.

You will continue: “But I feel a little awkward that we don’t attend the school activities. We would love to be more involved, but the activities are almost always on Sunday, and we can’t attend for religious reasons. Do you think it would be possible to hold any school activities on days other than Sunday this year?”

Then sit and wait for Mrs. Lewis to say something.

If she is receptive to the idea and says she will talk to whoever is in charge of activities, make sure to follow up with her. If she suggests that you talk to the PTA president or someone else, make sure you do so.

If she is not receptive, express regret and ask her to consider your request. It doesn’t sound like you want to get pushy. I don’t blame you. Preschool activities are not worth the stress and social cost of being pushy.

The essence of this conversation should be repeated with your daughter’s teacher. But since the teacher probably has no influence over the school activity schedule, your goal is simply to let her know that your daughter will not be at the carnival this Sunday for religious reasons and to express that you wish some of the activities were on a different day of the week.

So now you’ve said something. Suppose you want to do something.

If you want to be very pro-active, volunteer to run one of this year’s activities, with the stipulation that it not be on Sunday. If you are ambitious enough to do this, here is what you might say, in a tone that is simple and straightforward: “I’d be happy to head up the family dance this fall. But our family can’t attend if it is on a Sunday, for religious reasons. Could we schedule it for a Friday or Saturday night, instead?”

If the answer is “yes,” good for you! You’re in charge of a family dance. If the answer is “no,” just say, regretfully but calmly, “I won’t be able to, then.”

But if you just want to help with an activity, you could volunteer to plan or do advance work. The next time you get an email or letter home about a Sunday activity, call or write to the person in charge and say something like this:

“Hi Karen, We’d love to help with the family dance, but we can’t attend on Sunday for religious reasons. Is there anything we could do to help on Saturday, instead?”

I’m sure Karen will be glad to delegate you a task or two. As you mix with the other parents on the committee, make sure to let people know why you won’t be attending the actual event. Tone is critical: you are not upset! You are disappointed that the event is on Sunday, because you already have plans for Sunday. And your plans are fixed.

Finally, don’t overdo it. Except for the school’s director, no one needs to hear multiple times that you cannot attend a certain activity because it is on Sunday. Once should do the trick. When you continue to not appear at Sunday activities, they will know why.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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