"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
October 29, 2015
Family Home Evening
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

Our family tries to have a regular Family Home Evening. But without fail, after about two minutes, the whole enterprise falls apart. The kids go nuts, no one listens to the lesson, people are rolling around on the floor . . .

A two-minute Family Home Evening is good enough, right?

Answer:

Absolutely. A two-minute Family Home Evening is good enough. As long as it includes one thing: the Welcome.

The Welcome, in my opinion, is the most important part of Family Home Evening. It goes like this: Whoever is conducting says, in a clear voice, “Welcome to Family Home Evening. We’re especially glad to have Mom here tonight. And Anna and Zack. Welcome, everybody, to Family Home Evening.”

The Welcome is important for three reasons. First, it gets people’s attention. It tells the attendees, “We are at an official meeting. Pipe down, because we’re going to sing and pray now.” Your children are familiar with this format from their Sunday meetings, and a strong Welcome will help you flow quickly into your opening song and prayer.

Second, it tells the family that you are doing that thing they hear about at church all the time. If you have a clear Welcome, then every time your family hears someone at church say the words, “Family Home Evening,” they will think, “We do that.” It will increase their feeling of belonging and decrease any gap they feel between hearing and doing.

Third, once you’ve had the Welcome and called the meeting to order, you, by definition, are having Family Home Evening. You are where you are supposed to be and doing what you are supposed to do. You are following the prophet’s counsel and participating in a foundational church program. This is a big win. You can pat yourself on the back. The words, “Welcome to Family Home Evening” have just proved that you are a full-fledged top performer, no matter what happens next.

Now, if you doubt that welcoming your family is enough to make your Family Home Evening effective, let me observe that I have never heard a talk in any general, stake or ward meeting in which the effectiveness of Family Home Evening was tied to the quality of each individual meeting. To the contrary, consistency and repetition are most often cited as the keys to success.

Let me also observe that I’ve heard more than one speaker describe the disappointment of a young mother who spent hours preparing an amazing, spiritual Family Home Evening, only to have her dreams dashed on the rocks of childhood disinterest. Most children (people?) are simply not interested in an extended spiritual discussion on a Monday night. This is not a problem. It’s reality, and you should plan for it.

Here are five more ways you can plan for reality in Family Home Evening.

One, keep it short. You are clocking in at two minutes, and good for you. It sounds like your children are young (at least I hope so, if they are rolling on the floor), so I would suggest that even if you make it through a song and a prayer, you let seven minutes be your max. If your children are still engaged and participating after seven minutes, end anyway and go out on a high note. I imagine that a family of older children might have a longer discussion, but as my own family’s max is about ten minutes, I wouldn’t know.

Two, have a treat. If your children know that participation in Family Home Evening is followed by something fun, such as eating Oreos, playing sock golf or watching cat videos, they will participate more willingly. But you have to keep the lesson short enough for the treat to be worth it.

Three, make announcements. Announcements acknowledge family members’ accomplishments and prepare the family for upcoming events. For example, you can announce that you are excited to hear Anna play “Over the Rainbow” at her piano recital on Thursday evening and that Zack got twelve runs in his t-ball game last Saturday. Announcements are a good time for child participation. The children might want to announce an upcoming field trip or holiday they are excited about.

Three, piggyback on Primary lessons. Instead of reinventing the wheel every Family Home Evening, you might revisit a lesson you or your child had at church on Sunday. This is especially easy if your child brings home a handout, such as, “I Am Thankful for Fish.” Have the child hold the picture of the fish and, as a family, think of all the reasons you are thankful for fish. Read a scripture about fish. Voila. You have just taught a lesson and reinforced previous gospel learning.

Four, teach practical skills. There are hundreds of useful things children need to learn. Pick one as the subject of a short lesson. When my boys were small, for example, we had a lesson called, “Our last name is Swindlehurst,” in which we taught the boys to say their full names. Then, we practiced saying “Swindlehurst” in an intelligible way. Other lessons might include how to use the bathroom at someone else’s home, memorizing your phone number, how to answer the phone when mom is in the shower, what to do when your friend wants to play a game that makes you uncomfortable, and how to politely refuse food you don’t like at Grandma’s house.

Finally, and I’m not sure how to put this, but don’t try too hard to manufacture spiritual experiences. Most of life’s sweet spiritual experiences come at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. You can’t force them merely by preparing a “very special” lesson or playing a “really spiritual” song. And you can’t get frustrated with your family if they don’t respond the way you’d like to your “neat” plans.

Instead, welcome your family to a Family Home Evening that you hope will be fairly enjoyable for everyone. Your family will probably not make great spiritual strides during those few and perhaps chaotic minutes, but you will be together, which is the whole point of Family Home Evening.

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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