I read a rather silly post today that suggested that the reason Mormons (as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are often nicknamed) have so many family traditions is because their church wants to keep them from socializing with non-Mormons. When did spending time with your family become a negative thing? Must there be any reason other than that being with our families is wonderful? Mormons consider the family to be the most important element of mortal society and, therefore, worthy of our time and effort.
It is true that Mormons have many family traditions and that they are encouraged to make their families a priority. This is because Mormons believe that family isn’t something you’re supposed to have until you don’t feel like having one anymore or even until death. They believe it lasts forever.
Would You Like to Be a Forever Family?
How does the thought of being with your family forever make you feel? Picture yourself in Heaven, where you will live forever. Do you want to be single, childless, and orphaned there? Probably not, but that is how most people imagine Heaven to be.
God told Adam and Eve to put each other first and told children and parents to love each other. He thought that having an earthly family mattered so much that He even placed Jesus in one. He didn’t send Jesus as a fully grown man. He made Him a baby and gave him a mother. He chose a good man to fill the role of an earthly father. There is no question as to where God stands on the subject of families.
Having made families central to our lives on earth—the creation of families was part of the actual creation process—will He welcome us into Heaven and send us into a corner to fall out of love with our spouses and children? Of course not. It would be unbearably unkind to give us the unquestionably powerful love for our families that He has given us without providing a way to let us keep them forever. Heaven is supposed to make us happier than we’ve ever been before, happier even than we can imagine. Those of us with wonderful families know we are never completely happy without our families. God planned for us to have the privilege of keeping those families forever—but like everything else worth having, we have to demonstrate how much that really matters to us.
Mormon temples are the key to forever families. In a Mormon temple, couples don’t sign their divorce contract in the marriage ceremony with phrases like “until death do us part.” They commit to each other for both life and eternity. Statistics show that Mormons who marry in temples have a lower divorce rate than the general population and even lower than Mormons who marry outside the temple.
All the time Mormons are encouraged to spend with their families is one of the explanations for those encouraging statistics. The perspective of eternity is another reason.
Think about it for a moment. A leading theologian made headlines a while back for saying it was okay to divorce your wife if she has Alzheimer’s disease because it was sort of like being dead. Many people commented that the marriage vows included a commitment to care for each other through sickness.
A Mormon would see this situation very differently. Alzheimer’s disease is a mortal condition. It won’t last forever, and when death comes, the spouse you once knew will return. A couple may enjoy all of eternity together once they have both returned home to God and so the time in which a spouse may have been ill becomes unimportant. A temple-married Mormon would stay in the marriage, looking happily forward to the day when their lives would return to normal.
Mormons, knowing they are in the family business forever, don’t see the ordinary reasons for divorce as good reasons. While there are some approved reasons for divorce—abuse, for example—Mormons generally presume that if the marriage isn’t as satisfying as they’d like, the best solution is to work on their marriages. When both people are equally committed to eternity, they put aside things that won’t matter in a thousand years and focus on those things that will.
So what are some of those Mormon family traditions?
Family Home Evening
A Mormon prophet established Family Home Evening in 1915. It is held once a week, usually on a Monday, and is a day when the family stays home to spend time together. They don’t have church meetings that night and they generally have no visitors that evening. It is a time for the family to strengthen its relationships with each other. In most families there is a brief lesson on a gospel, moral, or family topic. Also prayers, music, games, and treats are often included. Some families also use this time for family discussions and scheduling sessions for the week ahead. Family members rotate responsibilities with younger children receiving help from a parent or sibling. This teaches them to formally conduct a meeting, lead music, teach lessons, and plan activities, all skills that are valuable in both church and professional service.
This isn’t weird—it’s sensible. If more families spent one night a week together doing something meaningful, there might be fewer divorces and fewer troubled children. Of course, just spending a few hours together once a week isn’t really enough, so yes…Mormons have more family traditions to offer.
Family Prayer and Scripture Study
There is an old saying that the family that prays together stays together. Mormons take this very seriously. They are encouraged to hold daily family prayer and scripture study. This is, of course, in addition to personal prayer and scripture study. This does not have to take very long, and puts the family’s focus on the Savior. Some families do the scripture reading with the morning prayer, since everyone is more likely to be home. There is also a family prayer in the evening and at meals. Family prayers can occur at other times as well, such as at the start of a long journey or before special events or anytime someone feels it is necessary.
This is more of a tradition, but it is strongly encouraged. It is a night for a married couple to spend time alone together and to work on strengthening their marriages. Mormons teach that the best thing we can give our children is parents who love each other. By spending one evening a week out together, they don’t lose what brought them together. It helps them stay connected as individuals, not just as parents, and this helps them to build a marriage that can last forever.
Unlike many churches, Mormons do not exclude babies and small children from the main worship service. Although it sometimes makes the meetings a little busy and noisy, the children benefit from being in the service with their parents. They see their parents and other adults worshipping and this sets the example. The parents gradually teach the children to sit quietly and to pay attention during services and discuss with them what constitutes appropriate worship. After the main service, the children do go off to their own programs once they are eighteen months old. Younger babies stay with their parents.
Putting Family First
The most important tradition Mormons have is to put their families first. They tend to be busy people, but they know that nothing else they do will matter more than building their families. By learning to organize their time, they make plenty of meaningful time for family, school or career, worship, community service—and even have time left over to play.
Imagine how society would work if every family decided to put their family first and to put into place these “controversial” Mormon family traditions. Why not find out? Choose just one of these to be a part of your family. After they get used to it, try another. Notice how it changes your family when your children and your spouse come to understand just how special they are to you and how hard you’re willing to work to find time for them.
Learn how to do a family night.