Mormon Family Strength

By Annie L. Henderson Cechini

We see it everywhere.  Politicians use it to rally support in campaigns.  Spiritual leaders everywhere are saddened by what they find in its wake.  Children, the most vulnerable of all the human race, are the primary sufferers of it.  This malady that plagues the world today has been around forever, and it is the primary cause of why families fall apart, or are never created in the first place.

It is pride.

Mormon FamilyThe kind of pride here is not the glowing warmth one feels when a young child takes a first step towards the outstretched hands of a parent.  The type of pride that tears apart families has its roots in selfishness.  The statistics are proof that pride is hard at work: 35.7 % of American born children are born without fathers in the home.  Of those, nearly all will experience some degree of abuse, neglect, and poverty.  Children of divorce aren’t much better off; many live with mothers who have not the time nor the resources to rear them with sufficient income, or perhaps more critically, sufficient time.  Divorce statistics are so high that many couples choose to live together, hoping to avoid the crushing damage of a failed marriage.  They fail to realize that by so doing, they are creating an even slimmer chance for a long-term commitment or eventual successful marriage.

There is a ray of sunshine in these statistical storms, however.  Although the general membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the “Mormon” Church) shares similar divorce statistics with the rest of the country, only 6% of couples married in Mormon temples end their marriages (Lobdell, 2000).  How is this possible?  There are four core components that lay the foundation for a successful temple marriage–priorities, shared values, commitment, and time.  Mormon families spend one night a week together, learning about the gospel, having a family activity, singing and praying.  Family Home Evening (FHE or Family Night, as it is sometimes called) provides an excellent opportunity to get to know one another, listen to each other, and help each other understand how to interact well with others.  Parents and children often have Family Council, a short meeting where each family member outlines time commitments and engagements outside of the home.  This eliminates the scheduling surprises that so often spark arguments (especially between mom and dad).

Mormon families honor Sunday as a day of rest, a day to spend at home or with our families doing things that uplift and inspire.  These include, but are not limited to, reading scriptures, writing in a journal, visiting or calling extended family, playing with siblings, talking with parents, and visiting friends who are sick or lonely.  The concept of spending one day out of every week thinking about everyone but yourself helps to quell the “inner whine” of selfishness.

During the rest of the week, Mormon families do not shelve their Sunday personas.  In addition to Family night, young men and women ages 12-18 spend one evening a week together.  These programs are called the Young Men/Young Women programs.  With Boy Scouts of America as the backbone program for Young Men and a similarly rigorous program called Personal Progress for the Young Women, the majority of these youth grow up active, industrious, and with high standards of morality.  They look for associates and companions with similar values.  They often date within their faith, or those with similar beliefs and standards. “If you date only Mormons, you’ll marry a Mormon,” states William Lobdell of the LA times. “And this translates into a guarantee of shared background, beliefs and values–or one less thing to fight about.”

“When we get married, we have one goal and one vision: to create a family,” said Tustin, California, resident Brian Banner, 24, who will be married today at the Mormon temple in San Diego (the other Southern California temple is in Los Angeles). “We believe that it’s something God’s ordained and not something you can walk away from. If something’s wrong, you need to fix it” (Lobdell, LA Times, 4/8/2000).  Banner’s statement holds true for most young Mormon families.  In the temples couples gain an outward focus, learning to think about others more than themselves.  When carried over and applied to a marriage, the result is an eventual eradication of selfish pride.  When couples are married in the temple, they believe that they will be sealed together forever, not just “till death do us part.”

Maralee Henderson, a lifelong member of the Mormon Church, knows what it means to work at a marriage.  She and her husband Bill married in 1979–she was 20, he was 23.  They had their first child nine months later.  They were very happy, and blessed with another child in 1982.  His name was Scot.  When Scot was about ten months old, he contracted what seemed to be the flu.  After two weeks of symptoms, he went in for tests and was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer.  The physicians who cared for him did all they could, but in August of 1984, he passed away.  After five years of married life, with one child left, and at the ripe old ages of 25 and 28, Bill and Maralee were facing the greatest tragedy of their lives.  Over 90% of couples who lose a child to a terminal illness choose to end their marriage.  “It’s hard, but you know you’re both committed to making it work, and you know that it is forever, not just until it gets hard,” said Maralee.  Handling the grief in different ways, taking care of their other child, just going on was difficult. “You spend time together, you share the same values, the same goals and expectations.  You make your family a priority because you are committed to making it work.” Bill and Maralee say that the eternal perspective of temple marriage and knowing that they will be with their son again helped them get through that difficult time.  I have seen that eternal perspective at work, because I am their oldest daughter.

Again, to quote Mr. Lobdell, “Until death do you part” isn’t enough. They marry for eternity.  When a temple marriage is sealed, that means the husband and wife–and their family members past and present…will be together forever. ‘We would not be married unless it was in the temple,’ said newlywed Joshua Poduska, a UCI junior. ‘A temple marriage allows the union to be eternal.’…The best insight on Mormon temple marriages comes from someone who should know: 76-year-old Helen Stay, who’s been married to Jesse for 57 years. The Huntington Beach couple have seven children, 47 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren. ‘The secret to marriage is you really need to love each other and have the same ideals,’ Helen said. ‘For us, our faith means we’ll be mates forever’ “(Lobdell).

Another insight into the strength of Mormon families lies in a document called “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” Known generally among church members as the ‘family proclamation’, it was first given to the women of the Church by President Gordon Bitner Hinckley in 1995.  In his address, President Hinckley stated, “ The more surely you rear your children in the ways of the gospel of Jesus Christ, with love and high expectation, the more likely that there will be peace in their lives.”  The ultimate object of the proclamation is to remind families of all faiths that as they follow the principles of the gospel, there will be love at home.  Selfless charity, patience, and proactive kindness all fall under the umbrella of true Christian behavior.  This document also outlines the critical importance of the roles men and women play.  Though different, these roles are viewed as equally important and relevant to the success of any marriage and family.

To quote the proclamation, “ Husbands and wives have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children… The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to hi eternal plan.  Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity…By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness [please note that ‘in love and righteousness’ ought to have a major influence on the word ‘preside’] and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.  Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.  In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”

mormonHaving a clear grasp on what it means to be a father can help a husband behave like one.  Putting aside the evening paper for a game of baseball in the front yard isn’t as hard to do when a father understands the amount of influence he can have on his family.  Giving up time he wants for himself in order to help make his son or daughter a better human being is really only a sacrifice of selfish pride.  Understanding what her role is as a woman can clarify future courses of action for young women who are inundated with the idea that there is nothing so banal and beneath her than to work full time in the rearing of the next generation.  Women are so often vulnerable to the idea that their daily grind is of little value.  True, there are no pay raises, trophies or world-wide accolades; but the future of this world is held in the arms of motherhood.  Women influence whether or not society continues to be civilized and that takes a lifetime of dedicated mothering, whether or not it is biological.  There is no place for pride in the sacrifice needed to mold the future.

The strength of Mormon families lies in the commitment to faith, family and marriage.  Investments of time now are considered to be the building of an eternal foundation, and marriages are begun with the intent to last.  This is accomplished by following the example of the Savior, who gave everything he had to those he loved.  It isn’t always easy to share our lives with our families or our spouses-but, “Every problem has a gift for you in its hands” (Richard Bach).  In the end, that gift will be your family.