I admit to having a bit of a hard time believing that we are a “family-centred” church. I mean, I do hear a lot about being a mother on Sundays and the blessings of motherhood, but overall, my experience with the institutional aspect of the Church is really difficult for me as a mother. From locking myself away in a secluded room for two hours to breastfeed and give my young toddler a nap, to concerns about the amount of time many families spend apart from one another in order to fulfill church assignments, I feel there could be some structural improvements to help our church to work better for families.*
Parenting Education: Where are our parenting classes? For all our talk of the importance of becoming parents, we offer one–ONE–approved marriage and family course in the Church. I’ve taken it…there’s much to be desired. Again, lots of talk about how important families are but no instruction about how to work with your three year old as he’s throwing a tantrum or how to communicate better with your teenager. Some practical instruction would be really helpful.
Financial Consulting: The number one cause of divorce in North America is related to finances. With so many talks centred on the importance of marriage, some financial counselling before and throughout marriage could do a lot to keep otherwise healthy marriages from falling apart.
Normalize breastfeeding: In a church that believes so strongly in the importance of caring for children both physically and spiritually, it’s appalling that mothers in most wards must choose between nourishing their child and engaging in communal worship. Women should not have to excuse themselves to a secluded area to breastfeed their babies if they do not desire to do so. Instructing boys and men that breasts are primarily to provide nourishment to babies and young children, not for their sexual pleasure or gaze, is a vital first step.
Engage in More Humanitarian Aid: Throughout the world, even within our own LDS faith, many parents are losing the opportunity to be parents because they are losing their children to hunger and treatable or preventative diseases. Before throwing money and resources towards another new website to talk about how incredible mothers are, maybe we could use those resources to grant a mother the opportunity to continue on her journey of parenthood. The Church does do a lot of Humanitarian Aid, but we can always do more.
Political Support: Regardless of one’s belief on the morality of same-sex marriage, stripping families of social and legal benefits is detrimental to the children in those relationships. Tax credits, legal protections, and next-of-kin are currently denied to partners and children of same-sex relationships in many states. In a church that so greatly values familial relationships, refusing to protect existing families–because the parents do not have the “right” kind of sex–is disheartening. Whether or not one believes these families are “right,” they exist and the children should not be punished or held back because we do not agree with their parents’ decisions.
Protect Family Time: Between three hours of meetings on Sundays, travel time, weekly activities, meetings, lesson preparation, and interviews, LDS families spend an incredible amount of time devoted to church activities. When assigning callings, leaders could be cognizant of opposing schedules (i.e. mom has a calling that has meetings before church and dad has meetings after church, mom has RS activities on Wednesday while dad is leading Scouts on Tuesday) and work to keep family schedules less hectic.
Lighten Men’s Workloads: In many LDS families, the father is the main breadwinner and is gone 40-60 hours per week at his place of employment. In addition to their work responsibilities that take them away from home, LDS men are also likely to spend time away from their families in church service. This puts a large burden on the family. Children miss opportunities to learn and grow from their father, Mom may feel overwhelmed at having to do most of the parenting solo, and Dad is essentially working an additional part-time job for free. In addition to leadership callings which only men can currently fulfil (Bishops, Stake Presidents, clerks, etc.), more men are needed to run programs for the Young Men. Since boys participate in both the YM’s program and the Scouting program (while girls only participate in the YW’s program), this takes even more men away from home. Since the Church has created the Duty to God and Young Men’s programs as a parallel to the Personal Progress and Young Women’s programs for the girls, consider ending formal involvement with Boy Scouts of America. Besides, not having a parallel program for the girls in the form of Girl Scouts of America is yet another indication of gender inequality in the Church.
Be Developmentally Aware: Most children under the age of 8 cannot “be reverent” for 3 hours. The current church schedule is far better suited to families with older children or empty-nesters than it is to young families (not surprising considering the fact that most of the church’s decision makers are men with grown children). Consider shortening the Sunday block to 1-1.5 hours. This would be especially helpful for babies and toddlers whose naps often conflict with the three-hour block cycle. Create a Primary schedule and environment that encourages movement and changes in activity every 3-5 minutes. Bring back “crying rooms” (rooms adjacent to the chapel, set off by a glass wall and audio piped in) to provide an environment where children are free to roam and be children while parents participate in worship services. Create a space for babies who are too young for the Nursery program but too old to sit on their parents’ laps during the Sunday School and RS/Elder’s Quorum/High Priest hour.
Protect Victims of Abuse: Train leaders to recognize the signs of abuse. If it is known that abuse is occurring in the home, be sure to get the victims the help the need, including law enforcement. Do not protect abusers. Do not encourage victims to stay with abusive spouses or parents. When abuse occurs at the hands of someone in an ecclesiastical position, do not cover up the crime and request victims to remain silent. Ensure that any victims of physical or sexual abuse are not led to believe they are at fault in any way. They are innocent and do not need to “repent.” Consider retracting statements from past prophets suggesting that those who are raped are in any way at fault.
Re-evaluate Church Policies Regarding Family Planning and/or Creation: As the Church is no longer formally opposed to birth control, encourage couples to make the best choice for their circumstance. Consider revoking the statements of disapproval regarding permanent sterilization. Encourage women to use the safest birth control options for their bodies, including IUDs which have significantly fewer hormones and adverse side-effects. For families considering adoption, fertility treatments, or surrogacy, advise them to make the best choice for their family rather than having to consult with male church leaders. Lift the restrictions on surrogacy so that couples who cannot have biological children are not forced to pray for a young girl to break the law of chastity in order to become parents. Do not back young, unwed mothers into a corner to convince them to place their babies for adoption. Offer the same resources to unwed mothers who choose to keep their babies as you offer to those who choose to place for adoption. End all ecclesiastical involvement of discussion regarding reproductive care or choices with married couples.
Encourage Lasting Family Relationships: Children thrive best when they know they are loved unconditionally. They obey and follow the traditions of their parents when they feel safe in their knowledge of always having a seat at the table. Suggesting that children could ever do anything to have their parents’ love and support withdrawn from them is antithetical to creating healthy attachments between children and families. Consider retracting statements suggesting parents should have limits to the support and love they show their children.
Obviously, there are many, many ways we could walk-the-walk when it comes to helping families and these are only a few suggestions Can you think of any others to help make the church more family friendly?
* Note: When this post went live, the opening paragraph did not adequately reflect the tone or purpose of this post and as such, was changed for flow and content.