not in Primary anymore

what does a family-centred church look like?

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.

53 Responses to “what does a family-centred church look like?”

  1. Jess

    Random note on the normalization of breastfeeding. It only seems to be a problem to breastfeed in public in certain cultures/regions. I find that people in the United States are extremely uncomfortable with it (Anglo-Saxon cultural ties, perhaps?). I grew up attending LDS church in Brasil, and it was very common for me to see women breastfeeding in sacrament meeting, and it wasn’t ever an issue, as far as I am aware. Many women did it. Similarly, I have noted the same thing in my travels around South America and Southeast Asia. I’ve never seen breastfeeding in public in all my time in America or in Europe.

    • Rachel

      I have breastfed all three of my children in the middle of church meetings w/o a cover. I did wear a cami I could pull down so I was still relatively covered. However, you could see my children eating. I have never had a problem from church members in this regard.

  2. megang

    Great suggestions.

    Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if women were allowed to help make decisions in the church?

  3. Kristen

    Great list! I would just add allowing non-member family, friends, and younger siblings attend weddings. Nothing says “family church” then the practice of excluding people from weddings. It’s hurtful for all involved.

    • Steph

      Seconded! I love the movement asking for the Church to reconsider the mandatory 1-year waiting period for a temple sealing after a civil wedding. Especially since members in many other countries (like the UK and Europe) can go ahead and have a civil wedding at the church (inviting everyone) and then drive to the temple to be sealed. No hurt feelings, no one is excluded, and it’s a great opportunity to share beliefs about eternal marriage and temples with friends, families, coworkers, etc.

  4. Anonymous

    I don’t think your post is helpful. Your accusations (sorry, “suggestions”) are unfair and to those unfamiliar with the church you paint the church in a very negative light. If that was on purpose then I retract my first statment and wonder why you just don’t start your own church that fits your own beliefs.

    • lauracal

      If the church is painted in an unfavorable light, it is because of its existing policies and procedures, many of which are accurately noted here and none of which are exaggerated.

      There is much room for improvement. There are many places where dialogue would make a HUGE difference in policymaking.

      If someone unfamiliar with the church came to a meeting, would she find a cryroom? A variety of parenting classes and support groups? A welcoming place to nurse her baby? A child-size sink in the bathroom?

      Would a male investigator hear stories about how fathers work a full week and spend their vacation with the Scouts and all day on Sunday in the clerk’s office? Or maybe half of Saturday cleaning the building? Would there be stories of men and women sitting in a class together learning about child development or recognizing signs of abuse?

      Does the church take steps to ensure that every adult leader who is responsible for children has been taught appropriate ways to interact with said children? And what to do if it appears someone may be grooming (or actually abusing) a child? And how to prevent others from falsely accusing them?

      One can choose to be offended at a critique, or one can acknowledge there are problems and recognize a solution should be sought for and enacted.

  5. Karen

    I love this so much. As someone who as spent most of her adult life in primary callings I can tell you the current structure is not conducive for learning.

  6. Pete

    This blog just feels right. It’s so great knowing that there are those within the church who know more than a prophet, seer and revelator(the old white man with grown children referred to above).

    • Steph

      I realize you were trying to be snarky here, but I think it’s quite likely that the parents of a young family DO know more about what it’s like raising a family in the Church in 2014 than men who raised their families in the Church several decades ago. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in saying, “This how current policies & procedures affect me and my family, and here are some things that might help me and other families.”

      Wonderful article, Amy. I agree with so much of what you’ve said!

  7. amycartwright

    Ermmmm, I never said I knew more than the prophet. The “old white man with grown children” reference is not what I said. I said that most of the decision makers in the church are men with grown children. This is true. Most of the people who make decisions (bishops, stake presidents, area authorities, and those working in the priesthood department of the Church Office Building) are middle-aged men with grown children.

  8. That girl

    Wait, the church has a seer? Didn’t even know that. I thought there was only a prophet to give a patriarchal blessing. Anyway, I appreciate some of your statements and I’m trying to compare things a bit and relate to your frustrations. But when everything you post about the lds church is trying to change it I’m always wondering why are you still there, it’s literally a lost cause. I’m almost waiting for you to leave and find happiness and truth one of these days because if that’s what your looking for is definitely not in the church. I understand that in many churches some things should be changed and progressed here and there but some of these issues you post about fb and on your blog could be avoided, all this stress trying to change and “keep Jesus the center” when he never really was, won’t happen in the church, but already exists right now in other places, or even without regular church at all. I think what I’ve noticed is that especially when ppl grow up in a hardcore mormon home it’s so hard to leave the structure and wonderful community and start over because it’s a culture. And really great values and amazing people but it doesn’t mean their beliefs are valid. I know that’s blunt of me to say but it’s like you’re still searching when you should have peace and I know on your end it seems offensive but I’m actually routing for you on your search and activism. Just sort of wondering why you stay there in particular and try to change the way the church works when the way I see it it’s not even worth it. What do you say keeps you there most rather than leaving, or what keeps you holding on the most, all pride and facade behind? I still have friends who are mormon and family and I can’t relate to them in a spiritual sense but I still absolutely love them and it doesn’t matter if they think I’m lower or nuts for believing differently. That’s another thing, when some Mormons who claim to be Christians but get tense about the fact that I am Christian. If they held the same beliefs it wouldn’t be that way. In fact, they should feel comfortable going to any denomination of Christianity and fit in without a problem if that’s the case, and as a Christian I should feel comfortable doing the same or going to mormon service but I honestly don’t it gives me bad vibes everytime I even pass the temple. Sorry for the long post, I’m just passionate and confused when to me it looks like you’re trying to dig your way out when there’s a perfectly paved route right next to you. I’m not always so good at putting it lightly.

  9. Laura Penn

    I have to weigh in on the decision makers here as well. It’s not only a problem that men with grown children are the ones making all the decisions, it’s that men are the ones making all the decisions. Even these decision making men who have grown children had wives who did a vast majority of the child managing when said children were not grown and these men were thus shielded from the difficulties that they would be aware of had they actually been the ones in the pews and the Primary managing tiny attention spans, wiggly bodies, nap times, feeding needs, etc.

  10. amycartwright

    FWJ, I push back on your use of the term “apostate,” not because I believe you have any grounds on which to proclaim such a thing (as someone who believes so ardently in the perfect nature of the church structure, you of all people should know that you have no ecclesiastical authority to pronounce such a thing), but because you throw around the word to discredit any logical or reasonable discussion. You even did this on this post when it had absolutely nothing to do with the ordination of women to the priesthood. To dismiss anything I say simply because you have characterized me a certain way because I believe women should be ordained is childish. Ad hominem attacks and do nothing to further discussion, it only reveals weakness in your position.

  11. Cruelest Month

    As a current primary teacher with a professional background as an elementary school teacher and more recently social worker, I am frequently appalled at the developmental inappropriateness of our Sunday schedule and primary structure. My 4 and 5 year olds are restless after Sacrament meeting. They frequently lose it in sharing time. Last they have class. I change up my activities every 3-5 minutes, use puppets, varied art materials, music, videos, role play, and feed them. It would be awesome if it were the first hour of church. Last hour…poor babies are barely with me. If children are really so precious to us, why not structure meetings to best meet their learning needs. Your other suggestions are wonderful too!

    • Rachel

      The church structure is set up in this manner to support members who must travel long distances in order to worship. It was not long ago that Primary was during the week. It fit all of you requirements but was detrimental to families. Priesthood was Sunday morning and Sacrament meeting was Sunday evening. The three hour block was set up to support families. I do not agree w/ the claims that Primary is now worse in its structure. Furthermore, to address the issue of Girl Scouts, this organization gives financial support to Planned Parenthood and teaches dogma which is not in line with the church. This is why the church never aligned itself with the organization.

  12. Anonymous

    Though many of your suggestions are terrific, what I would love the Church to do is to teach the members to stop being so dependent on the church and teach them how to take full responsibility for the discomforts of life and their own membership. I wish the people in the Church would stop making others feel guilty if their family situation is not ideal or if they choose to worship differently than the main body of saints. I wish the Church would teach the members to be less dependent on the Church and more dependent on Christ so they could see how to orchestrate their own unique family situation the way that they are directed to do so, even when it doesn’t flow with the collective mindset of the hierarchy. More marriage and parenting classes….yes, please, and a class on how to actually hear the word of the Lord and stop seeking the counsel of unqualified and uneducated men who aren’t sure they want to be serving in the capacity they are in anyway. In short I wish the Church would stop teaching us (unintentionally) how to worship the church the dogma the culture the programs and the leaders instead of worshiping Jesus Christ. I think we would all be happier, more supported and more directed in our life.

  13. jen

    Fabulous list! I sure hope the men who make all the decisions read this! You could do a whole post about how the church buildings themselves are designed ineffectively but bringing up the mother’s lounge was a great start 🙂 the whole family first thing is words not action imo.

  14. nylalindsay

    Amy, this list is great. There is so much room in the church for support and acceptance. I hope they’re listening.

  15. CG

    I am a life-long member if the church, but I was surprised at just how HARD church participation became once my daughter was born. Naps, callings, everything you mention here makes it difficult to be a full participant at church and raise children and keep one’s sanity. For a while I let my sanity slide, but since the church structure isn’t set up to protect my family or my mental health, I realized that I had to establish boundaries and make decisions on what was best for my family. Right now that means attending a different ward so we aren’t trying to convince an exhausted and hungry toddler to behave appropriately for three hours. (I have long since given upon trying to get her to sit still–impossible!) I can only imagine how hard it is with more children and more complicated schedules and needs to manage. Your suggestions would do a lot to simplify our lives and leave a little more room for peace.

  16. Sweeney

    FWJ, that’s really rich- you come into a feminist-friendly space to tell like-minded people how what they think/feel is wrong, (how would that go over if we did that on the church website, if such a thing were possible?) and try to do so by showing how “rhetorically incorrect” Amy’s arguments are when you’re pretty guilty of some non-sequitors yourself. Amy never once mentions OW and you go off on some tell-tale rant about them (which, btw, from what you said, it sounds like you actually don’t know much about the group’s true purpose- go read from the source, like I’m sure you tell people to do with the BOM, instead of just forming some third-person opinion about it).

    And I am truly flabbergasted that you are ballsy enough to bring up reverse sexism. Really? Well, when your gender is the one only speaking a couple of times every General Conference or lacking in leadership opportunities or being modesty shamed from the age of twelve, then you can talk about this imaginary thing you call reverse sexism. As long as there are all men sitting on the stand presiding, there is no reverse sexism in the LDS church.

    And I can say I don’t believe in the existence of a perfect church structure- not when it’s in the hands of imperfect beings. And that’s ok; that’s life and for the most part, it still manages to work. But when people like you go around and blow sunshine up our rears about the perfection of the church, even small, good, and necessary changes will be harder to bring to pass (ie. like many of the ones Amy presented in her post).

  17. amycartwright

    “He who acknowledges the imperfections of his instrument, and makes allowance for it, is in a much better position for gaining truth than if he claimed his instrument to be infallible.”

    -William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience

  18. Sweeney

    Thanks FWJ, for doing an excellent job of demonstrating your true purpose in this direct quote of yours:

    “I do not care if she [Amy] stays or goes, as long as I am free to point out the errors in her claims and nature of their formation.”

    Exactly. You don’t care about her as a person, a child of God; you are more concerned with being free to post your offensive opinions loudly and proudly. Very Christlike. Sounds like, in spite of your memorization of doctrine as taught via Paul, you have failed to internalize this most important of commandments:

    “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Matt 22:39. And don’t try to worm out of this due to geographical inconvenience to Amy or any member of OW (or other group with which you personally disagree); God covered that already (spoiler alert: we’re all neighbors). Also, I hear the pride comes before the fall. I could keep going but I’m over this conversation, so buena suerte with your whole calling out apostates thang.

  19. B

    I am really hesitant to write this, because though I frequently read these types of blogs I don’t often comment on them.I do not support 0W, because of a wide variety reasons . I do believe strongly that they have as much of the right to raise concerns and to ask leaders to consider changes as much as any members do. I do not agree with this entire post, but I think that there are several suggestions which the church would do well to consider. In my opinion many of the elements that are in this post concerning the cultural aspects of the churchand not doctrine. The church is perfect, but the people in are not as one of my good friends mother likes to say. As someone who has questioned and been concerned about why church policies or doctrines or the way they are I’ve eventually come to the conclusion that if the church is true, which it is, then nothing else really eternally matters. This is not mean that I to not believe that the church does not does not have room for progression or improvement in many areas and I firmly believe the ninth article of faith what it says and God will continue to reveal manygreat important things pertaining to the kingdom of God . The church is a living organism and as such will continue to and this evolution will be directed by God through the prophets .

    • amycartwright

      B, I agree with you. I didn’t write this post as a “look! The church isn’t true!” but to address that some issues are cultural and every single point I brought up in my post is addressing some cultural changes that would be family-friendly.

      To be honest, I was really surprised by the pushback to this post. Most of the time, feminists are accused of being anti-family (a very misinformed accusation but accusations and stereotypes are rarely correct). I identify as a feminist but there is nothing more important to me than the well-being of my husband and children. The above mentioned suggestions were born out of a number of years of being a young mother in the church and noticing there was room for improvement.

      • B

        Thanks for the reply. I also at the end of the day consider myself a feminist,although the cultural connotations that have come to be associated with theword especially within the church are false and unfortunate. I want to get a PhD, do work in the Middle East for women’s rights, and hopeful teach at the university level among other things. In the church cultural if not doctrinal there can a very judgmental attitude when I mention my goals. I want to get married and have kids and do know that the most important thing that I will ever do is be their mother, but I also believe the reason (or at a large part of it) I am here is to do the professional work that I want to do. I know God will make it possible to do everything that he wants me to and that makes peoples’s to put it mildly rude comments a little easier to brush off.

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