Are you giving the least to those who matter most?

With apologies to Michael McLean, I wonder sometimes if I am giving the least to those who matter most in my life. How about you?

In my ward conference last Sunday the stake president taught a combined group of Elders and High Priests during Priesthood meeting. In the course of his lesson, he mentioned several teary interviews with several sisters in our stake who complained about their husbands spending a great deal of time away from the family.
He described how the sisters said that their husbands would come home from work, *grunt*, ask for or demand dinner and then retreat to play sports with friends, video games in their locked offices, or leaving the home to fulfill Church callings after dinner is done. As you can imagine, their was probably a lot of soul searching during and after that lesson. And, hopefully, a resolve from many to do better.

For my wife and I, we both recognize the need to spend time with our own friends and spend time away from our children, without a negative impact to the family. That balance can be difficult to achieve, but we do try.

What suggestions do you have for these sisters and their families? How can husbands and wives spend more time with the family and still allow time for personal time, Church callings and other activities that take husbands and wives away from their families? I’d love to hear from you.

32 thoughts on “Are you giving the least to those who matter most?

  1. Husbands need to agree to — and wives need to insist on — date nights at least once a week. The above describes a real need and problem within the Church.

  2. Date night is a must! Friday night is the designated night in my family. Sometimes we slip it to Saturday, but we try to have date night every week.

    Thursday night is the night my wife goes out with her friends, usually after the kids are in bed. I recognize that my wife needs time away with her friends, without kids. It’s difficult for her to stay home all the time and not be able to do things without kids.

  3. I don’t mean to be too cynical toward Geoff and Brian, but I hear “date night” thrown out as an answer so often, but it just isn’t that simple. If you have kids, you have to find a sitter, which is just fine I suppose if you have money to afford one. Or you can trade off with another couple, which is also fine I suppose if you can find another couple with the same number of children as you (so they actually want to “trade” with you). Or you can try some combination or exaggeration of the above such that “weekly date night” is far, far, far easier said than done.

    I realize that my tone probably has a touch of hostility in it and I want to reiterate that that is not directed at anyone here. It’s frustration—perhaps akin (but not on par with) the frustration single people feel when they hear over and over about the importance of marriage.

  4. BrianJ, no hostility taken; thank you for your comment. Actually, you raise a valid concern for most couples–how to pay for date night.

    My wife and I have a group of friends that we trade off with for babysitting services. It’s not a perfect system, but we do try to make it work. A lot of times we just trade off hosting a dinner at one another’s house and play Rock Band.

    December killed my babysitting and date night budget with everything that was going on. I sharpened my pencil and my wife and I resolved to have cheaper date nights. :-)

  5. Another suggestion, if I may be so bold, is for the brethren to put down the video games until after they spend time with their spouse and children. Also, schedule basketball and other sports activities for after the kids are in bed.

  6. In addition to Brian D’s quote about leaving the video games alone…

    Why not find one the wife enjoys, that both can play? Our flavor of disaster is Mario Kart of n64 and Wii. But she enjoys Wii Sports and other games.

    Really, there’s not THAT many fun, entertaining video games that supplant good old fashioned spending time with one another. Even Halo wasn’t that good. Or StarCraft. Or the new StarCraft coming out. Or WoW.

  7. You mean, actually talk to my wife??? :-) A great suggestion!

    My wife and I try (emphasis on try) to talk on Sunday nights about the upcoming schedule for the week and our various plans. It helps if we are on the same page before the week starts.

  8. This is probably not so much a scheduling problem as it is this: Whatever time you have available you should give quality attention to your spouse. Which means listening and talking. The isolation comes when you prefer the TV, or video games, or Internet, to your spouse.

  9. Nathan, agreed, you should give quality attention to your spouse, but it also helps to know what is on your plate for the week (i.e.- RS meetings, EQ meetings, etc.) that may necessitate one or both spouses being gone in the evening.

    My wife likes structure and it helps to plan the week out so she knows what to expect.

  10. I have been struggling with the correct way to say this, but one big problem I think all couples have is that women seem to need constant interaction and talking whereas most men I know would be fine watching TV, playing video games or (horrors!) hanging out on the computer. So men need to be aware of this disparity and just sit and talk to their wives. I think that would solve a lot of problems in itself. (Sorry if this generalization offends anyone — it is a pattern I have noticed during the four-and-a-half decades of my life. It may not apply to everyone).

  11. That has been my experience, too, Geoff, that my wife wants interaction. I suppose it’s that whole Mars/Venus thing. When she starts calling my laptop “my girlfriend”, I know I need to close it and start talking. That said, my wife understands that I like to surf the web and even play video games. The key is to interact when you get home and save the activities that don’t require interaction for later in the evening.

    That said, I can see why some wives would be upset if all their husbands do is play video games, sports and ignore the family. That isn’t good. Moderation is key!

  12. Yes, date night is expensive! In other words, it’s expensive to be a Mormon.

    With regular date nights in place, and time together after the kids are in bed, husbands and wives need to have the understanding that *each one needs time alone, too*. And time at work, or time with the kids doesn’t count.

  13. Geoff B., if what you said is generalized, it is so only because it is so often true.

    Lately I have allocated my time at home better. I talk to my wife while I help her make lunches for the next day, for example. I’ve been more anxiously engaged in the duties of family and home, and the renewed blossoming of our relationship has been a remarkable payoff.

    There are two nights each week during which one of us has to be gone from the house. That’s a little tough for the one who has to put the children to bed alone. Verbal recognition of such sacrifices goes a long way.

  14. Hunter: Yes, date night is expensive! In other words, it’s expensive to be a Mormon.”

    I see three ways to interpret this:
    1) Only Mormons believe in date night.
    2) Being a Mormon entails observing date night.
    3) I’m missing your point.

    FWIW, my point about the cost of date night was not that it is expensive, but that it is prohibitively expensive.

  15. Ben- My wife likes to talk about how I need to fill her emotional bank account. It sounds like you have found a way to fill your wife’s emotional bank account and remain in her good graces. Good for you!

    BrianJ- three words: Costco Hot Dogs. :-)

    I wish my wife liked Taco Bell, because I could be perfectly happy taking her there for dinner.

    Because babysitters can be so expensive, why not get out just for a quick dinner of no more than an hour? I wish I had a good answer for you, BrianJ, but I don’t. I’m spoiled to have both sets of parents in town, who are ready, willing and able to watch my kids. Yeah, I’m spoiled.

  16. Spending time with your wife doesn’t mean putting the video games down. When I suggested Chinese food and minigolf for our date last week, she countered with Rock Band on our Xbox and Chinese take-out. I don’t think the problem is videogames, computers or television, I think the problem is using these things as a way to isolate ourselves and not spend time with those people we love.

    Find a game everyone wants to play, make some popcorn and watch a movie everyone likes. I don’t believe technology is the issue, I can grab a deck of cards and play solitaire, or grab a deck of cards and my family to play Uno. I’m assuming the Stake President is older than I am, a Stake President that plays Wii Sports with his daughter probably wouldn’t have blamed video games.

  17. This is a huge dilemma for me. My wife and I decided before we were married that her staying home with the kids would be paramount. We both still believe that, but that means I work 3 jobs (1 full, 2 part-time) and am therefore away from home 6 days a week and most evenings.

    This ends up being a huge dilemma when it comes to spending time with my family. I can’t change my work schedules and I can’t stop working. And many times it becomes a choice between family and church duties.

    We attend our 3 hour block every Sunday, but that’s about it. Sunday’s my only day off, and if I want to spend it with my family I’ve got to say no to home teaching (which can rob up to 2 hours of my day), scout committee meetings (which should never last longer than 30 min., but always do), and any other Sunday church obligation.

    I wonder if I’m wrong to do this, but I can’t imagine spending my only day off sitting in meetings or on some other family’s couch. A date night for my wife and I is only a pipe dream. Even if we found the time, there’s no way anybody wants to watch 5 kids. You who have the time, the money, and the babysitting help are very lucky

  18. jjohnsen- My stake president wasn’t blaming video games, rather the men in the stake who don’t spend enough time with their wives and children.

    Tossman- My heart goes out to you and I admire your determination to allow your wife to stay home with your kids. It’s difficult to do that in today’s economy.

    I also work a part-time job, in addition to my full-time job, and try to balance both jobs so that I can spend as much time as possible with my wife and kids.

    Good luck and I hope you can find someone willing to watch your kids so you can take your wife on a date. I’m sure your wife would love it.

  19. If the guy is locking himself in a room or is basically just a jerk, I can understand the complaint. My husband was not Mormon. When I got pregnant he apologized for wanting me to stay home. I let him keep that thought even though I was ecstatic to be able to stay home. He died when my daughter was 4 years old. I have had more than a few experiences where women actually complained to me how awful it was that their husbands were gone so much. Ehhhh….something a little self-absorbed with that. Anyway, if a guy is willing to make me a kept woman he has my total admiration and support in whatever hours he has to keep. If he wanted to play some video games after a day’s work, I’d bring him snacks. As a widow with a lot of career years, I come at this from a different perspective, I know…but whining about a good man busting his behind to to give me a good life…I don’t get it.

  20. Juliann- Nice to have a woman’s perspective on this. First of all, I am sorry for your loss. Mormon or not, it is admirable that he wanted you to be able to stay home with your children. While my wife doesn’t like the long hours I keep some weeks, she does appreciate that she is able to stay home with our children. Thank you for sharing your thoughts from a different perspective. I hope you are able to find a man who will make you a kept woman.

  21. Beyond the inappropriate complaining about a spouse behind their back, it’s hard to believe we have members who would burden our volunteer SPs and Bishops over such nonsense, treating our volunteer clergy like a paid parish priest. Mormons are awfully hard to take. The moral of the story is don’t marry a Molly or Joe Mormon. Living together beforehand helps sort out a lot too.

  22. Steve EM,

    I can’t believe I’m reading a suggestion that couples live together before marriage on this blog. Besides making you ineligible for a temple marriage, it doubles the likelihood of your divorcing.

    I know many Molly or Joe Mormons who are mature and realistic in their outlook on life.

  23. Steve EM,

    May I suggest that you–and anyone else who advocates living with someone prior to marriage–read Elder Holland’s talk, “Of Souls, Symbols and Sacraments.” Beyond the scriptural admonitions against the practice, Elder Holland provides many practical reasons why this practice is ultimately harmful to marriage. As “Morality Moe” points out above, it “doubles the likelihood of your divorcing.”

  24. Life is a juggling act at times. We have 5 kids and my husband and I both have very busy schedules. The most important thing for us has been keeping the lines of communication open so we are on the same page and both know and support the “why” behind what we are doing. We also have our kids on structured schedules with set bedtimes. My favorite (and frugal) date nights are getting take out and a movie at home. Often just tagging along w each other to Home Depot or the grocery store gives us a chance to spend time together although a night on the town is great too.

  25. BrianJ: That’s what home-teachers and visiting teachers are for.

    I’ve seen it both in and out of the church: Date nights save marriages!

    You want to preserver your marriage: DATE NIGHT!

    You want to increase the likelihood of divorce: NEVER HAVE DATE NIGHT!

    If your home teachers or visiting teachers ever ask: “Is there anything we can do for you?” You answer: “YES. Babysit my kids once a month so my wife and I can have date night and SAVE OUR MARRIAGE.”

    If you have 2 home-teachers and 2 visiting teachers, thats four times a month.

    If your HT/VT’s can’t do it, go to your bishop, and ask him if there’s anyone in the ward who could babysit your kids once or twice a month so you and your wife can SAVE YOUR MARRIAGE WITH DATE NIGHT.

    Seriously.

    All: Check out the church DVD: Together Forever. It deals directly with this issue of making time for each other.

    Steve EM: GOOD TO SEE YOU! Where the heck have you been?

  26. Bookslinger: I appreciate your concern, I really do, but I’m left not knowing how to respond. I’ll leave it at that until I do know how.

  27. BrianJ: You’re right that date night is not the sole way to make time for each other. But in my opinion, based on my observations of long-time married couples, and divorced couples, date night is an essential ingredient.

    I’ve never been married, and few women go out on 2nd dates with me, so I may never learn what a real “date night” is for actual married couples. But…. if a miracle occurs, and I do get married, date night is going to be high on the priority list for me.

    I figger it’s one of those semi-magical things like family home evening, families actually eating dinner together, family prayer, etc. Many people don’t see how the individual occurances mean much, but over time, the little things add up, and over the long run, those things that many consider inconsequential, or even stupid, turn out to have miraculous consequences.

    There’s also something about successful families (those with kids that is) having a “chore chart” posted in the kitchen. I’ve noticed it in all happy and/or successful families both in and out of the church.

    All successfull families I’ve seen have them. All dysfunctional families that I’ve seen didn’t have them. Just an observation of mine. I don’t know if it’s universal, but in my observation it’s been a 100% correlation so far.

    My parents raised a pretty much dysfunctional family, but they stayed married. We didn’t have a chore-chart in the kitchen. But, my parents regularly had date-night, not weekly, but at least 1 or 2 times a month. They also took vacations together, and they took vacations apart.

  28. OK, while living together beforehand worked well for us (now 28 years), I accept the point that statistically it may not be a good idea. Church standards didn’t play into it for me back then as an inactive when my active LDS wife-to-be replaced a live-in gf. I will say given the common sexual incompatibility frequently described on LDS blogs, I believe the LofC as promulgated by the church today is an anachronistic remnant backlash against polygamy that makes little sense to me in 2009. So I probably should have said, rather than living together, that much intimacy beforehand helps sort out a lot too.

    Bookslinger: I hope all is well. Life has just been very busy for me after moving to Houston in 2007.

  29. For what it’s worth:
    What worked for us though medical school, residency and nearly three decades of marriage, including 18 years of major church callings:

    Do less. Decide what’s most important and put some of the less important on hold. Our worth is not based on how many things we accomplish. My husband and I once made lists of all the things we hadn’t done because we’d married each other and chosen to conscientiously raise children. Both of our lists were LONG, but we wouldn’t, in hindsight, have traded any of them for what we were able to do in our family.

    Live in the moment. When you are together be focused on where you are and who you’re with. There is no joy in sitting on the couch together or going on a date together when your mind is full of your to-do list.

    Realize that there will be times in each marriage when one person is so emotionally overwhelmed by what life has thrown at him/her that the other has to be the main strength for awhile. Be willing to be that strong person for those times, knowing that some times the tables will be turned and your spouse will be there for you.

    Talk about your week at the beginning of it.

    Carve out time that is not occupied, even if it’s just 15-30 minutes a day so that, when your spouse needs something from you, you know you have at least that amount of time that you can give. Giving those first 15 minutes often is all you need to see your way to give more.

    Write notes or emails to each other in the middle of your busy days.

    Ask what you can do to help, then do it.

    When your spouse snaps at you, realize that it’s because he/she doesn’t feel appreciated or loved. Refrain from snapping back. Validate his/her concerns, apologize and cheerfully and calmly help.

    Pray to know what’s most important and to have the courage to trust that you can still be happy not doing the less important ones. Then act accordingly.

    Recognize that we are all tempted to spend our time where we are most appreciated. That’s human nature. Make appreciation a regular part of your interaction with your spouse and your children.

    That’s long enough. I’ll stop here.

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