FHE: perception vs. reality

Before I joined the Church I had this idyllic view of Family Home Evening. Respectful, attentive children listening as Mother and Father discuss the joys of the Gospel. And then: the children themselves happily leading the discussion as they grow older. Beautiful singing. Wonderful treats. Peace and harmony.

Then reality took over.

Scenes from recent Family Home Evenings in the Geoff B household:

–A teenager grousing and complaining, refusing to participate.
–A teenager refusing ANY posture of reverence during the prayer (why do they DO that?).
–The dog running around tearing up the lesson and any other paper left unattended.
–The three-year-old running around tearing up the lesson and any other paper left unattended.
–The 20-month-old running around tearing up the lesson and any other paper left unattended.
–The only acceptable songs, even in January, are “jingle bells” and “Jesus wants me for a Sunbeam” but only if Daddy throws the kids into the air during “Sunbeam.” And then a fight ensues during this because Daddy is throwing one child into the air more than the other.
–The 20-month-old screams and says “no, no, no” every time Mommy starts singing.
–The only way any lesson of any kind can take place is if Daddy literally holds the younger kids still in a wrestling grip. Then, they pay attention. Briefly.

So, clearly my perception of FHE are different than the realities. We all know the old saying about FHE being “a fight that begins and ends with a prayer.” In my house, it is a fight, a screaming match, a wrestling match that begins and sometimes ends with a prayer.

Yesterday, we decided to end FHE with all of the boys getting haircuts from Mommy. That was the most important thing we accomplished.

Here is why I keep on doing FHE: I hold the hope that 10 years from now my older kids (and 20 years from now for my younger kids) will look back at this time and feel nostalgic. It is a ritual they could always count on. It is a time when we set aside the things of the world and concentrated on our family.

I have already noticed that my older kids are very nostalgic. “Daddy, remember that tiny house we lived in when we were smaller, can we drive by it?” “I really liked my room in that house, Daddy.” “Remember the trampoline we had behind that house?”

And not everything is a fight. In fact, there is plenty of laughter and tender moments. My 10-year-old loves to “lead” FHE, and she does it beautifully. My three-year-old has absolutely no fear about getting up and saying what he wants, and it’s incredibly cute. Usually he wants something unrelated to the Gospel, but that’s OK.

So, FHE is definitely not like they portrayed it in the Church movies. It is unique, just like my family is unique and each of our personalities is unlike any other. It seems to me that the half-hour we are alone as a family is precious time, even when there are battles. And, upon reflection, somebody always learns something during FHE. Very often it is me learning how to be a better father.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

11 thoughts on “FHE: perception vs. reality

  1. FHE is very odd. My children misbehave constantly, yet they insist we have it every week, and they even quote from the lessons occasionally. My 9 year old daughter actually, though she complains every time, makes very good lessons with activities and visual aids.

    I think kids will remember the good stuff and forget the misbehavior. As I think back on my memories of FHE, I don’t recall any fights or rambunctiousness. Yet my mother and father both say that FHE was a fight that began and ended with prayer. I don’t remember any of that – I recall singing hymns, giving lessons, and gaining a testimony.

    That last point justifies FHE to me, regardless of any problems. Around age 10, I gained the strongest spiritual witness I have ever had (before or since) during FHE. Nothing too remarkable was going on at the time (typically off key hymn singing), but I broke out into tears. For whatever reason, the Spirit decided to let me know the truth of the Gospel at that moment, and I was so overcome I couldn’t do anything but weep tears of joy for several minutes. The witness was unmistakable, both emotion and intelligence flowed into my heart and brain, like drinking from a spiritual firehose or something. There really are no words that can describe exactly what happened to me.

    However, even if nothing like that ever happens to my kids, their casual remarks of “oh, yeah, it’s like that one leper guy who thanked Jesus like we talked about yesterday” tell me that something is getting through. And that they insist we do it every week, despite their misbehavior, shows that they enjoy it on some level.

  2. I think one of our Teachings of Presidents of the Church manuals has a lesson on family home evening where the prophet recalls that his early home evenings “weren’t always a howling success, it was usually just howling.” Sounds about right.

  3. I’m with Ivan. I have a lot of good memories of FHE from when I was younger. Perhaps my children will, too. And hopefully they overlook the gaps when we don’t have FHE.

  4. I think that it’s important to set aside time for a family activity and talk to your kids. Even if it isn’t as structured as the “ideal” church FHE.

  5. Oh, you just gave me some much needed inspiration: My wife and I just talked and decided that NEXT week’s FHE will be run by our nine-year-old. I think it’ll be just “the thing” to help with a perennial bad attitude. And one who likes to mother/be in charge. I can’t believe we hadn’t thought of this before! It’s perfect. Thanks.

  6. Formal FHE are impossible at our house. On Monday night we do some type of activity like fishing or sports. We have 5 kids 8 and under. So what we do is have mini FHE’s every night for good measure. 15 minutes of scriptures, books about the prophets etc usually while the kids sit there and eat ice cream or cookies.

  7. My wife keeps trying to make FHE an Ensign photo-op even though forcing such expectations causes both my daughter and I to rebel. Finally last night I suggested we go to The Golden Spoon, which we did, and we just hung out, talking, having about as close a moment as we ever did with the outlined lessons. We read scriptures three other nights of the week, so I don’t feel like the kid’s missing out on her minimum doctrinal intake. She’s 12, going on 13, and a willful soul whom I fear will soon morph into a hellacious black hole of teen discontent. If counting on her willful participation means mixing it up a bit, I will do that, free of guilt.

  8. Hunter, I have found the best way to deal with complaining youngsters is to put them in charge of the meetings, and then they have less to complain about. This also works in my priests’ group, where I have them teach lessons several Sundays a month instead of me droning on and on. The kids’ lessons are sometimes a lot more interesting also.

  9. One of the things that has helped our FHE is by having everyone participate. Even our 5 year old will plan out lessons when it is her turn. It is funny how much of a TASKMASTER she is when she’s in charge!

    Another thing that I like to do is “take notes.” Some of the most hilarious things our kids have ever said/done have been in fhe, and we have a good record of them all…so – i’m sure we’ll be looking and laughing at that one day (even if it was kind of painful when it was happening.)

  10. I’m definitely going to try to stop by your house on a Monday night next time I’m in Colorado.

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