In the Whirled: The Perfect Family Why we stick to the ideal

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 15 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

In my early 20s, my husband and I lived on Miami Beach. Our ward represented a small United Nations, with a varying mix of social classes.

In our Primary, the majority of the children were from single parent homes. Since I’d grown up in the era of political correctness, I decided it was time to be progressive. When Father’s Day approached, I opted for us to skip over the requisite, “I’m So Glad When Daddy Comes Home.” After all, most of the kids never saw their fathers. There was no need to cause these children unnecessary pain. Father’s Day slid by without notice.

Well, the next year, under the direction of a new primary chorister, these same children stood and proudly sang, “I’m So Glad When Daddy Comes Home.” The chorister was no stranger to family challenges. A convert of a decade, she had a blended family and was in a second marriage. She was aware that many of these children had no father, but she believed in the message of the song. From watching the children, I could tell they did, too.

That was a humbling day for me. I realized I had done the children a disservice by not allowing them to sing about a choice encounter with a father. It wasn’t the life that most of them lived, but it was certainly what they were striving for.

In the LDS Church, we talk a lot about the family ideal. We see it grace the cover of the Ensign, this image of a father, mother and children gathered around the scriptures in a lovely, well-kept home. They’ve been sealed in the temple. They hold regular family home evening where everyone sings, learns gospel truths and eats chocolate chip cookies. That’s the ideal.

When I look at a cross-section of my ward, or any ward for that matter, there are few families who live this ideal. I see blended families, divorced parents, unmarried men and women, families with adopted children and couples with no children. There are families where mom cares for her aging parents, and families where behavioral or developmental disorders cause huge alterations in the family makeup. There are homes filled with love, and others filled with strife.

There was a time, a few years back, when I felt cheated by the image of the ideal family. After all, I had done everything right: married in the temple, had some kids, read scriptures and attended my church meetings. I’d always been told that 1+1+1=3, or in other words, temple marriage plus scripture study plus lots of kids equaled perfection! At least, that was my perception.

Unfortunately, our family life was far from perfect. We couldn’t get through a verse of scripture without one child dive-bombing another child (or sneaking a Lego magazine behind their scriptures), and family home evening usually ended with all the kids in timeout, with my husband and I trying to muddle our way through the closing hymn, “Love at Home.” Where had we gone wrong?

Well, I had only to look at the scriptures to be reminded that not even the prophets lived the ideal family life. Or as my mom says often, “There’s a reason why both major sets of scripture begin with dysfunctional families.” However, that didn’t stop Lehi or Adam from teaching their children about the ideal way to live the gospel.

There was a time when society was right in step with the ideal. Just look at “Leave it to Beaver” or “The Cosby Show.” But in an effort to make everyone feel included, society has thrown out the image of the ideal family, and replaced it with “Modern Family.”

So if none of us actually live the ideal, should we drop it, just as society has done? When I look into the faces of the Primary children, I want to shout, “No! Of course not!” If we don’t teach them about what can be, no one else will. We need to teach them (and remind ourselves) that it is possible to have both a father and mother who love their children, and if you didn’t have it growing up, then try to create it with your own family.

We hold to a family ideal for the same reason we worship and try to emulate a perfected Being. It gives us a benchmark that is absolute. And striving for it will bring us more happiness than measuring our ideals by any worldly standard.

President Spencer W. Kimball, in addressing the Relief Society sisters back in 1978, said, “We have no choice, dear sisters, but to continue to hold up the ideal of the Latter-day Saint family. The fact that some do not now have the privilege of living in such a family is not reason enough to stop talking about it. We do discuss family life with sensitivity, however, realizing that many sisters do not presently have the privilege of belonging or contributing to such a family. But we cannot set aside this standard, because so many other things depend upon it.”

He was right of course. Everything depends upon it.

Tiffany Gee Lewis lives in St. Paul, Minn., and is the mother of four boys. She blogs at thetiffanywindow.wordpress.com. Her email is tiffanyelewis@gmail.com

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