Neil L. Anderson begins this talk by saying, "Children today find themselves in many different and complex family configurations."
I grew up mostly in Northern Utah in a family with six children, led by a Single Mom. During my grade school years I was the only 3rd grader in my school with divorced parents. I felt this difference keenly. I wished to be more included so badly. I would sing "Families Can Be Together Forever" in church and feel like I was lying, because my family would not be together forever. My heart felt sad when our Primary would sing "I'm So Glad when daddy Comes Home". I felt alone and different.
And yet, as a married Mom with kids now I feel slightly awkward to invite single friends and their kids to dinners or get-togethers we throw. It's so easy to invite over other young couples and divide game teams into husbands vs. wives. I needed this talk to remind me of how I felt as a child and how to make others in that situation feel included and "normal".
"...my plea today is for the hundreds of thousands of children, youth, and young adults who do not come from...“picture-perfect” families. I speak not only of the youth who have experienced the death, divorce, or diminishing faith of their parents but also of the tens of thousands of young men and young women from all around the world who embrace the gospel without a mother or father to come into the Church with them."
01. HOME TEACHINGFaithfully do your Home Teaching OR support your husband in doing his Home Teaching. From the time when I was 10-16 years old we had the best Home Teachers. They came, faithfully, every month. They were literally the only LDS men I had had real contact with. They showed me living examples of what a righteous LDS man behaved like. They gave me my first idea of qualities I should look for in a husband. They showed me the Priesthood being used for good. When my brother was bitten by a snake he caught at a nearby golf course while my mother wasn't home we ran to our Home Teacher's house first. We knew we could count on him because he never missed a monthly visit to our home. I was comfortable asking these men for Priesthood blessings when needed because they were not strangers.
If you are married, support your husband in every way you can as he does his monthly Home Teaching. He may be the only Priesthood example a child sees in their home. Encourage him, remind him (gently...don't nag), and praise him for his faithful Home Teaching service.
DO NOT only go Home Teaching or Visiting Teaching to try and convert a non-member. Friendship and support should be your number one goal. MANY part-member families told me their non-member spouse was completely uncomfortable with the conversion sales pitches that came with each visit. It is just my personal opinion, but conversion is not the job of a Visiting or Home Teacher. If it happens naturally because of your friendship...that's great! But don't make it the focus of your visits.
02. ALWAYS INVITEInvite non-traditional families to your home for dinner, FHE, or game nights. Even team numbers don't matter. When one of my girlfriends got divorced those sorts of invitations dropped off suddenly. Invite, invite, and invite again.
03. KNOW THEIR NAMESKnow the names and be welcoming and friendly to those without family support for church attendance. Elder Andersen said in his talk, "Knowing someone’s name can make a difference." You may encounter converts who are the only members of their family who joined the church. Their Ward Family should be just that....a family. Know their name. Extend invitations. Answer their questions about the gospel. A smile and a friendly conversation means the world to those who walk into a meeting alone.
04. SACRAMENT MEETING SUPPORT
Sit next to families without two parents in Sacrament Meeting to help with their small kids. If a child needs to use the restroom, the single parent isn't forced to leave their other children alone in the meeting.
Invite individuals to sit with your family during Sacrament Meeting. They won't care if your kids are crazy, they will feel loved and a part of something. Sitting alone every week in Sacrament meeting is isolating and magnifies the fact that you are not a part of a traditional LDS family unit.
05. CHILDCARE IS KEYIf you are in charge of planning an activity that would include a single parent, ALWAYS provide childcare. If you do not they will not/can not come.
If you are a Young Women's leader, make a list of Young Women in your Ward who can babysit for Single Parents for free so they can attend the Temple, go on dates, or just have a much-needed break. These hours can be kept track of and applied to Personal Progress. If you have teenage daughters, encourage them to do the same.
06. BE A STAND-INIf you have extended family members who are part of a non-traditional family, step in when appropriate. My Uncle Bob took me to many Father/Daughter dances and programs in church. My uncle Mark baptized me. These Uncles were an important part of me feeling part of LDS culture. Church Leaders/Home Teachers can volunteer to take young men without fathers to the Father/Son Camp-out and other Father/Son activities.
Be aware if a single-parent lives away from extended family and doesn't have Uncles, Aunts, Grandparents, etc, to step into those roles. My good friend is divorced and her son loses the Pinewood Derby every year because she has no idea how to help him with his car. This year, a father from the Ward reached out to her son and offered to help him with his car. She said it was a wonderful experience and made her son feel less "different" from the other scouts.
07. REACH OUTIf you are a part of a single-parent family, reach out to other single-parent families, especially those newly divorced. My friend is very recently divorced and her 10-year-old son would cry each week when they attended church because it seemed to him like they were the only family with divorced parents. Other families with single parents OR who had been divorced and remarried have reached out to them and planned activities together. Her son now understands that their new family situation is not that unusual. It has helped him tremendously with this transition.
08. WATCH YOUR WORDSBe aware of the language you use in your callings, especially Primary. I recently sat in a Primary sharing time where a leader said, "The Priesthood is the power that all of your Father's hold." She said it innocently and I'm sure had no idea that it might hurt some children. I am not suggesting you never sing Families Can be Together Forever, but try and be more aware that there will be children in your Primary and YM/YW's who feel left out and excluded when language like that is used. The same goes for lesson about traditional family units being taught in Relief Society and Priesthood meetings. Prayerfully seek guidance from the Lord on how to make those lessons applicable and meaningful to ALL members of your class, especially those who are not currently in a traditional family situation.
09. TRANSPORTATIONOne single parent who has a son in Scouts told me what a monumental difference it has made to have her son's Den Leader volunteer to transport her son to and from Scouts each week. What seems like a small gesture to him makes her life so much easier! She doesn't have to load her other kids into the car and take them back and forth. Transportation for kids to Activity Days, YM/YW, and other Youth activities can make a huge difference in a single-parent's life.
NOTE: Sometimes there are specific rules about who can/can't transport minors to church functions, especially within the Scouts program. Please check with your Bishop first.
10. BE A MENTORIf you are aware of Single-Parent or other nontraditional families, mentor them and their children in any way you can. If you are a female and a family is missing a Mother, step in and offer to help daughters transition through Primary, Activity Days, Young Womens, and Relief Society. You even have an opportunity to help in non-church transitions, like wearing make-up, bra shopping, etc. A single Father might struggle knowing how to help his daughter attend Activity Days for the first time or pack for Young Women's Camp. Likewise, if a family is missing a Father, men can reach out to their sons. Help them prepare to hold the Priesthood, pack for Scout Camp, build Pinewood Derby cars, etc.
In your callings always look for ways to reach out to individuals from non-traditional families in any way you can. Make them feel "normal" and fill in any gaps you can as you become aware of their personal family situation. If you come from or were raised in a nontraditional LDS family, let them know. Share your experiences and struggles. Share how you coped with some of the special challenges they might be facing. Let them know the blessings of the Gospel are availbale to ALL members, not just those from a "picture-perfect" family.
Elder Andersen ends with this challenge..."[We] need to reach out to the youth who feel alone, left behind, or outside the fence. Let us think about them, welcome them, embrace them, and do everything we can to strengthen their love for the Savior. Jesus said, “Whoso shall receive one such … child in my name receiveth me.” (Matthew 18:5)
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VISIT THE OTHER LDS BLOGS PARTICIPATING FOR MORE AMAZING INSPIRATION:
- Teaching our Families the Importance of Opposition from Camille at Chicken Scratch n Sniff based on Elder Oaks' talk
- See Yourself in the Temple - Family History FHE Lesson from Nicole at Family Locket based on Elder Quentin L. Cook's talk
- The Greatest Leaders are the Greatest Followers Family Home Evening from Lindsey at Side by Side Learning based on President Stephen W. Owen's talk
- Family Home Evening on Choices by Diana at Blue Bird's Nest based on President Thomas S. Monson's talk
- You Are a Child of God FHE Lesson by Montserrat from Cranial Hiccups based on Elder Donald L. Hallstrom's talk
- Family Home Evening on Going to The Rescue by Kim from Life's Journey to Perfection based on Elder Mervyn B. Arnold's talk.
- "He Asks Us to Be His Hands" Service FHE Idea by Sheena from Little LDS Ideas based on Sister Cheryl A. Esplin's talk