Best of General Conference: 10 Ways to Reach Out to Non-traditional LDS Families

Today I am sharing a special post, along with other LDS bloggers, based on talks from April 2016 General Conference (see the links to their amazing blog posts below this article).  I chose Neil L. Andersen's talk from the Saturday Afternoon session titled, “Whoso Receiveth Them, Receiveth Me”. This talk immediately spoke to me and touched my heart.

A Year of FHE // This is a MUST-READ for every LDS member! 10 Ways to Reach Out to Non-Traditional LDS Families. Based on a #LDconf talk be Neil L. Andersen.  This is a part of a series of posts from LDS Bloggers highlighting their favorite Conference talks.  #BestofLDSconf #generalconference #neillanderson

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".

" 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."

I am sharing 10 things we can do to support Individuals and Families who aren't in a traditional LDS family.  Some are mentioned in Elder Andersen's talk, some are my own ideas, and some were passed on to me by friends in non-traditional family units.

Faithfully 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.

Invite 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.

Know 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.


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.

If 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.

If 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.

If 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.

Be 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.

One 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.

If 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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11 Way Righteous Comments:

stevie kay said...

Thank you for sharing. These are awesome!! Of my 6 young women that come regularly, only one comes from a "traditional" family. Blended, divorced, single parent, grandparent, etc. is truly the norm, and I love seeing them reach out to one another and share their family experiences and how even with a family that's different or even the ones that feel broken, love is still there!

Kirsten said...

These are all such fantastic ideas! I know growing up people were hurtful unintentionally to my siblings and I, and then there were people who stepped in to make up for our dad being gone - makes all the difference in the world! My husband has left the church recently and it has been such a transition for myself and my oldest. Being sensitive to others and showing kindness and love can help lift others so much! Thanks for all the ideas!

Camille said...

I agree with all of these in so many ways. We had one home teacher my entire childhood that came over and it was sporadic. When he did come I was so excited but it turned out he was only interested in talking with my step dad because he was the non member. We stopped going to church for a long time. As soon as I got my driver's license I went again. Why? Because I had a ride finally but I still sat alone every single week. Little things would have made such a huge difference and would have really helped with the struggling. I always say never ever underestimate the power of good you have. One simple thing can mean the world to someone else.

Nicole Dyer said...

Each idea is so spot on. I especially loved your thoughts on inviting.

Nicole Dyer said...

Each idea is so spot on. I especially loved your thoughts on inviting.

Karen said...

I loved this talk! My husband is not an active member, but my kids and I are and it is something that our whole family has to deal with. Including my husband feeling unwelcome or unaccepted and my kids and I realizing we don't have what the norm is and what that means. Thank you for your thoughts and your story.

EAP said...

A wonderful list I loved each item. I would add visiting teaching is also fantastic--especially if you look for ways to serve, when circumstances allow, take another mother's required day at cubcamp, take a toddler to the park, come over early sunday morning to help braid hair. However, I have to comment that scout leaders cannot transport a cubscout to activities. UNLESS there is another adult in the car with them who has been through the keeping every youth safe program. I wish it were otherwise, but these are the rules the scout program requires us to abide by. The parents of other scouts are under less strictures.

Katie said...

Fantastic article. I think these are great ideas to help all families feel included.

Carrie said...

Great ideas! Inviting is so important! In a divorce you find out very quickly who your true friends are and it was surprising and painful to lose friends who weren't able to handle the change in our family.

I'm so grateful for a dad and brothers who loved and nurtured my children and to all the home teachers, YM/YW leaders, and parents of my kids'friends who helped me raise my children. I'm committed to paying it forward.

I wish this talk had been given 22 years ago when I was a single parent in Orem. We ended up moving out of state and were blessed to find the support I mentioned above.

Anonymous said...

I am in the middle of a very painful divorce from the woman I have loved with all my heart and soul for over 20 years. We have two children at home and as hard as I have tried to be both dad and mom for my kids, my own overwhelming grief has made it difficult for me to adequately gauge their needs at times. I am grateful for YM/YW leaders who have stepped in and helped me watch over my children.

Sylvana said...

Merci, i'm from the south of france and i just dicover your wonderful website. And i love your 10 ways. Thank you for this incredible work you do. In France we have all type of families. And your 10 ways is a good thing to be aware of people around us. Merci

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