Relief Society Lesson #37 – Family Responsibilities

Guest Post by ZD Eve

The first thing I would do if I were teaching this lesson would be to take a careful look at my Relief Society’s demographics and adjust accordingly. The lesson manual outlines family responsibilities in a very traditional family situation, in which there are two active, believing parents, and relatively young children living at home. But the majority of my current ward, like the majority of the church, does not live in that situation. Some of us don’t have husbands or children and live far from our families of origin. Some are married without children. Some are divorced or widowed, with or without children. Some share custody of children with former spouses and raise stepchildren with current spouses. Some are raising children in interfaith marriages. Some are empty-nesters; some are raising grandchildren. In some families, fathers work or work and go to school while mothers stay home and raise the children. In other families both parents work and go to school. In some families mothers work while fathers stay home and raise the children.

Depending on the demographic diversity in the ward I was teaching and the level of trust I felt in Relief Society, I might introduce this lesson by asking class members to name all of the different family configurations they could think of (those in the paragraph above, and perhaps others I’m not thinking of) and write them all on the board. I would then emphasize that the gospel is the same for all of us whatever our family situations, and I’d encourage class members to try to make their comments relevant to people in a variety of circumstances, and not just in a “when you have a more traditional family situation someday” sense. I would emphasize that whatever our family situations, all of us have known both pain and joy in family life, and that our heavenly parents and Savior care deeply for all families and all people—not just the traditional families, and not just the people in traditional circumstances.

Some questions that I might ask the class follow.

(1) Why do we so emphasize families in the church? What have you learned from being part of a family? How has being a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a wife, a mother, or a grandmother changed you? What does family mean to you? What do you value about the families you are part of?

(2) The manual mentions teaching children the gospel as an important responsibility of parents.  We hear a lot about the daily and weekly family rituals, such as family scripture study, family prayer, family home evening, and church attendance, that sustain a devotional family life.  What, if anything, did you learn from your family of origin about family religious practices?  What did your parents teach you about religion that you found meaningful and that you would want to pass on? How have you been able to sustain important family rituals and adapt them to your particular family situation?

(3) If you are a parent, what do you most want to teach your children? What is it especially important to you that they learn from you? What have you found effective and ineffective in teaching children?

(4) How do we balance being “firm but kind” with children? How might D&C 121:41–43 be helpful in terms of disciplining children?

(5) How have you been able to sustain relationships with siblings and parents as you have become an adult? How have you been able to maintain relationships with your family of origin if you live far from them?

(6) If you are a parent of adult children or a grandparent, how have you been able to maintain relationships with your adult children and create good relationships with your grandchildren?  How have you been able to sustain relationships among extended family?

(7) If you are a parent of adult children, what advice would you give your younger self? What do you know now that you wish you had known then? What advice would you give someone just beginning to raise her children? (You might list answers on the board.)

(8) The manual emphasizes that each person in a family is important, and each member of the family is a child of God. However, sometimes we all get stuck in unhappy ruts and limiting family roles. For instance, one child might be chronically overlooked because he is quieter and less demanding. Another child might constantly be labeled the “bad” or “rebellious” or “difficult” child. How can we help each other break out of these sorts of roles, which often persist far into adulthood? How can we become willing to see our parents, our siblings, and our children, in more complex and more hopeful terms?

(9) How can we effectively negotiate differences within families? For example, almost all of us deal with religious differences within our immediate or extended families. Some of us are converts and are the only members in our families or origin or in our current families. Some come from families where siblings are at different places of activity and belief within the LDS Church, or belong to different churches. Some are in interfaith marriages. How can we sustain loving family ties across religious differences? How can we maintain religious practices that are important to us while respecting religious differences?

(10)  Every family, no matter how perfect it might look from the outside, has problems.  What are some of the challenges of family life? What do you personally find the hardest aspects of being in a family? What makes it so difficult sometimes? (You might list answers on the board.) What can we do to cope with or address the difficulties that we face as families? How can we support each other through family difficulties and support each others’ families?

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29 Responses

  1. Kelly Ann says:

    ZD Eve, thank you for this outline. I really like how inclusive you have made the list of questions. I also think discussion is a great way to approach this topic as it can then touch upon specific needs of a particular group. I have to say I haven’t been looking forward to all the family lessons, because although I seldom think about my single status in the family ward, they could potentially call attention to it. I however would enjoy and be comfortable in a lesson along these lines.

  2. Diane says:

    Eve,

    I know you didn’t mean to, but, you left out an important part of the demographic. And that is our Single, Sisters and Brothers. Our needs are constantly being left out and that always made me feel less than.

    I think one needs to look at the demographic and the lesson and teach it from the perspective that just because one doesn’t fit into the normal parameters the lesson was meant for, that it doesn’t mean we don’t have any thing less to contribute.

    In addition , we need to teach that lesson with an emphasis on RESPECT and finding out what that means to each of us not only individually, but, collectively so,that when we get together as a group we don’t intentionally/unintentionally make people feel like they are failing if they don’t meet any of the criterion for the lesson

    • amelia says:

      Diane, as a single woman in her mid-thirties, I can certainly sympathize with the concern you’re stating here. I did really appreciate that in several of her suggested questions, Eve asked us to think about our family of origin and how practices there have shaped our adult habits (after all, we all have a family of origin [though admittedly that may not have been a great experience for some of us], regardless of our marital status now) and that she paid attention to the dynamics between adult family members. Question #9 was especially important to me, since I am very different from most of my family members (both parents and siblings) in terms of attitude and beliefs on both social and religious issues.

      I’d love to hear your suggestions for how we all could work to be inclusive of our single brothers and sisters in lessons like this. It’s a hard thing to teach these lessons so that we are presenting the ideals of the gospel and acknowledging that in reality many, if not most, of us don’t get to live those ideals. The more suggestions and ideas we get, the better for us all.

      • ZD Eve says:

        Not to worry, Diane. In my opening-paragraph list, I include those of us who “don’t have husbands or children and who live far from families of origin.” In other words, singles. I didn’t mean to restrict my category to singles far from their families of origin, so I would probably reword that sentence to make it clear I’m speaking of all singles.

        Amelia is right that I included questions about families of origin as a way of adapting the lesson to singles. If I were preparing this lesson in a singles’ ward, I would likely adapt all the discussion questions to families of origin and not include any discussion of, for example, parenting or grandparenting. But as Amelia said, I’d be interested in any other ways to adapt these family-centered lessons to singles and to others in nontraditional situations. I found this lesson quite difficult to prepare. I would find it difficult to teach so that it wasn’t just another discussion of parenting small children that would speak to the needs of only a third of my ward’s Relief Society sisters.

        In other words, I’m all ears.

  3. Diane says:

    Ameilia,

    MY family origin is really complicated, I was placed in Foster Care. So, I have not maintained contact. I have done this purposely, because for the longest time I became the go between. I was the go between, for my mother and my brothers and vice verse and everyone else in the family. Now, I do not like when I am feeling like I am being manipulated and I have come to know when to call certain people out on it. But, tha was a ramble, sorry.

    I have come to see home as where ever I put my head down to sleep. An important issue that I am working thru now, has to do with boundaries. I would think this would be an issue of great importance. For instance, Eve asked, ” What advice would you give?” And this is what advice I would give in response.: The fact of the matter is, you can give advice, but, that doesn’t mean the person who is asking is obligated to incorporate whatever message you gave and it doesn’t mean that they are being willful, or whatever other adjective you want to label. The boundary then becomes knowing when to back off and shut your mouth and let the chips fall where they may, Everyone has to gain experience and the only way they do this is by doing things for themselves. And the caveat to this advice also means that you don’t tell them,” I told you so,” afterwards.

    I don’t know if that made much sense. And I’m sorry for that

    • amelia says:

      Diane,

      It sounds like your situation is one of those hard family of origin situations I was thinking of in my comment. I’m sorry that’s been difficult for you.

      I like your advice about being open when it comes to recognizing that no matter how well intentioned advice given is, the person who is listening has every right not to heed the advice and the responsibility to think for themselves. In fact, that’s one piece of advice that I think would really help in situations like the ones Eve mentions in question #9. And I can see that you’re working on learning to draw good boundaries in your own family, which I think is so important. Having tried to do that myself, I know how hard it is to do. I do think talking about the importance of recognizing your family members’ autonomy to make their own choices and not to be catty when they make mistakes are really important things to remember when it comes to helping people understand their family responsibilities. So often we think of ourselves as responsible to help family members know and do what’s right; sometimes we instead have the responsibility to allow our family members to be themselves, even if that means they’re making what we think are mistakes. Another way of thinking about this would be to understand that our ultimate family responsibility is to love our family members unconditionally and to accept them as they are. I know I have much better relationships with my family members who simply accept me and love me, rather than trying to correct my “misunderstandings” and “misguided” ideas.

      Thanks for your contributions. Since family is something we all have to deal with, even if in terms of its absence (which is certainly one way I deal with family as a single 30-something woman), it’s so important to get lots of perspectives. I appreciated you pointing out that home can be wherever we land. I would add that our “family by choice” is often as important as our family of origin. I absolutely adore my parents and my siblings and my nieces and nephews, but I have other family made up of my closest friends and I as often turn to them for the love and support I need as to my family of origin. And I think I have a responsibility to those friends who are my family-by-choice as much as I do to my family of origin.

    • spunky says:

      Diane,

      You and I sound VERY similar. I usually skip church on Mother’s and Father’s Days as well as when I know the lessons are going to be on “the family”. I personally (i.e. separate from church rhetoric) feel like my friends are my family, therefore, I place my responsibility on sustaining the friends who sustain me, rather than investing painful thought or energy on the family I don’t have (and doesn’t want me). This is not an easy thing to do, especially in the church.

      But I have to be a realist. I have friends who drive 2 hours to make sure I am okay because I had a bad day. Should I place them outside in conceptualizing “my” family, especially in consideration that my own mother often told me that she wished I was dead? Of course not. While it isn’t easy to disengage from the church definition of family, I have found peace in doing so. I have defined my family as a very small group of friends whom I trust. Most times, though- I still skip those lessons. And I don’t think that is a bad thing.

  4. Diane says:

    Spunky

    Yes, I think we are “spirit sisters,” this is Exactly how I think and feel, and exactly what I do in certain situations. And the important thing to do, is to remember not to feel guilty about it. I know I did not cause the things that happened to me in my family, so, its’ not my responsibility to fix them either.

    I have a few close friends that I consider family and last year I adopted the sweetest Shetland sheepdog(think Lassie) and I call him my doggie boy and that is enough family for me.

    • spunky says:

      We are 100% “spirit sisters”! My labrador is pictured on the Obedience lesson plan– and one of his best buddies is a “shelty”.

  5. Jessawhy says:

    ZD Eve, thanks for posting this lesson. It’s always nice to have something to read ahead of time that helps me see the lesson in a broader context. Sometimes the lessons can feel so forced and dogmatic.

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together!

  6. ZD Eve: Well done! (I wish you were going to be giving this lesson in my ward.)

  7. Diane says:

    Spunky

    I saw that he’s beautiful, you should check out my Face book pictures of my baby. He’s a sweet joy

  8. Amber D. says:

    Thank you SO SO Much for posting this! I came from a home where I’m the only member and I even had to leave my family at 16 to live with another family because my parents (well, my dad’s 3rd wife and my dad, my mom left when I was 3) wouldn’t stop beating me. So anyways, I was very glad when I found this supplemental material instead of talking about the perfect family life for 40 minutes straight. lol. It’s the life I want from my family but when I’m suppose to pull from past experiences and make the lesson my own I draw big blanks. You can guarantee my lesson is going to rock now that I found this! I hope you’ll post in the future just in case they call me to be the new teacher in our ward!

  9. Rachel says:

    Great post. Appreciative, as ever, for these. I have this lesson the 3rd week in July, so I’ve got to get started. As a person who is married to an inactive Episcopalian, I know firsthand that not all families match the manual. 🙂

  10. EmilyCC says:

    Eve, this is wonderful…it’s interesting that this lesson comes so soon around the time that the Gospel Essentials manual has the SAME lesson topic.

    Diane, I want to echo Amy and Spunky’s praises. Thank you for sharing your experiences here. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

  11. ZD Eve says:

    Thank you all for the kind words; I’m glad to hear the questions have been helpful. And best of luck to everyone who’s teaching.

  12. Summer says:

    I’m a new sunday school teacher for my singles ward, and this is going to be my first lesson. One Idea I had was that I would teach it through the perspective of preparing ourselves to have these families… I don’t know if that would help… this is my first time teaching a lesson, usually I just talk in sacrament.

    What do we need to do to prepare ourselves to become the mothers it talks about in the lesson? Well we need to have a knowledge of gospel principles, we can’t teach what we don’t understand ourselves. If anyone has anymore ideas please help!!!;)

    P.S. Eve thanks for the questions, they have given me a little more Idea about what I should ask to help it become a discussion.

  13. Gayle says:

    I am giving this lesson this week. I’ve decided to make a big poster with a “do not compare” sign on it. I’m going to focus on not comparing ourselves or our families (whatever that consists of), to others. I’m going to encourage class members to use inspiration, prayer, and scriptures for our models. Yes, we are ALL very different. It is always very discouraging to look at others and feel we don’t measure up. We all come from a different genetic pool and different enviroments making it impossible for us to fit in tidy categories. In addition the dynamics are continually changing with those around us. So, we’ll see how it all goes…

  14. Carol says:

    My husband was recently called into the bishopric of the singles ward in our stake and I was asked the other evening to teach Relief Society this coming Sunday. When I opened the manual to see the topic, I was dismayed, wondering how to present such a lesson to the young singles. Really appreciate all your comments and ideas. At least I now have a place to start and some ideas for adapting this topics to my particular group. Thank you all so very much!!!

  15. Linz says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It’s a tremendous act of service on your part and I for one really appreciate it. I have been asked to prepare the lesson on short notice and really appreciate finding this site with your suggestions and others comments. We truly are spirit sisters across the world!

  16. Tammy Perkins says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed everyone’s comments. I read the lesson over and over again these last few weeks and was bored out of my mind. I was dreading teaching it actually. I’ve been asking the Lord for some inspiration and I found it in stumbling across “The Exponent”. Thanks Eve for your insight and helping me to think outside the box.

    I am in a marriage to a Catholic who is completely anti-LDS. My children are grown and inactive and live far away. My family of origin is not LDS. I feel very single in so many ways. I know that my family situation is far from the traditional, yet it matters not, for I am still part of the family of God.

    The lesson manual presents wonderful material, of which I am not offended by and I try to glean what I can from all lessons, even though they may not pertain to me entirely and that is what I encourage my sisters to do.

    I am looking forward to presenting the lesson now. Thanks again!!!

  17. jenny says:

    I found that using The Family: A Proclamation to the World was a very helpful tool in not being exclusive!

  18. Tiffany says:

    I’m sure that we could continue to add to the list siting our individual family dynamics because each of us originate from different family dynamics and our current family dynamics may greatly differ from the way we grew up. Although the lesson focuses on a certain type of family dynamic it is not meant for us to compare ourselves with each other or compare ourselves to the lesson. The lesson is meant for us to use as an example. I am widowed with children and will take the example of this lesson to teach my children so that hopefully someday they will have the family dynamics taught in the lesson.

  19. Jamie D says:

    Thank you! Your questions helped my lesson to shoot through the roof today! It was one of my best lessons, and it truly was “sister-led”, meaning tons of participation, it was a discussion and I have you to thank. 🙂

  20. Kendal says:

    I am so utterly grateful for this post. I just found out I am teaching this lesson next Sunday in my singles ward and it has been rather difficult deciding how to frame it. Not only is the only role listed in the manual that applies to my situation and that of the sisters I am teaching the CHILD (which I feel is a bit inappropriate), but I do not feel comfortable in the least teaching the traditionally expected roles for men and women as described in the manual. This is a topic (men and women’s roles and equality within the Church and the family) is one which I have struggled with at various times in my life, and none more, ironically, than since I recently received my own endowment in the Temple (not because I am getting married or going on a mission, by the way). So this is particularly interesting timing for me to teach about Family Responsibilities.

    Anyway, I think I will focus on our responsibilities in all of our relationships (as sisters, friends, daughters, etc; to the Lord; and to ourselves) and how these will help us grow and prepare for whatever relationship and family situations we will encounter in the future. While I am afraid to get too outside of the box in my Relief Society (so far it has seemed quite conservative and i don’t know most of the sisters as well as I wish I did), but I cannot in good conscious teach a lesson that I don’t really believe in. So thank you for this. I am so relieved to have some really great questions to ask. And to know that I am not the only teacher who feels uncomfortable teaching this lesson as outlined in the manual!

  21. poopsie says:

    Is anyone teaching the lesson on “responsibilities” (not relationships)??

    • DBAZ says:

      I wondered that as well! I was thinking of going more for the “roles we play/ jobs we do” angle. Yes, the father should be the main provider, but if he isn’t able, or in the home, than that “role/responsibility” falls to the mother. That isn’t a BAD thing, just the way it has to be in that family. I’m hoping to get most of my discussion from the sisters on how we can each, whatever our situation, be examples to those around us of fulfilling our responsibility to our Heavenly Father to love each other and assist each other in returning to live with Him. That really is the purpose of the family – going it alone, or with less than the “perfect” pattern, just makes it more challenging, but still expected and worthwhile. We are on earth to love and serve each other, and our Heavenly Father – that is our ultimate responsibility. I hope I can get that across!

  22. Lynne says:

    Lesson 36 included: “President David O. McKay said, “With all my heart I believe that the best place to prepare for … eternal life is in the home” (“Blueprint for Family Living,” Improvement Era, Apr. 1963, 252). At home, with our families, we can learn self-control, sacrifice, loyalty, and the value of work. We can learn to love, to share, and to serve one another.”

    It seems to me that everyone has the responsibility to learn self-control, sacrifice, loyalty, the value or work, service, sharing and love. That is true no matter what kind of family situation you have. I’m going to include this and ask how everyone learns these qualities themselves. Since we can’t force others in our families to behave in certain ways, we probably should focus only on what we CAN control: ourselves.

    That said, I certainly will use many of your thoughts as I present the lesson this Sunday. Thanks so much for sharing!

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