2009 Primary Program: My Dilemma

By EmilyCC

How do you promote the family without hurting those who don’t have the “right” family?

This is what I’ve asked myself every day since we got the Primary theme for 2009, “My Eternal Family.”

Last year’s was “I am a Child of God”—I hopped right on that bandwagon because it’s always good to remind the kids that we are ALL children of God (Um, we have some racism ’round these parts.).

But, when we got next year’s program at our auxiliary training meeting last month, our presidency looked at each other.  Our most vulnerable kids, i.e. the kids who we worry most about being happy and successful in school, come from tough situations.  Mom and/or Dad aren’t around.  Yet, I see these families—single mothers, single fathers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles go to great lengths to provide their kids with a stable life, a loving family. 

The Church wants us to teach these kids that they should aspire to marrying in the temple and having children.  What does that tell the kid who’s family doesn’t look like the cover of this year’s program?  (A mom, dad, and three kids looking at a picture of a temple.) 

Even as I think, “I’ll use my old standby, the Internet, to supplement with pictures of other families,” I search and find very little by way of images of a non-traditional family.

Just as we worked hard to teach these kids that ALL people are children of God last year, this year, I want to teach these kids that God loves ALL families.  Because those kids (the boy with his dad in jail, the girls who are being raised by their grandmother)?  They didn’t choose that life, that family.  Will I hurt them when I teach about the ideal the Church says they should aspire to?

And the other kids—my kids, the bishop’s kids, that perfect family in our ward with 6 kids, well, they didn’t do anything to deserve their life either.  I want them to know that they’re darn lucky, not exceptionally righteous.

So, how do I teach these kids to aspire to a traditional family model without somehow implying that their nontraditional family isn’t ok?


EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. Oh gosh that is a tough one.

    I was teaching in an inner-city primary a couple years ago, and we had the kids list out all of the people who live in their house/apartment or who take care of them. Moms and dads, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, half- and step-siblings… for the younger kids we made little finger puppets to represent each member of each child’s family. Each family is different and special, just as each person is different and special. God loves them all, etc.

    And as a group, we brainstormed about what each child could do to show love and support for those in their family (helping around the house, doing their homework, not fighting with their brothers and sisters, etc.)

    The kids were generally too young to be having in-depth discussions about marriage (in my opinion), so we only touched on that briefly. Then again it was only one month of the year, not the entire year.

  2. ap says:

    You might look to Sesame Street’s song “Doing the Family Thing.” It’s one of my favorites and addresses this very issue.

  3. Caroline says:

    Well, I would really downplay the “ideal” family part and play up the idea that God loves all families, whether or not they have a mom and a dad in the home. You could tell stories about Jesus who reached out to all people, no matter what kind of family they had. You could emphasize that the most important thing they can do in this life is to love their family (maybe extend that to the human family) and serve them however they can, no matter what that family looks like. You could maybe have someone in the ward come in and tell the children about the fantastic job her mother did raising her, even though the mom was a single parent, and that can make some things harder sometimes.

    This is a tricky one. Good luck.

  4. Angie says:

    I was the primary choirster for a while, and one thing I did with the visuals for teaching the songs was to try to involve pictures of the kids and/or their families that were in our primary in the visuals I used for teaching the songs wherever possible.

    For example, in teaching ‘Holding Hands Around the World’, I put pictures of our kids around the world, and pictures of our kids singing, and pretending to be an army. For songs that involved Jesus loving/teaching children, I put pics of our kids around Jesus. In teaching songs about families I tried to use snapshots of families or had the kids draw pictures of their families. Obviously things like that don’t work for every song, but it worked for many.

    I wanted our kids to see that the concepts in the songs really applied to them, and that was easy for them to see when they saw visuals that included them. They really seemed to love it.

    Getting the pictures was sometimes tricky and time consuming, but I could usually find time during sharing time, lesson time, as families were coming to church, or at various activities. That way I just had a file on my computer with various pics I could use when I needed them. After a couple of months though, I was pretty well stocked. I tried to stay away from canned pics of families and kids wherever possible.

    I don’t like this theme much. It’s a tough one…so good luck.

  5. ESO says:

    I really like the idea of using pictures of some actual families in your ward to use for visual aides.

    Also, I can think of numerous stories of our prophets who were pretty much raised by single moms–I think using those stories to illustrate family values/functions are a good idea.

    When presenting the idea of families, I would definitely have the kids define rather than have a teacher present. Rather than saying “a family has a mom, a dad…” ask the kids “Who is in a family?” or “What do families do for each other?”

  6. elizabeth-w says:

    As a person married to a non-member, I deal with this issue regularly. My 8 year old asks tricky questions.
    People ask a lot of intrusive questions about our family. And what I’ve finally come to be brave enough to say is that I really don’t worry about it. If God is all-loving, it will all work out. He wants me to be happy, he wants my husband to be happy. If we’re together in the hereafter, fine; if not, fine. God will work it out, provided I do my part. My job is to teach my girls the ideal, but that ultimately we save ourselves individually.
    I would like to be in your ward–it would make things easier for my kids to not feel so unique. I can’t think of any other ‘active’ kids in our primary who are in part-member families besides my own.

  7. Jessawhy says:

    Perhaps broadening the definition of family (and reinforcing that definition regularly) could help here. If family means, “People who love me and take care of me.” instead of “mom, dad and siblings.” it might be easier to include everyone.
    I did a similar thing last week when I taught the 6 year olds about keeping the Sabbath day holy. Instead of going through the list of do’s and don’ts on Sunday, I kept repeating that doing being “holy” is doing something that makes you feel closer to God.

    Anyway, it will be a tough year for you and I wish you luck.
    But, I would much rather have someone as thoughtful and dedicated as you teaching my kids than someone who doesn’t think twice about the difficulties that come with this theme.
    Thanks for this post.

  8. djinn says:

    This is a beautiful post. I have no answers, but you questions are so lovely it must be understood by your young charges. “We all have families. We are all children of God. God loves all families.”
    I think you’ve answered your question yourself.

  9. Jo says:

    I love you for even noticing that some of these children come from different kinds of families. You could perhaps have an activity during sharing time, where you talk about families, and have the children talk about who their family is. We have a game we play with our little children, called, “Who loves You?” and then the child must begin to list, all the people who love them. Who is family? Aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, those who went on yesterday and those who are coming tomorrow, our eternal family is huge. You are doing a great job!

  10. RaShea says:

    Wow. You spoke what I was feeling a few weeks ago.

    Being a 20 year old Mormon gal in Utah, I didn’t understand the church’s view and political activation for Proposition 8. It dumbfounded me. I talked to my mom about it and she said the First Presidency said it for a reason. Then I read about the legal matters that may come from it (about churches, not just LDS, getting sued for not wanting to perform gay marriages. What’s your opinion on that? Is that balogna or is there some creditable claim there?). And now, well… now I’m not sure what to think.

    I’ve always been supportive of my gay and lesbian friends, I love them and want them to be happy, but I also want to follow the doctrine of my church. God would not allow the highest church leaders to do something so widespread if it went against His will would He? Or is it a highly personal and spiritual matter that we should take to Him and ask ourselves?

    That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed your article, it gave me great food for thought 🙂

  11. RaShea says:

    Sorry, I posted on the wrong page!!! So sorry!!!

  12. gladtobeamom says:

    I to had some questions when I saw next years theme. Especially when I am teaching them about it. This is coming from someone who doesnt have the ideal family. I to want to teach my children as well as those who also don’t have this ideal family in a way that focuses on what they do have or what they can have. It is a tough one. I am thinking about personally not focusing on a ideal family because really how many of them are there and just focus on different family rolls adn the roll they play in the family no matter what the family is like. I havent read each months topic so this may be more difficult then I imagine. I am thinking about talking to the rest of the presidency about it so as they teach or prepare to teach they will have it in there minds to remember all the different situations in our primary.

    For me I try to focus on what is good about my husband and all he does for us rather then focus on what we think we are missing. Balancing this with church is sometimes entertaining. It is a struggle to focus on the ideal and still teach that even if you dont have the ideal you can still find happiness. If not there would be a whole lot of unhappy people. We can do the best and reach for the best but knowing we did the best has got to be enough there are to many factors in this life that can cause us not to have the ideal life or marriage etc. Maybe teach them how to look for the good or for their blessings and knowing again they are children of a God who loves them no matter where they come from.

  13. Elisabeth says:

    This is a tough one, Emily. I wish every
    Primary worker were as sensitive as you are. I
    guess my thoughts are along the lines of the
    other commenters here – why not teach the ideal
    family being people who love each other and not
    focus on the number of adults or their relationship
    to each other.

    Good luck! You’re doing a great job.

  14. EmilyCC says:

    thedancingnewt, thanks! I love the idea of listing all the people who live in their house and take care of them–seems like a good place to start with defining a family.

    ap, we watch a lot of Sesame Street here; that’s a great resource I hadn’t thought of. They always do a nice job of showing different types of families.

    Caroline, guest speakers from different types of families–love it! There’s a sharing time right there.

    Angie, the pictures are an excellent idea. I’ve been feeling more and more like this is a definite step I need to take and get working on.

    ESO, oh, lots of non-traditional families in the scriptures! Look at that–another sharing time done!

    elizabeth-w, thanks so much for sharing your experience. What an honest and important discussion to have with your kids about salvation.

    jessawhy, I love the thinking involved with your lesson on keeping the Sabbath holy. It’s so much easier to give a prescribed list, but helping them identify what makes them feel close to God (and what they feel a family is) is the more difficult path.

    djinn, thank you for your kind words. It means a lot!

    Jo, really, getting all my sharing times done here–“Who Loves You” game is a great approach. Thanks!

    RaShea, done it myself 🙂

    gladtobeamom, wonderful points about doing our best. Sounds like you and I have a long year ahead of us. I’m sure I’ll keep posting on this as I struggle. Please keep us updated…

  15. PallasAthena says:

    Focus on Christ. All aspects of the Gospel are an appendage to the mission of the Savior. If you do a Primary Program based on Christ, with the blessings of an eternal family woven through it, I don’t think you can fail. I think Jessawhy made a good point too, a family is not just Mom, Dad, and the three kids printed on the bulletin, geneology extends far beyond that.

  16. Sue says:

    Last Sunday a young guy got up and sang a song called “No Empty Chairs,” in Sacrament Meeting. It was all about how there are no empty chairs at the table, all of the family is there together, everyone will be there eternally, etc.

    Two of the teenagers sitting in front of me burst into tears. Their parents are in the middle of a messy divorce. It was awful. Their youngest sister is seven. I sure hope her primary teacher is as sensitive as you are.

  17. jks says:

    Everyone has some good ideas. It is important to not hurt children’s feelings.
    However, you don’t want to lose the message either.
    1. Concentrate on the seeing loved ones after death part. EVERYONE has someone they love and would like to be reassured that after we die, we will be able to be ourselves and have our relationships. Families are how we are organized in heaven, but we will also know our friends too. All we take are our souls, our memeories and our relationships.
    2. Families are not perfect, but should try to be the best they can be. Everyone in a family is happier if people treat each other kindly.
    3. As children grow up they can choose how they treat their family members. They can choose to get married and have children and be the best spouse and best parent they can be.

    If you don’t teach them, if the gospel doesn’t teach these children to get married, to bear children within marriage, to love their spouse, how will they learn? If they don’t have a decent father, who will teach them what a decent father does? If they have parents that yell and fight, who will teach them that parents should treat each other with love? If you don’t teach them that families are important and if possible, poeple should get married and have children and raise those children the best they can, where else will they get that message? If you don’t teach them that everyone makes mistakes, but hopefully we still get up the next day and try hard to do better, who else will?

  18. gladtobeamom says:

    I like the pp it made me think maybe the focus is not what we have but about the choices we make. Our part in our family now and our family to be.

  19. AnaCA says:

    I concur with the guest-speakers idea. There is an amazing woman in our ward who speaks very powerfully and openly about the family she came from, which was pretty sad and broken, and her choice to create a family that was different from that. My amazing mother in law made the same choice. Both of them did that because of the influence of the gospel. It is pretty amazing, actually, and very inspiring to me.

  20. kicam says:

    Emily, Thanks for this thread. I was just released as our Primary Chorister (2 years in the calling…) Now I almost wish I were still in there! Your concern has prompted me to talk to our current Primary Pres. about making sure the sharing time lessons they teach will not alienate any of the kids. We have children with part-member families, children of divorce, etc. I would be crushed if any of them ever felt that they weren’t good enough.

  21. Annie Laurie Cechini says:

    I’m the music leader, going on two years, in our ward. I just want to say that as important as it is to be sensitive of kids’ situations, it’s equally as important to instill in them a desire for a family that includes a mom, a dad, and little guys, at least for themselves someday. I’m from a family that had those things, and it was happy-not perfect, but happy. I think we need to be careful not to doom-and-gloom it for kids who will be sitting there thinking, “Wha?” because they’re not in those more challenging situations. There’s a balance to be struck, and I think it’s going to take some careful planning and some guts to present this material well; but I don’t think it’s impossible or we wouldn’t have been asked to do it. Given the recent events in CA I think this theme is particularly appropriate. Good luck, choristers!

  22. Abrie says:

    We have to be careful when we teach children the commandments of God to strike a balance between promoting what is good and ideal and accepting what is not ideal but which can also be good. Though we know that being a single parent is not ideal and that a child deserves to have two parents, in many circumstances this is unavoidable and in any case, is certainly not the fault of the child.

    Though I would definitely assure the children that God loves all families and accepts those who are striving to follow Him, I would also stress the ideal (eternal marriage) as something those children have a choice to work towards for themselves. We don’t choose our parentage(or do we?) but we can choose to marry in the temple and keep the sacred covenants we make there.

    As to the kids who have it all– they should certainly be enlightened to the fact that they do have something special and that more is required of them because of it.

    One major point, which I failed to see addressed in many of the comments I sifted through is that we shouldn’t downplay the importance of temple marriage and eternal families simply because we don’t think it is PC. Each child should know that they have the responsiblity to strive for an eternal family, regardless of their current circumstances.

  23. Sandra Z says:

    You have to remember that when you promote this theme, you are teaching the children that don’t have “the right” family, how an ideal family should be. It is important to teach them that every family is different and everyone does not have an ideal family. Make sure they understand that the care givers they have are their family and love them very much. When you give a lesson, make sure you include the important roles of grand parents and other relatives. Let them know that every family member is important and has a very important role with in the family.

  24. Amy says:

    I was reading through the comments, and while we defintely want to be sensitive to those who don’t have the “traditional family”, to downplay the traditional family that is listed in the proclamation is not the answer. We want these kids to aspire to have a family with a mom and a dad-if at all possible.

    But, I was thinking that perhaps we could note that there are those that have been successful in the church who didn’t come from traditional two-parent families, such as Dallin H Oaks. I seem to remember him talking about his single mother raising him. If we can add role models in such as that, maybe we could feel more like we are including everyone.

  25. PrimaryMum says:

    Thank you so much for bringing up this topic because I too have had the same concerns. I am the Primary President in my branch and was divorced about 2 years ago. I have two children who spend a lot of Sharing Time sitting in the corner crying because they miss their Dad and can’t understand why we have to talk about families all the time. And that was last year! Now with the entire year being about families I am going to struggle even more – it sure is hard to run a sharing time and deal with my grieving kids at the same time. I also struggle with the theme’s title in general – saying “My Eternal Family” implies that they have that and considering we have to recite the theme every Sunday it kind of makes it hard to avoid. Anyway I am just going to focus on the differences of families and that being an eternal family is something they can aim for, which is what I think the theme should have encompassed in the first place. I understand that we need to sustain our leaders and understnad that it is an important principle to teach but I have to say they kind of missed something on this one. Anyway good luck to anyone else out there who is also dealing with this difficult year in Primary…and probably some of the kids as well.

  26. Heidi says:

    Their is one who is very aware of your primary, the children, their circumstances, and their needs. If you will go to the Lord fervently and often he will guide you in teaching his children about eternal families. I think the children who don’t have the “ideal” family are probably the ones who need this message most of all. They need to know that they can work towards Temple Marriage and they are part of Heavenly Fathers Eternal Family. The world is not teaching about the Lord’s plan for families, if we don’t teach it who will?

  27. Erin says:

    This is hard and we have the same problems in our primary too. I would stress the importance on their choices and they have the choice to to do those things that will let be married in the Temple and have an eternal family of there own. I would focus on looking to the future and towards the Temple the most.

  28. heidi says:

    We should not try to down-play the traditional family. this is how God set it up. it is His church, and if we are not teaching the ideal, then we are not doing our callings right. Yes, we need to be sensitive to individual situations, but we MUST teach the ideal.

  29. Moniker Challenged says:

    Bless all those primary leaders who carefully, sensitively, and prayerfully approach this and other subjects. I wouldn’t worry too hard about kids not picking up on the concept of the ideal family. It’s certainly a worthy model, and they will have this pattern constantly swirling about them as long as they maintain contact with the church. They’d be hard pressed to miss it.
    Really, I’d be tempted to err on the side of caution rather than unintentionally reprove children for their home life. I was the only child of divorced parents in my ward (although other unions eventually severed once the kiddies moved into high school or college). I was deeply pained every time I heard “Families Can be Together Forever” and knew that mine wasn’t going to be. I also felt conflicted, wondering how much I was allowed to love my inactive father without being disloyal to the Church. The promise of getting married and having a proper family someday does not always alleviate the infantile stress of someone who can hardly bear the passage of time until recess or Christmas, let alone adulthood. I think many kids want to be free to love the kind of family they have now, rather than wait for the sort of family they’re supposed to have.

  30. Anna says:

    As far as the picture for the program, why not have the kids draw pictures of their family and have them put on the program?

  31. Lou G says:

    I came across site today and was interested in the discussion. My story – got married in the temple, have two beautiful children and husband went inactive and left us – now divorced. I must be strange but it never occurred to me to use my situation to discourage my children from going after the ideal – a temple marriage. I have always thought that the Lord will sort things out if I do my part. I am the primary president in our ward and we have all kinds of family situation – foster children, single dads, single mom, grandparents raising children. We have always tried to emphasize to the children that they are important in our eyes (primary presidency, bishopric), and that the prophet loves them and especially that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love them dearly.

    I am an advocate of teaching the children the doctrines and help them understand that they can break the cycle that left them in the situation they are in now.

  32. That’s a tough question. The way I see it, God has the “ideal” in mind for families: husband, wife and children. But then life gets messy and us humans have a way of being, well, human.

    I think loving every Primary child like they are your own, no matter what family structure they have, is important. Letting them know each time you see them that they are loved can help.

    I’m a new Primary President and hope the kids will leave Primary with 2 things: feeling loved and feeling the Spirit. At least that’s our hope each Sunday. 😉

  33. Eleanor J. says:

    We need to teach the doctrines of the church to children no matter what their family make up is. The family is central to the Plan of Salvation. Just because children don’t live in the ideal family – i.e mother and father, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t aspire to eventually live in the ideal family situation. It’s tough for those who don’t have both parents living under the same roof. And even for those who do, family life to some isn’t as perfect as one would like it to be, and thankfully the Lord will take care of everything is his own due time. We just need to continue to live our lives the best we can and hopefully that will be to aspire to living in the ideal family situation. There are no perfect families or family situations.

  34. Judi says:

    Interesting that I arrived at your post a year later, as we are executing our Primary Program in 2 days on the theme of eternal families. One thing we tried this year as a presidency was to connect all of us together as Heavenly Father’s family and that we can be eternal with Him and each other as we do these certain things, which we teach and cover throughout the year. Our ward has been through a lot in the last year and a half. You name it, it’s just about all happened. We have the entire spectrum. I think we need to be reminded that there is no ‘ideal’ family. Things to aspire to, yes…Unfortunately I think people put way too much emphasis on this. That is not real. It is not realistic! Mormon mentality isn’t always aligned in the gospel. No one should be made to feel guilty of his or her situation, even those that have been “lucky”. I felt that guilt when my 3rd was born healthy and wonderful and my sister was burying her baby… that is Satan’s tool. It doesn’t mean that Heavenly Father loves the “lucky” ones more and others less. It’s wrong to try and prove those things. That’s not how Christ taught us. Love, compassion, service, that’s what changes hearts and humbles people. We teach our children to be their ‘best self’, as President Monson teaches all of us, especially given our individual sitatuations. These teachings of building eternal families applies to all of us. We can turn the negatives into positives and have to teach the kids how to do that. This topic was inspired. With prayer and preparation I hope you were able to accomplish what you desired this year. We begin each spoken part in our program by saying, “My name is___ and I want my family to be eternal”. For the 5 kids who’s parents have divorced, the boy who’s dad left for them for the last primary president, the brothers who buried their dad this year to brain cancer, the 12 kids who are foster children, and the list goes on…it’s a lesson for ALL, to be your best self so that we can return to Heavenly Father and have the opportunity to be with those we love forever.

  35. Beverly Hoppe says:

    I accidentally put this comment in the “comments” on comment policy. I meant for it to be in the section on the Primary Program 2009.

    I was just sustained as CTR 7/8 teacher
    last week and we’re practicing for the program on 8 Nov. I enjoyed the comments on this website. I’m a retired, never married woman. I grew up as an only child where my dad wasn’t LDS and my mom was inactive, in San Francisco. Fortunately, most kids in my Primary and MIA classes didn’t have the temple marriage family either so I didn’t feel that “out of it.” But in my current ward in an SLC suburb, there are inactive parents, part-member families, etc. I think it is important to get the point across that we can love and respect our parents who may not be living according to church principles. I do NOT have any ideas on how you would handle a situation where the parents are abusive. As several others have said, we do need to be sensitive and teach with the Spirit and ask the Lord to make us sensitive to the needs of the precious children in our charge as Primary workers. That probably sounds “pollyanna”-ish but I think it’s the best we can do.

  36. EmilyCC says:

    Beverly, glad you’ve joined us! Thanks for sharing your story and thoughts here.

  1. February 19, 2009

    […] to find ways to be true to my feelings and teach the material I’ve been called to teach.  In my first post on my Primary dilemma, I mentioned wanting to let our kids know that God loves all families; I asked that we share ideas […]

  2. February 19, 2009

    […] to find ways to be true to my feelings and teach the material I’ve been called to teach. In my first post on my Primary dilemma, I mentioned wanting to let our kids know that God loves all families; I asked that we share ideas […]

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