Do you feel overscheduled by church programs? As a parent of teenagers I don’t believe I am alone in feeling these pressures. A recent post over at Times and Seasons suggested changes to the Seminary program that would alleviate some of the pressure.

First I want to take a look at all the things we are expected to do with our children as families and in fulfilling our basic duties as church members.

As Families

Family Prayer

If we truly love our families we will constantly pray for them and with them. I know of no single activity that has more potential for unifying our families and bringing more love and divine direction into our homes than consistent, fervent family prayer.

Think of the power for good as you gather your family together and thank God for all of his blessings. Think of the eternal significance of daily thanking him for each member of your family and asking him to guide and bless and protect each one. Think of the strength that will come to your family as, daily, one member or another pours out his or her soul in love to God for other family members.” John H Groberg

In our family we have family prayer morning and evening.

Family Scripture Study

Latter-day Saint parents recognize the tremendous importance of scripture study in the family. Not only does learning the gospel together stimulate feelings of family harmony and appreciation, but it establishes a foundation of truth upon which children can build throughout their lives.

…With some commitment and creative preparation, parents can excite the entire family about scripture study and help each make gospel study a habit.”

We hold our family scripture study daily before breakfast after family prayer.

Family Home Evening

We cannot afford to neglect this heaven-inspired program. It can bring spiritual growth to each member of the family, helping him or her to withstand the temptations which are everywhere. The lessons learned in the home are those that last the longest.” Thomas S Monson [emphasis mine]

Generally, family home evening is held on a Monday evening. In our family we allocate at a minimum one hour for this, though I have met families who believe the entire evening should be set aside for the purpose. We have hymns, a lesson, scripture reading, and a fun activity. We take turns to prepare the different parts.

Family Council

Family councils can help a family work, play, and grow together. They help family members become more sensitive to the needs of others, set goals, and evaluate progress. They can create an atmosphere of respect, understanding, order, and harmony. Children can be more committed to family plans and goals because they have helped to formulate them. All family members can grow in spirituality, unity, and love for one another.

Family councils can also help parents build strong, personal relationships with their children. These relationships provide the foundation on which parents can build as they teach their children the gospel. Family councils also establish habits of communication and mutual respect on which both children and parents can rely when serious and difficult problems arise within the family or in the lives of individual family members.”

We hold family council weekly, on a Sunday evening, where we talk through calender items for the coming week, and discuss issues that any member of the family would like to raise. We also make a point of highlighting something good we have noticed about eachother over the past week.

Parent – Child Interviews

We hold these weekly on a Sunday, reviewing Duty to God and Personal Progress, and discuss any issues the child may not wish to raise in family council.

As Ward Members

Attend Church

That’s 3 hours of meetings on a Sunday: Sacrament meeting, including both worship and instruction. Then further study and teaching in our Sunday School, Primary, Relief Society and Priesthood programs. That’s a lot of teaching and, hopefully, learning going on.

Home and Visiting Teaching

My husband and I both have assignments to fulfil, which if we are to cover everyone on our list requires both of us to be out twice in a month. And our son is my husbands home teaching companion, so that’s two evenings for him in a month as well.

Fulfilling Callings

That’s pretty much every Tuesday evening gone for my husband as he attends his meetings. I have more flexibility.

Week-night Youth Activities

These are held Wednesday evenings where I am. So that’s the children out one evening every week, and finish at 9pm, nominally. Home by 9.30pm.

Ward/ Stake Activities

On average we have one ward activity per month. Stakes activities vary, but there are family activities in addition to youth activities.

Firesides/ Youth Firesides

Frequency varies.

Seminary

Where we live early morning seminary is the default option. We’re lucky our son is online, though that’s still 40 minutes a day, plus a weekly lesson before his youth activity. But for the rest that’s an early start to the day before school. Seminary students in my ward look perpetually sleep-deprived. One family wanted to move their children to online seminary but were denied permission. Some of our early morning students have had to resit a year at school, because their grades have suffered.

As Individuals

Personal Prayer

That’s morning and evening.

Personal Scripture Study

My children have been working on building this habit for themselves. Now that my son is taking seminary, what he can study is dictated to him by the seminary program even whilst being separate from the lesson, unless he is to have two personal scripture study sessions per day.

Develop Talents

We are given talents and gifts to help us fulfill our missions on this earth and to help us bless the lives of others. We have a responsibility to Heavenly Father, to ourselves, and to others to develop our talents and gifts as completely as we can. The development of talents and gifts requires persistence, courage, and patience, but brings great joy.” [emphasis mine]

I’d add that the development of our talents also takes time. Our children have already downgraded from two to one extra-curricular interest. Music for our daughter, and computer programming for our son. These activities take time. Though our daughter had also benefited from gymnastics and our son from music in the past. I am aware of youth who have dropped all extra-curricular activities once they they start seminary, and I don’t believe that that is healthy or what the Lord requires.

To quote J. A. T.’s comment from the T&S post on seminary:

Most music programs (marching band, orchestra, band, etc.) happen zero hour, when the weather is cool, the music doesn’t disturb other classes, and ‘electives’ don’t get in the way of requirements. Most sports take place after school.

Our local school district denied us release-time, so seminary was only zero-hour. The church wouldn’t let us have after-school seminary.

This started a huge debate in the wards about the church’s preference of sports over arts and men over women as more YM were involved in sports and more YW were involved in music.

For 40 years our stake forced kids to choose between God and music.

I choose both and went to orchestra practice.”

Education

Education is an important part of Heavenly Father’s plan to help you become more like Him. ..

Education will prepare you for greater service in the world and in the Church. It will help you better provide for yourself, your family, and those in need. It will also help you be a wise counselor and companion to your future spouse and an informed and effective teacher of your future children.

Education is an investment that brings great rewards and will open the doors of opportunity that may otherwise be closed to you. Plan now to obtain an education. Be willing to work diligently and make sacrifices if necessary. Share your educational goals with your family, friends, and leaders so they can support and encourage you.”

In Britain our youth take vital public exams every year for at least the final three years they take seminary, and depending on the school, they could be taking them for all four years. This is a grim schedule, that church programs do not accommodate, and the grades and qualifications they gain are vital to the rest of their lives. And there’s a lot of homework.

Work

We are expected to teach our children to value work. Ours have chores to complete, for which they are paid. Again, these chores take time.It is also not uncommon for older teens to find a part-time job.

Sleep

Enough sleep is vital to our health. Both adults and children need to sleep, and to sleep too little is antithetical to the word of wisdom. In my family we go down hill fast, both mentally and physically when deprived of sleep. Scary downsides of sleep-deprivation are described here.

Church Statements on Overscheduling

Parents should act to preserve time for family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, and the other precious togetherness and individual one-on-one time that binds a family together and fixes children’s values on things of eternal worth. Parents should teach gospel priorities through what they do with their children.

Family experts have warned against what they call “the overscheduling of children.”” Dallin H Oaks

Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules. Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list. They flood the open spaces in their time with lists of meetings and minutia—even during times of stress and fatigue. Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives.

It is said that any virtue when taken to an extreme can become a vice. Overscheduling our days would certainly qualify for this. There comes a point where milestones can become millstones and ambitions, albatrosses around our necks.” Dieter F Uchtdorf

Brothers and sisters, protecting children means that we provide an environment that invites the Spirit into their lives and validates it in their hearts. That automatically eliminates any form of indifference, neglect, abuse, violence, or exploitation.

And while conditions of depravity are more serious, we also protect children from other detrimental conditions, such as expectations that are too high or too low, overindulgence, over scheduling, and self-centeredness. Either extreme dulls a child’s ability to identify, trust, and be guided by the Holy Ghost.” Margaret S Lifferth

In my experience it is possible to do the basics. We do consider keeping the Sabbath to be a basic, so it is not a day for homework. We don’t consider weeknight youth activities (though they usually attend), ward or stake activities, firesides to be the basics. Perhaps shockingly, we don’t consider Seminary to be a basic either. Seminary is a tool families can use in helping their youth develop habits of personal scripture study. Unfortunately CES employees and local leaders present this program as being absolutely vital, and often use coercive tactics (which I consider abusive) to pressure parents and youth into compliance with programs that are not compatible with their family and school schedules.

I like Margaret Lifferth’s point. We need to trust our parents and youth more. Allow them to follow the Spirit in deciding where they should participate, and how they should otherwise be allocating their time. Time is a limited resource. I am reminded of one situation I was told about where one of the youth had completed the necessary 80% of the Seminary course, and asked a bishopric member whether it would be okay to skip the rest of seminary as exams were looming and she needed to revise. His advice was for her to pray about it, and do whatever she felt guided to do. She skipped the final 20% and studied for her upcoming exams. The CES rep was less than happy, and felt she should have been told that attending seminary would bring blessings that would ensure success at school. I am getting tired of this CES trope. I’ve not seen it played out. Blessings of seminary are knowledge of the scriptures. If we want to pass our exams at school, we need to put in the effort to study, and that means spending time on that study.

I’m somewhat disturbed by the sentiment expressed here:

Church programs and activities should not be so all-encompassing that families cannot have everyone present for family time. And family activities should not be scheduled in conflict with sacrament meeting or other vital Church meetings.

We need both Church activities and family activities. If all families were complete and perfect, the Church could sponsor fewer activities. But in a world where many of our youth grow up in homes where one parent is missing, not a member, or otherwise inactive in gospel leadership, there is a special need for Church activities to fill in the gaps.” Dallin H Oaks

Very often our youth programs do feel all-encompassing. Families are suffering because leaders feel “there is a special need for Church activities to fill in the gaps”. What of those families who have have worked hard to provide an environment for their children without those gaps. Are their efforts now to be stomped on by CES and others? Because that’s what it feels like. It seems an ideal is presented, but because our leaders feel we won’t meet that ideal, they prefer to take it out of our hands anyway. Where is the respect for agency in the way these programs are delivered? Where is the respect for families in the way these programs are delivered? CES in particular appear to be very unwilling to work with families. Please could we take more account of the words of Elder Ballard:

“We need to thoughtfully allocate our resources of time, income, and energy. …. No matter what your family needs are or your responsibilities in the Church, there is no such thing as “done.” There will always be more we can do. … We just need to be wise in protecting our health and in following the counsel that President Hinckley has given often to just do the best that we can.

“The key, it seems to me, is to know and understand your own capabilities and limitations and then to pace yourself, allocating and prioritizing your time, your attention, and your resources to wisely help others, including your family, in their quest for eternal life.” M. Russell Ballard [emphasis mine]

  • Do you feel overscheduled?
  • How resilient are you and your family members when it comes to coping with sleep deprivation?
  • Have you or your children experienced coercion from leaders? How do you respond?
  • How do you decide what is and isn’t vital?

Discuss