Photo: Bill Branson via Wikimedia Commons
A recent article in The Atlantic argues that Mormons are onto something when they congregate as a family every Monday evening for quality bonding time in what they call–if somewhat prosaically– “Family Home Evening”. I can’t resist calling it “Mormon Mondays”.
Written by two Mormon scholars, the piece suggests this tradition, which goes back more than a century, has proved “prescient” in its effectiveness to combat the hectic pace of modern family living.
Generally, the evening consists of gathering for prayer, song, games and snacks. Ethical discussion, moral instruction and biblical study are other components. However, the authors aren’t trying to sell a Brady-bunch image of cheesy sing-alongs.
In fact, they wryly describe how “among some seasoned practitioners, family home evening has been called ‘the family fight that begins and ends with prayer.’” However, that doesn’t stop them from persevering with the ideal: switching off from worldly distractions to deliberately try and bond as a family.
“Try” being the operative word apparently.
The authors interviewed dozens of Mormon families to collect their family home evening experiences. And what they hit on was something both banal and profound. It’s no surprise they noted these families “routinely brought up the difficulties of maintaining familial closeness as technology and media have hastened the pace of life.”
Or even that some children found it “boring,” which, one parent admitted, “his child is not always wrong about.” And yet, said this same parent, “every once in a while it just clicks. … It’s a real feeling of oneness as a family.” The suggestion is that it’s worth enduring nine tedious, tired and short-tempered evenings to have the tenth come alive and genuinely work to strengthen family bonds. That’s worth contemplating.
Despite all their effort, these families are ready to admit that it is only rarely they approach the ideal of creating magical family memories. Yet the extent of their effort makes evident how importantly they hold those rare moments of deep and joyous familial connection.
Another parent recollected how her children were apathetic to the ritual, yet as adults, “they recall the time fondly.” Another again described how it is “when life is ‘craziest,’ people need the organizing, calming predictability of family ritual most.”
This is in stark contrast to the advice we’re generally given as parents by educators and social influencers to keep things “fresh,” “lively,” “spontaneous” and “fun” for our children if we want to keep them engaged. Perhaps that’s true up to a point. But what is neglected in this picture is children’s desire for the “predictability” of family tradition. Because for kids, tradition spells security.
And when kids witness the divorce or separation of their friends’ parents around them, security is what they need. When they experience the constant flux of a life in high speed through technology, artificial stimulus and changing social expectations, the steady routine of family ritual can act as their mooring port, whether they realise this consciously or not.
As the authors conclude, “ultimately, what seems to matter most about family home evening is not the specific rituals, but that there are rituals at all.” But it’s easy, as a parent especially, to see such evenings as another “inessential” thing to schedule into an infinite list of appointments and tasks.
Perhaps that’s why Mormons designated Mondays as the time for family home evenings – before the family starts drowning in the rest of the week’s obligations. It’s an effort; it might be “a family fight that begins and ends with prayer,” but how else will the possibility for family growth occur?
Mormons at least, seem to think it worthwhile to invest in risking the weekly tedium and tension for one magical evening, just once in a while. So it might be time to take a leaf out of their book, brush up your card skills and dust off the guitar. Whether it’s to sing “Kumbaya” or “Mr Tambourine Man”. Either way, make it a tradition.
Veronika Winkels is a freelance writer who lives in Melbourne and is married with two young children.