When General Conference rolled around last October, I realized that it was the weekend that my children were scheduled to spend all day Saturday with their father. I felt somewhat ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I looked forward to a day of actually getting to hear the talks and ponder them in quiet peace without the stress of trying to help three small children sit through eight hours of talks in a somewhat reverent manner. On the other hand, I do take seriously the counsel to watch and listen to Conference and to encourage participation from our children. During the past decade since becoming a parent I have sought to make General Conference a significant family tradition. I’ve tried special foods, coloring packets, bingo, key words, going for scenic drives, and, most commonly, just requiring children to be in the room doing something quiet and not bothering me. I don’t remember watching Conference much as a child, but I don’t fault my mother for this at all. If watching Conference meant hauling five small children to the chapel by myself for eight hours of viewing, I’d probably opt out as well. However, now that I live in a time and place where General Conference is easily accessible in my home, I try to participate as much as I can. What to do when my kids weren’t even going to be around for half of it?
As I pondered this question during the days before the Conference broadcast, I kept getting the feeling that I should try using the talks for Family Home Evening lessons during the following months. I resisted this feeling—my kids are young, the talks are hard to understand, I just wasn’t sure that the talks would cover kid-friendly subjects, etc. Then, Saturday morning the first talk during Conference was from Elder Hales, titled “General Conference: Strengthening Faith and Testimony”. That was my answer—I knew I needed to at least give the idea of using talks for Family Home Evening a try. It could be a complete disaster. Most of the time our Family Home Evenings resemble those described by Elder Bednar in a Conference talk in 2009:
“Sometimes Sister Bednar and I wondered if our efforts to do these spiritually essential things were worthwhile. Now and then verses of scripture were read amid outbursts such as “He’s touching me!” “Make him stop looking at me!” “Mom, he’s breathing my air!” Sincere prayers occasionally were interrupted with giggling and poking. And with active, rambunctious boys, family home evening lessons did not always produce high levels of edification. At times Sister Bednar and I were exasperated because the righteous habits we worked so hard to foster did not seem to yield immediately the spiritual results we wanted and expected.”
The results over the last six months have been mostly in line with what Elder Bednar described five years ago—small miraculous moments of family bliss interspersed within total chaos on a weekly basis. Using General Conference talks has not completely transformed our Family Home Evenings or my children, but I think the overall net effect has been positive.
In our house, FHE lessons usually last less than 10 minutes. Starting with Elder Hales’ talk on that first Sunday in October last year, we have followed a similar outline for our lessons. First we find information about the particular General Authority giving the talk. The Church website has biographies of all of them, and we’ve also used Google to find background information about their home countries or anything else mentioned in their talks (I like the bios on this site for the First Presidency and Apostles and wish similar comprehensive bios were available for everyone). Then, we discuss the content of the talk, possibly do some kind of activity, and watch the last minute or two of the talk to hear the speaker giving their summary and testimony in their own words.
We have had a lot of great moments with this project. Sometimes we have been pretty elaborate with our activities—a few weeks ago we used material about Zimbabwe from The Friend to cook traditional food, read about a child from that country, and play a native game, before studying the talk given by Edward Dube. Sometimes we have kept things simple, like when we studied “Strength to Endure” by Richard J Maynes and did some strength challenges in the backyard to learn about building our physical muscles. We’ve often found other resources online, like when we did Elder Uchtdorf’s talk “You Can Do it Now!” and watched videos about Olympic athletes or last week when we studied “Ye Are No More Strangers” by Gerard Causse and watched the most recent Mormon Message about bullying.
I had a few goals for this experiment: help my kids and I study recent General Conference talks, focus our Family Home Evening lessons more on gospel topics, and become familiar with the different General Authorities. As is often the case, I feel like I learned even more than my children did by setting this goal. We have all become much more familiar with the talks and speakers from last Conference (and now I finally understand what the Seventy are and what they do). We’ve had some great discussions about gospel topics and I’ve realized that my kids know quite a lot more than I give them credit for. Most importantly, I feel strengthened by the fact that I took on something that seemed challenging and stuck with it (goal setting is not my strong suit). My kids are going to be able to watch all of Conference with me next week and I’m not sure yet if we’re going to continue our Family Home Evening lesson tradition, but I’m sure glad we tried it out for a while.
How do you encourage your children to learn from General Conference? What do you do to remember and study General Conference? Do you have any fun traditions? What does your family like to do for Family Home Evening?