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Ask nine women

By Dalene Rowley

Some time ago I was gathered around a table with a group of my blogger friends for lunch. We were discussing a certain situation that had occurred involving one of us. I loved how naturally each woman made the events personal to herself, admitting how she would have felt in such circumstances and considering what she might have done if in the same situation. The woman felt supported and not alone and everyone walked away with a greater understanding of one another.

Today we hope to recreate that scene at Segullah as we launch a feature called Ask *Nine Women. We hope it will provide a place for reader-generated discussion, in which a reader will present a question or a situation and other readers will respond. This isn’t an advice column. The hope is to encourage an awareness of the variety of our experiences and promote dialogue.

First question:

For some time now I have found myself often feeling overwhelmed by what I see as an overscheduling of church activities. I want to support the various auxiliaries in my ward and stake, but as my children grow older it’s becoming harder and harder to find time to be home together as a family. I’ve brought up my concerns with leadership in my ward on more than one occasion and was greatly relieved when the topic was discussed at the Worldwide Training Meeting and leaders were told quite plainly to remember the purpose of auxiliaries is to support families. However, we continue to have weeks in which there are ward and stake activities 4 or 5 nights a week.

Q: Does anyone else ever feel this way? Which do you choose? Do you ever feel guilty about your choices? How do you strike a balance between being actively involved in your ward and stake and making time for your family?”

(*The number nine is arbitrary and not intended to in any way limit your participation. To submit a topic or question for Ask Nine Women please e-mail us at askninewomen [AT] gmail [DOT] com. Questions will be chosen for discussion at random but should be relevant to the purpose of Segullah, which is to “provoke thought and promote greater understanding and faith among Latter-day Saint women.”)


About Dalene Rowley

Began blogging as a legitimate way to avoid housework and to keep a journal of sorts. In her other life she wants to be excellent at a number of things, but in this one she's settling for baking a mean sour cream lemon pie, keeping most of the points on her quilt blocks in line, being a loyal friend and aspiring to moments of goodness as a wife and mother.

17 thoughts on “Ask nine women”

  1. ACK! Guilt plagues this topic for me in a monumental way. I hardly ever say no, largely because I feel like everything under the sun is somehow my responsibility to fix or attend to. We've just plowed along, and made the culture of our lives revolve around the ward and church. It has had its moments of great reward and contentment, and it's had its moments of incredible stress and pain.

    I do say no when it's going to mean that my husband and I are both gone for meetings or whatever. Like how on earth are we both supposed to be at correlation whilst our children are at home, supposedly getting themselves all ready for church. Yah, that doesn't work.

    But guilt flows freely through me for all the no's I utter. I admit freely that the guilt is cultural guilt and not feelings of true inadequacy, but dang it, that guilt still persists. Still, I don't think I'd have it a different way. We just bring our kids with us to a lot of things to make sure we're together, and to make sure they're serving in the church, too.

  2. When my children were little we had dinner together every night. As they got older this was our goal. At least once a day we would sit down to dinner. When they stared early morning seminary we moved our family scripture reading and prayer to the time after our family dinner. Then there was scouts. After scouts there was basketball practice or what ever. The dinner hour seemed to be the most desirable time to hold these activities. And, since the Stake President had mandated Monday as family day and would not allow any official activites after school on that day, it was frustrating for everyone. The leaders couldn't find a better time, they said. I remember lobbying for some kind of consideration as I was raised to believe that support of church programs was a priority. What my lobbying yielded was the counsel given at the Worldwide Training Meeting. With the addition that parents are the ones to decide which activities are enough and which are too much. I was so pleased to learn that there is nothing wrong with saying this is too much. I realized that there are many youth who are in situations where the multiple activities substitute for family involvement. So I am glad all these choices are available. It is a great relief to know that they are not mandatory to full support of or inclusion in the group.

  3. Okay, here comes the guy's viewpoint, then I'll bow out. 🙂

    This may not directly answer the question, but I wouldn't put all the blame and guilt squarely on your shoulders. If there is a recurring pattern of having church activities more than one or two nights a week, I think it is more than appropriate to request that the bishop bring it up as an issue in ward council meeting. If there is no coordination between your ward's auxiliaries, that could be a big part of the problem.

    If there is a problem with frequent stake activities, it would be appropriate to talk to your ward's high council representative, and ask him to bring it up at his level.

  4. I don't think anyone should feel guilt over exerting control over your own family schedule. General church authorities have clearly stated that, as parents, we are the ones in charge of our family schedules. You cannot give up that authority piecemeal to the young women's president, the scout leaders, the relief society, the stake sunday school president, the choir director, girls' camp leaders, primary teachers/presidents/activity day leaders, seminary teachers and the myriad of others who have programs they love and are devoted to. Have a vision for your family and carry it out. That vision should include FHE, family prayers, family scripture study and family meals as a priority, as well as plenty of church activity, but never forget the church is to support the eternal family unit, not supplant it.

    Our extended family has found that Sunday evenings are about the only times we can regularly get together. Sunday evenings are often the overflow for scheduling extra meetings. We all regularly skip Sunday night meetings to get together about once a month as a family. We have just decided that our family get togethers are more important than just about any meeting the stake or ward can schedule for Sunday evenings.

    I was often frustrated at the scheduling of youth activities during the dinner hour. It is not difficult to politely let the youth leaders know that your kids are not available until after 7 except on rare occasions. We were in a ward where it was common to start youth activities at 6 pm. It really disrupts a family schedule. Of course, the ones scheduling these activities were the ones who lived in their cars, running children from activity to activity and rarely staying home long enough for FHE, scripture study, family prayer, or family time.

    It is too bad that you have to sometimes look like the non-participatory ones when you are simply trying to carve out time for the essentials. But the more families insist on quality time, the more the culture will change. It wasn't always like this. Parents are really the ones responsible for the over-scheduling of families, and it isn't just church activities that are the problem.

  5. Even with only one baby, I am relating to your question too much. Shortly after our baby arrived last fall, my husband was made Scout Master/Deacon's Quorum Advisor/Young Men's Second Counselor. It occupies his time three to five nights a week. Sunday he had four back-to-back meetings after church. I sometimes resent his commitments, and yet can't find a way to say, "tell somebody to cut back on meetings or consolidate or something." I can only imagine my frustration with several children and teens.

    I was excited to hear what was said at the WWTM, too, but have also seen no changed in our ward structure. I like Matt's advice to bring it up in Ward Council.

    Another side note, I said no to somebody last week and yes, I am having a great deal of guilt over it–I believe it's okay to say no, but I have rarely done it or felt like I needed to. I'm very close to calling her back and saying yes. I think prayer has got to be the key for things like this. The activities are here for us, we aren't here for the activities, if that makes sense.

  6. It must be nice to live in such an active ward. I understand you're having problems with it being TOO active and I completely understand. My ward, however, is too quiet and I wouldn't mind a little of that life injected into it! 🙂

  7. Another guy here: I'll agree with Matt. There are definitely times when it is a good idea to take it to the Bishop and say, "Hey, Bishop, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the activities, and I can't help but feel that maybe some other people might be feeling the same way. You might consider looking into that and maybe seeing if the ward could make sure that families don't get overwhelmed by everything."

    That's just me though…

  8. My husband has a much easier time saying no than I do. "No, we're not going to the activity this weekend. We have been running nonstop and we need some down time" or whatever. And then he really doesn't think about it anymore. I also believe that we should do that when necessary, but it causes me so much guilt that I usually don't.

    Overall I like having our family culture built around Church activity, and I am willing to do less "other" stuff to make that work. In my current ward I don't feel over-scheduled. But I have been there.

  9. This is such an interesting dilemma. I remember when our ward went from having a quarterly ward activity to maybe only having one annually. Because at that time I didn't get out much, my thoughts were the ward should provide the activities every few months and then people could choose whether or not they attend. If you activities weren't provided then no one had that choice.

    That said, now I have teenagers I look at weeks in which every night but Monday is taken up with RS, High Priests, Mutual and stake things and I go a little crazy. I actually brought this up with my bishop and asked if that wasn't something they looked at in coorelation meeting, but I was told that wasn't part of the purpose. It seems to me if it's not–then especially given the recent counsel at WWTM–it certainly should be.

    Interestingly, almost every time I have been set apart for a calling I have been counseled to put my family first. You think that would be enough to teach me to let go of the guilt I feel when I pick and choose, but like Justine said–the cultural guilt remains.

  10. Had a recent experience with this. I'm pregnant with our first kid, still in the first trimester, and one thing I've learned is pregnant ladies and Cub Scouts don't mix so well! Normally it's fine- I have a whole bunch of little brothers, so telling boys what to do is pretty much my native language.

    However, I've spent about the last month or so lying around the apartment semi-conscious telling my husband "Bring me food!" "ACK! Not that food! Get it away!" "X smells, clean it pleeeease!", etc. Poor husband- I never even really woke up enough to be interesting to talk to that whole month and was overall a very bad guest. And the whole time, I still managed to get to Scouts and (more or less) do a meeting. I'm ok with that- honestly, we both needed the outside social interaction with other folks at church at that point.

    However: last week, I got home from work on Tuesday and actually felt good. So what did I do? I called my Scouts' parents up and cancelled for that night. I figured if I was going to feel like crap anyway, I might as well do Cub Scouts. But since I'd been riding roughshod over my one 'n' only Sugar Booger and it was my first period of real consciousness in a month, I don't owe them Cub Scouts anything near as much as I did our rather ragged family life at the moment. I have yet to feel even a suggestion of guilt over that one. I even went so far as to divulge to the Scout moms the real reason for my staying home, and they thought it was awesome- perhaps it will give them inspiration for the moments in which they too need to take a stand. ; )

  11. It's really interesting how many people feel like the only thing we can do about this is on the personal level. I wonder if we can't take a more proactive role? We often have more options than we sometimes think.

    My last stint in the YW presidency, there was a significant change, and I'm pretty sure it came about as a result of people lifting their voices. We were regularly counseled from the stake to limit the girls' commitment to once a week. If there was a stake activity, we canceled the ward activity. Sometimes this was harder than you'd think, especially when activities were scheduled on short notice. But the benefits to following the rule were enormous!

    A friend, who happens to be YW pres in her ward, and I were chatting about the program and she mentioned how late she returned home from activities. We ended up discussing how the parents of the youth probably felt the same way, and that she was in a position to change that.

  12. Since President Packer's talk "Let Them Govern Themselves" given in 1990, I have been championing the cause of simplification of church activity in every ward I have been in. In my last ward, I served three years as YW president and it was a constant tug-of-war between two distinct schools of thought. The first approach deferred to the family: we attempted to limit planning and coordination meetings both in number and duration; we sought to limit the number of nights the youth were out of their homes to once a week; we tried to keep the scope of activities under control both in duration and complexity–no need to overburden leaders either. The second approach hinged on one key idea: the amount of time and energy expended on activities demonstrated more concern and love for our charges. In other words, if we love them, we need to give them more–more frequent, more elaborate, expensive, complex activities. We had leaders that felt like if we eliminated activities, we were being negligent and indifferent to the girls–we weren't meeting their needs. We had leaders who felt overburdened, stretched to the limit and resentful of the intrusion into their family lives. It was always a juggling act.

    Even when we tried to pare down our schedule, we had a zealous stake YW presidency who felt the need to do "more" all the time. It was a constant struggle for me, both as a YW leader and as a mother, to resist the impulse to try and do it all, out of a sense of duty, guilt or a desire to please others. I never wanted to do it all because I felt it blessed the lives of my children, helped me be a better parent, wife or mother, but I felt obligated to be supportive. Every time the YW calendar came out and I would see sometimes three or four YW related obligations a week, I would grit my teeth and try to be positive.

    I regret to say the more/less activity issue was a source of conflict in my relationship with both the bishopric counselor over YW and with my stake YW president. It was only the counsel of our stake presidency and a bishop–who subscribed to the "less is more/defer to the family"–that gave me confidence to stand by the counsel of President Packer who has since been joined by Elder Oakes (at October conference) and the WWLTM. I made a lot of mistakes by being too aggressive in my efforts to "do the right thing" and I now regret that I didn't do a better job of being more humble with my leaders, no matter how strongly I felt.

    In the intervening months since my release, my family has moved abroad and we currently live in a large European city. The only church activities that can work here have to be simple: logistically, our lives are too complex to support lots of branch activities. The demands of expatriate jobs, horrendous traffic, cultural barriers, an international school with far more rigorous demands for a simple diploma than many US schools make it harder for our youth and RS to have have programs on the scope that I saw at home (America). Things many auxiliary leaders take for granted in the US from poster boards, colored printer paper, many grocery items, laminating machines, access to craft stores and Costco are so far out of reach here we don't even try to replicate our US experiences.

    What I've learned is that gospel in simplicity is a beautiful thing. I wish more members could have this experience–where your family has to be the center of your religious life because there simply isn't anything else to distract you. Personal progress gets done because we, my daughters and I, get it done. Homemaking skills are taught by me, in my home. Seminary is taught in a branch member's home. Our RS activities are truly quarterly, save a few interest groups that reflect branch members needs. What I've learned is that many of the activities that are routine for members in more established locations in the church can't be done everywhere. So much of what is seen as necessary and normal is, in actuality, cultural.

    We have a saying in my home: just because we can, doesn't mean we should. I have come to believe, especially after my experience as YW president, that we need to say this more often in our councils and planning meetings. We owe it to our families. I feel like sometimes as a YW president was "looking beyond the mark." Trying to make things more complex or involved because I felt it was expected of me. Now I have a testimony of putting the family first, not just lip service, but making a meaningful effort to simplify and refocus our energies.

  13. Such a great question. Right now, I am pregnant with my first child and serving as YW President. After going to the WWLTM, our ward leadership sat down to figure out we could reduce the number of meetings we deal with on Sunday. By the time we were done, all we'd come up with was that we could really combine APC and BYC since in a lot of ways, they seem repetitive. That's it, no other meeting reductions because every other meeting was a meeting that was required according to the handbook. I find Sundays are my hardest days. They run awfully long. But at the same time, I have a really hard time avoiding them. I need to have YW Presidency meetings, we can't avoid them. So we have been doing them twice month. Reduce it to once a month and the darn meeting can go on for hours. Actually, I still feel like getting everything covered in an hour is impossible. I also am supposed to have a class presidency meeting too, so those happen once a month. Its hard to know where to stick the meetings. Its obnoxious to have to gather the girls for a presidency meeting on a seperate day from Wednesdays or Sundays. My first law of leadership is simplify. I feel the need/desire to simplify more and reduce meetings (and other crap) and yet I feel like we've paired them down to the bare bones…yet I still want to pair down more. I guess this is mainly because I can see the drain in some of YW leaders. Naturally, our ward is such that all of my YW leaders have husbands in high profile callings as well. It is a struggle to juggle, but we get by okay.

  14. I only do things that I know will up-lift me and my tribe. If this means missing the high priest social where we are the only ones in the groups who have to get a babysitter, and they are all excited to have a guest speaker on "how to stretch your SS check" then so be it. I gave up the many "enrichment" activities like the book group because the books were boring.

    I go to the ward Christmas party and other fun family events. We have a wonderful chili cook off, a golf tounament. Some of our RS super saturdays have been fun others not so interesting. I use personal discretion and I feel certain no one thinks less of me because I didn't make a fall wreath with RS or we missed the polka band as the entertainment at the stake social.

    I don't feel obligated unless my calling specifically requires my service to be there. As Gospel Doctrine Teacher I have thankfully few such obligations. But my husband as 2nd counsellor in the bishopric never misses his obligations to the youth and primary. Guilt? no. Not when I get to hear about what my 11 year olds crush said to him in passing at lunch or snuggle my toddler with Goodnight Moon for the 100th time. Family first.

  15. I agree with the "family first" comment, and my next words are not meant to contradict that principle but to add another thought to the mix.

    I want to share an experience that I had as YW President. My problem was that a few parents of very active families with really "together" children were not encouraging their teens to attend every YW activity. When I would respectfully question the mothers about a teen's non-attendance, the answer was often to say that the child was doing great, very involved with school, sports, work or whatever, and didn't really "need" the activity. Sometimes, frankly, I had to agree. That child did not need the activity.

    My issue was that even if a certain well-balanced, highly focused teen wasn't in great need of a particular activity, the YW organization WAS in great need of having that teen in attendance to serve as an example and role model for others. We needed that strength and influence in our program; the girls who were not as strong needed to be around those who were. And so I thought the effort should be made to get every YW to attend the activities, to support the WARD family, which was important, too. I wanted them to attend as a means of giving of themselves and lifting up the hands that were hanging down, so to speak.

    It is definitely a fine line to walk in deciding what to attend/not attend, isn't it? But I agree with the woman who posted earlier that the best route is to make the whole thing a matter of prayer.


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