Whether you call it Family Home Evening or Family Night, the idea of setting aside an evening a week dedicated to family sharing, fun and instruction, established in 1915 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (the Mormons), is nearing it's 100th birthday, and this timeless program has never been more relevant nor more essential than it is today.
Politics and Sociology aside, no parent can deny that the world is becoming increasingly stressful and busy, and that stress is taking a toll on even the most steadfast of families. Families need a safety net--an ark--so to speak, to lift them above the fray and convey them safely over the flood of worry and trouble. FHE, or Family Home Evening, can be that ark.
It requires little more than for families to agree to push the world back for an hour in order to gather each member together. For LDS, (Mormon) families, the evening is Monday Night, and the agenda generally includes singing, prayer, a lesson, and/or an activity, and a snack. But families will soon discover that there are a vast array of ways to fill that time once everyone sits down together.
My husband and I struggled through wriggling, elbow nudging, "don't-touch-me" complaints from siblings, and actions that mildly resembled at night at a WWF arena when we gathered our four children together. We soldiered on with flannel-board stories, prepared lessons, and games. Some nights, a lesson of any spiritual quality was impossible, but fun and sharing always reigned supreme.
Despite our failings, in this safe(?) place our children learned to conduct a meeting, lead music, perform talents, give little lessons, read aloud and offer simple scriptural thoughts. We often felt like traffic cops throughout the evening, but I'm convinced that those hours, during which we played games and shared in one another's triumphs and trials, became the basis of these successful adults' self-esteem and confidence.
Consistency is the deal-maker here. I confess to having allowed many of our FHE's to erode into attending a child's team sports activity. We justified it by convincing ourselves that we were "together" to support a child, but that weak argument failed on many counts. Once at the field, kids scattered off with friends, and our special evening was like any other. There was no invitation to the Spirit to lift us from the world, no testimonies of Christ strengthened, no expressions of love and gratitude. Looking back now, I see the subtle but essential difference between "fun family time" and the safety net of regular "Family Night." Both will create memories and strengthen bonds, but when parents do everything in their power to make Family Night a sacred, set-aside hour, the supreme priority over all other activities, and a time to testify of Christ, we elevate the importance of the family in God's great Plan of Happiness, not only bringing our children closer to us, but to Christ. The dividends are eternal and incalculable.
Where to begin? As a group, set the priority and block it into the calendar. Then rotate responsibilities for prayers, music, an activity, a lesson, a snack. Get everyone involved somehow. The lesson can be as simple as a testimony borne, a single scripture read and discussed, or a story that is shared with follow-up questions that inspire sharing and feeling the Spirit. Play games, sing, pull out the instruments, act out a skit, make a new recipe together and secretly leave it on someone's doorstep. Learn about the earth, do service--the list is endless.
If it still seems daunting, let me recommend Anne Bradshaw's new release, "FAMOUS FAMILY NIGHTS." There are dozens of other families' examples of triumph and challenge, lesson ideas, and most of all, testimonials to the rewards of sticking with it. It would make a loving and perfect gift to newlyweds and new parents. (Available at Seagull Books, Deseret, Amazon and most LDS book stores.)
These testimonials may ease your fears about leaping in to the journey called "Family Night." Good luck! You're in for the time of your life!
"After reading the first few stories in this book I let out a sigh of relief and a chuckle as I realized my family really wasn't so dysfunctional when it came to family home evening experiences after all! This collection of stories is a "must-own" book, whether you are LDS or not. It provides wonderful ideas, and also helps us realize how important family time is to our children - whether they know it or not." - George Dyer, International Opera Singer.
"I heartily add my recommendations to other reviewers. Not only did I find many great family night ideas, but I learned that other people are just like me! We all struggle, especially when the children are young, but the concept of family night brings so many benefits that we continue to do it. And then at times, the light shines through and the moment is so sweet that we wonder why we ever doubted." - Rachel Ann Nunes, award-winning Author of thirty published books.
"Everyone can benefit from this unique compilation of entertaining and uplifting stories of family home evening through the eyes of a diverse stable of LDS contributors. I sure did!" - Jason F. Wright, New York Times best-selling Author of Christmas Jars and The Wednesday Letters."
What a wonderful experience reading Famous Family Nights has turned out to be. Each essay has touched my heart in some way. I've learned new ideas to try with my own children during home evening, felt the spirit as I've shared in the experiences of other families, and seen how holding home evening can make a difference, even when you're wrangling a bunch of kids who claim they don't want to be there." - Lu Ann Staheli, Author, When Hearts Conjoin.
"Whether in your later years, or like me, in recently married years, Famous Family Nights is a smashing book I highly recommend to anyone." - Alex Boyé, award-winning Recording Artist, Actor, and Mormon Tabernacle Choir member."
("Famous Family Nights" is) . . . also just laugh-out-loud funny sometimes, and at other times very touching. I loved the glimpses into the lives of the contributors and the experiences they shared. I suggest that you can do most of your Christmas shopping by purchasing multiple copies of this book. It's that good. It's that useful and helpful and thought-provoking. It's one of those books that has "something for everyone." It's bound to be a perennial favorite, to be picked up time and time again at various stages of family life." - Janet K. Jensen, award-winning Author, Don't You Marry the Mormon Boys.
"These wonderful stories can touch and inspire us all, no matter what our place in life. The writers don't claim family home evening perfection and I feel their honesty will be much appreciated." - Donna S. Dewberry, Artist, Author, One Stroke Painting TV Presenter.
"Famous Family Nights, by Anne Bradshaw, is such an excellent book for parents of all ages! I laughed, I cried, I read several entries over and over and out loud to my hubby. So much fun, and so many parents who felt like their family home evenings were such a catastrophe! From measuring lint in belly buttons to stylishly modeling newly-washed clothes over . . . whatever, it's a hoot! Even the hollering! This book is a great reminder to parents everywhere that the Lord never expects us to get it perfect, He just expects us to do it! " - Sherry Ann Miller, Author, "writer of miracles."
"Anne Bradshaw has collected a smorgasbord of FHE ideas to delight any and every family. From foil dinners to teaching scriptures and songs --this book is full of ideas to make family time the best it can be. Ideas come from families worldwide, a sampling of ways to love those that love you the very most!" - Amy Freeze, Chief Meteorologist, Fox News Chicago.
"I was so interested to learn more about the various authors and their experiences that I kept reading the moment I picked the book up and didn't stop until I finished! It was a spellbinding page-turner. I laughed and giggled at some stories. My heart was touched deeply through it all, leaving me inspired to continue my efforts to hold family night despite any setbacks or having a less-than-ideal evening. Bravo! Well done." - Jeffrey Denning, CPS, CMAS, Iraq War Veteran.