“My meeting starts at 6:00 on Wednesday, and yours starts at 6:30. So what should we do with kids?”
Have you ever felt like you have to choose between Church or family? Have you ever worried that you're serving other people's children at the expense of serving your own?
You are not alone in feeling that Church and family duties sometimes conflict rather than coexist. At a worldwide training meeting Elder L. Tom Perry stated: “Families with young children where both parents have demanding calls that take them out of the home are the most likely to feel that Church activities interfere with their family life” (88).
Fortunately, we have guides. Prophets and apostles have given us counsel about how to navigate the waters of balancing Church duties and parenting.
Prophets and apostles realize that Church duties and parenting require thoughtful balancing. Elder Packer said, “Devotion to the family and devotion to the Church are not different and separate things... “Faithful attendance at Church, together with careful attention to the needs of the family, is a near-perfect combination. In Church we are taught the Great Plan of Happiness. At home we apply what we have learned. Every call, every service in the Church brings experience and valuable insights which carry over into family life” (22). Elder Packer continued, “Would our perspective be more clear if we could, for a moment, look upon parenthood as a calling in the Church. Actually, it is so much more than that; but if we could look at it that way for a moment, we could reach a better balance in the way we schedule families... “I do not want anyone to use what I say to excuse them in turning down an inspired call from the Lord. I do want to encourage leaders to carefully consider the home lest they issue calls or schedule activities which place an unnecessary burden on parents and families. “Attending Church is, or should be, a respite from the pressures of everyday life. It should bring peace and contentment. If it brings pressure and discouragement, then something is out of balance (22).
Elder L. Tom Perry counseled Church members: “How we use our time and keep our lives in balance is fundamental to how we will perform our family duties and our Church service. Discipline yourself to follow the prophet's counsel on how you prioritize the use of your time.”
First, Elder Perry suggested, decide how much time you need to dedicate to your marriage. That is the foundation of it all. Second, focus on the needs of your children and schedule appropriate time for them. Third, look at providing for the family, and fourth, consider your Church service.
Elder Oaks spoke in general conference about the principle of “good, better, and best,” and this applies to how we balance Church duties and family time.
“Jesus taught this principle in the home of Martha. While she was ‘cumbered about much serving’ (Luke 10:40), her sister, Mary, ‘sat at Jesus feet, and heard his word’ (v. 39). When Martha complained that her sister had left her to serve alone, Jesus commended Martha for what she was doing (v. 41) but taught her that ‘one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her’ (v. 42).
It was praiseworthy for Martha to be ‘careful and troubled about many things’ (v. 41), but learning the gospel from the Master Teacher was more ‘needful.’ The scriptures contain other teachings that some things are more blessed than others” (see Acts 20:35; Alma 32:1415).
If you are heading toward a change in family life, such as having a baby, talk to your bishop so he can make thoughtful and inspired calls to you and your spouse. One bishop called a new mother to be Primary President, and called her husband to take care of the baby and support her.
We are urged to simplify whenever possible. Magnifying your calling by making it larger and more complex might not only be burdening your family, but the people you serve. Carefully consider what is truly needful for the people you have been called to serve.
This is probably the best advice of all because situations differ. There is no one correct answer about how to balance Church and family duties. At some seasons in life we may be able to take a calling where large demands are placed on our time. At others, we may not. Keeping in touch with the Lord's will is what will help make your Church service feel balanced.
Elder Perry encouraged Church members to involve “our families, when appropriate, in our Church service” (88). One mother who was called to the stake young women presidency had her children accompany her when she decorated for stake dances, when she was running errands and picking up refreshments, and even had them attend some of the firesides. Let your children watch you serve, and even help you serve. While it's not appropriate to have your children accompany you to every activity or meeting, there may be a few that would work and be memorable for all of you.
“As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best. Even though a particular choice is more costly, it's far greater value may make it the best choice of all” (Oaks 104).
“Not long ago, one of my children said, ‘Dad, sometimes I wonder if I will ever make it.’ The answer I gave to her is the same as I would give to you if you have had similar feelings. Just do the very best you can each day. Do the basic things and, before you realize it, your life will be full of spiritual understanding that will confirm to you that your Heavenly Father loves you. When a person knows this, then life will be full of purpose and meaning, making balance easier to maintain.”
Elder Richard G. Scott gave Church members important counsel regarding balancing Church duties and parenting: “Adjust your activities to be consistent with your local conditions and resources. . . . Make sure that the essential needs are met, but do not go overboard in creating so many good things to do that the essential ones are not accomplished. . . . Remember, don't magnify the work to be done—simplify it” (5).
Ballard, M. Russell. “Keeping Life's Demands in Balance,” Ensign. May 1987, 13.
Oaks, Dallin H. “Good, Better, Best, Ensign,” Nov 2007, 1048.
Packer, Boyd K. "Parents in Zion,” Ensign. Nov 1998, 22.
Perry, L. Tom. “A Solemn Responsibility to Love and Care for Each Other,” Ensign. Jun 2006, 8892.
Scott, Richard G. “The Doctrinal Foundation of the Auxiliaries,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan. 10, 2004, 5, 78; see also Ensign, Aug. 2005, 62, 67.