All I really need to know I learned in Family Council.
Wait. You mean, Kindergarten, right? All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten. Isn’t that how the phrase goes?
Nope. Everything I really need to know I learned in Family Council. Let me explain with a flashback to my childhood.
First of all, family councils have been happening forever, right? Well in theory, yes, but the real emphasis came in the 1970s. In fact, in October 1976 a special edition of the Ensignmagazine admonished Church members to hold regular family councils. Church pamphlets and stake conference messages in 1977 furthered the direction to organize families and keep records. My parents, who live the gospel to the letter, held their first family council in August of 1977 (when I was just four years old) and they’ve held family council once a month on every Fast Sunday since then.
Not only did my parents start holding family council regularly, they also organized our family into four focus areas: Family History, Missionary Work, Personal and Family Preparedness, and Home Education and Activities. Kind of like the three missions of the church, only they were the four missions of our family.
And, they took family organization even further and gave us all assignments as committee chairmen and members of these focus areas. Remember it was 1977, and I was four years old. My Dad called me in for a Personal Priesthood Interview and asked me to serve as our Family Missionary Chairman.
In true four-year-old fashion I immediately responded, “Nope. I don’t want to be the Missionary Chairman.” I’m sure Dad was surprised, but he remained calm and explained what exciting things a Family Missionary Chairman would do. I decided to accept the call. So, there you have it. One of the first things I learned through family council was to accept callings and responsibility. And I’ve been accepting them ever since. The next thing I learned at family council was how to write and present a report. Because I was the Family Missionary Chairman, I (along with my advisor, Mama) made out a four-year-old style report for our monthly family councils. In preschool handwriting I recorded things such as, “We took fresh bread to our neighbors,” or, “Daddy gave away a Book of Mormon at work.” My reports were always accompanied by a crayon drawing. On Fast Sunday when it was my turn, I stood on the fireplace hearth and told the other members of the family (most of them younger than I) what our family had accomplished during the past month in Missionary Work.
As my family council talents grew, I also helped to set goals in our monthly missionary efforts. Sometimes we would decide to invite another family over for family night, or give a gift subscription to the Ensign. It was always exciting to see our family council goals come to fruition during the month.
Time passed and a few years later I was called to serve as our family Home Education and Activities chairman. This was a fun assignment, too! I was responsible to go over the monthly calendar at each family council. As we talked about upcoming holidays and events, I helped to coordinate planning of birthday parties, family vacations, and even read-a-thons and activities. I remember planning a family Easter egg hunt, a family bike hike, and a family summer reading program. Education and activities as a family offer endless possibilities. And besides, they’re fun!
Reporting and goal setting weren’t the only skills I learned through family council, however. Each family council had a “training” time taught by my parents. Because we were all younger than six when we started our family councils, these trainings were very basic. They included everything from “How to squeeze a tube of toothpaste properly,” to “Sharing toys with a younger sibling.” Trainings were a pleasant time, never full of lecture or criticism, yet they instilled in us the desire to live correctly. Since my parents conducted family council formally, I also learned other protocol, such as standing when praying for a group, sustaining by raising your right hand, and proper flag and national anthem etiquette.
Family council wasn’t just a solemn discussion and planning meeting, it was also fun. One of my favorite months for family council was in October, when my parents placed a huge bowl of candy in the middle of the room where we sat. Each time they spontaneously shouted, “Boo!” we could run to the bowl and take a treat. Our game kept the meeting lively, and even the littlest ears listened intently through the hour.
Another part of family council was decision making. Once, I remember planning a family outing for an upcoming holiday. Although opinions differed, we discussed all angles and options and came to an agreement without being disagreeable. Counseling together was a key part of our family structure.
Family councils always included music. It was in family council that I learned to sing my first hymn, “How Firm a Foundation” all the way through, first all three verses and then all seven verses. We also took turns leading the music, in family night style, but with more time to enjoy the songs and learn from them. One month my parents taught us how to lead music in ¾ and 4/4 time—a skill I’ve been grateful for my entire life.
As our family expanded, I was soon no longer the four-year-old little sister, but rather the fourteen-year-old teenager. Our family focus areas stayed the same, but we had more children who needed “callings.” I was called as the Family Secretary, and was responsible to record the minutes of our family council meetings. I learned to follow an outlined agenda and fill in announcements, highlights of the meeting, and reports from each committee. Later, when I went to college, taking notes was natural for me. And, when I served for four years as a primary president, I instinctively made an agenda each week for our presidency meeting.
Family council included a time when we could share our testimonies with each other. In our living room with only our family members present, testimony bearing seemed simple. It prepared us for sharing our testimonies at the chapel podium in sacrament meeting and on the street corners of our missions.
Testimony bearing, goal setting, agendas, note-taking and accepting callings were all second nature to me by the time I left home, and these skills have served me well my whole life. As a college student, missionary, wife, mother, Primary President and Relief Society President, the skills I learned in family council are invaluable to me. I can conduct, teach, speak, and testify with ease. Amazingly, these many abilities were learned in our living room, near the fireplace hearth. Now my husband and I have family councils with our own 10 children. Each fast Sunday we gather around the dining room table or on the comfortable couches of our living room and hold a family council. As the matriarch, I help my own children with their reports and assignments. I am also encouraged to see them taking notes, giving reports, sharing testimony, and joining in counsel together. In fact, last Sunday when my preschool daughter conducted our family song I almost had visions of myself standing up front with my four-year-old smile. During family council we enjoy time talking together and making plans. We’ve counseled together as a family regarding our mealtime schedule, our upcoming trips, our family garden, speaking more kindly to one another, and other pressing matters.
Most recently, my ten-year-old son planned a family activity to “clean up the gutters in our neighborhood.” I didn’t know the gutters were dirty, but at his direction we dutifully went out one night after school with shovels and a wheelbarrow and spent an hour clearing away muck and brush. In his book, and in my book, that family activity–planned during family council under his direction–was a win.
Family councils certainly don’t mean “perfection.” Some meetings the kids are tired, we are cranky, and it doesn’t feel like we cover much ground. Conversations are rocky or no one wants to participate. However, just like life, we persist in gathering together, learning together, and counseling together. And looking back we can see progress, slow but steady, in our family relationships.
But I must admit that my favorite part of our meetings is when we gather together comfortably on our couches and living room carpet and share our testimonies. From the youngest to the oldest I’ve heard words of wisdom from my children that have touched my heart, healed burdens, and given me strength. When my high school son recently shared testimony about his preparation to serve a mission I watched the intent, listening eyes of his younger siblings and knew their hearts were changed. The family is indeed a source of power in today’s society.
And when my teenager left the house as we ended our family council to attend her own church leadership meeting, I was pleased to see that she took a notebook and pencil and was ready to be an active counseling participant.
Elder M. Russell Ballard provided the following insight about family councils during the April 2016 General Conference:
Now, brothers and sisters, there was a time when the walls of our homes provided all the defense we needed against outside intrusions and influences. We locked the doors, closed the windows; we shut the gates; and we felt safe, secure, and protected in our own little refuge from the outside world. Those days are now gone. The physical walls, doors, fences, and gates of our homes cannot prevent unseen invasion from the Internet, the Wi-Fi, the mobile phones, the networks. They can penetrate our homes with just a few clicks and keystrokes.
Fortunately, the Lord has provided a way to counter the invasion of negative technology that can distract us from spending quality time with each other. He has done this by providing the council system to strengthen, protect, safeguard, and nurture our most precious relationships. A family council that is patterned after the councils in heaven, filled with Christlike love, and guided by the Lord’s Spirit will help us to protect our family from distractions that can steal our precious time together and protect us from the evils of the world.
Yes, all I really need to know I learned in Family Council. Thanks, Mom and Dad.
Looking for even more family council ideas? Watch my YouTube video: