Lessons in Eternal Families

My sister recently sent me this very excellent and rather introspective text:

As a teen boy what was the most helpful thing you were told to prepare you for eternal marriage?

This has made me think a bit about the various lessons that I still remember from my own aaronic priesthood days… honestly, I don’t remember very many, although there are some that still stick in my mind.

But what I keep coming back to is that for me, the thing that prepared me the most for eternal marriage (and family) is the family culture that my parents raised me and my siblings in. Two things in particular stand out to me:

  1. We worked hard together as a family.
  2. We played and vacationed together as a family.

Working Hard

Growing up, we worked hard. Yes, I know everyone says that. However, while I don’t think we were worked to the bone, I think I can say that with a fair amount of honesty. I’ll list a few examples, and you can be the judge:

  • Cleaning up the acre lot that we moved into, which included several large piles of brick, some old cars, and lots and lots of pig bones. Fortunately we had some neighbor help with this one.
  • Re-digging the various irrigation ditches for the yard, putting in a very large garden (at one point it covered a full quarter of our yard).
  • Working in that yard and that garden, seemingly all the time. One time I remember thinking, “How can we possibly still be weeding out here? It’s well after dark, and I can’t even see the weeds anymore!”
  • Spring Cleaning. My mom was really big into this. It was typically at least a week of intense deep cleaning; scrubbing walls and baseboards, shampooing carpets, washing drapes, cleaning out cupboards, etc.
  • Newspapers. No, this is not the traditional paper route (although it started that way). We delivered between 800 and 1000 newspapers twice each week through most of my teenage years.
  • Family projects. There was always some project or other going on, whether it was re-finishing the cupboards, putting in a new kitchen floor (and discovering that the existing floor was nowhere near to level–about 1.5 inches difference in some places), putting in a swimming pool, finishing the basement, etc.

We worked. We worked hard. We worked as a family. We worked until the project was done right (there’s definitely a streak of perfectionism in my parents). Seeing how difficult it is to get my own kids to participate–to have something even close to the skill to participate, I am impressed at the effort my parents went through to have us all involved in these projects as much as possible. When we finished the basement, we were all down there working on it. When we were weeding the garden or doing newspapers, everyone was involved. Everyone had a task to perform.

Playing Together

My parents were pretty good at making sure we had a good family vacation every year. Some of my favorite trips were the family reunions in Yosemite and the trips down to San Diego (we loved the Wild Animal Park there). We regularly visited my mother’s small home town (where strangers recognized us every time).

We camped and hiked all the time. We had a tradition of hiking Mt. Timpanogos each year–my first time hiking it I was eight years old. And terrified. And thrilled. Dad held my hand the entire way (He was under strict instructions to do so).

We also began a habit of reading books together on our trips and campouts. Dad would read books from Watership Down to Winnie-the-Pooh to Riddle-Master of Hed.

And I have already begun to pass on the gloriously violent traditions of pig-sticks and pool-pomp.

But it wasn’t just the big family events, either. There were game nights and sledding trips and snowball fights and soccer games. We played together all the time. It’s not like we didn’t have our own sets of friends and do stuff with them. But it is the case that I am friends with my siblings and grew up playing with them as well.

 

Now, I’ve painted a very rosy picture. But we had the standard set of bumps that any family has. There were the family fights and “He’s such a jerk” and “She’s such an idiot.” There were debates and sides, and “I’m not talking to them.” There were the irreconcilable differences that kind of seemed to become less important over time.

And there were lots of years where the garden was a mass of weeds, and the lawn was knee high, and the laundry piled higher than my head (luckily I was short).

But my amazing parents kept at it. They kept trying, they kept doing. They kept packing that tent even when it came out that Dad really doesn’t care for camping and Mom is not a hiker.

We learned how to work. How to really work, rain or shine. Incidentally, the insane paper routes that we did as a family financed missionaries and family trips.

We learned to enjoy each other’s company. To look forward to seeing each other.

And my parents are still at it. They still arrange reunions–real reunions with real fun that everyone genuinely looks forward to. They visit their children as much as they can, and continue to do things with us (guess what? since many in my family have taken up running, my Dad has done several half-marathons–I believe each one with one or more of us kids). And my mom has to be just this side of death’s door before she’ll admit that she’s just not up for company right now…

I can’t think of a single piece of information, or nugget of truth that my parents told me that prepared me for eternal marriage and family, although I know there were plenty of discussions and lessons on that topic. But I have grown up in an environment where family is the great treasure, and well worth all the sweat and tears that are required. I’ve seen it and lived it, and I want that for my own family.