I was hunting through boots on clearance a few months ago, trying to think of what needed replacing and which sizes would fit the children. And then I realized with a shock that the answer was ALL OF THEM. Every size. If it wouldn’t fit one child it would fit another, and if we already had one there was a very good chance it would be worn out and need replacing soon anyway. I stood there for a minute, feeling strange. How did this happen to me? I thought, with both astonishment and gratitude.
There are nine of us now, altogether—ten if you count the bunny. When we go somewhere, we’re like a parade. And so I sometimes tell the children, as we prepare to unleash ourselves upon the public, that now is our chance to be ambassadors for families. Some people have never seen a family as big as ours, I tell them. But they can’t help but notice us. If they see us fighting, and annoying each other, and me looking exhausted trying to deal with it all, it will reinforce all the bad things they have been taught by a selfish culture: that family life is thankless and chaotic and full of despair. But if they see us looking happy, and caring for each other, and being helpful, it’s possible they’ll think: “That looks nice. That looks like a happy place to be.“
It’s not that I want us to pretend to be happy. We ARE happy. I just want us to let that happiness show. When someone comments on how I have my hands full and I’m torn between saying “It’s crazy!” and “It’s wonderful!”—because both are true—well, why not emphasize the good one? We who have the gospel of Jesus Christ know that family is not a detour we take on the way to getting on with “real life.” Family IS real life—and not just mortal life, but eternal life. Family is the reason we do everything else we do. Family is the vehicle through which we learn and grow individually, so that we can ultimately rejoin our Heavenly Parents and be like Them. And so I can’t help but feel that we of ALL people, when we’re out and about with our families of every size, ought to be walking testimonials for how wonderful Family can be.
I didn’t always feel this strongly about it. But a couple years ago, when I was pondering what our family should study next for our Homeschool devotionals, I felt that we should memorize “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” My husband had memorized it on his mission. I hesitated, though: it seemed so very daunting! Memorizing such a long document would be hard enough, but if we were going to do it, I wanted to learn it in a way that would be lasting—more than just cramming it all into our heads and then forgetting it. And even more important, I wanted the children to understand what they were saying. Was that possible??
We had just finished studying and memorizing the Articles of Faith, and we had used the songs in the Primary book to do so. I loved how the music seemed to make the words stick in our heads—when we forgot a part, we could hum the tune and it would help us remember! So I began to think of finding songs for the Proclamation. And when I couldn’t find any, I decided I would have to write some myself. (You can read more about that, and find music for the songs, here.)
I hoped that singing the Proclamation would help plant it in our heads. But to plant it in our hearts, I knew we’d have to study the words carefully, and that meant introducing lots of new concepts. I started by spending several days making a big list of questions—everything that came to mind as I read the Proclamation. I looked up General Conference talks on some of those subjects—body image, mental health, procreation, premortal life, and so on. Without exception, once I started thinking about a subject, I realized how helpful and relevant at least a basic discussion of it would be for combatting the skewed perspectives of the world.
Many things on my list of questions were concepts I might never have thought of teaching our kids about until later. Sexual orientation, gender roles, gay marriage, divorce, suicide, unemployment, infidelity, out-of-wedlock birth, abortion, abuse, euthanasia. But I realized that even these “mature” subjects had touched our family and would continue to do so. My kids are still young, but I felt prompted that we should talk about all these things, compassionately and clearly and matter-of-factly. The Family Proclamation was such a blessing in giving me a reason, and an urgency, to bring up subjects I had previously thought were too advanced for my children! I didn’t always know how to start, but every morning I’d look at the next subject on my list and then just dive in, praying for help—and I was amazed at how deep and satisfying these conversations were, giving me a chance to bear my testimony of truth and to bring up issues that are often difficult even for adults to sort through. The children appreciated being treated seriously, like when I would say, “I don’t know. What reasons can YOU think of why Heavenly Father would do it that way?” We’d spend several days on even a sentence or two sometimes, asking questions and finding scriptures and quotes.
As we learned the words of the Proclamation, I gained a testimony of how beautifully concise, how doctrinally layered, each phrase is. We noticed that the Proclamation said many things that spoke to our spirits, things we inherently sensed were true. But the great thing about living prophets is that they can also tell us things that aren’t intuitive—things which, left to our own devices, we might get totally wrong. We learned just as much, or more, studying these less-obvious doctrines and discovering some of the reasons Heavenly Father revealed them! I trust that they are living truths from God, and as I approached them from this angle, I was led to resources and perspectives that strengthened my own knowledge and testimony along with my children’s. Every time, we were left amazed at God’s wisdom in ordering things the way He has.
It took us about 5 months of study and practice to get through the Proclamation. My three oldest boys, ages 6, 8, and 11 at the time, all memorized the entire thing, and the younger ones learned bits and pieces of the words and songs. There were happy little moments along the way. When a church or conference speaker would quote from the Proclamation, all of the kids would light up, bouncing on their seats and elbowing me and bursting with excitement. “Mommy! She said ‘Children are an heritage of the Lord!'” And I can’t even express how sweet it was to hear some little voice singing cheerily from the other room, “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (It beats “Let it Go.”) I had the words ringing through my own head in the shower; as I went running; as I lay in bed. I repeated them over and over when I found myself getting sleepy in the car. They were companions I was always happy to have with me.
To my surprise, as we worked our way through the Proclamation on the Family, the answer to “Which parts of this will be relevant for OUR family?” turned out to be just as comprehensive as “Which shoe sizes do we need?”—ALL OF THEM. The hard parts, the simple parts, the clear parts, the dense parts. I’m convinced that whatever our families look like—whether we are singles, couples, big families, small families, single parents, adoptive parents, grandparents, whatever—ALL of the Proclamation’s teachings have value for us and ALL of them are inspired. We just need to examine them and learn how they are meant to fit into our lives.
I’m looking forward to doing another in-depth study of the Proclamation in a couple years. My younger children will be able to memorize those beautiful words, and I’m sure the doctrines will take on new meaning as I discuss them with our teenagers. But I’m so grateful I didn’t wait till later to begin, because I can see now that the doctrine of the eternal family was never meant to wait for “eternity.” Those truths can start benefiting us now, today, the minute we want to find more “happiness in family life”—and are willing to trust God about how to achieve it.
Here is a video of Malachi (age 6 at the time) reciting the Family Proclamation. I like watching him in this video because I think he demonstrates a good way for anyone to approach learning from the Proclamation: with commitment, but also with good humor and a willingness to accept imperfection. 🙂
Marilyn always wants to know what other people’s children are named, so here are the names of hers: Abraham Thomas, Sebastian Dane, Malachi Norris, Daisy Aurora, Juniper Lark, Marigold Eve, and Theodore August. She loves homeschooling, running, writing, eating, and playing the piano. She is happiest when collaborating with her brilliant husband Sam on all kinds of interesting projects, not least of which are those seven aforementioned little people. Marilyn keeps two blogs about their homeschool and family life.
Be sure to visit We Talk of Christ and A Thing Called Love for more articles celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Family Proclamation! Don’t forget one easy way to share your testimony of the Proclamation and join the celebration is to share your photos on social media using the hashtag #ILovetheFamilyProclamation and explain why.