For at least 25 years, I’ve had a passion (if that’s the right word) for FAMILY COUNCILS. I’ve felt like it might be one of the most effective and yet least-used tools for helping families (no matter what they are like or their size or where they live) to be stronger, safer, happier, and closer to each other and to Heaven. When Elder Ballard began speaking in General Conference this week-end, I actually cheered! I’ve been so influenced by other talks he’s given about councils. Since listening to his talk I’ve decided to post some ideas which I’ve had. Most of them came during the time I was teaching a lesson to missionaries at the MTC about family councils. I was SO impressed with those who told of their family holding regular councils, and how that made them feel – what they learned. I’m praying that these ideas will be helpful and meaningful. I don’t have time to do any “editing” or changing… I have to get to the airport pretty soon. But see if you can find some things which will help you as you decide to (or continue to) hold regular family councils.
THE BLESSING OF FAMILY COUNCILS. It is my feeling that this is an incredible tool which is not used nearly enough. I’ve chosen to begin with a verse from The Book of Mormon, substituting the word FAMILY for the word CHURCH. MORONI 6:5 — “And the [family] did meet together oft … to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.” This topic is not just for families where there are parents and children living at home. It is my hope that we can all learn some principles and ideas which will make a difference for us, no matter what our circumstance. There are many references I have found particularly helpful: One is the Ensign for June 1985 — it is filled with wonderful articles for parents. Another is the Ensign for February1985 — “Working Together in Family Councils.” Elder M. Russell Ballard, Counseling with Our Councils: Learning to Minister Together in the Church and in the Family. There’s an excellent article in the June 2003 Ensign with an interview of Elder and Sister Ballard about family councils.
I also encourage you to TALK WITH OTHERS about what they’re doing with family council — SHARE IDEAS! It’s “catching!” From your own experience, you’ve got ideas that are just as good as anyone else’s. (I continue to look for ideas, so send me some ideas; I’m especially looking for specific experiences — ways to illustrate the ideas and principles).
I suppose the FIRST family council we know anything about is the one which was held when Heavenly Father’s Plan of Happiness was presented to us. It must have been a wonderful council, because it’s reported that the sons of God shouted for joy. From the book of JOB (38:4,7) “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. ¼ When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” WOW!
ELDER DALLIN H. OAKS – We may truly say that the gospel plan originated in the council of an eternal family, it is implemented through our earthly families, and has its destiny in our eternal families. Small wonder The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints is known as a family‑centered church.(Dallin H. Oaks, “Parental Leadership in the Family,” Ensign, June 1985, 7)
ELDER M. RUSSELL BALLARD – There has never been a time when the world was in greater need of the strength and security that are best sown and cultivated in the deep, fertile soil of family love. The family is under heavy attack from antagonists bent on extinguishing this powerful source of light in a darkening world. Successful families have a wide assortment of tools, and one of the most useful tools is the family council. (M. Russell Ballard and Barbara Ballard, “Family Councils: A Conversation with Elder and Sister Ballard,” Ensign, June 2003)
HOW IS A FAMILY COUNCIL DIFFERENT FROM FAMILY HOME EVENING? When we gather to learn the gospel and have [activities] together, we call it family home evening. When we gather to discuss, make decisions, and plan, we call it family council. (When Thou Art Converted, Strengthen Thy Brethren, Melchizedek Priesthood study guide, 1974–75, p. 167.) President Spencer W. Kimball: Concerning the governing of our families, we have been correctly taught that the family council is the most basic council of the Church…. Children participate in family council…. The Brethren have stated that “an atmosphere of listening, honest communication, and respect for the opinions and feelings of others is vital to the success of these meetings.” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.343)
Elder M. Russell Ballard: No longer can any ONE leader … or for that matter, any parent … attempt to provide what is so desperately needed in the lives of our families and Church members. If we are to succeed in leading our Heavenly Father’s children toward eternal life, we must counsel together and help each other. (M. Russell Ballard, Counseling with Our Councils: Learning to Minister Together in the Church and in the Family [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], .) I’ve included one reference from 1969 to show that the idea of family council isn’t new: Elder Mark E. Petersen: The Church has always advised family council meetings as well as home evenings, when family matters may be discussed plainly and frankly, but in a spirit of love and cooperation. (The Way to Peace, p.252 ‑ p.253 – 1969 – Bookcraft)
WHAT IS A FAMILY COUNCIL? Without being misunderstood, I want to say that a family council is a formal family meeting. In using the word “formal” I certainly don’t want to imply “stuffy” or “boring” or “unpleasant.” One of the best descriptions comes from a little booklet called “Family Guidebook”
Parents may want to call family members together in family council meetings. Families can use these meetings to set family goals, resolve family problems, discuss finances, make plans, support and strengthen each other, and pray for each other. A council can be held whenever a need exists. Families may want to hold a meeting each Sunday or in connection with family home evening. Respect for the opinions and feelings of others is vital to the success of these meetings. (Family Guidebook, booklet, p. 7) Those who hold regular family council meetings say they couldn’t get along without them.
ELDER M. RUSSELL BALLARD – It is a time to share one another’s burdens and joys and counsel together, to keep each family member on the right track spiritually. It is the time when we discuss family matters, much as a bishop or branch president does with his ward or branch leaders…. Whenever there are two or more members of a family together and a discussion is going on, that is a council! Family councils can be held in one-on-one talks between a parent and a child or among parents and several children. When a husband and wife talk to each other, they are holding a family council… You don’t have to have everyone sitting together in order to have a family council.... A council is when parents let their children help solve the problem. And when everyone agrees to a solution, everyone will have ownership of the problem…. …if parents will establish a climate conducive to openness, where every person is important and every opinion is valued, they can create a kind of spiritual synergism in the home, where the combined action or cooperation that results is greater than the sum of the individual parts. (M. Russell Ballard and Barbara Ballard, “Family Councils: A Conversation with Elder and Sister Ballard,” Ensign, June 2003)
SOME GENERAL COMMENTS ABOUT FAMILY COUNCIL – The difference between COUNCIL and COUNSEL: • COUNCIL – An assembly called together for any purpose; an assembly or meeting for consultation or advice. • COUNSEL – Take counsel with others; deliberate; give or offer advice; recommend. ALMA 37:37 (Alma’s counsel to his son Helaman) “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good….” (An important way to look at the blessing of PRAYER)
Elder Dallin H. Oaks – The stresses and problems of modern living pose great problems for parents. These are suggested by the bittersweet definition of a family as “a group of people who have keys to the same house.” One of the great influences that unified families in prior times was the experience of struggling together in pursuit of a common goal — such as taming the wilderness or establishing a business. This principle is so important that one commentator suggested, “If the family lacks a common crisis, hire a wolf to howl at the door.” (Time, Dec. 15, 1967, p. 31.) Most parents have enough crises without hiring any more. But they may need to identify them and organize their families in unified efforts to resolve them. (“Parental Leadership in the Family,” Ensign, June 1985, 7, 9)
Family council is a way to ANTICIPATE — to look ahead and prevent (or at least minimize) some of the problems which might come from a lack of planning (or thinking ahead). Parents need to counsel together ahead of time so that they come to the family council united. They can decide which matters will be NEGOTIABLE — which matters will come up for a FAMILY VOTE. To negotiate is to confer together for the purpose of arranging some matter by mutual agreement.
THE PARENTS WHO LET THE CHILDREN HELP NAME THE BABIES: (I’ve wondered what it was like to go through life as Spot, Fido, Lassie, or Big Duke) THE ELDER WHOSE FATHER WAS OFFERED A PROMOTION: The parents decided to make this a council decision (rather than just deciding and “announcing” they were going to move. The family voted not to move, and because the parents had made it “negotiable,” the family didn’t move!
The council should be held often enough to meet the needs of the family. Most whom I talked to felt that SUNDAY was the best day to meet. Others said it worked to hold family council right before family home evening, although as the children grew older and there was more to discuss and decide, it seemed better to separate the two activities so neither got “lost.”
WHAT ARE SOME STRATEGIES WHICH CAN HELP FAMILIES HOLD EFFECTIVE COUNCILS? The family needs to decide when, where, WHY and how often to hold family council.
GROUND RULES: The family needs to set some “ground rules” for how to proceed. A friend says that the TWO RULES for their family council are: Everyone has a chance to speak, and everyone is respected. Make sure participation is VOLUNTARY. Respect for each individual’s AGENCY is critical in counseling together.
PRAYER – Through prayer, the family should invite the Spirit to be present. AGENDA – It’s helpful to have an AGENDA, so everyone can keep track of what’s going on (or an easel or white board or some other way of having topics written for everyone to see.) The family DISCUSSES and DECIDES: What will our family council agenda consist of? What are the “standing items?” (Hymn, prayer, minutes, calendar and so on). An AGENDA can help the family choose which items to FOCUS on. ALL family members should be able to suggest agenda items. Perhaps there could be a place designated in the home where suggestions could be written and collected. RECORD: (MINUTES or NOTES) It may help to have someone take notes on the discussions, decisions, activities, assignments and plans so that there is a record. It can become part of the family’s history.
Some families actually hand them out and ask for additions/corrections. PLANNING AND KEEPING A CALENDAR: A family council is an ideal time to schedule and correlate individual and family activities. A calendar can help keep track of all events and avoid conflicts. As family members list coming activities, the events are recorded on the MASTER FAMILY CALENDAR. Have squares on the calendar large enough to record appointments, activities, events, birthdays, and other special family occasions. It’s helpful to have a central place for this calendar (as well as a place to leave NOTES for each other). DECISIONS AND VOTING: All family members need to be involved in discussions and decisions. After each family member has expressed opinions or feelings, it’s time to vote. The family needs to decide how VOTING should take place. They need to decide whether voting should be UNANIMOUS, or whether a simple MAJORITY is sufficient. Some families say they have “secret ballots” when issues are sensitive.
One family had a proposal come up from their teenagers to change their curfew from 10:00 to 10:30 pm. There was a chance for anyone who wished to comment to do so, and then a vote was taken. The proposal passed unanimously. The curfew in that family for the teens is now 10:30 pm.
There may be issues on which the family CANNOT AGREE. Parents can suggest that each family member take more time (if there is no urgency to the decision) to further consider an issue and pray about it. If the family still can’t agree, the parents, with their wisdom, inspiration and experience, may need to make the final decision. As they carefully consider all the input from all family members, children can hopefully see that their input is valued.
A family council is not the place to solve every single family problem. There may be matters that parents should decide even without family discussion. And there are things about which a vote would be inappropriate, such as “Can we drop some of the 10 Commandments?”
INCLUSION: Make sure each family member feels included and important, respected and appreciated. There may be times when ASSIGNMENTS would be appropriate for REPORTS at the next family council. Sometimes it’s easier to participate when you have a chance to think ahead of time about what you want to say.
QUESTIONS which may help to get discussions started: Is there anything you can think of which can make things better here at home? What are some things we’re doing well? What are some ways in which we’ve improved? What would you like our family to do to help bring us closer together?
It may take some experience before all family members learn to respect each others’ opinions. Let’s say a younger child in a family suggests going to LEGGO LAND for the family vacation. The older children need to learn not to say things like “That’s a stupid idea!” Opening up things for a vote may mean some family members end up doing things that may not have been their first choice.
THE FAMILY VACATION: I remember a missionary telling me that his parents had made the annual vacation a matter on which the family voted. The parents were always “voted down” by the children. But as the children grew older, they realized what was happening, and conspired together to vote for whatever the parents suggested. FUNNY! A great idea!
Allowing everyone to give input before deciding on an issue will help family members become more courteous and help them see that there is more than one way of looking at things.
CONFIDENTIALITY: Some matters discussed in family council may be confidential. Family members need to know that these items are confidential and should not be discussed outside the family. When this rule is strictly observed, feelings of loyalty and unity within the family increase.
EXTENDED AND BLENDED FAMILIES: Adjustments and accommodations are needed depending on who’s living at home (grandparents, for example). My MOTHER lived with one of my brothers for the last 7 years of her life and was not just part of the home – she was part of the family. Include information and plans about family members who may be away from home (mission, school, etc). Include information and ideas about keeping in touch with and helping extended family members. Family council can help blended families to become closer and bring a sense of belonging and unity.
MINI COUNCIL: Each day, perhaps at breakfast [what’s that??] or just before family prayer or scripture study, the family can hold a mini family council to make sure everyone knows what’s happening that day and to see if plans have changed. This is a time to make needed adjustments, and to make sure everyone knows about them.
THINGS WHICH CAN BE INCLUDED IN THE FAMILY COUNCIL: Determine the family SCHEDULE for family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, meal time, and service. Discuss and determine family VALUES (for example, the family could discuss together how to keep the Sabbath Day holy, or how to more effectively live the Law of the Fast). Work and counsel together to make important family decisions. Develop family/home rules and procedures, and decide on the consequences for ignoring or breaking the rules. How can we have a more orderly home? How much television should we watch; which programs? How can we make sure that things such as cell phones, iPads, computers don’t become more important than (and/or interruptive to) important family activities? What can we do as a family to eliminate quarreling? How can we divide up the work so everybody feels good about it? Discuss family challenges and options for solutions, resolve differences. Go over plans and goals for the family — What are our priorities? Some families develop a MOTTO or even a MISSION STATEMENT. Have a discussion and decision about DEDICATING THE HOME. When and what should our regular family activities be? Plan activities such as dates and private interviews. Recognize successes and achievements of family members as well as upcoming opportunities for attendance at games, concerts, and other activities. Help all to understand the family budget. (“Monopoly money” – A way to show children how the family income is spent – what it means to have a budget – this has proven to be successful in many families to help the children know why there are some things the family can’t afford, and to teach them to work for things they’d like to have). Would it make a difference in your family if you were to help each member understand what our DONATION SLIP represents? Do they pay their TITHING and understand WHY? Do all family members join together in living THE LAW OF THE FAST? How about donations to the MISSIONARY FUND and for sharing THE BOOK OF MORMON? To the building of TEMPLES, HUMANITARIAN AID, and the PERPETUAL EDUCATION FUND? And other donations. Discuss how to share the work and responsibilities in the home (I’ve always loved the word CHORES) Beverly Neuer Feldman notes that “when you let children accomplish small chores, you provide pure, unadulterated ego gratification: they feel capable and essential to the well‑being of your family.” As they grow older, they gradually develop the self‑discipline to complete “not‑so‑fun” jobs. This self‑discipline also aids them as they work outside the home and as they manage their own finances. (See “Raising Money‑Wise Kids,” Reader’s Digest, Nov. 1991, pp. 147–50.) Establish family TRADITIONS. Karen Ashton said they established a tradition in their family of “Tuck-in Time” where they spent some time with each child as they got ready to go to sleep. It was a wonderful chance to talk with and listen to each one. By the way — off the topic of traditions just a little bit — Karen told of a little son just learning to write his name: Spencer. One day she went in his bedroom, and there in crayon on the wall was “Spencer.” She asked him about it and he said “How did you know it was me?” She said “Because your name is Spencer.” On another day she went in the room and saw on the wall, in crayon, “Bat Man.” Funny! (And clever!)
Consider traditions for CHRISTMAS, other HOLIDAYS, BIRTHDAYS, ANNIVERSARIES. Give encouragement and help to one another. Share expressions of praise and gratitude. Consider spiritual, temporal, emotional, social and economic needs. The family can discuss ways in which counsel from the PROPHET and other Church leaders will be followed — implemented. What a wonderful way to help family members realize the importance not just of hearing or reading, but also of DOING.
ONE FAMILY’S EXAMPLE – A Father and Mother and 6 children: Each Fast Sunday – Go over goals – Goals for each of the kids. We decide them at the beginning of each year. 4 areas: Physical, Emotional, Social, Spiritual (Jesus grew….) What are we going to do this month to work on our goals? Eat healthier — Something fresh at each meal. Be nicer by not raising our voices. One reminder, then a consequence. Work together – Family work projects on Saturdays. Kids have jobs during the week. Physical activity as a family once a week: Bike, soccer, hike, camping out. Learning activity once a month – ie, cultural – Dinosaur museum. We learn something new – Japanese night – Fix food. Invite a new family over for dinner once a month. Calendar for the month. Ask each one “Is there anything we need to discuss?” PPI – Both of us – Begin and end with prayer. Express love and appreciation. Ask if there’s anything they (as parents) can do better
ANOTHER FAMILY’S EXAMPLE – A Father and Mother with 4 children: Once a week with family home evening. Father gives each of the kids a chance for input – They love to give input! Schedule for the coming week. Going to school, to the library, playing soccer. It’s hard when one’s not in the mood. They can be valuable and fun. PPI: One-on-one or both parents with one (One will tend the other 3). This is where they’re very honest and open.
ANOTHER FAMILY’S EXAMPLE” A Father and Mother and 6 children – Special family meeting after “9-11” – When Grandpa died – When Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped. We have voted on family vacations or big money items. With counsel from President Hinckley: Worked on home storage. Let’s take this year to work on it – How would you feel if instead of a big family vacation we spent money on our food storage (They voted yes!) Father and Mother have a “companion inventory” each night before going to bed.
A SINGLE MOTHER WITH 13 CHILDREN! All I can say is I was always so impressed with the way she had everything organized, and how much love and attention she gave to each of the 13. Eventually she met a wonderful man whose wife had passed away, and he ALSO had 13 children – So they now have 26 CHILDREN and more grandchildren than they’re able to count.
ANOTHER FAMILY’S EXAMPLE – A Father and Mother with 4 boys: Every Sunday: Family meeting – It’s not formal. More harmony in the home – Calendaring ahead. “I’m going on a field trip next week.” Discuss problems – Work towards solutions. If anyone’s upset with anyone else, it can be brought up and worked out. “What’s the problem?” – We’ll brainstorm. We vote all the time – Like vacations, expenditures. Especially things we’re going to do as a family. Rules and consequences. Proposal: New way of doing chores. We used to keep the chore for a month – That got BORING. Had a vote on change that: Now we have a chore for a week. Then we re-configured how the chores are grouped together “I’ve got two heavy chores” – “I’m doing chores all day.” The CHORE CHART reflects our discussions and decisions. “How come Mom and Dad aren’t on the CHORE CHART?” Mom does the laundry – Fixes meals – Dad does the watering. Planning for birthdays – How to celebrate.
Obviously, many people are having family council it but they don’t do it “formally.”
BOTH SIDES OF THE VEIL: A friend’s brother had a dream about a family council; didn’t recognize one member of the group — he finally realized it was his Dad (who passed away a couple of years earlier), young again! They were discussing a brother (absent) who was having trouble, and his Dad assured him that this brother knew what was right. It was a comfort to the family. The family had been counseling together a LOT about this one brother.
As our parents got older, the 8 of us children (I’m 2nd of 8) would gather with them for a family council to make sure we were responding to their various needs. One of my assignments was to help Mom and Dad plan their funerals. When our Father died, we continued councils with our Mother. And since she passed away we continue to have occasional family councils.
SEEKING FIRST the KINGDOM of GOD and HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS: A final purpose of family councils is to further the work of the gospel within the family unit — to live the gospel in the home.
President Spencer W. Kimball: Church programs strengthen individuals and families. Our success, individually and as a church, will largely be determined by how faithfully we focus on living the gospel in the home…. priesthood quorums and auxiliary organizations, even wards and stakes, exist primarily to help members live the gospel in the home…. People are more important than programs, and… Church programs should always support and never detract from gospel-centered family activities. (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball, p.435) The family council can be an opportunity to discuss and make plans for FAMILY HISTORY work, trips to a TEMPLE as a family, personal and family JOURNALS and HISTORIES. The family can work together on PREPAREDNESS and PROVIDENT LIVING, including education, food storage, family finances, and well-being. The family can make specific plans and fast and pray together about FELLOWSHIPPING and MISSIONARY opportunities, including preparing for missions. There are probably times when it would help to have the family discuss ways in which they can support each other in Church CALLINGS.
Perhaps councils can be arranged around the six areas listed in Providing in the Lord’s Way. A family newsletter can be a form of a family council. Don’t stop just because you’ve left home (or moved). Have a council on a conference call or in a chat room or by something like Skype, FaceTime, Facebook, Blog, etc.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BLESSINGS AND BENEFITS OF FAMILY COUNCILS? A deeper sense of belonging, involvement, and responsibilities. Stronger bonds of unity and love. An atmosphere of respect, understanding, and appreciation. Increased skills in many areas. Increased sensitivity to the needs and feelings of others. Ability to set and reach goals, evaluate progress, work through differences, solve problems. Family members are more committed to family plans and goals because they have helped to formulate them. And all family members grow in spirituality, unity, solidarity, and love for one another. As the children see parental commitment to holding family councils, involving them in family decisions and plans, and recognizing their achievements, they will begin to feel a sense of belonging and unity.
I know our Heavenly Father will bless our sincere, diligent efforts to call our family members together for the purpose of creating an honest and loving environment. The magnitude of our responsibilities as parents is shared by President Spencer W. Kimball: The time will come when only those who believe deeply and actively in the family will be able to preserve their families in the midst of the gathering evil around us. (Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 4.) I am convinced the FAMILY COUNCIL can be a wonderful tool to bring and keep our families together, headed in the right direction, staying close to each other in “all kinds of weather….”