What does a Mormon family look like? How do they live their lives? How are their lives different or the same as other families? How are Mormon women treated? What kinds of lives do the children live? Let’s take a look inside the homes of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (This is the actual name for the church Mormons belong to. Mormon is a nickname sometimes applied to members of that church.)
First of all, you do know real Mormons don’t practice polygamy today, right? That was discontinued more than 100 years ago, so the message should be out there by now. If you’ve seen polygamists on television who call themselves Mormons, you should be aware they belong to a religion that formed when its founders were removed from the mainstream church long, long ago. Few, if any, of today’s members of the FLDS or other polygamy groups, ever belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormons have no control over them or how they behave and their beliefs do not line up with the beliefs of the mainstream church. They are completely independent and receive no funding or support from us. If a real Mormon decides to practice polygamy, he is excommunicated.
So, the first thing we know about real Mormon families is that there is one husband and one wife and often there are children. Of course, there are some single and divorced parents, but there are far fewer of those than in the general public. While divorce is considered acceptable under certain circumstances, such as abuse, neglect, or infidelity, and some do divorce for other reasons, in general, Mormons are more likely to marry and stay married than are people in the general public. If they marry in a Mormon temple, they have even lower divorce rates, which is one reason temple marriages are highly encouraged.
While every Mormon family isn’t organized in the ideal form, and no Mormon is perfect, let’s take a look at the ideal Mormon family. A church’s standards are measured by what it teaches its members to do. Reaching that standard is the goal a member will work towards throughout life, but the ideal tells us what the religion stands for.
Teaching Religion in the Home
Mormons believe that home is the primary place for religion to be taught, with the church serving as a support to the family. For this reason, the church asks its members to do a great many things each day or week to bring religion home. It allows the parents to share beliefs with each other and with their children and to structure the learning to the specific needs of each family member.
Mormon days begin and end with prayer, and of course, also include blessings on the food. Mormons are encouraged to have a private prayer at least twice a day—not a recited prayer, but a personal conversation with God. Then, if they are married, they are taught to pray with their spouse as well. If they have children, they have a family prayer in addition. By the time a Mormon leaves the house in the morning, he will have talked to God three times if he is married with children. By praying as a family, they teach their children the importance of prayer. By praying as a couple, they start their day with a shared goal of spiritual living.
Then there is scripture study. Each Mormon is asked to study the scriptures at least once a day on his own, and also as a family. Some spouses also have their own scripture study as a couple.
There is one other way Mormons study the gospel at home, and it’s a special and unique program. Happily, other religions have begun to adopt this tradition under their own names.
Family Home Evening
Once a week, Mormons close the doors of their home to outsiders and spend an evening with just their own family. They call this family home evening, and it’s usually held on Monday nights. (Don’t call your Mormon neighbor that night.)
It’s run just like a church meeting, but it happens at home and it ends with games. Most families rotate assignments, with little children partnering with a parent or older sibling. This way everyone learns how to do each part. This is educational and also prepares them for future church service and even careers. Jobs might include conducting the meeting, leading the music, preparing and teaching the lesson, accompanying the songs, making refreshments, saying the prayers, and planning the games.
These jobs give you a clue as to the format of the meeting. Many families start after a special dinner, since everyone is already together. They gather in their favorite room and the meeting is conducted by a member of the family, who announces the agenda and who will do each part of the meeting. They have an opening song led by someone in the family and then a prayer given by anyone old enough to talk. (Little children get help.) Following that, some families have a family meeting to handle any business they need to deal with.
Next, there is a brief lesson on any subject the family chooses. Normally it is a gospel topic or something practical the family is trying to work on. For instance, one week the lesson might be about improving scripture reading. The next might cover first aid. A third week could be on what we can learn from Noah’s ark, and the fourth might be on how we can help Mom by dividing the work more evenly (with a healthy dose of Mom appreciation included in the lesson).
After the lesson, there is usually a closing song and prayer, followed by refreshments and games. The evening ends with everyone feeling closer and by having the family strengthened through time spent together. (Of course, this is the ideal. In any family, some family nights go better than others. The point is that because they made the effort, the children grow up knowing how very important they are to their parents and how important family is.)
Naturally, the Mormon day isn’t all about religion, even though they are taught to live their religion all day. Mormons go to school. They are free to attend any school—public, private, or homeschool. The Mormons don’t have religious schools in the United States or in most other countries except for colleges. Mormons have careers. They choose their own careers and work in their own communities. They do not live in compounds, as do the polygamist communities. They live in their own communities, wherever in the world they choose to be. They participate in their communities as part of a mandate to be good citizens.
Mormons are taught to do as much charitable work as they have time for, both within and without the church. Some work is done formally, such as the Mormon Helping Hands program, in which Mormons pitch in during community emergencies, and other times their work is informal, such as bringing in a meal when someone is sick. In this way they exemplify the life of Christ.
Mormons are permitted to enjoy leisure activities of their church, as long as they are moral and don’t prevent them from doing the things they should. They are taught to use their free time wisely and meaningfully, as they have just this one life to do all the things mortality asks of them. Many choose to spend their time in hobbies, such as painting or writing. Others will spend it learning new skills, helping others, or enjoying a good book. Children are allowed to play and so, for that matter, are adults.
Ordinary Mormon life is not much different from the lives of others who have high moral values. While they don’t drink, smoke, use drugs, watch immoral movies or participate in other types of behaviors outside the Christian life, they have no trouble filling their time with entertaining or meaningful activities. Throughout it all, their family is the center of their universe. A Christ-centered home defines all other activities.