Though highly conservative, the language of the Proclamation broadens the acceptable limits of the ideal LDS family. Within its parameters is the assumption that sometimes two incomes may be necessary and that creative solutions where partners "help one another" to raise and teach children may be needed. Church teachings formerly urged young people to marry early and not to postpone or limit their families. Birth control was then officially proscribed. Now it is not mentioned. The large LDS families of the past are shrinking along with others in the nation. Families are told to make their own decisions based on Jesus Christ's teachings. These attitudes are socialized into the young people of the Church, and the message is particularly strong at Brigham Young University, where marriage is viewed as important and even essential. The marriage stakes are high. What relationship is good enough to last an eternity? One must fall madly in love with a partner possessing all virtues. Is anyone good enough for the role?
Sometimes there is a happy ending. As one young wife and mother said, "I was always determined to marry in the temple. Growing up in the branch [with thin LDS membership] I saw a lot of part-member families, and I knew that I wanted to be married in the temple to someone who was active in the church. I still feel it would be better not to be married at all than to marry someone who is not active in the church. My life now is what was my dream: living in a nice home, in a suburb with a yard, having children, and having my husband go off to work at a day job."
Not everyone can find the perfect mate, and the difficulties have led to blunting the romantic message. In a talk to BYU students, Bruce R. Chadwick, a sociologist, told listeners to forget the Cinderella syndrome- waiting for the prince. Instead, search for "someone you like, someone that is worthy, someone who inspires you to be a better person." Romance should be played down in favor of rational choice.
In the Utah culture, the average age for a first marriage is twenty-one for women and twenty-three for men, four years younger than the national average. Women in Utah between twenty and twenty-four are 63 percent more likely to be married than others. This is a place where singles feel out of step. To match them up, the Church has activities-dances, athletic events, temple outings, church meetings in place of the usual clubs, bars, and the dating services many other singles resort to. In the face of all the pressure, young Latter-day Saints have to be patient. Though always looking for the perfect mate, they tell themselves that being single isn't the worst trial. One says, "If I can't be happily married then I'll be happily single. . . . I would like to be married, but I'd rather not be married than get married just to get married." The number of nuclear families in the nation is shrinking. The trend in America is toward more unmarried couples, more single parents with their children, and more singles. In the twentyfirst century, fewer than a quarter of the population, 23.5 percent, according to the 2000 census, lived in nuclear groups compared to 45 percent in 1960. The Church's efforts to preserve traditional marital patterns run against broader trends toward more working women, later marriage, longer lives, and fewer children.
The Church emphasizes quality family life. President David O. McKay, quoting J. E. McCulloch, said, "No other success can compensate for failure in the home." Family failure means failing the test of life. President Harold B. Lee said, "The most important of the Lord's work [you] will ever do will be the work you do within the walls of your own homes." The Church prepares manuals to teach communication and problem-solving skills. "Preparation for Celestial Marriage" is a popular BYU class.
This eternal family emphasis influences the way Mormons live and relate. Knowing they were together for the long haul gave one young husband perspective. "Having a concept of being married for time and eternity affects my behavior toward my wife and children. It helps us not get excited over the problems that are trivial in comparison with eternity. It must be unnerving to go about all the arduous tasks of developing a relationship and feeling close to somebody just to know that it's all over once you die."
To strengthen families, the Church encourages a weekly Family Home Evening, an institution in its own right. In support of this activity begun in 1915, wards schedule no Monday night activities. At these meetings, families coordinate their schedules, discuss problems, sing, study the Scriptures, play games, eat, plan service projects, go to a ball game, or anything else to strengthen family bonds. Family members rotate in planning, leading the music, teaching the lesson, and preparing treats. Manuals suggest activities and ways to improve family unity and harmony. Families swear by regular FHE's as a way to improve relationships. Similar programs are springing up in other churches and are occasionally recommended by government agencies.
A regular Family Home Evening in suburban Pittsburgh is typical. The parents are a housewife with many interests and a doctor who serves as a counselor in the bishopric. The five children are four, seven, eight, ten, and twelve. The first evidence of FHE is eight-year-old Nadia's busyness in the kitchen; she is making chocolate chip cookies. At 8 o'clock, the mother begins to play the piano. Although the children are off in various corners cooking, reading, watching television, and playing games, they immediately assemble for this familiar and pleasant ritual. The mother segues into a well-known Primary song, "Love Is Spoken Here." Everyone knows this two-part song and sings it out lustily. Ten-year-old Luke opens with a prayer. The father teaches a lesson about family responsibility, saying that no one is alone in the world. When we do good things do we bring happiness to others? When we do bad things, do we hurt other people?
Then he asks the two visitors for stories from their lives. One says how he used to go on long bicycle rides, and when he would not get home for dinner, his mother was upset and worried. The other told how she had to change the cat's litter box. When she remembered to do it, everyone in the family was pleased. The children's father tells how he fell into the rushing water of a canal when he was young, and how he could not get out without help. The children ask questions about these stories as they eat the cookies.
Then everyone joins in a new game-Cranium Cadoo. Four teams are chosen, and each draws a card that requires acting or making pictures to be guessed by other players. The family members, who play many games, like this one. The meeting, which has taken an hour and a half, ends with a closing prayer and a few tears before bed.
President Hinckley, in 2002, asked families "in the strongest terms possible," to regard their Monday evenings as sacred commitments and urged school officials to curtail Monday night events. His remarks prompted a Salt Lake City backlash. People outside the Church felt that Hinckley, who is generally sensitive to interchurch tensions, had gone too far. Schools should not favor one group.