Let me start out this simple guide by giving some of my background. That seems like a good starting point. I’m going to share with you some of the things I’ve learned over the past 15-plus years of being married. I’ll also go beyond that time in history and share what I’ve learned about what it takes to build a solid family over the 40-plus years I’ve been part of a family. Neither the family I grew up in, nor the family I’m in charge of now have ever been close to perfect. That’s why I titled this the “Beginner’s Guide.”
In reality, we are all beginners. Wherever we are on life’s continuum – whether sons learning to be men, newlyweds, young dads, old dads (I think that’s where I am now), grandpas, and those who are preparing to fade off into history – there is always much more to learn than we currently know. Thank goodness, for those of faith, we understand that there will be many more years to continue working toward perfection after we’ve returned to the dust from which we were taken.
I have been blessed to be the husband of an amazing wife, and the father of six children. I have one daughter and five rowdy boys. We love to travel together. We’ve lived in China and Costa Rica. We’ve traveled together all throughout the United States, some parts of Canada and Mexico, and in a few other places in Latin America. We enjoy doing music, competitive sports, and lots of other fun things. Although it’s fun to get a break from the crowd once in awhile, we generally love being together.
I think that as a family we’d score pretty well if we took one of those sophisticated tests that assess your overall happiness level, although there are too many times in my mind when I’m frustrated and yell at my kids, when I swear for no good reason, when I spend too much time watching college football instead of catching up on my list of house chores, and when I have to tell my wife sorry for doing dumb things.
We’ve been referred to by a neighbor of ours as “the family that walks between the raindrops”, but that just means he doesn’t know us well enough to observe that, like most families and people generally, we endure some significant storms, and that there are lots of moments when we have to ask ourselves, “What in the heck are we doing?” We likely have failed more than we’ve succeeded, but we are certainly in the business of trying…again and again.
In my beginner’s guide to raising a family, I’m going to point out some principles, share some stories, and hopefully provide some advice and context that might help you raise your family.
The Proclamation on the Family
I’m going to start my list of tips for raising a good family by sharing a document that has been read by tens if not hundreds of millions of people throughout the world. It was published by the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or LDS Church, the religion to which I adhere) in 1995, read over the pulpit to a worldwide audience of women by Gordon B. Hinckley, the president of the church. When he read it, President Hinckley stated that the proclamation was for not just the membership of the church, but for the entire world. In his introduction, he stated that the proclamation was issued to “warn and forewarn” the world against leaving “standards, doctrines, and practices relative to the family.” He then read what has become known as “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” I will embed the video below, but I will first summarize some of its key points. Among other important assertions, The Family Proclamation states:
- Gender is an eternal characteristic; boys have always been boys, and girls have always been girls, even before this life began and after it ends.
- Marriage between a man and a woman is critical, even essential for raising a family.
- Sexual relations should only take place between a married man and wife.
- Married men and women are encouraged to have children and to conscientiously teach them to do good.
- Children are entitled to be born to married parents who are faithful to each other.
- Happiness comes from following the teachings of Jesus
- God ultimately holds people accountable for not fulfilling their roles as fathers and mothers.
It doesn’t take long going through that list to get the impression that it may be slightly idealistic. However, the ideals represented in the document are ones that the most successful families, be they members of the LDS Church, other Christians, or people of other religious convictions, strive to uphold.
As I look at my own family and our commitment to living the principles found in that document, I can see clear benefits of both studying that document and living by what it teaches, regardless of what religion you are or how religious you are.
The Challenge of Raising a Family
Raising a solid, functional family may be one of the most difficult things a man can do in this life. It’s more difficult than obtaining a college degree. It’s often harder than setting sports records or achieving lofty business goals. Many times it can compete with those other ambitions. But it’s certainly worthwhile.
I’ve set and achieved educational goals. Before I got old, I sought after athletic achievement in baseball, football, and other sports. I’ve become a serial entrepreneur, and I’ve built and sold successful businesses several times. I’ve even developed somewhat of an amateur music career. All of those things are fulfilling, fun, and give flavor to life, but I would not take any of those things over my role as a husband and father.
The Perfect Family
The concept of a perfect family has changed significantly over the past several decades, especially since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, when the widespread pursuit of pleasure started eroding the traditional Judeo-Christian concept of what constitutes a family.
For those who are still committed to the traditional concept of family, the perfect family consists of a husband, a wife, and some children existing in a household where love rules and contention is overcome by bonds that are strong enough to create a unique unit of relationships that are special. The parents in a perfect family don’t get divorced. They communicate well. They adore each other. Their children are disciplined, grateful, well adjusted, not bratty.
To my knowledge, the perfect family simply doesn’t exist. I have observed families who are certainly closer to perfection than my own, but even those have weaknesses.
So while we fathers from time to time have these moments when we feel like things couldn’t get any better, we understand that we have a lot of work to do.
Here are some things I’ve seen work very well as I’ve led my own family. I hope they’ll work for yours.
What a Husband and Father Should Be
The standard for men in modern society has deteriorated quickly, leading to a time in history when expectations for adult males have settled for simply requesting that we not be too drunk too often, and that we not sexually assault women, although it permits every other sort of debauchery. It’s hard to think of a lower bar than what modern society has set for men. Our roles as providers, leaders, and heroes for our wives and children have given way to indulgence, addiction to selfishness, to pornography. A #MeToo social media hashtag is passed around millions of times daily, underscoring the failures that have surfaced in the collective characters of men in the 21st Century.
Society’s pathetic expectations for men are far too low for a man who wants to raise a decent family. Instead, we have to be better. We often have to separate ourselves from that influence. We’d be better served to turn off the television and disconnect sufficiently from that influence.
To raise a good family, a husband and father can’t get bogged down in what a depraved society has put forward as the model of a man.
Instead, a family man has to be unselfish, giving, patient, a hard worker, worthy of emulation.
The essence of raising a good family is to become, as much as is in your power, a good man.
I remember several years ago when the news broke that Tiger Woods had taken a tire iron to the head from his soon to be ex-wife. She had found out about his sexual exploits, and her response was at least not surprising, if not entirely justified. In the months following the downfall of the world’s best golfer, it was broadcast that Tiger “suffered” from a thing called “sex addiction,” which apparently made it impossible for him to be faithful to his wife. His so-called affliction sounded concocted to me. The idea that a man cannot having control of his sexual urges came from fraudulent studies like those of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Kinsley, and have been blithely accepted by and built upon by those who have come after them, until we have created a situation where our moral agency has given way to impulses and pleasure seeking. That mentality does the opposite of helping men be capable of raising functional families. When a generation of men have been conditioned to believe that they shouldn’t, in fact they can’t, control their sexual appetites, it is impossible for them to be good husbands, good fathers. Their mistakes not only destroy themselves, but they affect heavily the next generation and beyond.
The best advice a guy could take to prepare himself to get married or to reinforce his current marriage is this: discipline your sexual habits. In my religion, similar to many other Christian religions, we are strict about observing a chastity law that prohibits any sexual relationships before marriage, and that restricts sexual interactions to only the person to whom you are married. No exceptions.
Statistics and experience show that without this kind of discipline over natural instincts, there cannot be successful marriages, which also means there cannot be functioning families.
Another form of discipline seems to always come in a close second to the important quality of being chaste. The habits you develop with regard to finances can either make or break your marriage. Data relating to causes of divorce shows a high financial correlation between lack of financial discipline and divorce rates. The less financially responsible you are, the more likely your marriage is not going to last.
The takeaway: learn to be a solid earner and get on the path to financial discipline. If you need help making your way toward a financially disciplined lifestyle, I recommend the Dave Ramsey Baby Steps approach to personal and family finances.
Marry the Right Woman
I’m not a person who believes in the idea of a Utopian soul mate. For many reasons, I don’t believe that any man has been matched up by the universe with one particular person they are destined to meet and to whom they must be married to avoid living a life that always falls short of the ideal. Based on my strong belief that we all have been given our respective abilities to choose, it would be impossible to think that the one true love theory could have merit.
However, I do think that it is a highly appropriate decision for any man who’s in the market for finding and courting a potential marriage partner to focus his attention on women with whom he has similar interests and high compatibility.
Despite the popular notion that opposites attract in relationships, I have read that the best marriages tend to exist among couples who have lots of things in common. I’ve found that to be true in my own marriage. After dating hundreds of different girls at the college marriage mecca of America, Brigham Young University, I finally found one (during my third senior year) who was as committed to my religion as I am, who loved dancing and music like I do, whose family wasn’t wealthy but not too poor (economically similar to mine), who was from a culture (Texas) that used the word “y’all” like I did growing up and still do today, and who, very importantly for me, loved sports, especially football.
While I was in the dating field, until I got engaged at age 27, I often referred to Proverbs 31:10-31 in the Bible, which starts out, “Who can find a virtuous woman, for her price is far above rubies?” I learned from those verses of scripture a lot about the Biblical perspective of what a woman should be: kind, unselfish, hard working, supportive of her husband, dedicated to her children. When I met my future wife, I matched her up against what I had decided to look for. It turns out that process worked very well.
Despite some significant differences in our families (my in-laws are Texas A&M fans, and I come from an FSU Seminoles background) our similarities have allowed us to bond successfully over more than 15 years, with many more together expected in our future.
Marrying the right person and being the right person to attract that person was obviously a critical step for me in raising a good family.
Be Fiercely Loyal to Your Wife
Once you’ve found and married a good woman, it becomes your opportunity and obligation to be unwaveringly loyal to her.
Before I was married, when I was dating around looking for someone I could fall in love with, I was like most single adults. I was flirty. I intentionally struck up conversations with girls often as a way to get to know them, often with the purpose of asking them out on a date.
To a large extent, that “playing the field” approach was backed off whenever I had a steady girlfriend, someone I had committed to in a way that meant excluding other girls. Then, whenever a dating relationship was broken off, I would usually intentionally go back to the mindset that would allow me to find another girlfriend.
When I was engaged, I was more vigilant about shutting down flirting or other attempts to attract other girls. Then, when I got married, I knew it was time to become fully committed to the girl I was now fully committed to.
Too often, men will get married without conscientiously making this transition to full exclusion to their new bride. Women often make the same mistake. For a marriage to be fully functional, a man has to determine that, although he will have professional, social, and other interactions with women, his interactions with all other women will always be of an nature that is free of reproach, that never can be called into question. The Bible explains that a man “shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Attaining that kind of unity with your spouse naturally expects a high degree of loyalty.
In our personal application of this principle, this is how my wife and I demonstrate our loyalty to each other and avoid any hint of straying. We never ride in a car alone with someone of the opposite sex. In our business and other dealings, we would never go to lunch with someone of the opposite sex. We don’t go into a home alone with a member of the opposite sex. In general, we do everything practical to avoid any appearance of showing romantic interest in anyone else.
That approach has given the two of us an added layer of trust between us and has established a clear boundary that helps us to reinforce our relationship.
Many of the stories you hear about infidelity start with one or both members of a married couple not setting those boundaries of total loyalty. A man will go to lunch with a co-worker “innocently” a few times, then he finds himself involved in an affair that destroys his marriage and turns his kids’ lives upside down. Set those boundaries and commit to complete loyalty, and you’ll spare yourself and your family the pain and heartache that can never be compensated for no matter what pleasure or ego boost might come from getting attention from a woman who’s not your wife.
One of my favorite quotes about fatherhood, one from Theodore Hesburgh, captures this commitment to loyalty and the value it provides in strengthening a family: “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” Whether it’s the temptation to indulge in pornography or the difficulty in turning down social opportunities, developing a fierce loyalty to your wife becomes a source of resilience in a marriage.
Learn to Be Unselfish and Deferential
A funny experience I had shortly before I met my wife provided an epiphany and a lesson that I’ve referred back to often. While I was at a gathering of couples, most of them newly married, at my brother’s home, I walked in and asked if anyone wanted to play basketball. Being a single guy, I was surprised at their natural responses. They each immediately looked over at their respective wife, their body language asking for permission.
From that experience it was clear to me that these guys had learned that their options weren’t entirely their own now that they were married. They had to sacrifice some of their own independence for the sake of a higher cause, their marriage relationships.
I’ve found out over the decade and a half since I got married and began having kids that I have to give up whatever selfishness I had as a single guy (everything from always controlling my own time to getting a good night’s sleep whenever I wanted) and instead replace it with a commitment to doing what’s best for my marriage relationship and for the health and well-being of the entire family. Sometimes when I find myself tired and sick, I have to get out of bed in the middle of the night and take care of a child who needs help. My wife does the same for me.
I’ve heard several times with regards to marriage, it’s not 50/50. Each partner has to give 100%. That principle should be taught to kids as well, making the whole family operational as a unit instead of each of the individuals trying to figure out how to get away with giving the least that they can get away with, or to break even with the relationship. That attitude cannot last long for any one particular member of the family to be in accordance with the rest of the family.
Selfishness kills marriage and family relationships. Selflessness causes them to thrive.
Weekly Date Night
Having a weekly date night is recommended by most marriage experts. I’ve found that scheduling a regular night with my wife each week and being committed to make that happen is very valuable for making the family run smoothly. It allows us a chance to have a conversation without being interrupted by children or other distractions, and it reminds us to one degree or another of the time we were dating. We usually go out to eat at a restaurant, sometimes followed by shopping. Sometimes we’ll go see a movie or do something else entertaining.
During our weekly date night, we occasionally take one of our six kids with us, which gives us a chance to catch up with that child individually. We normally rotate the date night schedule through all of our kids so that each has a chance to feel special and to develop their relationship with their parents.
Weekly and Daily Planning Meetings
One of the most valuable skills I learned while serving for two years as a missionary volunteer was to set aside at least an hour each week to plan and coordinate with my wife. We normally hold our weekly planning meeting Sunday nights, which seems most appropriate because it’s on the eve of when we kick off our week and implement our plans.
Besides holding a regular weekly planning meeting, we also try to catch up each night with our plans for the next day and make adjustments wherever necessary.
During our weekly planning meetings, we set and review our family goals, do calendaring for the upcoming week and beyond, create to-do lists, and essentially spiritually create what’s going to happen in the coming week.
During our quick nightly planning sprints, we check over what’s coming up the next day and make whatever plans we need to.
To make our planning more efficient, we use an online calendar. We prefer Google Calendar because of how it allows us to share calendars between our various Google accounts.
Weekly Family Night
In our family, we set aside one night each week during which we hold a family night. That activity normally is scheduled for Monday night, but it can change depending upon plans that involve sports, music events, and other activities.
Although it takes effort and can sometimes be frustrating, holding weekly family night ultimately builds unity among family members. It also creates a more formal setting for your wife and you to assess how your kids are doing, make plans together, and to teach and instruct your family.
During our weekly family night meetings, we normally sing church hymns, recite our family motto (I’ll include it below), have a religious and/or academic lesson, visit friends, do service for the needy, go out for entertainment, or take part in some other activity together.
During one of our family night meetings several years ago, we decided to create a family motto, which we recite together during our weekly meeting. Our kids participated in creating the motto, so they feel ownership of it. This is what we came up with.
We are the Robbins family.
We strive to be like Jesus, and treat others with kindness.
We are honest and true. We are loyal to each other.
We have fun together. We are helpful and hard-working.
We never give up, or take the easy way out.
We earnestly seek after knowledge and wisdom.
We work together as a family to build our faith.
We are the Robbins family.
Consciously, Assertively Spend One-on-One Time with Your Kids
In addition to our weekly family night and our less frequent inclusion of them into our date nights, my wife and I spend conscious quality time with each of our kids. With each additional child we’ve had we’ve come to understand that there is no extra allotment of additional hours in a day, so we have to be more assertive to make sure each gets attention from us.
To spend the time with my kids that they need, I’ve had to give up other things and make adjustments. Years ago as a BSA leader, I found myself taking them on camping trips with me even though they weren’t old enough. My wife and I have taught each of my kids (including my daughter) to appreciate watching college football, so we can enjoy that activity together instead of having to give it up entirely.
Some of the major ills I see among today’s kids is a result of what I sometimes refer to as “Fortnite Parenting”, named after the highly popular, but (in my strong opinion) entirely valueless video game. Raising children doesn’t mean simply keeping them out of the way, occupied with something that is destructive. Perhaps the most effective way to develop your children’s respective abilities to become good people and to have a solid relationship with their parents is to replace their screen time (pretty much all of it, except what they’re using for educational purposes) with valuable, scheduled interaction with one or both parents.
Raising A Family is Worth the Effort
I hope my little beginner’s guide to raising a family has been helpful to you. The things I listed here have worked very well for me, my wife, and our kids.
Being the head of a family has certainly been hard work, in some ways harder than I ever imagined. However, the returns are immeasurable. For those who put in the effort to create and maintain a healthy, functioning family, the effort is always worth it.