My father ensured that our family always followed the prophet's counsel to hold family home evenings every Monday. I think that it was mostly a good thing. The lessons were the worst part, but we always had refreshments and games and we all enjoyed those. Our family was big on playing games. We played marathon Risk and Monopoly games. We played Husker Du (memory game), chinese checkers, checkers, and backgammon. Growing up we loved playing hide and go seek. In the summer we often went to the tennis courts and played tennis or played on the playground. I guess it was good and I'm glad that my parents tried hard to make time for family. This is a very positive thing that the Mormon church teaches.
The church used to publish annual Family Home Evening Lesson Manuals. Each member of the family took turns teaching the lessons. One that stuck and took on a life of its own was titled "Harmony in the Home." I couldn't tell you the exact content, but "and please help us have harmony in the home" became a regular part of our twice daily family prayers along with blessing the prophet, church leaders, missionaries, and leaders of the country. The difference is that I really meant it because harmony was something sadly lacking in our home.
Despite the regular religious indoctrination our family seemed to be in perpetual turmoil. My friend commented that in the summer the whole neighborhood could hear the screaming and fighting. We took pride in how loud we could scream. The teasing between the children was unrelenting. Belts were frequently used to instill discipline and when a belt wasn't handy then wooden spoons were used. At one point we ran out of wooden spoons because they'd all been broken on unruly behinds. My sister had to be taken to the emergency room with a broken finger when she put her hand behind her to stave off a spanking. One year the school carnival gave out paddle balls (cheap wooden paddle with a bouncy ball attached by elastic that you tried to dribble) and we made the mistake of bringing several home. The paddles soon became an implement of discipline and I don't recall us being eager to ever play with paddle balls again.
Despite the repeated prayers for harmony, God never saw fit to answer.
It might have been better if our family knew how to express love. I rarely saw demonstrations of affection between my parents or toward us children. Looking back I can recognize that my parents cared because they worked hard to teach us and provide for us. But their parenting style was mechanical and lacked the personal connection that I craved. I don't remember expressions of love such as simply saying, "I love you" or giving a hug or a kiss. I never felt loved and was intensely unhappy. Coupled with the intensely competitive and hostile environment that often prevailed I remember frequently being unhappy and contemplating suicide as I cried myself to sleep. I suppose this has in turn turned me into something of a hard ass and made it difficult for me to connect with people or to deal with emotions, especially negative emotions and conflicts with loved ones.
I didn't have many girlfriends and a big part of the problem was a lack of confidence. I think I found it difficult to believe that anyone would be interested in me. After all, I didn't feel loved by my own family and I really didn't love myself. So it was difficult to believe that someone else could be interested in me. And I can think of several relationships I walked away from because of trivial things that led me to feel like the other person really wasn't as interested in me as I was in them.
I think that our home is better, but still too sterile when it comes to expressions of love. I was better when the kids were little, but I'm finding myself to reverting to childhood patterns as I age and memories of my youth fade. Time to get back on the right path and make sure that everyone knows that they are loved.