Essential Family Conversations
January 2023

“Essential Family Conversations,” Liahona, Jan. 2023.

Essential Family Conversations

Essential conversations will help our children know what they believe and why they believe it.

a father and a son climbing a mountain

Illustrations by Noah Regan

A son asked his father to teach him about mountain climbing. The father taught all the essentials, including planning, safety, preparation, and equipment. The son asked when they were going to talk about what to do in case of emergency. The father said that he didn’t want to scare his son and that this conversation could wait until it became essential.

They completed their training and went on their first climbing expedition up Mount Rainier near Seattle, Washington. The experience and conditions started great until the weather took a turn for the worse, and they soon found themselves looking into the eyes of an oncoming avalanche.

They didn’t know what to do because they hadn’t discussed it. The son asked his father, “Am I ready for that conversation on what to do in emergencies now, Dad?”

Essential conversations—in the safety of our homes—can help us prepare for the avalanches of life.

“The first great truth in the universe is that God loves us,” said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.1 His words remind us that love is the foundation for all eternity and for our daily lives. With that love as the premise, the conversations and connections we make with our family are essential.

As a husband, father, school counselor, and licensed mental health counselor, I have found that family conversations are critical and shouldn’t be delayed. Joy D. Jones, former Primary General President, said: “We cannot wait for conversion to simply happen to our children. … Family conversations about the gospel of Jesus Christ, essential conversations, … can invite the Spirit.”2

What are essential conversations?

Sister Jones defined essential conversations as “simple, caring conversations [that] can lead children [and each of us] to know not only what they believe, but most important, why they believe it.”3 One word I love from this definition is simple. Our dialogue doesn’t have to be deep or complex or even planned. In fact, some of the best conversations we will ever have can’t be planned, other than to prepare by always having the Spirit with us to help us.

Sister Jones further taught: “Accidental conversion is not a principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Becoming like our Savior will not happen randomly.”4 It happens line upon line, with intentional time and effort.

How often should essential conversations occur?

We should talk with our children daily. The more frequently we have essential conversations, the more normal, natural, and enlightening they become.

The worst way to have essential conversations is to not have them at all! We often think it’s not the right time, it’s too complicated, or our children won’t understand. We don’t want to offend or say the wrong thing or make someone uncomfortable. However, at least trying to have a conversation is better than saying nothing.

How do we have essential conversations with our children?

The simple recipe I’ve discovered for having essential conversations is love, listen, and change. Although we may not be perfect at any of them, we can strive to follow the pattern consistently.

Love: Without the foundation and application of love, we can’t have the most effective essential conversations. Love is the what, when, why, and how of everything we do in our families. Our children need to feel safe when connecting with us, and love provides that crucial environment. We can always show love. Jesus Christ showed us how.

Sister Jones said: “As we nurture and prepare our children, we allow for their agency, we love them with all our heart, we teach them God’s commandments and His gift of repentance, and we never, ever, give up on them. After all, isn’t this the Lord’s way with each of us?”5

Listen: I’ve learned through my own mistakes that active listening is a critical part of any essential conversation. Listening should come first and twice as often. Jesus Christ is the best example of how to have essential conversations and actively listen. We learn in John 8 that when the Pharisees brought to Him the woman caught in adultery, the first things He said to the woman were questions: “Where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?” (verse 10). To help the essential learning take place, He asked questions and listened before teaching.

Change: Once we have loved, listened, and connected, what do we do from here? Do we need to repent, teach, listen more, serve, apologize, forgive? Essential conversations should provide us an opportunity to change. Hopefully we are always striving to be, as President Russell M. Nelson has said, “a little better each day.”6

father and son talking together

How can we have more frequent essential conversations?

You will be guided by revelation for what works best for your family. Consider these suggestions from our family’s experiences:

Family scripture study: When I asked our children what we do that helps them the most to have gospel conversations, they said it was studying the scriptures together each evening using Come, Follow Me.

Family testimony meeting each fast Sunday: It’s not usually a formal testimony meeting but a time for each person in our family to share feelings, beliefs, struggles, and successes. My wife and I always strive to testify of Jesus Christ. This meeting has become one of the most impactful experiences in our home.

Family dinner: When we say, “What time is it?” during dinner, the children know it’s time for each person to share one thing that went well and one thing that they wished had been better about that day. That often leads to expressions of gratitude, love, sometimes frustrations, and often to gospel-filled conversations that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

One-on-one conversations: I cherish the time each month on fast Sunday to sit with each of my children one-on-one, pray for them by name, look them in the eyes, and ask them questions. I try to listen and connect with their feelings and needs. It might have been strange for them at first, but now they miss it if we don’t do it. I hope they know that my time with them is more important than anything else and that I want to have essential conversations with them daily.

Goal reviews: We create personal, couple, and family goals each January. Then we discuss our growth and progress on them every month during a scripture study time or a home evening lesson. This leads to essential conversations.

Couple or parental collaboration: Every Sunday night, as my wife and I go over our weekly calendars, we also ask each other about how we are feeling and what we are struggling with or need help with. We have essential conversations about our marriage and each of our children and what we need to do to further instill the gospel of Jesus Christ in each of our hearts.

My wife is a much better listener than I am and much better at helping us stay balanced and focused on the covenant path. I learn so much from her and am so blessed she chose me for eternity.

Our family is not perfect in doing all these things, but we do make our best effort and we keep trying.

Get ready before the avalanche comes

Don’t wait until the avalanches of life are coming for your marriage, children, or other relationships. It’s not a matter of if but when. Gospel and other essential conversations prepare us best only if they happen intentionally and regularly.

Being together with my wife, children, and family for eternity is my greatest goal and the purpose of everything I do, including each essential conversation.

I fall short, as we all do, but through the power of Jesus Christ and repentance, I am lifted up. The Savior has promised to strengthen us by His power and the perfect brightness of hope He gives us through His Atonement. We don’t have to be perfect, but we do need to be striving to improve! Each of us has that power available to us. You won’t fail. Success is always in the effort.

President Nelson has promised that “as you choose to let God prevail in your lives, you will experience for yourselves that our God is ‘a God of miracles’ [Mormon 9:11].”7 That can include letting God prevail in our essential conversations. All things are possible through our Savior, Jesus Christ, including these essential conversations. Love is always His answer!

The author lives in Washington, USA.