How to be sensitive to those in circumstances different from your own

My husband is the bishop and I was stake Relief Society president for several years. We have practiced in our own lives and observed in Church services and activities the following ways to be sensitive:

  • Having opening and closing prayers assigned to a variety of people, not just husbands and wives.- Being sensitive concerning activities. For ward and Relief Society dinners, don't set tables according to even numbers. Set odd numbers so single members will feel welcome to sit with you. In our stake, many wards have a tradition at Christmas time to have a mother/daughter homemaking evening. This made single women feel excluded. So now Christmas homemaking has become a spiritual evening and is directed for all sisters.
  • Being diligent in home and visiting teaching. When I was a Relief Society president, I was told by single women that they wanted to be assigned to visiting and home teachers who willingly and consistently would come.
  • Being sensitive to the sons and daughters of single parents, especially when they hit that pre-teen age when there are activities of a parent/child nature. We had a Primary where the hardest days of the year were Mother's Day and Father's Day because of single-parent homes. We still do activities honoring those days, but we don't emphasize whole lessons and activities on those topics any longer.
  • Being supportive. We shouldn't withdraw from a family that is going through difficulties, such as divorce. My husband says we can't be judgmental of such families. We need to be supportive.
  • Tailoring programs to families of specific needs. We have a young woman here whose mother is active, but her father is not a member. The father won't allow the children to attend Church or seminary or be baptized. However, the young woman was allowed to attend Young Women on weekdays. We try to use those Young Women evenings to strengthen and support her. She is completing her seminary one-on-one on those evenings.

Concerning things of an individual nature:

  • Sharing special occasions with single members, such as family dinners on Christmas and Thanksgiving, and extending that welcome hand for everyday activities. We should treat others as friends, not as assignments.
  • Being sensitive to part-member families. Wives with non-LDS husbands need someone to talk to about spiritual things. We need to listen. - Emma Call, Augusta, Maine

What we did:

Be sensitive

Shortly after going through the death of our daughter to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, we took in our cousin's special needs children. With people not experiencing those situations themselves, they were very quick to judge as to what they thought was best for our situation.

When others are sensitive toward our feelings, our love and appreciation for them grows. No two children of God are exactly the same, nor are the packages of life's experiences they must go through. We need to treat people as Christ would, with charity and empathy. We are brothers and sisters, working our way back home on the path of life. When one of us loses our grip or falls, do we reach out our hand to lift and steady them or do we push our way by, stepping on or over them? Each person and path are unique, we need to be sensitive to others' rights of personal feelings and acknowledge them, even if we don't necessarily agree. - Karen MacNiven, Moosejaw, Saskatchewan

Include them

We have to get more involved in people's lives and show more concern and love to those who are not in the traditional two-parent household. We need to involve them more in Church programs. So many times, without meaning to, we limit the things they can do because we are so family-oriented.

We have to include them by giving them Church callings, regardless of their status. We have to include them in socials and make them feel like they're an important part of Church programs. We should go out of our way to include others, rather than expecting them to come on their own. - Phil Wert, Wendell, Idaho

Encourage the best

I remember when my son was about 3 years old, he came home from junior Sunday School and threw down a paper. "You're supposed to give this to Dad, and I don't have one," he said. I sent him to a neighbor who acted as a father to my son. In addition, father/son nights at the elementary school were hard. We were lucky enough to live close to relatives so we had grandfathers and brothers-in-law to fill in. Children need to have their "own" father or mother to go to activities with. In other words, children don't want to feel they are just tagging along with another parent and child. Someone "special" needs to fill in.

In addition, I would hope others would encourage the best from children of single-parent households and help them face their challenges.

Also, allow those in different family and marital circumstances to talk. Be good listeners. - Norma Mabey, Bountiful, Utah

Treat with respect

One of the most important things we need to learn in this life is to treat all people with respect and care, even if their situations are much different than ours. Since we're not sent here to judge each other, we need to love the people and show it. We have to understand that we all have our agency and no matter what decisions some of our family members make, we need to show them love and understanding and make time to sit down and listen to them.

Having been divorced and left feeling shattered myself, the years of love and warmth of my ward and others helped heal me and allowed me to accept others into a new large blended family when I was finally blessed with a wonderful new husband. - Glennie Hinkle, Kent, Wash.

Be aware

It is important that ward members seek the inspiration of our Heavenly Father when preparing lessons and activities with respect to these differences in members' lives. Some activities could be potentially awkward if planning is not made in advance - and, more important, the member is unaware of such planning - to ensure that the member feels comfortable. Lessons that focus on themes such as the eternal nature of the family should also dedicate time in the discussion to deal with any concerns that a single parent - and his or her children - may have. Innovative ideas and concepts will come to the leader or teacher who takes into account these differences.

Equally as important as showing such sensitivity, however, is to ensure that such concerns do not dominate the activity or lesson. This could also lead to the member feeling awkward or in the spotlight. These members already understand that they may have different family circumstances and may resent attention that is too obvious or heavy handed. - Christian A. Johnson, Chicago, Ill.

How to checklist:

  1. Pray for inspiration, awareness of others' situations.
  1. Act Christ-like, be diligent in visiting and home teaching.
  1. Include them, reach out; don't wait for them to ask.
  1. Be good listener; make time to talk of feelings, testimony.


Nov. 16 "How to instill spirit of Thanksgiving in children."

Nov. 23 "How to prepare for the arrival of your first child."

Nov. 30 "How to appropriately develop a dating relationship as single adults."

Dec. 7 "How to reach out to the lonely during the Christmas season."

Dec. 14 "How to apply the principle of repentance in daily life."

Dec. 21 "How to be more Christ-centered in our relationships with others."

  • Also interested in letters on these topics: "How to be more patient with your children," "How to foster positive communication in your family."

Had any good experiences or practical success in any of the above subjects? Share them with our readers in about 100-150 words. Write the "How-to" editor, Church News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110, send fax to (801) 237-2121 or use internet E-mail: [email protected] Please include a name and phone number. Contributions may be edited or excerpted and will not be returned. Due to limited space, some contributions may not be used; those used should not be regarded as official Church doctrine or policy. Material must be received at least 12 days before publication date.

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