After several months serving as a Den Leader in California, our pack began combining meetings with another pack in our building. It was a beneficial move, one we had been asking for for a while. I learned a lot from the Den Leaders from the other ward, but I also learned something important from one of the parents.
He and his son were not LDS. They had joined the den after meeting them at a bowling alley. They had been looking for a good, Christian Cub Scout pack, and they felt this one fit what they wanted.
The thing I learned is that in traditional (non-LDS) packs, parents view their role in the Scouting program very differently. This dad not only attended pack meetings, he attended all of the den meetings with his son. He saw Scouting as something he could do together with his son. He wanted to be more involved in things, so he started to come to committee meetings. Seeing this, the bishop called him to be an official member of the committee.
I realize it is not always possible for parents to attend den meetings. If meetings are in the afternoon, dad is at work and mom is taking care of the other kids and fixing dinner. If meetings are in the evening, they are probably at the same time as the activities of other family members. That does not mean, though, that parents can't or shouldn't be involved in their boys' Cub Scout experience.
In fact, Cub Scouting is designed to be a family-centered program. That is one of the things we are supposed to emphasize in training. The bulk of the Achievements are meant to be done at home with parents. Many of them are designed so that they can only be done at home. The involvement of parents really has a huge impact on a boy's Scouting experience. There is a reason rank advancements come with a "mother's pin."
In his talk Trails to Testimony, Bradley Harris says,"Cub Scouting is simply hundreds of Father-Son/Mother-Son outings waiting to happen, not just a checklist to complete and receive the reward. I'll never forget a mother coming to me three weeks after her son joined Cub Scouting. She was all excited. She said that her eight-year-old son had earned the Wolf Badge, and I asked, 'Well, how could that be in three weeks?'
"She said, 'Well, I went through the Wolf book, and in his eight years of life, he had done everything in the book,' so she checked it off.
"She wasn't thinking that the purpose of this book is to spend time with my son. She thought the purpose of the program was to put a badge on his uniform, so I had to explain to her, 'Well you may have gone on a picnic three years ago with your son. That's wonderful. Go on a picnic with him this year and spend some time with him, and then check it off in the book.'"
How strange is it that in a church that focuses so much on the family, we don't take more advantage of the various activity programs as a way to strengthen the family?
In his talk Good, Better, Best, Dallin H. Oaks talks about prioritizing our time to make the best use of it. He says, "In choosing how we spend time as a family, we should be careful not to exhaust our available time on things that are merely good and leave little time for that which is better or best....Church leaders should be aware that Church meetings and activities can become too complex and burdensome if a ward or a stake tries to have the membership do everything that is good and possible in our numerous Church programs. Priorities are needed there also....Elder Richard G. Scott said: 'Adjust your activities to be consistent with your local conditions and resources. … Make sure that the essential needs are met, but do not go overboard in creating so many good things to do that the essential ones are not accomplished.… Remember, don’t magnify the work to be done—simplify it.'"
Church leaders don't want us to have to choose between Church activities and family time. If the activity provides an opportunity for a parent and child to spend more time together and strengthen their relationship, then it meets both needs. What could be better than that? In the end, it also simplifies both, as Elder Scott recommends.
Implemented correctly, the Scouting program might even become a template for how to turn other Church activities to focus more on the family.