When Bad Visiting/Home Teachers Happen to Good People

by: hawkgrrrl

January 1, 2013

Ask any member what they want from their home (or visiting) teacher, and you might get a variety of answers.  Some would be happy if they would just show up.  Others would be happy if they just quit showing up.

I’ve read some stories in the ‘nacle that are far worse than any of the experiences I’ve had, such as:

  • A Home Teacher who simply refuses to talk to the wife to set up appointments, always asking to speak to the husband, and even avoiding eye contact with the wife during the visit.  Holy man crush!
  • My personal favorite, home teachers showing up without an appointment, even when told not to do so, resulting in coitus interuptus en flagrante, if you know what I mean. Then cluelessly asking the robe-clad couple what they were too busy doing that made it a bad time for a visit.

I have a real mental block when it comes to visiting teaching, or being taught anyway.  No matter what is going on, I can never remember I have an appointment.  I am usually home fairly punctually and predictably (except when I’m traveling), but there’s some kind of universal guarantee that if I have a visiting teacher coming over, something will happen that causes me to walk in late, finding Hawkmaaan and the Hawklings entertaining my guest.

I’ve also had a few times when I’ve read the message and thought “Yuck.”  Either I’ve disagreed, found it treacly or maudlin, or just otherwise disliked it.  Or I’ve had a partner whose interpretation of it seemed completely off to me.  When I don’t love the message, I try to find what I do agree with and focus on that, or I just disregard the message and figure I need to listen this month rather than teach.

When I think about personal experiences where a Visiting Teacher or companion has been a mismatch for me, it’s usually things like this:

  • It’s all about her.  She’s got her schtick, and this is what you are going to get.  There’s no focus on what the actual sisters need or want.  She assumes you need a hug when you aren’t a hugger or she gives advice based on what her own preferences are.  Or she’s got a judgmental or political axe to grind and has interpreted the lesson so that it supports her views.
  • Not listening when someone doesn’t want contact or a visit.  I am the sister who always gets the inactive sisters to visit or reach out to, which is my preference anyway.  But sometimes I get a partner who just really wants to get that name checked off, and insists on it being a “proper” visit (opening prayer, message, closing prayer) even when a sister is hostile to the prospect.  I’ve told plenty of my own visiting teachers “this counts as a visit” when we stop to chat in the hallway; for me, that’s sufficient at times, especially when my travel schedule gets crazy, and I relish my free time at home with my family.  Insisting that it doesn’t count unless we do it the standard way just seems like a recipe for giving offense or bothering someone needlessly.  It’s not respectful.  When I was about three years old, my mother was assigned to visit teach an inactive sister.  She was not interested in the church (she had become Unitarian), and she didn’t want any fake friends.  She told  my mom that if she wanted to be friends, that was fine, but she didn’t want to talk about the church.  My mom said that was fine with her, and they became friends despite a pretty big age difference.  But I became best friends with her daughter, and it’s a friendship that is still strong.
  • Someone who is ham-fisted and pushy or socially awkward.  Visiting teaching can be a bit awkward anyway.  This is a person who was asked to be your friend.  And they are in your home, where you normally get to be yourself (which may or may not be the same Sunday face they see).  Sisters who push their political views (rather than asking about yours) or who tell you what you should be doing (unsolicited advice) or who express judgments about people (not knowing you might be one of the ones they are judging) make an artificial situation truly awkward.

The best visiting teachers (or home teachers) are obviously those who:

  • Adapt to the needs of the sister.  To do this, you have to become aware that one size does not fit all.  Not everyone’s a hugger, a crier, loves kittens or whatever.  But some people really do.  People come in all shapes and sizes.  You have to listen and realize that people have their own thoughts in their head.  On my mission we visited a family whose uncircumcized young boy would run around the house with no pants on.  We were sitting on a couch with wet spots on the cushions.  I had to conclude we were sitting in that boy’s urine.  I am pretty sure we were.  But they were OK with that.  It was their home.  Should I lecture them about hygiene?  I didn’t feel it was my place.  If they were OK with a pee couch, I was OK with a pee couch.  I visit taught another sister who was a chain smoker.  She really couldn’t go the entire visit without one, even though she was apologetic and said it kept her from going to church.  Her house, her rules.  I stayed and chatted with her as long as she wanted.  I think that’s what we are supposed to be doing.  You can’t uplift people while wrinkling your nose in disdain.
  • Offer service and actually mean it.  My mother’s personal history includes the story of her visiting teacher coming by after my mom had broken her neck and hip and was using crutches.  The sister asked if my mother needed anything, and mom said “Yes, my kitchen floor is getting very sticky.  I can’t use the mop while I’m on crutches.”  The sister ignored the request, continued to offer the lesson, and then said cheerily, “Well, if there’s anything you can think of we can do to help, let us know!” as she gathered her things and left.
  • Are a real friend.  Friendship isn’t conditional on them coming to church, listening to the message, being sweet tempered, or even liking the church.  My friend’s mom was fairly hostile to the church at times and undergoing a bitter divorce.  She swore, smoked and drank.  She was a feminist.  But friendship doesn’t see differences as a threat.  It’s about respect and trust, and while it goes both ways, it usually starts one way.

What about you?

  • What’s the best or worst visiting or home teaching experience you’ve had? 
  • What partnerships have worked or not worked? 
  • What about those you visited?


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17 Responses to When Bad Visiting/Home Teachers Happen to Good People

  1. Mormon Heretic on January 2, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    I am usually grateful to have a home teacher that never comes. While there were a few that I have enjoyed, my preference is to be left alone. I wasn’t fond of my last home teacher (who insisted on hokey lessons), and like my current home teacher who never comes. (In fact, I have no idea who it is.)

    I also enjoy having an inactive partner, so I can go by myself. (It’s easier to schedule that way.) I aim for the 2nd Sunday of the month, so most families plan on that. If something comes up (like missionary farewell), then I’ve still got time to recover and still meet that month.

    I never read the Ensign message to my families. When I first meet a family, I almost never have a lesson. I try to get acquainted. If it is an active family, I often try to come up with a lesson (as time goes on) that I think they’ll enjoy. If it is an inactive family, I just go and “shoot the breeze.” My purpose is just trying to be a friend. I try to go every month. It seems July and December are always the hardest months for me to visit (and I tell my families that.) My wife’s family has tons of birthdays in July, so there is a party just about every day it seems, and in December, there’s always something going on with Christmas.

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  2. Stephen M (Ethesis) on January 2, 2013 at 12:32 PM

    I love the way hawk lists swearing and drinking and feminism. Made e smile.

    When me dad was sent to Viet Nam our home teacher ran the movement to run us out of the ward. Probably the low point in home teaching experiences.

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  3. LovelyLauren on January 2, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    I really adored my last visiting teacher. She always came by herself (often with her young son) and always expressed real interest in my life. I was quite upset when she moved.

    My new visiting teachers just don’t really seem to get me. I’m a graduate student with no kids. They are both SAHMs who are about 6-8 years older than me. They ask me how my life is and then can’t really think of anything to say to me and spend the rest of the visit chatting with each other. It’s not that I don’t like them, but I always get the impression that they don’t really know what to say to me.

    We have had one home teacher visit in the past two years. He seemed like a nice enough guy.

    And can we stop with the visiting teaching messages about how great visiting teaching is? I’ve had enough of those.

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  4. Mai Li on January 2, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    We used to joke about our faithful home teacher who came regularly–once a year at Christmas. Loved that guy!

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  5. Dog lover on January 2, 2013 at 4:12 PM

    I wish they would change vt/ht. I don’t have time for it. They feel bad when I say we’re too busy to have them. I think they should give widows and people with more needs multiple sets of teachers and some of us none.

    The vt messages were so bad all year I didn’t give those lessons.

    I always feel like someone has been assigned to be my fake friend until they change assignments and then they go away and another fake friend is assigned.

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  6. Chandee on January 2, 2013 at 4:42 PM

    I think the whole concept of VT/HT is oudated. It ranks right up there with the visiting country doctor with his black bag.

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  7. Roger on January 2, 2013 at 5:35 PM

    Fourteen years ago, when I moved to this area of the Lord’s Vineyard, during one of my sporadic visits to the ward house I was asked for my address by a counselor. I quietly fixed my gaze upon him and replied, “I like it the way it is.”

    It has been blissful.

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  8. hawkgrrrl on January 2, 2013 at 7:58 PM

    I really like having other families over on Sunday after church for a meal. That’s a better alternative IMO. We try to invite at least one new famiy each month, and we like to invite a family plus a couple or single to round out the group. No pressure. Just making friends and sharing stories.

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  9. ji on January 2, 2013 at 10:34 PM

    I think home teaching has picked up entirely too much cultural baggage over the years. We should see them as teachers of the Gospel message, and nothing more. Home teaching started before Sunday Schools and even before wards existed.

    Teachers of the Gospel message, that’s all — handyman and friend and bishop’s representative and so forth are cultural accretions. Even monthly is a cultural accretion.

    I love home teaching — well, I do it and I like it when I’m happily received.

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  10. Douglas on January 3, 2013 at 5:28 AM

    Social ineptitude, boorishness, insensitivity, and just plain stupidity notwithstanding, traits to be found in some H/V-Ts as we have to pick them from the “Hew-Mon” race…
    Being visited is not outmoded. However, IF one no longer desires the company of fellow saints, or to be counted as one, then have the fortitude to just say, “No contact, please”. Then, if your wishes aren’t respected, just say calmly, “what part of NO CONTACT didn’t you understand, Sirs (or Mes Dames).
    I agree with the previous poster that it’s a pleasure to do IF one is gladly received. Else, I’m too busy to bother someone who’d rather be left alone. If it doesn’t help my stats, so be it.

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  11. Hedgehog on January 3, 2013 at 12:23 PM

    We had one very pushy home teacher in the past, who insisted that not only was he obliged to visit us, but we were obliged to allow him to do so, even though there was no mutually convenient time for that to happen. He insisted on coming over one evening after having been told I was already in my pyjamas and about to retire because at that point in my life I was getting up at 4.30am to commute to work. We had one very strange lesson which I am pretty sure was his way of telling us we ought to offer a home to a guy recently moved into the area who was currently lodging at his home. This lodger was not someone I could ever have shared a home with, and when I started to address his message more specifically and point out all the problems, he back-tracked quite quickly. However, if you managed to look past all that, he would step up in an emergency. He would adamantly tell you what you should be doing, however poor the fit for you, but he was doing those things himself.

    I try very hard to get on with and look after my VT companions. Usually it’s me that arranges appointments and prepares messages, whilst they do the driving (I don’t drive). I had one companion who would only talk about herself and all her problems wherever we visited, hardly stopping to draw breath, and I would have to plunge in and begin speaking to the ladies we visited regardless, and hope they would respond quickly, in order to move the conversation and cut off the flow from my companion. One companion would sometimes talk about the other people we visited in our visits, which made me cringe. However, it was with her I think we saw what I might count as our biggest VT success. We were assigned to a relatively recent convert single sister, with two student children. She attended regularly but didn’t feel at all comfortable with whole huggy, typical Mormon woman scene at church (neither did I). We listened to her, did what we could to help. While we were assigned to her, she went to the temple (my companion accompanied her), and became much more relaxed in the way she felt about church. Her student daughter later joined the church, served a mission, married in the temple. The sister herself moved away to a much more diverse ward, and served a mission also. She and the daughter & family would often come back to visit our ward, and it was always lovely to see them. We’ve moved away since. I like to think our VTing was a help to her. I’ve had companions who take their children, but then don’t watch them , so I’ve had to watch them myself. Got to say, in fairness, that I did very little VT before my children went to school. There were only a few homes I would take them to.

    I’m the sort of companion who is a rubbish conversationalist, though I do ask questions and listen.

    The people I’ve had to visit have been extremely varied in what they need. I tend to watch closely for signals as to when they want us to leave, and what they are and aren’t comfortable with. Some like very short visits, which they appreciate, others have not liked children at visits, sometimes I have had to extricate us from visits where the sister concerned could have talked for hours but would probably then have complained about how long we were there to someone else later, judging from what she was saying to us.

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  12. Hedgehog on January 3, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    #3 “And can we stop with the visiting teaching messages about how great visiting teaching is? I’ve had enough of those.”

    It’s certainly been a bizarre year for messages. I was complaining about it back in June when it got really weird using the exact same Eliza R Snow quote they’d had in January and essentially the same message if slanted slightly differently. It has only served to give VT a bad taste for me as it’s continued over the whole year. I used to enjoy preparing the messages. But a message *about* VT… all year nearly! Once is bad enough thank you.

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  13. Rigel Hawthorne on January 3, 2013 at 2:03 PM

    I will always be grateful for one of my wife’s visiting teachers. My wife had a viral infection that seemed like a cold but progressed emergently to an airway obstructive croup. One call to her visiting teacher and she was there taking over the kids while the ambulance loaded up my wife, allowing me to go to the ER with her. This wasn’t a long term friend, but certainly became one. She and her partner organized some meals for us, and when the Bishop found out about the situation a few days later, he was taken aback that he was the last to hear about it.

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  14. Ron Madson on January 4, 2013 at 12:49 AM

    The nice thing about assigned home teaching is it informs me of all the people I do not have to visit or be involved with.

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  15. […] On the positive side, wine is good as is humanism. Plus some fun Mormon history and scripture, great moments in visiting-teaching, forward-thinking economics, God’s mysterious ways, and re-reading the […]

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  16. Carmina on January 7, 2013 at 8:24 AM

    There are too many things to do on Sundays already. My teenagers and husband cannot go during the weekdays. The youth have on a monthly basis one or more: fireside, meetings, fast offerings and Home teaching. Too much in my opinion.

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  17. Toni on January 12, 2013 at 6:04 PM

    #9, home teaching began as a spy ring. The visitors were to ask a barrage of nosy questions to see if the person replying was “worthy” of “blood atonement” punishment. Those were crazy days.

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