17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Visiting Teaching: No Greater Failure

Theoretically, I think Visiting Teaching is an awesome program of the Relief Society. When I have explained it (in theory) to non-members, it has always been received with amazingly positive results. A usual response is something like “How wonderful it is to have something as organized as that--where everyone takes care of one another!” I think so too if it actually worked as beautifully as it sounds. The reality is there are major issues with the implementation of the program. I think every ward struggles with "getting their numbers up." This is not at all helped by the fact that I am a horrible Visiting Teacher (Katie can vouch for that).

I have always found excuses for my failure. I have mostly blamed logistics. I could be a better Visiing Teacher if:

I wasn’t working
I wasn’t taking care of kids all day
I was married
I was single
I could visit my friends
I wasn’t assigned to visit my friends
my visiting teachees were more active in the church
my visit teachees were less active in the church
I had transportation
I didn’t have to visit so many people
my companion’s schedule matched mine.

Each time I move into a new ward, I try to recommit to the program. They usually handle VT a little bit differently and my latest excuse becomes void which gives me hope that this time it will be different, I will do better, but I always proceed to come up with a new excuse (or two).

So, here I am once again, a new ward, a new chance. I want to do better, because I believe in the grand vision (not in numbers). I have two active sisters to visit, (as opposed to 2 active and 3 inactive in NYC). I also have a car (instead of a 15 minute walk + a bus or subway ride) to get to their houses. I feel like my future as a Visiting Teacher is looking bright! And finally, I have NO COMPANION.

At first I thought that I must be the odd woman out and when somebody else moved in, I’d get a companion. But that’s not the case. When I inquired further, I found out there are no companionships. In my new ward VT is one on one. Now I don’t think this method is by the book, which might make some people uncomfortable, but I think not having companionships gets rids of some of the major obstacles of VT (and not just logistical ones).

Pros of not having VT companionships:
-One less schedule to coordinate
-Real friendships are usually made one on one – not 2 on one1.
-Seems less formal, not so intimidating-especially for less active/inactive sisters
-I am in complete control of my success and failure – no companion to blame it on.

But I also think there are cons. There must be a reason for companionships. Right? I haven’t really thought of any yet, because I am just too excited by the prospect that this might actually be my recipe for success.

What are the cons to abolishing companionships in VT (you may also add the to my pros list)? And what is your recipe for VT success ?


  • I can think of two reasons. Recently I had a visiting teacher drop off the face of the planet. But the other one always found someone to accompany her and would come see me anyway.

    Secondly, what if I'm falling apart and can barely hold my life together, and the gals I visit teach need help, too? If I have a companion who can do more than I can do, it evens out somehow.
    posted by Anonymous Emily at 5/25/2006 12:31:00 PM  

  • Carrie - my ward also has no companions, and I hate to say it but I have never been a worse visiting teacher! Maybe I always depended too much on my companions in the past? I really wish I had a companion. I agree with all of your "pros" to being companion-free, but for me (maybe because I'm shy sometimes) I like having another person to buddy-up with, especially with inactives because sometimes it can be intimidating to visit them (depending on the individual situation). I'm not really sure why my ward does VT this way, but a new RS president was just called and she may make it an option to have a comapanion if you want one. I know a lot of my friends wish they had companions as well.

    As for good VT ideas, when Kage was my companion I thought it was awesome that we sent out a letter to all of our visiting teachees each month. We take turn each month typing up a short letter (including spiritual thought and a general "how are you", etc.) and send it out by mail. Then we knew we had always touched base with our sisters each month. We would still visit them, but at least we knew if something came up with their schedules or ours that we had put forth an effort. This was especially good with our inactive sister. She wouldn't have us visit, but at least she received the letter each month and knew we were there for her if she needed anything.

    I guess I'll be reading this post for advice as to how to be a better VT when you are companionless.
    posted by Blogger Beth at 5/25/2006 12:40:00 PM  

  • I like visiting teaching alone because it makes it so easy to schedule visits, but I think it can be intimidating for new converts and you lose the benefit of having two people serving that sister. We just had a VT conference, so I have been able to re-evaluate myself as a VT. I am not one to have a structure during visits. I would rather go on a walk together or get lunch. However, I realized I am not serving the sisters I visit and may not be meeting their needs. As a convert, I know that visiting teaching is essential to the building of testimonies. They many need that months inspired message more than you know or they may need a prayer said in their home to invite the spirit.

    One of my dearest friendships was made through VT. She taught me so much about what it means to be a woman in the gospel. I am so grateful for her love and service. I know that she saved a seat for heaven for me. I think the potential to develop lasting friendships inspires me to try harder to be a great VT and think that if we are diligent we can all "sit down with our sisters in heaven-together."
    posted by Blogger Tri Mama at 5/25/2006 01:28:00 PM  

  • For me personally, it is easier to get my VT done when I have a companion. I have someone else who is expecting me to make the appointments, or who is going to make the appointments and expect me to be there.

    But I am also the person who won't go work out unless I have a class to go to and someone would miss me if I didn't.
    posted by Blogger Trivial Mom at 5/25/2006 02:26:00 PM  

  • I had a companion that was terrible --NEVER returned my calls and was constantly avoiding me.

    I didn't VT for 3 months while I was with her.

    I would LOVE --just LOVE-- to do it on my own. I mean, I don't mind companionships --as long as that companion will actually go. But if I was on my own --I would definitely be better. I would have no one to blame, but no one to rely on.

    There are benefits of both; maybe the VT organization could include it all? Whoever wants a comp, step right up! If not, go for it on your own!
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 5/25/2006 03:29:00 PM  

  • Since becoming a mother of two, I have not been as successful. I think in order for a single to work that single has to be extremely self-motivated. Companionships, like trivial mom said force you to be accountable to them. And often you and your companion become good friends. Maybe the 1 on 1 friendship development is more about you and your comp than your vteachee? Maybe it's all just a trick to get you to have a great friend in your companion?

    I have become more lax on the letter thing...but did actually do it this month. And in April nobody's schedules were matching so I prepared FHE in a bag and delivered it to everyone. No one was home, but at least they could tell I put effort into it and was thinking of them. I think if I am not successful with my comp at visiting everyone...at the end of the month I may just drop something by: cookies, a loaf of bread, FHE in a bag...whatever.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 5/25/2006 03:30:00 PM  

  • I love the idea of going it with no companion... And I have had several companions who were great- it's just the coordinating thing.
    My last go round between the four of us women, there were 16 kids and 4 husbands- that's 24 people to try and find a time that works for everyone...Ha!

    I don't have an assignment ever since bed-rest with Abby, but we've got a new RS pres too, and I'm anticipating one soon.

    The only drawback I can think of being solo would be visiting if any of my assigned were sketchy situations...
    posted by Blogger Tracy M at 5/25/2006 03:55:00 PM  

  • I would say that having no companion at all is far better than having a companion with whom you don't really click (though I suppose that's not much of a profound thought! ;) I was once in a situation where my companion and I nearly started an argument with each other in front of the poor visiting teachee. Eeep. On the other hand, when I've had companions whom I liked, it's made the whole experience much more pleasant. And I should confess that even before my current days as a VT dropout, I was kind of a slacker and probably wouldn't have gone much without more motivated companions who dragged me along.
    posted by Blogger Lynnette at 5/25/2006 04:54:00 PM  

  • I think one perk of not having a companion is you are more likely to follow promptings from the spirit. For example, if you feel that maybe you should drop by a sister's house with some cookies or something feeling like you should call your companion to come with you would make one less prone to follow through with the initial idea. Or at least that's how I feel.

    Then again, I've always felt I would be a better visiting teacher if I didn't have a companion. Or at least if one companion was designated as a senior companion (like missionaries). That way I wouldn't be worried about offending my companion because we'd have fairly clear roles in the companionship. Maybe I'm weird though.
    posted by Blogger Starfoxy at 5/25/2006 09:57:00 PM  

  • I have a companion who isn't very active. I used to try to get her to come (and was successful once or twice) but I have fizzled out with her. It's too hard and her schedule is opposite mine anyway. It's so much easier to go by myself. I do find though, that I am not as good as I have been in the past. Some excuses match those on Carrie's list. (Kids, schedules, city life, etc.)

    I do think if my companion were active and motivated it would help me get out more often. But then we'd deal with matching schedules....I really do like just scheduling me and the one sister and just going. Not endless phone tag to get three schedules to align.

    In past experiences I've liked having a companion for those more awkward visits--when you're really glad someone else was there to help with conversation. I would definitely want a comp for a visit to an inactive person I didn't know--I can be shy like that too.

    I do think that we should remember we are individuals (even in a companionship) and when the spirit says to do something (like Starfoxy mentioned) for our sisters, we should--even without companions if that's the best way to accomplish it. I say that not in a critical way, but meaning, if I had to wait for my companion to do letters, visits, anything--it just wouldn't happen. Each of us is a friend as an individual to the ones we vt. Take advantage of that friendship and go for those one on one moments if it feels right. Does that make sense? It does in my head...but putting it in writing...
    posted by Blogger Katie at 5/26/2006 05:17:00 AM  

  • When I first moved to NY, my companion lived in the next apt building over from me and we were good friends. We motivated ourselves to do our vteaching by finding a restaurant, shopping or some other fun thing to do afterwards and we really did rock as visiting teachers (probably the only time in my visiting teaching career that I've actually felt like I made a big difference in the lives of those I visited).

    If I can't do it with a good friend who lives nearby, I'd rather do it by myself.

    I still do believe in the mission of visiting teaching although ideally, every sister (or companionship) would have no more than 2 sisters to visit each month and the assigned messages would be a little more interesting.
    posted by Blogger Jen at 5/26/2006 05:56:00 AM  

  • I have always been a very diligent visiting teacher but the scheduling difficulties really have me burned out lately. Every month is this huge ordeal to get together, and we usually have to go several different days to catch everyone (with 4 little kids at home and visiting people who don't want the kids to come, this is very challenging). Almost makes me wish for some of those inactives I used to have who wouldn't let me in...
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 5/26/2006 04:18:00 PM  

  • I have always been a very diligent visiting teacher but the scheduling difficulties really have me burned out lately. Every month is this huge ordeal to get together, and we usually have to go several different days to catch everyone (with 4 little kids at home and visiting people who don't want the kids to come, this is very challenging). Almost makes me wish for some of those inactives I used to have who wouldn't let me in...
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 5/26/2006 04:18:00 PM  

  • I knew a single sister in 1983. We were both single, and in our mid 20's, and recent converts of less than 2 years. We may have pariticpated in young adult activities in the church, but we didn't really date or hang out together.

    She had the new edition LDS Bible but had the old edition of the Triple combination. I bought a new edition Triple (the one with the new footnotes and index, etc) for her, and when I saw her in the parking lot after church, I went up to her and gave it to her as a gift. (Or maybe she had the new Triple, and I got her a Bible.)

    She started to cry, so I thought I did something wrong. When I asked "What's wrong?" she said "I didn't think anyone cared."

    I was taken aback, and asked her what she meant. She said she didn't think anyone at church cared about her.

    I was surprised how someone could think that, and I started rattling off the people who I knew cared about her, like home-teachers, visiting-teachers, the relief-society president, and the bishop.

    Then she taught me the big lesson about perceptions.

    She said "But they're supposed too." Nobody had befriended her who wasn't "supposed to." None of those who were "supposed to" had overcome the premise that they were assigned or that it was their calling to care about her.

    A gift of the scriptures by someone who wasn't "assigned" had been the first thing someone did for her that was the extra mile.

    The second lesson I learned that day was that miracles don't generally happen until you go the extra mile.
    posted by Blogger Bookslinger at 5/26/2006 07:17:00 PM  

  • (I wanted to cross-post a comment I made on Millennialstar last year, but I can't find it.)

    The challenge of home-teachers and visiting-teachers is to overcome the understanding (on the part of both the visitors and the recipients) that you've been assigned to be there.

    There's nothing wrong with being assigned friends. HT and VT are inspired programs to make sure people don't "fall through the cracks." And there's nothing that prevents one from having friends outside of HT/VT assignments.

    Overcoming the "assignment" premise is done by developing true love for the people you home-teach/visit-teach, and then demonstrating that love so that those on the receiving end may realize that you're not there "just" because you were assigned. When that premise is overcome, then the real potential of home-teaching/visiting-teaching can be achieved.

    One test of whether you overcame that "assignment" hurdle is whether you maintain a degree of friendship when ward boundaries are changed or when one of you moves. Do you still remember birthdays? Do you keep them on your Christmas card list? Do you keep in touch? Or do you drop them like a hot-potato thinking "Whew! They're someone else's responsibility now" ?

    People need friends in the church. Home-teaching is a priesthood responsibility to "be with, watch over, and strengthen." But women, especially single women, need a kind of friendship that male home-teachers just can't provide.

    There are potential pitfalls when men (especially single men) home-teach those single sisters who are on the desperate or dysfunctional end of the spectrum. There are some single women who are incapable (for one or more of a several possible reasons) of having male friends. Visiting-teaching them becomes the main avenue of their social interaction in the gospel.

    Even members who regularly attend, bear their testimony, and give sacrament talks can fall through the cracks. It's easy for people to appear to be model Mormons but have needs go unmet or challenges go unresolved because everyone thinks everything is fine, but they have no friends and therefore their needs and challenges are unmet because they are unknown.
    posted by Blogger Bookslinger at 5/26/2006 07:21:00 PM  

  • For me visiting teaching is two things. First, I have a testimony that it really works and makes a difference in lives in ways I may never know. Second, you just decide you are going to do it and you do.
    posted by Blogger Molly M. at 5/26/2006 09:53:00 PM  

  • bookslinger, I have struggled with the whole friendship beyond boundary changes/reassignments etc. There are a few women that I am no longer assigned to visit teach that I feel compelled to send my monthly letter to, but don't consider us the best of friends...I still want contact, but I don't want to talk to them about the everyday ins and outs of life, like I do with my close friends.

    When I am in the visiting teaching moment, I try to make it sincere and genuine, so that they know I am there out of love, no matter whether I was assigned or not.

    I guess if you view friendship as rather broad, then sure, everyone is my friend whether I visit teach them or not, but to be the kind of friend I want to be, I really can't have too many, then all of my relationships would suffer...

    So I just want people to know that they can always call me, and I will give them whatever they need and help in anyway, but I might not always be there every second of every day as a really good friend. Does that make any sense?
    posted by Blogger Kage at 5/27/2006 04:34:00 AM  

  • I prefer to go alone, actually. I find that trying to fit 3 or 4 schedules together is very tough. I'm also not very structured with the lessons, which I'm trying to improve on. Some women really need the lessons, and some women don't. And the companionships can be awkward if you don't know the other woman very well. Still, when your sisters are in trouble and need something beyond just the monthly visit, it is nice to have a companion to share the load,i.e., help with a meal, babysit, etc.

    For me, I love being visit taught, and prefer a visit to a letter. However, a teacher with 100% numbers isn't always the best VTer. I had one who came every month, very faithfully, and literally talked about herself the entire time. Unfortunately, it was at a time when I was struggling with my miscarriages, and I truly felt like I couldn't even talk to her about them, much less call upon her when I really needed help. I didn't even tell her about them until 4 months after they had happened, when she asked me point blank if I was "ready for another child." I felt like I was just another thing on her "to-do" list, and I didn't enjoy our visits at all. When she moved, we did not keep in touch.

    The women who replaced her after that were wonderful, and definitely an inspired choice, as they entered my life at a particularly difficult time. I needed those women so much, and came to depend upon them almost immediately. And if there was a month they couldn't come, it was okay, because I knew that they would be there for me when I needed it. And they always were.
    posted by Blogger Heather O. at 5/27/2006 08:17:00 AM  

  • Kage, I agree with your concept of different levels of friends or closeness levels. I think of it as rings of friendships, with the inner rings being closer to you and smaller. When I move or friends move, the rings or their population may be adjusted.
    posted by Blogger Bookslinger at 5/28/2006 12:03:00 PM  

  • Thanks to everyone who commented. I wish I was able to be more on top of the conversation in the beginning, because I think everyone brought up really good points.

    Reading back over all of the comments here are a few things that stand out: There is not one specific way of VT that works for all "teachers" or "teachees". Being able to follow the promptings of the spirit is key and I do believe that sometimes following those promptings (which could be contrary to "sharing the Ensign Message") is more important than following all of the stated guidelines of VT.

    At our wards VT night, they did a number of little skits. One that particularly stayed on my mind was one where a woman was obviously frazzled when her VTer came over with a beautiful basket full of homemade goodies, candles, bath salts, and other gourmet treats. They had a short conversation, where is was so obvious that the women being visited could realy use the service of her VTer. But, the VTer cheerily dropped of the beauiftul basket, wished her a nice day and left.

    The time spent on the basket would have been much better spent listening, helping, and serving. Not that I am one to prepare such a basket, but it makes me really think about spending my time in the most helpful way for the person I visit.

    I remember that once my visiting teacher came over and did the dishes for me (my most despised chore). I will always remember that because it was truly an labor of love in my book.

    Lastly, I think this no companion thing is really going to work for me. I did my first visit last week and I accidentally scheduled it on American Idol night. I am a big fan, but I also have TiVo, so it didn't really matter. But on my way over, I realized that the girl I visited might be a fan too and might not have TiVo. So the first thing I asked her was about American Idol and if she watched it. She looked a little embarrassed and said yes and she couldn't record it. I told that I loved it too and I couldn't make her miss it.

    So we sat on her bed (the only tv was in the bedroom) and watched the whole thing together, getting to know each other during the commercials and in the commentary on the show. In my book, and I think in hers too, it was a great visit. If I had had a companion, I don't think it would have turned out the same way.

    I think it would be a great idea to make companions optional. And, if I had someone to visit that I felt uncomfortable with, I wouldn't hestitate to invite a "companion" to come with me - even when it is not part of the program in my ward.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 5/28/2006 03:26:00 PM  

  • I found my dissertation on home-teaching/visiting-teaching. Rather than clutter your blog, here's the link.
    posted by Blogger Bookslinger at 5/28/2006 05:58:00 PM  

  • Carrie, I like your point about the frazzled thing. And my vt the other day dropped everthing and came over and helped me conquer what I thought were bedbugs but just turned out to be a reaction the MMR vaccine on my baby. But I was hysterical, and she came to the rescue. Thanx ksl.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 5/28/2006 06:28:00 PM  

  • I am a new convert to the church (baptized 5/1/05). My husband is not a member and does not like the church so I have some "bonus" challenges too. Two of my four children are members. Initially, I did not like the idea of visiting/home teaching. It was akward and uncomfortable for me. My home teacher, to this day, has never once come over (and he lives next door to me).

    However, my visiting teacher, was persistant and came by faithfully every month and never failed to give me a hug every time I see her at church. As the months passed, I began to look forward to our visits and our friendship grew. Although I know she had many other sisters she was responsible for, she always made me feel like I was the most important friend she had.

    Six weeks ago she was killed in a tragic car accident. I have never been so devistated. As I have tried to deal with her passing, Heavenly Father has helped me to understand the true meaning and importance of the visiting teaching program. It's not about the "message" of the month. It's about building those bonds of love and friendship. To have that kind of tie with someone so that when things go wrong we have someone, in the ward, we can turn to without hesitations.
    posted by Anonymous Dorice at 5/30/2006 10:41:00 AM  

  • dorice, thanks for sharing that with us, I hope that you are coping ok. I guess the best way to honor her is to be the kind of person/vteacher she was to those you are "assigned" to and beyond. I know you will make a big difference in many lives.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 5/30/2006 12:12:00 PM  

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