“Wholesome” Recreational Activities

Good clean family fun. Until grandpa’s ruthlessness emerged.

Nearly from its inception, the Proclamation to the World has been a controversial document as people have different ideas about how to have a successful marriage and family when God only approves of one way [1].  At the heart of this controversy:  so-called wholesome recreational activities.  Just what is a wholesome recreational activity?  Consider this advice from BYU’s Marriage & Families website:

There are numerous ways to use recreation to make your family life happier. When people engage in leisure, we do it for the joy of activity. [2]

That sentence sapped the joy out of itself before it even got to the word joy.  Also, if it’s leisure, are you engaging in it?  I thought the point of leisure was to lie around watching Netflix and eating Nutella straight out of the jar, not to do stuff.  At least that’s what leisure is in our family.  Which brings us back to the core dilemma: what are wholesome recreational activities?

First, in true Mormon fashion, let’s turn to the dictionary.  Wholesome relates to physical health [3] and moral well-being.  Recreational relates to activities done when not working or conversely to drugs taken on an occasional basis for enjoyment, especially while socializing.  Activities basically means doing stuff.  So, doing stuff that is physical, promoting health, and creating moral well-being, possibly involving occasional social drug use. [4]

Of course the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the phrase “Wholesome Recreational Activities” is this scene from the Breakfast Club:

John Bender: PB & J with the crusts cut off. Well, Brian, this is a very nutritious lunch; all the food groups are represented. Did your mom marry Mr. Rogers?

Brian: Uh, no, Mr. Johnson.

Bender: Ah. Here’s my impression of life at Big Bri’s house, “Son?” “Yeah, Dad?” “How was your day, pal?” “Great, Dad! How’s yours?” “Super! Say, how would like to go fishing this weekend?” “Great, Dad! But I got homework to do.” “That’s okay, son! You can do it on the boat!” “Gee!” “Dear, isn’t our son swell?” “Yes, dear. Isn’t life swell?”

By contrast, my own family’s attempts at wholesome recreational activities often descend into madness:  tears, slammed doors, questionable ethics (often in the form of self-serving score-keeping or lots of judge’s rulings in favor of the whiniest) and general poor sportsmanship.  That’s what happens when you start with simple wholesome recreational activities like Risk, Apples to Apples or President Scum.  In the family I grew up in, our wholesome recreational activities more often resulted in secret combinations, score-keeping you had to watch like a hawk [5] (hence my internet moniker), and an ever-increasing list of additional rules to stymie the strategic advantages that God and Darwin intended for the budding masterminds of the family (we all know who I’m talking about here) [6].

The real reason face cards were banned by BRM.

Somehow in all the families I’ve been in, so-called wholesome recreational activities have brought out the unwholesomeness in us [7].  One family event with my in-laws even ended in poisoning. [8]  Even on a good day, they’ve resulted in loud laughter, and we all know where that can lead [9].  Maybe it’s time to reverse this trend.  Instead of starting with a wholesome activity, maybe we can start with a less wholesome activity and it will bring out our finer qualities.

Since there are no bad ideas in brainstorming [10], I’ll throw out a few suggestions:

  • Tagging.  Instead of spray painting graffiti, paint faces of the Q15 so as to show that they are ever present and watchful, an important lesson about following the prophets.  Bonus points if you spray it on the church (enjoy watching leaders decide whether removing it is disrespectful).
  • Key parties, but instead of keys, put matched up scripture verses in the bowl.  Couples have to find their corresponding scripture partner to hook up. [11]  This sets a lovely tone for whatever follows.
  • Strip poker.  Once a family member has removed enough clothing to be outside of the standards in For the Strength of Youth, the rest of the group should shame that person for their inappropriate dress, an important lesson in modesty.
  • Trash Can Jenga.  This is a family favorite in which various members of the family continue to put garbage (or recycling) in the already too full can when no other family members are looking until the can inevitably overflows.  The last one who touched it has to take it out.  Resentful mopping ensues.
  • Huffing paint.  But instead of paint, substitute something wholesome like flour.  Then put an M&M candy or Life Saver on top and have the person use only their mouth to remove that item.  Actually, I’m pretty sure EFY has already mainstreamed this harmful practice despite its obvious drug origins.
  • Ransom!  This is a classic from my own childhood.  The older (or stronger) siblings tie up the weakest one to a chair and leave that sibling in the dark closet until they remember hours later they did it.  Reminder:  if you don’t use a gag, the bound family member may eventually alert the parents that the game is underway, and that spoils the fun.  Optional:  Cut letters out of magazines to write a “ransom note” to the victim’s loved ones if they ever want to see them again, demanding items like Ring Dings or ice cream.
  • Mumblety Peg.  Instead of placing your hand on a table, use the scriptures, and instead of a knife, use a red pencil.  Then take turns reading the scriptures you marked.  You can also use this as an important lesson in service and first aid to remove pencil leads from hands and bandage them up.
  • Scrumping.  This is basically looting, but with fruit.  Sneak into your neighbor’s yard as a family (the little ones make good lookouts), and pick the best fruits you can find without getting caught.  Extra points for any “white and delightsome” fruit.  Alternatively for urban families, you can take Juicy Fruit gum from the local bodega, but you may need bail money if you get caught.
  • Human Battleship.  Wait until your neighbors are having a backyard party (preferably if your neighbor is a General Authority).  Then discreetly lob water balloons into the midst of their party (Roman Candles are a seasonally festive alternative).  “Misses” don’t count.  “Hits” are on a sliding point scale depending on the humorlessness of the person hit.  An extra point is awarded for audible swearing.  The game ends when the police are called.
  • Fight Club.  Sorry, can’t talk about this one.

Likewise family game night.

Another added benefit is that your family will grow closer together as they evade law enforcement.  This is just a starter list, of course. Circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation [12].

How does your family define wholesome recreational activities?


[1] We all know “individual adaptation” is code for “you suck at having a family.”

[2] Note that “people” and “we” seem to be two different subjects in this sentence, leaving me to wonder why hearing other people relaxing makes BYU married couples do it.  I suspect scant motivation is required.  I also love how activity is italicized like it’s a foreign word.

[3] There goes the Nutella!

[4] It certainly sounds like Utah.

[5] Funny how someone can literally put a man on the moon (my dad) but consistently forget to add my points when I make an awesome combination in Triominoes.

[6] Me.  I’m talking about me.

[7] It’s like Parker Brothers wants us to fail.

[8] We had a “clear your pantry” party in which everyone brought their old snacks along to share.  Apparently, pre-wrapped Zingers don’t last forever.  Who knew?

[9] Even louder laughter.  Occasional peeing.  See your doctor if this condition persists.

[10] Demonstrably false as evidenced.

[11]  Only for Singles FHE groups!  This isn’t Caligula’s court.

[12]  Wink.


  1. Wouldn’t any “white and delightsome” fruit technically not be ripe and therefore out of the season thereof? In which case, would it cause you to lose your temple recommend?

  2. When exactly did the phrase “wholesome recreational activities” (WRA) enter our lexicon? Is the Proc its first appearance? After once hearing a speaker talk about how regularly participating in WRA would strengthen marriages, I whispered to my husband “does sex count?” It’s been a favorite euphemism ever since, and guarantees at least an amused glance every time it’s said at church. Once I had to sit through a Primary Sharing Time dedicated to WRA, which pretty much proved that I am forever 13 years old.

  3. Wholesome is one of those corporate words we use in official documents and speeches but never in regular conversation, see supernal for another example.

  4. I have played Ransom.

  5. Great post, Angela! I love your brainstorming thoughts.

    KLC, good point about the word “wholesome.” I have to admit, the word gives me the heebie-jeebies. It’s just such a nanny church word, suggesting that we can’t be trusted to make good choices even in recreation without a little reminder that we shouldn’t be having *too* much fun. So in my head, I just substitute “boring” for “wholesome,” and I think the meaning is pretty much preserved.

  6. I wish we had thought of lobbing water balloons instead of Cherry BombsTM.

  7. Variations on Mythbusters: Macroeconomics edition, how high do you have to be to really get a dead cat to bounce? Especially fun when it is the neighbor’s cat.

  8. The greatest water balloon feat of my childhood was when, hidden behind a hedge, we managed by pure luck to land a balloon through the open sunroof of a passing car. We didn’t even know that there would be a sunroof. We then hid as the car pulled into our driveway and the driver pounded on the door for several minutes. Then he began to harass the neighbors asking where the kids with the water balloons lived. Luckily our neighbor was cool and said, “There aren’t any kids on this block.”

  9. MichelleM says:

    Wholesome recreational activities is a euphemism for sex in our house. This may change as children age.

  10. We play board games, except instead of board games, we play video games. I show off my presidering skills by refusing to let my kids be Player 1, and always use the best controller.

  11. My siblings and I are the branch of the extended family known for its water-fighting skills. We once filled 150 water balloons and took them in the trunks of our cars to a family reunion.

    When our adult children are home, we also engage regularly in what we call Family Home Tablet, viewing our respective device screens in the same room — um, together. This can happen daily.

  12. MDearest, my sisters and I totally do your second activity when we get together! Except some of us are fuddy duddies who don’t yet have tablets, so we call it a “laptop party.”

  13. Family Super Mario Brothers nights in our house tend to be filled with “balls” and “tits”. I have no idea how those became the pejoratives of choice, I’ve never heard my siblings use them in other situations.

    When we all lived in the same city, but three (of 5) had moved out, we went home for NCIS night every Thursday, because that was mum’s favourite, and would play old family favourites like “guess the bad guy/plot twist” and “question”. (During the advertisement, one person may shout, at any time, “Question!”. This alerts the siblings that they must pay heightened attention if they wish to score “I’m better than you” points. Questions may be as easy as “how much did that product cost?” or as difficult as “how many times did the lady in the blue shirt raise her right hand?”).

    We also have a pretty strict Unwritten Order of Things about Phase 10. It’s all good old fashioned wholesome family fun.

  14. When playing Pokemon Puzzle League on Nintendo, we somehow came up with the pejorative “snellcotarino” as the term we use when a player is defeated in less than 30 seconds. It’s a term we got from my mother’s personal history in which she explains it was her sister’s made-up word for “the scoots.” The name has stuck as has “snellcotarino reversed” when the next round is won in less than 30 seconds by the loser of the prior round. Family traditions are wholesome.

  15. Awesome post!!!!

  16. The very definition of “wholesome recreational activities” – six brothers standing out in front of the house, launching burning fireworks from clay pigeon thrower, and then blasting away with Grandpa’s favorite shotgun on the night before his funeral.

    Because, you know, he would have said many a cussword about those shenanigans, but on the inside he would have chuckled because blasting a Piccolo Pete out of the air with a twelve gauge can really bring a family together like few other things can.

  17. My family’s wholesome recreational activities when I was growing up in the 1980’s consisted largely of playing gin rummy with FACE CARDS. We were basically apostates, I guess.

  18. We used to have wholesome blackjack tournaments using marbles as currency. Good times!

    My older brother created a water balloon launcher by cutting in half one of those old cans they used to sell motor oil in and then attaching a length of surgical tubing to a hole on each side of the can. With two burly friends holding onto the tubing as he pulled back the can in the middle, this modern-day siege weapon could hurl a soggy missile half-a-block into main street traffic (or backyard BBQs, your choice). The climax of its use came when a skillfully propelled water balloon went right through the window of the church cannery next door.

  19. John Harrison, speaking of water balloons . . .;

    I once lobbed a water balloon out of the back of a friend’s pickup truck, while traveling at 60 mph, into the windshield of an oncoming van also traveling at 60 mph. For the record, a 3-pound , 4-inch-diameter object making impact with a windshield at 120 mph (relative velocity) will break the windshield.

    This became apparent only later. I saw the brake lights go on. The van whipped a bootlegger turn, accelerated, and chased us down for 8 miles at speeds approaching 90 mph. I remember very little of that 16-hour chase (subjective time), save that as we caught the green light and sped across the intersection at Highway 65, there was a point where the truck bed dropped completely out from under me as we dropped off the road’s cambered crest. Fortunately, despite the compression of time, Newtonian laws were still operative. I continued forward at the same velocity as the truck, and when it came back up to meet me I was still in the box. I then sought earnestly to become one with the truck, for if ye are not one, ye are roadkill.

    The van finally caught us at a stop sign with cross traffic. The driver leapt out and began shouting numbers – my friend’s license plate numbers. He had us.

    In my defense, I was 14. We were still working “The Distillation of Wood” in 9th grade physics.

    A friend’s parent paid for the windshield, I weeded endless rows of quackgrass to pay him back, and my parents didn’t find out about this incident until I was 21. :) To add insult to injury, the van’s driver was the father of a classmate of mine. Many years later, after I married, I bought a car from him at the auto dealership he was working at. We both had a chuckle over the water balloon, as well as a sincere apology from me and a sigh of relief that no one had been hurt.

  20. Alejandro says:

    This is satire right?

    Do we really need an explaination for what to do durring FHE?
    Use your brain folks!

  21. No, this is not satire.

  22. My brother and I used to have firecracker battles. We’d light black cats and throw them at each other, and aim bottle rockets at each other. Looking back, this was a wholesome activity because, as per the definition, it promoted our physical health. We developed our agility by dodging explosives.

  23. Not a *family* activity, per se, but when I was a missionary, we used to have zone match fights. (The trick is to use safety matches – you hold them upright against the striking surface with the head facing it, and your finger on the opposite end, then flip them with the other hand – sort of like paper football. The match would light as it flew away. Definitely wholesome, though I haven’t yet introduced my own children to the game, for insurance purposes.

  24. Therapy is the only wholesome recreational activity our family does weekly. Just keepin’ it real…

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