Mary Finnerty came to the Northern Virginia forum on American families last weekend pulling a red toy wagon stuffed with roses. The flowers, she said, "represented the short life and martydom of the preborn babies" who are aborted.

Finnerty, president of Virginia Right to Life Inc., was one of more than 300 persons taking part in the Northern Virginia Family Forum, a prelude to the White House Conference on Families which will be held in Baltimore this summer.

Her idea for the little red wagon came from the executive director of the national conference, John Carr, who said recently the nationwide meetings have been dominated more and more by political issues where participants "see this as a forum to pull their little red wagons across the stage."

Already, in several states, that changing focus has become apparent, with several groups jockeying for control of their delegations.

The Northern Virginia conference, held at George Mason University last weekend, drew a variety of groups, and more than 100 persons spoke about the issues they want the 10 delegates from Northern Virginia to take to the White House conference.

Carri Downs, a 17-year-old high school student from Chantilly School, raised a few eyebrows when she told the forum that a mother's place should be in the home with her children, who might feel cheated if she were not there. b

"A family is a situation where the mother and father are married and children are born from a loving and beautiful relationship."

Downs also had definite ideas about sex education. "Sex education should be taught at home, by the parents," she said.

One couple, Lawrence and Sue King, both 41, said they were encouraged by some of the comments at the forum.

"People are becoming fearful that there may be attempts to redefine the family to something other than that based on marriage, blood relations or adoption to include gays and lesbians," the Kings told the audience. "We want to support the traditional family. It's been great to come here today and find that we are not alone."

Mike Barber, of Reston, a 31-year-old member of the Gay Activists Alliance, called for an end to discrimination against "families with gays."

"Homosexuals can't get jobs with the CIA or the FBI, and things like that cause stresses within the family," he said."Get the bigots and their allies in government off our backs."

Several witnesses criticized current personal attitudes and said the "self-serving and self-gratifying 'Me Generation'" was disrupting communication in many families.

Education systems also came in for some criticism by speakers who contended that many "family issues that should be dealt with at home" are being discussed in classrooms.

"What you will find here is how schools can interfere in and not reinforce family life," said Finnerty in describing a state Education Department pamphlet about sexual issues. Finnerty contended that pamplets such as the Education Department publication, which deals frankly with questions about "sexual intercourse, masturbation . . . causes anxiety and too much curiosity in children."

Forum coordinator Gaynell Poulton, who has seven children, said she is trying to have tapes of the forum placed in local libraries.

"This is what people feel, in their own minds, what the people really feel is right and wrong with family life today," she said. "And the most exciting thing is that everything has been different. I haven't heard the same thing twice."