Readers, from the traffic in my inbox this week and other regions of the bloggernacle, the universe seems to be signalling that it’s time to talk about parenthood:
Dear Ask Mormon Girl:
My wife and I are smack dab in the middle of a crisis of faith. We are struggling to give our kids the best of Mormonism. But we do not want our kids being taught things that we feel are untrue or things that we feel will restrict them in their journey to discover themselves and their true potential. And I have nightmares of my daughter going away to BYU marrying a “I’m the head of the household” priesthood holder and before you know it her husband will not allow our grandchildren to see us because we are a bad influence. Did I mention my daughter is only 7? Yeah, maybe we need to relax a little. I am curious if you share similar concerns? Deep down do you really think it is possible to raise your children in the church on your terms and if so how?
Vegas New Order Mormons
Dear Vegas NOMs:
Most days, I experience parenthood as a transcendently mindbending mixture of total responsibility and total helplessness. It’s like the old Saturday’s Warrior lyric: “Who are these children coming down, coming down / like gentle rain through darkened skies?” And if I can’t cajole my six year old into practicing at her drumset every day, how on earth will I ever get her and her sister to adulthood alive, whole, literate, responsible, and happy?
The issue of religious upbringing provokes in me an even greater depth of awe and terror. Because even though my kids are young, I’ve seen enough of this world to know that no child walks exactly the same road of faith his or her parents walked. And no parent can guarantee particular religious outcomes for their children. No parent can.
Still, dear Vegas NOMs, it strikes me that when you write that you “don’t want [your] kids being taught things that [you] feel are untrue,” you are using the passive construction of the verb “to teach.” Might you be undervaluing your own role in the spiritual education of your kids? Don’t. Don’t outsource their spiritual education to anyone or anything, and don’t underestimate the power of your own example.
These little ones, they watch us around the clock: silently observing and absorbing our words, deeds, silences, feelings, reactions—conscious and unconscious. If you are in the middle of a faith transition, or if you are feeling ambivalent, anxious, or conflicted about your Mormonism, it’s likely that your kids can sense it. And yet, since you do want to give them all that is good about our faith, you owe it to yourselves and to them to reclaim what you can feel good about and to make it a joyful, meaningful part of your shared lives. Mormonism is a beautiful, robust, complicated religious tradition. It should be a blessing to you and to them. You can help make it so.
One aspect of traditional Mormon doctrine I love and try to emphasize with my own children is the central importance of seeking one’s own answers and building a sense of what is true through prayer, study, contemplation, and listening to the Spirit. These spiritual tools are as core to the Mormon tradition as the Joseph Smith story. Moreover, they are also basic resources for becoming a responsible adult person of faith. I feel really good about teaching them to my children.
I also try to nourish in my children a positive identification with Mormon tradition by making sure they get plenty of the Mormon stories, places, experiences, and memories that give me joy: pioneer stories, Pioneer Day, visits to family in Utah, trips to Temple Square, community service projects, emergency preparedness, home gardening, family history. I want my girls to have the visual memory of their Jewish father laughing as he helps their crazy Mormon mother load six months’ worth of rice, beans, wheat, and textured vegetable protein in the garage. I want them to know by experience that when someone is really sick, we call the temple and put their name on the prayer roll, or call the home teachers for a priesthood blessing. I want them to have positive experiences with aspects of Mormonism that have brought me happiness, so that they will have these good memories to come home to. For me, this is about giving them a sense of belonging to a tradition, a sense of identity.
Finally, I try to demonstrate respect for varieties of Mormon experience and to give them the most loving, expansive, non-punitive take on Mormonism I can. I want them to see that I do not withhold my affection from people who make more orthodox or less orthodox choices than I do. For consider this: if your daughter knows you fear that she will “run away to BYU and marry an ‘I’m the head of the household’ priesthood holder,” you can bet your Sunstone subscription that as soon as late adolescence hits she will hie directly unto Happy Valley. Which, as you know, is not really such a bad thing. Unless you make it so.
So, take full responsibility for teaching your kids all that you can, and then, yes, relax. Trust that in the company of a merciful God they will sort it out for themselves the best they can. Someday. Whether you like it or not.
And now I’m going to stop lest I give my daughters any more grounds for ridiculing me when they unearth this column ten years from now. (No, honey, you can’t stay out past midnight. Don’t you know the Holy Ghost goes home at midnight? Now go practice your drumset and say your prayers.)
Readers, it’s your turn. Parents, talk (nicely!) about your children; children, talk (nicely!) about your parents. How did your parents raise you? How do you give your kids the good stuff? And how do you deal with your worries about making sure they turn out okay?
Send your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow askmormongirl on Twitter.
7 responses to “We’re struggling to give our kids the best of Mormonism: Help?”
no kids, no comment, except that you’re really smart, Joanna.
Woah, I had no idea that Mormons stored three to six months of emergency food! Cool, I learned something from this post!
Anyway, I’m not a Mormon, nor do I have kids, but I second your injunction to the NOMs to take the religious education of their kids into their own hands, because I can tell you from a negative example that if they don’t, there’s no telling what their kids will learn. See, I grew up Catholic, but only because one of my parents — my dad — was Catholic. But he was an older, old fashioned, 1950s era kind of white, middle class dad, and so he left all the parenting to my mom and all of my religious education to the Catholic schools he insisted I go to. Between my mom, who was an agnostic skeptic, and the cool lefty/hippie teachers at my school, I came out a lefty agnostic.
Now that probably sounds like a happy ending for everyone here, and I think it is, too. But my conservative Catholic father was none too happy with the outcome. But who can he blame but himself?
PS — Joanna, you know me under my real name. Go to my blog and you might figure it out. If you don’t, and want to know, send me an e-mail.
apart from religious education by the parents, I think the kind care of friends with whom the children play, talk, study. I’ve learned and it is true, the peer influence is strong, people do what their friends do, we must be true mentors for our children and for friends who can be mentors for our children …
Is this really a fair statement? I completely disagree with your analysis on the use of the passive construct. Aren’t Vegas New Order Mormons using the passive construct to avoid saying something such as “We’ve become increasingly concerned that our children’s Sunday School teachers (and other ward members) are filling our kid’s heads with complete nonsense.”
I have four siblings. We grew up in the same household. My parents are some of the kindest, most generous people I know. Yet three of my sibling have become the most xenophobic people you would ever meet (two married super, super conservative leaning Mormons).
I think the question is terrific. Whether New Vegas Mormons concerns are theological or tradition-based, I think a better response would have come from your heart using your experiences during Prop 8.
“Trust that in the company of a merciful God they will sort it out for themselves the best they can.”
My entire testimony rides on this small, yet powerful statement you made Joanna.
Growing up, my family was in and out of church. Inactive one year, active the next. I had faith in the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, but it wasn’t set on a rock. My parents passed away when I was in my early 20’s, and had they had been alive, would have been devastated to find I had left the Mormon church. Especially to have joined a “shouting Hallelujah, dance if the Spirit moves you” evangelical Baptist church. I’m certain they rolled over in their graves. To make a long story as short as I’m capable of making it… I found my way back to the LDS faith. I learned that the journey I took away from the church was definitely in the plan God had for me. My testimony has grown immensely, I’ve learned so much, and I have a DEEP appreciation of my faith that only having left the church could give me. (sounds odd I know) I could keep going, but I wont… I just wanted to share that tid bit to help those parents like VNOM’s. Who aren’t sure, who do, and will make mistakes. Trust in God, it will work out.
Excellent reply! nicely stated.
I believe Joe has misunderstood – you can’t stop people from telling your kids crazy, untrue things whether it’s in church, school, or at the park. People are nuts no matter their affiliation. The point is that you have to take it into your own hands to guide their reactions to those things, nurture their ability to think for themselves, and the best part of the original answer, to have an appreciation and an understanding of the spirit. Hey, my brother has taken some “orthodox” crazy turn, my Dad registered democrat recently, another brother lets his kids watch R-rated movies and drink Red Bull from a young age, I consider myself solidly in the middle. Sounds like your family is no different than any other family.
I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment that familial influences usually outweigh environmental when it comes to religion (and lots of things). I say usually because the world is peppered with exceptions, but in my own experience it’s been proven true. I’m the child of a Idaho/Californian and a Utahn (yup, I’m a product of BYU!) who grew up in Louisiana. I didn’t ever fully acquire a southern accent because my older sisters thought it was uncool. I seethed at shocked reactions in my high school to interracial couples holding hands (and no, not all of the South is like this, but my high school was).
And especially on religious fronts, I was totally okay with ignoring some of the less-grounded counsel and supposed doctrine I received. I vividly remember having an in-depth conversation with my Dad about the Fall during a long car ride to a stake activity. He painted the picture of noble parents who sacrificed paradise for a greater good, and he echoed the sentiments of church leaders who praise Eve and Adam for their choice even when they couldn’t fully comprehend the consequences. The next week when my Sunday school teacher totally denigrated Eve for eating the fruit, all my impassioned eleven-year-old clout certainly couldn’t change his mind, but I knew exactly who I was siding with on that one. When my church friend commented that the Curse of Cain was the reason for limiting the priesthood before 1978, I definitely wasn’t swayed to her opinion. When that same friend’s father got up-tight about people who believed in evolution, I mentioned it to my mom who was totally comfortable in admitting she didn’t have all the answers, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise her if evolution played a large part in the Creation.
I know anecdotes do not equal data, and perhaps I was aided by having four older sisters who were my heroes and examples (as opposed to the parents I was obligated as a teenager to pretend not to listen to), but I know my greatest source of Mormon theology was always my family. And for the most part, that knowledge-base came more through car ride conversations to soccer practice and vacation road trips than it did through Family Home Evening, faithful as my parents were to that particular institution.
It’s a multi-faceted issue, and I’m not a parent so what do I know. But your example and perspective will shape you kids far more than you may realize.