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?
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