Summer greetings, readers, and happy fourth of July. This week, we have a double-header, and it’s on the subject of mothers. (I can hear the fireworks already.) My, do we have a lot to say about our mothers. Read on:
I’m a senior in college pursuing a degree in English, and after graduation this fall I’ll stay at my alma mater to earn a Masters in English. After serving a mission for the LDS church in Europe, I married a wonderful man about nine months ago, and we’re both still in school. During our engagement and really ever since then, we’ve been praying about when to start a family. The answer has been consistent: go to grad school. Although we both want kids, it would be difficult (not impossible, but difficult) to swing financially since we’re both in school. Given the state of the economy, we’re also reluctant to incur major debt. I also would love to get a masters because it would allow me to more easily jump back into some kind of career after kids are grown. All of these reasons would be thrown to the side, however, if our answer from prayer were to have kids right now.
Now for the hard part: my parents still adhere to the mandates they were given as newlyweds at BYU–that is, if you’re married, you have kids. Right away. No delay. So in their mind, I’m not complying to prophetic counsel.
My family is pretty conservative. This is the very first time in my life I have disagreed with my parents about a moral issue. I know that’ll elicit eye rolls from many, but that harmony has come because they’ve always treated me like an equal, reasoned with me, and based their decisions on love. The gospel has been the foundation of their lives and character, and I’m incredibly thankful for that.
As I realized I wasn’t going to have kids, and as I realized just how entrenched my parents are in their attitude against birth control, I wasn’t as bold as I should have been. I didn’t tell my mom I was applying to grad school until, while scheduling a lunch date, I had to mention I was taking the GRE that day. I mumbled something about prayer and feeling like I needed to go to grad school. When we do have one-on-one time, she doesn’t ask much about grad school and I don’t bring it up.
The topic of when I’ll have kids came up at a recent family function; I tried to change the topic (which my joking siblings called me out on) and my mom commented, “She just doesn’t want to be a mom.” In another incident when I mentioned that delaying kids for grad school was a decision made through prayer, my mom jibed, “Did you pray about it together?”
Basically, I haven’t confidently and maturely explained why I’m not having kids ASAP because I knew my parents would disagree. As far as I can tell, that reluctance has been interpreted as uncertainty about my choice (and to be fair, it’s been an internal battle that’s forced me to own my own spirituality and answers and not rely on my parents’ choices as completely as I have before). I know I need to sit down with my mom and explain why I’m doing this with my life – even though I don’t need her approval, it sure would be nice. At the very least, it will prevent this developing into a drawn out, passive aggressive conflict I don’t want to come between us. Agreeing to disagree would be so much preferable to these side comments that hurt.
So how do I do this? How do I explain that I respect and admire her obedience, I see the blessings of her decisions to follow the prophet, but I’m following the counsel given in my time (that family planning is between you, your spouse, and the Lord) and that my personal revelation is different? Do I cite True to the Faith, recent prophetic statements, and personal prayer? Most importantly, how do I explain my stance without attacking hers? The very last thing I want is a bitter battle and hurt feelings (and frankly the battle wouldn’t happen because we are an extremely non-confrontational family – at least in terms of obvious disagreement).
Grad School Future Mommy
And here’s letter two:
Dear Ask Mormon Girl,
My mom is a conservative, uber-orthodox Mormon; I’m an increasingly liberal, feminist Mormon woman and mother of one. Quite frankly she just scares me most of the time when we converse about anything political or church-related and then I’m left scratching my head wondering what in the world we have in common. The quality and depth of our relationship continues to dip, particularly as I make choices that she just doesn’t get. For instance, she couldn’t be more enthused about my husband applying to Ph.D. programs this fall, but when we discuss that I am simultaneously applying to Master’s programs she hasn’t tried too hard to hide the fact that she is confused about my life goals despite the fact that I’ve walked her through it several times.
I had never suspected when I was younger that my relationship with my mom would deteriorate so much by the age of 26. All of my other siblings have a good relationship with her and seem to treat her “spiritual interventions” (I had a prompting I should tell you to do this…) with great respect and admiration while I mostly want to tell her to mind her own business. She has some idea that I’ve become more liberal but refuses to take it seriously and likes to attribute it to my supposedly liberal professors. Honestly, I have no idea how to have a relationship with this woman and I find myself wanting to distance myself from her which makes me sad. Perhaps you’ve had similiar experiences?
First of all, ladies, let me congratulate both of you on your educational drive and ambition. If your moms aren’t saying so, let me say it: I’m proud of you! Go get those advanced degrees!
Heartbreaking it is, but true: there comes a time when we must break up with our parents. As an adult and a married person you have the right to autonomy and dignity in your personal decisions. (Especially for you, Grad School Future Mommy: your mom has no place being up in your . . . . your reproductive business, no matter how many old-school General Conference talks she cites.) Your parents are adjusting to their new role as parents of adult children and may need your example in setting proper boundaries. You are not obliged to explain everything to them. That may be difficult if they’ve had backstage passes to your life for the last few decades.
It’s my observation that in Mormon culture the parent-adult child relationship sometimes functions a bit differently. Our theology teaches us to project parenting through the endless eternities. It never ends! Some Mormons premise their eternal identities on the act of parenting. And they keep parenting—hard—long after the children are grown. A beautiful Mormon doctrine, that is, but one that needs careful application to the real facts of adult family life. In the Old Testament, Adam and Eve are commanded to “leave mother and father” when they pair up. A lot of heartache and dysfunction comes when even well-intentioned parents meddle in their grown children’s marriages and lives. In other cultures and families, believe it or not, some parents of adult children see their roles as just enjoying and even growing with their children through the years, stepping in to lend a hand only when asked. Imagine that.
If it’s a matter of growing apart from your mom, here’s my advice: it’s okay to mourn the relationship you wish you had with her. It’s okay to wish you were closer and to feel—even to ache—for her company and understanding. What you will need to do is find a crew of adult women sister-friends who can play a motherly role when you need them, providing support, understanding, encouragement, and a touch of nurturing. That’s what grown women can do for one another. Over the years, the brunt forces of life will inevitably rearrange your relationship with your mom, and if you’ve nurtured yourself and learned to understand what you can and can’t expect from her, you will be able to come back to that relationship with more to give. And in the long run—remember this—she may need you more than you need her. That’s one of the great secrets of this life.
Now, if it’s a matter of mom openly casting judgment on or teasing you in front of other people about your life choices, you need to summon the adult inside of you, take her aside privately—one on one, and with every ounce of authority, grace, and generosity you can muster tell her to knock it off. If you don’t feel like a face-to-face will work, write her a letter. Don’t go to scripture or doctrine or conference talks. That’s her game. You lay down a new set of rules: “Mom, I’ve heard you make several comments about when we’re having children. You raised me to be prayerful in my decisions, and I am. And not having children right now is my decision. I’m sure you don’t want me to feel this way, but it hurts my feelings and makes me not want to be around you and the family when you undermine my decisions, especially when you tease me in front of other people.” The end. Ball is in her court. And if she continues to badger you, you have the right to remind her that it hurts your feelings. And then, painful but true, if there is no change in her behavior, you may consider limiting how much you expose yourself to her. It’s important to your dignity as an adult and to the privacy of your marriage to draw boundaries with moms, even (especially?) super-righteous ones.
See, readers, I told you we all have a lot to say about moms. I’m guessing a lot of you have been down this road and have wisdom to add. Who’s first?
Send your query to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow askmormongirl on Twitter, or friend Joanna Brooks on Facebook, where she promises not to get up in your business.