An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Freedom or Failure?

Nobody wants to hear her mother or father say, “I failed as
a parent.” There’s just no way to interpret that statement as a compliment to
oneself. Of course, if a person’s offspring are languishing in jail or making
fools of themselves by emailing photos of their nether regions, a parent may
have justification for feeling somewhat less than adequate.

In Mormon culture, however, an admission of guilt for bad
parenting is not because a son or daughter has done anything wrong, but because
of what a grown child has not done—not served a mission, not married in the temple, not stayed active in the church. For
active Mormons, no other success compensates for failure to attend church and participate
in LDS ordinances.

My dad always compared
his parenting unfavorably with that of his brother who boasted of temple-married
offspring and grandkids who served missions. My brothers and I had equivalent
jobs and were probably more involved in community affairs and charitable
organizations than our cousins, but that didn’t count in Dad’s book. He was
mollified when George and I were sealed in the temple and two of our kids served
missions—but he continued to mourn for my brothers—even sending missionaries to
visit my non-Mormon sister-in-law.

George and I are proud of our kids. Those with children are
loving, responsible parents. Wort and Cookie gave a young woman a place to stay
for six months while she found a job and got on her feet. Lolly and Doc work to
improve the school system in their district. Jaycee founded and runs a
successful business. Aroo and Biker make generous contributions to worthy
causes. Techie and Techie II scrimped for two years to work themselves out of
debt. Despite our flawed parenting, none of our kids has hit the news
negatively. We consider their religious beliefs and practices their own

I’ve been surprised at how many active Mormon families in my
age group have one or more children who have left the fold. Probably more of my
peers than I know about deal with this situation.  This is not the kind of information shared in
Christmas newsletters.

Occasionally, one of our children reports meeting a kid from
our home ward at a party, drink in hand, who admits to disappointing her
parents. My travels with women friends this summer provided opportunities for
deep sharing. Judy ruefully confessed that her three children have left the
church and are agnostic if not atheist. Nora blamed her divorce for five of her
six children leaving the church.

Recently, General Authorities have expressed concern for the
high number of young Mormons dropping from Church activity. An unexpected benefit from this public announcement may be that Mormon parents will
now realize an adult son or daughter’s lack of Church commitment is not unique.
It need not be viewed with the shame of admitting to bilking one’s neighbors in
a Ponzi scheme. Freed from unwarranted self-blame, I hope Mormon parents can strengthen
family bonds by appreciating grown children’s good qualities—and their agency.


Comments on: "Freedom or Failure?" (6)

  1. Two of Three said:

    What kills me is that when a less than solid member’s kid leaves, it’s because they did not walk the straight and narrow road. But when a “faithful” member’s kid leaves, it is because they are being tried like Job. If any of my kids ever leave and I can see it happening, the finger will be pointed immediately at me because I was not a good example.

  2. fuzzyoctopus said:

    If I am honest with myself, one of the reasons i have not left the church entirely is because it would break my mother’s heart. Her only other child was excommunicated/disfellowshipped. (can’t remember which) and I know she would be in massive grief.

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