A recent blogger expressed concern about the family values promoted in some of the more sappy Primary songs—the ones depicting an idyllic family with a strong, presiding father and a nurturing mother—or even a barely mentioned mother. While I realize the purpose of Primary songs is to teach gospel principles, I question the effectiveness of them as instruments of indoctrination. Do a higher percentage of YM serve missions now than in former years because they sang “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission” in Primary? Do Mormons who grew up singing “Book of Mormon Stories” read the BOM with greater enthusiasm than those of the generation who sang “Give Said the Little Stream” instead?
Children will run into cultural principles at church and other places that differ from the parents’ personal values or family situation. Certainly children from single parent or part-member families don’t see their family’s lifestyle depicted in Primary. But whose family is ideal? And I can’t really imagine children singing a Primary song about Dad abandoning the family or Mom getting a job. Certainly church isn’t the only place where normal families don’t measure up to mythical perfection. When she was in elementary school, our oldest daughter fixated on a series of books about the Happy Hollister family. The Hollisters traveled abroad extensively with parents who never uttered a cross word to the kids or to each other. The siblings never quarreled—never even annoyed each other. Lolly lamented that our family did not measure up, but now she has children of her own and realizes what a work of fiction the Happy Hollisters were.
Cultural influences outside our home made lasting impressions on our kids. Lolly, a staunch pro-lifer, recently told me that when she was in 6th grade, the mother of her best friend sat both girls down and read them a magazine article about the horrors of abortion. Sister Dugood never asked my permission to share her opinion with Lolly. While I certainly don’t believe abortion is a good thing, my own feelings are in the grayer areas of mothers’ and babies’ health. It never occurred to me to share my thoughts about abortion with my 11-year-old daughter, and someone else imprinted her with values not exactly like mine.
As independent voters with fairly (for Utah) liberal leanings, George and I were shocked when our elder son began spouting ultra conservative political quotations from his 8th grade US History teacher. We shared our own opinions with him, but Wort preferred his teacher’s politics. Was that a bad thing? It is if we consider our children as clones of ourselves who should positively agree with us on every issue. But George and I see our children as independent agents. We taught them our core values of honesty, compassion, responsibility and self-reliance. And while we would have been delighted had they mirrored our loftiest thoughts on every topic, we respect their ability to evaluate not only what we taught them, but what they encountered from others.
I loved the blog on indoctrinating Primary songs and the comments it engendered. Most of the LDS mothers responding realize that no organization, not even a church, will reflect every member’s cultural values and reality. The prevailing thought was that parents should be aware of what their children are learning and discuss their personal interpretation of cultural values with their kids. To paraphrase Hugh B. Brown, as they mature, we should be more concerned that our children think rather than what they think.