An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Mormon family values’

Sanctity of Marriage

First posted 12/28/09

I fell into the trap of thinking I could coerce George into church activity when we were first married. Like many new wives, I saw my spouse as a work-in-progress. It didn’t hit me how futile and even unrighteous my attempts were until a well-meaning bishop asked why I didn’t make my husband attend his priesthood meetings. Having our bishop assign responsibility to me for my husband’s church attendance awoke me to the futility of trying to manage another person’s spirituality—at least until we had children.

I took the responsibility to teach our children the gospel seriously—too seriously. When our daughter, Aroo, rebelled against church, I feared loss of testimony would be followed by moral transgression and a lifetime of heartache. I pleaded, ordered, and punished to force church conformity on Aroo. She finally told me she had never believed any of the stuff she’d heard at church. I berated myself for bad parenting—not realizing my bad parenting wasn’t in failing to teach my child religious doctrine. My bad parenting was trying to force her to believe as I did. Curiously enough, several girls in her age group committed moral transgressions, and all changed direction, married in the temple, and conformed to the Mormon lifestyle. Maybe sin wasn’t the dominant factor in happiness and success as I had believed.

In an ironic twist after 35 years of marriage, George became the more faithful member while my belief in Mormon history and doctrine dwindled. When I no longer believed that God cared what kind of underwear I wore, George reacted with panic.  I was jeopardizing our chance to be together with our children as an eternal family. In the context of Mormon theology, my personal loss of belief affected George as much as myself. The second Article of Faith says man will be punished for his own sins and not for Adam’s transgression, yet George’s hopes for an eternal family depend on my belief and activity.

 The doctrine of eternal families unifies a family of believers, but divides those with one or more non-believers. The Book of Mormon promises that everyone who earnestly seeks will gain a spiritual confirmation of its truth. Therefore a person who doesn’t believe must not be trying or must not be a righteous person. In practice, this justifies divorcing a spouse who cannot accept Mormon teachings.  I doubt many LDS marriages fail only because of religious differences, but non-belief and adultery by the spouse are probably the two most socially acceptable reasons Mormons use to explain their divorces.

We Mormons would do well to adopt a teaching of Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh: “Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education.”

Families Can Be Together Forever–But Is That Really a Good Idea?

As a kid, my concept of heaven was a sort of Star Wars eternal battle against good and evil. I visualized myself serving God as a sort of messenger (i.e. ministering angel). The notion of becoming a god myself seemed arrogant—besides, I was a girl.

I’ve always been an independent person who needs solitude to replenish my spiritual and emotional well-being. Growing up, I valued home and family, and I wanted to be with my mother who died when I was ten. But my desire for a temple marriage didn’t surface until I had a houseful of kids. I adored my children and wanted to be with them forever. I even half wished they could remain innocent, young kids in our nuclear family—although I knew that wouldn’t have been fair to them.

With my children grown, I realize the notion of mothering my little brood of children for eternity is a myth. They are all capable adults caring for families and responsibilities of their own. Their idea of eternal family is being with their own children and having Granny and Granddad visit occasionally. Eternal family life, unless you factor in eternal procreation, is really eternal marriage. Here again I have a problem. Wife is a subordinate, care-giving role.

Another problem is that parent and child roles evolve throughout life. My mother died when she was younger than my youngest daughter. I can’t visualize a mother-daughter relationship with her. While my mother’s life was too short, my dad’s life was too long. Our roles reversed as I became his caregiver. While I would like to see my parents in heaven, I really can’t imagine myself as a child in their nuclear family. And where would George fit? How do we live with my family and his family and our kids and their families and their spouses’ families? I picture a sort of golden ant hill—with no place to hide.

The notion of eternal procreation makes the situation even worse. For several years the entrance to the women’s dressing room at the Jordan River Temple had a painting of Heavenly Mother surrounded by numberless offspring. The painting was removed several years ago—probably because of comments that Heavenly Mother’s face, which was intended, I’m sure, to radiate peace and joy in her posterity, actually resembled a woman who was stoned out of her skull and in great need for a room of her own— far from a multitude of little voices trilling, “Mom!”

Don’t get me wrong. I dearly love every member of my immediate family, most of my extended family, and even some of my in-laws. It’s not the people I have trouble with; it’s the relationships. I don’t really want to be anybody’s wife or mother or daughter forever and ever. Now, sister, I could handle. My brothers make few demands. For my money, being friends with George, our adult children, and our parents and other relatives is enough. Trying to restructure hierarchical family relationships sounds like a good way to turn heaven into hell.

Purdah–A Good Fit for Mormons?

Dreams of Trespass, Fatima Mernissi’s memoir of growing up in the seclusion of a Moroccan family, intrigues me. The cloistered life of these Muslim women—sheltered from the cares and threats of the outside world, all economic and public responsibilities on the shoulders of the husbands—sounds like a great deal to me. Who wouldn’t like a life without responsibilities beyond caring for the kids and seeing that meals get on the table? If the Moroccan women had just been allowed access to shopping malls and TV, it sounds pretty ideal. Actually, it sounds kind of like the Mormon poster family. Many Mormon women do pretty much limit their interests and activities to the confines of their own home.  

And I wonder—are Mormon men happy to shoulder all the economic responsibility? Or do they sometimes cast envious glances at neighbors with wives holding jobs that provide health insurance and retirement accounts?

And this leads me back to Mid-Eastern purdah.  How do they get the men to go along with it?  Mernissi’s father and uncle support a huge extended family. Besides their own wives and children, they are responsible for their mother, their unmarried sisters, and divorced female relatives and their children. Since the women can’t leave the home compound except for lady’s day at the public bath, the husbands make family decisions, enroll the kids in school, and do the shopping including picking the right colors of embroidery floss—all while earning enough to keep this mammoth family fed. And what’s in it for the men? Sex—children—a smoothly-running household.

Is that enough? Well, I guess that depends on the quality of the benefits. I’m not sure I’d want to bet my economic security on my ability to satisfy on those three counts. I did provide George with five offspring, but I don’t recall him leaping with ecstasy each time I whispered in his ear, “Honey, I think I’m pregnant again.” It’s probably a good thing I was able to help put food on the table. It was also a good thing George was willing to help prepare the food and clean up afterwards.

For us, purdah wouldn’t work except maybe in reverse. At his current age, George prefers staying home and wouldn’t mind being secluded from shopping, church or any other outside activity. And so long as I don’t have to choose embroidery floss, I’m okay with our arrangement.

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