All-expenses-paid Guilt Trips

I had a beautiful experience last week. I went through the temple with one of my Sunday School students/neighbors, a young man headed to the MTC on Wednesday Sept. 13. Last week, another of my SS students/neighbors left for his mission. There is one other member of the neighborhood of age to serve a mission, but he will not be doing it. He is my son.

As I watch him flounder (though he would not choose that verb), I am haunted by the well-rehearsed Mormon mother guilt trips:

Would he have been ready for a mission if I had baked bread and had that lovely aroma greet him every day when he got home from school? He has a mother who always has her fingers in a number of academic and creative pies, and rarely makes the pastry kind. (In fact, she buys pre-packaged graham cracker crusts when she makes pies at all.) Is the other kind of mother—the one with the spotless house and adorable scrapbooks–better at preparing missionaries? Isn’t that other mother less selfish?

Would he have been ready if I had changed the subject when he said, “Well, I ran into some anti-Mormons today. They had some things right, but they got a lot wrong. They said Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. He didn’t, did he?� I didn’t change the subject. I answered his question.

Would he have been ready if I had been less angry about the huge, long-standing disagreement my husband and I had over his involvement in Dungeons and Dragons? I did not want it in my home; Bruce found it harmless.

Would he have been ready if I had won the argument and we had succeeded in removing D&D?
Wouldn’t he have been in the temple with my husband and me if I had just been perfect? A better housekeeper, a more vocal testimony-giver, a person with flannel board Bible stories for every Sunday afternoon? Someone who never lost her temper? Someone else?

I remember years ago when I was struggling with guilt about my son’s rebellion (which was evident even then). I went over the list of my failings, and then had the sudden thought (I hesitate to call it an impression), “What is it you’re good at in your home, Margaret?� The first answer (the impulse) was a catalogue of what I didn’t do well. But the second answer was much clearer: “You are good at loving your children. Why would you risk that gift in order to do everything else you think you need to do?�

The implications of my many guilt trips extend to my children in compelling and frightening ways. I wonder what their lists are. I know my teenaged daughter gives herself messages all the time: “As soon as I lose thirty pounds, I’ll be all right.â€? “If my complexion would clear up, some cute guy would ask me out–but I’m so ugly right now.â€? “If I can get straight A’s, I won’t have to prove I’m smart.â€? (This last expectation has resulted in her trembling to her marrow before even entering an AP class, because it’s either an A or an F to her. Consequently, I have pulled her out of public school and put her in a far less demanding place. And yes, I do see that problem among my BYU students—the “But I HAVE to get an A!â€? mentality.)

My oldest daughter surprised me a month ago by saying, “I always felt such pressure to graduate from a university.� I replied that I never thought I had pushed academia. She answered, “You didn’t have to. You’re you, and Dad is Dad. It was in the air.� She suggested it went back generations. She’s right.

So my final question is not about what I could’ve done differently to enforce my will on my son, but about the expectations which are in the air in a Mormon community. For some, like my neighbors, these expectations (coupled with private pilgrimages) have produced profound and beautiful commitments in almost-missionaries. For others, they have become crippling categories in a world which already seems to demand perfection.

How do we nurture those who don’t need—and maybe shouldn’t have–the list of projects for their Young Women’s Recognition Award or their Duty to God, but simply someone to walk quietly with them? How much do we lose when love yields itself to lecture? How do we gracefully drop our own plans for someone else and simply, silently apply a balm? Can we raise our children to judge themselves and others less harshly when the question “Are you WORTHY?â€? is all around us, taunting us for our imperfections rather than reminding us that there is only one worthy, and that through Him, we may find the version and vision of ourselves which He has always known.

110 comments for “All-expenses-paid Guilt Trips

  1. The longer I am involved in the church, the more I realize how imperfect I am. Recently, I’ve really fallen apart at home and have been ashamed at the bad example I am to my children. I’ve never been one too stress out about trying to be “Molly Mormon”, but I realize now that a lot of my anxiety does come from worrying too much about what others think. Being misunderstood is very frustrating for me. I also realize that too often we don’t spend enough time outside of Sunday church with other members to realize the struggles and weaknesses others have. We only catch the bright glimpses of who people are on Sunday, and since Sundays are my best day, I’m quite sure people would be SHOCKED to see me at home. The worthiness issue is one I”ve struggled with recently,too. Not long ago, I asked my bishop how my sin of losing my temper and getting angry (which I see as a self-control issue) is so different from some sexual sins that are judged more harshly but are essentially self-contol issues too. Okay, so maybe every sin is a self-control issue and of course there are important reasons for sexual sins to be looked upon differently. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I think we as members look at different sins on scales of magnitude too much. We are all sinners, we all must repent. Unfortunately, some mistakes are more visible than others – as are the consequences. We all would do better to truly love each other unconditionally.
    p.s. If I had gone to BYU, I would have loved taking one of your classes AND it sounds like your a wonderful mother.

  2. FWIW, here’s perspective from one very-less-than-perfect parent. Who not only failed to be perfect, but failed to be a good example. Whose children and ex-wife left the Church largely because of my failings. Whose failings resulted in felony conviction, disfellowshipment, and divorce. (My Stake President told me I wasn’t excommunicated because I’d need the constant guidance of the Holy Ghost on the road I would travel — how right he was!)

    My healing after confession and repentance over a decade ago has been a major miracle for me. I wasted a lot of time wondering and regretting like what I hear in your words. Yesterday won’t get better — there’s only to move on, you and your son.

    So, here’s some good news: you may influence how your son moves on. If the Atonement covers even my sins — and to my surprise, it does — then it covers anyone’s I meet. God’s love, grace, and forebearance healed me, so I can offer love, grace and forebearance to heal others. Like your second answer, “You’re good at loving your children. Why would you risk that gift?,” focusing on possible causes of failure does risk that gift. Christ paid for mine and everyone else’s sins. To continue to seek resolution of them is to deny his payment. I don’t say this lightly: one of my most difficult lessons was to learn to forgive myself when the people I hurt still hurt. However, the Atonement’s healing is available to all and all will find it eventually.

    A self-less love and leaving judgments, both of myself and of others, to the Being and to the time of Judgment freed me from all those pointless worries and to be able to offer anyone my widow’s mite. Our calling is love and to help ONLY!

    As I accepted God’s healing love, as it fills me and as I enjoy that superabundance, I came to seek mainly to share this new-found true joy with others. Odd to me — who had been a loveless judgmental recluse — as I love others in happiness and seek their joy, they seek what I have to share. One of the counselors in my court-mandated counseling was able to let go of some 30-year-old issues as I shared the healing I enjoy.

    One of the most astounding (to me) of God’s promises is in one of those verses after the ones we usually read in D&C 121: Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God (v 45). One of our big worries is how we’ll do when we again face God when it finally is time for the final judgment. The answer here isn’t whether we’ve done all those things that appeared in your first answer, whether we’ve held the right callings, or done anything. It’s whether we are full of charity (and think virtuously) and if so, we’ll have confidence before the Lord. What greater peace could there be than to know now that one’s love will allow one to have confidence before the Lord when we rejoin Him!

    You can let God’s light so shine from you that your son and others *may* seek what you have. God supports in the sorrows that come and gives peace in the efforts of love (Mother Teresa said God gave her peace when she did what she could, even though the remaining poor were all around her). Dropping these worries, and just being full of charity toward your son, may be the last thing you need to do to have the peace that your son needs you to have for him to follow the path of peace you would have him en-joy.

    May God bless your seeking your son’s well-being.

  3. Wonderful post. Having been the black sheep in my family, I shudder to imagine all the guilty feelings that I’ve been the source of.

    It took me a 10+ year bout of atheism (which I’ve written about at length elsewhere) to cure and inoculate me against many (but not all) of the mormon expectation games. I kind of have my foot in both puddles at the same time–I wonder at how easily other people can cave in to this sort of perception-mongering, while I find myself all too willing to acquiesce to different forms of the same game.

    I’m proud to say that I’ve gone on a mission–it was the best two weeks of my life. Well, actually, it was the worst. I’ve written about that, too, at length. When I was there, I found the MTC to be a thoroughly miserable place. I could sympathize with a mother who wanted her son to be spared that experience.

    On the threads where I’ve made this a point of argument, I’ve gotten a lot public comments questioning the propriety of disparaging the MTC. The funny thing is, I’ve also gotten an inbox full of emails from people who completed their missions, but had similar MTC experiences, and who thank me for speaking out about it. Even the bloggernacle is not as candid as it seems.

    I can understand how it might be painful to see your son not participating in these Mormon rites of passage with his peers. My guess (which is quite uninformed) is that your son has some sense of this pain and the expectations connected with it.

  4. Margaret–

    For what it is worth, a couple of specific points, though they are not at the heart of your question:

    1) My parents made a wonderful impression on me by exposing me to the truth–difficult though it can sometimes be–about Church history. No Man Knows my History sits next to Rough Stone Rolling in my Dad’s library and I learned early that he and my mom love their Prophet, warts and all.

    2) I am grateful my Mom and Dad helped me see the dark influence of D&D in my life. This would be a subject for another post, but there is no question in my mind that those games/books/whatever emanate from a source with which I want nothing to do.

    More to the point: the most effective lesson my Father ever taught me came without words. I returned extremely late without calling and I entered the front door to find my Father seated on the couch, his head in his hands, tears rolling through the spaces between his fingers. He looked up at me with swollen eyes, got up, hugged me, and just held me close–as if to make sure I was real. I will never forget how terrible I felt for having betrayed, in a relatively small sense, his trust. I felt his love as strong as the sun.

    The balance between encouraging acheivement and shepherding those who’d rather (or perhaps ought) not is a difficult one to strike. There is no question in my mind some of us could do better at loving at the cost of giving up some achievement. I think we sometimes focus on ends at the expense of the now–acheivement at the expense of compassion and love, good acts at the expense of becoming. I know I struggle to assure I find this equilibrium.

    Thanks, btw, for a beautiful post, it brought tears to my eyes. Thanks, also, to Manaen, whose reponses bear the weight of expereince and love won by difficult means–you are both, as far as I’m concerned, sages.

  5. I can relate, Margaret. My 19, almost 20-year old son will not be serving a mission, and is not actively involved in church. Occasionally I go on a guilt trip about this: no formal family home evenings, no personal priesthood interviews, being all liberal and intellectual about a lot of things, having a laissez-faire attitude about a lot of things. Maybe I’m to blame.

    But there are a thousand possible causal factors, and he’s a man and ultimately it is his call.

    I’ve made my peace with all of this. He has turned into a great human being, the kind of person I would want for a friend, and I am tremendously proud of him. To me it’s not worth harming our relationship by harping on a mission, and indeed, I respect his integrity in not going simply out of pro forma expectation (as I did). All you can do is love them and allow them to be the individuals they are and make their own choices.

  6. In the introduction to the book \”In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction\” Annie Dillard gives a huge list of dos and don\’ts for new writers. I like her last rule the best: \”You have to know these [rules] somewhere in the back of your mind, and you need to forget them and write whatever your going to write.\”

    I think its the same with the Gospel. We need to know the rules, principles, and doctrines in the back of our head, but at some point we need to forget them and just live. Otherwise the rules and \”are you worthy?\” questions are crippling rather than empowering.

  7. I suppose I will eventually have to respond to Margaret’s concerns, and Tyler’s second comment, as I and all six of my brothers were and still are avid Dungeons and Dragons players. But not now.

    Margaret, this was a powerful and brave post. I love your line “how much do we lose when love yields itself to lecture?” I am a born lecturer, a talker, and (even against my better instincts) one who constantly acts as though all can be resolved through reason and argument. I drove away and hurt deeply someone I loved, once, because I simply could not stop myself from correcting, suggesting, analyzing, debating, challenging, and judging; I never actually listened. I know I am better at holding off the lectures now. But I also know that I love my daughters so much that it will be very, very hard, should they start exercising their agency in a way I don’t like, to resist running in and telling them the way things should be. But of course, as a parent, I need to so tell them; that’s part of my covenanted responsibility to them. So I guess, what really matters is how I tell them–and then, perhaps more importantly, how I continue to act after I tell them, and they go forward making decisions for themselves.

  8. Hi Margaret, thanks for this post. I have a 20 year old son, who is not on a mission. He waited until he had gone to college to tell us that he had decided during his sophomore year of high school that the “church wasn’t true”, but kept going to church and seminary all that time. He would get himself to church and seminary if we were not home; in fact, I never did anything to get him up and going for seminary– he just always got ready on his own, then one of us stumbled out and drove him. When he chose his college, he checked out the institute program at each, and whether or not leaving for a mission would be a problem. (I think that although he said he made the decision in his sophomore year, that he wasn’t really certain till later.) He decided when he went away that it was time for the break and has not looked back. He said he thought it would be easier on us if he didn’t tell us until he was an adult. As it was, we thought he was having a real breakdown since it seemed so out of character. It didn’t occur to him that it was a lot harder for us to take when he wasn’t home for us to talk about it. We finally had a long talk about it a few months later when he was home. He has several reasons for leaving, some of which I can sympathize with. Still it’s hard on me, and harder on his grandparents. By the way, he never played D & D, so you can quit worrying about that. My younger plays, although not with any regularity, and to in my opinion, it’s been a good thing– a way for the boys to regress a bit after their very academic program at high school.

    I refuse to pick up any of the blame/responsibility for my oldest. He’s been raised knowing about some of the sticky questions, most of them, in fact. It’s hard to grow up in our particular family without knowing a lot about polygamy. (Our last polygamous family that I know of was dissolved with the death of the husband in 1948, so we still have some cousins that were children of those folks.) When he was about 10, his SS teacher mentioned to me that he ( my kid not the teacher) understood the gospel better than any kid he’d ever known of that age. So, I suppose we did something right along the way. But, not wanting to name names, I can think of some very famous church leaders whose kids have left the church, and a very famous
    excommunicant or two whose children have not. My son’s friends tell him that he’s more Mormon that he likes to think he is, so who knows what the future will bring.

  9. I didn’t go on a mission. I didn’t feel that I could tell others that my way of life was superior to them. But both my other brothers went. No one is to blame for my… wishywashyness, and certainly not my exemplary parents.

  10. I guess I’ve kind of experienced a kind of mirror image of this post and some of the responses. After raising me in the Church, being active for 50-odd years, my Mother has now left the Church. Granted, one doesn’t feel the same responsibility — and attendant guilt — for the decisions of a parent as one does for the decisions of a child, but there is still some pangs of “what if?” and “why?” And one still has to decide to “drop our own plans” and just love them.

  11. I think D+D is a good thing. It’s like any creative endeavor, like writing short stories or plays, or composing music, painting, etc. I suppose people can turn all artistic endeavors to serve darkness or light, but there is darkness in our world, and stories with no badguys, no evil, no antagonists, are insipid and don’t hold our interest or accurately reflect the reality of our existence. Even God’s story has Satan in it. I don’t see D+D as being bad. I’d rather read Dostoyevsky, with his unflinching truth, and his extremes of joy and anguish, than something bland, some muzak of the written word. D+D is a realm in which we write our own stories according to the truth that is in our hearts. It is a good thing.

    I’ve encountered a parent’s fear several times lately. I haven’t been a parent, and so perhaps I can’t understand. But it seems the fears are often more destructive than the things from which they would protect the child. I think I can understand the guilt, but not the feeling that the guilt is proper and correct. I think that certain feelings, like envy, jealousy, and also this guilt over the choices of another, are natural, normal human feelings, which are nevertheless not good feelings to allow ourselves to have. We do choose what we feel. We can simply open up and give away feelings that we recognize are wrong. It’s wrong, for instance, to have ambition on behalf of another. Each human soul must foster its own ambitions, the ones that spring up from inside itself.

    I know it’s not helpful to be told to change yourself, to snap out of it. I know it can be hard to change certain feelings, particularly when we aren’t allowed to acknowledge them or if they aren’t given validity. I guess what I want to say is that I see these feelings you describe, and they are understandable and normal feelings to have. Try to look at them honestly with your deepest understanding and ask yourself if they are generating any positive directions in your life? If not, then open your heart and give them to God. I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m negating or denying anything that you say or feel. I don’t want to do that. Only to show you that you can have the freedom and the relief of choosing what feelings you will let wear channels into your mind and heart, and which ones you will let fly away after the most fleeting of touches. It’s very liberating to realize that you aren’t forced to feel things that damage you inside.

  12. Quick note on D&D: I wrote my comment quite late last night and it is more strident than I meant it be. What I should have said is that, for me, at least at that particular time in my life, D&D represented a group of kids at school and a particular set of activites that were not positive influences. I would be willing to argue that some of that really is involved in the nature of the game; however, I do not know nearly enough about the nature, extent, or complexity of the game (I stopped playing before I was heavily involved) to make a blanket statement like the one in #4. Finally, I certainly don’t mean to pass judgement on those who play–I just know it was wrong for me.

  13. his involvement in Dungeons and Dragons? I did not want it in my home; Bruce found it harmless.

    Not to mention, it is great missionary preparation, though it can fall to the same level as soap operas or watching football.

  14. How do we nurture those who don’t need—and maybe shouldn’t have–the list of projects for their Young Women’s Recognition Award or their Duty to God, but simply someone to walk quietly with them? How much do we lose when love yields itself to lecture? How do we gracefully drop our own plans for someone else and simply, silently apply a balm?

    Indeed. The real question has to do with how can we take the time and give time to our children instead of to ourselves.

    Nicely framed.

  15. I have a nine year old daughter and a seven year old son. My daughter from nearly the moment she learned to communicate demonstrated strong spirituality. She has always prayed, actively repented, reads her scriptures (she’s already read the entire NT and BOM and is now working on the OT) and genuinely enjoys church and other religious activities. My son, on the other hand, is completely disconnected from the spiritual. All the behaviors my daughter exhibits he will only perform at gunpoint. He doesn’t understand nor does he feel the value of prayer. Family scripture study for him is just 15-30 minutes he has to spend sitting still listening to his father and mother drone. And the real topper is that he literally cries every Sunday at the prospect of having to attend church (this is not the wailing of a spoiled brat but the genuine emotional response of a kid truly distraught at the prospect of attending church). My wife and I are genuinely concerned about his spiritual progress and he’s only seven. He turns eight in a couple months and we don’t know what to do about his baptism bucause he himself doesn’t know whether or not he wants to be baptized. Like Margaret we feel guilty that somehow we have failed our son. He’s only eight so we could basically force the baptism upon him but we don’t know if that’s the right thing to do. We’re concerned about how he will be treated at church if he chooses not to be baptized the minute he turns eight (as an aside, we did not bless our new baby immediately preferring to wait a few months until family could visit for the event and we endured a minor stigma during the interim). It’s one thing for us to back off on a moody, independent, strong willed teenager because cultural norms still allow adults to blow off adolescent behavior as just a stage. But what is a parent to do with an eight year old who doesn’t want to be baptized?

  16. We’re always encouraged to ask “What if?” There are books where historians try to explain what the world might be like if Caesar had not been assassinated, there are the Back to the Future movies, there’s even Brokeback to the Future.

    Then there’s Tolstoy’s theory that (in a nutshell) everything is going to happen just like it does anyway. This isn’t exactly predestination, because in Tolstoy’s mind the choices of the players aren’t predetermined; they just don’t matter.

    Roger Waters has a song where a genie gives him three wishes. He asks for three things that would remedy problems in his past; e.g., he wishes that he had spent more time with his father. In response, the genie says, “Consider it done,” and then leaves. So much for fixing the past.

  17. endless, my daughter didn’t get baptized until she was 9 or 10. We tried when she was 8 but she didn’t go all the way under, then freaked about the water and refused to try again. It was a nightmare for me. But when she finally was baptized, it meant much more to her, and she was much more prepared.

    How do we nurture those who don’t need—and maybe shouldn’t have–the list of projects for their Young Women’s Recognition Award or their Duty to God, but simply someone to walk quietly with them?

    I’m sort of on the other end of this spectrum. Helping my kids do any of that Recognition stuff is so far off my radar. And do I feel guilty about it? Occasionally. But not very often, and not for very long.

  18. Although the Church pushes all young men to serve missions, it is still an individual choice. My DH comes from a home where his parents are divorced and his father has been living with his girlfriend for many, many years. Yet, DH served a mission. His little brother is getting married on Fri. He’s 18. Same basic up-bringing (granted, he was younger when they divorced but DH has always tried to be a father-type figure to him) and yet different outcomes. Don’t stress about it. People make their own choices. I hope my son goes on a mission some day (OK, he’s only 2 months old but I can start thinking about it) but if he doesn’t – that is his choice. I would rather he do it because he wants to than feel like he must and hate the whole experience.

  19. Maybe God doesn’t want your son to go on a mission now. Maybe something else is planned.

    Personally, I do not think that my personality would have thrived on a mission, so I am glad I did not go. I could easily make an argument that if I did go on a mission I would no longer be active in the church. My wishy-washy-ness and ability to separate the “ideal” from the “reality” has gotten me through many tough times with regard to my testimony and the role of the church in my life.

    I think that LDS members need to trust more in the Savior, truely believe the atonement. Our short comings are not important in the big scheme of things. The eternities are for figuring out all of the details, for working out all of our baggage, etc.

  20. I played D&D extensively, and still do when I get the chance (not that the dissertation gives me much time).

    Really, people who dis D&D bug me, because they don’t get the game, are often influnced by bizarre evangelical stuff.

    Or not (perhaps as with Tyler, they were just playing with the wrong crowd – In High School, I knew people who did gaming I would never game with)- for me it was fine.

    There’s a huge (largely unnoticed) gaming culture at BYU, and all the people I played with were Returned Missionaries (excepting a few late in life converts).

    D&D really shouldn’t even be in this conversation.

    As for helping those who don’t “play the game and get all the awards” – well, it seems we could start by offering other alternatives. I loved scouting. Some youth didn’t and never will – is there some other alternative that could be offerend for youth activities, for those that might want to still be part of the church but would rather not go camping?

  21. One of the best scenes ever on broadcast television first appeared on July 8, 2000, during the 18th and final episode of Freaks and Geeks, entitled “Discos and Dragons.”

    In that episode the Geeks (Bill, Neal, and Sam, and dungeon master dude) invite Daniel (a Freak in the mold of James Dean–a cool kid) to their Dungeons and Dragons game. They show him how to play and he rolls the dice and it lands on dwarf…and Daniel doesn’t want to be a dwarf but finally gives in:

    Daniel: “All right, fine, I’ll be a dwarf, but my name is Carlos.”
    Bill: “Carlos the dwarf?”
    Daniel: “Yeah, you got a problem with that, Gorthon?”

  22. My mother died when I was 20, and my dad in his struggles to keep going did not pay much attention to the spiritual life of my younger brothers. Of my two younger brothers, one is inactive and proud of it and the other went on a mission.

    I have come up with a dozen theories about the one brother’s inactivity ranging from my dad’s neglect of his spiritual life to his friend’s influences to my own less-than-stellar treatment of him, but it ultimately came to his decision. I don’t think he wants or wanted that spiritual life. I don’t think much of what he wants instead, but he probably thinks the same of me.

  23. When I observe inactivity within highly committed Mormon families, I always find myself thinking: “Well, this shows that we all have agency to choose, and that no one will be forced into belief.” However, when I see inactivity within my family, or the threat of it, I find myself thinking: “What did I do wrong?” Sometimes, we are our own worse critics.

  24. My post must’ve painted me as someone so tormented by guilt that I’m barely functioning. The truth is, though I do have regrets about things I could’ve done better or differently, I recognize that a mission would not be good for my son at this time, nor would he be a good missionary. This is his seeking time. He and I actually have a good relationship–largely because I realize how counter-productive it is to throttle someone else into your chosen mold. The issue for me is the long list of expectations that come with Mormonism, which I started thinking about when I recognized how easily I was falling in the direction of guilt (self-made) rather than grace (the godly alternative). I recognize that our series of awards for our youth also present a series of more ways to fail, and the world is pressured enough. We can easily set ourselves up for blame and unfair judgment if we imagine that everyone else is doing things right, and we’re somehow not worthy of the “awards” they’re getting. How sad it is when our children became symbols of our “awards” or failures. But we hear it all the time, don’t we. It’s done so casually that we could easily miss it. “I’m so grateful for my children. All of my sons have served missions and all of my children have married in the temple.” Or the husband: “I credit my wife with the fact that every one of our children is a returned missionary and married in the temple.” There’s an underlying message that a guilt-ridden mother will feel as a lash. Let me say that my time in the temple with my neighbor’s son was pure joy. I had no inkling of jealousy, only gratitude for him and respect for the growth I recognize in him–as though he were my own son.

  25. But what is a parent to do with an eight year old who doesn’t want to be baptized?

    Respect his choice, of course.

    We claim that eight years is the age of accountablity. I have some question about how much sense that really makes, but if we think it is old enough to be accountable for one’s actions, then it is old enough to decide whether to enter a covenant to follow a certain path of behavior.

    And it’s not the parent’s covenant to make.

  26. “How do we gracefully drop our own plans for someone else and simply, silently apply a balm?”

    Margaret, there is a lifetime of wisdom in that sentence. Thanks for taking the time to write about something so personal.

  27. I once saw a sketch where a young woman announces to the audience that she has just become a Christian. She cannot contain her joy. Along comes an older Christian and he tells the new Christian that in order to deepen her faith she needs to learn more about reformed theology. He hands her several books and then exits the stage. Another older believer arrives on the scene and points out that to truly enjoy the Christian walk, one must shun the music of the world and listen to Christian music. He hands her a boom box and several Christian CDs and leaves. Yet another mature Christian shows up and states that the Christian life cannot be truly enjoyed without experiencing charismatic gifts. She hands the young believer more books, and tapes that demonstrate how to speak in tongues. By the end of the sketch, the young woman is so weighed down with gifts that she can barely move.

  28. “How sad it is when our children became symbols of our ‘awards’ or failures. But we hear it all the time, don’t we. It’s done so casually that we could easily miss it. ‘I’m so grateful for my children. All of my sons have served missions and all of my children have married in the temple.’ Or the husband: “’ credit my wife with the fact that every one of our children is a returned missionary and married in the temple.’ There’s an underlying message that a guilt-ridden mother will feel as a lash.”

    I know it is said all the time–and unfortunately, one of the consequences of that is that sometimes people hear it even when it isn’t said. My mother and father work in the Spokane temple, and my mom once told me that she has come to the point where she simply refuses to talk about her children and her family when people ask them, especially in the temple, where family guilts and longings are often felt so strongly, particularly by other mothers. Our family is close to a total success story, as far as missions and temple marriages go, and my parents can’t really account for it. They just settled into a way of living, and we all came out similarly settled, and who is to say why? I credit my parents with a lot, but there’s no way I or anyone else could definitively connect this choice of theirs with this ultimate result. But despite their reticence, so often their interactions with others are taken as an automatic rebuke. I assume this would be the case at any level of the church; the prophet himself could probably insist that parents are not to feel guilty about their children’s choices, and someone in the audience would mournfully respond “Easy for him to say–look at how great his kids turned out!”

  29. When I was almost eighteen I read an interview with author May Sarton. One response from her has stuck with me to this day. I may not get the quote exactly right — it’s been a long time. She said, “It’s not that people who get awards don’t deserve them. It’s just that sometimes people who deserve awards don’t get them.”

    Today is the first time I’ve connected that with my thinking about my imperfect (of course) but wonderful parents and my three brothers who have left the Church. Thanks.

    I just posted some more thoughts at my own blog … it just got too long and unwieldy to post as a comment here.

  30. Thanks Craig. I think some of us (like me) sometimes become so concerned and burdened down with what others think it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to be saved by His grace that we do not rejoice and “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free.” When He tells us that His “yoke is easy, and [His] burden is light”, I do not believe He refers to fulfilling the requirements to obtain the Young Womanhood Recognition, Duty to God, Eagle Scout, seminary graduation or any such similar “list”.

  31. Could it be that the guilt you describe is the flip side of the gratifying our pride in our children’s accomplishments. It seems odd that self doubt could be based in pride. I think this is the real danger in using outward appearances and measures as a meterstick for someone’s righteousness. But aren’t we counseled by the Savior to reserve judgement, motes and beams, etc. al etc.

    However, being a parent myself, I realize that these worries are not so much about our status in the community as they are about our genuine love and concern for our children. The real question is if asking “what if” is doing anything to help the situation. I would say we can help all those burdened by the expectations a whole lot by using your self-described talent, Love them. See them for what they are that is noble and praiseworthy. See them for what they can become, with the realization that becoming such may happen on the your son’s and the Lord’s timetable, not yours. I like to believe that seeing people for their intrinsic, rather than extrinsic worth leads them to healthier attitudes about themselves. When done right I think it can soften our destructive tendency for rebellion.

    Thank you for your post Margaret. It was very thought provoking and, as always, eloquently stated.

  32. This is a great subject with poignant and heartfelt comments. You hit a nerve. As an RM myself and now a single mom of one son, I already think about these future issues (he\’s 5). I have so many mixed feelings about missions and expectations that I don\’t know where to start. I also have mixed feelings about my parents and their goodness and my feeling of not living up and therefore not being loved completely. Heady issues.

    For me, when the church talks about \”raising the bar\” I fear it\’s already raised high enough. When Cingular wireless uses that as their slogan, just hearing it stresses me out.

    I wonder if I can live up to the expectations or already know I can\’t. On one hand I entirely believe in the atonement on the other I don\’t know how to reconcile the church. My relationship with God says one thing, there is patience and understanding. When it comes to the church it seems there is perfectionism, punishment, judgement, and anguish. I\’m so committed that I keep trying but it\’s tiring at times. So many expectations and that\’s just at church…my comfort is to keep learning and keep an open heart and keep taking these things to God. He knows our hearts and reaches our reaching. That\’s got to be good enough. It\’s just learning to accept that.


  33. Someone dear to me has struggled with a treacherous guilt that has discolored and constrained his life far beyond the sin at its center. On the other hand, I rarely experience guilt, even when my sins fairly cry out for whipping. This difference in temperament—and I think that’s primarily what it is—has made my life a lot more comfortable than his, but I’m not at all sure that it has freed me to experience grace any more fully than he has; on the contrary, I suspect it has impaired my spiritual senses and, very probably, suppressed my appetite for grace. Some guilt, correctly attributed and attended, is good for the soul, I think.

    However, of all the varieties of guilt—moral guilt, survivor’s guilt, liberal guilt—mother guilt may be the least reliable. Sometimes we strain mightily at gnats, sometimes we blithely swallow whales. When I confess my motherly shortcomings to friends, they rush to assure me that no harm has been done, kids are resilient, we’re all doing our best, kids need a happy mom more than anything, after all! (When anonymous strangers confess their shortcomings, though… well, see urbanbaby.) I appreciate your post’s honest acknowledgement of the bitter truth that a mother’s real failings can have real consequences for her children. On the other hand, I suspect that many of the longest-term outcomes are an inheritance of DNA rather than the product of parenting.

  34. Margaret,

    Although you don’t say much about your son’s reasons for choosing not to serve a mission, I think there are many possible reasons for so deciding that would reflect most positively on his parents—-deep self-knowledge, self-trust, real security in his relationship with you, honesty integrity . . . . and so forth.

  35. The church has developed a lot of nice programs designed to help the youth to strengthen their testimonies, develop into good people, etc., but I think the focus has gotten quite skewed towards focusing on the awards in the last few years – human nature, I guess. I think we worry too much about the visible markers and milestones of spirituality, and not enough about spirituality itself.

    I hear my mom lecture my 15 year old brother quite frequently about what he needs to get done in order to get his Duty to God award, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard her sit down and talk with him about his testimony, or what he thinks about Jesus Christ. She is concerned about him preparing for a mission, but not about whether or not he has a close enough relationship with his Father in Heaven for the mission to be successful. The focus is on the outwards signs of spirituality, not on the spirituality itself, and I think that is troubling. She is so proud of me and my family, since outwardly we are strong in the church – married in the temple, active as far as she knows, etc. She has no idea that I’ve been struggling with doubt for the last few years – not only because I’m not especially open to discussing it with her, but also because we never discuss spiritual topics, just the activities of spirituality.

    This is part of what troubles me – it’s almost like spiritual capitalism or something.

  36. And by that I mean – all of this focus on what we DO and how well, and by what time, instead of focusing on making sure that our hearts are in the right place. That seems much more important, but we are a very milestone oriented church. I suppose those milestones are just part of what they’ve come up with to help keep people moving towards that spirituality, but it just feels like instead, we are moving towards more and more measuring sticks.

  37. I realize why things had to change, but in many ways I look back on our history to the times when just being in Utah building up the kingdom was enough. I have many relatives who were “less active” for decades, and despite an approach to the word of wisdom inherited from yesteryear, they were good, honest and hard working. Everyone in town knew them and they were respectable citizens even if they didn’t show up to church on Sunday. They were still of the same people. I regret that modern nonconformity results in people no longer feeling like they are “Mormon.”

  38. I don’t believe there is such a burden of everyone looking at us, and examining us as we might imagine. I think you are right Margaret, when you say you are good at loving them.
    So many times when I am trying to decide how to be with my children–and what to teach them I get the same prompting you had, “What are you good at?”
    We can only give of ourselves after all–and perhaps if we are doing that, and not giving into pretense, then we will be the one just walking with them–pointing the way to Him who knows all.

  39. One after another, all six of my kids have turned away from the Church, after growing up with family home evenings, regular attendance, seminary, a couple even did seven years of consecutive days scripture reading. They’ve always known how much I love to be part of the Church and how much I love the Lord. One has come back, is a regular temple patron and has served as a Relief Society president. She’s my beloved sister, my esteemed colleague, and a fine friend, as well as my daughter. I’ve been through all that what if stuff, and I’ve pretty much come to believe the one son, the one who’s caused us all the most grief, who backed me up against the refrigerator one day [he can do that, they’re all over 6′] and said, “Mom, I will not have you taking the blame for my decisions. You raised us right, you did it right, my mistakes are my mistakes.” And another one, who, after planting a kiss on top of my head, said to me, “I know this must be very hard for you, that we’ve all chosen another way, because I know how much you love the Church.”

    I do feel some guilt, though, for having thought upon occasion, “if it weren’t for the Church, I could be terribly proud of my kids”. Most of them don’t go to church, but they are kind, generous, lovely people, loyal friends, very hard working, honest people; people are better off for their having crossed their paths. They are much less judgmental of others than some of their active peers. They are good to their parents, and friends with one another, they actively like one another, and you can’t legislate that. Now two of them are excellent parents themselves, and their children are blessed indeed to be so well loved. I\’ve learned a lot from my inactive children about how many ways there are to be excellent human beings. I believe that the finest thing the Saviour said was, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Of course they don’t know, but neither do I, and maybe it’s not half as dreadful as we might think.

  40. I have struggled with these questions already, too, although the stakes are still not quite so high–my oldest is just nine. But he doesn’t conform willingly to even the most basic norms, and I’m constantly trying to decide whether it’s really important for him to wear his shirts right-side-out (or even right-side-up–it is actually possible to wear polo shirts upside-down) or comb his hair or try foods he doesn’t like or play with Legos instead of lumber and hammer and nails or talk about how he feels instead of sulking and misbehaving for days on end when something upsets him. Sometimes I resent him for being so difficult, but on good days, I’m so glad he came first (before his more conventional, “easier” siblings), to show me how little influence I really have, how much of his own intelligence and personality came with him. Ultimately, he reminds me always to “acknowledge God’s hand in all things”, in creating me as the mother I am and him as the child he is and the man he will be. It seems to me now that parental guilt often comes out of a mistaken notion of our own importance–it’s simply the dark twin of the parental pride that takes credit for children’s accomplishments. Genuine humility, when we can manage it, protects us from both.

  41. Kris,

    While I think you’re spot on regarding the ugly consequences that inflated notions of self-importance can have for parents, I think it’s a challenging exercise in paradox to attempt the simultaneous acceptance of the idea that motherhood is the most important calling and role and also that behavioral tendencies, intelligence, and personalities just “come with” children and are not shaped by her influence and the home she creates. Of course, both these beliefs in some ways reflect central Mormon doctrines so the tension can run deep, I think. Since many Mormon women take up the particular kind of mothering that they do because they believe that mother nurture makes an important difference in their children’s lives, Mormon women as a group will likely continue to experience guilt when their children stray. If a mother stays home full-time, has a large brood, homeschools, etc. because she thinks that *she* makes the key difference in her child’s life then there’s almost no other alternative when a child misbehaves than to believe that some of the problem lies in her mothering, her home, even herself.

    If you lessen the importance a mother plays in the outcome of her child’s well-being then its hard to maintain as strong an argument for full-time mothering.

  42. Sue, I’m sorry to hear about the poor experience your mother and brother are having with Duty to God. It sounds like your mother is missing a major point of the program: at every level, the boys are encouraged to sit down with parents and leaders and talk about, precisely, their developing faith, their relationship with Christ, their understanding of conversion. It’s my understanding that DtoG was introduced in order to provide spiritual ballast to (or substitute for) the Scouting program, and to make the YM and YW experiences more alike; DtoG is very much modeled on the the PP materials. Your observation that there has been a recent emphasis on achievement and awards among the youth is interesting; I wonder if any of that can be attributed to a renewed attention to the Young Womanhood Recognition award as a counterpart to the prestige of the Eagle Scout.

    On the larger question—what to do for our young people who don’t, for whatever reason, follow our conventional lifescript—I suppose one option is simply to toss the whole thing. I’m sure there’s nothing eternal or elemental about Personal Progress—or even missionary service at 19 and 21—and I’m not especially attached to it; furthermore, it’s clear that some of our young people really do pay high social and personal costs when they’re unable or unwilling to conform in these ways. But it seems to me that to scrap the lifescript would be to greatly impoverish Mormon lifeways and communities: one of the several important functions of social roles and rituals is the establishment of common subject positions and shared experiences that organize our personal perceptions in ways that are accessible to others. To step into the role of a missionary, an endowed initiate, a spouse, a parent, allows us to become larger than ourselves, to escape, even intermittently, existential loneliness. Yes, this can magnify the loneliness and loss of those who don’t or can’t step into those roles; this is a tearful and terrible reality, and those of us who enjoy the benefits of our lifeways ought to feel always the special duty to minister to those who don’t.

  43. The knot Melissa creates in #40 is easily untied if we remember the role of agency in our children’s lives; it explains how Kristine can be (and is!) an amazing parent and still end up with results she wouldn’t have chosen.

    (But, frankly, Kristine, if I could get my kids to wear upside-down shirts I’d be thrilled–they refuse to put on clothes unless we are leaving the house or someone comes over.)

  44. I have no way to understand the particular kind of guilt a mother might experience, but I have a strong interest in relieving it.

    While I don’t wish to demean mothers or their contributions to the lives of their children, I want to point to the church’s own research, published in the Ensign in 1984, and then refined and published again as recently as 1992.

    “Some factors have little effect on whether a young man marries in the temple or goes on a mission: the distance he lives away from the meetinghouse, the number of young people in his school who are LDS, whether his parents were converts, his father’s occupation, or whether his mother is employed. Characteristics of the ward’s activity program—whether the ward sponsors athletic teams and events, schedules “specialâ€? activities for youth, or implements Scout programs—while contributing to the general spirit of the ward, seem to have little effect in and of themselves.”

    So, if you’re a mom who works, and your son doesn’t achieve eagle scout – relax. The Ensign says it isn’t all that important.

  45. I think your ticket was punched with those pre-packaged Graham cracker crusts. Did you compound your sin with the Jello cheesecake filling? Let’s pray no one from your relief society chapter is reading this, and don’t volunteer a dessert for the next Stake devotional.

  46. Recently, during a lesson on motherhood, a sister with young children made a fascinating comment: “I must be an example of righteousness. I want my children to understand that when they make poor choices, they are hurting me — I hope they will choose the right rather than choose to disappoint their mother.” Having watched grown siblings feel disproportionate torment from their (at times unfounded) belief that they were disappointing mom because of their unconventional choices, I wanted to utter a word of warning. But I imagine she’ll figure it out on her own . . . With mothers and children, guilt is a two-way street.

  47. Wonderful, wonderful, Margaret.

    A number of years ago, during a RS lesson, for some reason that I can no longer recall, I expressed my frustration that I had not even begun to work on my genealogy–in spite of the fact that I had just taught the entire course. I had some idea how to begin, but I just wasn’t motivated and wanted a kick in the pants.

    The response? I was practically smothered by women telling me it was not my “season” and I could do it sometime in the distant future..probably when I was “old.” Made me crazy.

    So, when I express my mothering guilt, I really don’t want anyone to tell me that it’s OK, I’m fine, and that it has nothing to do with me because 5,000 other moms did exactly what I did and the outcome was different (so it must be the kid) OR that 5,000 other moms did just the opposite and the outcome was identical (so it must be the kid). I have come to think that is an oddity of my personality, so I have to be careful about how I respond to such pieces.

    Truly, I appreciated the responses as I read them a bit at a time over the course of the day, and I hope that my response is not misunderstood. And, of course, I agree that children have agency and even the best parents can “lose” a bunch of kids. That must always be a factor in our self-evaluation.

    That said, I DO think our parenting makes a huge difference in how our kids “turn out.” No, there is no direct cause and effect. (Have family prayer daily = mission and temple marriage for all children exposed.) But I think when the outcome isn’t what we hope, it is GOOD to look at what we’re doing to see how we can improve, how we might make a difference, how we can be more like Christ, how we can, with God’s help, be the parent our child needs.

    Do we beat ourselves up over it? Sometimes. Sometimes we are too hard on ourselves, and sometimes we probably aren’t hard enough. Perhaps the toughest thing about parenting is knowing where we are on the continuum and of having the courage to repent, let go of the past, and then commit to make the best of the future with what we have learned.

    After I got married and had my first daughter, my mother created beautiful cross-stitches for each of her three children for Christmas. It quotes the scripture “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” Having my own child, I understood to a tiny degree what this meant to my parents–particularly since *I* had been the one to cause them to fear for my soul.

    I cherish that gift and can only pray that some day I might be able to do the same. No, it won’t be because I was a perfect parent or because I lived having no regrets. Far, far, far (did I say “far”?) from it. Nor will it be to my personal credit. But I do have hope that my halting, flawed efforts can somehow bring them closer to “walking in truth” than they would have been otherwise. And I hope that somehow those efforts, combined with all the other factors in the universe, make it possible for me to experience the joy that John spoke of one day.

  48. Rosalynde,
    Thank you for your comments in #42, ending with the beautiful point that “those of us who enjoy the benefits of our lifeways ought to feel always the special duty to minister to those who don’t.” I don’t think the answer is to get rid of (or angst-ridden about) programs that can do a lot of good for those who choose to engage in them; the answer is to be sensitive to those who aren’t embracing them, and find ways to encourage them in whatever progress they are making. And to let them know they are loved regardless.

    I also agree that those of us who do have children who do embrace such programs have a responsibility to help them keep the focus on the spiritual purpose and process and less on the award. But seeing as we are talking particularly about children and teens, I’m not so sure having awards along the way is such a bad idea anyway. (I have to say that having been in corporate America for a while and seeing how psyched adults got about receiving free stuff and pats on the back suggests that even adults don’t mind a pat on the back once in a while and might even find it motivating. )

    Loved this: “Perhaps the toughest thing about parenting is knowing where we are on the continuum and of having the courage to repent, let go of the past, and then commit to make the best of the future with what we have learned.”

    I realize this wasn’t the main purpose of the post, but I will say this anyway. I have often been struck by the very first story we see in the Book of Mormon. OK, so it’s a story within a story, but the underlying story in the entire first book is about Lehi and Sariah’s family. I think it is no accident that this story is about righteous, teaching, loving parents who nearly are brought to their deathbeds because of their two rebellious basically unrighteous sons. While there are many things we can of course learn from that story, I think the fact that even “good” parents have children who don’t make good choices. Lehi’s “lecture” on agency [he was a straightforward parent…I’m sure the key is to teach with the Spirit, not out of anger or frustration] is the foundation of God’s plan. Somehow parents have to figure out how to find that basic balance between taking our responsibility to teach seriously (a la D&C 68) and letting our childern learn from their own experience to prize the good. (I am seriously struggling with this right now with my son…where to draw that line?)

    Even as I am still relatively new on the parenting scene (my oldest is nearing his baptism), I take comfort in the counsel of our leaders to never give up as parents. We can’t see how those divine tentacles will be able to reach out to children who have strayed. I remember seeing some friends of mine in our teenage years blowing it, really (or so it appeared then)…and then seeing them years later, all married and sealed and on their way. We only fail if we give up. And I think we need to trust that God sent our children to us knowing of our weaknesses and such…and knowing that would be part of their experience, too.

    One last thought I like from a dear friend: Don’t take credit; don’t take blame! :)

  49. Another thing to remember in this connection is our doctrine of the premortal life. Children come to us with an individuality and personality already formed to some extent, and that personality manifests itself early, sometimes within days of birth. So, our children are not blank slates but individual beings deserving of respect. It is unproductive and wrong to think of them as lumps of humanity we can form into our own likeness and image.

    Also, to the extent our understanding of our premortal existence is accurate, it should not surprise us that our sons and daughters (and everybody else in the second estate) hold a built-in, deeply rooted aversion to anything that resembles coercion.

  50. Julie writes,

    “The knot Melissa creates in #40 is easily untied if we remember the role of agency in our children’s lives;”

    I doubt very much that women who agonize over their children’s behavior simply lack an understanding (or have forgotten!) the basic gospel doctrine of agency. While a radical theory of autonomy would solve the problem, it would also undermine the belief that mothers in the home make a significant positive difference for their children.

    Given the prevalence of Mormon mother guilt, it seems important to look for possible cultural sources of that guilt. The strong emphasis on the shaping influence of full-time mother nurture seems the first place to look.

  51. I’m struck by the fact that I agree completely with Bev (#39) and Alison (#49). All of the comments on this thread are insightful and helpful, but those two stand out, for me, as particularly enlightened–even if I’m not sure how to overcome the apparent contradiction between them. Thanks.

  52. Melissa: Close the circle of your argument for me. Are you claiming that (1) we should cease to emphasize the importance of full time mothering because it results in feelings of guilt for some; (2) we should cease to emphasize the importance of full time mothering because full-time mothering in fact has little impact of on how children turn out; or, (3) we should embrace guilt because full-time mothering is properly emphasized as having an impact on children and the guilt may be justified? Or is the answer (4) something else? Some combination of 1, 2, 3 (and perhaps 4)?

  53. Something else that I have noticed about Mormon mother (and father) guilt is that often our expectations are so high we lose perspective. There are many, many worse things a teenager can do than wear his ballcap backwards, listen to loud music, and ditch early morning seminary, but I know parents who feel like failures because their kids do those things.

  54. Nate,

    I haven’t yet made any prescriptive statements for change. My interest has been to explore the causal roots of Mormon mother guilt and have argued that it should come as no surprise to us that this experience is so widespread given the stress on the supreme importance of a particular picture of sacrificial nurturing motherhood. Such messages make it nearly inevitable that a mother will view her child’s failure as her own.

    1) I do not claim that we should cease to emphasize the importance of full-time mothering because it results in guilt for some. The avoidance of guilt for some is not a good reason not to promote some cultural behavior if (and this is a big if) the net results are overwhelmingly positive (i.e. the well-being of children)

    2) The social scientific jury is still out about how much (and what kind of) influence full-time mothering has on children. We don’t really know if full-time mothering results in uniquely postive effects (i.e. effects that could not be brought about by other means). Given that fact, I would argue against major changes in our emphasis until we have more knowledge. As we gather that information, however, we ought to exercise caution and resist making assumptions about what is best based on the status quo or historical arrangements which look nothing like the current economic, political, legal, technological, or social climate.

    3) Guilt is usually damaging and counter-productive and I wouldn’t suggest embracing it. While I think as a society we are generally less inclined to take responsibility for our failures (especially failures of selflessnes, service, generosity, etc) than we ought to be, I don’t think Mormon mother guilt is usually justified since those who are most seriously blameworthy in this respect are not usually those prone to guilty feelings.

    This is a doctrinally fraught question too since a woman’s place in both the earthly and heavenly kingdoms is so inticately tied to her motherhood. But, that’s a much larger topic I’ll have to resist broaching at the moment.

  55. Melissa, I think there are several questions entangled in your argument. I think it is perfectly possible to assert that motherhood is the most important work a woman will do and she should give herself to that work as fully as her situation allows, AND that her work will produce no guarantees about how her children turn out. Mothering is an important activity for the mother, independent of its effects on the child, because it elicits Christlike virtues of patience, self-sacrifice, etc. It MAY also be beneficial for the child (or not–remember C.S. Lewis’ dictum that “some women live for others; you can recognize the others by the hunted expressions on their faces”). While it may be natural for a woman to assume that the more effort she puts into mothering, the better the results will be, it’s neither logical nor, I think, empirically borne out that this is the case.

    And, yes, as a matter of fact, mothering is leading me to the conclusion that free agency is a very bad idea!! I want input and output to be more directly correlated.

  56. Kris,

    Of course, you’re right about the lack of guarantees in mothering regardless of effort expended.

    It seems to me that you read the motherhood rhetoric as not primarily being about children’s welfare, but rather about women’s development as Christlike human beings. This is a compelling interpretation and one that has some foundation in formal statements. It is certainly at home in the MPP way of thinking which suggests that priesthood compensates men with opportunities to serve and develop compassionate traits that women develop in their mothering.

    However, this interpretation is at odds with the most common forms of gender essentialism expressed in official talks and sermons.

    It is also contrary to the belief that most Mormon women have that they ought to take up full-time mothering for the sake of their children. That their presence in the home is irreplaceable and necessary for their children’s greatest happiness and health regardless of how it might destroy their own sense of well-being, friendships, talent development, and so forth.

    Lastly, while motherhood is certainly one possible avenue for developing virtues, I’m not at all convinced that motherhood is the only (or even the best) way to do so for women. I think one has endless opportunities to learn virtuous living regardless of one’s life path. Inversely, as easily as motherhood can lead to the virtues it can also lead to bitterness, resentment, anomie, rage and even various levels of betrayal and abandoment of one’s children.

    Please forgive the brevity of my response and accept a promissory note for future discussion!

  57. I think enough has been said about D&D, but I wanted to add a bit. I’ve been playing since I was 9 and I have: served a mission, been married in the temple, and am now the EQ President of our ward. By day I’m a Brand Manager at a major gaming company and by night I run a small publishing company whose main focus is support products for D&D.

    Along with the Church, gaming is one of the main things that make up who I am, and I can safely say that gaming is my life. I also happen to not be alone, as there have been some fairly famous members of the Church in gaming. Tracy Hickman, New York Times bestselling author is, the last time I spoke with him, the chorister is his ward, and Sandy Petersen, creator of Call of Cthulhu as well as being the story lead on the video games Doom I and Doom II, used to be a Bishop, and is still active in his ward.

    We can’t dictate the choices our children make. We can guide them, teach them, and most importantly love them, but we can’t force them to be anything, least of all active members of the Church. I’m ok with this, just as I’m comforted by the blessing promised through temple sealings.


  58. I went to high school with Tracy and with Sandy (unless you’re referring to another Sandy who’s not from Provo). Tracy dated one of my best friends. Sandy dated me. Our first date was, I’m sure he’ll agree, rather awkward. He had a bunch of toy soldiers set up in his basement and suggested we play war games. (He and Bill Hamblin loved to play them.) I declined. Glad to hear he’s doing so well. The last I saw him was at his wedding reception. I have to say that I do think there’s a danger in spending too much time in a false world or interacting more with digital characters than with actual human beings–so it’s maybe more a question of time devoted than the activity itself. I can’t speak from experience, since computer games and role playing games have never attracted me, but there is simply something unhealthy about a child spending hours of his/her day in a make-believe world. Nonetheless, I suppose blogging is not too far removed. We say our piece and submit it. We don’t hear the tones in others’ voices as they respond, nor see the roll of their eyes if we say something stupid. We imagine what the others are like. I have pictures in my mind of all sorts of people I’ve met on this blog list. I wonder how close my imagination comes to the truth.

  59. Melissa,
    I think you bring up some interesting points, but I think we need to be careful about looking to social science for the answer to the value of mother in the home. I think prophets have made it clear that this is (generally speaking) beneficial to children, and is also for the spiritual well-being of the mother. Social science isn’t necessarily always going to support what prophets teach.

    I think the answer to the guilt complex has been mentioned before — to learn to lean more on the Savior and to recognize the grace that necessarily is part of parenting as we do “all we can do.” Personally, I think THAT is one of the key personal-growth lessons associated with parenting. And it’s a LOT easier said than done. I think some of that has to do with our inability to see how things play out in the big scheme of things. We see potential signs of rebellion (from wearing a cap backwards to breaking major commandments) and we are worried that all is lost. We clutch to our need for control instead of laying such things at the Savior’s feet. I guess I should say that is my experience, even as my children are still quite young. I am with Kristine – fooey with this agency thing. I. Want. Control. :) And thus, I am perhaps more prone to guilt than maybe anyone here….

  60. Melissa writes, “I doubt very much that women who agonize over their children’s behavior simply lack an understanding (or have forgotten!) the basic gospel doctrine of agency.”

    So do I. You are the one who presented the ‘problem’, and that’s what I was addressing. Like Kristine (#57), I think most mothers understand why it isn’t actually a problem.

    I find your description of motherhood (“as easily as motherhood can lead to the virtues it can also lead to bitterness, resentment, anomie, rage”) far removed from the actual experiences of the mothers I know.

  61. “I find your description of motherhood (â€?as easily as motherhood can lead to the virtues it can also lead to bitterness, resentment, anomie, rageâ€?) far removed from the actual experiences of the women I know.”

    Really? Because while I’d quibble with “as easily,” I think there are plenty of women out there whose motherhood brings out the worst in them (including me, on bad days). I agree with Melissa that motherhood is not the only path to virtue for women, and may not be the best path for some women. On the whole, though, I think parenting is an extremely efficient way to instill difficult virtues. While teaching, doctoring, humantarian aid work, and visiting teaching can entail noble sacrifice, few of them demand it with the immediacy and constancy of an infant or toddler.

  62. “I find your description of motherhood (�as easily as motherhood can lead to the virtues it can also lead to bitterness, resentment, anomie, rage�) far removed from the actual experiences of the women I know.�

    Sounds like you haven’t met my mother, Julie =)

    She is first to say that she should never have become a mother, though I’d rather she add a caveat that she’s glad that my sister and I exist.

  63. Kristine and Tea,

    I read Melissa as saying that since it happens “as easily,” we should expect as many rageful/bitter/etc. mothers as virtuous ones. (Or, that for any given mother, her increase in virtue is matched by an increase in rage/bitterness/etc.)

    If that’s your experience, I’m sincerely sorry, but in my wanderings, the numbers aren’t even close.

  64. Melissa,

    I hope you pay up on your promissory note for further discussion — I wouldn’t want you to feel guilty about still owing on that one. :P

    But seriously, you bring up a lot of good points. Like all good lawyers, Nate is asking where the payoff is. I think the most obvious location is awareness. Sometimes we don’t get a detailed prescription from our analysis, even in law. We just get a cautionary statement. “This is the type of situation where X might happen, and so you should bear that in mind, and take steps as appropriate to mitigate any harm from X.”

    How do we implement that here? A thousand different ways. Local leaders should avoid guilt-inducing tactics. Global leaders should focus on positive feelings, rather than guilt. (This seems to be happening quite a bit lately. Witness, e.g., the “everyone is valuable” and particularly “single people are valuable” rhetoric that now accompanies most general assertions about the importance of family.) Relationships within family, within ward, and so on, should be positive and affirming. And in general, people should be aware of the potential harms caused by guilt. “Your children are doing well in class” is the approach, or some other emphasis on the positive, rather than a glare and a citation of some statistic showing that latchkey kids are 27.2% more like to run off and join the circus. And so forth.

  65. Or rather, Nate, there are two potential negative variables at play. First, lack of mothering may cause harm. Second, overemphasis on mothering may lead to guilt which itself causes harm. The key is navigating between these two. Since we don’t know the net harm on either side (I doubt even Frank has the statistics), we should simply remember that the goal is not just to move as far away from Scylla as possible — it’s also to avoid swinging the pendulum so far as to run into Charybdis.

  66. I did read Melissa’s statement differently than you did, Julie. It helps to know that you were speaking of numbers rather than the possibility of a mother’s bitterness and anger. I took “as easily” to refer to the fact that mothers have to exercise their agency to be virtuous mothers and could choose to go down another path, not that we’d find an equal amount of mothers opting for bitterness

  67. Ah, I see where you are coming from, Tea. Still, however, I would disagree (though not with the same intensity): I think it would actually be harder to end up a bitter old hag than a (mostly) virtuous mother. Kids are cute, they (usually, most of the time) invite the Spirit into the home, and the Church provides an ideological framework for the kind of motherhood that leads to virtue instead of vice.

  68. To add to a point briefly discussed early in this thread, part of the answer may be simply that the time is not right for him to go on a mission. Some of my more difficult companions came to the mission field directly from high school; one of my favorites didn’t go until he was in his mid-20s. He was 26 when he was my Junior companion, and I found him the easiest of all my companions for me to feel that brotherly love that is supposed to be the ideal between missionary companions. To this day (more than 25 years later), I can’t think of Elder Terry without smiling.

  69. CE Eric,

    I agree with your assesment of older comps. I have very fond memories of native South African comps in their late 20’s. These were all converts and some had advanced degrees. They were baptizing machines.

    My experience with YM (probably 35 missionaries) since “raise the bar” is that its almost unheard of for a 19 year old to wait wait wait and then finally when they are 20 or 21 to actually go into the mission field. Usually the tighter LOC restrictions are in place and prevent this from happening. I know that this is a generalization but it seems to hold true as a general rule. Ask a bishop about “raise the bar” and you will get a unhappy response. My dad is a bishop and hates this new policy.

    Sister Young: These kiddos of ours come with their own personalities and dispositions that I think come from the pre-existence. I doubt its your fault that your son has decided not to serve a mission. My father had 5 kids. 4 are active and served missions and the other in inactive. The inactive sibling made her own choices. We do the best we can with our kids and pray for the best.

  70. I think there is no question that mothers influence their sons. We have to–it’s inevitable. The question is–how far and how deep does our influence go? There was a nice story in the Ensign some time ago, where a man comes up to the father of missionary who was about to embark, and the man congratulated the father on raising such a fine boy. He was a fine boy, too, and the father, for just a moment, gloried in the compliment and in the light of his righteous son. But then he remembered his daughter, a less righteous and less glowing person, a woman who had suffered through divorce, inactivity, and a variety of activities that surely the Bishop would not approve of. He said to the man, “Thank you, but if I accepted the responsibility for my son’s success, I would have to accept the responsibility for my daugther’s failures. I don’t think I’m responsible for either one.”

    I think we do bear some responsibility for our children. If we didn’t, they wouldn’t need parents. But at the end of the day, he chose not to go on a mission, not you. The Lord can not and will not coerce His children. Obviously, as mortal parents, we can not coerce, either.

  71. He said to the man, “Thank you, but if I accepted the responsibility for my son’s success, I would have to accept the responsibility for my daugther’s failures. I don’t think I’m responsible for either one.�

    Yup. Don’t take credit; don’t take blame. Just do your best and let them figure out what they want to do with it all. Hard stuff, IMO.

  72. I noticed concern earlier in this discussion about feeling guilt or feeling external pressure or feeling judging from others or judging self from an external standard or feeling frustration about raising the bar or feeling not worthy or feeling some other inadequacy.

    Get over it: yes, you are inadequate and God loves and accepts you anyway! One of the most liberating experiences I had was to dump my self-esteem. It just was an impediment to feeling God’s love and accepting the miracle of being saved by grace through the Atonement. This was easier for me than for most people because of the failings I noted in the first paragraph of #2 above. After those, I had none of the props self-esteem needs. Instead, I yearned for suicide’s escape – the opposite of self-esteem and, fortunately, exactly the broken heart and contrite spirit that’s needed to *start* on the journey God wants each of us to follow.

    Here’s a secular description of how self-esteem gets in the way of spiritual growth. It’s a father describing a couple experiences (he refers to himself as Phaedrus below). See how our Father could use the same words speaking about us and our quest to get our tickets punched in all the right places:

    Up ahead all of Chris’s movements seem tired and angry. He stumbles on things, lets branches tear at him, instead of pulling them to one side.

    I’m sorry to see this. Some blame can be put on the YMCA camp he attended for two weeks just before we started. From what he’s told me, they made a big ego thing out of the whole outdoor experience. A proof-of-manhood thing. He began in a lowly class they were careful to point out was rather disgraceful to be in…original sin. Then he was allowed to prove himself with a long series of accomplishments – swimming, rope tying…he mentioned a dozen of them, but I’ve forgotten them.

    It made the kids at camp much more enthusiastic and cooperative when they had ego goals to fulfill, I’m sure, but ultimately that kind of motivation is destructive. Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster. Now we’re paying the price. When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it. And even if you do it’s a hollow victory. In order to sustain the victory you have to prove yourself again and again in some other way, and again and again and again, driven forever to fulfill a false image, haunted by the fear that the image is not true and someone will find out. That’s never the way.

    Phaedrus wrote a letter from India about a pilgrimage to holy Mount Kailus, the source of the Ganges and the abode of Shiva, high in the Himalayas, in the company of a holy man and his adherents.

    He never reached the mountain. After the third day he gave up, exhausted, and the pilgrimage went on without him. He said he had the physical strength but that the physical strength wasn’t enough. He had the intellectual motivation but that wasn’t’ enough either. He didn’t think he had been arrogant but thought that he was undertaking the pilgrimage to broaden his experience, to gain understanding for himself. He was trying to use the mountain, and thus wasn’t ready for it. He speculated that the other pilgrims, the ones who reached the mountain, probably sensed the holiness of the mountain so intensely that each footstep was an act of devotion, and act of submission to this holiness. The holiness of the mountain infused into their own spirits enabled them to endure far more than anything he, with his greater physical strength, could take.

    To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical. Both kinds of climbers place one foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out and the same rate. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that’s out of adjustment. He puts his foot down and instant too soon or too late. He’s likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he’s tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the trail trying to see what’s ahead even when he knows what’s ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He’s here but he’s not here. He rejects the her, is unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then it will be “here.� What he’s looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn’t want that because it is all around him. Every step’s an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant. (Robert M. Pirsig, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,� pp. 211-3)

    A couple LDS authors recently wrote different versions of the same book: Stephen E. Robinson’s “Believing Christ� and Elizabeth Rasband’s “Confronting the Myth of Self-Esteem.� Robinson starts with the Atonement and shows how it can give us peace. Rasband starts with us and shows how we can receive peace from the Atonement. (Yes annegb, I’m back to Rasband).

    Both talk of our need to quit seeking to be good enough for whatever blessings. The truth is that we never can be good enough – Pirsig’s “false image� – and the sooner we accept that will be the sooner we truly can accept Atonement’s marvelous gift of cleansing and healing us, who do *not* deserve it. We don’t, and won’t, have the personal worthiness of ourselves to receive any of God’s blessings. He doesn’t require it. He does require the one thing we can give Him: all our heart. He covers the rest.

    This is where we’d recall Pres. Benson’s and Jacob’s (Jac 2:16) warnings against pride. However, I’ll just give you this from Sis. Rasband, “When your light flickers, blow it out� and walk selflessly in God’s greater light. Just drop that useless load of trying to be good enough or to do enough, using an external measure – that’s what brings burnout whereas joy and peace are found in the internal measure of giving what you truly can and trusting God to accept that’s enough for now and that he’ll give enough time for the rest (2 Ne 2:21).

    I found that accepting that I’m not “good enough� and that God’s love is available anyway has freed me to enjoy the journey of climbing the mountain, of becoming. Elder Oak’s talk on The Challenge to Become clarifies that we don’t earn, rather obedience changes our natures so that we can accept, God’s great gifts, as in:

    …we conclude that the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts–what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts–what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.

    As I now understand God’s plan, it isn’t to earn any gift by obedience but to change our natures through obedience (faith made perfect by works and the Spirit) until we are such that God will give, not pay, by grace to us incredible rewards.

    When I was in Primary, they changed “I Am a Child of God� from “teach me all that I must know� to “all that I must do.� I’ve wondered recently whether “all that I must be� may be another improvement to consider.

    Maybe this will make sense to you. I hope it will, without you having to pay the price I did.

  73. Melissa, I don’t know that I agree that “guilt is usually damaging and counter-productive.” Perhaps it’s just a semantic thing, as I have created my own definition of “guilt.”

    The dictionary defines guilt as “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.” In English according to Alison, guilt is “a feeling of remorse for some real offense,” while I would call “a feeling of remorse for some imagined offense” something else, like neurosis, masochism, or sometimes just silliness.

    It seems we often do a very poor job of looking squarely at our behavior (mothering included) and determining how it aligns with the gospel, with God’s will, with common sense, and taking full responsibility for what we should and could have done better, while being able to let go of the things that were beyond our control (or knowledge).

    I think guilt (by my definition) is God-given and is only counter-productive if we don’t USE it as we should–as a swift kick to remind us where we should be and to make haste to get back on track. And even then, maybe it’s not counter-productive, but it appropriately condemns us. And I say that as someone who has tremendous mothering repentence to do every day of my life–and as someone who is sure one day her kids will end up on Oprah spilling the beans about “mommy dearest.”

    Kris, I quite liked your take on mothering likely being as important for the mother as for the child. I have thought a great deal about how *I* would be different if I had stayed on my intended course after college. I can’t imagine anything that would have compelled such changes in me.

    Melissa, your comment about the “belief that most Mormon women have that they ought to take up full-time mothering for the sake of their children” struck me. This is probably true, but perhaps not as often as we assume.

    When I was 13, I declared to my (stay-at-home-) mother that I was “too smart to stay home and do menial labor.” My mother (who was both smarter and wiser than I) just said, “Oh.”

    I graduated from college three weeks after my oldest daughter was born. I intended to get a master’s and work for the rest of my life. I stayed home for one reaon *only*…because President Benson said I should in his devotional speech when I was three months pregnant. I was angry, furious, fuming, defiant, and, after a few long months, told God that I’d do it because he said so –even though I didn’t want to–but that he could not let me be miserable.

    I’m grateful that God didn’t seem to take offense at my demands AND that he allowed me to have the most amazing experience of my life because, for ONCE, I listened.

    Melissa & Kris, I see a difference in “the best way” and “the actual results.” The statement has been made that “motherhood brings out the worst” in some and that motherhood “might not be the best way” to learn vitues for all women. But is the fact that we have different results really a good indicator of what “is best” or what motherhood ‘brings out”? I believe we lose to much accountability with those angles.

    Does motherhood bring out the worst or do we choose to deal inappropriately in mothering situations? (And couldn’t we choose to bring out better things? even our very best?) Is motherhood REALLY an inferior way to learn Christ-like behaviors for some, or do some people simply ignore all the opportunities to develop them while mothering? It might not be the easiest way to bring out the best and to teach us virtue, but might it not really have the greatest POTENTIAL for doing those things?

    If I say the best way to get in shape is to exercise daily, and Suzie exercises while eating chocolate, does this really negate “the best way” or does it simply show that Suzie made poor choices or refused to demonstrate self-mastery?

    We could define “the best way” to do something is the way that brings results or is the easiest to a given person, but I think we miss a lot with that interpretation. So Suzie gets gastric bypass surgery, but keeps putting downt the chocolates.

    manaen, I’m glad to find another Rasband fan. I’ve been touting this book for–what is it?–eight years now. I don’t think it’s been given due credit. Thanks for the reminder. I think I’ll use this for the October book club selection on my site. Great lessons to be learned there.

    P.S. I just started reading T&S again after a hiatus. I’m so enjoying all your insights. Many thanks.

  74. I think we do bear some responsibility for our children. If we didn’t, they wouldn’t need parents.

    Heather O. is on to something there.

    The catalogue of self-doubts in the original post are superficialities, only brought up to be dismissed. Obviously the young man didn’t decline mission service because his mother wasn’t a nimble housekeeper or scrapbooker. The real doubts in every parents’ mind should include: Did I do everything I could to instill in my children a desire to serve the Lord through missionary service? Did I show by example that I value the Gospel enough to make personal sacrifices for it? Did I strengthen my children’s testimony with my own? Certainly you can answer each one of them positively and still have a son who doesn’t go on a mission, but aren’t those better questions than “Did I handle the Dungeons and Dragons issue correctly?”

    The commenters are quite right that a young man with even the most capable and loving parenting will sometimes go his own way to the distress of his parents. I understand that we might not be due credit nor blame for any particular result, but that doesn’t mean that in certain circumstances blame doesn’t attach, or credit isn’t due. A task for which you bear no responsibility for the outcome is a worthless one.

    I’m not saying that we should seek to assign credit or blame to ourselves or others, just that parenting matters, at the very least on the margins. If it were otherwise I’d be wasting a lot of time I could be spending in my various stupid hobbies.

  75. As a kindly intentioned response to Alison’s decision to do what God wanted (interpreted as being a “stay at home” mom), I have to mention that my mother telephoned me after President Benson’s talk to ask what I had thought of it. I said I found it problematic. Then, for the first time in my life, I heard my mother criticize a Church leader. She talked about the examples he had used [actually quoted from President Kimball] of mothers making beds for other women’s children rather than for their own, and ironing clothes for other families than their own, etc. “Is he totally out of touch?” she said. “We’re not maids. We’re CEOs and professors and doctors!” My mother the feminist. Actually, she’s not. These were the words of one who had given birth to five children in six years and then three more a decade later. She may not even remember saying these things, but I recall them clearly because they jolted me-they seemed so out of character. My mother is from a rich heritage framed by the words “Don’t disappoint Mom.” I recall her saying countless times when hearing about a misbehaving child or an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, “Oh! His mother must be so disappointed!” I even remember realizing that maybe the mother shouldn’t be our first concern. And when I heard Chiam Potok’s tale of a Jewish woman’s response to _My Name is Asher Lev_, I wasn’t surprised at all. The woman said (responding to Asher’s portrait of his parents being metaphorically crucified), “But why would he do that to his mother?”

  76. By the way, I’m glad to report that none of my stupid hobbies are as stupid as Dungeons and Dragons. I have no idea whether it’s a work of darkness or not, but I would steer my children away from it just to prevent the merciless teasing that would surely be visited upon them if their participation became widely known, much as I’m now teasing Russell. Kevin, that quote in #21 is hilarious.

  77. Gst–your observations are astute, of course–the list I provided is a superficial one and only emblematic of the kinds of things we Mormon women manage to include in the baggage we take on our guilt trips. But the questions you pose–Did I do everything I could to instill in my children a desire to serve the Lord through missionary service? Did I show by example that I value the Gospel enough to make personal sacrifices for it? Did I strengthen my children’s testimony with my own?–though more significant than whether or not we collected photographs in the cutest way possible, are still guilt-makers, but on a much deeper, more troubling level. I would not answer a single one of those questions without some qualification. I would be foolish and arrogant if I said I had done “everything I could” in any of my callings. There is always, always, always more we can do–and there’s the rub. The question is, is the rub a stinging cottonball of isopropyl alcohol, or is it the Balm of Gilead–which we must first accept fully for ourselves before we can anoint others. It’s never “enough” when it’s just us. We will ALL fail in some degree. That’s why a Savior was provided. I love both posts by Manaen about the atonement, btw. Thank you.

  78. “I would not answer a single one of those questions without some qualification. I would be foolish and arrogant if I said I had done ‘everything I could’ in any of my callings.”

    True for all of us, I’m sure. I hope it’s clear that I didn’t intend to call you out personally on any of those questions. They are my personal doubts about myself, and they are indeed troubling. But we keep muddling through!

  79. There are 3 sources of guilt: God, man, and Satan. Only God-caused guilt is good, and it is a wonderful motivator. Guilt that is provided by Satan or only by man is destructive and wrong. Feelings of being worthless because of guilt is not God’s guilt, but Satan’s.

    To find peace, to know who is the source of our guilt, we need to do what Joseph Smith did when he went to pray and Moroni answered his prayer by visiting him for the first time:

    Pearl of Great Price: Joseph Smith History: 1: 29:

    29 In consequence of these things, I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; when, on the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to aprayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him; for I had full bconfidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one.

    Joseph said that he went to pray so that “I might know of my state and standing before him.” That’s what Joseph Smith and other prophets always do: they pray to “know of my state and standing” with God. We have the same privilege that Joseph did. That’s how true peace in this life is achieved: by knowing where we stand with the Lord.

  80. The catalogue of self-doubts in the original post are superficialities, only brought up to be dismissed. Obviously the young man didn’t decline mission service because his mother wasn’t a nimble housekeeper or scrapbooker. The real doubts in every parents’ mind should include: Did I do everything I could to instill in my children a desire to serve the Lord through missionary service? Did I show by example that I value the Gospel enough to make personal sacrifices for it?

    You said there what I should have said.

  81. By way of a quick response (since that’s all I have time for now)


    You rightly draw a distinction between the kinds of “noble sacrifice” that doctors or teachers make and the kind of work mothers do. Certainly these are vastly different kinds of service, but I don’t think that because a toddler’s needs are immediate and constant you can conclude that mothering is better at instilling certain virtues.

    The development of virtue in response to mothering is entirely dependent on the attitude of the mother in question since a mother might choose to develop a despairing, regretful, bored, or angry disposition in response to an toddler’s tantrums instead of a patient and kind one.

    Further, one might argue that an infant’s incessant needs are demands that a mother is obligated to meet. It is no act of compassion to quiet your own fussy baby. It is your responsibilty; your obligation and duty as opposed to an act of supererogation. The care may also be at least partly self-interested as a colicky baby deprives her parents of a restful night’s sleep. Devoting oneself to one’s children can also be indirectly self-promotional. It’s your children who take care of you in your old age and carry your genes into the future.

    Even in the best scenario where a woman learns to be patient, generous, forgiving . . .in her mothering those are dispositions that she’s learned to exhibit as a mother in her parenting. There’s no reason to suppose that those virtues carry over into different realms with other people—the stranger, the wounded, the friendless. That a woman learns to be unselfish with her own flesh and blood—bodies she’s carried and birthed and suckled—little bodies that are very much extensions of herself is no act of radical benevolence. That’s not to deny that it takes constant effort to meet those needs with love and tenderness. I’ve made it clear that the way a woman chooses to respond to the challenges of motherhood makes a huge difference in the effect the experience has on her. But, even when the act of mothering cultivates virtues in her as a mother, she may not be any more responsive to other’s needs more generally. I’ve known many mothers who are so intent on taking care of their own (meeting the needs of their own children) that they do not ever take the time to be a good friend or respond to a neighbor in need, let alone volunteer at the women’s shelter, or devote their lives to humanitarian work.

    Since, motherhood is the common experience of nearly all women one might expect almost all women, or at least those who are mothers, to particularly exhibit the Christlike attributes you list. The reality is that the virtues seem not to be particularly tied to maternity and childrearing since they vary widely among women who are mothers. In fact, mothers seem just as prone to pettiness, narcissism, vanity, and pride as the childless.

  82. D&D is essentially harmless…my experiences with my group back in High School and College were less about black magic and more about pimply-faced nerds getting together to eat junk food in somebody’s kitchen on Friday Nights.

    There is a classic comedy sketch which was heard countless times on “Dr. Demento” which sums up the D&D experience quite well. The Dead Alewives…

    Narrator: Dungeons and Dragons. Satan’s game. Your children, like it or not, are attracted in their weaker years to the occult, and a game like D&D fuels their imagination and makes them feel special, while drawing them deeper and deeper into the bowels of El Diablo! This afternoon, the Dead Alewives’ Watchtower invites you to sit in on an actual gaming session. Observe the previously unobservable as a hidden camera takes you to the Inner Sanctum of Dungeons and Dragons.
    DM: Golstaff, you have entered the door to the north. You are now by yourself, standing in a dark room. The pungent stench of mildew eminates from the wet dungeon walls.
    Cheeto: Where are the Cheetos?
    DM: They’re right next to you.
    Golstaff: I cast a spell.
    Cheeto: Where’s the Mountain Dew?
    DM: In the fridge, duh!
    Golstaff: I wanna cast a spell!
    Cheeto: Can I have a Mountain Dew?
    DM: Yes, you can have a Mountain Dew, just go get it.
    Golstaff: I can cast any of these, right? On the list?
    DM: Yes, any, any of the first level ones.
    Cheeto: I’m gonna get a soda; anyone want one? Hey, Graham, I’m not in the room, right?
    DM: What room?
    Golstaff: I wanna cast…Magic Missile.
    Cheeto: The room where he’s casting all these spells from.
    DM: He hasn’t cast anything yet.
    Golstaff: I am though, if you’d listen. I’m casting…Magic Missile.
    DM: Why are casting Magic Missile? There’s nothing to attack here.
    Golstaff: I…I’m attacking the darkness!

    DM: Fine, fine, you attack the darkness. There’s an elf in front of you.
    Elf: Whoah! That’s me, right?
    DM: He wearing a brown tunic, and he has grey hair, and blue eyes…
    Elf: No, I don’t, I have grey eyes.
    DM: Let me see that sheet.
    Elf: Well, it says I have…Well, it says here I have blue, but I decided I wanted grey eyes.
    DM: Whatever. OK, you guys can talk to each other now, if you want.
    Golstaff: Hello.
    Elf: Hello.
    Golstaff: I am Golstaff, Sorcerer of Light.
    Elf: Then how come you had to cast Magic Missile?

    DM: You…you guys are being attacked.
    Cheeto: Do I see that happening?
    DM: No, you’re outside, by the tavern.
    Cheeto: Cool, I get drunk.
    DM: There are seven ogres surrounding you.
    Elf: How could they surround us? I had Mordenkainen’s Magical Watchdog cast.
    DM: No, you didn’t.
    Cheeto: I’m getting drunk. Are there any girls there?
    Elf: I totally did! You asked me if I wanted any equipment before this adventure and I said No. But I need material components for all my spells. So I cast Mordenkainen’s Faithful Watchdog.
    DM: But you never actually cast it.
    Cheeto: Roll the dice to see if I’m getting drunk.
    DM: (rolls dice) Yeah, you are.
    Cheeto: Are there any girls there?
    DM: Yeah.
    Elf: I did though! I completely said when you asked me!
    DM: No you didn’t! You didn’t actually SAY that you were casting the spell. So now there’s ogres. OK?!
    Cheeto: Ogres! Man, I got an Ogre-Slaying knife! It’s got a plus 9 against ogres.
    DM: You’re not there! You’re getting drunk!
    Cheeto: OK, but if there’s any girls there, I wanna DO them!
    Narrator: There you have it! A frightening look into America’s most frightening pastime. Remember that it’s not your children’s fault that they’re being drawn into a Satanic world of nightmare. It’s their gym teacher’s fault, for making them feel outcast, when they couldn’t do one single pullup.

  83. manaen, Amazon often lists in-print LDS books erroneously as being out of print. The book is still available new

    Margaret, I appreciated you post and don’t intent to quibble, but I would like to address your statement about my “decision to do what God wanted (interpreted as being a “stay at homeâ€? mom).”

    I, too, found President Benson’s talk “problematic” and was more than happy to claim that he was “out of touch”–and I did. And I said he had no idea what women were going through and that if women were supposed to stay home then someone darned well should have brougt that up at least ONCE in all my years in Young Women to counter all the stuff everyone else was telling me–because it wasn’t fair to throw my life into turmoil now. Oh, and that a man had no right to limit my life in such a way and that I had no domestic skills or even interests and I desired none. And I had sworn to every stupid Mormon boy I’d ever dated that “I will have two kids if I like the first on a lot” and “Of course I won’t drop out of school to support you. Are you an idiot?” Did I mention that I’m “not a maid”?

    I’m just about to graduate. I’m FINALLY going to start my life. I’m going to make something of MYSELF (as opposed to standing behind “my man” as he makes something of HIMself or nurturing my kids as they might, maybe, someday, hopefully, possibly do something great because they had this great mom wringing her hands in the background), I’m going to do interesting things, important things, exciting things–at LEAST do things that I am somewhat suited to, which would NOT include mothering and homemaking.

    But here is what was problematic as I fumed about campus and fumed at my job and fumed at anyone who would listen. There’s this GUY. This guy who I have declared that I sustain as a prophet, seer, and revelator. This guy who just stood in front of me, in an official capacity and said things very plainly that leave very little interpretive wiggle room. I’m not telling anyone else what they should have done then or what they should do now. But I TRIED to get out of it and could see no escape hatch. Even though my husband was in graduate school and we were so stinking dirt poor that we were nearly destitute. How could I interpret his statements any other way?

    I tried to get out of the earring thing, too. And ignored it–even while teaching Young Women–since the counsel was first given to youth and I was not young. When President Hinckley repeated it to the Relief Society, I gave up and took the extra three earrings out. Funny how I think I’d actually give up everything to cross the plains, when I had weeks of angst of some gold studs.

    I’ve carried the talk in my scriptures for nearly two decades to remind me why I did what I did. And bless my dear husband’s heart for supporting me as I turned our lives and our plans inside out. He’s a saint.

  84. Actually glancing back at my post, I realize that I probably stayed home with my kids because I can’t spell, apply punctuation, or use correct grammar–and so obviously could not have succeed in any endeavor requiring basic junior high skills.

    Or maybe I can’t do that since all six are distracting me from my task–one electronically and five live?

    I’m going running with my chocolates now.

  85. Alison–I truly hope I didn’t sound too judgmental. You seem to be a truly remarkable woman with a deep and abiding commitment. I admire that greatly. And don’t worry about little mechanical flaws on blogging. I’m always appalled when I read something I’ve written–I an English teacher–and see comma splices, etc.

  86. Alison,
    Years ago I read an article by Pres. Packer and there were a couple of blink-and-you-might miss it sentences that changed my whole perspective on the whole mothers-in-the-home thing. Thought you might like it, given something you said above:

    “A sister may finally come to see why we stress the importance of mothers staying at home with their children. She understands that no service equals the exalting refinement which comes through unselfish motherhood. Nor does she need to forgo intellectual or cultural or social refinement. Those things are fitted in—in proper time—for they attend the everlasting virtue which comes from teaching children.

    “No teaching is equal, more spiritually rewarding, or more exalting than that of a mother teaching her children.”
    (Boyd K. Packer, “Teach the Children,� Ensign, Feb. 2000, 10)

    It kinda reminds me of when I was in the MTC and one of my teachers said that I would be my greatest convert. Not so, I thought smugly. I was already converted. Well, you can figure out the rest of the story….

  87. 84
    That a woman learns to be unselfish with her own flesh and blood—bodies she’s carried and birthed and suckled—little bodies that are very much extensions of herself is no act of radical benevolence.

    Perhaps you are one of those mothers for whom mothering is as natural as breathing, or perhaps you are someone who isn’t yet a mother, but in my world, there’s some pretty radical effort going on to be the kind of person I want to be — for me, for my children and for the Lord. Motherhood and the benevolence it demands has been an extremely radical experience for me on many fronts. In fact, I didn’t realize how much benevolence-development I needed until I became a mother. :) It has brought me amazing joy and blessings (!), but it is the hardest thing I have ever done. And on those days that I struggle and wonder why I gave up my career and my independence and the things mothers often sacrifice, I hold onto what the prophets say about what I am doing. It helps me keep things in perspective.

    Perhaps it is because mothering often demands a unique – yes, perhaps you could call it radical – kind of benevolence and effort and growth that the prophets remind us of its importance and divinity. Sure we feel an attachment to them because they are our children. But (am I alone here?) that sure doesn’t help me in many of those moments when benevolence is needed.

    Becoming is something that has been brought up numerous times in this discussion. In Elder Oaks’ talk, he said that family relationships the most important setting for our becoming experiences. That can apply to any of us, not just parents. That doesn’t mean that we can’t grow in other ways and in other places. But the family is where God intends us to do the most growth. That means to me that it demands the most of our desire to become Christlike, and tests us in ways that we aren’t tested elsewhere. If one doesn’t translate learning and growth from family life (including motherhood) that isn’t to say (or doesn’t prove) that family isn’t the Lord’s primary learning lab. It just means that that person has not chosen to be Christlike in certain contexts.

    I like what Alison said above: “But is the fact that we have different results really a good indicator of what “is bestâ€? or what motherhood ‘brings outâ€?? I believe we lose to much accountability with those angles.”

    If I looked at what my life before mothering brought out and my life now, I would easily choose the former. But I would have missed the intense and (obviously necessary) growth experiences that I needed. What life “brings out” often gives us the greatest opportunity for growth and for leaning on the Atonement. God usually doesn’t lead us to the easiest road, either. As my dad often says, “To struggle is the program.”

  88. “When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it.”

    That is what I thought when I was young, that noble aspirations trump venality. But after spending 30 years working I’ve got to acknowledge that most big mountains are climbed by those wanting to prove how big they are. Big egos abound in the executive suites and mid management cubicles of large corporations; noble aspirations are in short supply.

    As for D&D, it’s a game for people who are too lazy to join the Society for Creative Anachronism or too cowardly to wear their authentic Star Trek uniforms in public.

  89. Margaret, not at all. But if I weren’t appalled enough in this group of scholars, knowing that you are an English teacher does NOT help! I splicing commas and danglng participles are the LEAST of my problems.

    m&m, thank you. I love the quotes. Interestingly (at least to me) was that I was given my very first, tiny glimpse of the blessings that Elder Packer speaks of exactly six weeks and one day after my first daughter was born…the day I would have been back at work had I followed my own personal life plan. And it changed my perspective from feeling that I had sacrificed my life for this baby, to realizing I had gained the greatest blessing in the world; from thinking that I was home because God didn’t love me as much as he loved my husband (who (along with the whole priesthood thing) got to have a career AND a family) to feeling so sorry for my husband who had to leave every day to support this most central work of bringing God’s children back to Him. (FWIW, my husband does not feel sorry for himself, which is, I think, as it should be.)

    But, as you say, that is not to say that the profound testimony I have of this has translated into benevolence “in many of those moments when benevolence is needed.” I struggle so much with being the person I want to be, the mom I want to be, the wife I want to be…the everything I want to be. Parenting is NOT easy.

    I’m rereading “The Bonds That Make Us Free” for my book club and what I just read fits right in with that:

    “Nothing in my experience has been a greater source of sadness than this discrepancy, this distance, between the person I am when I am true to what I know to be right and the person I become when I am not.”

    KLC, I laughed so hard at your last sentence, that a couple of my kids wandered in to see what the bellowing was about. I could only say, “You wouldn’t understand…”

  90. I don’t have strong feelings about mothers and remunerated labor, pro or con, mostly because it’s not a decision I’ve had to make. (And I think we’d all acknowledge that individual circumstances vary widely.) But I have to thank Alison for her quote. I’ve been thinking lately that this is the tragedy of being human: stumbling through the darkness between our deep, at times godly moral imagination and our inevitably flawed, morally stunted lives.

  91. to feeling so sorry for my husband who had to leave every day to support this most central work of bringing God’s children back to Him. (FWIW, my husband does not feel sorry for himself, which is, I think, as it should be.)

    Loved that.

    And I, too, love that quote. That book is amazing.

  92. As for D&D, it’s a game for people who are too lazy to join the Society for Creative Anachronism or too cowardly to wear their authentic Star Trek uniforms in public.

    I’d have to disagree …

    this is the tragedy of being human: stumbling through the darkness — see, there is a D&D player ;)

    btw sorry for my husband who had to leave every day to support this most central work … does anyone ever ask what is God’s day job? Does anyone care?

    Guess I’m just missing my kids. Heather is at BYU, Rachel is at a sleepover, Win is at the hospital (working) and the others are so very far from me right now. I enjoy my day job, but I miss my kids more.

  93. “Also, to the extent our understanding of our premortal existence is accurate, it should not surprise us that our sons and daughters (and everybody else in the second estate) hold a built-in, deeply rooted aversion to anything that resembles coercion.� (Mark IV, #51)

    I appreciate this comment.

  94. Margaret said:

    I have to say that I do think there’s a danger in spending too much time in a false world or interacting more with digital characters than with actual human beings–so it’s maybe more a question of time devoted than the activity itself. I can’t speak from experience, since computer games and role playing games have never attracted me, but there is simply something unhealthy about a child spending hours of his/her day in a make-believe world.

    I completely disagree. Especially for kids who have difficulty socially, D&D is a social game that makes introverts interact with each other. For kids who like fantasy, it\’s a creative mutual storytelling time. And they often have to do research to be able to get their story up and running, which teaches them library skills. Quite a few libraries, actually, are starting D&D games as a way to invite teens in. Fantasy has a capacity for metaphor that realism never can, and for the particular kinds of minds that are drawn to D&D or fantasy fiction, sometimes it can be a developmental tool that helps them work through the challenges in their real life, giving confidence and coping skills they might not otherwise develop.

    But I suppose I\’m biased. Like Hyrum, I work for a gaming company–the company that makes D&D, actually. I never played growing up or even in college, but most of my college friends did play, and they still had plenty of time to interact with me socially in other ways. I took this job because it was the job that was offered me, and since starting to work here, I have learned to play D&D in an Eberron setting, D&D and Star Wars minis, and many other games–all of which require more than one person to play. Gaming–and note that I\’m not talking about electronic gaming; D&D is a face-to-face game–requires people to be in the same room with each other and talk to each other.

    Most of my college friends who were not-so-underground gamers were people I knew at BYU from the staff of The Leading Edge (the student science fiction/fantasy magazine at BYU) have gone on to become professionals in the science fiction/fantasy field. I edit fantasy books for children and young adults. Another friend has gone on to become a successful fantasy author (in the same vein as Orson Scott Card, who has served in his stake presidency in the past). Another works as a copyeditor for a manga company. Several others write and are working toward being published.

    I don\’t think there\’s anything wrong with D&D itself any more than there\’s something wrong with a kid who\’s into sports (which, to be excellent at it, takes a whole lot more time than D&D might). As others have said above, if the influence is bad, it\’s more to do with the people playing than with the game itself.

  95. I forgot to mention in my above comment that not only am I active and temple-going, but so are all those friends I referenced from BYU, and so are the three other Mormons who work at my company. So I\’m pretty sure that spending time in a fantasy world didn\’t affect our faithfulness, unless it strengthened it somehow.

  96. Parents who are sure they are doing everything right, who are convinced they are doing everything perfectly—these are the parents you don’t want to be. Parents who recognize their own shortcomings, who are aware that they’ve screwed up and wished they did better—these are the parents you want to be.

    I don’t trust anyone who is overly confident in their parenting. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s part of what having a family is all about. Fortunately, kids are pretty resilient. They also have their agency—and watching them make bad choices, and loving and accepting them anyway, is also part of what having a family is all about.

    I figure if I’m doing better in some areas than my own parents did with me, then I’m doing ok.

  97. As I have been struggling with guilt lately, loved the post. But really, all this talk about D+D, the big thing now is World of Warcraft and other computer driven games. As silly as it is, I somehow feel I have failed because my 25 yr old son,an RM, would rather go to another “lan” party than date.My 24 yr. old daughter dates alot but is “too picky”. When you have Young Adult children the questions of “is he/she dating anybody?”, “what are they graduating in?”, etc, can bring up guilty feelings for me. I KNOW! It’s crazy!! I’ve recently started working full time (was a sahm for 20 yrs) so that opens up a whole other can of worms! I still have a 14 yr.old at home.Now my parents, temple workers, are gently complaining that all the other workers are always carrying on abt. how many gr.grandchildren they have and their own grandchildren won’t even get married. If I let myself, I can blame all of their “horrible shortcomings” on the fact that I cared too much or too little, didn’t and don’t have an ideal marriage, had sporadic FHE, etc…But then I stop and realize they are grown ups and will do what they’re gonna do at this point. I think I was/am a great mom. It’s all my husband’s fault. JK

  98. “I work for a gaming company–the company that makes D&D, actually”

    I’ll be.

    stacer do you ever get around to … as you might guess, I’m kind of attached to the older stuff ;)

    I was wondering what things were like now.

    Steve Marsh … still waiting to get paid for Sahaguin and other critters I named out of the Christ in the America’s pamphlet.


  99. Stacer #103 and Stephen #107

    Good to know there are more of us in gaming these days. We should hook up at GenCon. :) (Actually, that would be kind of cool. An LDS gathering at GenCon….)


  100. I’ve just started posting here recently, but I thought I’d chime in on games as I did in another discussion.

    I’m actively LDS, six kids (two at BYU, two RMs), and have been playing paper role-playing games like D&D since about 1977. I’ve been professionally developing computer games since 1994, specifically massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs). I’ve worked for large and small companies (EA, 3DO, my own studios), and have a daughter and son-in-law who are both professional game developers.

    These games aren’t evil by any means, any more than TV or the Internet are. They can, however, eat up a person’s life. Believe it or not, this can be a good thing: I’ve seen shut-ins who have no social life at all stay logged in to MMOs for 100+ hours per week, desperately grateful for the renewed social contact this has given them. OTOH I’ve also seen kids fail out of college because of the strong attraction formed by the online community in these games. I’ve also seen marriages form, divorces come about, great kindness and great deceit as a result of these games.

    IMO they’re still very much in their infancy, and I hope we’re able to turn them into more of a meaningful form of entertainment.

  101. I can relate to your story, Margaret. We have an 18-year-old son with bipolar disorder. He has been fighting the Church ever since he was about five years old, and after we moved to Arizona, he became heavily involved with drugs. He is a good kid with a lot of potential, but this has been a very rough journey for us. I put his chances of serving a mission at not more than 30%, and I think even that modest projection is probably too optimistic. But given the nature and extent of his problems, I can easily imagine a mission being an absolute disaster for him, so I seriously question whether he even SHOULD serve a mission. He knows I will be disappointed if he doesn\’t go, but he also knows I will respect his decision and not disown or ostracize him if he makes that choice. I don\’t know how likely it is that he will remain active in the Church — he\’s sort of teetering on the brink of inactivity right now — but I think his chances are probably better if he does not serve a mission at all, rather than if he goes, finds out he can\’t handle it, and comes home early. Which is, of course, a very plausible scenario.

    We\’ve sort of gone through guilt trips of our own over this. There is no doubt at all that Colin has had a difficult time dealing with his mother\’s clinical depression and other health issues. He and I developed a sort of disconnect just as he was entering his teen years, and Sheila and I have never been really consistent about having Family Home Evening, family scripture study, and some of the other indicia that, supposedly at least, measure the righteousness of parents. But I also told Sheila recently that while we did make our mistakes, we also did a lot of things right — and that in retrospect, we probably did more things right with him than we did wrong.

    That thought helps a lot, but the Church and the gospel have always meant so much for me, and I\’ve always been grateful that I was able to serve a mission. I am also a convert, which means I have experienced missionary work at both ends. And now I am saddened to know that my own son will probably never experience or appreciate any of that the way I have.

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