Families can be together forever, whether we want them to be or not! I’m old enough to remember when the Church really steered into the “forever families” concept in its advertising and proselyting. The Church had put out ads of eager-faced innocent children trying to get their parents’ attention, their sweet, cherubic faces falling in disappointment as parents put them off for other distracting concerns. In the end of the ads, the parents would set aside their cares and focus on their ecstatic child who was suddenly beaming with pride at being deemed important enough for this adult attention. As the commercial ended, a wise, warm paternal voice would intone “Family…It’s about time.” [end scene]
These ads, and the reputation of happy, close Mormon families in general, was the one uncontroversial thing that outsiders liked about the Church. This mattered a lot back then because the Church was still pretty small and mostly unknown outside the Western United States. That was 40 years ago, and it’s easy to overplay our strengths. The additional scrutiny on families has the unfortunate side effect of making them a prop in proselyting, evidence for or against the success of the Church. If you have a “bad” family, or one that doesn’t put the Church in a good light, you are hurting the Church’s image.
For those who grew up after the 80s, who didn’t experience this fresh focus firsthand, they may not be aware of the mindset that it creates for some parents. In trying to have picture-perfect families, not only may we fall short, but the desire to have a perfect family for public consumption is itself a problem that will always create negative downstream impacts. This topic is one E. Uchtdorf has cautioned against repeatedly.
I was listening to a podcast in which Mormon parenting and some of its common pitfalls were being discussed. I suspect many of these occur in all high demand religions, but others may be amped up by our Church’s almost pathological need to produce the wonderful, perfect, faithful families that others expect of us. Here are a few of the pitfalls this mindset can create that surface when a family member leaves the Church or loses faith or is simply discovered to have a different religious perspective:
- Parents who feel torn between loyalty to the Church and love for their family member. This can be as extreme as literally breaking ties with a child (or divorcing a spouse) entirely over religious belief or as mild as expressing shame or disapproval or withholding approval and attention.
- Conditional love, as expressed by parents toward children whose choices they don’t approve.
- Lack of curiosity about other family members’ views if they differ with regard to religious belief.
- Disinterest in discussing anything that is not Church-related. For some families, every discussion centers on Church life, one’s callings, one’s ward, how many times one attends the temple, what happened in Church that week, the people to whom one ministers, insights from scripture study. While these are fine topics, they don’t represent the totality of human existence. Yet for some, there seems to be little else to discuss.
- Authoritarian parenting, including the assumption that if a child is not following the Church’s plan, his or her moral choices will automatically be bad.
- Expressing the belief, usually through skepticism and disapproval, that any disagreement stems from a flaw with the person, not the idea. The use of gaslighting and judgment to try to coerce the family member to comply with the parents’ wishes.
- Lack of present-mindedness. Rather than enjoying the relationship in the here and now, so much focus is on “eternity” that the relationship that exists is not great.
- Stunted human development due to lack of moral reasoning and focus on following “the plan” or leaders. Rather than learning right from wrong and how to make choices, the children are raised to seek parental or Church approval, and to fear its loss.
- The realization that family members are living in completely separate worlds that don’t have the same rules or perspectives.
- Attempts at parental control of adult children rather than respecting autonomy and boundaries.
When I thought about the conditional aspect to some parental relationships in Mormonism, I was reminded of a scene from Out of Africa. Karen Blixen is talking with Berkeley about Denys, the big game hunter she’s curious about.
Karen : He has got lovely books. Does he lend them?
Berkeley : We had a friend… Hopworth, he’d got a book from Denys and didn’t return it. Denys was furious. I said to Denys… “You wouldn’t lose a friend for the sake of a book.” He said, “No, but he has, hasn’t he?”
In Denys’ mind, there are rules you must abide by within a relationship, and these principles are so strong for him that he won’t change them under any condition. Unfortunately, this intransigence causes him problems in life. His nomadic principles and demand for personal freedom are altered when he finally learns to love. He’s not happy to find that he can’t control others through his principles, but he realizes that he was wrong to be so certain and so inflexible.
I recently finished reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle, a woman who was raised Evangelical, and after her husband cheated on her, wrote a book about saving your marriage called Love Warrior. In a twist, her next book (Untamed) is about how she discovered she was a lesbian and married the love of her life, a woman named Abby.
My husband’s betrayal didn’t leave me feeling the despair of a wife with a broken heart. I was feeling the rage of a writer with a broken plot.Glennon Doyle, Untamed
The book Untamed is all about her need to quit telling her life as if it were a story and starting to actually live her life and become the person she was.
I’ll just tell it like a story instead of a life. As if I am past the end instead of stuck in the middle. I’ll tell the truth, but I’ll tell it with a slant: I’ll blame myself just enough; present him in the most sympathetic light; attach my bulimia to my frigidity and my frigidity to his infidelity. I’ll tell how the cheating led to my self-reflection, how self-reflection led to forgiveness and pain led to redemption.Glennon Doyle, Untamed
Mormonism, like many religions, is really a life path we’ve bought into, one that we are supposed to follow from milestone to milestone: birth and blessing, baptism, youth programs and temple trips, seminary, mission, college, temple marriage, having children, taking them through all those steps and rites, lather, rinse, repeat. But not everyone fits into that path. Some people don’t marry, marry late, or marry outside the Church. Some are LGBT. Some don’t go on missions or go and come home early. Some skip college. Some don’t want children or can’t have children. Some have marriages that are dysfunctional. Some have children with disabilities or who are defiant. There are so many possible variations that I really could never list them all.
Until I surrendered myself to the cages of others’ expectations, cultural mandates, and institutional allegiances. Until I buried who I was in order to become what I should be. I lost myself when I learned how to please.Glennon Doyle, Untamed
There are various descriptions for the life plan that Mormonism lays out for us: the covenant path, the plan of happiness. But what if the “plan” gets in the way of happiness? As the poet Robert Burns said, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” 
Glennon’s book talks a lot about freeing ourselves to feel our feelings, to trust our own instincts over dogma, to create and imagine our futures rather than trying to fit them into a mold that was handed down from someone else that may not suit us. If we don’t do this, we may eventually realize we haven’t lived our lives because we haven’t allowed ourselves to be ourselves. We haven’t been true to our own needs. This is not only damaging to us individually, but to our families.
A broken family is a family in which any member must break herself into pieces to fit in. A whole family is one in which each member can bring her full self to the table knowing that she will always be both held and free.Glennon Doyle, Untamed
She doesn’t give “wayward” family members an automatic pass either.
Rebellion is as much of a cage as obedience is. They both mean living in reaction to someone else’s way instead of forging your own.Glennon Doyle, Untamed
I particularly liked her look back at her last memoir’s life lessons. She maintains a healthy skepticism about her personal narratives because as humans, we are constantly growing into who we are; trying to tell our lives like a story, line upon line, precept on precept, is simply not how life works. We are living lives, not stories!
I was born a little broken, with an extra dose of sensitivity–SOME HORSESHIT I WROTE ABOUT MYSELF IN MY FIRST MEMOIR.Glennon Doyle, Untamed
Doubtless, there are many Mormon families that don’t define their relationships solely based on each person’s relationship to the Church, in which individuals share interests that are not Church-related and make memories based on enjoying each others’ foibles and idiosyncrasies. But, from what I can see, there sure are a lot that place a premium on Church membership, and several Church leaders encourage this way of relating. It’s a shame where that is the case because there’s nothing quite so boring as someone whose entire life revolves around Church, particularly when you don’t attend the same ward or know the same people.
What do you think?
- Do you think Mormon families are great PR for the Church or are they a liability?
- Do you see patterns of dysfunction in Church families? Do you see patterns of dysfunction in non-Church families? Are they the same or different?
- What do you think are the strengths within Mormon families? Are these strengths unique to our faith?
- Do you think the focus on eternal families makes families stronger or more brittle? Defend your answer.
 The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.
Just placed a hold on the ebook from my local library! Thanks for the insights
I grew up in the 80’s family obsessed church. I remember those commercials well. I remember seeing all the loving close knit families in my ward and thinking they were the only righteous option. It’s been hard to divorce from that idea as I find that I really don’t like my parents or siblings. The thought of spending eternity with people I don’t like seems awful.
While in business school on the East Coast I was working on a group marketing assignment in which I proposed a plan focusing on traditional nuclear families. I remember one of the group members said “the nuclear family is not what you think it is.” I realized that I had blinders on and that I was hurtfully missing a majority of people in only considering traditional family structures.
To me it’s another dimension of diversity- LGBT, single adults, widowed, empty nesters, mixed faith nuclear families, may all be casualties of the focus on the family.
I think the concept of family was significantly different in the 80s, and the Mormon family as sold in TV commercials was pretty good PR. These are not the 80s, however, and so the POX and the church’s involvement with Scouting and that creepy video where the father talks about leaving nothing to his kids if they leave the church but instead giving all his money to the church itself have had an impact. Let’s just say that reality crept into the idea of Mormon families and upset the apple cart, revealing that it was always sort of a coercive fantasy of what ideal families look like. Good riddance.
Yes, I think dysfunction is a part of family life to the extent that normality is really a mirage. Aside from real pathologies, dysfunction is the product of people trying to live in close proximity and get along. The insistence that some members of the group toe a particular line may cause more harm than the mere fact that people disagree.
Personally, I didn’t know how close families could be. My partner was raised Catholic and her family is very tight. They know pretty much everything about each other. They also know that there is a place they can go–literally and figuratively–for unconditional love and support. My parents would like to create that kind of family dynamic and may even think that they do, but there are so many taboos that it’s virtually impossible. They don’t really know me. Not one person has ever asked me why I left the church or what I believe now. Are they disappointed or afraid, or both?
The focus on eternal families is toxic and would best be relegated to the trash heap of corrosive ideas. It makes no sense from a doctrinal or metaphysical perspective, it guilts people into constraining themselves so as to not upset the family unit for eternity, it ignores the obvious issue of spending forever with people you may not like or have anything in common with, and it steals an animating principle of healthy families and then tries to sell it back to people so they’ll join the church.
You would think that as members of the Church we should we look to the Prophet for an example of how to parent? But I’m not sure about that. I am in no position to judge him as a parent. But I do listen to his talks in General Conference. And two things stand out recently: First, the “sad heaven” talk in which he basically warns us that we won’t be together forever if we don’t get our act together now. Second, his praise of his daughter, who had died, for being such a faithful member of the Church. I can’t read his mind, but he seemed to link his affection towards her with her faithfulness (i.e., compliance with Church standards).
There are good parents, and bad parents. There are good LDS parents, and bad LDS parents. I really doubt LDS parents are better on average. Furthermore, I doubt Q15 members are better dads than the rest of us. I could be wrong.
The only aspect of eternal family that makes any lick of sense is spousal union, as it is the only family covenant entered into voluntarily. Parent child sealings only make sense in a temporal context, and only in a manner to emphasize our duty as stewards over our children to treat them with godlike love.
Sorry to make a second comment but I feel strongly about this: I really believe that the “Family” messaging deployed by the Church for 50+ years now is an example of a major marketing strategy for a large organization trying to rid itself of a very bad public image. If you’re older than 75 (I’m not) you know what I’m talking about The Church was seen in the early 1900s as a strange western-US regional Church which had just recently practiced polygamy. And as we approached the Leave it to Beaver 1950s, the Church saw an opportunity to rid itself of it’s controversial past by embracing the new post WWII Father Knows Best culture.
I am not saying that the belief that “families can be together forever” was invented in the 1950s. But what is apparent is that the Church was determined to take advantage of the new post-War culture where moms would stay home (almost all of them had to work to support the War effort). We would shed ourselves of our strange polygamy reputation and be known as the most pro-family church in America.
This is all fine except that the very “pro-family” reputation that benefited the Church from about 1945 until about 2015 is now hurting it, ironically. Because now Mormons are seen generally as anti-gay and intolerant. Whether that is true or not is another discussion. But it is interesting to see how the Church seems to now be embracing tolerance and acceptance and diversity. You know what they say: the Church always follows society but it’s usually about 15-20 years behind.
jaredsbrother: “a coercive fantasy” Fantastic way to put it!
Close friends of mine who left the Church discovered that their children had already made a pact to leave the Church when they became adults. The children didn’t realize that the parents more or less felt the same way, that when the kids were out, maybe they could step away. When friends of theirs found out they were not returning, they confronted them angrily and warned them that they would lose their family for the eternities. It’s a weird story on so many levels. So, an entire family of people, none of whom believe or want to be in the Church, should stay in the Church so they can prevent something they don’t believe will happen. How is that supposed to have any teeth?
@Josh H totally agree. The pro-heteronormative patriarchal nuclear family narrative we developed and then essentially turned into a false idol to worship worked for a while but has become a prison. We can’t get out of it without admitting we were wrong, and will continue to bleed members in the meantime because our narrow-minded vision of the family just doesn’t work for people anymore and there’s no room for them in the cell so they escape.
I had a friend who posted about why she was voting for the candidate she was voting for. She said, “In the end, I’m voting for the candidate who will be best for the family.” What she meant by that, I am sure, is “the candidate who will be best for families who look like my (traditional, upper-middle-class, white) family.” She means well, but I actually think the Church’s emphasis on having the right kind of family has made us oddly selfish and narrow-minded. Rather than looking outside our households and seeing the whole human family as part of our own, we are very focused on our own little unit and not letting anything corrupt it. We see broken families as victims of their own weakness, and non-traditional families as undesirable.
As a kid I never thought forever-families made sense. I had a great family and now we are close but I didn’t exactly love hanging out with them growing up, so “Families Can Be Together Forever” seemed more like a punishment than a blessing. As a parent, I see how coercive “forever families” is with Nelson’s sad heaven. 100% agree with @jaredsbrother that we’ve taken something everyone has access to and then tried to sell it back to them — except we sell them an inferior version because it’s more limited and less loving.
Just the other day my 13-yr old said he thought our forever family concepts was controlling and coercive – “obey or you don’t get to be with your families!” Never in a MILLION years would I have thought that at 13; I’ve only recently realized it at 40 (and I’ve never told my kids I think that). Kids these days … aren’t going for it. They think too much.
It’s complicated. I too remember the cheesy commercials fondly. But I grew up in a family that fell short of the picture-perfect Mormon expectations in several ways, and was made to feel like I wasn’t deserving of the happiness other families appeared to be experiencing. I can tell it weighed heavily on my parents too, as they aspired to mold our family in to the image of the Model Mormon Families we knew, and failed repeatedly. As an adult I realized that all families experience turbulence and dysfunction, but some are just better at hiding it than others. I also realized that while the Church spent decades building a reputation as being a supporter of family values (which on its face is a good thing), they also chose to define “family” in increasingly narrow terms, which is where the negative impacts came from.
As for patterns of dysfunction, I see an incredible irony in that many Church leaders (local and general) eagerly promote the idea of spending more quality time with one’s family, but they are often the ones most willing to give up all of their free time to Church callings. A couple years ago, one of the young women in our ward who had a rapport with my my wife (YW leader) remarked that her dad (then bishop) was unable to celebrate her birthday a few months earlier because he was in a “very important meeting” that day, and that he promised to make it up to her somehow. As far as I know, that make-up celebration never happened, and he is now the stake president. My wife and I joke that his willingness to sacrifice his family on the altar of Church service is what got him the “promotion”. This is but one example of several leaders I have known over the years who gave everything to their callings, but were essentially strangers to their own kids.
I like the basic idea of eternal families, except our version has so many conditions that it tends to feel more exclusive than inclusive (“sad heaven”). This becomes apparent at events like family weddings, where there is a tangible and obvious division between who gets to attend the ceremony and who has to wait outside.
“Patterns of Family Dysfunction” could very well be an alternate title for the Book of Mormon. It’s amazing how much we don’t take our own advice.
Great post, and I saw (and felt) a lot of the same things as a teen in the 80s. I will say, though, that I saw a lot of similar dynamics in my friends’ families, who were not LDS. There was more of an idea back then that children represented the successes/failures of their parents. Maybe this is just where I grew up or maybe this was a backlash from the 70s, I don’t know. But it was also the era where “living in sin” (co-habiting with a person you weren’t married to) was gradually becoming normalized (if still scandalous) and women were being “liberated” and disillusioned stay-at-home moms were learning that fulfillment came outside the home. I think the Church’s emphasis on the family wasn’t just PR — it was a reaction to the cultural changes as well.
Those ads/messages affected me a great deal, especially the ones that emphasized the role the father had with his children (and within the home in general). The “no success can compensate for failure in the home” meant to me that professional success was a means to enable family success, not the other way around. My impression, correct or not, was that my friends’ dads saw their roles as breadwinners more than anything else, whereas my dad showed a lot of interest in me. I honestly believe that LDS men who grew up in the 80’s were far more domesticated than men of probably any other demographic in the same era. And I say this even knowing the reputation the Church has for creating patriarchal despots.
I don’t think it matters what message is emphasized to a large group — even if it’s not a particularly diverse group: for some people within the group, the emphasis will be exactly wrong. Telling one person that “no success can compensate for failure in the home” can change the priorities in his life for the better. For the other, it can be nothing but a source of shame or motivation to dissemble. Telling one person to set goals and try harder can help her accomplish things in life she otherwise wouldn’t. For another, it can cause her to give up in despair. Emphasizing the need to be a good example can cause one person to behave better, and another to simply concentrate on appearances.
I’m not saying everything messaged by the Church in the 80’s was good — some of it wasn’t. But I do think there was a lot of good in it.
Are Mormon families good PR? Not really. For one, Mormon families have a reputation of being large. Seeing as how the average number of kids per woman in the US is now under 2 (the world average is 2.4), I can’t imagine 20-40 year-olds being greatly impressed by images of a large family. Another reason is that there is a massive focus on the question of what if a child is LGBTQ+. The church gives no answers for that. To make it worse, the church has a documented history of supporting an oppressive culture against LGBTQs. Lastly, the church still encourages decades-old gender roles, which are no longer in vogue among 20-40-year-olds.
On dysfunction, speaking personally, my oldest brother took up smoking and drinking not long after his mission. He is 55 now. While he has given up those habits, he has given my parents problem after problem. He never married. Has significant psychological problems, although we’re not sure what it is as he has persistently refused to see a psychologist or psychiatrist for any sort of diagnosis. My third oldest brother had a secret family that he told us about a week before the birth of his second secret child. He has problems with the IRS and has lied, cheated, and stolen money. He now lives in exile in Finland with his original family having abandoned responsibility for his second family. I don’t see that Mormon families are inherently more “successful” than other families.
On strengths, Mormon families can provide a strong cohesive community to kids. The church can help the kids avoid dangerous lifestyles. But it is no guarantee. The sense of community can’t be replicated in the secular world. Yet community-based life can stifle individualism and be the cause of frustration and rifts for families.
I see the focus on eternal families as generally negative. Too many in the church seem to be willing to hurt relationships in the here-and-now because they believe that a particular family member has harmed their eternal family by leaving the church, coming out as gay or trans, or pursuing a lifestyle that is seem as harmless in the wider secular world but as extremely harmful in the church (such as cohabitation, social drinking, occasionally watching porn). The significant aspect about the church’s eternal family teaching isn’t actually the idea that families can be together forever. It is common belief that we’ll see loved ones on the other side and be reunited with them once we die. What’s significant is what is implicit in the church’s eternal family teaching, which is that families CAN’T be together forever unless all (and it has to be all) individuals in a family strictly adhere to a very specific set of ordinances, rituals, and living. If the church’s teaching about eternal families is true (I don’t currently believe or accept this teaching), then that is very bad news. Because if I’m an average secular person or moderate Catholic or Protestant person hearing about the church with my generic belief that I’ll see deceased family and friends on the other side, what I’m discovering is that I may not see them at all or ever be with them again unless the they AND I adhere to all of these strict guidelines or have lived lives in adherence to those and have a large set of rituals performed by proxy for them.
@John W on my mission that I thought “forever families” was some uniquely Mormon concept and that the Catholic people I taught would be so thrilled. Instead they were like, “cool we believe that too.”
Martin: “LDS men who grew up in the 80’s were far more domesticated than men of probably any other demographic in the same era” I totally agree! I have often said that the Church’s sexist rhetoric is talking a talk that we don’t walk (or at least not in my generation, not the way the sexist rhetoric sounds). More Mormon men my age have changed lots of diapers and spent lots of times with their kids than my non-Mormon friends of the same age, for sure. It’s not 100% vs. 0%, but maybe 70% / 40%.
I appreciate the Forever Family concept, not for its coerciveness, but because it reminds me that my kids will always be my kids. For example, right after my teenage son told me and his mother that he no longer wanted anything to do with the church, I was sad, disheartened and frustrated. I had done all the right things, been faithful, etc…Later in the same week, I was meeting with my boss who shared that her father recently died. A few years before his death, however, he called his estranged lesbian daughter (my boss’s sister) who he kicked out of the house 30 years earlier when she came out. In this call, he apologized to his daughter and said, “Everybody needs a place to call home and I took that away from you. I am sorry.” I felt this was a Godly reminder to me that for eternity, my son will always need a place to call home, where he is loved and unjudged, and I believe God was telling me that I needed to create that home for him. The eternal nature of the family gives me the desire to make sure my son will forever be lover and forever be valued by me and his mother regardless of his faith beliefs.
I was raised in an Italian family and married into a Mormon family – IOW out of the frying pan & into the fire. I could tell you stories you literally wouldn’t believe. The Italians were lapsed Catholics and the Mormons were Tennessee sharecroppers made California good. The two families were hostile, and similar only in their abstemious lifestyles & rigid Republicanism. The only reason the marriage survived is the hippie rebellion of the 60’s & 70’s that in an odd & wonderful way gave us a little breathing room. Life is a mess. I think the Catholics do a better job of adjusting for this than Mormons w/ built in fail-safes that have evolved over 2000 years, but they still manage to step in the crap-pile on a regular basis. The Mormon sin is everlasting hubris; the denouement will be interesting.
If two BYU grad Mormons got married 25 years ago, are still working through sexual and social dysfunction, one is having a faith crisis and one of their kids has left the Church, but they like a lot of the same music…should they stay together? Asking for a friend…
Chet, from the sound of things, you have a better-than-average marriage. Of course you should stay together. I have two pieces of advice: #1 read books aloud with each other; #2 move to Los Angeles. Trust me.
Chet: I suspect your sexual and social dysfunctions are portable, so if you are working through them, you might as well keep on keeping on. My two cents. While plenty of second marriages are great, nobody starts with a clean slate.
But she is dead set on serving missions together later; I’m just trying to decide how much I believe in Zelph the ancient warrior…
Chet: I used to think serving a mission together later in life sounded cool until I did some actual world traveling and realized that no, I just like to travel. If she hasn’t ever served a mission maybe she just doesn’t really know what it’s like.
There are a great many different kinds of missions for senior couples. For some proselyting or teaching young adult institute is out but IT or office work or family history center work or historical site work (at least of the paint the picnic tables and clean the restrooms) may be OK. What’s it’s like varies so widely from mission to mission, assignment to assignment, culture to culture, and mission president to mission president, that even having served a mission before tells one next to nothing about what it will be like. For most Zelph has nothing to do with it, one way or the other. 🙂
I know several older couples whose health was basically destroyed after missions at Church campsites doing very difficult labor with very little resources for 18 months. Honestly, considering the resources the Church has, it’s kind of disgusting to me. Absolutely I think those could be cool missions for people but I think the Church is exploiting the free labor a bit much.
@Angela I’m with you, when I was younger I thought it would be fun to go on a senior mission, now not so much. I loved the CES missionaries I had when I was in college on the East Coast and thought that might be fun someday but I would have a hard time doing that kind of thing now with my current set of beliefs.
I’m the biggest LDS heretic you’ll ever meet but would be all-in on a service mission somewhere, especially involving healthcare. Wife likewise. This is how the world gets better; good for me, too, congenitally selfish man that I am.
@P I get that but curious, why not some organization like Doctors without Borders for example? If an LDS mission gives the right conduit to offer what you have to offer service-wise, great. If not, nothing wrong with looking at other organizations or avenues.
Right-on, Elisa, it’s the service that’s important. I’d try Church first both because of my affection for the institution and the tremendous resources they’re able to bring to bear (if only they will), but I have no issue at all laboring in worldly vineyards w/ gentiles.
What was shocking to me is how Mormons treat their own when a family starts to go from “one of us” to “one of them”. When the family starts to look too different.
For us – three kids. Great. #4 has Down syndrome – who’s going to sit with him in Primary? #6 – adopted from Korea with Down syndrome and autism. No more leadership callings for you. This kid really is a bother, can one of you just stay home with him. #7 is Black. Hmmmm.
One son gets sexually abused by a neighbor for an extended period of time. Another has some surgeries and gets hooked on pain pills. One boy is gay. A daughter is violently raped. Two kids die from cancer. 20+ surgeries, hundreds of hospital admits, a half dozen serious autoimmune diseases, ++++.
Lots of casseroles, but almost everyone had their 10-foot poles handy when we were around. Of course, there were solid gold friends and neighbors. But there was a much larger group that just couldn’t see us as an ideal Mormon family. We really were treated as outsiders because they just couldn’t get their heads around that much “different”.
Some speculated on what caused our “family problems”. Was it a test? What secret sins do you have? Are you reading the BOM every day?
We stuck it out. Until we didn’t – for reasons unrelated to the above (no we didn’t leave because we were offended). The OP and several commenters mentioned how parents treat children that leave the church. For us, it’s how a couple of our kids treat us now that we are out.
Once a non-member friend commented on our rather unusual family as “You’re living the Word”. This when we were constantly greeted with disapproving stares at every restaurant we went to in Utah County.
LDS family dysfunction:
When Johnson’s Army marched through Utah, Brigham put wholesome LDS families and apple-checked children on display to persuade our persecutors that we were normal, good, and deserved the right to live peaceful lives (unoccupied). And it helped, it worked. Even though the “perfect LDS family” model originated as a survival strategy, it continued as both a marketing message and cultural norm. To steal a phrase, “you can try to pry this from my cold, dead fingers.”
That’s a whole lotta baggage, a whole lotta pressure to keep it up.
So, when LDS families go through struggles (big or small) we hide our problems in the deepest, darkest, locked closets. Verbal, physical and sexual victims don’t come forward, witnesses don’t come forward. And even the small stuff all every family, every person goes through in just growing up, will be whitewashed. We’re all needing to look like Molly Mormon or Peter Priesthood in our close-knit hive.
All this “sneaking” not only stunts the functional resolution of those problems, but it damages our souls. We become dishonest with each other and ourselves, and ultimately resentful as we maintain falsity.
I had a bizarre conversation with a friend who so fully absorbed the family message of the church that he deemed certain people who made the world a better place as misguided, having missed their true callings. For example, Mother Theresa never got married, and did the abolitionists’ wives appreciate their taking so much time from home and family?
Sadly, this was not a position he’d taken out of smuggery that he was doing things right. He is married, but they are unable to have children. From comments he’s made here and there, like he could “do more on the other side” if he died, I gather he doesn’t feel his life has much meaning because he doesn’t have the traditional family.
Only the friend and the spouse can decide that. They should consider the outright facts, along with the nuances of their marriage that only they know:
How flexible is each one? Are they able to support one another in what is important to the other? How do they deal with the ambiguities and conflicts? Can the marriage be solid, even as one has grown in a different direction than anticipated 25 years ago? Are they able to listen to what their partner has to say?