Reflections of a Single Mormon Mama

This last Saturday, I was invited to take part in a panel on Alternative Latter-day Saint Families. After struggling to figure out how exactly a single mother was alternative, I prepared the following remarks. Most of this was not used in the panel discussion, and we instead talked about my son and his preference for wearing tutus. Go figure.

It’s Saturday morning in November. It’s unclear if the sound of rain gurgling down the gutters wakes me, or if it’s the cold little feet of my daughter under my side as she flops sleepily, arms akimbo, in the pre-dawn light. When I fell asleep to the muted monologue of Letterman, I was alone in my bed, but as happens so often now, I wake with one or several little people pushing on my warmth and needing their mama.

My children are young still- 4, 7 and 9. Our rearranged family life has mercifully settled safely into new routines since the upheaval and storm of last year- and we’re all glad that is behind us. It remains to be seen what kind of long shadow divorce and their father’s absence will cast on them- but I have no delusions- there will be shadows punctuating their sunlight. Some of those shadows will probably even be cast my my own actions, as hard as that is for me to admit.

Juggling full-time school and part time work with the needs of three children is like spinning plates most days. Last year, when my life imploded, I took my children and moved us to a small rental house in the same ward. In just a few short weeks, my children lost the only home they remembered, and all contact with their father. The weight to provide for them, to make “home” a safe place– whatever form it took– was heavy on my heart.

Once upon a time, I was like so many women- LDS and not- who give up their career and stay home with young children. Devoting myself to making our home special and beautiful wasn’t just enjoyable- it was my calling, my life. And I was really good at it. I might still be. It’s just that my priorities seismically shifted and now making wreaths from old book pages feels not only frivolous, but downright vain. These are the activities of luxury- of a woman who knows the mortgage, heat and grocery bills are taken care of by her husband, who’s sole job is to make the home a refuge from the world and be a mother. That woman is in a place of privilege. I’m not knocking her- I used to be her- only now my face is pressed to the outside of the window, looking in on her pretty life. And it’s a whole different world when you’re outside, looking in.

A sister in my ward told me earlier last week that as she was complaining of her life, she thought of me and realized how great her life was. She had no idea what a sledgehammer her words were to my gut. My life is not an object lesson in failure because my Norman Rockwell picture went up in flames. What should be ridiculously obvious- but apparently is not- is that being a Mormon isn’t about what your family looks like, or what circumstances earthly life has placed in your path.

Being a Mormon is being a part of something that is indescribably beautiful. It’s about a change in your heart; a change that may have taken you entirely by surprise, or that may have been years in the making. Becoming a Latter-day Saint begins in a million different ways with a million different trajectories, but it ends up with us looking at one another and seeing the reflection of god in each others faces. Sometimes, I fear we forget this. We forget, in our individual myopia, that we are all woven together- that we don’t just seal nuclear families together- that the utterly breathtaking goal of our faith is to seal the family of humanity forever, to progress and learn to be like God. For us, salvation is a collective communion.

This is a miracle- and this is why I am a Later-day Saint. The rest of it just falls by the wayside in the light of something so vast and awe inspiring. I am worthy in every way to claim my faith, no matter what my family or my world looks like. I believe it and I am a Mormon.

Comments

  1. This is both touching and beautiful. Thank you, Tracy.

  2. I really like your article.

    You do know why little boys wear tutus don’t you?

    sisters

  3. “…being a Mormon isn’t about what your family looks like, or what circumstances earthly life has placed in your path.”

    Awesome. Thanks for this.

  4. “being a Mormon isn’t about what your family looks like…”

    Except, of course, that it _is_ about what your family looks like. Like it or not (and, like Tracy, I’m in a position not to like it all that much), family is at the center of Mormon theology. We can ask that members be more tolerant around the edges, that they not say boneheaded things like “[I] thought of [you] and realized how great [my] life was” (sheesh–sorry about that, T. Unfortunately, I know you’re not making it up, because people have said similarly thoughtlessly horrid things to me and my kids). But ultimately, the doctrine insists that some family types are inferior, and I don’t know how we get around that to make for more charitable practice. Ultimately, even if my ward members like me and think I’m reasonably competent, I am necessarily an object of their theologically-informed pity (which, frankly, feels worse than scorn a lot of the time).

  5. “But ultimately, the doctrine insists that some family types are inferior, and I don’t know how we get around that to make for more charitable practice”

    Unless, of course, we start displaying deep pity for all those whose marriages don’t conform to the ideal laid out in Section 132 ;)

  6. Tracy, thank you for your thoughtful post. I liked your conclusion, especially the line, “seeing the reflection of god in each others faces.” That is a very Hindu thought.

    Namaste.

  7. K, I just had to go read 132. LOL!

    I do understand your original serious point. One of the things I wondered about in my panel remarks was the possible benefit to my joining the church as an adult and sorting out a lot of stuff with the advantage of not only an adult perspective (with a lot of help from really smart friends) but also lacking the baggage of a tightly controlled LDS upbringing. I think it may actually make it easier for me to look at some things and think “meh, that’s not right” and know it will change…

  8. “….family is at the center of Mormon theology.”

    True, but the family as we now discuss it does not appear to be in our scripture. I think that is the primary purpose of the Proclamation (along with some political reasons) was to give official status to what had become part of our rhetoric and culture, but has little scriptural basis.

  9. Great post. It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job keeping them safe after the dangerous events of last year and giving your all to them. I am sorry about how difficult it all is. It looks like you have the right frame of mind to pull through.

  10. I’m glad you posted the comments you had prepared, Tracy. Your presence on the panel was beautiful and so are these words. It was nice to meet you towards the end of the day Saturday before you headed out with your entourage of BCC men.

  11. Thank you for sharing, it is beautifully put. We need more ‘non-traditionals’ sharing their heartfelt stories. I’m fairly certain that non-traditionals are the new traditionals.

  12. StillConfused says:

    I am grateful that my children were able to have part of their upbringing done by a single mom. As a result, they are strong and independent. They understand that the world does not revolve around them. They are able to have empathy.

    Unfortunately, I have been exposed to many “ideal” LDS families where the children are not strong or independent; they think the world revolves around them; and they are completely incapable of empathy.

  13. #11: More evidence that there are fewer “ideal” families than we think. I grew up in one of those “ideal” families and we used to joke on the way home from church about what people would think if they knew what we were REALLY like…

  14. Not sure if bashing on other families does much good either. The problem from viewing the family in a Platonic sense…in that it only has one good form.

  15. The problem with viewing the family in a Platonic sense …. is that Platonic relations won’t make families. Gotta make babies to have a family, Chris. :)

  16. Tracy, this is a very lovely post, and it has followed on some wonderful comments at Sunstone. Thanks for all you do…

  17. This was really beautiful. Thank you.

  18. Aaron: I had that coming.

  19. Having just learned of this site after hearing your talk on Saturday, just stopped by and found this. What you said on Sat. was great but this hs left me with tears, it’s beautifully written and I wish there had been enough time for you to share this as well as what you did share.

  20. Michelle H. says:

    Tracy –

    I loved your comments on Saturday, but I couldn’t help thinking, “Oh, I bet she had something wonderful prepared, and how disappointing that she decided not to share it with us!” Thanks for posting this. Now I feel like I got the best of both worlds – hearing you share your spontaneous remarks at the conference, and reading your prepared words here. I find your writing very moving, and it was an honor to get to meet you.

  21. Tracy: coolawesomeamazing.

  22. When I read “Alternative” Family I was a bit taken aback. Single parent homes are quite normal. Then I read about the tutus. Your kids are steadfastly normal. I have a very masculine son, currently serving a mission, who blanches at the photo of him as a two year old, when his older siblings dressed him in his sister’s leotard and tutu. He was a very cute ballerina.

  23. Your post was appreciated.

    In today’s world, terms like alternative or normal family don’t seem to advance discussions much. Thanks, for sharing your own experience to understand not only you but hopefully ourselves.

  24. Each day the postings here are labeled “Recent Comments”.
    I was out of town for a few days. Can someone tell me if I can retrieve what I missed, and if so, how to do it?

  25. Seattle Jon says:

    I’ve seen “alternative” mentioned several times, both in the original post and in the comments, so as one of those who helped plan the symposium and the person who suggested Tracy participate on the panel (I knew she was local) , I thought I would add the below to the discussion. Here is what the program actually stated:

    Going “Off Script”: Non-Traditional LDS Families

    A growing number of LDS families don’t fit the traditional mold. Panelists discuss how they approach their departures from tradition and navigate script variations such as divorce, single parenthood, childrearing, and LGBT issues and map out new family traditions.

    Whether the language detracted from the discussion or not, I don’t know. I do know Tracy’s comments at the symposium were wonderful and on-target. As the moderator of the panel, I was a little dismayed when she put away her originally prepared comments, so am happy I was able to read them here!

  26. What Jon said. I appreciated Tracy’s comments then, and these here now. I’ll be sharing this. Thanks, Tracy.

    And, yeah, it feels great to be someone else’s cautionary tale. “Say your prayers and try to be good, kiddies, so you don’t end up like Blain over there.”

    Not that anyone ever said that while I was around, mind.

  27. Jon, thank you for clarifying that- I appreciate it. You did a wonderful job as moderator.

  28. Jon, can you explain how the other 2 fit on the panel? I am still puzzling over the other two (the father and daughter). I can see why the other 3 may be ‘off script’ even though single parents are certainly growing in number in the church but I can’t for the life of me figure out how the father and daughter are off script.

  29. Seattle Jon says:

    The father, Lee, participated on a panel for a Mormon Stories podcast here:

    http://mormonstories.org/?p=956

    Per the link, Lee “raised four children within the church as progressive, non-literalistic, non-dogmatic, NOMish church members.” Aimee, the daughter, addressed the concept of inoculating our children with regard to church history, etc.

    Truthfully, the panel title did not change along with the make-up of the panel as we drew nearer to the symposium. We probably should have put some additional thought into it.

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