Elder Baxter: Single Parenthood and Scottish Grit

Sitting amid the mess of maple unit blocks and Lego pieces littering the living room floor Saturday afternoon, my ears perked up as they heard the opening words “My message is for the single parents in the Church, the majority of whom are single mothers.”

I admit, I had been murmuring that morning about craving a story about a single mom or woman who had been through hardships that didn’t end with the woman dying (nobly or not). Yes, all of our individual stories end with dying, but I sure would like to have some happy years interjected between the hardship of refinement and meeting my maker.

While Elder Baxter goes on to open his talk with familiar acknowledgement of how hard it is to be a single parent and the various paths that might have gotten us here, he also strikes a subtle but important difference right out of the box:

“Perhaps you have been widowed or divorced. You may be coping with the challenges of single-parenthood as the result of taking the wrong turn outside of marriage; but now live within the framework of the Gospel, having turned your life around.”

Whoa. While that may seem subtle, it’s a shift of acknowledgement of varying circumstances outside the commonly accepted narrative, and allows for individual variance. To a group who is largely used to being referred to as “…and the single-mothers, too.”  this is important. He’s talking to the young woman who might have had a baby outside of marriage and used her agency in choosing not to give that baby up for adoption- and I cannot think of anyone more overlooked in our discourse than her. Here is a called authority, in General Conference, acknowledging her.

“Although you may at times have asked “Why me?” it is through the hardships of life that we grow towards godhood as our character is shaped in the crucible of affliction; as the events of life take place while God respects the agency of (wo)man.”

I love this. Mormon doctrine in a nutshell. Too frequently in Church, as one of those single parents, I feel I am simplified. This is my crucible, and to paraphrase President Uchtdorf, don’t judge me because my trials look different than yours. This is how God is progressing me and my children forward, by allowing the very system he set up to work on us. We are not to pitied, but are to embraced as full members of the body of Christ.

Elder Baxter then admits:

“Whilst reluctant, to be overly personal, I am the product of such a home. For most of my childhood and teenage years, my mother raised us on her own, in poor circumstances. Money was carefully rationed. She coped with an inner loneliness, desperate at times for support and companionship. Yet, despite all of this there was a dignity about my mother, of determination and Scottish grit.”

Well, no wonder he understands (love Scottish grit). It also underscores for me that my children can be raised by a single mother and turn out just fine, thank you. With the near constant deluge of ‘teaching the ideal’ and the focus on The Family, it has, at times, given thoughtless people the imagined right to comment on the status of my imperfect (looking) family. The by-product of talking so much about The Family is that folks have felt acceptable to tell me that my children are at-risk, and even suggest that I am putting my education above the need to find a suitable man to step in and transform us from a family to a Family. While I realize these are personal idiosyncrasies, as an institution, the church does bear some responsibility to the least among us, and the myopic promotion of one valid type of Family has a cost, and we bear it.

Elder Baxter adds, significantly:

“With God’s help, you need not fear for the future. Your children will grow up and call you blessed, and every single one of their accomplishments will stand as a tribute to you.”

I’m not a huge fan of counting my children’s achievements as my own- I know their own agency will be factors in their own lives, and yet the take-away from this is significant. My children will not fail because they no longer have a father- they are not doomed, and they may very well achieve great things. Just like Elder Baxter.

He goes on to admit the difficulty it can be in attending such a family-centered church, but does so with the hope that we who are different can glean hope for the stability brought about by such families. It’s true- I don’t hate families, just because mine looks different, and I’m glad. (I don’t hate puppies or kittens either!)

There are certainly things about this talk that I might be the tiniest uncomfortable with- but that discomfort is mitigated by it going beyond anything else we’ve been given as single parents, and I found myself practically cheering when he wrapped up by asking members to step up and be more supportive of single parents- and he included fathers in this call. He asked wards and members to do more, to mentor and provide examples of Christlike love to families that look like mine.

This talk was a huge step in the right direction, and I’m grateful to Elder Baxter.

Still totally wish he’d worn a kilt.

Comments

  1. This was far and away my favorite talk. I’m not a single father; I have a great wife and amazing children. Still, this message of faith and love was profound. I have already watched this talk twice, and when I watched it today it brought me to tears, partly because of its clarity and its seemingly unemotional delivery.

  2. There seemed to be a lot of talks where the speakers talked about their non-ideal families. I thought Elder Bednar’s narrative about his non-member father in the Priesthood session was likewise a description of a family that looks like those of many members.

  3. I totally agree. And it seemed to bring a spirit into the whole conference that we are not to judge others’ circumstances, and not get caught up in the past or what lead to current situations. Whatever path we have come from leading into the chapel, we are now here…and where we go is of prime importance, not where we came from.

    I liked these messages. Because even to faithful members of the church who pay tithing and fulfill callings…who escapes the trials and hardships of this life? No one. Perhaps we can shift the mindset from the thinking that obedience protects from sadness, and the less fortunate deserve their fate. The gospel is greater than that. Maybe there aren’t any that are less fortunate, just different situations. That is a great message of love and compassion for all.

  4. I’ve been single more of my adult life than I’ve been married, and I’ve been a parent my whole adult life, so of course, everyone in the room turned and looked at me when he opened his talk. It doesn’t bother me; they were being supportive. Ten years ago when my temple marriage crumbled, I wept daily for the statistics that I thought controlled my children’s future. A billion times more likely to get pregnant out of wedlock, 2 bajillion times more likely to go to prison. Their future was poor educational opportunity, crime, broken families, and a perpetuation of everything I had screwed up (ya know, because you’re supposed to predict your spouse’s addictions and falling away.) Then someone gave me a book written by an LDS single mother in which she pointed out that no great leader came from a stable nuclear family. Moses wasn’t even raised by his parents, neither was Samuel, Jesus was raised in a backward, apostate nation, and Joseph Smith was raised in poverty without educational opportunity. I raised my head and decided that the Lord was out to create leaders of my children so I better start acting like a stripling warrior mama. I didn’t need the talk for me, but I sure think it was good for the church, because we need to do great things in imperfect circumstances. Oorah.

  5. Fletcher says:

    So does this talk mean that a home teacher can give a ride to a single mother/sister while she is carrying groceries, uphill, in the rain, without it having the appearance of evil?

  6. Thank you, thank you for the powerful message here, about receiving the talks in such a personal way. I don’t know why I miss that so often, but I do. You’ve inspired me.

  7. whizzbang says:

    I’m a single dad and it’s tough let me tellya. There have been times when going inactive was almost the natural thing to do but you just have to stick to it. I thought this talk and Elder Holland’s were the best one of the conference!

  8. Tracy, thanks for your insights and for sharing your views on Elder Baxter’s comments. I heard several remarks in talks that echoed this theme, including (as already observed) Elder Bednar’s non-member father and Elder Packer less-active father, as well as Elder Uchtdorf and Elder Cook’s urgings not to judge one another (or our children…), and even Elder Anderson’s observation that being on the path to discipleship is far more important than where on the path we are.

  9. Stephanie says:

    I was happy to hear this talk. I hoped my mom was listening, too. Well done, mom.

  10. “So does this talk mean that a home teacher can give a ride to a single mother/sister while she is carrying groceries, uphill, in the rain, without it having the appearance of evil?”

    Um, sure you *could* give her that ride, but you’d almost certainly sleep with her as a result. So the real question is: why would you want to?

  11. annegb5298 says:

    Tracy, I thought of you as soon as Elder Baxter began his talk. As I look back, I realize how blessed I was when I was single, in ways I never recognized until I got married and had a man to do all the things that needed a man. At the time, I didn’t notice the blessing, though. I, too, love how he talks about his mother’s dignity.

    Bonnie, wow, I never thought of that! Although Jesus and Joseph Smith had good loving parents.

    jimbob, what’s wrong with you???? I never once in my whole single life thought about sleeping with my home teacher.

  12. Cuz single moms are hot! Duh!

  13. I love your post Tracy! I was the single mom of 6 young children and one of my good friends with 6 kids divorced at the same time I did. I UNEXPECTEDLY remarried (to a non-member no less). She never did. Both of us stayed actively active in the church and of the 12 children affected (both dads left the church, my ex left us pretty much alone, and hers persecuted her) 11 are active in the LDS church (to varying degrees) one married a woman who is a minister in another faith. All are married, 10 in the temple, all are parents. One (my son) has struggled with drug addiction and all the attendant issues that go with it, but seems to finally overcoming his addiction. My ideal family church friends who did not face these issues seem to have children who are struggling more as adults in the faith. All I can say is I am so thankful that the Lord led me to stay active and that my church friends who at times were less than supportive and often judgemental didn’t chase me off. I say friends because they are, just normal people who tried to help in unhelpful ways with unhelpful words. My five daughters are the strongest women I know and we adore each other. I’m GLAD my trials were mine. But I take the no credit, no blame approach to taking credit. If I won’t take the blame for their misdeeds I can’t take the credit for them turning out well, they have their agency!

  14. Yeah, MCQ, nothing is hotter than a woman sleep-deprived, stressed and doing it all alone. Awww yeah, baby… look at those bags under your eyes!

    In a seriousness, it would be great if we moved forward and allowed that single women are not necessarily predatory and are in need of pastoral care (and sometimes a ride in the rain) without the presumption that sex will naturally follow. I hope for more talks like this to gradually move the Titanic of Mormon discourse towards a more egalitarian view of women of varying circumstances.

  15. Aaron the Ogre says:

    I loved this talk. My ex left when my kids were six, five and four. I got to raise my kids by myself. There were many members of the church who were not supportive. When my daughter was in young-women’s, the relief society said they could not conduct out-read to my daughter until I got married so there would be a woman in the home 24/7. When I was the scout-masters, many members were irked when I took all my kids on all the camps. SIngle parenthood is difficult. When Elder Baxter gave this talk, I felt he was talking to me (even though I’m not a sister). Thank you Elder Baxter, I really needed this talk.

  16. Thank yu for your thoughts, Tracy. While I’m not a single parent, my family has suddenly found itself completely not fitting the “Mormon mold”, and it’s a scary place to be after being active in the Church for so long. Elder Baxter’s words were truly spoken with the spirit of love and hope for anyone on the out-skirts of mainstream, whether by their own doing, or through circumstances out of their control. Yes, the kilt would have brought it close to perfect. :)

  17. Since every child of a single parent has both a mother and a father, I see no reason to have addressed this talk to the sisters. Yeah, there are probably more active single mothers, but there are just plain more women in the church, so why not address the entire conference to us? Anyway, my parents LOVED this talk on my behalf and it was fine. I am sure it was important for many people to hear, not least of which people who are in bad marriages and fear getting divorced for church/social reasons.

    P.S. I HAVE seen Elder Baxter in a kilt. No need to waste that on General Conference, though, the podium is too big.

  18. Esodhiambo, I understand your point- and it was something I could have picked out, but I decided to go with excitement for the huge steps this talk actually did take. And to be fair, he specifically said single-parents, before noting that statistically that burden falls heavily on women, and then again mentions fathers at the end. I think it was a fair shot, to be honest.

  19. I guess I just prefer expansiveness. Anyone could have gained from the talk, while calling out a specific group may make them feel special, or call their existence to other people’s attention (which I think is often the desired affect), it can also make other people either feel further isolated (why no talk directed to those physically unable to attend church? why no acknowledgement for the overworked grad student? what are we empty-nesting retirees who can’t serve a mission? chopped liver?), or feel that they need not attend to the text of the talk as it wasn’t “for them.” Certainly, choosing a specific audience for a piece helps the writer shape it, and maybe removing the specific “this is for all the single parents out there” shout out would turn this into just any other GC pep talk. I have no real issue with the talk (and a true and abiding love for Elder Baxter–he’s got a great sense of humor, and I can’t get enough of that from my spiritual leaders) I just wondered how crumby it might feel to be the single dad–I suspect they get a lot more judgement than sympathy from people at Church, and I think the reverse is generally true of me.

  20. Thanks, Tracy! This talk was indeed a big step in the right direction. May there be many more big steps!

  21. StillConfused says:

    #4, Bonnie, don’t let those statistics impact you. I was a single mother. I came from severe poverty, was a very young mother etc. I am now an attorney and started a 501c3 for women. My daughter got her bachelors at 19, was an accomplished actress and traded that in to teach at an inner city elementary school in DC, is happily married (temple marriage) and expecting her first. My son is 21 and teaches at the U. And I was most definitely not a helicopter mom… quite the opposite actually.

  22. annegb5298 says:

    #19 ESO, well said. I had a twinge of the same sentiments.

  23. #19, spot on coming from an empty nester who with his wife finds most ward activities these days consisting of little more than games for the kids and food. My spouse may be retiring in four months but I’m looking at another 10 years of employment before retirement can be considered. Wondering when talks will be given about older couples (refuse to call myself and my wife seniors) and their role in a family oriented Church when they are not financially in a position to serve a mission for some years down the road….

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