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.