What might save us, me and you, is if the gentiles love their children too.

I love political songs from the cold war era, they are so grounded in the moment they were created and capture a vivid bite of anger or paranoia or gallows humor.  Who doesn’t love Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”, or Metallica’s “Don’t Tread on Me”, or the giddily inappropriate atomic bomb ode “Thirteen Men and Me the Only Gal Around” by Ann Margret?  I think the one that sticks the most with me, though, is Sting’s “Russians” with its industrial scoring, the Prokoviev themes, and the jarring, plaintive, and retrospectively over-dramatic rhetorical wish “What might save us, me and you, is if the Russians love their children too.”   Of course, having served a mission in St. Petersburg, Russia, I can unhesitatingly confirm that indeed, the Russians love their children too.  Phew.

Dehumanizing an enemy is one of the first steps to preparing soldiers or a society for war.   But the loss of individual identity and value isn’t only a casualty in wars of arms and weapons, it is also a casualty in wars of words, and this concerns me.  I know of too many stories of Mormon parents preventing their children from playing with non-Mormon kids; too many stories of neighborhoods with insular groups of close Mormons who may not realize how profoundly they are excluding those near to them.  I still remember pretty vividly the few times I played with non-Mormon kids when I was little, and how nervous I was.  How “other” they seemed to me with their Catholic prayers over dinner or more strangely no prayers at all.  I wasn’t rude, nor was I taught to be.  I just felt different.  Their families were not like my family.   There was a wall between us that prevented real friendship, and I didn’t realize until I was older that I had built that wall.

Of course, the older you get, the more you realize how much of an idiot you were as a kid.  Thank goodness.  Now, most of my Mormon friends in the area I live in are single, and most of the married people I am friends with around here are not LDS.  I watch these non-LDS parents dote on their babies, cheer on their potty-training toddlers, attend parent teacher conferences, and drop their children off to college with slightly misty eyes.  At every milestone they are struggling with the same concerns that Mormon parents struggle with.  Am I teaching them right from wrong?  Do they know how to care for themselves?  Are my children empathetic and kind to others?  Am I a good parent?  What more can I do?    And in praise of my friends, both LDS and non-LDS, I’ve seen some awesome examples of selfless parenting, and I’ve watched them raise great kids.

I worry that in our efforts to define ourselves as “peculiar people” who are teaching our children not to be “like the world,” we are actually cutting them off from kind examplars and a more supportive community infrastructure.  I worry that in our rhetoric about how much family values mean to us, we might be making the mistake of assuming that other people don’t value their families.  I wonder if we are creating a straw-man, or rather a straw-family that assuages our own fears by setting us up against a theoretical selfish and dysfunctional “other” type of family, but in the process we are unwittingly offending our neighbors by painting them as different and therefore worse at family-ish-ness.

Can we all agree to take that straw-family out to the trash where it belongs?  Because I’d like to unhesitatingly confirm that indeed, the gentiles love their children too.  Phew.

Comments

  1. Shawn Holyoak says:

    Amen, and Amen!

  2. I have a few thoughts. The problem is that there actually ARE families that don’t love, or at least don’t know how to love and care for children. So as a parent you have to decide whether you want your children to really see the world and be surrounded by people and be influenced by them, or go somewhere where your children are too insulated. Do I want a 100% white ward where everyone on the block is Mormon? Do I want a racially diverse but socioeconomic challenged place where Mormons are 1/3 of the population and only 50% of my child’s classmates will graduate from high school and none of their friends use proper grammar and yes, sometimes their parents let them use drugs or stay out all night.
    The fact is that being Mormon doesn’t mean someone is “safe” for your children to be around. Being Mormon doesn’t mean they had a great family. Being non Mormon doesn’t mean anything either.
    There are cultural standards of behavior, but they aren’t always along church lines, there are other factors like economic, socioeconomic or ethnic, cultural, etc. I am fully aware that I can expect generally different interactions with Asian parents of children on my street (more so if they aren’t from here) than white parents. Their idea of what a “good parent” is is slightly different than my cultural idea of connecting with moms of other students.

  3. Billy Joel’s “Leningrad” is also a good Cold War era song comparing Russians to Americans.

    I’ve noticed it’s a lot easier for my kids to meet other kids with different religious backgrounds outside the Mormon Corridor than it is inside the Mormon Corridor. One of my biggest regrets in moving back to the Corridor is that my children won’t have access to the same religious and cultural diversity they had when we were living in the Midwest.

  4. J. Stapley says:

    The Dream of the Blue Turtles was a solid album.

  5. Nice post, but I tend to lean a little more towards hyperbole in some things. Referring to the idea of not engaging “the world” being to our detriment, I am reminded of another cold war era song, given totally over to hyperbole, Randy Newman’s Political Science from his album “Sail Away.” Its first verse and final coda:

    No one likes us;
    I don’t know why.
    We may not be perfect,
    But heaven knows we try.
    But all around, even our old friends put us down.
    Let’s drop the big one and see what happens.
    …..
    Well, boom goes London,
    And boom Paris.
    More room for you
    And more room for me.
    And every city the whole world round
    Will just be another American town.
    Oh, how peaceful it’ll be;
    We’ll set everybody free.

    They all hate us anyhow,
    So let’s drop the big one now.

    Persecution complex, anyone?

  6. marginalizedmormon says:

    well-done!

  7. I guess I was too busy raising kids as a non-mormon in SoCal to have heard of these songs. We raised half our family there before we joined the church and the other half in Utah afterwards. They all turned out ok.

  8. Meldrum the Less says:

    One of the best things that happened to me was our ward’s horrible LDS children and youth programs. Nazi primary teachers, boy scout incompetence and cheating, corporal punishment, etc. Don’t get me started….

    This among other things pushed us out of Fortress Mormon to seek activities for our children in the community. We discovered that not only do these “wicked gentiles” love their children, but they could teach most of the Mormons I know a thing or two.

    Do not underestimate your children in adapting to difficult circumstances, if and only if the home front is solid. My children refused to go to the “safe” private schools and graduated from an underfunded county high school with over 30% of the student body brought in from the worst neighborhoods in Atlanta. They exceeded expectations academically, winning college scholarships to institutions better than BYU and are miles ahead of me and their Utah reared cousins from lily white schools when it comes to dealing with these difficult people. They might have even lifted more than a few of them and they are our brothers and sisters.

    As far as observed examples of those not loving their children, the desperately poor; trapped in cycles of violence, addiction, illiteracy, and promiscuity come to mind. They have plenty of excuses. But what of the devout church member who holds callings at the expense of family? I see this on a perpetual basis. It is a rare individual who can balance career and family with a ward leadership calling. What are their excuses? The Lord will bless them in violation of the Law of the Harvest in connection with raising their children? No.

    I think parents of more than one child should not be considered for leadership positions that do not directly involve their children in the auxilaries. We should not wait passively for a top-down change in policy. We should be pro-active and have the gonads to turn down prestigious callings that adversely impact our children, clearly and directly stating our reasons. Then our actions would be more congruent with our rhetoric when it comes to loving our children.

  9. Geoff - A says:

    Another angle on this question is the comparison of a capitalist (US) view of whats important to family life compared to social democracies. A member of my family moved from their, homeland where there was 6 weeks annual leave (to spend with your family), to a western European country where they had 10 weeks annual leave, and then to USA where there was 2 weeks. Where do you think the family spent more time together as a family? Where did they take more holidays, and create positive memories for there children?
    Of course there are other things like child care etc .
    80% of US mormons will vote to retain the capitalist 2 weeks. Strange?

  10. I believe and understand the many examples posted here. I have always had lots of gentile friends, though most (not all) of my closest friends have LDS standards. I will say that I was born of goodly parents who loved us and did their best, yet their lack of understanding of the gospel was an impediment to them. My dad had quite a harsh father, and was distant and sometimes harsh and arbitrary and cruel himself. My mom grew up with an alcoholic parent, and it left her with scars. She also thought it was perfectly fine and acceptable for the cool kids to harass and bully and shun the uncool kids. She didn’t know that all people have enormous value, and that the world of souls is great. So I wish our family on both sides had known about and accepted the restored gospel three generations or more back. That would have been great. My grandfather might not have died before I could know him, and his alcoholism might not have made him distant and harsh to us in the short time before he died that we were around. My mom might not have had the emotional scar tissue that she did. My dad might have loved us more and harshed on us less. We might have treated each other much better for the last 2 generations.

    The first time I ate at an LDS home, and saw the kids all helping each other and loving each other, it brought tears to my eyes, and I almost lost it. Though I don’t think every LDS home is great, nor are there not lots of gentile homes that are also wonderful, but there is still something about the restored gospel that refines and gentles people, and teaches them how to have closer, more loving family relationships. I love it very much.

    This doesn’t mean building walls to keep gentiles out. But, as a convert, I have to say there is something wonderful about Mormon homes.

  11. *worth, not world

  12. I don’t want to get sucked into nitpicking individual examples- to Karen’s larger point, I say a hearty AMEN.

  13. Tatiana, et al, I totally understand where you’re coming from. I think we could pull anecdotes from both sides of the mormon/non-mormon aisle about people who were profoundly good vs. profoundly bad parents. I really do worry, though, that our rhetoric can become a bit self-congratulatory at times–which cuts us off from really meaningful friendships, resources, etc. It can also be offensive to those on the outside. So, of course parents should try and make sure that their kids are safe when interacting with other families, but I think it’s really important to say that mormon/non-mormon profiling is not predictaive. We have to rely on other indicators.

  14. I just wish that more adults were having kids to care about. I know all too many folks (mostly non-Mormon) who have consciously or unconsciously chosen to not have any children.

  15. Amen and amen. This is absolutely and completely my experience. The conversations I have with my neighbors are basically identical to the ones I have with parents at church.

  16. Great post.

    Re #9, the free market economies of Western Europe are also “capitalist”. But you are correct that in many areas they have, through the legislative process, created policies and regulations that are much more family friendly than we have done in the United States, ranging from amount of paid vacation to the support system available to single mothers and everything in between. There’s a lot of good ideas out there for family-friendly policymaking that could improve our possibilities for strengthening families a lot in the United States.

  17. Tom D,

    Raising children calls for much sacrifice on the part of parents. People who are unwilling or unable to provide a decent home for children should not have them. Bringing children into the world and then neglecting or harming them is the unforgiveable sin in my book.

  18. I get really nervous talking about other peoples’ decision to have children…too many people dealing the heartbreak of infertility. Probably better to just do that judge not lest ye be also judged thing that Jesus is so fond of, or staying out of other peoples’ moccasins if you’re feeling more secular.

  19. Great post, Karen. This issue has been on my mind in recent years as my husband and I have felt the pull of Utah, where we both grew up. His parents are aging, and he’d like to be able to see them more frequently and help them; even though I’ve been gone fourteen years, I miss the landscape desperately. But I especially have deep reservations. My husband vividly remembers the family in his small-town ward boundaries whose father was inactive and who smoked; the children of the good Mormons were not allowed to play with his children. Now that he himself is inactive and unbelieving, we both fear that our children would be ostracized if we moved back to Zion. (I hasten to add that I think the majority of Utah Mormons wouldn’t be so unkind, but I fear the minority.)

  20. I agree the self-congratulatory rhetoric ought to stop. We do not have the corner on the market of love for our kids for sure. We live in a midwestern town where most of our close friends go to one church or another (most not LDS); our kids have friends who worship with us and in other places, too. And some who don’t worship anywhere.

    jks, I guess I didn’t understand this comment: “sometimes their parents let them use drugs…” I happen (unfortunately) to know quite a few families who are scarred by the addictive behavior of their children. Not one of those parent “let” their kids use drugs. Not. One.

  21. I grew up LDS, but with lots of non-LDS friends. My experience with cousins, who lived in Utah, were offensive to me as a child. That knee-jerk reaction to the idea of living in Utah has always been something that has been hard to get over as an adult, even though I have met a number of people I consider good friends, who live in Utah. I do realize that there are lots of good people in Utah, but after a few opportunities to live in Utah, I have decided that I couldn’t raise my children in a place where there there are Mormons in the majority.

    I realize that there are lots of good things that can come from living in a community with similar values, I just don’t think that a physical community of people who all belong to the same church are necessary in this day and age. There are resources that let me share some elements of LDS life, that used to be limited to Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, (BYU-TV, blogs and curriculum about FHE and raising children) while still allowing them to be in a religious minority.

    I grew up with 15-20% of the population LDS, which meant that I had LDS friends, but I also had friends from a plurality of religions. I give my parents, and the parents of my friends a huge amount of credit for their lack of fear, and support of our friendship. Sharing expriences sharing our religious beliefs made us better members of our own churches, and better able to be part of a diverse community. What I learned is that there is a fallacy to thinking that sharing a church on Sunday, will necessarily create a community or a shared sense purpose. Often my Jewish, Catholic and Atheist/Agnostic friends have as much, if not more, in common in how we choose to live our lives and raise our children.

  22. Our self-congratulatory habits come out without our even realizing it sometimes- illustrated subtly in some comments here, even. I guarantee that secular and other-faith parents are also trying to help their kids choose wisely and care with whom their children play and socialize. I did not grow up LDS, and felt the sting of disapproval from the mother of the Mormon kids down the road. My mom was the PTA president and vetted all my friends, and ran a strict household- but we were not Mormon. Those kids were not allowed to play at my house. And I knew when I knocked on their door, more often than not, I would be denied entrance.

    When my non-LDS mother flew in from out of state to attend my ward baby shower several years ago, I cringed at the dozens of thoughtless comments made in her presence about parenting, me, the grandchildren and motherhood; we don’t even realize we’re doing it most of the time. We speak our own language, and it alienates others far too frequently and reveals our own insularity. It’s the gaping elephant in the room that non-members can see clearly, but to which we are mostly oblivious.

  23. I only wish I lived in a neighborhood with other kids for mine to play with… Mormon or non-Mormon. Everyone must either be old or hides indoors all day. We would welcome any friendship with other families with young kids. One of many reasons why we plan to move to a different neighborhood.

  24. Paul – I’m talking about kids who grow up in homes where parents have substance abuse problems and kids have access to abusive substances very early. Kids who grow up in homes where they live with their dad because their mom doesn’t want to raise them anymore and their dad seems to not pay attention to what the teenager is doing.
    We can very easily look at middle class Americans (who aren’t Mormons) and see many values that are the same as ours if we are in a nice above average or average school district. However, my best friend doesn’t live in an area like that. We shouldn’t be blind to some very real parts of our country where the culture is gangs, or the culture is dropping out of high school, or the culture is fathering children without intention to raise them. There are many kids in this country who haven’t met their father. Whose father doesn’t pay child support. Whose mother is an alcoholic. Whose mother struggles with mental illness and doesn’t care for them properly. Whose parents are abusive. Whose parents are neglectful.

  25. My mother, a faithful and loving member of the Church if there ever was one, always said we couldn’t live in Utah even though the trek to visit grandparents and cousins took us to the Wasatch front. When asked why, she would always reply, “Too many Mormons there.”

    Enclaves have their benefits and their detriments. I’ve found it easier to avoid segregation when I’m in the minority.

  26. jks, yes, I agree with you; those conditions do exist, sadly. But that is not why LDS parents don’t let their kids play with non-LDS kids in the vast majority of cases, I suspect.

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