All Imperfect

Our ward talent show was tonight, and was yet another reminder of the imperfectness of my little bedraggled family. Yeah, yeah, I know the platitudes- we’re all imperfect, if we could see them not on Sunday, everyone has problems and we’d all pick our own back from the collective pile given the choice, etc etc etc… I’ve heard them all, and know there are grains of truth in every platitude. Yet there it is, right in my face, the litany of perfect smiling families on parade.

We are many things, my three children and I- but mostly we are battle-scarred and tender around the edges still, a year and half beyond divorce. While it may be unpopular to say, I do believe divorce doesn’t have to always be catastrophic- if both parents can rise above pettiness, children can still thrive with two parents who love them, even if those parents aren’t married to each other anymore. Unfortunately, this isn’t the straw we drew.

We arrived a little late due to a crisis involving scientifically accurate pencil drawings of insects by Bean, my 7 year-old son with autism. He doesn’t do well in loud, crowded places with people who might touch him, but I have two typical kids and I can’t bow-out of everything (and believe me, I want to sometimes). So much well-meaning advice is given out to me about how to discipline my son with autism- and I wish it were only that easy. My oldest son has his shirt on inside-out and forgot his coat, and my daughter is wearing a satin Snow White gown with pink ballet slippers. People smile- and are almost always kind in our heavily populated and active ward.

My kids sit in their chairs, and ask why we are not part of the talent show. Bean begins to cry; he wants to go up on stage and show everyone how great his talent for hiding is- and he’s right- the kid is an ace hider. (once I found him– after abject panic set in and I was ready to dial 911– up inside the box springs under his sister’s bed) How cool would that be? All six of the Smith family’s children played their violins, and my kid goes up on stage and unleashes his mad hiding skills.

We are not in the talent show because, while I made the signs for it to hang around the ward building, I had finals the last two weeks at the University and the talent show barely registered on my radar. Since we drew the short straw, I find myself juggling three kids, full-time school, running a house, trying to freelance and maintain the slimmest grip on my sanity, without any co-parenting or support. Now, I don’t feel sorry for myself- like the old pile of troubles, I would chose to be doing this over a bad marriage every time. Yet my children don’t have my perspective.

My children sit, and look at the families with dads present and involved. They see fathers laughing and clapping for their daughters who dance, for their sons who play the cello, and for their multiples who sing in harmony sweet enough to make your cry. They look at me, and ask “why not us?” and I have no answer. Not for them, not for me.

There is so much sweetness in Mormon life. So much to rejoice in and celebrate. A talent show is a great opportunity for us to gather collectively and learn about the graces scattered in our ward. It’s also another quiet reminder to some of us how broken and bent our own feathers are, and how short we fall from the picturesque ideal of what Mormon life looks like.

It’s never far from our reality, actually. The platitude is, I believe, that we teach correct principles rather than to the exception. Like so many theories, when fleshly hearts that are tender and torn realize they are the exceptions, it’s punching bruises. Each Sunday, and each activity, and each Primary lesson, my kids are reminded again that we do not have the priesthood in our home, that we are not an eternal family, that mothers belong in the home to keep the world at bay, that there is no one to preside in our borrowed little house, and that their world does not fit this ideal.

For three little kids with their noses pressed to the window, it’s pretty darn cold outside.


  1. Antonio Parr says:

    Two thoughts (actually, one thought and one prayer):

    1. In a one scene play by Thornton Wilder, “The Angel that Troubled with the Waters”, he writes of a doctor beset by depression who, along with other suffering humans, seeks to be the first to step into the healing pool of Bethesda, with the promise that the first one to enter the pool after an angel touches the water will be healed. The physician comes periodically to the pool hoping to be the first in line and longing to be healed of his melancholy. The angel finally appears, but blocks the physician just as he is ready to step into the water. The angel tells the physician to draw back, for this moment is not for him. The physician pleads for help in a broken voice, but the angel insists that healing is not intended for him.

    The dialogue continues – and then comes the prophetic word from the angel: “Without your wounds where would your power be? It is your melancholy that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men and women. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve. Physician, draw back.”

    In love’s service, you are uniquely qualified to serve. And of those smiling faces in your ward, I assure you that, in their quiet hearts, there is sorrow that the eye can’t see. You will be able, with wisdom and compassion, to strengthen others, and, in so doing, have your own strength renewed.

    2. You write so eloquently, and even a casual reader can detect the burden that you carry. To that end, may this ancient prayer/blessing give you strength for the journey:

    The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:

    The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:

    The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

  2. Victoria says:

    Like your kids, I grew up in a household run by a single mother. I grew up with all of the lessons about mothers staying at home, the supreme goal of marriage, the value of having a priesthood-holder to preside–and knowing that that was not my family. I knew, however, that my mom held down the fort better than anyone, and that we did not lack for the things that really mattered. As I got older, I also came to see that growing up in one of those perfect-seeming families was no guarantee of righteousness or happiness (or the ability to function like an independent adult upon leaving home, but that’s another story). I know that what you are doing now is hard, and that I cannot fully appreciate the things that are involved in being who you are every day; however, my sister and I have always been grateful for the example of my strong, ass-kicking mother, even though I know she didn’t always feel that way. All the best in going forward.

  3. MikeInWeHo says:

    Thanks for this, Tracy. Your posts always touch so many hearts. Hope you realize that. I agree with Antonio’s sentiments, and am reminded of a quote by famed psychoanalyst, Irvin Yalom: “Only the wounded healer can truly heal.”

    So by your very written words, there is no doubt you are bringing a moment of insight and comfort to people all over the world.

    They should publish some of your posts in The Ensign. Seriously.

  4. One year I was in the stake talent show. I wandered out dressed in flannel and denim with a small palm tree in a 1 gallon pot and put it down on the stage, announcing my talent was growing plants. I sat down on a chair and quietly watched it grow. After about 20 seconds people started snickering. When this stopped I pretended to fall asleep and began to snore loudly. People were probably thinking what-the-heck? While I was “asleep” my wife came on from behind stage dragging an enormous palm tree in a 5 gallon pot and left it in front of me and carried the small one away. Curtains closed.

    I can’t remember the exact words sang by some Jr high guys as a parody of something on veggie tales(?) called
    “we are the boy scouts who won’t do anything. We just lay around all day. And if you ask us to do anything, we will tell you we can’t do anything.” Then they described all the things they can’t do.

    Another unforgetable performance was by a somewhat dramatic and well nourished African-American woman inher 40’s who does professional sign language interpretation. At the talent show she did a wild creative dance including but definitely not limited to signing the words of one of Robert Lund’s parodies called “I feel like a Mormon” while it played loudly over the sound system. It brought the house down.

    Finally we had the reading of a poetic rendition taken from “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service. This was done by a guy dressed like he was ready for a dogsled race. The title was redacted to “The Cremation of Elder McGee:
    “Strange deeds are done ‘neath the midnight sun by the missionaries who moil for God’s gold.
    The arctic trails have their secret tales that will make your blood run cold. etc.”

    I believe he changed less than 10% of the words of the original poem to make it into a missionary excursion gone south or rather north. A footnote at the end indicated that the two missionaries involved were transferred from the Canada Yukon mission to Hawaii.


    “The picturesque ideal of what Mormon life looks like” is a load of crap. The bent and broken feathers are what is authentic about Mormon life. Includings yours, Tracy. Your bedraggled and broken family is genuine Mormon life. People who punch bruises need to have their asses kicked. (I figure if I don’t do it the Lord will when He comes again). Our inperfections and quirks are what makes a ward talent show worth watching.

    My daughter (who is on a music scholarship in a top 10 school) played a complex violin piece at the talent show her last year in high school nearly perfectly. Some probably thought “not as good as Josh Bell or Midori.” Most people yawned. When she played a simple piece badly as a 4 year old before the same audience they clapped wildly.

    Next year challenge your kids to come up with something quirky that they can all do including the autistic one. It will be scary and you will worry that people will think. The good people in your ward will clap wilding and you can just forget about those who even Itzhak Perlman (greatest living violinist, played at the Obama inauguration) can’t satisfy.

  5. Antonio, beautiful quote.

    wonderful post. I frequently long for the primary talent show of one ward…the child could do whatever they were proudest of…there was viola, sommersaults, clay creations, hopping on one foot…it was fabulous and everyone was applauded and appreciated.

  6. Thank you for this beautiful post. As someone who is feeling quite broken, know that your talent for writing spoke to my soul today. A good friend recently shared with me that in a powerful way, being broken is necessary for new life to begin – a hatching chick, a butterfly leaving its chrysalis, a germinating seed.

  7. Come to our ward. If you bother showing up to at least half the meetings (let alone an activity!) you’d be considered “inside.”

  8. Stephanie says:

    Hugs to you, Tracy M.

  9. Stephanie says:

    People who punch bruises need to have their asses kicked.

    It doesn’t sound like anyone is punching bruises. From Tracy’s posts, it sounds like she lives in a lovely ward. The pain comes from just knowing and perceiving you are on the outside. A loving dad is a great thing to have in your family. It hurts when you don’t have one. Even the best ward can’t change that.

  10. Stephanie says:

    I hope that last comment didn’t sound callous. I “was” one of Tracy M’s kids in a great ward that was very supportive of us. But the pain was still raw. It is okay to allow people to feel their pain. I guess that’s all I am trying to say.

  11. Stephanie, that’s exactly right. I live in a huge, fantastic ward with people who are simply wonderful to us- and I don’t know that I would have survived the last few years without them. That doesn’t change the fact that we are missing important things, and even the most reserved person in my ward would agree.

  12. I wish I could do more than just thank you for your beautiful post, Tracy; God bless you and yours.

  13. Here’s the thing–kids don’t actually need to be taught the theory of a good family in Primary. If they have one, they’re lucky and they’ll appreciate it (and naturally try to replicate it) when they grow up; if they don’t, they’re already acutely aware of the ways in which their family fails to be ideal. “Teaching the ideal” turns out to be mostly self-congratulatory. Ward members can be as lovely as one could possibly hope, but the curriculum is inevitably (and unnecessarily) bruising.

  14. I was so touched by this story, and am completely at a loss as to how to express love and support in some meaningful way. Perhaps, in the same way that the Nephites prayed to learn what they should say in a prayer, I can just ask that you, who may know exactly what words could be of comfort, will put them in my voice (which you’ve never heard), and let me say them to you. I don’t understand the cosmic transfer of strength and power that can sometimes be effected through sincere prayer, but I pray on your behalf.

  15. “…if they don’t, they’re already acutely aware of the ways in which their family fails to be ideal. “Teaching the ideal” turns out to be mostly self-congratulatory.”

    Amen, Kristine.

  16. Watching your progress with these experiences sometimes feels like watching my own childhood. There is no great explanation for the misery of unmerited suffering, only fitful gropings for love and occasional peace.

    I will say that my sibs and I felt drawn to relish our distinctness at times. We sent a little brother to sixth grade with a mohawk (we didn’t tell my mom; he got sent home from school), we prided ourselves on our strange love of words and books, our utter inability to dress otherwise than as homeless-looking misfits, our scattered attention and occasional vandalisms. I think we still pride ourselves on our distinction, though we always recognize that there is an element of sad inferiority in that distinction at times. But now I have wonderful kids and a wonderful wife, and we hold family home evening, and my kids get the father I never had, and I pray earnest thanksgiving that my kids have some of what I always wanted.

    And I honor with great sincerity and intensity the families in the ward where we lived during our misery who welcomed us with open and non-judgmental arms, who naturally accepted our distinction and even sometimes seemed to relish it with us. (You do make me wish I were better with kids; I’m about as good with entertaining kids as Sarah Palin is with entertaining reason.)

    I also think it’s worth allowing pleasure to be pleasure and to recognize that church culture probably does help some people a great deal, even in its imperfect love of the seemingly perfect.

  17. “…if they don’t, they’re already acutely aware of the ways in which their family fails to be ideal. “Teaching the ideal” turns out to be mostly self-congratulatory.”

    I disagree. I think there are places in our country where the ideal is nowhere to be found. If we quit teaching the ideal we may completely lose it.
    For instance, from what I understand, single mothers sometimes prefer to be in an environment where their children get to see good fathers in action, as an example. My non-member friend loves to be invited over to our house so her child can see how a family with multiple children functions and how a father interacts with children.
    I’m sure many people could be more sensitive as they teach. But how can we teach the next generation to be good parents, or commitment to marriage if we never suggest any standards to shoot for?
    Since I am not in a ward with lots of perfect mormon families, perhaps we are already fairly sensitive so the comments in church are not so self-congratulatory? I admit to sometimes wishing for a ward where there are children the ages of my older kids. Wouldn’t that be nice? But then I think perhaps a ward with 100 children would be too cookie cutter and I’d have these kinds of complaints.

  18. jks, we’re in no danger of losing the ideal. You’re missing my point, I think. I love having friends where my kids see healthy, happy families- this is not the same as being reminded how important eternal families are, or sealing, or temple marriage, in Sunday School, every week.

  19. Thanks so much for writing this!
    I often think that I fall short of that ideal Mormon person, and I know others who do, too- either because of their race/ethnicity, or because they’re unmarried and in their 40’s. The feeling of being defective or somehow broken can be really painful.

  20. My concern would be whether you and your kids are treated as ‘lesser’ Mormons because of your family situation. I have seen this too many times and it is hurtful. It doesn’t sound as if that is a problem in your ward though.

  21. Molly Bennion says:

    Poignant and, as always, exceptionally well put, Tracy. Where are the lessons, every bit as true as the “ideal” you describe as common lesson fare, which herald the personal blessings and power God offers to all? You preside able to secure all the spiritual and intellectual strength you need to reach the most honored of places for your family in the eternities, a place no doubt more honored than those waiting for some of those ideal-seeming families. In time, guided by your love and wisdom, your children will grasp that their salvation depends on them, not their family circumstance. Though ordinances may have to be done by non-family members, your access to God in making decisions for your family is as unfettered as that of any Priesthood holder. You know that; it shows in your writing. But less able to recognize and express the challenges of a family culture, too many single moms don’t.
    Glad you keep writing for them.

  22. I went to a talent show once for YSA/ Single Adult Conference held on a campus in Ames, Iowa. They called it a talentless show but there were some pretty good talents among the groups. Sometimes I feel talented only to have it shattered when compared to someone far more gifted to me. But I still have a place in this world. In grade school, we had all school programs and there are ways that everyone can be included. I even saw a documentary where a brave lady worked with autism children to put on a play. She knew at the onset that she could be upstaged and have total chaos. I looked like it worked out in the end.

    I know the feeling of hearing a song about “Eternal Families” and thinking about my nonmember family.

    I thought that I would marry and have family home evening every week and attend the temple often. But I have a condition and my life didn’t turn out that way. I’m still single and possibly too old for children. But I have learned to accept my life. Having a ward that acceptance a single sister with my condition makes a huge difference too.

    The last line of the post really tugs at the heart. I hope that your children will be circled in the arms of love.

  23. This is such a poignant post. I’m in the primary presidency in my ward and I’m acutely aware of treading on such thin ground when we talk about eternal families and ideal families. We’ve discussed this issue often in our meetings as a presidency. If you have any suggestions, please share, because I would love better ways to approach the topic with my primary kids. I hate the feeling that with my discussion of the “ideal” I feel like I’m belittling kids with divorced parents, kids with parents with different religions and so on.
    I understand the idea of teaching an ideal, but sometimes it feels like we are simultaneously telling others that their lives are not worthwhile or meaningful if their lives do not outwardly reflect the ideal. That’s not how I want to present it at all.

  24. nat kelly says:

    This is one of the many heartbreaking situations you’re kids have probably had to go through with having only one parent.

    I grew up in a similar situation, and I pretty much had to learn that if I wanted to do something, I had to make it happen, because there was only so much of my mom to go around. It doesn’t help the stabbing loneliness your kids probably feel when they see kids that get to have full-time, involved parents, but they can compensate for that by basking in the wonderful glow that comes from being a righteous martyr. :)

    But seriously, you can’t do it all for your kids on your own. You can let them know about their opportunities, but they’re going to have to learn how to pursue them on their own – whether that means practicing for a ward talent show or touring/applying for colleges. So don’t beat yourself up too much. What you’re doing already is pretty much heroic.

  25. I’m sorry. I meant that maybe in wards where there are no families with 6 violin playing children (in our ward we have no families with 6 children, only one family with 5 children, and only 3 families with 4 children (the two other than mine are 2nd marriages)) maybe the lessons/talks/songs come off a little differently.
    I love my ward. I come to the bloggernacle and when someone complains about their ward I usually think “my ward isn’t like that.” But I am also freaking out a little now because of the lack of families with children under 18 and not in diapers (married or not))*. So, sorry, I’m just freaking out a little. I don’t actually have anyone to commiserate with about this properly.

  26. Tracy, This is such a powerful and poignant post. I wish I could think of something useful to say. Maybe about how brave you are, and how lucky your kids are to have you for a mother, and how glad I am to know you. But nothing seems adequate. As I pictured your children looking in the window, this came to mind:

    “And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
    Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”

    May you be so blessed.

  27. Miss Otis Regrets says:

    “sorrow that the eye can’t see”

    So true.

    Tracy, I love your writing. And by reading your words I feel healing in my soul – from growing up in my very broken household.

    Bless you and your children.

  28. Growing up as one of three kids to a single working mother, (my brother sufferd from mild autism) I believe the Lord helps make up the difference. Whilst there were many things we couldn’t afford to do as a family or didn’t have time to do due to mom’s work schedule. My mother was always tired and was firefighting one issue after the next.

    However we felt the blessings of God in our lives, the priesthood was a valued prize in our hearts, I think it was extremely difficult for my mother and I wish she had someone who could support & Love her but I my sister and brother had a great childhood, it was our path and we made the most of it.

  29. I think we are in great danger of loosing the ideal. Divorce is not exactly dropping off in the Mormon sector. Children get plenty of other messages outside of church that are against marriage and family…a constant barage of love is a place you fall and you deserve to constantly be loved in marriage or you should leave.

    One lesson to learn from this is how important the ideal is and how very difficult it is for those lacking such a significant part of that ideal…a father. More compassion is needed not less teaching.

    I would love for the teaching to be done so that the child feels understood in their lack not “out” because of the lack.

    We need to teach the ideal because no family in the ward is ideal…the most “ideal” marriage you know may be struggling right now, and may very well need the reminder that love is worth working for.

    We need to teach the ideal, because some children will get it in no other way.

  30. I have lurked here for years and have never felt like I had anything to add by commenting. Today I feel compelled to say a loud “Amen” to Molly Bennion’s comment. I have been an active lds divorced mother of four for 13 years. As I read Tracy’s touching post, I hoped someone would articulate what I was thinking (since I always seem to fall short of adequately describing my thoughts when I try to put them into words) and Molly did that beautifully. I have been fortunate to know that what Molly says is true!
    Thank you for reminding of that today.

  31. God bless you and your children, Tracy. They are SO blessed to have you.

    This post highlights one of the central paradoxes of the Gospel – and one of the hardest balancing acts of the Church.

    I agree we need to teach the ideal, but I also agree we tend to obsess over it too much. I also believe that “the ideal” is NOT to have everyone in the here and now living in what we term as ideal situations; rather, I believe “the ideal” is being able to love and support and sustain all no matter their situations. That’s what makes the Gospel hard – dealing with reality while holding onto an ideal that actually values that reality.

    I don’t think we do a very good job, generally, teaching that ideal.

  32. I have to admit that I was very touched by this post, and my sister’s lovely comment at #2. I too remember the many lessons on temple marriage and priesthood in the home.I also remember having to make an effort to be grateful when a friend’s wonderful father (whom I still admire very much) answered our need and gave what should have been a father’s blessing to us at the start of a new school year.

    It *is* difficult to feel that you’re somehow missing out, or that your family doesn’t quite make the cut of what you “ought” to be in the Church. Perhaps no one intentionally fosters that feeling, but it certainly comes nonetheless.

    While it does sometimes feel like beating a dead horse to constantly teach and re-teach just how important “the ideal” is, I have to agree that more compassion is the greater need. And perhaps we should phrase our teaching so that the “type” of family we extol is one based on love, respect, and Gospel principles, whether the family has a mother and father, or just one or the other, or step-parents, foster parents, etc.

  33. Thanks for sharing Tracy.

  34. StillConfused says:

    There are those who need the attention from the talent show and those who don’t. You don’t need to be in talent shows because you don’t need the outside accolades.

    Come back in twenty years and look at the different families and see if the talent show ones were really that much better.

  35. Bless your heart.

  36. Tracy,

    Your writing always touches me. I too am now a single Mother with three children. I too have a wonderful, kind and caring ward where the members have embraced us given so many acts of service to my little family. Without diminishing their kindness, there are many times where I feel the empty place in my family during talks and lessons on Sundays. No one is trying to make me feel like less of a person, I just understand that it could be so much better with a faithful companion by my side and in the lives of my children. Sadly, I usually feel the greatest sense of loss and sadness when I am in the temple see so many lovely couples doing sessions together. I love my four person family and we are much happier where we are now, but I do know exactly how you feel. I’m to new at this to know if it ever gets better.

  37. Seriously, you’re like our Mormon Anne Lamott.

  38. Tracey, thanks for this lovely post. Quite a lovely gift this morning. I wish you comfort and peace.

  39. It is unfortunate that so many talents aren’t ones that can be performed on stage. The ability to hide really well would be tough to put on display. Tracy, You have the talent of sharing your pain and your struggles, while at the same time showing ever more clearly your strength. Your ability to share your heart shines more brightly than any violin solo. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  40. Stephanie says:

    God bless you and your family.

  41. Tracy—You know that I’m coming from a similar pain. I think that with that in mind, I get what you’re saying. Chances are good you’re already doing what I’m about to advise, this post might even be a part of that.

    It’s okay to hurt. What you’ve been through . . . and what you are going through . . . really sucks. But the answer is not for the Church to stop teaching or demonstrating the ideal. Would you truly want fewer activities or talks or lessons on eternal families just so you don’t have to hurt, to “have your bruises punched”? For me the answer was no. Even though my life has not met the ideal, I still believe in the ideal. I still believe in eternal families, the power of the priesthood in the home, in marriage, even though I have none of those things. Does it hurt? Oh, yes! But I own that hurt. It is mine to have. I have a right to it. It gives me something to reach for, something to yearn for. And I can use the pain to nurture compassion for others in myself while still sustaining the ideals.

    I think of it like when Christ said “Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet . . . .” The wounds you mention are your “prints”. They are banners of what you have sacrificed. They are not shame. Own them.

    It’s really hard to put what I’m trying to say into words. Is it coming through at all?

  42. #41, SilverRain
    “But the answer is not for the Church to stop teaching or demonstrating the ideal”

    I don’t think that is what the OP is suggesting at all.

    “Would you truly want fewer activities or talks or lessons on eternal families just so you don’t have to hurt, to “have your bruises punched?”

    In my opinion this is what is the crux of the issue–How often do lessons/talks need to emphasize an ideal family? Can we as a church still strive for and teach the ideal without it being being mentioned as often as it currently is, so that those in the congregation that are not, or even cannot, have the ideal feel the twang of isolation so often? I personally think we can still teach the ideal quite well without it being mentioned so often.

  43. I agree, Sonny. It is not what the OP says, but it is the trend of the comments.

    And I don’t think that there is any way to set an ideal frequency of lessons. The idea is slightly ridiculous. The point is to understand the doctrine and refocus on that no matter how often it is being taught. It is not a standard of measurement, it is a goal.

    And part of my point is that in general I don’t think there is much value in avoiding pain for comfort’s sake. That’s a huge part of what Christ demonstrated with His life.

  44. I like this…”it is not a standard of measurement, it is a goal”. If we could only get it into our heads not to beat each other up with ideals, but instead use the ideal to inspire ourselves to be better.

  45. I say stop teaching the “ideal family”(there is no such thing anyway). I would rather hear from people like Tracy, who tells us there is pain and joy in having a family__and a lot of work.

  46. StillConfused says:


    Yesterday at church I went to the ladies room. There was a woman in there who literally blocked me from being able to get to the paper towels to dry my hands (seriously. Is that not the craziest thing!). She is one of those “ideal families.” My children were raised by me as a single mom and they are extremely successful, well adjusted and kind. Another “ideal family” that I deal with on an extremely regular basis has children that are so cruel and vicious to their father that it would make you throw up.

    Please don’t worry about what you think are the “ideal” families. Trust me, if you knew the full story, I am sure you wouldn’t trade places for a second.

    Yes you will feel like an outsider at church events. But there are tons of other events and activities that you can participate in. Or frankly, you can just take a break from it all and focus on being the best mom that you can be, whatever that means in your particular situation.

    If it is any consolation, I have been flooded with facebook postings of people in your same situation. You are not alone.

  47. SilverRain,
    “And I don’t think that there is any way to set an ideal frequency of lessons. The idea is slightly ridiculous.”

    Choosing the actual number of lessons, yes, that would be slightly ridiculous. However, the idea that a topic can be toned down somewhat in end-of-lesson questions, Sacrament Meeting topic assignments, etc, is not as ridiculous as you might think. I think the Church over the years has done quite well at toning down certain subjects without diluting their significance. An example that comes to mind: I used to hear all the time growing up that we are “The Elect” in these latter days. I rarely hear such talk anymore, regardless of how true it may be from a doctrinal sense.

  48. Single Older Sister says:

    Thank you for this post. It really touched me.

    A few weeks ago some mormon moron (there are a few of those) gave a talk on Eternal Marriage and said, “The only important thing you can do as a member of the LDS church is get married in the Temple”. I’ve never been married and that statement literally slapped me in the face. So everything I’ve ever done that is “lovely or of good report” is of no use to Heavenly Father or anyone else? I doubt it. The posts are right – being a Mormon isn’t about being perfect or being married or being in a family. It’s about learning and changing and loving and being loved and helping and a myriad other things. Blessings to you and yours.

    You go, girl!!

  49. But even then, Sonny, how would you go about “toning it down”? Considering that the frequency will vary widely from one ward to another, it seems extremely unwieldy for the Church to try to mandate anything of the kind without being grossly misinterpreted on all fronts.

    I also think it is dangerous to say other people “should” do something. I find that never does anything for me but make my own burden even harder to bear. It is so much better to feel the pain it causes and use that pain to help everyone, to redirect the talk towards the true purpose of teaching such doctrines, and away from using doctrines as measuring sticks.

  50. I fear I might be stating the obvious but of nearly fifty follow-up comments and postings only one has come close to saying what can fix the dilemma discussed here. Many have inferred the correct solution but haven’t said it outright; which is in my humble opinion is the atonement of Jesus Christ. He will make up the difference, fill the gaps, restore the damaged and make right the wronged. The atonement does indeed apply to all of us regardless of the family situation we find ourselves in.

    Having raised a family and been told by friends on occasion that we appear to be perfect, my wife, the Lord and I know it isn’t so. We lack some vitally crucial aspects of the Ideal family. I remind my self and my family members frequently that no matter how good their own families are they will still always come up short just like we have come up short. That “No one is perfect” should not give those who may appear to be or even may be near perfect the right to gloat in self satisfaction; neither should it give anyone who is terribly imperfect a reason not to try and aspire for the ideal, yes even champion the Ideal Family in their own lessons, talks, and conversations especially because of the plight they find themselves in. If we preach telestial or even terrestrial standards or ideals, we’ll forget there even are celestial goals.

    If I bristle at some topic spoken on too frequently in church, I’ve found I’m usually lacking in that area.

    Parenthetically, I worry for those of us who point out or draw attention to the flaws in the church, it’s programs, it’s leaders and it’s members as if we were the enlightened watchmen on the tower. Even so, the atonement will fix me too, if I repent.

  51. “But even then, Sonny, how would you go about “toning it down”

    How does anyone “tone something down”? Simple. Conference talks that, when discussing the ideal, put great weight and deference to those that are not in this ideal, change the wording or quantity of the number of times the Ideal is mentioned in Church publications, etc. I am not suggesting that Salt Lake say, “Everybody, you have got to stop talking about the ideal family situation so much” I think that is what you feel I am suggesting. But there subtle ways that the Church has used many times to emphasize something more/less.

  52. Thomas Parkin says:

    “told by friends on occasion that we appear to be perfect, my wife, the Lord and I know it isn’t so. ”

    I’m pretty sure of it, too.

  53. Tracy,

    I just wanted to say how much your posts have helped me. I am dealing with divorce and mental health issues with my oldest child. Every day feels weeks long and we are emotionally drained. Reading your experiences gives me hope. Thank you

  54. He will make up the difference, fill the gaps, restore the damaged and make right the wronged.

    I very much believe that, Seemore. But it is a promise for the future, not something that totally removes the sting of the present even when I try to keep that future in view. Being cavalierly assured that “I’m lacking in that area” — i.e., that the sting is entirely my own fault — doesn’t exactly offer comfort, either.

    I suggest you not apply for work writing Hallmark greetings.

  55. Even so, the atonement will fix me too, if I repent.

    Sorry, I’m so explosively angry that I shouldn’t reply once, much less twice.

    Seemore, are you really, truly, seriously suggesting that Tracy’s young children need to repent of their father’s sins and abandonment, in order to have the atonement fix them?

    Think twice before you offer platitudinous advice again. Then don’t offer it.

  56. Matt Hill says:

    Why so much hate towards the families that teach their children how to play the violin?

  57. This was beautiful Tracy. I grew up with a father who was inactive and sometimes felt ‘left out’, even though my mother was very active and involved in the Church. Now I’m married to a man who has become an atheist and left the Church, and though he is a good father I still feel some sense of loss. Contemplating my daughter’s upcoming baptism makes me cry, because most of the other kids in her class have a father, a brother, a grandfather–someone related to them who can do the ordinance. We have no one in that position. While I know the ordinance ‘counts’ even if it is done by our home teacher who has been in our home once in six months, it still doesn’t feel the same.

  58. Foxy, I understand. We had to have a friend baptize my oldest last year, and it was bittersweet- there’s nothing I can say to ameliorate the pain in that, but I can tell you I fully understand.

  59. Conference talks that, when discussing the ideal, put great weight and deference to those that are not in this ideal . . .
    Which, if you read the talks, they generally already do.

    . . . change the wording or quantity of the number of times the Ideal is mentioned in Church publications . . .
    The Ensign often has articles from people who are less than the ideal already. How would you go about setting a quantity on how often mentioning the ideal is okay, and how often is too much? That is entirely subjective.

    Do you have any other ideas as to how the Church could deemphasize the ideal without compromising the importance of the doctrines behind it? So far, I’m not seeing any practical way of doing it beyond what they are already doing.

    My point is . . . and I feel I have a clean bill in being able to take this stand, since I have utterly failed in Eternal Marriage 101 . . . that it hurts, yes, but I don’t think the solution is to criticize the doctrine. When I have found myself resenting the frequency of teachings that cause me pain, I feel more pain, not less. But as I have come to accept and forgive myself for my failure, as I have come to terms with not being the ideal, and realizing that that is okay, and as I have used that realization to support the doctrine of Eternal family as a glorious goal that I just haven’t reached yet, and not a measuring stick, I have become empowered. I have begun to claim my pain and, in a way, be proud of it, because it signifies the lessons I have learned from it.

    Not to transfer blame for my pain to those who really have nothing to do with it.

  60. 59: SR, thanks for this comment. I also felt like the general church publications were doing better with this these days. I think, as the comments have suggested, that so much of this issue is in the local units. Those of us who have not had your experience (or Tracy’s or Ardis’) benefit by your teaching us so that we know how to be inclusive and supportive.

  61. I realize this is almost off-topic now, but I was once in a ward that featured a talent show for non-traditional talents. There were lots of tables set up in the gym, and families got half a table each to display talents, interests, and hobbies. Little kids showed off artwork, favorite toys, comic books, whatever. One daddy-daughter pair liked to hike and find fossilized dinosaur poop (coprolites). They had six or seven really good examples on display. People could mill around and easily find somebody with similar interests. All in all, it was one of the better talent shows I’ve been to, mostly because it really showcased those non-performance talents.

  62. Sunlight says:

    I understand how you & your children feel. I am divorced also with 4 children & we are active in the Church. My husband decided he wanted his freedom & left us 5 years ago. But we are still sealed & thus still completely married. God does not recognize unjustified divorce, as BY said, “it is as good as a blank piece of paper”.

    I have studied what the Prophets have taught on divorce & I know that my marriage & family are still going to be eternal ‘IF’ I continue to keep my covenants to my husband no matter what he does or where he goes or how many women he dates & remarries. None of it’s valid or righteous.

    Heavenly Father assures us that someday unrighteous husbands or wives will have to repent & return to us if we still want them, after they have paid for their sins in Spirit Prison.

    Knowing that ‘unjustified divorce’ is not valid to God & that he considers my husband & I 100% completely still married is very comforting & thus I can teach & comfort my children & tell them that we are still a forever family, it’s just that Dad has made wrong choice for now but will eventually return to us & repent & make it all up to us.

    Even though my husband is out committing adultery right now by ‘dating & remarrying’ other women, even in invalid temple marriages, I can still choose to have ‘true love’ for him as I am commanded to have & this true love is the power & principle whereby marriages are made eternal.

    Knowing that my husband is mine forever & I am guaranteed him in the next life after he repents & is a different person, the perfect husband, makes it possible to hang on & stay completely faithful to him & not give into the temptation to date & remarry myself & thus break my covenants to him & lose the sealing blessings to him & my children.

    For it is ‘dating & remarriage’ after divorce that breaks the covenant to our spouse & how we lose the sealing to them & our children, whether it’s done officially on paper or not.

    After a abandoning spouse repents someday they will have no more desire to be with the multiple people they committed adultery with by dating or in any remarriage, even if they deceived their way into the temple for that remarriage. It is all in vain & invalid & only adultery. They will be repulsed by their acts & time spent with anyone other than their 1st spouse, once they repent in the next life. So there is no worry about a spouse still having feelings or memories about other men or women once they repent & return to you in the next life.

    Heavenly Father knew that in most all marriages on earth & in the Church, one or both spouses would commit abuse, adultery or have addictions of abandon their spouse & not stay righteous & keep their covenants to the other. Thus that is why he instituted ‘marriage’, so a righteous spouse could save their unrighteous spouse by the saving & sealing power of ‘true Christlike love’, no matter what the other spouse does.

    If a righteous spouse didn’t choose to have true love for their errant spouse, than in the next life after they repent the wicked spouse will have to go to the Telestial Kingdom & suffer pain & loneliness forever, being apart from their spouse & children.

    But a righteous spouse can decide to keep their covenants to have true love & wait faithfully for their spouse to repent & one day save their unrighteous spouse to the Celestial Kingdom with them, after they have been cleansed by repentance in Spirit Prison.

    Marriage & divorce are not confusing, but very simple & easy to understand. It is all based upon true love, we either choose to have it or not & love & serve our enemy or not, even if & especially if, our enemy is our spouse.

  63. I was one of those kids with my nose pressed to the glass. The lessons were hard, the daddy-daughter activities were hard, it was hard to be a member and go to church and feel like I was constantly reminded of what I didn’t have. I think I turned out okay though. We made it through. Thanks for giving me a glimpse of what it’s like from the parent’s perspective too. Bless you.

  64. it's a series of tubes says:

    Sunlight – appreciating the challenges you are currently facing, I hesitate to follow up on your comments… but certain of your statements appear to conflict with doctrine. For example, the last clause of your 4th to last paragraph: “no matter what the other spouse does” seems to conflict with D&C 132:19, where the IF that proceeds the blessing is ” IF ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood”…

    Similarly, the compulsion indicated in your 3rd paragraph: “unrighteous husbands or wives will have to repent & return to us if we still want them” appears to conflict with D&C 76:111 (summarizing the individual choices that lead to a telestial inheritance).

    Furthermore, I’m interested in the position you put forth in your 3rd to last paragraph: “If a righteous spouse didn’t choose…”. Could you provide a link to a conference talk, or book excerpt, or scripture, or whatever, supporting that position?

  65. #64: Thanks IASOT for articulating that sensitively and thoughtfully. I agree with your assessments.

  66. In other words, we all have free agency, even divorced people. #63 seems to conflict with that principle, and also the principle that for most divorced people, the best counsel is to move on and yes, remarry, if possible.

  67. I hope that wasn’t insensitive, but sensitivity in the face of serious error is no virtue, in my opinion.

  68. Sunlight says:


    I don’t mind your questions at all.

    I agree that ‘murder’ might be the line where a spouse can save their spouse no matter what, but even then there may be cases of it being possible depending on the circumstances.

    But anything short of murder can be repented of in Spirit Prison & must be, for no one will be released from Spirit Prison until they fully repent & accept Christ & are cleansed & have no more desire to do evil. Then they will be assigned to either the Terrestrial or Telestial Kingdom.

    If their spouse was righteous & valiant & doesn’t want bring them with them to the Celestial Kingdom with them, though I can’t see that they won’t, then the errant spouse must go where they truly deserved to go, be it the Terrestrial or Telestial, & there they will have eternal regret & pain for the loss of their spouse & children & other eternal blessings forever. The joy in being able to save a spouse from that kind of loneliness & pain forever is the greatest joy we can ever know.

    I have studied & prayed about these things for years & it has come together slowly like a puzzle, piece by piece, line upon line, but here is one little piece I can share that might help in your study of these things.

    “You need not have the least concern in the world about meeting a man in the Celestial Kingdom what you, if you are worthy & are so happy as to get into the Celestial Kingdom, cannot fellowship; And if you should happen to be the one that is in fault & you cannot pass the sentinel, & your neighbor or brother does, he will not see you there, you need not be concerned in the least about being joined to any person by the holy sealing power, that will not do right in the next world. I say to my sisters in the kingdom, who are sealed to men & who say, “We do not want this man in eternity if he is going to conduct himself there as he does here.” There is not the least danger in the world of your ever seeing him in eternity or of his seeing you there if he proves himself unworthy here. But if he honors his Priesthood & you are to blame & come short of doing your duty & prove yourself unworthy of Celestial Glory, it will be left to him to do what he pleases with you. You will be very glad to get to him if you find the fault was in yourself & not in him. But if you are not at fault, be not troubled about being joined to him there, for no man will have the privilege of gathering his wife & children around him there unless he proves himself worthy of them.” BY, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 17, June 28, 1874.

    This principle goes both ways, a valiant wife will also have the power to claim her unworthy husband if she wants to (& I believe she will want to if she can, once she gets there) or she can decide to leave him were he deserved to be, in a lower kingdom. It will be up to the valiant spouse what to do with the unworthy one. But the unworthy spouse will be eternally & intensely grateful for being saved by the other & want to spend eternity making everything up to the other spouse for how they hurt them on earth.

    If we have unconditional true love for our spouse, no matter what they do, with rare exceptions as Joseph Smith said, we will earn the greatest power there is, to save a soul to the Celestial Kingdom. It’s really the story of the prodical son in marriage terms.

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