On Being a Single Mother in the Church

This being a single mama in the LDS church is turning out to be a lot harder than I thought it was gonna be. Don’t get me wrong- this is my church, and I know that I belong here– but boy, if I didn’t come into this thing with a rock-solid testimony, this whole new world might have broken me. It’s no secret we are a family-centered church- I suppose a lot of churches are- maybe all of them try to be. I don’t know. We may give lip-service in random talks or conference addresses to non-traditional families, but when it comes down to brass tacks? It’s just lip service. The actual facts of being a divorced woman with three kids in the LDS church are hard and sharp. And I’m tired.

I am the only divorced woman in my ward. There are families with second marriages, but I am the only currently single, divorced woman with children. Mostly people are very kind to me and to my kids, and I have a great community within my ward. But the lessons, the interactions, the socializing all are colored by the fact that I am now single. I have benefited from the narrative of my divorce fitting the accepted parameters of acceptable in a divorce- namely, in my case, that I did nothing wrong, and that my ex-husband is at fault. This is true, but it’s also reflective of somewhere we are less than Christlike in that this narrative is the only one allowed, and women I know whose divorces fall outside this narrative (or who have kept their reasons for divorce implicitly private) have been dealt with much more harshly than I have experienced.

Recently, for Sunday School, I was asked to join the Marriage and Family class. I’ve taken it before- twice- both times when I was still in a marriage, however malfunctioning. This time, slightly confused but friends with several in the class and fond of the instructors, I went to class with a bit of trepidation. With a wry smile, I told the teachers I wasn’t sure why I was there- they did know I was no longer married? Jovially, the teachers said they welcomed my perspective, and thought my input would be beneficial to the others. That first Sunday, after church, I cried my eyes out. Sitting in a class, hearing platitudes and anecdotes about how to have a good marriage, how to not get angry, to remember date night, I felt like bashing my head against the wall. It seemed the narrative was again narrowed. If only one tried harder, prayed more, went to the temple as a couple, any marriage could be saved… I did all that. Every bit of it. I know better. Even when you do absolutely everything you are supposed to do, it doesn’t mean you get the life you want.

Relief Society is a nightmare for me now, and despite genuinely loving a great many of the women in the room, I find the lessons terribly difficult and isolating. In the last few months I have learned how to be charitable to husbands who leave towels lying around, to keep prayers in my heart (not a bad thing, of course) and the endless deification of the nuclear family. Each and every Sunday, I get to hear how important it is to have dad preside, mom at home, and how most of the problems of the world can be pinned on failures in this capacity. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes so loud it hurts and I leave the room crying. Recently, I heard how proper LDS home are places of refuge for the latchkey kids of the world, where they can wipe clean the mud and see how a family should look. That was a crying day.

I don’t want to be an object lesson. I don’t always want to be the uppity woman in the back (wearing killer heels, albeit) who raises her hand and says “…yes, but…” And yet, this is where I find myself. Some days I have to sit on my hands to keep from raising them, and sometimes that doesn’t work and I just blurt things out. The double-edged sword is that no one ever means to offend- I know the intentions are good of all these ward members. But if I don’t speak out on my behalf, no one will.

The thing is, we have idealized the mid-century nuclear family in our faith. I understand this ideal, and I understand there are always things we can do to be better parents, spouses and Christians. I just wish we focused on that more, and “teaching the ideal” less- because while I may be an anomaly in my ward, I am certainly not in the world. There must be endless ways to teach the words and works of Christ, of our own prophets and of the Gospel, without giving ourselves self-righteous pats on the back for measuring up to an imaginary yardstick of what a Family looks like. If we are really a global church, there must be a soft place for someone like me to land. There’s just got to be…


  1. Naismith says:

    At least you can take satisfaction in that you were married when you had your children:) I joined the church as an unwed mother, which is pretty much the bottom of the food chain. The divorced women I met made their moral superiority clear.

    More seriously, we all get callings that we don’t want. You may not want to be the uppity woman in the back, but fulfilling that role may bring great insights to your ward. It may be what the Lord needs you to do there.

  2. Katie B. says:

    I’m sorry it is so rough. My advice? Get yourself called to Primary. I can imagine that seems counter intuitive, since you don’t get a “break” from your kids. But primary has to be the best, most forgiving, and most real place in the church.

  3. Hugs to you! What a difficult thing. My divorced parents (divorced now for, oh 21 years) have commented at times about the difficulty of being single in the church, although it’s been so long now that I think the sting has faded for them.

    It does not hurt that my mom is a serious “woman in the back” and is absolutely not shy about chiming in with her opinions. I think people are kind of scared of her, actually.

    I will also mention that my ward is lousy with non-nuclear family arrangements, and our RS acknowledges it with grace, I think. I am probably biased, as one of the teachers. But I never talk about how awesome the traditional family is, because all those non-traditional faces staring back at me show very clearly that it is certainly not the only way.

    I wonder if it has something to do with our urban in-city locale. The attitude you describe is one of the chief reasons that I am a bit scared to move to the suburbs someday, as we probably will. I’m so used to our ward’s loosey-goosey come-as-you-are nosering (I have one) and facial hair/colored shirt (my husband) and all nature.

  4. I’m sorry Tracy. As a single father I can totally relate.

    Church is really painful for me. I don’t even know if I “fit” the divorce narrative. But I don’t have to worry about it since the Scarlet D keeps keeps everybody away from me.

    Since I don’t have custody of my daughter I go to a single’s ward and to get here lessons on Celestial Sex and how to prepare yourself for the “right one”. I don’t even get an obligatory nod to the non traditional situation. Just imagine a three hour long “marriage and family” class that you described every week. I’m not a sure a family ward will be even better. It would probably bring a different set of problems. After three hours of misery I seriously consider never going again every week but then I ask like Peter “Thou hast the words of eternal life, where would I go?”. So if you figure out how to make things better please let me know.

  5. @naismith- I hope I never make anyone feel as though I think I’m superior in any way. We’re all walking around with half broken hearts all the time anyway, and kindness is so important. I’ll try and embrace being the uppity woman a little bit more.

    @Katie- you may be right, but right now, the idea of being in primary would make me never come back.

    @jds- I suspect, based on what I hear from friends, that urban wards and wards outside of the intermountain west are better at embracing those outside the “ideal”- whatever that means. Enjoy your ward!

    @Morgan- Ouch- I cannot imagine 3 hours of that class, and you have my empathy. There are weeks I think I cannot come back, but like you, “Thou hast the words of eternal life, where would I go?” is a truth for me, and so I keep coming back. Hang in there.

  6. While I sympathize, I think it is so incredibly odd that you are the only divorced woman with children! Are there any widows or never marrieds or divorced women without kids? Because if there aren’t, then of course the comments and lessons are going to skew hard to the demographics of the people in the room being married with underage children.
    Our ward isn’t made up off all perfect Mormon families, yet I know the singles feel lonely and isolated. I don’t think it is anything the ward is doing because the talks and lessons and comments aren’t so one perspective like in your ward. Perhaps it is just because being single makes people feel lonely. Perhaps just being divorced can make you cry sometimes.
    I hope that the benefits of your ward outweigh the problems. Benefits like having lots of families with kids? Having other women in the ward who are your age? A supportive, friendly ward?

  7. Molly Bennion says:

    Keep speaking up, Tracy. When my father-in-law was a Spokane bishop, I asked him how many of his suburban ward’s marriages were good. Virtually every adult was married; on the surface all seemed well. Answer: 4.

  8. Molly’s right. My experience as a bishop was an absolute shock to learn about the ward and how nearly every marriage was in trouble in so many surprising ways. We all struggle. Most of those people in those classes are probably and sadly troubled phonies. I wish we could all figure out how to be more honest and charitable.

    My heart breaks for you. Don’t give up. I’ve had terrible lows in the church too. Counseling and other emotional health treatments can help. Find a good friend somewhere. I’ve learned from personal experience. Good luck.

  9. @jks- I have a wonderful ward. I hope I made that clear- I am surrounded by good, kind people, some of whom are beloved friends. It’s still hard though. There in one other woman who has never been married or had children, and a few widows. That’s it.

    @Molly- thank you Molly.

  10. Naismith says:

    Our stake has one ward that is the “mid-singles magnet” for any single person 30-45. That prevents most single moms/dads who are actively raising children from being the only one in the ward.

  11. Kristine says:

    Same in my ward–only single mother, one of two single women. It stinks. And jks, I won’t speak for Tracy, but in my own life, being divorced is a non-issue EXCEPT at church. I never feel worse than on Sunday afternoon. It may not seem like the talks in your ward are from a single perspective, but I’d be willing to bet it would be impossible to sit through a 3-hour-block in _any_ ward and not hear something wounding. I used to think I was reasonably aware of such things, and I tried not to say things that would be hurtful, but I had no idea…

    Just for fun, imagine sitting through a Primary program themed “Families Can Be Together Forever” as a recently divorced parent. Now imagine that your calling is Primary Chorister. There’s really no getting around the fact that, as a church, we make it harder for single people, especially divorced parents, than it really has to be.

  12. Here’s a lesson in manners, Naismith. It’s not polite to start any sentence like this:

    “At least you can take satisfaction in that you were”[ fill in the blank].

    and then go on to point out you had it much worse.

    When someone is in a vulnerable place and reall down, as Ms.Tracy is right now , it’s best not to remind her that she’s got it better than you did.

    C’mon, Nai, you’ve been around the blogs long enough. You should know what kind of statements come across as smug.

  13. Kristine says:

    Naismith–our stake has one of those, too, but it has no Primary, so single parents are effectively excluded (which is fine with me; singles wards are enough of a horror without being compounded by the wretchedness that is sitting in a mostly child-free Sacrament Meeting being judged by the behavior of your children. Egads!!)

  14. Thank you for sharing this.

    This part intrigued me particularly: “I have benefited from the narrative of my divorce fitting the accepted parameters of acceptable in a divorce- namely, in my case, that I did nothing wrong, and that my ex-husband is at fault.”

    I don’t doubt that there is that social hierarchy of marriage status in the church. It probably goes like this: widow/widower, married, never married single, divorced blameless, divorced at fault. (Maybe divorced blameless outranks never married single.)

    My question is how does one establish blamelessness in a divorce to the satisfaction of your ward? Now, if you’re living in the ward in which your marriage fell apart, you can be satisfied that you’ve been the subject of discussion in enough Ward Council meetings for the entire ward to have an opinion on proportional share of blame in a failed marriage. And people make assumptions based on the disposition of the children. But suppose you move to a new ward?

  15. This probably wouldn’t help everybody, but I really pick up on those occasions when a speaker or teacher talks about “the home” instead of “the family.” You can say a lot of things about “happy homes” and “gospel-centered homes” and “strengthening our homes” that are positive and applicable to me as a single woman, where saying the same things about “happy families” and “gospel-centered families” and “strengthening our families” are painful and separate me from the rest of the ward.

    Does that difference in wording do anything helpful for divorced women, or is it just my personal reaction?

  16. *is painful … (I really do speak English. Really)

  17. Kristine says:

    gst–if you move, people just guess based on how your kids behave and whether you ever ask for help.

  18. There is absolutely a hierarchy. I am not in the same ward my divorce happened in, but in a split with part members from my old ward. I’m sure it didn’t take long for the story to spread. And even if we move, my story is crappy and compelling enough that I know it will follow me.

    As far as my children, like Kristine, I feel the judgement sometimes of sitting through sacrament meeting alone- one of my sons has autism and his behavior is unpredictable. Yeah, I feel the assumptions. I just hope most of that is my own insecurity, and not reality.

    Ardis, that’s interesting. I do think that bit of semantics does make a difference.

  19. I mean this as consolation: In my experience, people are judging you 80% less and loving you 55% more than you think they are.

  20. Kristine says:

    Yeah, gst, I’m certain you’re right. For me, the hardest thing is that it’s all unspoken–I know people talk about me, but since they never talk to me about any of it, I just never know where I stand. That’s unsettling, even though people are mostly very kind.

  21. I am too- actually. Just somehow that 20% sure is heavy some Sundays.

  22. Naismith says:

    “our stake has one of those, too, but it has no Primary, so single parents are effectively excluded (which is fine with me; singles wards are enough of a horror without being compounded by the wretchedness that is sitting in a mostly child-free Sacrament Meeting being judged by the behavior of your children. Egads!!)”

    That is really too bad, both for the people who are parents and for having enough meaningful work for all those talented singles to do. Our magnet is a family ward that just took in a bunch of new people, many of whom are sorely missed in the home wards they left. They still have sacrament meeting to endure, but sunday school is separate if they so choose.

  23. I totally understand where you’re coming from, since I’m 17 and from a non-traditional family. I remember my first week ever of seminary (3 years ago) we only talked about the Plan of Salvation and how we can be with our parents forever, and I walked home sobbing. There has also been the traditional daddy-daughter dates, father-daughter dinners, etc. that have been horrible to attend alone.

    I don’t feel as judged because I’m still a teenager, but I know that my mom is definitely questioned for her decision to leave my father. While it does fall under the “accepted parameters”, I respect that my mom has chosen to keep our past private. I definitely see that my family has been looked down upon and some church lessons are still very difficult to sit through.

    I think the worst experience was when my bishop asked me to speak on Father’s Day. There was no way that was EVER going to happen, and I told him so.

  24. Molly (#7): I confess that I’m uncomfortable with a bishop thinking that he knows enough about the marriages in his ward to make that kind of estimate. And even if he does know, for some reason that makes me uncomfortable too.

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    Ardis, I like “the home” formulation.

  26. Que’s mother’s choice hits upon something that I was getting at in #14–she divorced for socially acceptable reasons, but chooses not to discuss it. Good for her. I think the pressure we put on people to explain their divorces is unwarranted.

  27. Josh B. says:

    Everyone can relate to not fitting in to the programs of the church. It is a fact of life that can usually be dealt with easily enough. But when “non-traditional”– just life!– experiences creeps in, things get interesting, and that is why I really like your post, Tracy.

    I have found church to be nearly unbearable on some Sundays not because I don’t want to be there, but because an ideal is presented, and I have had exposure to the full splendor- and ugliness- of the idea. Hearing something idealized, but knowing in my heart that such also has a very wicked, dark side creates the kind of tension that drives people right out of the church. The large hurtful things gnaw Sunday after Sunday much like an adult sitting in a room full of children, talking about their latest adventure with matches. Matches are super fun/necessary, but the adult will still cringe! And such can become a Sunday of church.

    Thank goodness the sabbath is not there to just socialize. I am grateful to take the Sacrament each week. The rest is fluff unless people learn to work together a little better.

    Of all the topics in the Church, I think marriage is the most dangerous, wonderful, amazing, and fiery topic in the church. And like anything I guess, if we know a lot about something, we are bound to be a little more Christlike to the next unsuspecting experiencer…

  28. #6: “Our ward isn’t made up off all perfect Mormon families, yet I know the singles feel lonely and isolated. I don’t think it is anything the ward is doing because the talks and lessons and comments aren’t so one perspective like in your ward.”

    I think it would be worth considering that there is in fact some dynamic that makes the singles feel lonely and isolated even if you’re not seeing it (especially if’s multiple people who feel that way). I imagine from an outside perspective it might seem that if singles get a nod every now and then, they’re being included. But being in an environment which constantly communicates that a particular families are the norm can just get exhausting. There doesn’t have to be any kind of malicious intent involved; it’s just so ever-present. Like Kristine, I feel most conscious of my marital status at church–in the rest of my life, it doesn’t seem like it’s that big of a deal. But even if there are really great people in your ward, it can still be a nightmare to go to church and be reminded over and over that you don’t quite fit.

  29. Yes, Lynette and Kristine both nailed it- I feel normal and fully functional in the rest of my life, but I go to church as feel like I am a fragment of a person- and nothing is as hard or likely to be filled with tears as a Sunday. There is no malicious intent involved- the people of my ward are wonderful. It’s just so ever-present.

  30. I wish I was in your ward, Tracy — I’d totally sit in the back and raise my hand for you (and everyone else in non-traditional situations) all the time. Plus my kids’ antics could distract everyone from your kids. Which is all just my way of saying that I think you’re wonderful, I understand why church is hard, but I’m so sorry that it is, and I wish I could do something to make it better.

  31. Each year, our Stake selects a scripture as the theme for the year (mostly noted in stake and ward conferences). This year, the Stake Presidency selected the Family Proclamation, with particular emphasis on the paragraph describing family roles.

    We have a very large, very active YSA ward as well as many, many single adults–divorced, widowed, and never-married. I was very impressed, therefore, when the speakers in stake conference included a YSA, an older never-married sister, a divorcee, and a woman who has been married for 5 years but has had struggles conceiving children with her husband. The only “typical Mormon” speakers were the members of the Stake Presidency.

    Presenting such varying viewpoints and emphasising that not all members of the Church fit the “ideal” image of the family has gone a long way to helping all members of our Stake feel welcome and wanted. There are still problems, to be sure, but it seems like there is a concerted effort to balance the belief in the value of the traditional family with the reality that many do not fit the mold (and that that is okay).

  32. nat kelly says:

    In my RS, we have one of those “good news minutes” at the beginning of every class where people can share good news from their lives. A couple of weeks ago, one woman got up and talked about how a good friend of hers had “fiiinally” gotten married, and it had taken him forever, and he was soooo old (at 32 years old). There are a large number of single women in our RS, many in their early to mid 30s. I was sitting next to one of them, and cringed while I gave her a wide-eyed “WTF” look.

    People can be very well-intentioned, but that doesn’t mean they’re not terribly insensitive.

  33. Oh, Tracy — I’m queen of the “Yes, but . . . ” *Every* ward needs one, because plenty of women are saying “Yes, but . . .” in their heads and need someone to be their voice. I figure it’s part of my spiritual calling in life!

    Interfaith marriage is that fabulous hybrid — married yes, sealed no. Couple in the world, single at church. No “priesthood in the home.” It can be tiring to be the “Yes, but” woman, but I can’t imagine a better voice than yours (and mine, of course :) for this role.

  34. Mommie Dearest says:

    This is why lessons that teach about the importance/how-to’s of a happy family rank much lower in utility to lessons about Christ and any of his many teachings, but especially the atonement and it’s salvation.

  35. What I think I wish, and this is just an idea taking form, is that the “value of the traditional family” was replaced with “the value of all families”. I feel like a footnote when I get told, after a talk about family roles, that “Oh, but you’re okay too!” ALL families are valuable. We are all likely working towards the same goals- namely an environment where those we care for, including ourselves, can grow and learn in love, happiness and safety.

  36. Kristine says:

    But Alex, asking single people and infertile couples, etc. to talk about the Proclamation on the Family is like being inclusive by inviting people in wheelchairs to watch a footrace. We shouldn’t “believe in” the traditional family; we should believe in Jesus. If church were about that, we wouldn’t need to help people feel included, because they would actually be included.

  37. Thanks for this. It’s a good reminder because I count myself as one of the insensitive types that used to say or do offensive things and not realize it. I say ‘used to’ because I try hard now to be aware and sensitive that not everyone has my life or life experiences. I used to think that because I had a husband, everyone else did, because I could get pregnant, everyone else could, etc. I think my mind opened with age and some empathy, but I shudder to think at the ridiculous things I’ve spewed out at church (well intentioned of course). My MIL is in her 60’s an offends people constantly with her thoughtless words. The only way to stop her is to call her out, politely, on it.

  38. “We shouldn’t “believe in” the traditional family; we should believe in Jesus. If church were about that, we wouldn’t need to help people feel included, because they would actually be included.”


  39. If single people feel lonely in my ward, when we aren’t fully of married families and our lessons & talks rarely even mention marriage, why exactly do they feel lonely?
    Perhaps church is one of the few places you go to where you are expected to bring your whole family. When you go to work, to the doctor, to the gym, to the grocery store, to your friend’s house, to a teacher meeting, to a school activity, to a soccer game, to a movie, etc. none of these other places are you expected to bring your whole family so people don’t really know the full makeup of your family. So perhaps people feel like their singleness is on display?
    Tracey – Maybe you can reactivate some single moms in your ward so you can increase the numbers.
    Yesterday I tried to look up the blog post about how to not alienate singles at church since I heard my bishop is looking for ideas about how to help singles in our ward. I couldn’t find it though. It does, however, seem like our ward is probably already doing a lot of the possible things mentioned.
    But singles are a really huge diverse group. So when the bishop referred to singles I don’t know who specifically he was thinking about. THe active ones? The inactive ones? The elderly? The older? The mid singles? The young singles? I don’t know.
    I do know, however, that when I go to church it is all about others. I have to monitor and make the best of things for my children’s spiritual development (or social or educational too) which includes keeping up on their teachers and being kind and appreciate to them and noticing the other children. I interact with people in order to do my calling. I also try to interact with those who might be needy like the elderly or the new members or those who need support (like their father dying or a child in need). In class I raise my hand and make lots of comments, but I never mention my husband or marriage and only occasionally mention my children. My comments often are aimed at trying to be more inclusive and positive for the non-perfect people, or occasionally counteract some old person’s wacky old school thinking like physical pain is caused by spiritual sin.
    However, I think perhaps my very existence in the ward is what is causing all the single people pain. It doesn’t matter what comes out of my mouth or how many people I smile at and try hard to connect with (and it does take work because I am naturally shy and people skills are hard for me).

  40. Oops, sorry Tracy. I accidentally spelled your name wrong.

  41. Kristine says:

    “The non-perfect people” ?!

    That might be part of the problem.

  42. When I said “positive for the non-perfect people” I include myself. I have no problem admitting that I fall short in any area being discussed in RS but I am likely to make a positive spin on it. Like making a goal to go to the temple once, vs. making a goal to go to the temple once a month. Realistic kinds of goals.

  43. I agree, the non-perfect people are the problem.

  44. jks, I don’t even know where to start to respond to you. Singles are no different than anyone- married, widowed, divorced, dating, whatever- we are all individuals in Christ. Being married does not turn one into a homogenous mass. The Gospel is about our individual relationship to Christ, his atonement and our personal paths to redemption through Him.

  45. Tracy, I think you touched on this well in Independence. We focus too much on some idealized form and not the purpose and function of family (something also expounded upon by Christian).

    Aristotle rejected Plato’s use of forms when it came to the ideal city because it could not be sustain in a real world. It also did not serve the needs of actual and real communities. Thank you for being our wise Aristotle-figure on this issue.

  46. Sorry, I just read my comment and I don’t think I articulated myself as well as I meant. The message of the conference wasn’t to “believe in the traditional family” nor were the speakers asked to discuss it. The message was that family is a core part of the gospel of Jesus Christ but there are many different kinds of families, and they are all a part of God’s family. I guess what I am trying to say is that the message was that we can drop the adjective and stop discussing families in terms of dad-mom-children and start discussing how we each live the Gospel in our lives as brothers and sisters in Christ.

  47. Kristine says:

    “When you go to work, to the doctor, to the gym, to the grocery store, to your friend’s house, to a teacher meeting, to a school activity, to a soccer game, to a movie, etc. none of these other places are you expected to bring your whole family ”

    It might also be that none of those places have giant framed copies of the Proclamation on the Family on the walls, that nobody else makes my kids recite parts of it or sing songs about how theirs is a home where every hour is blessed by a male presence, that nobody at the gym ever says “no other success can compensate for failure in the home,” that at the library I can choose whether or not I’d like to hear a lecture about the detrimental effects of divorce on children rather than being forced to endure it in a roomful of married parents, that in other situations where people are talking about being single or divorced they might actually _be_ single and understand what it’s like…


  48. Amen, Kristine.

  49. #39.

    “If single people feel lonely in my ward, when we aren’t fully of married families and our lessons & talks rarely even mention marriage, why exactly do they feel lonely?”

    For starters, what may feel like “rarely” to you may still be a painful level for singles. (I.e., if only 5% of the people at church hit me in the face whenever they see me, that’s a decided minority, but it would still be enough to make me very reluctant to attend church.)

    “So perhaps people feel like their singleness is on display?”

    To a certain extent. It’s also a place where people tend to relate to each other in family units. So, I can’t be a “couples friend” with any other couples, because I don’t have a spouse and I can’t be a “playdate friend” with any other women, because I don’t have kids. I’m limited in the ways I can get to know and interact with other people because I don’t have a spouse or kids to mediate some of those interactions.

    “But singles are a really huge diverse group.”

    Crazy, isn’t it? It’s like we’re individuals, or something. And in the “real world,” that’s how we’re treated. (Or people focus on other aspects of our identities.) It’s only at church that we’re lumped into a homogeneous class of brokenness.

  50. Chad Too says:

    I’m sorry to hear of your heart breaking, Tracy. I worry sometimes that we have become a people who worship the family rather than Jesus Christ. I know there are Sundays where I rarely hear the Savior’s name mentioned for all the family talk.

    I hope this cheers up your spirits a little, but I am giving your new quilt pattern book to my mother and mother-in-law as mothers day presents this week. I have them right here and they are adorable.

  51. Wow Chad! Thank you so much! You’re the first person in the bloggernacle to mention them. I’m totally honored!

  52. I too am divorced and 32, I can’t even read my PB, it just hurts too much, I am just confused now about a lot of things, but getting better. I WISH we would focus on individual relationships with each other and Christ rather then family, and groups. I wish we would see a divorced General Authority or General Relief Society President or something. I hate how people look at your marital status before issuing a calling. I know for a fact that someone in our ward was turned down for a calling because she wasn’t currently married, as if going home with a man makes you a great YW President or Primary President… all the manmade “rules” makes the Church seem like BS at times and you pull back and say why even bother, why am I being judged for stuff that happened 5, 10, 15 years ago, rather then how I am now and today?

  53. Thomas Parkin says:

    Jesus is the only ideal. Period.

    Sermon time!

    The gospel is a means to Come Unto Christ – literally, know who He is and become like Him. The key points are faith, repentance, Baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost and enduring. These work in all kinds of lives – in families, out of families, having committed serious sins and not, literally any place is a good starting place. The end of the road is not having a Mormon nuclear family. The end of the road is having acquired ‘all that Father (and Mother) ha(ve).’

    This is what the gospel is not. Getting married, having children who are baptized at 8, get the Priesthood at 12(male), go on missions at 19(male), get married in the Temple, have children, rinse, repeat. There is nothing wrong with any of these, of course, and actual gospel living will often lead to them. But when it does not lead to them, it is no indication that we are not on the path to God.

    The image of God that we should have, and direct ourselves towards, is complete with a comprhensive understanding of the totality of the person of Christ. The image of the family on the front of the Ensign means little, even with the image of Christ, and nothing without it.

    I went through all this with my first divorce, where I could genuinely say I did little wrong. The emotional pressure – I literally felt that people’s kindness even was cutting – was a big reason (not the only reason) I left the church. This time it is even more difficult, because this time the circumstances will indicate to many people that I have done something wrong. But there is so much they don’t know – in relationships, and between me and God – and that they shouldn’t need to know.

    Anyway, I can relate, for what it is worth.

  54. I grew up in a home where we acutely felt we were low-status. My father went through church discipline several times (something you can’t keep private), the last time for child molestation. My mother was an immigrant. We felt judged and excluded and it hurt a lot. At the same time, the teachings on family were something I believed in, and though I was terrified, I got married and am now a father. I am still surprised to find myself so happy after many years of marriage. I am glad for the teachings on family, which I would not have discovered in my own home, though at times it has caused lots of pain to be treated poorly. I have developed low expectations for most people.I have people I love and trust, and that is a
    big blessing and it is enough for me to be happy. I have lots of sympathy for anyone who feels excluded or marginalized.

  55. Thomas Parkin says:

    I remember quite often what SilverRain posted on her personal blog. Can paraphrase: while wondering whether or not she has a place in the church anymore, she thinks of the voice of the Savior who says ‘this is My church and I say you have a place.’ This has helped me to no end.

  56. I’m with Chad Too – We really do worship the family as a church. That’s the root of the problem.

  57. Love you, Tracy – and love your voice just as much.

    You are the epitome of a good woman, a good LDS woman and a good person – specifically because you don’t duck from or hide your weakness and your struggles but openly rely on the Lord and your friends in an attempt to endure them well and grow despite them. We really need to understand and embrace that concept throughout the Church – and ALL it implies.

    Can’t offer much more than that, but it’s sincerely offered.

  58. Just yesterday someone in my ward bore a tearful testimony of how grateful she was for her family in which she and her husband shared a commitment to the gospel and so could teach consistent standards and values to their children. I know something of her very complicated personal circumstances to which she was alluding, so I wasn’t offended, but at the same time it was hard not to sigh audibly. I _know_ my family isn’t ideal. I’m exquisitely aware that mine is not a home in which every hour / is blessed by the strength of priesthood power. Is it too much to ask that members whose circumstances more closely approximate the ideal refrain from congratulating themselves on their own good fortune?

  59. Martin says:

    “This is why lessons that teach about the importance/how-to’s of a happy family rank much lower in utility to lessons about Christ and any of his many teachings, but especially the atonement and it’s salvation”

    I can’t argue with this, but on the other hand, I wonder how much good would not have been done if the church weren’t constantly harping on the importance of the family. I completely get that this emphasis creates heartache. I completely get the arguments that the church shouldn’t be encouraging young marriages, shouldn’t be encouraging people to have so many children, shouldn’t be hammering the note that family is everything constantly.

    But honestly, if those messages hadn’t been drilled into me and into the heads of my relatives, our families would look quite a bit different. Personally, I’m not sure I’d still be married. I’m positive I wouldn’t have as many children. These relationships have been the focus of my life and by far my biggest struggle. They’ve been my greatest source of joy, but it’s a joy I’m not sure I would experienced, because they’ve also been the source of my greatest pain and perhaps I’m a bit of a quitter. I have relatives I’m sure would say similar things.

    I don’t want anybody to go to suffer at church. I’m grateful that people like Tracy stick with it. Hopefully there’s something sanctifying that comes with that pain. But I personally feel the same messages that cause Tracy, Kristine, and others so much pain have been fundamental to my life and shaped my perspective. I want my kids to have that same perspective. I think those messages have value.

  60. Mark Brown says:

    Then we need to be honest about it and change the name of the organization to The Church of Famalee.

  61. Aaron B says:

    Wonderful post, Tracy. Thank you for it.

  62. Mommie Dearest says:

    I am not saying that we should quit emphasizing the importance of living up to our family covenants, and I don’t think anyone of the “less than perfect” folks here are advocating that either. I see the problem as two things that are inter-related.

    First, there is too much precious meeting time spent emphasizing family ideals in isolation, teaching scatter-shot tips, hints, helps, and whatnot that may or may not be truly useful in making your real family better, but have become superficial markers for righteousness, and thus status, in our culture. It’s not a bad thing, all this “harping”, teaching and tip-sharing and sometimes baldly showing off (I don’t begrudge it when it’s warranted, I like to see a family’s success) but it’s not as effective as it could be. The hazard is that it occupies the time that would be far better spent in the study of Christ, what he really taught, what the atonement is, and maybe some tips on how to apply it in modern life. Imagine if our markers for righteousness were not whether you have the right number of children born in the covenant, but how your repentance is going that week.

    Second, it feeds the false notion that we exist in a hierarchy before God, that some of us are the “perfect” members (doing everything we can and pretty well too!) and some others of us are flawed, “less than perfect” members who don’t have all the trappings of family righteousness in place. My experience of many long years of activity is as a low status person because I don’t have all the credentials of a Good Example. It has it’s painful moments that you get used to and learn to handle with grace. I spend rather a lot of energy struggling not to be cynical, and I do pretty well, but the hardest part, the part that I am most blind to, is seeing people who (I perceive) are even more low status than I, as my equals. I wish we had a lesson every year in Relief Society about this, with some tips and helps on things you can do to avoid seeing yourself as higher status than someone else, and how to remove the artificial barriers in your heart and truly open up to your sisters and brothers in the gospel. I could put this to use in many areas of my life, including family relationships. And guess what? Single, divorced, young and old, men and women can relate to it too!

    I see the possible solutions as interrelated as well. We don’t have to quit emphasizing the family, but we need to get back to Christ in our teaching about it. Everything we teach should be about faith and repentance, and filtered through the view of faith and repentance that Christ taught, including, but not limited to family relationships.

    Tracy, you know you have my sympathy, and I wish there was something more I could do to help you than just to restate my support, and my gratitude for your boldness in speaking frankly about so many things. I fear I am too well indoctrinated in our misguided cultural practice of “keeping sweet.”

  63. I’m the uppity woman in the front. After being raised in an abusive, barely active family, then going through 12 years and counting of harrowing infertility battles, I take an almost vengeful glee in bursting illusions. If I was charitable like Deborah I’d think of it as a spiritual calling, but since I’m not I think of myself as an avenging angel, throwing elbows to make room for all the “exceptions” in the church.

    In all seriousness, my experience is that the exceptions *are* the rule. And if someone is one of those ideal families, they can take little credit and often won’t be that way for long. It is cowardly of us to pretend otherwise, and a waste of our time to think about tolerating towels on the floor instead of really learning how to bear one another’s burdens.

    Anyhoo, I hope you can read between the lines of all that misplaced rage to know that I am on your side, Tracy, and on those days when church is heavy, I mourn with you.

  64. michelle says:

    Reading this reminds me of a friend’s experience. She left the Church for a while in search of another church. I think she thought we needed more of Jesus in our meetings. (Not saying we don’t sometimes!) But what she found surprised me — that the lack of focus on family in the places she searched meant that the focus was on the individual and the individual’s relationship with Christ *at the expense of families.* As such, people missed the mark by not understanding the role of the family in God’s plan. They were willing to put family aside in devastating ways. That all made her turn back and realize that there was something to this family thing.

    I know that this doesn’t assuage the pain you feel, but I thought maybe it was worth sharing.

    I think Reese is right — there are more exceptions than rules. I think often of Elder Holland talking about that in the 2008 WW leadership broadcast. But I think it’s because of that reality that the focus on family really does have its place…because our lives all fall short in some pretty significant ways, and it could be really hard to see through the messiness to know what to even aim for…even if that ideal seems so impossibly far off.

    I’m so sorry for your pain.

  65. Thomas Parkin says:

    Yea for Reese. Part of the reason the talk about family in the church is failing is that it buttressed by just those illusions that you shake.

  66. Sharon LDS in Tenn says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for the truth, the facts, the way it really is! I look at it this way. Most of us are hurting inside or hiding problems. Few of us have that *ideal family. Few of us are stable or strong enough to FEEL strong and show it or say it. Sometimes I think we say a lot and voice emphasis misleading points simply because we ARE desperate and flailing around trying to make it through each day, let alone hearing comments on Sunday that shoot arrows through our hearts.
    That said, there is refuge as said, sometimes ONLY in, our personal turning to H. Father and having our healing come directly from knowing Christ descended below it all and FEELS it exactly like we do. We DO have the perfect friend and counselor to turn to, loved by, healed by, lifted by and led by.
    In the meantime, we should patiently speak up with reason and love…….BY THE SPIRIT….so not to hurt back or cause dissention, but just to not only clear the air, but SUPPORT the ideal of individual worthiness, HOME (loved that Ardis), and DISCIPLESHIP as we ALL bumble ourselves closer to the heavenly ideals!
    Everyones comments have made me deterimined to “stick up” for all “odd ones OUT” more often (in the right spirit).
    Love to All.

  67. Indiana says:

    Perhaps it’s my own background as the child of divorced parents growing up in the church, but it makes me think quite a lot when I have to teach my YW about the family or temple marriage in our lessons each Sunday. My knee jerk reaction is to turn up my nose at the manual each time one of these topics appears, and even though I like to think that my disdain comes from completely justified experience of teaching the “ideal” at the expense of Christ-like charity and inclusion, it’s something I have to fight past to get to the real point of such lessons.

    One lesson on marriage involved making a very big point about how the skills and talents I was teaching the girls to develop were NOT about marriage, but about being stable, functioning adults who had a good testimony of Christ. If they happened to use those skills in a home by themselves, with roommates, or with a husband and children of their own, it didn’t matter, so long as they had the skills and the testimony to keep them close to the help that the gospel could bring them.

    I never felt deficient in my family as a teenager in the church. I was always aware that we weren’t “ideal”, but even as a kid I and a lot of my friends from 2-parent homes were good about the essential principle of the “yes, but…” comments. Especially in such a sensitive topic, I hope the “yes, but”s keep raising their hands and speaking out. I think one of the big points here is that just because an insensitive comment was well-intentioned doesn’t make it okay. And the more we can lovingly point out such gaffes, faux-pas and outright insults, the more we can correct and uplift each other in the spirit that ought to exist in the church.

  68. Marita Stewart says:

    I’m a divorced woman teaching once a month in the Relief Society, and I find facing a room full of single women (ie, without husbands or children present) exhilarating, a great leveling experience. I take comfort in remembering that one day we will all present ourselves to the Lord just so, one by one, naked and beloved. Relief Society is my refuge.

  69. Naismith says:

    “When someone is in a vulnerable place and reall down, as Ms.Tracy is right now , it’s best not to remind her that she’s got it better than you did.”

    You know, I think Tracy is pretty capable of handling things on her own. Nevertheless, I do apologize if she was offended.

    I wasn’t so much saying that she has it better (which I don’t believe for a minute) as much as inviting her to feel superior if it helps. There is a whole body of literature about social comparison theory regarding cancer patients, and how they do feel better when they know someone else who is worse off. Which I think was also operative in the case of the divorced women that I knew.

    I wouldn’t have said it if I truly thought I had it worse; I think being divorced is MUCH harder than being a never-married mom, due to all those negotiations and hassles.

    We are all very different, and different things may be helpful for each of us. When one of my employees had cancer and continued to do some work at home, I thought it would be rude to call up and talk about the work without first asking how she felt. In truth, she much preferred that approach, so I did it even though it seemed rude to me.

    Supporting single parents is a hard thing to do, and we never get it right. Our ward offered young women to sit with all the single moms in sacrament to help with the children. Some gratefully accepted the help. Others resented being treated as a project. Actually, they would be helping out the girls by accepting the assistance, because they need volunteer hours for high school graduation and college scholarships.

  70. Kristine says:

    But did they also offer to sit with the bishopric members’ wives? And the organist’s husband? The problem is in taking marital status as a primary characteristic.

  71. Thomas Parkin says:

    So much good stuff on this thread. Really helped me this last night – you’ve got no idea, or maybe you do. Thanks Tracy, and all contributors.

  72. Peter LLC says:

    There must be endless ways to teach the words and works of Christ, of our own prophets and of the Gospel, without giving ourselves self-righteous pats on the back for measuring up to an imaginary yardstick of what a Family looks like.

    Preach on.

    There doesn’t have to be any kind of malicious intent involved; it’s just so ever-present.

    Indeed. It seems like the default setting at church is to give talks and teach lessons to an unrecognizable group of saints and strawmen rather than the same motley crew we have always been a part of.

    Not that I want anyone to keep close tabs on my family life or expect a shift from emphasizing the ideal, but more open acknowledgement of the cross-sectional or longitudinal variation we are all bound to experience in life would be a welcome addition to the public sermons and comments at church.

  73. Chris Gordon says:

    In some ways, ignorantly-heartless treatment of divorced folk is no different than ignorantly-heartless treatment of anyone in the church–often comes from those from whom we’d expected, rarely intended, and so frustrating to watch. But this is about something so core and so precious that it hurts all the more to see.

    I was drawn a little to Martin (59)’s comments. In a leadership position it is so hard to know where to draw those lines. I agree so much with the points being made that we in the church can be so guilty of not talking directly about Christ in our meetings at the expense of self-help kind of talk. I recognize that talking about the family the way we do will always leave someone out (and probably more people than we know, particularly those who are struggling within a marriage). But I recognize that there is value in talking about the family that way. It’s just such a challenge.

    I even felt the desire to toss my hands up in the air a bit as I read wishes that we were more open and more frank about people’s situations, but not so open and frank as to put pressure to disclose on folks. The more I thought about it, though, I suppose it’s a testimony of two principles: 1) Isn’t it great that the Savior descended beneath all things and truly can understand our needs better than anyone? 2) Isn’t it so important that we pray HARD to tap into that Christ-like empathy so that we can give everyone what they need to feel his love?

  74. Kristine says:

    Chris, I think you’re right that it’s mostly impossible to avoid accidentally wounding each other, in all kinds of ways. The difference here is that I think institutional discourse around marriage and family tends to reinforce the thoughtlessness, rather than mitigate it. I mean, Dallin Oaks gave a General Conference talk in which he said, essentially, that parents who care more about their children than themselves would never get divorced. There’s really no way for that not to have an effect on people’s thinking about divorced people, even if they never give voice to the sentiments such rhetoric inevitably inspires.

    (It also sucks to have to explain that talk to your kids.)

  75. Leahhona says:

    I’m sorry your Ward has done this to you. I am also glad you are able to parse your Ward from “the Gospel”. As the BCC has richly taught me, “the happy family as an end in itself is one of the most tempting false gods we are tempted to worship” in the Church. For 25 years now, as an unmarried, I have been an exception to the supposed ideal. Yet, blessing after blessing, I am told that God is pleased with my journey in the Gospel. I am not sure what I can say – it IS hard. But don’t give up, because Christ is worth it, and I believe He thinks you are too.

  76. Chris Gordon says:

    It’s funny, Kristine, the more I think about it, the more I’m agreeing with everyone who’s nailed it. You want a way to not offend anybody? Talk about the Savior, purely the Savior, and just him.

    And I totally get what you’re talking about institutional reinforcement. I’m just not sure where that leaves someone who’s trying to lead a diverse group of ward members. For everyone who feels excluded by any given attempt at an application of doctrine, there’s someone who desperately needed it.

  77. Kristine says:

    Right. There are all those scriptural injunctions to “preach only Christ, and him crucified,” and “say nothing but repentance unto this people.” Maybe they were onto something

    And maybe we can give single mothers the priesthood, so they have a chance to see what it feels like to “try to lead a diverse group of ward members.” But that’s another post altogether. :)

  78. I remember having to teach that talk, Kristine (73) in Relief Society. It was one of the hardest lessons I ever had to give — I’ve never been more aware of my lack of qualifications nor the likelihood that I would inadvertently hurt someone despite my best efforts.

    (I just looked and found my notes for that lesson still on my computer. I think I’ll post them at Keepa after discussion here has died down, and maybe you’ll be willing to evaluate it. I think I can be tough-skinned enough to take criticism, because it’s important enough to want to learn how not to offend if at all possible.)

  79. Chris Gordon says:

    Touche, Kristine. For what it’s worth, I’m drawing on my own experience currently in the EQ but also my wife’s recent experiences in the RS. If ever there’s a laboratory for figuring out ways to open your eyes in ways you’d never before imagined possible, it’s the RS. In the EQ, if I piss someone off I’ll likely never hear about it. :)

  80. God Bless you Tracy you are one of my favorite bloggers. This has been going on for a long time across generations but has accelarated in recent decades. Although both of my grandparents marriages were intact they went to church by themselves with large broods due to totally inactive spouses. My fathers family as a result was a bit of a social outcast in their small town in SE Idaho.

    I do think we need to sensitively continue to teach the ideal. One of my hopes in teaching YM from tougher backgrounds is that they can embrace good teachings and form happy families as adults. I think you recognize this which is one reason I could guess you stick around.

  81. For an essay collection on Mormon family life, I included a sermon by Stephen L Richards in which he consistently referred to “home” instead of “family”. I think Ardis is on to something: “A Proclamation on the HOME” would be more inclusive, at least in verbiage. In that same collection (“Multiply and Replenish”), check out Marybeth Raynes’s essay “Single Cursedness”. It’s available through Dialogue’s online archives. Her investigations reveal that the “curse” has been recognized since the earliest days of the Restoration, pre-dating the doctrinal development of Celestial Marriage.

  82. Meldrum says:

    I think this has been one of the best discussions I have ever read on the Internet. I can only hope that many of the people in my ward that I do not know that well have similar charitable thoughts as have been expressed here. I want to thank Tracy M for opening up with something so tender and also so central to what is going on at church.

    I am married but we have our differences and church has not been helpful to our marriage problems. I have many of the same feelings but for different reasons. I like to throw elbows around and wake people up. I have considered it a calling at which I am brutal but not very skillful and it is not an easy one. Be careful, in my experience some people at church will take it out on your children, thinking they are doing the Lord’s work all the time.

    A couple of thoughts. First most churches are actually family centered. If they are not they breed themselves out of existance, like the Shakers. You have to look at what they do not at what they say. Look at the enormous youth ministeries and sports and music that are designed to provide venues for parents to spend time with their children. Second, the LDS church says much about being family centered. Yet actual activity in the church generally competes with family time, often to a descructive extent. With these two thoughts in mind we have a long ways to go and quite a bit of competition to be the Church of Families. Much of the talk about families at church is actually wishful thinking and pretending.

    What I like most about this discussion, put Christ in the center, is the very thing that created the most conflict with me at my ward. When I tinkered with the standard manuals and lessons in an attempt to make them more obviously Christ centered, leaders did not like it. People told me that I was not following the prophet or else making the church seem too much like a Protestant church. How I could do that having never attended any Protestant church more than once and growing up in a small town in Utah that was so Mormon we had more fingers and traffic lights than Protestants is beyond me. Protestants were about as exotic as Muslims or head hunters.

    We do not suffer alone. When we open up we find others with similar problems and we lift each other up. I recall a story about a blind man who was terrified to ride public transportation, his only realistic option. He could get injuried or hopelessly lost and maybe never make it back home again. Yet when he tested his theory, he found that many of the people would go out of their way to help him get anywhere he needed to go. It wasn’t as good as being able to see, but it wasn’t that bad either. We are all blind in some way and on public transportation trying to get somewhere.

  83. kevinf says:

    Back to Molly’s comment about her father in law who was a bishop in # 7. When I was called as bishop, the former bishop told me that I would be sitting on the stand, looking at the best people in the world every week, and that every single sin and problem known to mankind was out there among those folks. Over the next five years, I found out that he was right.

    There were no perfect marriages; some good, some fair, and some just bad. Single sisters who had never married, single men who had never married, divorced, widowed, all trying to find a place in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know during that time, I said things that were unintentionally hurtful, but I do it less now, and try to be more sensitive.

    Tracy, we are all good people, all of us doing our best to try and get better, and we just all need to focus on Christ and his Atonement. Everything else is either not important or merely supportive. We are our own worst enemies, and we don’t even know most of the time when we are doing it wrong. You shouldn’t be a symbol of how things aren’t always perfect, because none of us are, and no one of us really needs to be an ideal, because all of us have feet of clay.

    We just need to help each other, regardless of each others circumstances. Thanks for this eloquent reminder to be more charitable, all the time, with everyone, because at one time or another, we are going to be on the receiving and giving end of charity, often at the same time.

  84. Another thought. I think of my wife’s grandmother who died at 91 about 6 months ago.

    Her father passed from the spanish flu while she was in utero and her mother remarried and then was abandoned by husband #2. I took several hours with her before she died last fall and spoke with her about her early life in the church in the 20’s and 30’s.

    She says that they were treated as a family quite poorly on the west side of SLC due to her mothers status as a single parent. The other LDS children felt free to mock her status as a fatherless little girl but she stuck with the church. She though had great church leaders whom she knew loved her and her family and she was able to overcome all the pain that her status brought her in her early years.

    I hope you can find peace and comfort in Jesus and amongst the Saints

  85. I guess all I was trying to say (somewhat defensively) is some of us really do try to be inclusive when we speak up in church. That some of us aren’t trying to project a perfect image. My family had a rebellious teenager and my mom had many people come to her and confide their troubles so I learned that no family was perfect. As a result I have always been super vigilant at church and among friends to not portray some sort of perfect family as being the norm. Almost every family, almost every person deals with a lot of heartache. So when it comes to the people in my ward I always look for ways to help.
    So I guess I feel a little defensive wondering what else can I do, if I already make it a priority?
    But I am sure there is much that many people can do to be more welcoming or make their statements more applicable in their wards for more of the audience or even the people not in the majority in the audience.

  86. Joanne says:

    Marita — I miss your lessons!

  87. MD Musician says:

    I was divorced in 1994 when my husband decided to pursue an alternate life style and left me to raise four daughters on my own, finally getting child support after thirteen difficult court proceedings. My saddest days since then have always been Sundays. Out in the real world, I was/am accepted for who I was/am and given support and comfort by friends (church and community) and family and neighbors. Within the church on Sundays, however, I was suddenly not part of a familiar couple and was trying to figure out how to survive lesson after lesson and talk after talk about the blessings of intact families and the damage done when deviating from that role model. How many father/daughter activities did my girls have to endure? How many testimonies have been born of a wonderful spouse and great kids? How many RS lessons have I heard about keeping your spouse happy, being a supportive wife, raising a generation of righteous children, listening to the Spirit to keep your life on track, and holding fast to the iron rod so that all will be well? My therapist back then asked me why I subjected myself to such misery every Sunday — I would usually go home crying. I could only tell him that I knew that the gospel was true, that the center of my life had to be Jesus Christ and His restored church. I depended on the Atonement for my very being. And so I have developed a thicker skin over the years, have tried to have a decent sense of self-confidence and self-worth as I dredge through the frequent aftershocks that still rumble through my life to this day, and have been much more careful about where I rest my heart and my soul. I don’t attend RS because I just can’t stand the invitations to come to the next dinner with my sweetheart or hear one more lesson about improving my family relationships or honoring my priesthood holder. Sacrament meeting attendance is required, and that one meeting is usually enough to do me in for the day. I teach the Gospel Doctrine class in my ward, which brings me great joy, and participate in all kinds of musical events in the ward and the stake, which is usually fun. But I have a wounded heart and soul from losing my temple marriage, and they still haven’t healed since I am reminded almost every Sunday through all of these years that I’m not quite up to snuff.

    Thanks to all of you for your comments — it has helped so much to know that I’m not alone while feeling so alone in the church.

  88. “So I guess I feel a little defensive wondering what else can I do, if I already make it a priority?”


    I think the issue is one of deep and structural and theological significance. I think it is much larger than the actions of any one member.

  89. jks, have you seen/read Alice Walker’s The Color Purple? There is a scene where Sofia is in town, and the mayor’s wife makes a comment about Sofia and one of her children. The wife thinks she is being charitable and kind, and feels good about herself for being nice to “the colored children”. But in actuality, her words simply underline the disparity and iniquity in Sofia’s situation, and Sofia is expected to be gracious and thank the wife. Instead she punches the wife in the face.

    That’s pretty much how I feel.

  90. Tracy,

    I have a lot of sympathy for you. And can understand why you feel the way you feel. But I am quite impressed by your strength and ability. All of this raises an interesting question for me, particularly about the idea of non-traditional participants in the gospel. (I use “non-traditional” because it is descriptive, not because it is accurate). Ardis’ thought on the “home” versus the “family” is an interesting one.

    Is there language in the church that a “traditional” member like me (male, rm, active wife, four kids) can employ to better relate to, welcome, embrace those who are very different circumstances from me?

    For someone in your situation, Tracy, what type of language, experiences, interactions with other ward members would build you up, make you feel welcome, embraced? I think acknowledging the wide net of the gospel is important, but there is more to it–the stuff that happens outside the three-hour block.

    I find this particularly difficult as it relates to women in the church who feel as though the patriarchal structure of the church inhibits or demeans them. I understand, to the extent I can, and make efforts to incorporate this challenge into my thinking and my actions by acknowledging that there are some challengest that exist in the church that are difficult to ignore. But oft-timesI think there is no language that I could possibly employ to adequately describe my love for my neighbor unless and until a determination is made that women will receive the Priesthood.

    In the meantime, I just try to look to the Savior as the ultimate example and show love as he did. But even that’s a process–and efforts are not always as well-received as they are well-intended.

  91. Molly Bennion says:

    The “email me” address at dandelionmama isn’t working and I’ve misplaced your contact info. But, if you’d like to be the guest of my very hip mom and me at Maggie’s for lunch Tuesday or Wednesday next week, get back to me on the email address BCC has. Love to see you again.

  92. Kristine says:

    Ardis (#78)–sorry to be slow answering. I suspect that you did a great job with that talk, and I’d love to read your notes. And, honestly, the biggest problem I had with it was that it was given in the session where kids were most likely to be present.

    I disagree with Elder Oaks on several doctrinal points (I don’t think Mormons are actually Catholic on the question of divorce, for instance), but I generally appreciate his straightforwardness. Yes, it was painful, but it hurt because divorce involves failure and sin, and he said so, which is somehow more bearable than oblivious sentimentality about the faaaaaaaaaaaaaamily.

  93. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 80
    The question is, how do you promote the ideal without creating a cultural environment wherein those who are different feel unwelcome and leave? Or maybe that’s just the price that must be paid.

  94. mrsbrittdaniel says:

    Yup! I raise my arm to the square in support of this post.

    The thing that’s been hardest for me, because I too benefited from a divorce narrative that put me in the clear (my ex left the church AND me … and I HATE the way ward members easily blame him and conflate the two events) is the rhetoric of the family.

    You are right about the idealization of that mid-century nuclear family in the church, and hey, it’s nice work if you can get it. But it sure does leave a bunch of others out in the cold. The implication often is that God loves intact families best. I am guessing that a majority of my ward believes that.


    Maybe if I try the killer heels trick … :)

  95. I agree with those who have said we need to center our teaching and our lives on the Savior. Our Sacrament Meeting talks should focus on him. Our lessons should focus on Him. Our hearts should be centered on Him.

    I can recall that Elder Bednar when he was bishop asked that every lesson and talk include the atonement in some way. Much healing would occur in the Church if that happened. When we take our focus off of the Savior and on to something else–whether it is the family, football, or fashion–we lose the Spirit.

  96. How would you want a Primary music leader to handle “mine is a home” and “families can be together” type of songs? When in that calling, I pretty much avoided them if possible (not possible=time to choose a favorite song and a child chooses that song). I avoided them out of sensitivity to the children who might be pained if we sang them. But then I wondered if I was doing them or the other children a disservice, especially when a child whose parents had been through a recent divorce wanted to sing it. Was my oversensitivity removing a source of comfort for him? Was I failing to teach doctrine regarding the family that would have been a strength to him? I don’t know. I still avoided those songs, though.

    I get the Color Purple story. I fear I have been on the wrong side of it way too often. I confess that I don’t know how to act in a way that will minimize pain and promote true fellowship. But every time I read your writing, Tracy, I want even more to be an ally in creating an environment where everyone feels at home.

  97. Here’s what we don’t hear a lot of in Sacrament meeting or Sunday School: People talking about how terrible it is to be divorced, or single, or in any other arrangement other than a happy, temple-sealed family.

    No, the problem, such as it is, seems to be that we praise good families, idealize them. And this understandably makes people feel bad, because they don’t have it.

    I feel for them, I really do. I think our leaders feel deeply for them, hence the exhortation to YSA Men to get married at the most recent General Conference. But if my children aren’t told how wonderful married life in the gospel can be, why would they choose it over what the world has to offer? When my son reaches age 18 or 19, he can choose to sleep with a different girl every weekend. He could do this for a long time, without the “hassle” of supporting a wife and kids. Why would he leave that temptation behind if he doesn’t think there’s something better waiting for him down the road?

    Yes, I know, teach Jesus Christ and him crucified. I will. But we are weak, and we need all the help we can get. I will teach my kids that celestial marriage is the goal to aspire to, that it brings transcendent happiness. I will teach them this because 1) it’s true, and 2) the world with its enticements will take them away if they can’t see the promised land.

    None of this is meant to take away from anyone else’s grief. If we learn anything from 2 Nephi 2, it is that you can’t even comprehend what is good without the existence of the bad. My marriage brings me so much happiness precisely because I shudder to think of how miserable I would be without my wife.

  98. MC, what happens when your kids’ temple marriage doesn’t bring transcendent happiness? When the agency of their spouse rips them apart and leaves them questioning what they did wrong?

    There is nothing wrong with telling our kids of the happiness that can be found in our unions. There is a middle ground though, between “get married and start having babies because it’s the only righteous way to happiness” and “sleep with a different girl every weekend”.

    I don’t feel bad because I don’t have the “ideal” family- I feel bad because it’s pointed out to me nearly constantly that I don’t have what has been idealized at the “ideal family”. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that my children are better off now with me than they were in the situation their father created. That’s not something I should have to explain to everyone- or even anyone- to prove that my family is legitimate.

  99. Okay, I’ve posted my 2007 Divorce lesson based on Elder Oaks’ conference talk, at Keepa. I’m not trying to poach readers and would be happy if comments were posted here instead of there, if relevant. I just thought it might help such an important discussion if there were a specific talk or lesson to pick apart for examples of what helps and what hurts.

  100. Thank you, Ardis.

  101. Tracy,
    I would never, ever question the “legitimacy” of your family. I have no doubt that your kids are better off with you alone than in your previous marriage. But surely you would prefer that things hadn’t happened the way they did with your ex-husband. You say, “I don’t have what has been idealized at the “ideal family”.” Do you mean to say that a loving father and mother, married with children is not a true ideal? That its only an “ideal family” because we have “idealized” it? I don’t think you do believe that, but that is the implication.

    Notice how you interpreted my comment as “get married and start having babies because it’s the only righteous way to happiness.” I didn’t say that, and I don’t believe that. It’s just too easy to interpret what other people say as an attack on you. Is it really be constantly “pointed out” to you that you don’t have the ideal family? Or does it just feel that way?

    As far as what I would do if my kids’ temple marriage doesn’t turn out the way it ought? Let’s look at this through another prism. We emphasize missions for young men; it’s nearly the singular goal of the YM organization. Yet some young men cannot or will not go on missions. And no doubt this emphasis results in feelings of ostracization real or imagined. So should we do away with all the emphasis on missions? How many young men would go? How many people would not hear the gospel? I would still love my son if he didn’t go on a mission, but that won’t keep me from emphasizing the importance of serving one.

    Likewise, the emphasis on temple marriage and families in general surely helps many young people make the right choices. I truly feel for those who cannot have this opportunity. But I can’t see how we can do away with the emphasis without losing so many to the world.

    I recognize that there is a “middle ground” between the “ideal family” and “sleeping around.” I’m not teaching my kids to shoot for the “middle ground.” But should we seek to help and include those who are in the middle ground? Of course.

  102. “I can say without a shadow of a doubt that my children are better off now with me than they were in the situation their father created. That’s not something I should have to explain to everyone- or even anyone- to prove that my family is legitimate.”

    That is one of the most profound statements I have read in the Bloggernacle – ever.

  103. jimbob says:

    “I don’t feel bad because I don’t have the ‘ideal’ family- I feel bad because it’s pointed out to me nearly constantly that I don’t have what has been idealized at the ‘ideal family’. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that my children are better off now with me than they were in the situation their father created. That’s not something I should have to explain to everyone- or even anyone- to prove that my family is legitimate.”

    I have two sisters in your situation, and I’ve heard similar sentiments from both of them many times, and so I’m very sympathetic. But I wonder if the above comment’s use of the terms “ideal” and “legitimate” is really what this issue is all about. Is it just semantics, or is there a difference between not having the “ideal” family and having an “illegitimate” family? I wonder if we preach the former without intending the latter but most single members nonetheless hear the latter. Maybe I’m parsing the words too closely.

    FWIW, I think MikeInWeHo in 90 nails the issue precisely, which is to say that there aren’t a lot of easy answers here.

  104. jimbob says:

    Sorry, in 93, not 90.

  105. Sigh.

  106. C Jones says:

    I feel sad that someone might want to punch me in the face when I bear my testimony about some hard-fought victory– in my home life or anywhere else.

  107. If you think that’s what I was saying, I have utterly missed the mark should stop writing. Thanks for chiming in everyone. Comments are now closed. I’m tired.

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