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…