My family: a proclamation to the world

My Facebook feed tells me it’s the 20-year anniversary of The Family: A Proclamation to the World, so I thought it would be appropriate to write something about the family. I’ve been thinking a lot about the family lately. My family, I mean. (What family were you thinking of?) It’s been eighteen years and four months since Brother J and I started the family, and I guess this is as good a time as any to let you all know how it’s going.

The good:

Everyone is finally toilet trained. Which is pretty impressive, considering our youngest is only nine. (She was actually the prodigy of the family, fully trained both day and night at four and a half. We thought of having her tested for giftedness, but we were too busy enjoying our diaper-free lifestyle to get around to it.)

No one is pregnant. Especially not me.

Everyone is capable of sitting quietly in sacrament meeting. They don’t even need snacks. (Unless Tic Tacs count as snacks, in which case, screw you, at least it’s not an iPad.) In the event that one of them is incapable of sitting quietly in sacrament meeting, she is capable of removing herself to the foyer. Okay, sometimes I have to give her a little nudge. Or shove, if you will. But I don’t have to pick her up and carry her out anymore, which is awesome because although she’s short for her 17 years, she’s still way too big for me to lift.

Everyone remembers to do their household chores when threatened.

We have developed many fun family traditions. Waffles and ice cream on Christmas. Going out for hamburgers after the Saturday morning session of General Conference. The annual visit to the Enchanted Forest—a poor man’s Disneyland that makes up in low-brow charm what it lacks in actual attractions. Rooting for the Ducks and against BYU. Answering every earnest inquiry with “Your face.” Mocking Grandma behind her back (and occasionally to her face—or YOUR FACE). Making funeral potatoes for Easter dinner and afterward watching Easter Dream.

We manage to have Family Home Evening almost every Monday. Sometimes it gets pre-empted if a child has a school activity or Brother J and I have an important metal concert to attend, but otherwise–like clockwork, baby! We don’t do an opening song anymore because everyone seems to have outgrown a tolerance for their parents’ singing, and sometimes the “lesson” is perfunctory—we also have a rather loose definition of “home”—but there are always refreshments. And you know what they say: as long as there’s an opening prayer and refreshments, it’s kosher. Or whatever the Mormon word for kosher is. (What is the Mormon word for kosher? “Appropriate”?)

We read scriptures as a family every evening. If everyone’s there and it’s earlier than 10:30 p.m., we will actually study the scriptures—as in read a passage and discuss it. (I’m delighted to say that Brother J fulfills his patriarchal role by taking the lead with this crap. If it were up to me, we’d just be reading from romance novels and serial killer books. He’s truly a spiritual giant, and if I manage to make it to the Celestial Kingdom, it will be because of him and despite myself.) If not everyone’s there, or it’s like, midnight, one of us will just pick an inspirational verse at random (some of us have a looser definition of “inspirational” and more faithfully adhere to the “random” part), say a prayer, and call it good. (And you know what they say: as long as you say a prayer, it’s all good. Also, appropriate.)

The bad—or should I say, the challenges:

Everyone leaves their dirty socks wadded up in little balls in random places around the house. Seriously, what the hell? Also, they routinely put trash in the kitchen sink. WHY, PEOPLE? WHY?

They are such prima donnas about food. First of all, they expect to be fed dinner every single night. While it’s true that none of them is a picky eater, there are very few meals that no one hates. One person’s favorite is another person’s vomit-inducing tragedy. If I told them I didn’t feel like cooking and they could just eat cold cereal, they would probably call an abuse hotline. Also, every single night, without fail, while I am preparing dinner, each one will come up to me in turn and ask, “What’s for dinner?” Even if it’s perfectly obvious—or should be—what’s for dinner. There’s a huge pot of boiling water on the stove and a saucepan full of marinara sauce. It’s not some esoteric new recipe. I can’t explain why this bothers me so much, unless it’s just that I’ve developed some Pavlovian response after years of informing people what was for dinner and invariably being met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm from one or more directions. Why do you even need to know what’s for dinner? Are you expecting another offer? Why can’t you just let it be a surprise? (Or take a wild stab—YES, IT’S SPAGHETTI! AGAIN!!)

My husband thinks that just because I’m home all day, I don’t have an excuse for not checking the mail. Dude, I’m home. The mailbox is across the street. Yeah, I’ll just check it on my way to picking up your dirty, wadded-up socks and Otter Pop wrappers you left in front of the couch. That will be totally convenient for me!

Getting the kids in bed is still a 90-120 minute ritual. How is this even possible?

But the hardest thing is that after seventeen and almost-one-half years, I’m still not a very good parent. I’m not a bad parent. For instance, I’m not as bad at parenting as I am at housekeeping. Well, I dunno, some days it’s probably a toss-up, but in general, I feel pretty unequal to the task. I think I’m doing an okay job with the kids who’d probably be fine regardless of what I did, but with the kids who really need an adult who knows what she’s doing, I’m screwing up on an almost-daily basis.

I understand children don’t come with instruction manuals and no one is perfect. I vividly recall the nervous breakdown I had in the hospital after #3 was born (a combination of many factors, not the least of which was that my oldest had just been diagnosed with autism, but I was also mentally ill and had been living with a perpetual head cold for approximately seven months—among other things). The poor nurse who was trying to talk me down told me with compassion, “You don’t have to be the perfect housekeeper. You don’t have to be the perfect mother.” And I was like, “Who’s talking about perfect, lady? I’m talking about the absolute bare minimum. I’m not making it. I’m drowning.” Of course I didn’t say those words. She was just trying to help. Also, I was having a nervous breakdown, not so much articulating my thoughts. But I remember thinking then that nobody else got it: doing my best actually wasn’t good enough.

Once I was sitting among a group of other mothers, and one woman, talking about her strong-willed, spirited daughter, said, “Sometimes I have to just go into my room and shut the door and say, ‘Heavenly Father, you’re going to have to tell me what to do with this child because I just don’t know. She was yours first, so you must know.’” I wanted to ask, “And does he actually answer you?” I may have, but it probably got lost among everyone else’s comments. I remember thinking, sure, who hasn’t prayed for guidance with their children? There are no atheists in foxholes, as it were. But at some point these prayers, for me, became more rhetorical than petitionary. I also frequently open the refrigerator door and wonder aloud why I just did that.

It’s not that I don’t believe God answers prayers. I think he does. I also think he’s trying to teach me a lesson of some kind. I assume. I mean, I hope so. I’d hate to think he was just ignoring me. If God can truly be likened to a parent, I think it’s fair to say that just as human parents adjust their nurturing and discipline to suit different children’s personalities, God has decided that the most effective strategy to use with me is to let me figure crap out on my own. Sort of like I think my kids should do with dinner. Unfortunately, I’m not living up to my potential. Sort of like my oldest. When I see her struggling and suffering and reaping the consequences of her choices, when she insists that I just don’t understand, or worse, that I don’t care, and I insist back that I do understand, I do care, but I can’t help her, that I would if I could but I literally can not— I picture God up there going, “Yeah, that’s right. See how it feels?” And I’m like, “Touche, God. Touche.”

Believe me, my child, I know exactly how you feel.

Comments

  1. >If God can truly be likened to a parent, I think it’s fair to say that just as human parents adjust their nurturing and discipline to suit different children’s personalities, God has decided that the most effective strategy to use with me is to let me figure crap out on my own.

    Awesome metaphor!

  2. This is the best proclamation on the family I have ever read!

  3. From someone who has been to Enchanted Forest a few times, thanks for a tribute that I can truly get behind.

    All I really remember about the night 20 years ago was sitting in a branch building in Wisconsin with one other woman, who just started crying partway through. I thoroughly freaked out the member of the branch presidency who was there by telling the woman that if it was important doctrine that it would not have been given in the RS session, and that she could ignore everything that wasn’t confirmed by the Spirit.

    In her talk the following day she finished by sharing her testimony that not eveything from Salt Lake was true, and that her prayers last night had confirmed that the Spirit had told her that families looked a lot different than the talk the night before had talked about. I still consider her talk authoritative on the subject.

  4. Perfect, Rebecca. Thank you!

  5. Hope Wiltfong says:

    I love this. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Yeah Enchanted Forest! That’s my local spot!

    Sometimes I hate Internet annonymity because I bet we live close to each other and if we knew each other IRL we’d totally schedule an EF trip together for a joint FHE.

  7. Delightful. Well, except for the second half, to which I can only intone: There but for the grace of God go I.

  8. I know the post is meant to be humorous, but to me, it reflects the reality that most LDS families are “normal.” We read the bloggernacle and hear of extremes in LDS culture, but by and large, most LDS families are very similar to their non-LDS friends and neighbors. Hopefully people can feel a different spirit when they enter our homes, but it doesn’t exempt us from the struggles all families face.

  9. IMPORTANT METAL CONCERT

    <3

  10. Oh my socks.

    Although please let me know the secret to teaching to ball up one’s socks. I’ll find one sock and know the other lurking somewhere stinkily in the vicinity. Sometimes I really wish I could zap lasers out of my eyes at them.

    At the socks, of course.

  11. Rebecca J scores again! Thanks for this hilarious and insightful post.

  12. Love this!
    I confess that if we’ve been out late somewhere is a family, we sometimes plug an iPhone into the car stereo and let the nice deep-voiced man on the scripture app read to us on the way home–after yelling at, I mean telling the kids to “be quiet back there and listen to the scriptures!”

  13. @juliathepoet

    So Relief Society is just noodly appendage to the “Priesthood”? That’s thoroughly depressing.

  14. Getting the kids in bed is still a 90-120 minute ritual. How is this even possible?

    How indeed. I’m now creating this monster for myself.

    I love this post.

  15. This was great, Rebecca J. After over 32 years, we only have one left (age 15) and we still have trouble getting to bed. We recently reviewed the elements in the Proclamation with our daughter (the nine provisions a family is built upon: faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities). Her comment was that we’re pretty good on most of them, but that on the last one, “we really suck.” We both felt that statement was too true to argue (especially with the four who are out of the nest agreeing with that provision”. What do you do?

  16. Portia, I like to think of “auxiliary” as churchspeak for “noodly appendage.”

  17. This is far more realistic than anything I’ve ever heard in a Primary song. Fabulous.

  18. it's a series of tubes says:

    I confess that if we’ve been out late somewhere is a family, we sometimes plug an iPhone into the car stereo and let the nice deep-voiced man on the scripture app read to us on the way home–after yelling at, I mean telling the kids to “be quiet back there and listen to the scriptures!”

    We tried this a few times and the actual chapters themselves went well. But the kids kept cracking up at the ridiculous, breathy approach of the lady who reads the chapter headings.

    “Nephi puts his trust in God……… FOREVER!” hehehe

  19. Outstanding meditation on reality. Well written too.

  20. With you about trash in the sink, when the kitchen garbage is only three feet away? I can only say that compared to other issues, though, maybe it’s not that big of a deal. I will just paraphrase Tolstoy and say, “All families are forever; each family is forever in its own way.”

  21. Thank you for your candor, Rebecca. How I wish there were more of it among the members!

  22. it’s a series of tubes: perhaps we’ll see the audio versions on the Gospel Library App somewhere in the definitive rankings of BEST INVENTIONS EVER.

  23. Steve Evans says:

    Don’t hold your breath, Terry.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m framing this and putting it up on my wall.

  25. Another happy Enchanted Forest visitor here. I’m glad there are such real people close by, but I wish I knew who they were.

  26. Oh yeah, breathy-UT-accent scripture heading lady gets mocked here too I’m afraid :D

  27. Joanna spencer says:

    My moms reply on the ” what’s for dinner? ” question was always the same. ” pigs feet and coffee grounds”

  28. Kathleen Petty says:

    Yes, the “what’s for dinner” question made me instantly livid. Twenty years later and I still don’t know why.

  29. Let’s all commit to stop with the good/bad parent mentality. Let’s stop with disclaimers like “I know I’m not perfect,” because that just opens the door to comparison and judgment.

    Instead, let’s try (meaning let’s all make the conscious effort and anticipate mistakes) to embrace our foibles. Because our comparing ourselves to a standard that WE are creating for ourselves (not the Church, not society, not our neighborhood playgroups) is no different than our future sons and daughters beating themselves up for “over-eating” and “under-achieving.” Let’s stop feeling sorry for our shortcomings and retrain our dialect to resonate with: “I’m so glad to be your fallible, dysfunctional parent—you chose me for my strengths and weaknesses. And I yours. I’d have it no other way. And thank goodness God sometimes answers prayers through our therapists.” Let’s give ourselves more credit and not let Satan make us feel anything less. After all: we’re in control, not him. The Proc of the Fam gives us the comfort of knowing that in spite of our runneth-over laundry piles, the fruit fly cloud above the over-ripened bananas, we are worth our eternal potential because we are working toward it, not against it.

    And I personally have every intention of self-serve cold cereal family dinners in the CK because that’s the wonderful world that I want—and deserve—to create. 😘