One morning as I drove my kids to their swim lessons I overheard Remy, who is five, tell Thea, who is three, “I know four people: Heavenly Father, the Holy Ghost, Jesus and Heavenly Mother.” I think they both must have nodded in agreement because I didn’t hear much else on the topic, but those few words Remy said so confidently have stayed with me. I didn’t speak the words Heavenly Mother aloud until I was in college, and even then it felt subversive and a little rebellious. I remember saying it in my testimony and I’m sure it didn’t sound entirely natural as I still stumbled and paused at the words.
For me, much has changed since those college years, and I have so many brave people to attribute that to. Conversations, books, poems, lessons, artwork, encouragement all set me up to explore my own personal relationship with Her in my late 20’s and forward. I love that my children have no need to feel subversive in speaking about Heavenly Parents. They are being raised up by a community that is better becoming acquainted with Her. I love many things about the new book Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families by McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spaulding with artwork by Caitlin Connolly but the invaluable space they offer to children to think about a Heavenly Mother in conjunction with a Heavenly Father, along with the books inclusivity of different types of families, makes me so happy to have it on my bookshelf.
The illustrations are absolutely beautiful and the writing clear, concise and evocative. In our home we have been taking the book a page at a time, spending time at the end to work through the questions at the end of each page. Specific gender roles are not a part of the text, which feels increasingly important to me as I am raising both a little boy and a little girl.
I asked McArthur some questions about the writing of the book, her inspiration and motivation, her experiences both living in India and having a slightly different than Mormon normal family story, and what it is like to publish and work with Deseret Book on a project like this that is the first of its kind. She has some really great things to say!
What is your relationship to a Heavenly Mother and how has it changed through the writing of this book? How do you hope to see that relationship change for our younger generations?
McArthur: For me, a Heavenly Mother is such an important doctrine in so many ways. I live in the Magic Land of India and this presents both glorious opportunities and daunting challenges. However, when it comes to church doctrine, I feel the strength that we offer the world lies in being true to what we know.
We need to be VERY clear that marriages are made of equal partners and that women are not second-class citizens. This is an eternal truth that India (and the whole world) sorely needs. I think talking about Heavenly Mother helps. I understand we do not know everything about Her, but we do know some key doctrines. Our book covers much of what we know— how She loves us, is involved in our lives, helped create the plan for our time on earth. These are important things to know to carry us through life’s journey.
Between Bethany and me, we have six daughters. We feel talking of our Heavenly Mother matters to the church and world, but also matters to us personally. Recently, I have benefitted from knowing my Heavenly Mother is aware of me, my shortcomings, the desires of my heart— and still loves me. I needed a Mother’s love.
For India specifically, talking about a Heavenly Mother just makes sense to people coming from a Hindu faith where there are female goddesses. It is not an off-putting doctrine. Additionally, if Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father are partners, then a man and wife working in tandem also makes more sense. I can’t tell you how important this eternal doctrine is. Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother as divine partners could counteract the staggering chauvinism that exist in society. For example, here you cannot find out the sex of your unborn child because too many people in India abort girls. That’s severe bigotry before she’s even born! If we truly believe that men and women are co-equals in marriage and that women are not second class citizens with God or church, this could be a massive shift in culture here.
However, if we see the equality of our Heavenly Parents, then we need to ensure all of our programs and policies are in line with this doctrine. These changes would make a big difference in how the younger generation sees gender. If our YM and YW budgets are equal, we send the message that we value investing in the development of both. (And, obviously, if they are not equal we send a very different message.) If our Primary manuals have stories of both girls and boys, then both get to see how they can model their faithfulness. If we spend so much time talking to our YW about the importance of motherhood, then doesn’t it make sense to offer them the ultimate model?
These things matter— and acknowledging Heavenly Mother can help us understand and value equality.
What was it like to work with Deseret Book on a book like this? Less and less so, speaking about a Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father together seems subversive or scary, but for most of my life, it actually has been kind of a hushed concept to bring her name into daily spiritual vocabulary. Was part of your motivation in doing this book, and doing it through Deseret Book to bring a Heavenly Mother into a more common Mormon vernacular? Have you found any pushback as you’ve done that, or have you found receptivity and a desire to speak about Her among people?
Deseret Book has been wonderful to work with. They were very concerned about being inclusive to all kinds of family. Both we and Deseret Book had reviewers from different family structures such as single, married, single parent, divorced, widowed, etc weigh in on the text to ensure we were being as sensitive as possible. We also were being aware of ethnic diversity in the art. Inclusivity in many forms was of utmost importance to all of us.
For both Deseret Book and us, one of the key aspects of how we handled speaking of Heavenly Mother is that we wanted to be completely aligned with modern-day revelation. And there is more revelation than most of us know! While I personally believe there is room to extrapolate or wonder or explore, a children’s book like this was not the place. So, in the text we ensured that whatever we said about Heavenly Mother was backed up by quotes from our leaders, often General Authorities and prophets. To us this was important as I wanted to be very aware of what we are teaching to children versus what I can explore as an adult curious thinker. And, Deseret Book was great. They were exactly on the same page and so keeping us accurate in our research and subsequent descriptions was important to all of us.
And yes, we do hope this helps people feel more comfortable in including Heavenly Mother in their language. We have found a mix of reactions to that part of the book— some people cried, shouted with joy (literally), and some were much more reserved as they preferred that She not become common. However, for us, framing the beautiful eternal nature of our doctrine without a Mother just seems lacking a vital part.
I recently saw a Primary handout entitled “My Heavenly Family Photo”— and it felt like a punch. Where was our Heavenly Mother? I have a very loving, warm, present earthly mother… but I know not all of us do. However, we know from latter-day revelation that we all DO have a Heavenly Mother who wants what is best for us and actively cares for us. Why does our handout not teach this doctrine? Won’t children benefit from learning this? We HAVE a divine Mother… that matters to me and the world.
This book also embraces the possibility that families can take very different shape, and also does work to include aunts, uncles or friends in the definition of family, even if they don’t necessarily fit the standard Mormon mold of “family”. Can you speak some to how those ideas played into the book? I know that many of my single friends, relatives and ward members have been hurt and left out as worship of the nuclear family has become more and more prevalent, do you consider this book and other work you do an attempt to temper and change those attitudes? What do you think Mormons can do better to be more inclusive of people who don’t fit the “mold” while still holding the family sacred?
McArthur: The inclusivity of the family structure was absolutely intentional. A recent reviewer said it better than we did— the structure was not as important as the purpose and potential. I think this is one of the realities I’ve hit as an adult. My current family life is nothing like what I thought it would be…. or imagined back in my days as a cheery Mia Maid. I got married when I was 37. Being a rockstar aunt mattered a lot to me before then and still does. I call some nephews I spent a lot of time with my “true love nephews”— and I mean it still. I have step children and biological and maybe some more types will join along the way. I have people I love I call “sister-friends”… one roommate I lived with longer than my own blood sisters. (I went to college at 17 and one of my sisters is 13 years younger so I only lived in the same house as her for four years.)
I hope this book lets everyone feel included because, to me, that’s the reality of life. Our family is what we make of it. I once read a scene in a book with a big rowdy family sitting at a dinner table— but the family was made up of loved ones from wherever… a neighbor, a priest, in-laws, friends, children official and not. Family is a collection of love. So, while we can hold the doctrine of family as sacred, I think we need to expand what that definition is and acknowledge it might mean different things to different people.
Family life is, to me, a little insane. And then when I start talking to people they invariably laugh and say, “mine too!”— but in totally different ways. Bethany and I used the term “quirky”to describe families— and we both know exactly what that looks like in our own lives!
This book has done a wonderful job of blurring lines between gender roles, there are no phrases that suggest that only a mother can care for children while only a father can work. How does these ideas work in conjunction for you with the Proclamation to the Family? How does your understanding of and relationship to a Heavenly Mother change your reading of that document, if at all, and did it have anything to do with the creation of this book?
For me, the overarching role we have been given by our Heavenly Parents is that of love. I was going to say “responsibility” but that is simply too dry. Yes, we have a divine responsibility to care for our children but we are to LOVE THEM. Now, to me this is SACRED in all caps sacred. It simple IS. However, the how of going about this big job is wide open. We have the correct principle… and we need to govern ourselves. Each family gets to decide how the needs of the individuals and family unit are best met.
In my family, at least right now, there is a husband and wife and he works in an office and brings home a paycheck while I am a full-time Mom to our one-year old. That’s what makes sense to us right now. But even in that more traditional arrangement there is nothing traditional about how we tackle everything else. My husband is a gooey baby-lover— and that’s a great gift to our family life as he nurtures our baby when he gets home. I regularly go to his office to help on projects that tap into my professional expertise. The fact is, everyone has to make family life/love/responsibilities work in whatever way works for them. And the rest of us need to not judge. Sounds pretty simple— we all know it’s not! And, that is another core message of the book— family life is a work in progress. Cut yourself some slack and know that imperfect but beloved is just fine.
Anything else you’d like to add?
McArthur: Because it’s our book and because we worked hard and then handed it off, I honestly forget that it matters. We felt inspired to write this book and I can see why… it MATTERS that people have the inspiration and energy to invest in family life. Whatever that looks like— we hope that our book inspires people to make family beautiful.
You can purchase the book at Amazon Prime here:
Or Deseret Book here:
If you’re in the Bay Area, there is information for an event this Sunday the 18th: