Raising Children in a Mormon Family

I’ve been hesitant to write about the topic of religion for a number of reasons, although it’s important to me. Maybe I haven’t found the right tone yet. Or maybe I’m still working through a number of questions myself and don’t want to draw conclusions here on my blog only to change my mind later.

I was raised a Mormon in Ogden, Utah. My mother grew up in a strict Mormon home. My father did not. But once they married, they were loyal members of this dominant religion in Utah.

The only time I did not attend church for three hours each Sunday morning was when I was sick. I may have faked an illness when church overlapped with a Steelers game, but most weeks I was there in a light blue suit and clip on tie passing the bread and water as young priesthood holder.

I assumed everyone was a Mormon until I was well into my teens. Utah is one of the few places that could happen. It was a big deal to my friends and family when I asked a Catholic girl to a school dance. I don’t believe we ever talked about religion, and it’s probably for the better.

It wasn’t until I served as a missionary in Germany that I become acquainted with other religions. There certainly wasn’t a shortage of people ready to tell me how foolish I was to belong to such a strange and strict religion. I learned one way to diffuse their attacks was to ask them about their own beliefs. The more I listened, the more they opened up to me. Over time, I learned about the Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and many others. Most were Christian, but some were not. I remember one man called himself a naturalist. He believed God was “in the trees and the leaves”. They didn’t teach us how to respond to such a person at the Mission Training Center in Provo, Utah.

The reason I refer back to my upbringing is because I now realize my eyes and mind were closed until I went to Germany. Until that time, I only discussed religious topics that confirmed what I already believed. None of my friends challenged me because they all possessed the same beliefs I did.

And I wonder if that’s what best for my kids.

Isn’t it a bit arrogant to assume that what’s best for me is also what’s best for my children?

We live in Seattle where my kids are exposed to a diverse group of children at school. Hopefully lead to more discussions among their friends, and they will see that many good people have beliefs that differ from their own. In Utah, I was able to select friends who attended the same church I did. If my children were to do that, they’d have one or two friends total.

I can’t help but see myself in my son each week at church. He attends church because we expect him to attend with our family. He’s respectful and reverent. He even occasionally sings. But much of the time, he props his chin up, crosses his legs and stares off into space. I can certainly relate because I did that every week as a kid.

I hope my children find the same peace and joy I’ve found by belonging to my faith. Most parents would feel the same way. I want them to experience my religion without having it shoved down their throats. I’m trying to share my experiences with them, but give them the leeway to find their own way. I believe parents who are militant about their beliefs find that level of control only works up to a certain age. Eventually, the child will rebel and take off in the opposite direction. I don’t want that.

My views on religion continue to be a work in progress. When I returned from my mission where I had to wear a suit and tie seven days a week, I needed a break from it all. Living something so intensely for two years extracted a toll on my system. I’m constantly searching for balance. I was religious for two years but was I spiritual? I’m still asking myself that question after twenty years.

And like Lincoln, I occasionally stare off into space during church meetings. That’s when I do some of my most productive thinking.

Trying to make sense of this mixed up world.

Comments

  1. As an evangelical missionary currently in Brazil I can sympathize with this post. My eyes didn't get opened until I also left the confines of the states. Let me know what you discover, we have 3 kids.

  2. I had an adult friend who gave me some interesting insight about “finding religion” as he was experiencing it.

    He grew up in a family where the mother and father were semi-active in two different faiths. As a result, the parents would occasionally take the children with them to church and allow them to choose which they wanted to attend. The parents did not provide any real religious teaching in their home. As the children grew to adolescence, they could choose to stay home, skipping church completely. By the time he left home as an adult, he had no deep religious knowledge nor conviction. When I met him as an adult he was beginning to explore his spiritual needs and learn about different religions as a way to fill those needs.

    His interesting statement came when I described my own deeply LDS focused religious upbringing. He stated “I wish my parents had given me a religious foundation like yours did. If I had a deep understanding and experience of one religion, any one, my adult search for what works for me would be easier. Right now I have little to compare against.”

    Give your children a deep experience in something. As adults, they will get exposed to more things but will need a firm foundation of knowledge on which to build and compare.

  3. You aren't tested when you're still in the kiddy pool. It's like that for other things besides religions; the idea applies to all belief systems.

    As a youth in Missouri, all of my neighbors were either professed or practicing Christians of some sort. You didn't talk about religion much other than at church related classes and functions, or maybe on holidays at home. Likewise it didn't come up as an issue at schools and such. Every school celebrated Christmas and Easter.

    I was fortunate though to have had my interest sparked during my teen years about other religions. This lead to several hours of reading on Hinduism, Buddhism, and other faiths. Unfortunately I wasn't heavily exposed in the real world enough to really understand much.

    Now as an adult I love the opportunity to mix/mingle with folks of other faiths. Likely we won't agree on everything, or anything, but I try to respect their beliefs. It's tough some days. I get frustrated as much as the next guy when I feel folks don't understand me or my beliefs. It's become easy to dismiss Christians as the bad guys of religious folks. The wannabes of faith.

    We can do our best to raise our kids by raising them to respectful of others' beliefs, be willing to explore their own, and to always grow their own understanding of their relationship to God.

  4. That's a good point about providing children with a strong foundation. My hope is that by doing so they will have time to explore whatever they'd like when they are interested in doing so. I didn't cover this in my post but our church provides many opportunities for our children to serve others, speak in public and interact with many good people on a weekly basis. Those are all qualities that should serve them well into adulthood.

  5. I know people bag on “Utah Mormons” a lot and I think it is oft times unwarranted, but there is one reason we decided to not stay there and it is very similar to what you talked about. The world is so small there. Your school, neighborhood, and church congregation are all the same people. And if you have a problem with that group, it is everywhere. I wanted my children to have different experiences. Their friends at school are Jewish, or Greek Orthodox, or nothing at all. Their church friends relate different experience from their different schools. Their neighborhood friends are bound by near reach to play, but not always near ages or other factors. I think this helps children examine who they are and what they believe much more quickly than if it were all the same group of children. Plus, they have varying relationships with each group as they learn and grow and have different needs and interests.

  6. I appreciate your honesty, Brett.
    I never really had the notion to stop going to church growing up, much less explore other churches. It always felt right.
    As a parent, I tried to provide them with opportunities to feel the Spirit and find out for themselves. The true test has been what happens when they are on their own. So far, so good. My oldest daughter is probably more spiritually mature than I am.

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