Children — not possessions, not position, not prestige — are our greatest status symbols

OK, I know I probably shouldn’t be posting my own personal complaint about the talk that has already been deconstructed all over the Bloggernacle. But all this debate over career vs. getting your whites whiter than white seems to have missed what (to me) was the most disturbing thing in the entire talk.

This idea that children are jewels that sparkle brilliantly as they reflect the rays of their mother’s righteousness — that a mom’s status and prestige comes from her children’s accomplishments — is a staple of Mormon culture, as is the one-upmanship that naturally follows: noting how neatly turned-out the children are for church, counting how many eagle scouts the mother produced and how many missionaries, and judging the Mom’s righteousness accordingly. (The Tales from the Crib article was the only one I saw that hit on the question of competitive motherhood.) Beck has essentially come out and stated it directly: your children (not worldy possessions or honors!) are what make you look good.

Obviously children’s accomplishments (good and bad) reflect on the parents. But I like to imagine that’s not the point of having kids, and that it’s not the kids’ job to be walking evidence of their parents’ talents; that’s not how we value them as people.

But when you take a highly achievement-oriented culture and add that a woman’s only vocation is to be a mom, the result is mistaking families for scorecards and children for jewelry.

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chanson

C. L. Hanson is the friendly American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! See "letters from a broad" and the novel ExMormon for further adventures!!

27 thoughts on “Children — not possessions, not position, not prestige — are our greatest status symbols

  1. Great post, Carol. A development psychologist with whom I studied statistics once told me that the harder you try to be in control of your children, the less you are.

    Religion is ultimately a matter of conscience, not righteousness. Too many Mormon parents forget that. The advice of many Mormon authorities is not only counterproductive because it either repels the children or breaks their will but also places an undue burden on the parents.

    We do not own our children and have to respect their judgement. That’s the most productive way if one is interested in having close family relationships.

    Children have to be free to express their opinions, especially about matters of conscience, which includes religion.

  2. Well, since the prophet himself stated that wives are a husband’s most precious possession, it naturally follows in the “hierarchy” of the family that children are the parents’ most precious possession.

    Well stated, chanson.

    The most disturbing thing for me about the talk was the baldly stated “fact” that women’s primary power is in the home. She says that like it’s a good thing?!? I think it’s *a* source of power, not *the* source of power. That made my blood pressure spike a bit, I must say.

  3. Hellmut — Yes, and that’s essentially why this talk was of interest to me as an exmo (when normally I don’t care what is said at conference). Mormon parents are encouraged to assess themselves by viewing their children according to LDS standards of success. To me, the way to love and respect childrens as individials involves letting them discover what they’re good at and what makes them happy — rather than choosing their goals for them.

    Some of the segments of my novel relate to this same topic, especially temple wedding.

    CWC — the thing about viewing the home as the source of a woman’s power was disturbing to me as well. Of course you can be an influence for good thorough your children, but if this is your unique source of power, there’s a danger of trying too hard to control them, as Hellmut discussed.

  4. Hellmut

    You sound like you know a lot about child rearing and what works best. Just wondering which studies you rely upon to reach your conclusions. They seem to keep you well informed as to appropriate parenting strategies vis a vis religion and I would like to read them to be equally as well-informed.

    You said: “We do not own our children and have to respect their judgement [sic]”

    Yes, because we all know that kids are not kids, they’re actually little adults with fully developed thought processes, regardless of what adolescent psychologists try to tell us with all of their hateful propaganda. When I was ten, I didn’t want to clean up my room, wash the dishes, or do my homework. Thank goodness my parents didn’t respect my judgment and made me do all of those things.

    Chanson

    Certain schools of Judaism hold the same views as what Sister Beck said in her talk. Consider the quotation by Rabbi Debra Orenstein:

    “In truth, if not in justice, the curses of sin are commonly passed down for three and four generations. A man beats his daughter, and it affects her parenting. Her wounds wound her child. Then that child raises children, reacting to, and perhaps passing on, the consequences of a grandfather’s sin. Certainly, the cycle can be broken, but three and four generations live and make choices in the shadow of the sin. Our verse [She is refereeing to Exodus 20:5] is not prescriptive: here is your punishment for an ancestor’s sin. Rather, it is descriptive: here is a lesson about how sin works in families.”

    Sister Beck was using a metaphor to illustrate what I believe was her most important point: the influence parents have over the next generations. If you value your children the most, you put most of your resources there to help them develop and become productive members of society. And the happiness that comes from watching your children’s accomplishments is more valuable than owning a plasma TV or getting an empty accolade from your CEO ever will be.

  5. DCP — clearly the effort one spends on parenting is valuable and has an effect. My point is that this should ideally be motivated by concern for the child’s well-being, not for the parent’s. That’s not the message in President Beck’s talk when she tells us that teaching MTC lessons in advance is the way for a woman to have influence and power.

  6. I certainly feel the pressure to have the best looking kids (done) most intelligent (pretty dang smart for a four year old, an 11 year old, and a one year old) the boldest (Chas, well, he scares a lot of other parents when he climbs the Skinner butte columns). I have the best kids and I am not doing a damn thing. hehe.

    Seriously though.

    Anytime there are standards set ,in any situation, there is always the pressure to have the appearance of doing the right thing.

    That does not mean the standards are inherently bad.
    It is not bad to raise kids with the expectation that they will meet the goals of going on a mission, getting sealed (pun intended), etc. Just as it is not wrong to expect your kids to graduate high school.

    You get into trouble as a parent if you don’t accept it if your child can’t or won’t reach those goals. You can aim for “perfection” when doing so, you have to realize that you will fall short.

  7. Wayne — I’m going to say yes and no. I think it is perfectly reasonable to hope that your children will grow up to be self-sufficient, happy, and successful (although the definition of successful can vary wildly from one child to another). These goals are naturally motivated by love for the child and concern for the child’s well-being.

    But I really feel like the LDS church encourages parents to set very, very specific goals for the children — regardlesss of the child’s individual talents, aptitudes, and interests — and that they back it up by appealing to the mother’s desire to have something to show for her life. That’s what was encouraged by President Beck’s talk, and from experience (personal and observed) I can tell you that it is damaging to both mothers and children who don’t fit the LDS perfection mold.

  8. Chanson — to which very, very, specific goals are you referring? Getting married in the temple, going on a mission or getting a good education seem to be general goals. I am unaware of other goals that the Mormon church is pushing on its adherents. And I know parents, Mormon and non-Mormon, who try to live vicariously through their kids and try to force the kids to be successful in ways that the parents weren’t. It’s not a function of religion. Plus what you are arguing the Mormon church does contradicts what Dallin H. Oaks said in his talk at the same conference. He said that parents shouldn’t try to completely structure their children’s time. Perhaps the Golden Mean is the best way?

  9. DPC, I was actually thinking about adults who are getting grief from their parents over matters of conscience. My apologies for the confusion.

    Having said that, I still think that it is a good idea to respect the conscience of little children as well. Of course, parents have a role in keeping children safe, educating them and seeing to it that they learn to respect the rights of others.

    That does not include asking toddlers to bear testimony that confuses the love for one’s parents for the LDS Church or to have them sing songs that indoctrinate them to follow the prophet or to go on a mission when the children have no concept of what that means.

    That is especially important when our adult children decide to pursue different religious paths than us. Rather than keeping families together, sad experience shows that Mormonism tends to separate families because the believers refuse to respect choices that do not reflect their own priorities.

    I understand, of course, why parents would be disappointed but it is not their life. Adults have to respect other adults, especially in matters of conscience.

    As for literature, you might want to start with the work of David R. Cross of Texas Christian University. Feel free to come back when you are done and I will be happy to recommend other work about parenting to you.

  10. What’s general about going on a mission, DCP? How much more specific can you be?

    Then there are prescriptions about clothing, ear rings, tattoos, movies, music, and literature. The check list is the most important genre of contemporary Mormon culture.

  11. To Hellmut’s list, I’d add that an expectation to marry in the temple proscribes choice of a mate in some very specific ways. I have more than one friend who separated from their choice of a mate because of the expectation to only marry a mormon. I’ve seen more than one parent bring harsh and inappropriate pressure to bear on an adult child to separate from a loved one who was not mormon–sometimes successfully. I’ve seen others withdraw affection or change their relationship to one of judgement and proselyting when a child refused to succumb to such pressure. I’ve myself eliminated the possibility of relationships with non-mormons I was very attracted to and compatible with because I knew what kind of a martyrdom melt-down my parents would have if I were to get serious with a non-mormon.

    An expectation of a temple marriage is not a non-specific goal imposed by a parent. In fact, marriage in and of itself is a “goal” that parents really don’t have a right to impose on their children.

  12. Chanson-

    I do agree that the, often, unrealistic expectations can be damaging to those who do not fit in. I experienced it, having not fit into the mold my self.

    I do know that even in Mormondom members ideas of what it means to be a successful parent does vary.

  13. That’s definitely true, Wayne. There is a surprising degree of variation in Mormon society if one happens to catch people by themselves. It’s just that too many of us do not dare to speak out in company.

    In part, the silence is an effect that LDS leaders carefully cultivate.

  14. Any time parenthood becomes a competitive sport with scoring based on the children’s achievements, the focus shifts from nurturing the children with unconditional love to getting the children to reflect well on the prestige of the parent. I don’t see how unconditional love can prosper under those conditions.

    Competitive parenting is a reality in the Mormon culture that I’m familiar with. I’ve even seen people worry about which other children in nursery are potty trained. This competition seems to be an unintended consequence of the LDS emphasis on families.

  15. I think the constant teachings by leaders at the top of our church (like Beck) and by the prophet (like in his “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”) and by the lessons in the correlated lesson manuals that our righteousness (or not) affects the righteousness of our children is harmful.

    How many mothers sat through Beck’s talk and realized how their children don’t measure up to the Mormon ideal? How many mothers in Mormon culture are ashamed of their gay children? Their children who choose not to serve missions? Their children who divorce? Their children who get pregnant out of wedlock? Their children who decide to be agnostic? Their children who choose to not be Mormon?

    If you don’t think that these women are judging each other because based on children and their choices/accomplishments, you are sadly mistaken. If you don’t think that women are judging THEMSELVES for this same stuff falling short of the promoted ideal, you are again mistaken. This is such a sad truth in the Mormon culture. I say mothers and women because isn’t that who Beck’s talk was directed toward for the most part? Men get the same thing too. How many men are judged if their sons hate scouting and refuse to participate? How many men are judged at church if their sons who turn 19 choose not to serve a mission? How many men are judged when their sons are gay?

    Sigh.

  16. Speaking of varying their message, there’s also this Chieko Okazaki quote that is making the rounds of the Internet:

    “As Elder M. Russell Ballard has already reminded us, there is great diversity in LDS homes. But all of these homes can be righteous homes where individuals love each other, love the Lord, and strengthen each other. Let me give you an example. Here are two quilts. Both are handmade, beautiful, and delightful to snuggle down in or wrap around a grandchild. Now look at this quilt. It’s a Hawaiian quilt with a strong, predictable pattern. We can look at half of the quilt and predict what the other half looks like. Sometimes our lives seem patterned, predictable in happy ways, in order. Now look at this second quilt. This style is called a crazy quilt. Some pieces are the same color, but no two pieces are the same size. They’re odd shapes. They come together at odd angles. This is an unpredictable quilt. Sometimes our lives are unpredictable, unpatterned, not neat or well-ordered. Well, there’s not one right way to be a quilt as long as the pieces are stitched together firmly. Both of these quilts will keep us warm and cozy. Both are beautiful and made with love. There’s not just one right way to be a Mormon woman, either, as long as we are firmly grounded in faith in the Savior, make and keep covenants, live the commandments, and work together in charity. All of us face different family circumstances and home situations. All of us need strength in dealing with them. This strength comes from faith in the Savior’s love and in the power of his atonement. If we trustingly put our hand in the Savior’s, we can claim the promise of the sacramental prayer to always have his Spirit with us. All problems are manageable with that strength, and all other problems are secondary in urgency to maintaining a strong spiritual life.”

    I think the geometric quilt vs. crazy quilt is a beautiful metaphor for how families vary and don’t have to follow the same pattern to be beautiful, warm, and made with love.

  17. Thanks for posting this chanson.

    I have a lot of thoughts on this, many of which have already been mentioned.

    As far as additional specific goals – what about meeting attendance? I remember more than a few parents who would basically force their teenagers to attend seminary and all three meetings on Sunday – MIA and sports activities. The basic message was, if you were in the church or hanging out with other members, you were doing the right thing.

    It seems to me that it’s important to encourage kids to give service and do good works. To be a good citizen. To volunteer. And – that sometimes you need to do things you don’t want to do.

    But forcing a teenager to spend over 20 hours per week on church activity that they are not really interested in doesn’t seem healthy to me. And yes, I also remember parents encouraged to make sure their kids attended all these meetings.

    What happens when the parents are no longer around? Teenagers should be trusted to make up their own minds about religion, service, etc. And if they’re not interested, and not forced to attend those meetings – it’s not the failure of the parents.

    What did David O’McKay (I think it was him) mean when he said Nothing can compensate for failure in the home? I met lots of very LDS parents who felt very strongly that their kids had to fit a specific mold, to follow a specific path. Failure in the home was not whether or not their children were happy, productive adults or citizens. It was whether or not your kids served missions, were married in the temple and had kids of their own.

  18. I thought the talk by Sister Beck was great and wise counsel. 1 Nephi 16:2 says, “And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.”

    Its times like these that test the strength of our testimonies. Are we willing to take counsel from those who have been chosen to lead us? It makes me sick to read and listen to members of the church that don’t “agree” with Sister Beck’s message in conference. Those members that have “issues” with her message are probably the same members that question their local church leaders as well. They probably don’t want to say prayers in church, give talks/lessons, don’t hold family home evenings, are not having personal/family prayers, not reading their scriptures or attending the temple. They probably find every reason possible to skip meetings they should be attending; yet they consider themselves faithful, active, strong, salt of the earth members.

    Serving in the bishopric I see these kinds of thing happen first hand. You people are a burden to the church!! Grow up and start living the gospel standards!!

    For your reading pleasure I have included some of the talk by President Benson from his 1987 conference talk titled “To the Mothers of Zion”. Read’em and weep!

    “Our beloved prophet Spencer W. Kimball had much to say about the role of mothers in the home and their callings and responsibilities. I am impressed tonight to share with you some of his inspired pronouncements. I fear that much of his counsel has gone unheeded, and families have suffered because of it. But I stand this evening as a second witness to the truthfulness of what President Spencer W. Kimball said. He spoke as a true prophet of God.

    President Kimball declared: “Women are to take care of the family–the Lord has so stated–to be an assistant to the husband, to work with him, but not to earn the living, except in unusual circumstances. Men ought to be men indeed and earn the living under normal circumstances” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 318 ).

    President Kimball continues: “Too many mothers work away from home to furnish sweaters and music lessons and trips and fun for their children. Too many women spend their time in socializing, in politicking, in public services when they should be home to teach and train and receive and love their children into security” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 319).

    Remember the counsel of President Kimball to John and Mary: “Mary, you are to become a career woman in the greatest career on earth–that of homemaker, wife, and mother. It was never intended by the Lord that married women should compete with men in employment. They have a far greater and more important service to render.

    Again President Kimball speaks: “The husband is expected to support his family and only in an emergency should a wife secure outside employment. Her place is in the home, to build the home into a haven of delight.

    “Numerous divorces can be traced directly to the day when the wife left the home and went out into the world into employment. Two incomes raise the standard of living beyond its norm. Two spouses working prevent the complete and proper home life, break into the family prayers, create an independence which is not cooperative, causes distortion, limits the family, and frustrates the children already born” (Spencer W. Kimball, San Antonio Fireside, Dec. 3, 1977, pp. 9-10 ).

    Sister Beck was quoting President Benson, who was quoting President Kimball. “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” (2 Timothy 4: 3-4)

    Put that in your self-righteous peace pipes and smoke it!

    Men and women are equal partners. One cannot obtain the glory of God without the other. However, the roles husbands and wives play on earth are different.
    It troubles me that you say we should question our church leaders. We can’t pick and choose what commandments we keep, unfortunately too many members think they can and still think they are in good standing with the church. It doesn’t work that way.
    The words I used in my last posting were straight from the scriptures and the prophets. Do you question them? How many sets of earrings do you have?
    The church has raised the bar for missionaries to serve. Since then the number of missionaries have decreased, but the quality of missionary has increased. So it should be with current members of the church. We should raise our own bars and live better than we have been. The church might lose a few members, but the quality of member will be better.

  19. aerin — exactly. Also, they encourage the belief that there’s no middle ground: If your kids doesn’t want to attend those 20+ hours of meetings, the next step is that they’ll be dead from a heroin overdose. (There’s a funny note about iced tea being a “gateway drug” in LDS teen books.)

    However, parents don’t have an infinite amount of time, and the focus on putting LDS meetings first means not focusing on many activities that are important to the child, and where the child could really use a parent’s interest and attention. CV Rick has written about this in his own life here. For myself, I remember it more in terms of the time committment of getting the boys to eagle scout for which there was no corresponding huge block of parental attention slated for girls…

    Remeny — Just an FYI, this particular blog (MSP) is really more for people who have left the church. So if you’re interested in calling people to repentance, this talk isn’t necessarily the first place to begin…..

    My main problem with President Beck’s talk is that she’s encouraging attitudes that were already alive and well in the LDS church when I was a teenager back in the ’80’s. Others have also pointed out that the talk really echos the teachings of the prophets, and what she’s saying is nothing new. So, yeah, you may be right about that point.

  20. p.s. regarding the earrings question:

    It’s funny, but my own real-life behavior is pretty conservative for someone who would complain about this talk (see This is me). I have only one set of earrings, and no tattoos or other piercings or any intention to get any. Since I quit my job, I’ve been acting as a SAHM (that’s not why I quit, but that has been the effect lately), and I’ve been spending a lot more time playing with my kids and doing other “good wife” things (just last night I acted as hostess for a party for my husband’s colleagues). Of course my house is still a total wreck because I waste too much time on the Internet, but that’s psychoanalysis for another day… 😉

  21. I apologize for missing your comment, Remeny. I cannot tell you how many people in the mission field have been hurt by bad advice from leaders like Julie Beck.

    For example, I know a family that followed Spencer Kimball’s advice to never have sex without birth control. Soon the parents and four children were crammed into one apartment trying to make ends meet on the sole income of an electrician. Unfortunately, the resulting stress led to spousal and child abuse.

    It was very sad and need not have happened if incompatible people had not gotten married. The only reason why they got married in the first place was to go to the temple. May be, they would have been better off choosing a spouse among the many available gentiles rather than marrying the only available Mormon in the state.

    And it need not have happened if the parents had relied on their own judgement rather than following Spencer Kimball who did not need to live with the consequences of his doctrinaire counsel.

    Unfortunately, I have witnessed personally how the lives of many converts have unravelled because they tried to follow the Brethren, Remini. I do not think that Jesus would be happy about that. After all, in the parable of the virgins’ light he told us that his followers need to be self-reliant.

    Speaking of parables, it seems to me that Julie Beck’s advice contradicts the parable of the talents. If a woman has talents then Jesus expects her to develop them. It would be a sin to bury one’s talents only to remain within the confines of one’s culture.

    If I have to choose between Jesus and any of his officers, I will choose Jesus. It would be great if you also embraced the Christian values of spiritual and intellectual self-reliance and developing all of our talents during this stage of probation.

  22. Hellmut

    I’m not sure how a non-governmental agency can be properly considered fascist. Are there monarchial religions? Republican religions? Considering that fascism refers to ‘an authoritarian political ideology (generally tied to a mass movement) that considers individual and other societal interests subordinate to the interests of the state,’ I find the use of the term here inapposite because the Mormon church is not a political entity with police powers. To the extent you use it as an epithet, it’s basically meaningless and contributes little to any discussion. It also moves very close to violating Godwin’s Law.

    “It was very sad and need not have happened if incompatible people had not gotten married. The only reason why they got married in the first place was to go to the temple. May be, they would have been better off choosing a spouse among the many available gentiles rather than marrying the only available Mormon in the state.”

    The fact that voluminous studies have shown that marriages of mixed faiths is a leading predictor of divorce, it amazes me that an educated person could espouse a position which discounts those studies. Sure, there are the few marriages that fail because of other reasons, but I don’t think that marrying within one’s own religion is a bad thing. Marriage is hard enough without having to worry about the heretical or pagan practices of your spouse.

    “I do not think that Jesus would be happy about that. After all, he told us that we need to be self-reliant in the parable of the virgins’ light.”

    And then apparently contradicts his preaching of self-reliance with that whole Atonement for the sins of mankind thing. Why would we need a personal savior if we can go to Heaven by relying on ourselves? And if God wanted us to be so self-reliant, why not just have Jesus and not waste our time with all the other so-called prophets like Moses and Abraham, whose teachings have also caused the lives of untold millions to unravel? Take Moses. All those Israelites were enjoying the good life in Egypt until he got religion and led them out into the desert for forty years to die! I always thought the parable of the ten virgins was about personal preparedness.

    “Speaking of parables, it seems to me that Julie Beck’s advice contradicts the parable of the talents. If a woman has talents then Jesus expects her to develop them. It would be a sin to bury one’s talents only to meet expectations.”

    Because we all know that performing workaholic drudgery in Corporate America as a wage slave in a dead-end, unfulfilling job is the best way to develop talents.

  23. Thanks for your reply, dpc, and my apologies for deleting the fascism reference. You are right, I did say that. When I deleted it, I had not noticed that you had already cited it.

    By the way, I did not say that Mormonism was a fascist religion. I did imply that Mormonism would be a fascist religion if it followed Remeny’s prescription.

    Having said that, yes there are fascist, monarchist, and liberal religions. That’s why we fought the religious wars during the seventeenth century.

    Episcopalians, for example, were the monarchist religion where the king ruled the church through his bishops. Congregationalists were the most democratic church because the congregation exercised power in the Church. Presbyterians were in between because the most accomplished members became the elders who were holding ecclesiastical power.

    The Aryan Nation is an example of a Nazi Church because it evaluates human beings by the color of their skin.

    A fascist religion would emphasize order, the submission of the individual to the collective, and the leader would rule the church.

  24. While I do agree with you, dpc, that corporate America forces too many parents to work too many hours at the expense of their other obligations, I would like to point out that there are a lot more options.

    Part time work comes to mind. The federal government provides a lot of jobs that require only minimal overtime. Teaching gives parents a lot of flexibility with respect to time management. You are overseeing many opportunities.

    It is true that we all need one another. My point was that we need to take responsibility for our own lives rather than letting other people make decisions for us that may or may not benefit ourselves and our children.

    The contemporary anglo evangelical slogan that “Jesus is my personal savior” strikes me as inappropriate because suddenly it’s all about “me.”

    As a matter of theology, it is, of course, correct that Jesus died for the sins of every single human being but to make it all about me reduces Jesus Christ to another, if supreme, consumer item.

    I am concerned that the personal savior language is seeping into Mormonism. It’s bad theology.

    With respect to marital stability, religion is one factor of many. Compatible personalities are more important than a shared religion. Notice, in the case that I was describing, a temple married husband beat his wife and children and threatened to shoot them.

    Clearly, something had gone horribly wrong. Part of the problem was that this couple had uncritically acted on bad advice from a person who claimed to speak with divine authority.

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