Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Real Responsibilities of Parents

My sister sent out an email a few days ago about a lesson she's going to have to teach in church in a few weeks.  Her calling is in the primary, so she's supposed to follow a manual containing lessons that are geared toward children.  She appealed for our assistance:
The theme is, Parents have important responsibilities in families.  So part of it says I'm supposed to invite 2 girls and 2 boys to come to the front to represent father mother son and daughter.  I'm supposed to give each a "prop" representing each one.  (The picture has the "father" holding a Book of Mormon, the "mother" holding a mixing bowl, the "son" holding a ball and the "daughter" holding a doll.  I'm offended already.)  Then I explain the roles of father (presides, provides, protects) and mother (care for and nurture)  Then the children are supposed to pantomime different things fathers and mothers do to fulfill these roles.  And mention that both parents are supposed to be good examples and teach the gospel.   
So I already have an issue with teaching that mothers cook and clean and change diapers and fathers go to work and teach the gospel and fight off bad guys.  Also there are many things that both parents do (like cook and clean and change diapers and work and teach the gospel).  And then there are plenty of children in our primary who do not have the "ideal" family for whatever reason, so I find the whole thing really awkward.  Does anyone have any good ideas on what to do?
Upon reading this, half of me cheered for her and half of me was ashamed for her.  She was so close!  She discussed all the problems that present itself with her assignment but when she was finished she came to the conclusion that she simply needs to frame the lesson better instead of the conclusion that the lesson is full of crap.

My sister is an intelligent, capable woman.  She graduated from BYU and became a math teacher before she met her husband.  Since then, she's dutifully embraced her responsibilities as a wife and a mother, but I'm glad that she had the chance to prove that she was perfectly able to support herself on her own before she met the priesthood holder on whose coattails she can ride to the Celestial Kingdom.

My mother, however, offered some useful advice for her:
I agree that your lesson model is rather stereotyped.  Maybe you could have the kids make a list (with help) of things their mother and father do.  (For example:  Who cooks dinner?  Mom.  Does your father ever cook on the BBQ?  So he cooks sometimes too.)  You might find that lots of mothers and fathers do the same sorts of things.  Then maybe you could read that part out of the family proclamation that tells what fathers and mothers are primarily responsible for.  Doesn't it use that word, primarily?  Just because it is someone's responsibility doesn't mean they only do it or all by themselves.
That's an excellent point, mother.  The Family Proclamation does state that "Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children."  But let's take your point and tweak it just a little bit so that it's not so backward and sexist.

Instead of interpreting that line as "mothers have more responsibility to nurture than fathers," let's interpret it as "mothers are more likely to be the nurturers than fathers."  If you look at a large population, you could say that more mothers are the caregivers than fathers but that it's not an exclusive responsibility.  If my sister's profession had been more advantageous to her family (which it wasn't) she should have felt permitted to pursue her career while her husband dealt more with the children, even though this is uncommon.

I wish the church could have said something along the lines of "Though God designed the family with the roles of the mother as caregiver and the father as the providers in mind, He recognizes that every family is different and there are many ways to achieve His honorable goals in the home.  What He desires most for our families is that there are two dedicated parents who work together to provide for and raise their children with love.  This may mean that in some cases, traditional roles of the father and mother may interlock or even reverse.  There should be no shame in or criticism of those choices so long as the first priority of the marriage partnership remains the loving nurture, teaching and protection of the children."

Instead, the church said:  "Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation."  Individual adaptation shouldn't be "necessitated."  It should be welcomed as a legitimate alternative.

In a society that has had so many families shattered by underage pregnancies, drug abuse, abandonment, selfishness, parental disinterest and so many other problems, the church should be championing loving partnerships, not gender roles.  What we need for the next generation is parents who are devoted to their children and to each other.  Which one cooks the food, cleans the house, brings home the paycheck or "presides" (which is a stupid, empty responsibility that simply elevates the father over the mother) should be irrelevant.  What's missing in too many children's lives is love and stability.

It's too bad my sister hasn't quite gotten to the point where she realizes that a church that teaches her to cook, clean, nurture the children, and support her husband as he presides over the family is not respecting her value, her potential, or her individuality.


  1. Before commenting, I decided to go find the lesson plan and read it. It's actually a sharing time lesson presented to all of the children by a member of the primary presidency. This month, April, 2014, the theme is: The Family is Central to God's Plan. At the beginning of the manual, it gives the following advice on how to teach these important lessons to our very impressionable children.

    "Teach the Doctrine by the Spirit. As you prepare lessons, pray for guidance and strive to strengthen your testimony of the principles you will teach. This will help you teach by the Spirit. (2014 Outline for Sharing Time: Families Are Forever, Instructions for Sharing Time and the Children’s Sacrament Meeting Presentation)."

    My advice to you would be to encourage your sister to pray for a testimony of these principles precisely as taught in the lesson and the Proclamation on the Family. Looking for exceptions and making excuses for straying from these teachings drives away the spirit and leads to apostasy. Only through strict obedience can you expect to receive the blessings associated with these principles which include reaching the Celestial Kingdom with all of your children and your husband. Your husband is the priesthood holder and presides over the home. You are responsible for the rearing of the children. That's just the way it is as prescribed by the Great Plan of Happiness. As Elder Oaks said to the men and boys so eloquently in the recent priesthood session of Conference: "That is a principle needed in society at large...Latter-day Saints surely recognize that qualifying for exaltation is not a matter of asserting rights but a matter of fulfilling responsibilities." You should encourage her to follow the teachings of Elder L. Tom Perry in conference and be obedient to the teachings of the church and the spirit.

    Now isn't what I just wrote a pile of crap. It's patronizing, preachy, and pathetic. It's meant to bring about obedience through fear and guilt. However, that's pretty much exactly what my parents and my wife's parents would say, and it really is what the leaders of the church have taught historically and presently. I mean, IT'S IN THE MANUAL!!! It was written that way on purpose specifically to be taught the second week of April 2014. If she she has a problem with it, then she really is at odds with the teachings of the church.

    Your sister obviously has some doubt as to the truthfulness of this principle, which means she has a small sliver of doubt in church leadership that approved the lesson and thus, doubt in the church itself. Hopefully that seed of doubt will take root and grow...

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. One more thing, I think it's awesome your sister graduated and has a career. That was a great thing to do. Like me, I bet she would list being a parent as her greatest accomplishment. Kudos to her for making the choice to pursue a career and be a mother. And kudos to her for questioning!

    2. Yeah, I mean, she's pretty cool and all, but I wouldn't say she's questioning. My family (with the possible exception of my dad) has always been like that. We complain about church culture. We complain about lesson manuals and joint activities and potluck themes and bad testimony meetings and pointless rules and stupid people and self-righteousness and ignorance.

      But somehow, the conclusion is never that the church is full of crap. It's simply about the sucky reality of whatever situation is under discussion.

      Why are they teaching primary children that the family is central to God's plan? Why aren't they teaching something important for that age group, like being nice to the other children and not being judgmental or something? I don't see why you need to preach about gender roles in marriage when they won't get married for another ten or fifteen years.

    3. That's what I presumed. I have friends like that. They complain and complain but never realize that the church is the problem.

      So many people are unhappy in the church, but they stay with it. Isn't it interesting that the great plan of happiness doesn't really promise happiness in this life. It promises future happiness in the next life. Many members are miserable, but they keep going based on the belief of future happiness. For example, according to Bednar, you should take on more burdens in order to gain spiritual growth and happiness. (Give Deseret Book a few months, and they'll publish some pathetic $25 illustrated book retelling the story of the truck.)

      Sucky reality = The church is full of crap. Why does it have to take so long to come to that conclusion? I think it's a progression. You start "questioning" the smaller things like this lesson. More and more of them start to bother you. Then you move onto the things like tithing, blacks and the priesthood, Joseph Smith worship, the Book of Mormon, polygamy, the weirdness of the temple, women's issues, gay marriage, etc. They become heavier and heavier until one of them tips the scale and switches you from the "doubt your doubts" side of the scale to the "doubt the church" side. From there, it's hopefully just a matter of time until you just can't take it anymore. Sometimes the scale is tipped by looking for answers to some questions like why does the church handle sex abuse so poorly. You go to and find no answers. You go to apologist sites like FAIR and find their answers to be incomplete and misleading. Then you go to sites like Mormonthink where the answers are complete, documented, and straight forward. (Mormon Think, where 10 minutes could save you 10% or more of your gross income.) Then you find blogs like this one where absurdities and ridiculous things about the church are pointed out several times a month. You find like-minded people.

      Why are they teaching that lesson in Primary? Indoctrination!
      1) Families are forever. If the kid disobeys parents, doesn't go on a mission, is immoral, leaves the church, etc, he breaks up the eternal family unit. He destroys the family. It's a way to keep the kids in line.
      2) The church is against gay marriage. They want to teach kids gender roles while they're young so they will be confused when they see a gay couple later.