After my youngest, Garrett, was born I needed a wonderful babysitter. There were a couple classes that I was going to be taking and I needed to know that he was safe. I needed someone that I could trust. Someone that would be like a mother to him for the couple hours a week that I needed to be away.
We hired a fantastic sitter. I felt a lot of peace knowing that my baby (and two older kids) were in good hands while I was away. I told her that the most important thing, when it came to the kids, was that they were loved.
One day I came home to find that the kids had not eaten hardly any dinner. When I inquired as to why they were full, they told me that they had eaten cookies, and bagels, and yogurt pops, and goldfish crackers, and juice. These were all snacks and treats that I allowed them to have after dinner, in moderation. But certainly not all together, before dinner.
After they went to bed, I spoke with the sitter. I told her that I needed her to enforce my rules. I then explained my policy on junk food before dinner, along with some other family rules that I'd failed to mention before. When she saw the kids the next time she said, "Hey sorry kids. I thought that it was okay to say yes to you whenever you asked for treats. But now I know the rules, so we have to follow them."
A couple of days later, I came home after dinner, and saw that one of the big kids was obviously sad. When I asked what the matter was, they reported that they weren't allowed to have any desert because they didn't finish their vegetables. I looked over at their plate and saw a few straggling peas, but everything else had been eaten. I gave the kids some ice cream and sent them to bed.
After they were asleep I spoke with the sitter. I told her that she had interpreted the rules a little too literally. I told her that while I wanted the kids to eat their food before desert, they didn't need to eat every morsel on their plates. They just needed to eat most of it. When she saw the kids next she said,
"Kids, I am sorry about not giving you your desert last time. I overdid it when it came to the rules and punishment. But now I understand so we're good."
Did my kids and I hold a grudge over these miscommunications and mess ups? No. Because we are human, and even though someone is an adult, we know that they can mess up, and often do, and that they can apologize and make things right.
Luckily, this babysitter was patient with me and my kids, as we figured out the groove, and got a handle on what all the rules and expectations were. I told her and the kids that while I was gone, she was going to be the authority. She was like "Mom" because I trusted her to do the things that I would do. The kids felt safe because they knew that the sitter would be checking in with me while I was away.
Last weekend the LDS church held it's semi-annual General Conference. They broadcast this message to the world. I should know because A) I grew up watching it my entire life and B) I convinced the cable station in Boston to have it broadcast for the first time in Massachusetts while I was living there. The last General Conference I only caught two talks, they were Elder Oaks and Elder Cook's talks. And while the rest of the speakers may have been completely different, I was shocked by what I heard from these two Apostles.
They said that those with "same sex attraction" should be consoled with being celibate until after they die because in their next life they will be fixed to be attracted to females in the Celestial Kingdom. And they said that two-parent families were ideal, where in kids who were brought up by single-parent families were at a disadvantage. There were studies to back up these claims. Though we didn't hear what they were. But at the end of each talk, I felt sick to my stomach. Like I'd swallowed a giant rock.
I had been raised by a single mother, who gave so much of her time and energy to the Church, only to have her efforts put down in this way. Would it have been better to have had her and my Dad stay together in an unhealthy marriage? Kids marinating in the sewage of anger and resentment? Our childhood was not perfect, but my siblings and I felt that we had it good. My Grandmother, who was an LDS Family Therapist, often counseled couples to call it quits, when it was apparent that they would be healthier apart than together.
I often felt shame as an LDS child, for coming from a single-parent home. My neighbors had to take my siblings and I to the father-son or father-daughter activities. I was constantly reminded that mine was not an "eternal family". I had panic attacks thinking about the empty lot in the Celestial Kingdom where my dad's house was supposed to be, but where instead would grow holy weeds, as he cried his eyes out for eternity down in the Telestial kingdom, wishing that he would have just stayed married to my Mom. Later on, in Boston and then Salt Lake City, I would meet single parents with whom I would develop deep friendships, and see the strength and the excellence in their parenting, combined with their unwavering dedication and love for their family. I would realize that what I had growing up was every bit as valuable as what non-divorced families had, and that the strength of a family has nothing to do with the genders or numbers of adults in the home, but from the love that is within the walls.
And then there is my gay brother. Growing up, his "gayness" was the 500 pound elephant in the corner that no one wanted to address. So we just covered our ears and closed our eyes as he grew up. We could sense that his childhood wasn't fun. He wanted to draw the comic book Characters, The X Men, while other boys his age were playing basketball. He was not interested in scouting, or athletics, and found it hard to make friends with other boys in the neighborhood. But he put on a happy face. His best childhood friends were his female twin cousins and neighborhood girls. He didn't have a negative bone in his body, and had the biggest heart of anyone I knew. So in High School when he struggled with depression...dangerously so...we still never talked about it. Everyone knew what was going on. He was horribly sad. He felt incredible self-loathing and isolation. But we all just smiled harder, hoping that our false cheer would somehow rub off on him, never really inquiring as to what he needed because in our hearts we already knew but we didn't want to name it.
I had been taught that it was a sin to be gay. There was the whole Adam and Eve thing. I read the Miracle of Forgiveness, where you basically read a story where a bunch of cities were destroyed because all the men succumbed to the temptation of being gay. Their populations died out and their city burned. I did not want our city to see that wrath. So I judged him. Righteously. I mean, I was entitled to see him as wicked. He didn't seem any different than the eight year old that I would play Ghost in The Graveyard with, but I had been taught that he was sinning, so I believed it. If he prayed hard enough it would go away. Somehow he'd be transformed. So I prayed, and I prayed, and I prayed. I didn't know how, but somehow God could fix him.
I moved to Boston with my husband and baby, and marched against gay marriage in Massachusetts. On the Capitol steps, shouting to my Governor Mitt Romney inside, about how God only approved of love between a man and a woman. Eventually I would have a complete change of heart, and decide that gay people were perfect and should have every right that I do as a heterosexual.
There is my history with single moms and gay people. Obviously these issues hit close to home for me. And these journeys that I went on in regards to these topics happened over a decade. It did not happen over night.
So when I think of those two talks last weekend, and my desire to stand up and say that there were very harmful parts of those talks that were wrong, I wasn't acting out of malice. I was acting out of love. I feel that the church is like the sitter while our Heavenly Parents are out. We are entrusted in the sitter's care, but the sitter is not the parent. And while the church leaders try their best, sometimes they misinterpret. Whether it be Brigham Young teaching us that Adam was our Heavenly Father, or another prophet teaching that evolution did not happen. They just had a human moment. IT HAPPENS.
It doesn't mean that you are awful. Just like my sitter was wonderful, she just needed to have some things cleared up that she was a little confused about. What is not okay is when one can not admit that they have erred. We teach children, at the youngest of ages, that when they do or say something unkind or untrue, even if it was not with the intention to hurt, that they need to apologize for it. It is what my sitter did so effortlessly. And it made the kids immediately trust her again.
When Shelby was a young child, I disciplined her the way that I had always disciplined her brother. I don't remember the infraction. But I remember her reaction. Her eyes welled up with tears. And in an instant her face turned blue. The grief in her little heart was so great that it had caused her to lose her breath as she gasped with choked crying. I did not know if she was having a seizure or was just crying. It turns out that it was both. When she cries too hard, sometimes she forgets to breathe, and then she does have some seizures as her eyes roll back in to her head and she goes lifeless. NOT the funnest thing.
When she came to, and my heart rate returned to non-hummingbird status, I asked her what she was so sad about. She told me that it was the way that I yelled at her. That I had made her feel so sad. I couldn't believe that my parenting, what I had been doing for years with no complaint from Dalton, was so overly critical.
I asked her older brother how he'd felt when he'd been similarly chastised. He told me that he felt the same way his sister did. It was at that point that my heart broke in two. WHY didn't you ever tell me? I asked him. He said he didn't know how, and that he thought it would only make me more mad. I told him that he should have told me. That if I would have known how much it hurt him, I wouldn't have been so hard on him. (We aren't talking beating here, but just yelling that when you're little feels just as scary). In typing this, I am having a hard time, because I am reliving this, and it is still one of the things that pierces my heart to the core. I will never forgive myself for not being a more calm mother when Dalton was little. Did I apologize to Dalton (and Shelby)? You bet I did. Over and over and over. I revisit it. I rehash it. I want him to know that I screwed up. And if I would have known better, I would have done better.
And so it is with General Conference. How can I stand by and not cry out in agony over the pain that those parts of those two talks inflicted on me, the child? If I stay silent, and scared, like Dalton, that sends a message that the talks are appropriate, when they are not. I must be brave, and honest, like Shelby was with her feelings, to send a message to the sitter that this is not right. I don't have false allusions that anyone is perfect. But I do have the self respect to know when someone messes up they should own it and apologize. This way there continues to be a loving, respected, relationship of trust. This is the way our Heavenly Parents would want it.
From one child, to another, this is why I must cry out.
Elder Oaks's Talk- Protecting Children
Elder Cook's Talk- Can Ye Feel So Now