This morning as my husband brought me coffee in bed, I mapped out my running schedule for the weekend, knowing I had two full days at my disposal. He mentioned that he had bumped into a former member of our Mormon congregation at the coffee shop and their pleasant interaction, “Oh good for them! Enjoying that coffee life too!” I exclaimed as I sipped my fresh cup of happiness. And then of course, I commented to him for the millionth time how much more wonderful life is now….
Once again my mind wandered back to a specific moment of one of the many, many times since childhood where I questioned the Mormon church. On this specific day, we had been dressed up in our Sunday best. But it wasn’t a Sunday morning, it was a Saturday night. We were preparing to go to some church event, missing a community function we would have much preferred to be at, and we also had to do our grocery shopping before we left for the church function, because we knew we would be home late in the evening and we wouldn’t be able to shop the next day, it being the Sabbath. I was stressed realizing that once again we had forgotten to get one of our son’s new church shoes and he was going to be stuffing his feet into something 3 sizes too small. In my tired resigned state I remarked to my husband, “can you imagine how mad we are going to be when we get to the other side and realize that all of this was for nothing? It was all bullcrap?” (I swore significantly less in those days) He laughed and shrugged it off. This was a half serious joke I had made since childhood. My mom’s answer for that was always, “so what if it is? Can you think of a better way you could have spent your life?”
Um. Yes. Yes I could. The truth is, that I didn’t. I was raised and I raised most of my children for a good portion of their lives in the Mormon church. It is what it is, for good and for ill. And there’s a really good chance that a good portion of it was for good. But we will never know. I have at least one child who deals with a lot of emotional fallout from what I now realize was super inappropriate overreach, controlling, guilt inducing, toxic nonsense. And as a parent I take responsibility for allowing his exposure to that, even encouraging it. I give myself grace though because I was doing the best I knew at the time. I truly was. And so were the people in the church, and they still are. Still, it messed with my kid’s mind to an extent that my kid has had a really tough time since. But that’s ok because when we are supported through struggle we become powerful to help others in turn.
Do I regret all the Sundays I spent stressed, miserable, triggered. Shooting dagger eyes at adorable normal little children we were forced to “sit and be reverent” for the lion’s portion of 3 hours? Yes. I absolutely do. With all my heart I would like to go back, put those sweet precious little children in comfortable clothing and let them spend all sunday playing outside or going to a church where they learned only about a loving God who expected nothing from them but for them to love as fully and completely as their little hearts could muster. And that this love should start with loving themselves.
Do I regret the relationships they had with older people in lieu of geographically absent and disinterested grandparents ? No I don’t . I am so grateful for every kind, invested, generous and loving older member of our church congregation who gave my children a sense of belonging, of inter-generational family. When Finny would cry because his best friend had two doting and geographically close grandma’s and his grandma didn’t even visit when his baby sister was born, I could point out all the people who did visit. Who did care. Who did love him and lived close enough to show him so. We formed those relationships through church, nurtured them through weekly attendance and miss them now. Those things were categorically good.
Would my children have been as well behaved, as driven, as responsible as kind to each other if we hadn’t based our parenting on the very specific frameworks set up within the LDS church designed to keep families in touch with each other, high achieving and focused on a common purpose? We were pretty good at playing the Mormon game, I won’t lie. And so I can’t honestly say. I don’t honestly know. I would like to believe that I would have been just as good and focused of a mom and I have a dreadful suspicion that I actually might have been a much better mom without all that pressure and with the assistance of coffee and the lack of permanent crippling guilt and strain of a hundred million expectations (as if raising 5 kids without any extended family assistance whatsoever, is not loaded enough). But I just cannot honestly say. I see our non-Mormon friends and their happy successful families, their kind, high achieving children, and it’s hard to connect the dots from being a good Mo to having a good family, but truly. There is no way to know how it all might have turned out for us ours and since I feel really grateful for where we currently are as a family, I’m willing to give credit to the church if it’s due.
Here’s what I can say. I can say that life now is so damn good and that I might never have known and fully appreciated, no, cherished how unbelievably wonderful an ordinary life in its simplest form as an autonomous guilt-free adult can be.
How incredibly pleasant it is to live free from the shackles of responsibilities that don’t feel right, that don’t make sense that feel controlling and nonsensical. How blissful it is to drink a hot black cup of coffee and feel nurtured, encouraged and enlivened by that. How fun it is to enjoy a couple of drinks with friends and feel truly relaxed and enjoy the fact that they too are feeling truly relaxed because life is bloody stressful sometimes and I’ve always said that I can party just as well sans alcohol and oh boy, can I! But not everybody is like me and I like to see others getting that little bit of assistance to have fun too. That’s really fun for me.
Without being a lifelong Mormon, I would never have known the pure and simple joy and elation it is to know on Saturday night that we have a full day on Sunday to work, or relax, or shop, or run. A whole extra day to spend enjoying each other instead of the tense mornings spent snapping at each other, getting to church late, being judged for getting to church late, spending 3 hours feeling miserable, hypocritical, judgmental, angry, guilty, bored stiff, exhausted, and being cut in half by control top hose . (I do miss the weekly opportunity to wear heels though). The relief of spending Sundays productive and happy at home rather than going home to a trashed home and a frantic feeding frenzy with a van load of irate, low blood sugared children. Sweet, impressionable, good kids who had not often, but definitely sometimes, been thoroughly mistreated by frustrated resentful exhausted teachers of their own, (or occasionally by completely deranged people who were allowed to teach kids when it was clear they were wrecking their own children in spectacular ways. UGHH. but those are few and mercifully, far between).
Without the Mormon church, I doubt I would be just coming into my own at age 40 and 41 when a lot of people are feeling as if they are fading. I don’t understand that sense at all. I’m constantly thrilled at how much I feel in my prime at this age and I’m sure that having this huge weight lifted from my shoulders has been the most rejuvenating experience ever. I think it shows up in my face, in my attitude, in my energy level, in the way I feel about myself now, in the way I carry my body. I’m pretty sure that leaving the Mormon church has given me an an unusual new lease on life for a woman of my age or honestly, of any age. I may have more lines around my eyes now, but I’m almost sure they are from laughing more. Why do I feel such a huge sense of freedom and joie de vivre in my femininity suddenly? Well. For instance: Instead of wearing bizarre, uncomfortable and restrictive Mormon underwear dictating my fashion choices and reminding me that my sexuality and my body somehow doesn’t quite belong to me. I am finally free to wear my own lingerie. And that feels pretty damn awesome. DO YOU REALISE THAT I WAS AN ADULT OF ALMOST 40 who did not have the option of wearing my own lingerie? Not if I wanted to be with my family forever? (Go ahead laugh out loud reading that because I’m with you but up until pretty recently, it was a life and eternal death matter, you guys!
Do you understand how liberating it might feel to a woman to finally be able to pick out her own style of panties? Or to not have to worry about wearing anything to sleep in? Do you know that endowed, temple going (family forever brand Mormons) are required to wear long underwear day and night. Some members take it off for showering and sex only (and they put it right back on post-coital…fun times!!)
I thank the Mormon church for the fact that after being required to wear garments both day and night, sleeping in nothing or next to nothing every night feels like the most luxurious thing of all time. No 800 thread count sheets required. No island vacation required. Every time I get into bed I feel the sublime joy and freedom of a kid skinny dipping in the moonlight. My husband certaintly isn’t sad about it.
Without the Mormon church I don’t think I would be as effective a mother to teenagers as I am today because I understand first hand in a very vivid and recent way that feeling controlled can be suffocating to a person. That extreme expectations do not help, they hurt. That hypocrites telling you want to do will only make you really really mad and extra rebellious. I have learned the great value in not preaching to kids, not trying to enforce a one size fits all morality on them. I have learned the value of allowing them to make mistakes and of helping them to know that mistakes do not make a man (or woman). I have learned how much better we do as a family when I do not sweat the small stuff. I have learned that a family can be even more united and loving without bringing them together in prayer, without forcing them to gather at inconvenient hours to read from ancient scriptures in language which rings and hollow and irrelevant to most children and teens but instead taking the time to laugh with them over the Office and agonize with them about their problems.
There are Mormon families who seem to have cracked the code. Who don’t feel oppressed or stressed by the expectations. Who find comfort and guidance in the rules. Who have found the sweet spot where they feel all the love and none of the guilt and are able to help their kids find that sweet spot too. I rejoice for them. I do. I bear no ill will for Mormons just doing the best they can and not encroaching on the rights of others. None at all. I know so many women and wives who genuinely feel blessed by the opportunity to send their kids far away for 2 years with virtually no contact or to give up their husbands to church service for huge portions of their children’s lives. It works for them. It breaks my heart to even contemplate but they seem genuinely happy. So..ok then. Thank god I only have to worry about living my own life. (That’s new too 😉
And as for me and my house. It’s the heathen life for us. We are delighting in the hedonistic pleasures of the living the “worldly” life which is somehow just suddenly so simple…and it actually feels more wholesome. It really and truly does. We delight in loving whomever we want to love and allowing others the unequivocal right to do the same. In speaking breathing and believing with no more cognitive dissonance. We are grateful for the lazy Sunday mornings together. We find tremendous joy in parenting our sons and daughters as young autonomous men and women without the expectation that they become missionaries and mothers. We are are basking in finally feeling fully free and alive. This works for us. The Mormons quote scripture very often referring to the beauty and necessity of Opposition in All Things. We have pain so that we may enjoy pleasure. Well said. Well said.
Regrets are more or less useless. And so, in the end I choose to dwell on none. I am grateful for my path and if it is grace that has led me to this place, it will lead me home too.
Amen, and amen. Happy Saturday
(this post counts for Friday, I bet I’ll do another before the day is out because I said I was going to do a post a day and I mean what I say…until I get too tired and I want to lie in bed drinking wine and watching Riverdale.)