Thursday, January 21, 2016

No, you haven't failed as a parent, and no, your child isn't rebelling.

I'm writing this post in response to an article in the February 2016 copy of The Ensign.

As a parent, I try to teach my kids what I believe to be correct principles, but I can't make them walk my path exactly, nor should I try. I try to teach them about faith, to have it. I teach them to think critically. From my perspective, I may fear their path at times, but I must also remember to take joy in their journey.

While reading the Ensign article, a few thoughts came to mind: First: Parents will never stop being parents. They will never cease to care for their child(ren). (At least not the good parents.) Secondly: It's natural for parents to have dreams and aspirations for their children, and expectations for how their lives will turn out. It's important to remember that everyone has agency, and children will have to use it at every point in their lives. Helping them attain sharp critical thinking skills, and helping them know how to nourish their faith are important parts of parenting. They'll need these skills when they begin to be faced with tough choices in their lives. They will need them in order to use their agency. And thirdly: As children begin their journeys, it is important to recognize they aren't rebelling against you when their path varies from the map you had envisioned for them. This is neither inherently failure for a child, nor his/her parent(s).

I am a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as are/were my parents, my grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great gra--you get the picture.  Up until ten or twelve years ago, I was quite active. I served a mission. I once married in the temple. (Ended in divorce). I served in leadership positions, as well as experienced times where I was active, but without a calling. I've had spiritual experiences within the context of Mormonism, and without. And I have had wonderful ward members, leaders, and church friends all along the way. At some point in my life, I began really questioning my beliefs. Questions from my mission, as well as earlier on, which I had basically just put on a shelf after no one could answer them, began to weigh heavily. Rather than facing the fact that I was having serious doubts, I went inactive. I stopped reading scriptures or studying gospel principles, more or less. I didn't go to church. I stopped asking questions. I was quietly being "less-active."

A little more than 4 1/2 years ago, my mom took her own life. I was devastated. I became unsure of myself. I questioned all of the things I might have done or said to my mom. I wondered how I might have saved her; how I might have made her happy instead of depressed and sad. I broke down many times over my mom's passing. I spent many hours in therapy, and shed many, many tears. I even went through a couple of nervous breakdowns. One of my favorite therapists told me that I was being very strong. He said that I was in a self-preservation mode, but that I was likely to crack within a couple of months. At the time, I had no idea what that would look like exactly. But he was right. My belief system, the lenses through which I viewed the world, my proverbial shelf of ideas and questions, and my whole self shattered.

After about a year of just trying to stay afloat, I began to look at all of the pieces of my old self; everything that had come apart. It was a puzzle of sorts. And when I decided to put it back together, it seemed as good a time as any to make a deliberate choice to put that puzzle together in a way that made sense; in a way that seemed truly me. Some pieces were still as necessary as they ever were. Others seemed less definitive of how I then felt about myself, and I set them aside. But I was on a new part of my life journey; I wasn't reinventing myself, mind you; rather, I was attempting to look into the mirror and see what was authentically me. Who had I been? Who had I become? (Of course, I believer my soul is eternal, and my Being is intrinsically me always, but that's another post for another day.)

When you're raised as a Mormon, you're taught that, through an exclusive, special temple ritual, called a sealing, your family will be granted togetherness for all of eternity. After losing my sweet mom so tragically, it was natural that I would take a hard and honest look at my feelings about eternal families and temples. Earlier on in my life, I had always just taken this for granted. My parents were sealed in the temple, so we'd all be together for eternity. I had also always figured it made sense that, if there is a Heaven, EVERY family--where there is LOVE--will be eternally bonded. When I really thought about it, I realized I didn't necessarily believe about eternal families, in the way that Mormonism teaches. At present, my belief is that we are all eternally linked. Our souls are eternal. I hope that I'll be with my loved ones forever, but it's not contingent upon whether or not a temple ritual took place. Rather, it is contingent upon the closeness and love that is present in a family. Obviously, I might be wrong, just as we all might be wrong. But this is what I believe, deep down in my soul. As a side note, but an extremely dear side note, I feel my mom's presence at times, which bolsters my faith in the eternal nature of that relationship, and in the possibility of eternal families.

I won't go into all of the other things that fell off my shelf. That would take many other blog posts, and none of that is the main point of this particular post. As well, I don't feel it necessary to lay out which of my beliefs now differ from those of my traditionally-believing parents, or friends. Suffice it to say, my faith journey has led me to a different place than where my parents might have hoped I'd be. It very likely isn't the place they'd have chosen for me, if the choice were theirs. This doesn't mean I'm rejecting everything my parents taught me. It doesn't mean I'm rebelling against them. It most certainly doesn't mean I don't love them, or that I'm not grateful for all of the things they taught me. Most certainly it doesn't mean I don't want to be with my family always. But I feel that it's most important to take the path that feels divine, or good, or TRUE to my soul. I am the son of very goodly parents. I love them intensely. But I am also an individual. I have a personal relationship with deity, and it's not something that anyone else can feel, nor think, nor choose, nor do for me. One of my greatest fears is that I'll one day face my Creator, and be asked, "Who were you on Earth?", only to be able to answer, "I'm not sure. I just did what I was taught by The Church."

I get anxiety, and downright uncomfortable thinking that my dad or mom feel sad about my place in the church. It would be a painful thing to think my parents look at my path, or where I've been, or to where I've thus far come, and feel like they've failed as parents. And I guess I could write off the hurt that causes me, but I hate the idea that they feel bad because of something I do, or say, or believe, or don't. Those feelings, if they're there, DO NOT come from our Creator. I believe they come from the darker part of ourSELVES. I believe they come from our egos, trying to falsely attach all of this stuff to our identities. Those feelings are not light. Mom and Dad, if you do feel like failures, please, PLEASE stop. And look at me. Try not to look at me through anything but the clearest, truest of lenses.

I may not have millions of dollars. I may not have a prestigious job. I may not have done everything my parents had envisioned I would. I don't believe exactly as I was taught at church. But I am a wonderful person. I'll just come right out and say that. I am a great friend. I'm a good dad, and a decent husband. (Working on that, Honey!) I'm a good home teacher. I am good at caring for people. I don't always do a great job at it, but I am good at loving other people. I still have so many of the values that I saw in both of my parents. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and can be hard on myself. I'm always working on myself. I get that from my dad, for sure. I am learning compassion and empathy for others. My mom was always so great at that. There just wasn't anyone around--even people she didn't particularly like--in whom she couldn't find the good. I'm a hard worker--no one worked harder for the benefit of loved ones than my dad did. I want to be every bit like him in this way. I have a good sense of humor. I can make people laugh, and I can laugh with others. Both of my parents have great senses of humor--although my mom was certainly less afraid of showing her goofiest sides. How I miss that! I have a profound love and respect for Mother Nature, the wild places, the wild creatures, etc... Certainly, that came from my dad, who took me fishing, hiking and hunting, very early on when I didn't stand as tall as that damned stinging nettle that always seemed to get me. I still have a relationship with my dad, which I value greatly. I still go to him with questions, or problems, or wanting advice, or wanting to share a story, or some success I've had, etc...If I experience the same from my own kids one day, I will see that as success. I am a good person, with a lot of good qualities. I'm not trying to toot my own horn there, but I want to show you a clear view of who I am. We are not our skin color. We are not our jobs. We are not our sports trophies. We are not our bank accounts. We are not our political affiliation. And we are not our religion. We are Beings. And we are intrinsically divine.

As parents, we needn't view our kids' personal journeys as rebellion. Sure, some kids are rebellious. I get that. But I'm just a few weeks shy of 40 years old. I'm hardly interested in rebelling. Every soul has its own journey. Every person has to make their own way. Every believer in God has to work out that relationship in an intimate, sacred, and personal way. Some people's paths will look Mormon. Some will not. There is no failure in either path. So, if your child goes less-active in the church, or steps away for a while, or leaves completely, do not listen to the darkness and feel as though you've failed. Instead, find your light. Listen to it. Let it shine and see all of the good, miraculous, and amazing things that your kids ARE.

Post Script: I realize that because I don't subscribe to a literal interpretation of most of Mormonism, this may be tough to translate for the traditional or more orthodox Latter-day Saint. This post may not resonate with everyone. I know many of you believe that your kids are lost, and breaking up the eternal family if they leave The Church. And if that is what you believe, I accept that. Still, I'd encourage you to look past the Mormon elephant in the room, if only for brief glimpses of your kids. See them for who they are, intrinsically. They are not reasons for you to feel like a failure. They are children of our great Creator. That is a beautiful truth, in my heart of hearts. You can find joy in their joys, and you can have pride in their successes. You can take satisfaction in the way they're taking their journeys and owning their paths.