Today’s post comes from another fantastic guest poster. She has been married for almost two decades and is the mother of four children, two of them teenagers. Beyond her attempts to be a ‘goodly parent’, since being a perfect one has gone up in smoke, she is a published author and freelance editor.
When I was 15, my 13 year old sister and I hated everything about the church. After months of fighting about it, my parents offered an olive branch; if we would agree to stop fighting them on church attendance, we only had to go every other week. I was making a lot of poor choices in my life at this time—a big part of why church was so uncomfortable for me—and after a few months of bi-monthly attendance, those choices started catching up with me and I ended up making changes that eventually restored me to full activity. I’ve been active ever since and look at that ‘desert’ of my life as a foundation of my testimony—the repentance process is a powerful teacher.
My sister, however, did not make the journey with me. She kept with the every other week for awhile and then she dug in her heels even more. Within a year of the “deal” she rarely attended church at all and in the twenty years since that time she’s never been active again.
I don’t pretend to blame the “deal” for either my return to church activity or my sister falling away completely—people and the choices they make are more complex than that, but I am now in the sphere of raising teenagers of my own and I find myself facing the same choice my parents faced.
My 15 year old daughter hasn’t liked church since she was 9 or 10 years old. She asks to stay home nearly every Sunday. No one mistreats her, but she doesn’t fit with the group of girls her age. She doesn’t like mutual, personal progress, or girl’s camp, she feels like everyone at church is trying to make her into something she isn’t. This is not a bad child and she’s not making the same sinful choices I was making at her age. She’s funny and smart and social and creative but she is not the typical Mormon girl. She’s liberal in her opinions, she’s accepting of people on the fringe of social acceptance, and I have known since she was very young that she would not be “mainstream”. I have hoped, however, that she would find her place and it scares me that she may not give church the chance to let her know she fits better than she thinks she does.
The arguments we’re having about church attendance are picking up and her father and I, who have always said we would never make a “deal”, are wondering if we’re willing to sacrifice our relationship with this child for the assurance that she sitting on a chair at church once a week. We’ve been telling ourselves for years that even with a bad attitude it’s better that she’s there, that she might feel something someday. However, she seems to get more and more hardened toward it as time goes by. In school she had to write down the attributes her parents wanted in a future spouse, the only answer she put down was religious. We laughed about it, but she wasn’t joking. In her mind she felt that we could care less if he were an abusive lump with no job or front teeth—as long as he went to church, we’d be happy.
Many years ago I heard a talk by Barbara Smith, a former RS president, at an American Mother’s Incorporated meeting and she said that the three most important things she’d learned in raising her seven children were to 1) Save the relationship 2) Save the relationship 3) Save the relationship. Am I saving the relationship by making my child attend church or will I save it by letting her make the choice? I don’t pretend to have done everything right in raising and teaching my children, perhaps had I been more vigilant about this or that we wouldn’t be facing this, but we ARE facing this and I have to remind myself that lamenting what I missed isn’t going to make this decision for me now.
So I pose the scenario to you—the Segullah audience. Perhaps you’ve been here with a child, perhaps you were this child, or perhaps you have insight that would help me and my family. I would love to hear it as my husband and I search for answers to this dilemma. Thanks in advance, I look forward to your thoughts.
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