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Part II of Finding Faith: Raising bicultural kids

This is the final (for now) installment in last week’s guest post, “Finding Faith.” We left off at the part when our guest poster had recently married a man of another faith and had resumed attending church.

During those early years, I had very sporadic visiting teachers, and I don’t think we ever saw home teachers once. I think the missionaries came by a couple times. I was perfectly content to stay off the radar, though. It was in those years David learned the three questions: Where are you from? What brought you here? and, What do you do? Of course things changed once we became parents.

When our first child was born, she was very sick. She spent the first week of life on the NICU. The second day she was there I called my bishop and asked him to come give her a blessing. (Asking for blessings is something I am not good at, even to this day.) Then, the most bizarre thing happened. When his grandparents came to the hospital to see us, David asked his grandfather to pray over her. In that moment I learned the truth of the saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. My husband, despite describing himself as an atheist, was really an agnostic!!

On the day of my daughter’s blessing (she was blessed by my dad), David’s entire family attended. And I started right then the habit of taking my baby to church with me every Sunday. I’ve been active ever since.

David was used to my participating in activities such as visiting teaching, going to homemaking, watching conference, working on RS lessons, etc. But shortly after we moved to our current location (we moved here to be closer to my parents), I was called to the Young Women’s organization. If I’d done that job before we’d had children it would have been easier, but with little babies around, that is a hard job. That was the first time I started to dance around his needs. It’s the same as with tithing. Either you’re raised with that concept of it being something you just do, or you aren’t. He wasn’t raised with 10% every month, and he wasn’t raised with being gone every Wednesday night plus other meetings. He was a real trooper through it all, anyway.

David has always been so supportive of church activities, time away, etc. Really, he likes it. I keep thinking that the way I’ll get the girls through adolescence and staying active is that he looks forward to his 3.5 hours of peace and quiet each week. He will strongly encourage them to go to church, I hope.

He has also always welcomed church members in our home. The first three years we were here we had one home teacher who never missed unless he was sick (rarely), his wife just went into early labor (once) or we canceled on him. He was a dream. He loved our girls, knew their latest tricks, and always asked David meaningful questions. (At this point, we’d gotten way past the initial three.) He never pressured David about anything. He would give a three-minute lesson and include David, but he mainly talked to me and the girls. When our ward split, it was a huge loss to not have him.

When my testimony began to start growing in earnest, that is when parenting got trickier because everything changed. Being active in the church is not just something we do to keep ourselves occupied. There are huge eternal consequences at stake. We don’t have family prayer, per se. We pray all together at dinner, and David bows his head and usually closes his eyes because he knows our youngest will bust him if he doesn’t. The kids and I read scriptures most mornings for 5-10 minutes, which isn’t nearly as long as we did it when I was a kid.

Perhaps the biggest thing is that the gospel isn’t discussed as freely as it would be otherwise. It’s not because it is not allowed, but just because it’s not part of who David is, what he knows. It would be like speaking a foreign language one of your family members just doesn’t understand. He tries, but it just seems weird to try to talk about something that makes no sense to him.

I wish my children could get report cards at Primary because I need to know where I’m failing. Because I know we do talk about churchy stuff less in my home now than I did as a child, I worry that they’re not getting all they should.

I have often heard minorities, especially African-Americans, describe the feeling/reality that they have to be twice as good as their white competitors in order to ‘pass’. Perhaps it’s a strange comparison, but that is how I feel at church. In order for my kids to ‘pass’ they need to be ultra-super-Gospelsmart, super-kind, super-well-dressed/modest, and super-reverent. On the surface, that might sound superficial, but not if you know what drives that thinking. One of my worst fears is that my kids will be shunned because they’re from a part-member family. As in, “Well son, I don’t know that I want you to date Susie. You know she’s from a non-priesthood-infused home. She might lead you down dark paths.”

Recently my 4-year-old picked up from her 9-year-old cousin who is not LDS the phrase “Oh my (deity).” She said it the other night when I wasn’t home and David was in charge. My other daughter flipped out. But David said it wasn’t that bad a thing to say, all things considered. My oldest, in her best big sister bossiness said that mom would be very upset. He was trying to tone down the mothering tone of big sister, but what got communicated was it’s not that big a deal, so I had to do some reparation work later that night with both girls.

I feel I have to say, “Daddy believes this, but in our church we are taught X”. How do you say that without undermining the authority of the spouse? I ended up telling my 4-year-old that she can say whatever she wants but I can guarantee her that her best friend’s mom will not let her come over if she hears her saying it, because she strongly believes that this is a commandment from Heavenly Father and absolutely doesn’t want her children to say it.

The next week my mom gave a Family Home Evening lesson on the Ten Commandments. As we were talking through the commandments, My oldest said “Well, I’m having a little trouble with that ‘keeping the Sabbath holy’ one because I’ve snuck out with Dad a few times to get his NYTimes.” My mom handled it so beautifully. She said, “Every family has different circumstances. And you aren’t breaking the Sabbath so much as spending a few minutes one-on-one with Dad.” The next commandment is to honor your parents, and she talked a few minutes about what a good guy David is and how we would never do/say anything to make him feel he is bad. Then she said, “Let’s focus on what you could do to make the Sabbath more holy.” I don’t know what I would do without my parents. They are such a huge help.

I think if you grow up in the church, it is hard not to feel you’ve made the ‘wrong’ choice by marrying a nonmember because at least weekly I’m reminded of the fact we’re not sealed together, etc. I’ve always wondered how I would I explain this so my husband doesn’t feel weird in any way, and so my girls don’t feel second-class?

Recently the theme of our meetings was “Mothers Who Know.” One of the things I’d not really heard before was the part about “These mothers have made and honor temple covenants. They know that if they are not pointing their children to the temple, they are not pointing them toward desired eternal goals.”. Let’s just say it really hit home because my 7 year old looked at me and said, “And don’t you forget it!”

After we got home and I was putting her to bed, she asked the question I’ve waiting for years and years to hear, not without some trepidation. “Why weren’t you and Daddy married in the temple?” The question was going to come sooner or later, but I hadn’t really expected it yet. I asked her why she thought that was the case, and she promptly responded, “because Dad isn’t a member of our church.” I said that was right, and then she wanted to know why I married him then, because one of the commandments is that we get married in the temple.

I told her that I loved Daddy and I made a choice to not get married in the temple, and that it’s not an easy thing to understand. I told her that I thought it was the right choice at the time, and that Heavenly Father knows us and he knows our needs and that everything will work out, as long as we do our best. I don’t ever want to communicate to her that I have regrets/doubts/whatever else about her Dad because he is a fantastic man and father. But, it is a tricky thing. I asked her if there was anything else she wanted to know, and then she said, “What kind of cake did you have at your wedding?” So I’m pretty sure my answer sufficed….for now.

33 thoughts on “Part II of Finding Faith: Raising <i>bicultural</i> kids”

  1. May I be so bold as to pose a question that just occurred to me? In this installment you mention a time when your "testimony began growing in earnest." I'd like to know what precipitated that. Was it something specific that happened or did it evolve as you attended and participated in church?

    Thanks again for being willing to share your story.

  2. Thanks so much for this post! Your story is much my story. I too am married to an wonderful man who is not a member of the church. He is very supportive of our activity (partly because he likes the 3 hours of "me time" on Sundays) and encourages our children to follow all of the church's programs and rules. I've learned for myself, through prayer and pondering, how to navigate our family's situation and not feel like I am not doing things the right way or that I will lose my family in the eternities. I have received a peace about my family and know that Heavenly Father loves us, including him, as much as he loves anybody else and understands where we are. One of the great revelations in my life was when I learned that my family story was not about our failure to be married in the temple at this moment but the fact that because of my husband's involvement with me and my extended family, he has been introduced to the gospel and was essentially rescued from a life that would have been much less than it is now (I'm not bragging, really!). Anyway, loved this post because I can relate.

  3. I've so enjoyed reading this. My family became part member when my dad joined another church (you were x-d for that back then, not just records removed). It was tough in so many ways. I really related to your worries about your children possibly being shunned for being part of a part member family. As a teen, going to education weeks and the dating classes, there were always speakers who said to look at the whole family–which hurt on such a deep level.

    I love how positive you are about your husband. Because my dad's choice was taken as such a statement of rejection, there was no openness and a great deal of hurt communicated by my mom. I would think your accepting and loving attitude, as well as your openness, would help ease the feelings of differentness your kids could have.

    (Good news–my Dad was rebaptized last year. We never thought it would happen, him having a change of heart.)

    Thank you for sharing all of this. I was moved.

  4. Thanks for sharing this–my husband left the church last year and I'm still trying to figure out how to navigate things. I can relate to many of your feelings; I always feel extra self-conscious about my kids' behavior in sacrament meeting since I'm the only one there with them. We live in a ward with a lot of young couples and I always feel weird being the only mom there by herself. This gives me inspiration to do a better job turning to the Lord for guidance in our situation. Thank you.

  5. One thing after reading FoxyJ's comment, my sister's husband has left the church, my good friend in my ward here–the same thing. It happens. And even though there are feelings of inadequacy for some of us in this situation, I think it is happening more and more and more people understand. Marrying in the temple is not a closed deal on the Celestial Kingdom.

    I worry more about what other families may say about the dating thing, too. And what my children feel when they have lessons at church that they know I didn't follow.

    And the biggest worry I have is when they are ready to go to the temple for themselves. I want to be there and I know that will be a huge ordeal in our family.

  6. Just a thought on your comment "I wish my children could get report cards at Primary …"

    As a primary teacher, I would be happy to provide feedback on any of the children in my class if their parents asked. That would require more than a passing acquaintance in the hallway, but it would be a blessing for me to have the chance for such relationships. Primary can feel very isolating …

  7. I am the child of a situation like this. The big difference, though, is that religion was a huge point of contention in my parents' marriage, which eventually ended in divorce. It sounds to me like your marriage is healthy and loving, and that is a gigantic blessing to your children, regardless of what religion anybody is.

    On the topic of being raised in a part-member family: I don't relate to the concerns about being treated differently because we were a part-member family, because we were never involved socially at church. We (my mother, sister, and I) went to church only because we believed it. I can imagine that this would be different, if we had lived in an area like Utah, where there are so many LDS people.

    Here are my feelings about being raised by parents who were different religions: my religious experiences and beliefs have always been very personal. My dad presented me with the option of being agnostic; my mom exposed me to Mormonism. I made my own choice. Because of this, my testimony is ROCK SOLID. I am a member of the LDS church for one reason – because I believe in it. For this, I am so grateful for the religious journey that my parents' situation caused me to follow.

    However, there is pain associated with being raised by parents of different religions. That's all I'll say, because I don't want to cause additional anguish to those of you who are obviously troubled by being in the this situation. I pray for all of you, because I know first-hand some of the dilemmas you face, whether as a result of your own choices or the choices of your spouses. One thing I firmly believe is that God's promises are sure. He is mindful of our sweet children, and He wants them to follow Him. He is working with us to help save our children.

  8. One more thing, and I think this is the most important point of all:

    My sister and I both married faithful LDS men in the temple, and we have so many blessings in our lives because of that choice. (That's not the important part, this next part is) And every single one of those blessings is a result of our mother taking us to church by herself. I am so incredibly glad that she took us to church and lived her beliefs. Please don't stop going to church and trying to make it work. This is a huge battle, but you are giving the most precious blessings to your children.

  9. Dalene, it has been mostly the latter, over the past 5 years, and especially the past 2. It's easy to see miracles as coincidences if you want to use that lens; the same is true for seeing them as divine intervention. I think I've been willing to see God's hand in my life more than ever before, and trust in that.
    D, I'm glad you can relate. It's nice to know that there are others out there in this situation. When you're the only part member family in your ward it can feel isolating.
    Wendy, that must have been traumatizing on so many different levels. I'm so happy for your family now.
    Lisa, I hear you about the temple thing, not so much for my husband but for his mother. I'm thinking we need to do a part-member family blog to give support to others. Just an idea I keep tossing about. Are you game?
    Mrs. O-What I've learned (yet again) that nobody gets through mortality unscathed. We all are tested one way or another.
    Sarah, I do ask my children's teachers for real information. And yes, Primary can be very isolating (as a person who has spent 9 months in nusery after spending most of my adult life in RS).
    Angie, I'd like to hear all you have to say about this topic because you have insight I don't. Granted my marriage functions differently from your parents' did, but I am sure there are similarities. I agree with you 100%. My children can't go through this process living off borrowed light. Maybe if we do end up doing a blog, that would give you a forum to talk about this a bit?

  10. Marrying in the temple, raising children with parents both active members, these acts alone do not guarantee the most desired outcome.
    You already participate and engage in what is necessary to raise happy, healthy, and decent human beings.
    Keep up the good work….both of you.

  11. "Maybe if we do end up doing a blog, that would give you a forum to talk about this a bit?"

    Are you planning an entire blog devoted to this topic? Yes, I would check in there periodically to see what everyone is saying.

  12. I love that you wrote this. I am also married to a wonderful husband & father who isn't a member. I can relate to you in so many ways.

    My husband had similar "talks" about tithing. I have a scripture for you. It isn't something that I knew of until my bishop taught it to me. I don't know that everyone would agree, but maybe it will be of value to you. It is in Mosiah when King Benjamin is teaching the people. He talks about the poor, and those who would give if they had any to give. My dear bishop applied this scripture to tithing, and how, if you would pay it if you were able, if your husband agreed, then it is the same as actually paying it. I cling to this teaching, and it allows me to go to the temple & do baptisms. I know there are some who would not agree with this in the church, but I believe it.

    Thank you for sharing your story. There aren't a lot of official church "sources" that we can go to to find help & reassurance of what to do in a "bi-cultural" family. Our having blogs & talking about it on sources like Segullah will help our fellow sisters know they aren't alone. Thanks for being willing to talk about this. Take care.

  13. Becky, it was a long time coming, but I do pay it now. I came up with a weird way that works for us. Because I work a couple days a week, I would take my paycheck and then deposit it, twice a month. Husband saw the money in the account. Then, I'd write a check for tithing and FO and then all this money would be out of the account that he never remembered to think about.
    Now, when I get my check, I cash out the tithing. So the day the money is deposited, what's in there is there to stay. And I just pay my tithing in cold hard cash. I'm sure there's an easier way to do it, but for whatever reason, there's been no fussing about it. There have been times I've not wanted to pay it, but I am trying very hard to put faith first, and then expect the miracle. If I didn't work, I would have zero problems with not paying it. I only pay it on my income as it is now.
    I'm glad you found this post, and commented.

  14. Guest: I am so sorry to pry – but are you saying that you pay your tithing without your husband knowing about it?

  15. Last year when I wasn't working I didn't pay any tithing, and my bishop told me that was OK. So if you are in a situation where your husband is not a member and you have no income, you should not be penalized for not paying tithing. Right now I pay on my income and we don't pay anything on his because he chooses not to. We have separate bank accounts right now so that makes it easier.

  16. Angie, NO! 😀 He knows, but it just seems like we don't ever talk about tithing anymore since I went to this system. It may have nothing to do with the method but just his getting used to the fact it's gonna happen.
    FoxyJ-Before, I used to be an independent contractor, so I'd put a lot of money into the bank account, and then have to take a bunch out for bills, taxes, and tithing. I probably should always have had my own account.

    I think what is hard with tithing, and I meant to say last night about Becky's comment, is as a couple, we don't have His money and My money–it's OURs. When it comes to tithing, I basically am saying this is mine and I will pay tithing. So, there was a long time I didn't pay it, knowing I would pay it if I thought my husband would really, truly be okay with it.
    But, my patriarchal blessing goes on and on and on about tithing. So, I decided I needed to figure out a way to make it work. For now, it's working. But, in the end, I think it was more about me trusting it would be okay than about my husband not getting it because he never has been snotty about it. It was more about my worrying he might be.

  17. I feel for you, Guest, and others in the same situation. Thank you for sharing.

    Even trickier is when your temple-married husband *is* a member but not believing. My dh still attends church, but does not believe. Even though he is there physically, he is not there mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. To everyone else, it seems that all is well (even though everyone knows he's not a gung-ho member). With your dh's being non-members, it's not a secret, and things are out in the open; there's no dancing around the truth of the situation. I keep waiting for my dh to 'come out of the closet' about his doubt and disbelief, because then I wouldn't have to keep on pretending. I would be a bit more where you are. I could go ask any man for a priesthood blessing without feeling that I'm either breaking a confidence with my dh or making them feel awkward about why I didn't ask my dh. I think it'd even be easier in a lot of ways if he *were* inactive, because, then again, people don't see him at church, and we can all work around that openly. Something has to happen in the next year, as I've got a son who will be getting baptized about this same time next year, but not by his father who doesn't believe in the priesthood. Pray for us that we can navigate these waters as smoothly as possible. Pray that everyone involved will treat my dh with love and respect, not pity or disdain or that he has worthiness issues. Pray that my dh will feel to keep attending church and feel accepted, and *inspired* there. Of course, I hope that he will eventually receive a testimony, and that our story will end as I'd always thought it would. I pray for that, but know that it is a function of his freedom to choose.

    I look forward to the day when he does open up with those who need to know. And for that day, I pray for loving, understanding leaders who do not put him on their "reactivation" list, because nothing would sign the deal for him more than being recruited and being a project. I would love for everyone at church to just be happy that he chooses to be there, worshipping with other Christians and supporting his wife and kids. Let them realize he has his agency to choose to be there or not, and that at least he has chosen to be there, and to leave the pressuring somewhere else.

    I would love a blog about part-member families. Let us know when you launch it! And thanks for being patient with my thread-jack sharing, too.

  18. A PS:

    I *do* have faith that everything will work out for my best. I have a lot of peace about the whole situation. I do not worry about eternity, and I feel the peace and comfort and love of my Father in Heaven about the whole thing. He loves us and knows us.

    And to those of you out there who now realize you know me, and have just received this news flash, I appreciate your love and support and discretion the most. Thanks.

  19. strollerblader, wow, if only we could all be stronger, kinder, less judgmental, more giving. I do pray your husband finds the Lord's love in his life again, and oh how I hope all the well-intentioned people around follow the Spirit in moving forward with him. I think you've mentioned one of the great, great lessons that we all struggle to learn — sharing our environment and lives with the people around us in loving and gracious ways, not judging and condemning the path and choices and struggles of others. God bless…

  20. Strollerblader–

    That's where we were at for a few years before my husband decided to just stop going. It was hard for a lot of reasons–it's hard either way. A lot of Sundays I kind of wish he was still there just to help with the kids, but at the time the tension was killing both of us. He did eventually decide to just stop going, which at least ended a lot of the tension at church. The hard thing for me is the unspoken assumptions that he is inactive because of worthiness issues. He's a great guy and we do still have FHE every week and I teach the kids about church, he comes to ward parties sometimes, etc. I love my bishop, but I've mostly stopped talking to him because he always treats me with this weird sort of pity because my husband is inactive. I don't like that. Like you, I feel at peace in my heart about the future. True there is some heartache now, but I don't want him feeling like some kind of project or something.

    Oh, one good thing my bishop told me was that sometimes the best way to bear testimony to someone we love is to do it indirectly through our actions and example. I've pretty much stopped trying to "fix" dh's problems and issues with the church because it was so hard on both of us. For now we've agreed to disagree and left it at that.

  21. Strollerblader, if there is any way to rate things as easier or harder, I would say in some ways, your situation is harder, at least for the time being, for all the reasons you mentioned. I VT a lady whose husband is really struggling with his faith-of-origin. For years I just believed that his work kept him from church most Sundays. Finally, when I talked to her about my situation a bit, she told me exactly where things were at her house (it was on a day my companion didn't come and certainly wouldn't have 'gotten' it).
    FoxyJ, last year at Women's Conference, there was a lady who talked about living our lives as testimonies. It was the best, most real thing about this situation I've ever heard. It's not on the WC website, but I really want to find it, and maybe use some of that to launch the new site.
    Finally, if you're in Primary you know this month's theme. And today, my older daughter finally asked the big one: "If you and daddy weren't married in the temple, what does that mean for our family?"

  22. Yes, it's the raising bi-cultural kids that gets me the most anxious. Like last night, when I'd asked the kids' grandpa to come give my boy a blessing, and my boy said said, "Yeah, and Daddy could give me one, too." I just didn't say anything. And when my MIL realized that my dh wouldn't be assisting with the blessing, there just wasn't anything else to say, either. She was confused at why I would have them come over now, if my dh wasn't going to be back from the store for quite a while. They are starting to get the picture, though.

    But, you can see I've got a lot of hurdles ahead of me before the next child gets baptized in a year and Daddy won't be the one doing the ordinances.

    And my answer (just in my head, so far) to most of those questions, including the ones *I* have: "I don't know the answer to that. I just have a testimony and a witness that it will all work out just right."

    Best wishes to all of us 'single Mormon parents' who struggle to raise kids within our bi-religion marriages.

  23. It's SO comforting to know there are other people dealing with this situation. My husband (RM, temple marriage) no longer believes and over the last year or so, his attendance has gradually dropped. He comes to SM about 1-2 times a month to show his support of me, and nothing else. He comes often enough to keep people guessing, although he doesn't care if they know. He's not one to bring it up or try to convince other people, so it is just starting to come up gradually. We live in a very big, conservative LDS area. It's awkward sometimes. People are slowing becoming aware, which is hard in some ways but a relief in others.

    I'm still working out how to teach my kids about the gospel in our home. DH is agnostic now and definitely wants them to be exposed to his viewpoint. We're trying to show them an example of two people who love each other and get along even though they disagree. We agree on a lot of the same morals/virtues/values, so I try to emphasize that. But teaching them LDS or Christian-specific messages that contradict what DH might think is tricky. Any ideas?

    Also, there is a support group called Faces East for believing members whose spouses are not members or no longer believe:


  24. Jill, just last night we were having a discussion around the dinner table about the age of the earth, and also about why priesthood was denied to certain people for a long time. When we have these discussions, we try to talk about what different people believe about these things, and specifically what we believe. On these topics even within the church, people believe different things.
    As I started thinking about a blog for our population, I did a bit of googling and found faceseast, so now I'm rethinking the idea of starting a new blog.

  25. Is there a common thread or reason why some spouses leave the church later in life? Is it at a certain age? Or because of learning about church history? Or because of experiences that don't seem to mesh with the teachings of the church? This is probably a topic that is too huge to whittle down to one statement. As others have mentioned, there are internet communities that are centered around this issue.

    I wonder if one way to look at all of this is – that it's all part of our faith journey. We have various experiences – emotional, spiritual, physical – that either make us feel more or less faith. And all of it can be used by God for His will, which is that we help each other back to Him.

    I don't know. I just wish we would treat each other with sincere care and concern, no matter what.


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