About the Kids

Poor Wayfaring Man

A reader posted a comment recently, asking two questions. Good ones. I answered the first one in my previous post, and the second one here.

Mormon Woman Wondering asked:

Please help me understand how you…speak with your children, with integrity to your beliefs and with sensitivity to their need for something to hold onto in this world.

This is a tough question, particularly for somebody like me, with a spouse who is active in the Church, and who wants our kids to be active too. Obviously, my solution is a compromise, and could possibly have been different if she felt differently.  But I think this solution does take into account the potential need for kids to have something to hold onto as they develop their own worldview.

As background, I think it is useful to note that my wife and I share the opinion that childhood is a key time for a person to learn basic lessons about how the world works, and the older a person gets, the more costly those lessons will generally become (e.g., getting caught cheating on a test when you are eight years old is less costly than getting caught cheating on a final exam in college).  As parents, we have a chance to control, to a significant extent, the circumstances under which our children get their lessons, in order to best help them prepare for adulthood and the real world.  The issue my wife and I are dealing with, then, is deciding which circumstances are best for teaching our kids the lessons.

My wife believes that going to church is a good way for the kids to get some of those lessons, and at the age the kids are at right now (5-9 years old), I agree.  At this age, the church teaches kids simple lessons about gratitude, sharing with others, respect for other people, honesty, obedience, and other basic concepts that help them get along in society.  The fact that these lessons are often taught in the context of myths and legends about Joseph Smith, or characters in the Book of Mormon or Bible, is not that big of a deal to me.  I think children are well-equipped to learn through stories that are presented as true, whether they actually are or not.  It is not much different to me than using any other more conventional fairy tales to teach morality and ethics (i.e. Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or Santa Claus), so I have gone along with the process, limiting my input to questions meant to gauge their understanding of the lessons they learn in church.

I don’t go to church, and my kids notice that.  But just like times when they notice that Santa doesn’t being me very many presents, I refrain from completely leveling with them.  My response so far has been to say that I have graduated from church, just like I graduated from school.  I can say this with sincerity, because it is the truth, from my perspective.  It works as an answer for my kids and my wife, because, just like school, I am not giving them a reason to give her trouble about staying home.  They go and learn their lessons, just like their mom and I went when we were their age, and they will have a chance to “graduate” when they are old enough to make that decision.  We have stayed vague about the details of graduation.

Of course, as our kids get older, the focus of the lessons taught in the Church will gradually change from teaching them basic moral and ethical concepts to indoctrinating them into the LDS worldview (regarding gender roles, sexuality, sin, Truth, religious authority, non-LDS beliefs, etc.).  I do have serious concerns about that, but my wife and I haven’t formally developed a game plan for dealing with it yet.  I might write more about the issue in a future post.


4 Responses to “About the Kids”

  • ed42 Says:

    Please don’t discount the ‘conditioning’ they are receiving in Primary now. “Follow the prophet, he knows the way” is a very powerful implant, especially as it is sung often.

  • Poor Wayfaring Man Says:

    Yeah, that LDS children’s song is obnoxious. At the same time, I assume that you would acknowledge that kids regularly shrug off songs like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” when they are allowed to grow out of that myth. How is the message of “Follow the Prophet” any different?

  • GoingApostate Says:

    My wife and I will soon be faced with defining how we will approach the teaching of the kids as well (same ages). Perhaps I’m overreacting but I have serious concerns about what my children will be learning along with those values. After seeing how entrenched in the belief my wife is I can only conclude that this childhood conditioning is extremely powerful. Also I take issue with HOW they learn the lessons. The inseparability of those values from the source of all good, God, makes it very hard to allow for those values to have an inherent good. My children are not taught they have value, they are taught they have value and purpose BECAUSE they are children of God. I see this as a damaging influence but I have no idea how to protect them without tearing the family apart.

  • Poor Wayfaring Man Says:


    I checked out your blog to try and understand a little more where you are coming from. Interesting story. I see that you converted and joined the LDS Church a little more than a decade ago, and you are in the throes of a collapse of your belief in not only the myths and legends of Mormonism, but the very concept of “God” itself. That’s a tough set of issues to work through all by themselves. Add to that the sticky social web of Mormonism, and your family situation, with a believing spouse who is not sympathetic to your point of view (yet), and you have the makings of a good old fashioned personal shit storm. It is not likely to get better before it gets worse, but I’ve seen people get through it. I’m getting through it.

    Obviously, I don’t see the kids spending two hours a week in primary as a damaging influence on their self concept or worldview. I just don’t think their brains are developed enough to internalize the messages you, as an adult, are concerned about. Their reaction to seeing through religious myths is likely to be similar to their reaction to seeing through the Santa Claus myth. You’ve seen your kids experience the Santa Claus thing recently. It’s not a big deal.

    You wrote:
    “After seeing how entrenched in the belief my wife is I can only conclude that this childhood conditioning is extremely powerful.”

    I don’t think this is the only conclusion you can reach. At the age of 12, your wife started the LDS Young Women’s program, and that, in my opinion, is where things change for the kids. At that age, they are approaching adulthood, and starting to formulate their adult identity and a comprehensive view of how the world works. They are allowed to shed their childhood concept of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, but not God. The Church uses this time to separate the sexes and attach specially tailored religious strings to the normative concepts (like gender roles, etc.) they were raised with. This is where guilt becomes a tool for the Church. In my experience, this is the period during which a kid’s belief in the Church becomes entrenched, and a matter of identity–potentially for the rest of their lives.

    In my opinion, you have time to negotiate this change in your point of view with your wife without bringing the kids into it too much. Best of luck.


Leave a Reply