Some time ago a sister in Relief Society shared that she absolutely cringes every time she hears the song, I Am a Child of God , because of the line, “has given me a loving home with parents kind and dear.” Her upbringing was anything but kind and dear, and she felt cheated of something everyone else seemed to have.
But this sister is hardly alone. Though it isn’t always discussed, many others feel this same sense of loss, and even resentment, that they didn’t come from “an ideal LDS family.” Yes, we hear lots of talks and testimonies expressing gratitude for wonderful parents-and may God bless those who truly are– but there is a vast group who cannot echo these sentiments, and whose parents were neglectful, abusive, selfish, or destructive.
No one has the statistics on just what per cent of our population is truly “ideal,” but one need only to get intimately acquainted with other members to see that not all our families do everything right and live every commandment to the letter. Many in every ward are the “walking wounded,” survivors of terrible upbringings, struggling to make sense of why they had to endure innocence lost and mourning their unhappy childhoods.
My father was an LDS marriage counselor and often reminded folks that, despite having the recipe for happy living, LDS homes were nevertheless afflicted with all the same problems we see “in the world”: incest, beatings, threats, drug abuse, the gamut. Head-in-the-sand members would gasp and insist that certainly such sins were not among Latter-day Saints, but the reality is that these horrors do indeed afflict our culture, and will best be solved by facing them honestly, not by denying their existence.
Do we have fewer problems than non-LDS families? We hope so. LDS families are known for taking commitments seriously, for spending more time together than average, for loving and supporting one another, for teaching noble values, and for fostering closeness among extended relatives. We know our education rates are higher and our divorce rates are lower. But there is no way to measure perfect parenting, so we can only assume that our emphasis on family life is yielding healthy fruit for the most part. I think we all agree that, if you want to be a good parent, being a good LDS parent is your best shot.
So what can a member do, who’s one of the ones who fell through the cracks, whose parents dropped the ball? What can you, as a Home or Visiting Teacher, impart to these members to give them hope and comfort?
Ten points come to mind:
- Don’t wait for cruel people to apologize. Generally when someone is capable of such meanness, they are not the type of person who later reflects and feels remorse leading to a heartfelt apology. Our charge is to forgive them regardless of whether they’ve said they’re sorry. We need to forgive them for our own sake, so we can make spiritual progress. Don’t let them keep you down by nursing a grudge or harboring resentment; then you’ve let them hurt you twice! Forgiving them doesn’t mean you continue to let them heap anguish into your life; it means you have stopped hating them for it and have moved on.
- Sometimes it helps to understand why a person is unkind; usually its roots lie in the way they, themselves, were raised. If they came from a hot-tempered, abusive family, they are simply repeating the only techniques they’ve ever known. It doesn’t justify it, but it explains it. Hurt and anger they feel from their own lost happiness is often misdirected at the people who are closest at hand.
- Avoid self pity. It is a tool of the adversary, and leads to depression, retaliation, and even physical illness. Remember that this may be your trial in life, but others have their trials, too. They may be struggling with sins and situations you cannot see, yet which are just as challenging.
- Surround yourself with loving people who respect you. Demand courteous treatment, and don’t accept belittling or berating. You have spent far too much time as the “whipping boy,” and now it’s time to stand up for yourself and insist on decency and civility.
- Create your own loving home. None of us can control the home where we grew up, but we can control the home and family we create as adults. Break the chain of abuse and determine to pattern your “second family” after gospel principles.
- Don’t feel you must continue to accept your parents’ definitions of you. When we are commanded to honor our parents, it doesn’t mean to obey them if they want you to sell drugs, or keep quiet about crimes they’re committing, or keep their abuses a secret. To honor our parents, we improve upon their examples and lead as Christlike a life as we can, polishing their reputation and ours, living as nobly as possible. If they are not worthy of emulation, we can look to others as role models.
- Whenever someone is cruel to you, remember that you are in a far better position than they are. It is always better to be the one to whom evil was done, than the evil-doer. Be glad you do not treat people so unkindly, and let each example of hurt be a reminder that you would never stoop so low.
- Find comfort in prayer. Every pain you have endured was felt by Christ in Gethsemane . He knows your heart intimately, and wants to heal you and help you move on. Allow Him in.
- Study stories from the scriptures that teach us how to transcend poor parenting. Abraham’s father was willing to sacrifice him to a false God, yet look at the spiritual giant Abraham became.
- Remember that God loves you more than can be described. His love is more than enough to make up for any loss you’ve suffered. His love alone is sufficient for a sense of well-being, and the peace of mind all men seek. Bask in it, glory in it, and let it fill you with joy.
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