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I can clearly remember my most anxious day at work. When I was a young nanny, my boss took me aside to ask for marriage advice when it looked like things with her husband were spiraling towards divorce. Dismantling a bomb might have been a nice warm-up for her to give me before launching that torpedo. Determined to not let their daughter’s intact family crumble, I spent the next few days spontaneously ad-libbing my beliefs on marriage to my employers. I remember my boss (who is not a member of the Church) was so fascinated she even stopped me to jot down some notes to e-mail to her mother. Two weeks later, I was taking a walk with their family when the dad pulled me into a shop. With a smile on his face and a break in his voice, he hugged me and said, “Thank you so much for saving our marriage.”
The advice I gave this family was not top-secret info that only I was privy to. You probably have the words I was ad-libbing hanging on the wall of your home right now with a nice, beautiful frame around it. The Family: A Proclamation to the World is a key doctrine of our faith that resists prevailing societal trends and affirms the true purpose of marriage and family. Those long talks I had after-hours at my nanny job gave me so much hope that a world full of hurting marriages could be built up when they are recalibrated to the truths found in the proclamation.
If I’m being honest, my faith in the Church and confidence that I can be a tool in God’s hands has taken some hits in life. But watching God use me and my meager understanding of His gospel in ways that are above and beyond my ability laid a foundation of trust and dependence on the Spirit that I tap into daily when I feel out of my element.
It may look like I went from cuddling a baby to coddling a marriage, but the truth is, I was already invested in my employer’s marriage because I was invested in their child. My experience as a nanny woke me up to the sad reality that marriage has turned into more of a stamp of approval on two adult’s love life instead of all the great things God intended it to be—especially for our children.
I sought out more ways to take action and put my passion for marriage into practice. With a trail blazed by the UN and stories of the grown children from broken families, a children’s rights movement is brewing across the globe. Fueled by my testimony of the proclamation, I work as an activist doing what has never been done before: giving children a voice in the debate around family structure.
Emotionally Starving Kids
I didn’t have to dig very deep into the recesses of my mind for quotes or wisdom from my LDS upbringing before it clicked with my employers. “No success can compensate for failure in the home” is a profound truth from David O. McKay I’ve taken for granted. It resonated with my boss when I shared it. “I couldn’t have said it better,” my boss responded. “I lived it.”
As a child of divorce, the woman I worked for had an amazing single mother. And yet, there was still trauma because the type of pain she felt wasn’t from the parent that was present, it was from the parent that was absent. She remembered longing for both parents every day, at every age.
I believe that God’s laws around marriage and sex exist not just for the flourishing of “you the adult”, they also exist for “you the child,”. Studies show—and stories of children affirm—that there are three key pieces of emotional nutrition our kids need to thrive: the love of their mother, the love of their father, and stability. When one of these three elements is missing, children can be emotionally malnourished. Wanting the love of your mother and father is not a social construct. It is a deep, primal, soul-level need.
If you’re an adult, you have a right to assemble, a right to privacy, a right to a fair trial—all these things we recognize as basic human rights. Do children have a natural right to their mother and father whenever possible? If the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is to be believed, and if we were to ask any child about their deepest desires, the answer is yes! This right is up there with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. In fact, a child’s likelihood of finding and keeping the latter often hinge on whether or not we can secure the former.
Protecting Children’s Rights Will Change the World
It’s hard to ignore all the amazing change that has happened on the civil rights front in the last 60 years, but I can still think of one group of people whose rights have taken a massive step backward: children. Citing statistics on broken homes, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “In my judgment, the greatest challenge facing this nation is the problem of the family, brought on by misguided parents and resulting in misguided children…A nation will rise no higher than the strength of its families.” President Hinckley was right.
Drill down into any social ill and you’ll see that children from broken families are over-represented in every single risk category. From drug abuse to suicide, incarceration to homelessness, children that are emotionally starving for love and a relationship with their mother and father contribute to our most pressing social issues.
71% of pregnant teens are fatherless.
63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes—5 times the average.
90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes—32 times the average.
47% of children living in poverty are fatherless—4 times higher than children with married parents.
We put billions of dollars into social programs that seek to band-aid the gaping wound left by family break-down, and still our children are floundering. Why? Because the government cannot love a child.
Latter-Day Saints rightly advocate for an intact family structure, while recognizing that for various reasons the ideal is not always available. When children face these deep losses, we need to huddle up as disciples of Christ, show compassion, and do life together. We need more heroic adoptive parents, step-parents, grandparents, and mentors willing to fill the gap and mend broken bonds while simultaneously condemning the situation that forced a child to lose a relationship with their biological parent(s) in the first place.
However, cultural norms are increasingly moving towards promoting suboptimal family structures for children simply because it’s what adults want, not because, as it states in the proclamation, “Disability, death, or other circumstances have necessitated individual adaptation.” There is a huge difference between repairing a broken bond and intentionally creating a broken bond. Studying the statistics for myself, I could no longer overlook the ways adults have saddled children with a burden no one should have to bear.
Putting Children’s Rights Before Adult Desires
Focusing on children’s rights is not about doing the bidding of a tiny tyrant. We’re not talking about buying them everything on their Christmas list or removing parents as an intermediary between children and the state. We are talking about living up to the proclamation’s decree that children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and have a right to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with total fidelity. I have come to understand that by boldly advocating for the rights of children I can do more than just display my support for God’s design for the family with an elegantly framed proclamation on the walls of my home. Instead, I can hand over the whole home and let His will be displayed throughout every aspect of my life.
Advocating for children’s rights in my own life means being intentional about my responsibilities to my kids. I’ve started to see my children as entitled to more of me than I have been giving them. Whether that means being on my phone less and hiking with them up in the mountains more or taking my kids to church alone when my husband is no longer interested in coming. I’ve had to face down my crushing selfishness and decide whose best interests were going to rise to the top. I mess up more often than I succeed, but I’ve decided my three and four-year-old are entitled to a mom that does hard things. (The age spacing was God’s idea, not mine.)
Taking the time to understand the fundamental rights of children has made all the difference in my life—can you imagine what the world could look like if we applied these same principles?
Children from fatherless homes are hindered by behavior disorders at 14 times the average—could we curb that?
71% of high school dropouts come from broken homes—could we fix that?
75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers are fatherless—could we stop that?
How high do the stats need to get before we start insisting that adults make the sacrifices so that our kids don’t have to?
Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says, “As far as possible, [children have a] right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.” Although it’s clear that children have rights, the swell of intent-based parenting laws, no-fault divorce, third party reproduction, adult-centric adoption, abandonment, and cohabitation show that too many adults have no problem ignoring them. Any adults—male or female, gay or straight, single or married should not take something from a child that is their right simply because it suits their adult desires.
Some people feel that the proclamation is due for an update without taking into consideration the needs and longings of children. As a children’s rights activist, I can tell you that it doesn’t need to be amended, it need to be strengthened. There will never be any social justice until we first respect the rights of children, which is the natural outcome of adults abiding by the precepts of the proclamation. The process of losing a parent is painful and the effects are long-lasting. I believe that neglecting the proclamation means we stack the deck against our children and contribute to some of the biggest social ills today. Following it and defending the rights of children, on the other hand, will add to the flourishing of our children in a way that nothing else will.
Becoming an advocate for children’s rights has changed me, and my entire worldview. I know I have spent too much of my life holding out an empty cup, hoping it could be filled by everything from my friends to my Twitter. I’ve had to come to terms with an attitude of entitlement that made me feel like my kids and my religion were just getting in the way of more important work, instead of being the most important work. But God must have a sense of humor because I didn’t intend to be a catalyst in the children’s rights movement, it chose me, and in the process, it supplied what I didn’t know I was missing.
About the Author
Carah Burrell volunteers as advocacy director for Them Before Us, the only organization solely devoted to defending children’s rights in family structure. She met her husband on stage in a comedy club (her dad says their marriage is a joke). She traveled the country with her hilarious husband before settling in Cottonwood Heights, Utah to raise their two daughters, Lake and Gwen.
Come learn more about children’s rights by attending a free event hosted by Carah and Them Before Us founder and director, Katy Faust, held at two locations in Utah.
- Provo library (room #309) August 26th at 7pm
- The Utah State Capitol Building (room #445) August 27th at 4pm