Friday, February 11, 2011

Parental Priorities

I've placed two polls to the right side.  I've had a long-standing curiosity about how LDS parents prioritize their kids' secular vs. religious educations.  I also want to know about approval.  Are children hoping to gain approval from their LDS parents better off being letter-of-the-law Mormon kids, being super-spiritual/religious Mormon kids, or focusing on their studies and extracurricular activities and staying out of trouble? I would really appreciate as many responses as possible.  In addition, and as always, comments are welcomed so please elaborate in a comment if you'd like.

So, let me tell you why I am curious.  Growing up, my parents always told me that I HAD to go to college.  According to them this wasn't a choice and because I valued my own secular education, I never questioned that.  Furthermore, my parents never said anything to me that might reinforce the pressure to get married, have babies, and be a SAHM that I got at church. In fact, I believe that the message from my parents was that I should get as much education as I could/as I wanted/as I needed so that I would have all options open to me as an adult.  I was very studious of my own will so they didn't need to enforce good grades but I am sure that they would have if my grades had slipped much.  They were very supportive of my desires to be a good student and learn outside of school or participate in extracurricular activities and even supported my choices when I felt that my church responsibilities were interfering with my participation in other things.  When I became an adult, I started college at BYU.  But, I realized very quickly that the religious aspect of education there was overshadowing my secular education, and preventing me from seeing other perspectives of the world, far more that I was comfortable accepting.  When after a year I decided to leave BYU and transfer to one of the University of California schools, my parents were supportive and non-judgmental and were clearly more concerned about my thoughts and feelings about my education than whether there would be a significant religious component to my education or if I would be able to meet an upstanding RM to marry.  I know that my parents felt a certain amount of (righteous) pride in having a child at BYU but when that was no longer to be the case, they never let on to me or anyone else that they were even a little disappointed (if they were).  In addition, they were extremely proud of my accomplishments at UCLA. (They may not realize it, but there were certainly more accomplishments at UCLA than there would have been at BYU just by virtue of my having many more opportunities there.)

When I decided to leave the church, there was very little, if any, commentary on that choice from my parents. I had been skeptical since childhood and asked a lot of questions that ended with "really?", so they weren't terribly surprised.  I have never felt that my parents loved me any less or were any less proud of me after I stopped attending church.

I thought all of that was just normal parenting and love.  However, my husband had a very different situation with his parents. I don't want to speak for him so I won't elaborate too much but just share my perspective on it.  As far as I can tell, there was little if any attention paid to his education.  In high school, he wasn't a stellar student - he skipped a lot of class and got bad grades and hid report cards, etc, - and was never in much trouble for it.  It is important to note that my Hubster is exceptionally intelligent and LOVES learning.  So, his bad grades and class-skipping were not the result of him struggling academically or being a bad kid.  He just wasn't sufficiently supported or expected to live up to his potential.  I think his lack-luster academic performance was primarily the consequence of some depression and social anxiety that was either not fully appreciated or not adequately treated (or both). They did take him to a psychiatrist once but when the first medication he was given didn't help after a month at the first dose he was prescribed, they allowed him to stop taking it and they never insisted on or even suggested a follow-up appointment to ask if something different could be done.  As far as church goes, I can say that I have never known anyone more concerned about keeping up appearances at church than my in-laws.    My impression is that my MIL and FIL saw their kids more as accessories -  to help them portray the perfect, large, Mormon family - than as children they were responsible for raising into healthy, functioning members of society.

I will share one example.  When my husband was in his first year of grad school at MIT (mere months after attending a college graduation in which their son was on stage receiving honors and awards at least 3 times as frequently as the next most-accomplished graduate) his parents decided they needed to have a serious "heart-to-heart" with their son.  If I recall they did this in person when he was home to attend his sister's wedding.  That talk essentially consisted of his parents expressing how disappointed and concerned they were with the "direction his life was taking."  He was a self-sufficient, intelligent, accomplished, responsible, law-abiding, upstanding citizen with very bright future - the kind of adult child any REASONABLE parent would gush over.  But, he wasn't attending church. For shame.  He was proudly pursuing education while neglecting his eternal salvation.  As you can probably imagine, we were pissed!  His parents did serious and lasting damage to their relationship with their oldest child that day.  They must have known this would be the case, but decided it was worth it to make sure that he knew they did not approve of his choices.  It may also be worth noting that his parents gush over their kids who make bad life decisions but are otherwise at least pretending to be good, uber-churchy Mormons.

It's this difference in the way my husband and I were raised in the church that intrigues me.  Were our upbringings on the extreme poles of a spectrum? Do LDS parents who emphasized the religious education and activity of their children also more or less equally emphasize academics and other talents of skills? Is the extreme emphasis on religion over academics the norm among LDS parents and my upbringing was an anomaly? The polls I've designed are in no way going to be comprehensive or statistically significant. I am obviously polling primarily people who have left the church and may be quite disenfranchised with the church and/or their parents and not sampling many people who were raised in the church who have stayed with it.  But, I'd like to at least get an idea of the perspectives of current and former Mormons who participate in outer-blogness.

1 comment:

  1. My parents were uber-churchy, and uber-perfectionistic about my school attendance.

    When I was younger, my parents would have much preferred I failed in school than that I didn't go to church. They've learned a lot, and now actually FOR REALS just want me to be happy. Church, school, work, whatever... just be happy.