Category: Parenting

How I taught the Proclamation on the Family

As the Sunday School president at the time (December 2021), I told the teachers in advance that I wanted them to do two things. First, I wanted them to teach the doctrine. Second, I wanted them to teach it so that whoever their students were and whatever their situation, they would feel welcome and accepted. Then as the teacher of a youth Sunday School class, this is what I said.

Learning to Yell

You probably think the title is a joke or some nice irony or a typo. It is not. It is not even a feminist manifesto about reclaiming my “voice.” This really is a story about me re-learning to yell. I used to yell. No problem. All I needed was a slight provocation

Confessions of a Former Stay-at-Home Mom

After nine years as a stay-at-home mom, I recently got a full-time job. I’ve been working for a month now, which seems long enough to state some preliminary observations about how things are going. The short answer is, I am happier than I’ve been in quite a while. I have way more patience for my children when I come home at six o-clock from an office full of adults than I did when I was at home with them all day. My emotional resources are magically magnified by being away from home during the work-day doing something interesting and creative, and I am much better able to deal with the inevitable complications and setbacks of life. And it is so nice to not be living paycheck to paycheck anymore. Worrying about money all the time and freaking out when we had an unexpected car problem or other non-budgeted expense was not an easy way to live. Life is a little more hectic, and we don’t see quite as much of one another as we did, but for us right now, it is worth the trade-off. If you’re wondering why all of this is a revelation to me, here’s the reason: I grew up in a home where SAHM-hood was the expected and ideal destination for a girl. My mom quit her job when she was pregnant with her oldest child (me), and for my entire childhood, I don’t remember her ever working,…

This Sunday’s Sacrament Meeting

As a child in the 80s, I remember often feeling a low-level dread. Not constant, not to the extent that it interfered with enjoying life, but the dread of a Cold War child that, any minute, the happy world I lived in might be destroyed in a hail of nuclear fire.[fn1] It didn’t have anything to do with my parents, who didn’t spend any significant amount of time talking about the risk of all-out war. And I don’t recall talking about it at school or at church. But it kind of underlay the culture, emerging not infrequently from the 6:00 news. And then, of course, in 1989, that fear began to crumble. Sadly, fear returned in 2001, and we (meaning, myopically, we in the United States) now live lives of heightened awareness of tragedy, awareness that a person with a bomb or a gun can emerge in the most unexpected places and shatter the peace that we enjoy. I don’t want to comment on the tragedy in Boston; like many people, I’ve watched it in impotent sadness on Twitter and other places on the web. I mourn for those who have been hurt or killed, who have lost friends and loved ones, but I don’t have anything helpful or insightful to bring to the table.[fn2] I do, though, have one request to Sacrament meeting speakers on Sunday: please don’t talk about the bombing. Or at least, please don’t talk about…

Elliot’s Vagrants

Coreen Johnson has graciously provided this personal story of Mormon Life, which I loved and thought would be a great addition here. Coreen is a stay-at-home mother of 4 who now lives in New Mexico. Enjoy! Elliot’s Vagrants by Coreen Johnson, FMHer “Hey lady! Do you have a dollar?  Just a dollar!  Please lady! Just a dollar! Please, ma’am!”

The Way We Teach Our Children Modesty

At the age of two, my daughter Axa could point out an immodest outfit in a shop window. At five, she added sleeves to the dress on the princess picture her babysitter had drawn for her. Although I don’t recall making any special effort to teach her about modesty, I was surprised and gratified that she understood the concept at such a young age. However, lately I’ve been having disquieted feelings when she brings up modesty, as I realize that something in the nuance of what I’ve taught has gone awry. And then just a few weeks ago, something happened that disturbed me. Axa (who’s now seven) was reading the Book of Mormon out loud to me. She hadn’t interjected a word until we came to this passage (from the Testimony of Joseph Smith, describing the appearance of the angel Moroni): He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant. His hands were naked, and his arms also, a little above the wrists; so, also, were his feet naked, as were his legs, a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe, as it was open, so that I could see into his bosom.…

The Boundaries of Independence

As my children have grown and started to leave home, I find myself conflicted by the idea of Independence. Of course I want them to be independent, to go off on their own, make their own choices and even, to be frank, to require less or none of my support and effort. Its not that I’m not willing to give them support and effort, but more that just as they need to be independent, my wife and I would like fewer requirements. We, too, would like a bit more independence.

O My Father

“My father, thou art the guide of my youth” (Jeremiah 3:4). We turn to him for guidance, for help and counsel as we age and learn our own fallibilities. It is Father’s Day. Today, we recognize the important role that men play in loving and caring for children. Too often, I get caught up on a few words in the Proclamation on the Family and the idea that “fathers are to preside over their families.” It sounds distancing to me; that the father is somehow uninvolved in the day to day work of family and home life; he is, at best, a benevolent administrator. It makes me think of my paternal grandfather’s generation, who were not allowed to be in the hospital at the birth of their children, who were shaped by the culture of their time to not be overly affectionate; to be the authority figure in the home. There was no “My daddy is my fav’rite pal” type of dynamic possible (Children’s Songbook #211). As time went on, my grandfather, who I remember as large and strong and gruff, was able to melt somewhat, to enjoy his grandchildren more than he could his children’s childhood. Society is changing. These changed expectations are reflected in the Proclamation. Yes, it says that the father presides: it also says that husbands and fathers are to love and care for their children, “to rear [them] in love and righteousness, to provide for…

Urban Mormonism

As the sacrament was passed in the rural ward we attended today, my younger daughter looked at the deacons passing the sacrament and asked, “Why are those kids doing that?”[fn1] (My wife tells me that my older daughter noticed the same thing.) — [fn1] Just in case it’s not clear what my daughters are talking about, there is one teenage boy in our ward (but another turns 12 in a month or so!). And that’s not a significant outlier in my perhaps limited experience. So my daughters have rarely seen a bunch of 12- and 13-year-olds get up after the sacrament is blessed.

Single Moms and Adoption — Another Perspective

I have been fascinated by the idea of adoption for a long time. Growing up, I knew a few people who were adopted, and the idea of bringing home your baby from Korea or the Ukraine always seemed exotic to me. But my obsession really took off when I got my Patriarchal Blessing. After gushing about the children that would be born to me, a totally out-of-the-blue paragraph began with the words, “I bless the love of your family to extend to other children . . . ” Suddenly, adoption was part of my envisioned Mormon “happily-ever-after,” and I embraced the idea delightedly. When my husband and I were newly married and trying for a baby, I recall telling him that if we didn’t have a baby before we went on our field study to the Philippines the next year, we were adopting one there. Two biological children later, my compulsion to adopt has only increased, and we’re finally preparing to start the process. For various reasons, we are planning to adopt internationally, so I’ve been doing a lot of research into processes and requirements. Not surprisingly, each country has different rules for financial resources, how old the prospective parents must be, how many children can already be in the home, etc. While noting and comparing these various criteria, I came across one that surprised me: many countries allow adoptions by single women. In retrospect, I’m a little embarrassed that…

Not Ready for Naptime

Tomorrow, the Chicago Tribune is hosting the Printers Row Lit Fest.[fn1] If you like books, there are all sorts of cool things to do. What am I going to do at the festival? Two words: Justin Roberts. In my opinion, he’s the best kids’ musician out there.[fn2] This will be the third Justin Roberts and the Not Ready For Naptime Players concert that my family has seen. Plus, we’ve been to WBEZ’s So Many Ways to Tell a Story twice, and he wrote songs with the kids at both of them. But wait, you say, this is a Mormon blog. Is Justin Roberts somehow Mormon? No.[fn3] But lots (though not all) of us have kids, and our kids should listen to music, and there is a lot of really cool kids’ music out there these days. I know, if you grew up when I did, you’re mostly aware of the backlash against Barney’s repetitive and simplistic songs, or the over-synthesized Wee Sing Silly Songs, or other cloying and annoying music. Or maybe you’re of the school of thought (which I’ve heard a number of times) that asks, Why not just play the Beatles? To which I answer, sure, play the Beatles. My kids hear Miles Davis and the Beatles and Beethoven and Bruce Springsteen and the Beach Boys. They think Regina Specktor’s “Fidelity” video is the funniest thing in the world. But adult musicians are rarely silly (“Yellow Bus” is…

Mother’s Day, 1996

I sit, waiting for the phone to ring. I haven’t spoken to my parents since December and, though I love what I’m doing, I love them, too. But I’ve been sitting here for almost an hour. I’m not 100% sure of the time zone difference between eastern Brazil and the western United States, but I’m pretty sure they’re late. In this area, none of our members have phones. One of our member’s father has a phone, but, in order to call, I’ve promised that it won’t cost him anything. It’s a party line, something I’d heard about in the U.S. but never actually experienced. (The way it works is, 10 households share a line. Calls come to the first house in the group. That person directs the call to whomever it’s for.) I told the person at number 1 that, when she got a call she didn’t understand to put them through to me. But, after the hour, I decide to call my parents to give them a phonetic way to ask for me. It takes some doing to figure out how to call the U.S., but eventually I succeed and, 15 minutes later, I am talking to my parents. I ended up paying about $15 for the instructional call home, but it was worth it. I got to talk to my parents, then return to the missionary work I was in Brazil to do. — I spoke today with…

Sex-Ed and Social Justice*

***WARNING: This post mentions sex. I use the word a lot in this post. If that makes you uncomfortable, this may not be the post for you.*** Over the summer, the Bloomberg administration announced that, for the first time in two decades, public school students in New York would be required to take sex-ed. The curriculum the administration recommended—HealthSmart (middle school and high school) and Reducing the Risk—include, among other things, lessons on abstinence and birth control.

A Missionary Reminiscence on Christmas

When the mission president announced to our small group of greenies that I was going to Strasbourg, I shrugged the resigned shrug of a missionary who knew nothing about anywhere but was willing to go wherever. One of the sisters expressed jealousy; Strasbourg, she said, was one of the best cities in the mission. She was right, and it would not be a good thing. Strasbourg is and was beautiful pre-Christmas.* Several weeks passed before I fully acclimatized to the major time-change, and the schedule of missionary life, but I loved Strasbourg almost instantly. The eastern area of France bordering Germany is known as Alsace, and offers the best of both countries in terms of food, architecture, and other things. Parks are plentiful, the accent is easier to master, and doner kebab is cheap. Two wards meeting in an actual chapel with a basketball court were staffed by over a dozen hard-working missionaries who made me feel welcome as we did splits. My trainer, a stand-up guy, introduced me to the endless variety of bread, cheese, pastries, roasted chestnuts, and other delights as the weather cooled. On Saturdays, we played ultimate frisbee and soccer with other missionaries and ward members. Things were happening in the ward; we had at least one solid person we were teaching regularly, who came often and participated more than some members. Work was hard, but had enough positive things going that I felt we had…

Homeschooling Then and Now

As was mentioned in my introduction a week or so ago, my parents homeschooled us “back in the good old days when homeschooling was weird and subversive, not hip and progressive.” I’m now homeschooling my own children, and it’s interesting to note how the movement has evolved during the past 25 years. My adjectives describing the change don’t fit perfectly, of course, but they are representative of general trends, at least in how the perception of homeschooling has changed. When my mother decided she’d like to keep me home from kindergarten in 1985, it was a bizarre and scary thing to do. She’d learned about homeschooling while taking a class from Reed Benson at BYU. He lent her a copy of his doctoral dissertation on homeschooling, and told her about his nine homeschooled children. So she hunted down some of the books he recommended by John Holt, the father of the modern American homeschooling movement, and decided to try out this radical but exciting idea on her firstborn child. Me. One thing I remember vividly from those early years of homeschooling was how many random people thought my education was their business. I was often given a surprise pop quiz about history or the multiplication table by supermarket checkers, moms at the park, or even skeptical aunts and uncles. Anyone at all, and especially off-duty school teachers, felt it was incumbent upon them to make sure my parents weren’t committing…

‘Bouncing the Baby’ syndrome

Why is it that when blessing infants men always bounce the baby up and down? If you’ve seen many baby blessings, you know what I mean. The father or whoever will pronounce the blessing holds the infant on its back in his outstretched hands while the rest of those invited to participate circle the child, adding their outstretched hands underneath the baby. Often before the blessing even begins and without regard to whether or not the child has uttered the merest hint of a whimper, the men slowly rock the baby up and down, usually gently.

Books of Interest to the LDS Nerd

A few of these are forthcoming, a few have appeared recently. I am compelled to read them all, as soon as I can get to them. Now Available Charles Harrel,“This Is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology (Kofford Books) “In this first-of-its-kind comprehensive treatment of the development of Mormon theology, Charles Harrell traces the history of Latter-day Saint doctrines from the times of the Old Testament to the present.” I have my doubts that someone who does not equally control original Biblical sources and LDS history, as well as the vast amounts of secondary literature on historiography, exegesis, etc. can give LDS doctrine a truly comprehensive diachronic treatment, and compress it into 597 pages. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to Harrel, an engineering professor, for making the attempt and I look forward to reading it. Too many LDS labor under the assumption that the status quo sprang fully formed from Joseph Smith. I don’t recall which of my friends said, but it’s in my Evernote file, “If there’s one thing Mormons excel at, it’s enshrining the status quo and assuming that if we do anything, there must be a good reason for it, and if there’s a good reason, it must have been revealed as the only way to do it, and if so, then it must have always been that way in all dispensations. And a lot of people’s faith can be shaken when it turns out not to always…

School’s Back (pt. 2)

Next Tuesday, the Brunson household starts a brand-new adventure. At 9:00 am, my oldest daughter starts kindergarten. Though I’m not sure I’m ready to have such a grown-up daughter, she didn’t ask my permission to get this old. And she’s excited. And she’s completely and totally ready for it. Growing up, my dad gave me and each of my siblings a father’s blessing the night before school started. I’m pretty sure he kept doing it through my first year of law school. (I got married between my first and second years, and at that point, didn’t go back to San Diego over the summer.) That blessing, as much as the actual first day of class, became a mark of my academic year, signaling and sacralizing the new year. It’s a tradition that has stuck with me, and one I’d like to start in a week. But I’m also curious: what did you do growing up, and/or what do you do now, to mark your or your children’s entry into a new school year? (Bonus question:[fn] what do you send your kids for lunch? I just found out that my daughter’s school is not a peanut-free school, which gives me some help, but I don’t plan on sending PBJ every day. She’s a pretty adventurous eater, though I’ll probably stick to sushi at a sushi place, rather than letting it sit several hours, but I’ve never had to pack a school…

Who reports crimes confessed to a Bishop?

Last week the Pinal Arizona County Attorney decided not to charge two LDS Bishops with failing to report the sexual abuse of a minor in the case of LDS Church member Susan Brock, who is now serving a 13-year prison sentence for the crime. While I tend to agree with the county attorney’s position on the bishops, I have to ask the question, who should have reported the crime and when?

What we talk about when we talk about God

Bruce Feiler’s daughter was just five when she pitched him a question right to the gut of religious experience:  “Daddy, if I speak to God, will he listen?” Feiler writes books on the Bible and God for a living, so he’d presumably given the question some thought. Nevertheless he had no good answer ready for his daughter. So he did what any loving parent would do:  answered the question with an inartful dodge, and then wrote about it in the New York Times style section. How do we answer our children’s questions about God, he asked, when we are ourselves doubtful, confused, or otherwise conflicted? Feiler solicited comments on the matter from a formerly-Catholic agnostic playwright, a formerly-Episcopalian agnostic New Testament scholar, and a popular Conservative rabbi in Los Angeles.  It’s not hard to guess the direction their responses took.  Among the educated elite readership of the NYT, a kind of ritualistic doubt partners with a set of tolerant gestures as the yin and yang of the new virtue, and self-disclosure at all times and in all things and in all places is the great personal imperative. No surprise, then, that Feiler’s panel urged conflicted parents to share their uncertainty with their children, even to validate their children’s own budding doubt.  To project an air of certainty when one harbors internal ambiguity is hypocritical, dishonest, and worst of all inauthentic.   “I believe deeply in the power of paradox and contradiction,”…

An Unexpected Gift

At 3:28 this morning we welcomed a new son into the world. As one would expect, congratulations and well-wishes have come flooding in from friends and family all day. And for all of these we have been moved and grateful. First thing this morning, however, we received a congratulatory gift we hadn’t anticipated. Women housed in the Alexandria Detention Center had sent us a hand-crocheted blanket, cap and set of booties. (In Packer yellow-and-green for my Cheese-head wife no less). Both modern and ancient scripture admonish us to serve the “least” of those among us, noting that doing so is akin to serving Christ himself. My wife and I found ourselves touched that, at such a sacred and spiritual time for our family as the birth of our new son, we had been remembered by some gracious women who, by some standard, might consider to be the “least” of those in our society today. Humbled by the act, we resolved to reach back out in some way to those women at the Alexandria Detention Center. Small acts of love are truly contagious.

Sleep, Success, and Seminary

Sleep: it’s more important than you think, especially for teenagers. Here’s from George Will’s latest column, “How to ruin a child“: Only 5 percent of high school seniors get eight hours of sleep a night. Children get an hour less than they did 30 years ago, which subtracts IQ points and adds body weight.