When I concluded that the LDS Church was not what it claimed to be and not what I had once thought it was, I experienced a range of emotions: deep sadness, humiliation, and an existential despair punctuated by periods of relief, hope, and exhilaration, to name a few. But in shedding a world view that had informed my every thought and action, I struggled to get my bearings. Mormonism, for all its faults, does provide a framework and structure for "raising up children in the way that they should go." It provides a road map for the lives of our children, literally from the time of birth well into adulthood. Mormon children are blessed as infants, baptized at eight, given countless activities and programs and checklists with clearly identified objectives, indoctrinated every school day for four years in high school, and encouraged to look forward to missions, church colleges, and marriage in the temple. It's all scripted, and Mormon parents need only "plug-and-play" the resources provided by the church to raise their children with the beliefs and values church leaders consider most important. Upon realizing that Mormonism's foundational truth claims are bogus, I wondered whether the "goodness" of Mormonism was more important than my sense of its "untruthiness." I pondered whether, despite my dismissal of the church's truth claims, the church's values and its substantial resources for instilling those values nonetheless provided a reasonable basis for raising my children in the church. I thought about what the church teaches kids about themselves, the world around them, and their own potential. And I thought about what I want my kids, especially my daughters, to internalize. I could not help but conclude that . . .
what Mormon culture instills in girls is not what I want for my daughters. Coming to this position was not easy for me. A large part of the reason is that my wife was raised in the LDS Church. My wife is, by all counts, a bright, educated, accomplished, well-adjusted, independent thinker. She works as a health-care professional in a demanding job that few people could handle. She is also a compassionate, caring, devoted wife and mother. She's a perfect role model for my girls, everything I could want them to be when they grow up. The thing is, I think she is all those things in spite of, not because of, her Mormon upbringing. It was by constantly tilting at the windmills set up by Mormon leaders (both general and local) growing up that she was able to accomplish the things she has. It was by rejecting the counsel of Spencer W. Kimball and Ezra Taft Benson with respect to working outside the home, for example, that she was able to get her education and work at a job where saving lives is quite literally all in a day's work. It was by resisting the peer pressure and counsel from ward leaders to attend BYU that she was able to broaden her horizons by attending a secular state school. She even (gasp!) dated a non-member (me) and married outside the temple, which allowed my parents to attend. She has never been one to do something just because someone in "authority" said it was right. She steers by her own internal moral compass, and while she has been an active Latter-day Saint for her whole life, she has never substituted the thinking of any man--prophet or husband included--for her own. I know some will say that there are many women like my wife in the LDS Church. Indeed, there are many who have not ceded their personal autonomy to priesthood authority--many who have refused to allow the hierarchy to press them into the mold of "ideal" Mormon womanhood. But, I think there are far many more Mormon women who are not realizing their full potential, who have suppressed their dreams and made choices in their lives not based on what they wanted for themselves but based on what the men who run the church in Salt Lake City think is best. And I don't want that for my daughters.
I want my daughters to grow up believing in themselves, to know that they are fine just as nature made them, to know that they need make no apology for being smart and sassy, and outspoken, and self-assured, self-motivated, and self-reliant. I want them to believe, no, I want them to expect to be successful in whatever they choose to do (and to not even question whether they have choices--that is a given). I want them to think the world is their oyster, that they can do whatever they put their minds to. I want them to see being a stay-at-home mom as one of a panoply of choices that lie before them, and that equally good career choices would be, among other things: architect, lawyer, judge, doctor, scientist, engineer, mathematician, college professor, chef, businesswoman, race-car driver, actor, pilot, plumber, locksmith, poet, musician, diplomat. I want them to be intrepid explorers of the world around them, infused with a curiosity about the world and all that is in it. I don't want them to think that God's opinion of them is based on their willingness and desire to marry and have numerous children. I don't want them to feel guilty if they choose a different path. I don't want them thinking that happiness in this life and eternal felicity depend on marrying a "returned missionary" in the temple and being active in the Mormon church. I want them to know that life is a lot more exciting and wondrous than that.
I don't want my daughters to ever get the idea that God has different plans and responsibilities for them than for boys. I don't want them to ever think God favors boys over girls in any way. I don't want them to think God has punished women and rewarded men. I want them to know that boys and girls are equal in the eyes of any God worth considering, and ought to be equal in the eyes of the law and society. I want them to see sexism as morally reprehensible, not something endemic to a celestial system God plans to one day soon impose on the entire world. I don't want them to think that in the highest degree of heaven men (and God) are polygamous, and that polygamy is a divine principle restored by God that they will someday need to accept to enter into "celestial glory."
I want my daughters' lives to be filled with positive female role models. I want them to learn about women who have accomplished great things. I don't want their spiritual role models to be comprised of 95% men and their female role models to be limited to Emma Smith, the three named women and the unnamed mothers of the 2000 warriors in the Book of Mormon, and the dozen or so women given any serious page-time in the Bible. I want them to learn about women such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Austen, Dolly Madison, Golda Meir, Marie Curie, Georgia O'Keefe, Jane Addams, Alice Evans, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, Chien-Shung Woo, and so many others I just know are never mentioned in the hallowed halls of male-dominated Mormonism.
I want my daughters not to view their sexuality as sinful or shameful. I want them not to be taught that sex is "sacred" and that, therefore, their sexual lives are open for discussion and review by male priesthood leaders. I want them to know that while sex is a private matter, it is nobody's business but their own. Consequently, I want them never to be subjected to invasive interviews conducted by church authorities. I want my daughters to grow up with healthy attitudes toward their bodies and sex, and not have their heads filled with ancient superstitious nonsense passed off under the guise of revelation from God.
I want them to grow up knowing that their parents love them and will respect their choices regarding family, career, education, and religious affiliation and observance. I want them to grow up self-aware, self-confident, able to think critically and analytically, to be nobody's servant and nobody's fool.
The question is this: can my vision for my daughters be realized if I continue to let them be indoctrinated and influenced by Mormonism? Are Mormonism's strengths identified above (the extensive resources available for transmitting messages to the youth) an aid or a threat to the vision I have for my daughters? If the latter, is parental influence enough to counter the values and principles the church seeks to instill in our children? It may be that my daughters could be raised in Mormonism and, like my wife, turn out to be smart, independent women. But, knowing what we know about Mormon culture, and how so much of it runs counter to what we want our daughters to internalize, should we take that chance? Perhaps if we knew "beyond a shadow of doubt" and with "every fiber of our being" that the church's foundational claims were true, such a gamble would be justified. But knowing that Joseph Smith's claims are dubious at best, and outright fraudulent at worst, what possible benefits can Mormonism confer that are not far outweighed by its potentially immeasurably damaging costs?