Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Meeting Expectations

I thought my fascination with Mormonism had left, but it appears it was just lying dormant, waiting to be renewed by the sprinklings of a good chat with a friend from Utah (thanks Annette!). We were talking about the documentary, Sons of Perdition, which is "the story of polygamy's exiled youth." http://sonsofperditionthemovie.com/Sons_of_Perdition_Home.html I haven't seen the film, but our conversation and a viewing of the trailer for the film really got me thinking.

The trailer gives a very dark impression of the life of restriction and obedience the boys were forced to live on the compound, before their brave escape. They were withheld from the larger world, presumably to keep them from questioning the authorities in their own community. There is a scene in which 2 boys are in a Catholic Church and one asks the other (I'm paraphrasing), "Catholics believe in Jesus?" This depicts the sheltered existence they led, but this is not unique to just kids from a polygamist compound. Many kids are raised well-versed in the beliefs of their parents (religious and otherwise), but not knowledgeable in the ways of others. Part of why we do this is because it is what we know, but there is also that part that doesn't want to expose our child to the other ways of the world, thinking that by shielding them, we are somehow eliminating those ways as options.

I started thinking about this in regard to boys in mainstream Mormon society and the 2-year mission. As a person who lived in Utah for 12 years, I definitely saw the advantage given to those men who served their missions. I also saw how boys, from a very young age, were raised to assume they would go on a mission. In Utah this appears easy to do - such a high proportion of boys go on a mission that Sophie was prompted to ask Steve where he served his mission after living in Utah only a few months (Steve's response was that THIS was his mission, our life in Utah...take that as you will). It's nearly such a given that a boy will serve a mission at the age of 19 that it leads me to wonder, what alternatives are given to boys who opt not to serve a mission? Do parents even talk about that while their sons are growing up? Is there any ostracizing of those boys who do not serve missions?

I'm not sending this out to invite attack of this practice - many religions have rites of passage members are expected to meet. I'm interested in how this practice is viewed by my friends who have experienced it. I also realize that as parents we often lay out only one path we expect our child to follow - we do this because we see it as the best path for them. We worry that by even entertaining alternatives, we are giving our children permission to stray from the path, but should that be our fear? Or should we fear that our children will follow the path, out of a sense of obligation and perhaps risk lying to themselves along the way.


  1. These are some interesting points, and I'm happy to give my perspective, though I don't know that it will add any insight, to be honest.

    On missions, and the pressure many Mormon boys receive to serve a mission:

    I have four brothers, and all of them served missions. It was definitely an expectation in my family that the boys would serve missions, but it wasn't so much a "I have to do this or I will be disowned" kind of expectation as much as it was a "we know that our father served a mission, as did all our uncles and grandfathers, and they've never regretted it. It a part of our religious and family legacy."

    Although I can't speak for them, I very much doubt any of my brothers resented this expectation, and I know that none of them resent it now (judging from the fact that they are encouraging their own children to prepare for missions). My own experience in serving a mission was that what I gained in knowledge, personal growth, and general life experience far outweighed any sacrifice that I made to go, and I know that my brothers feel the same way.

    (Which is not to say that any of us are hankering to go BACK on a mission. In fact, we all have nightmares sometimes that we're back out there, not understanding the language, having people flake on us or slam doors in our faces, and enduring hours and hours of searching for those people who want to hear the message. We've all agreed that it's always a relief to wake up from those dreams.)

    I've had cousins who have chosen not to serve a mission, and I dated a guy who didn't serve a mission--and then I married Eric, who very nearly didn't serve a mission. Unfortunately, I've never discussed this topic with them in such a way that the questions you raise were answered. If you like, I can present your thoughts to Eric and see what his thoughts are.

    One more quick thought--as to "following the path out of a sense of obligation and perhaps risk lying to themselves along the way"--

    I can only speak for myself, but it was my experience that a mission is much much too difficult to complete if one is only doing it out of a sense of obligation to societal or family norms. One could perhaps be persuaded to leave on a mission for those reasons, but for me, I know I would NEVER have been able to endure the entire mission if I had been "lying to myself along the way."

    Again, these are just my thoughts and my experiences. I'm sure other people have different perspectives.

  2. When I was 18-19 it was expected that every young man would go on a mission. There were 19 young men in my ward in my age range. They all did the relevant paperwork to serve a mission and left to attend the MTC - 3 of them lasted 2 days, 6 lasted 4 weeks - the rest successfully served missions. There are a lot of differences now with mission requirements - a recognition that not all young men are meant to serve a mission. One example is a young man from my ward when I was 18-19 - he had a kidney transplant and left to serve his mission 9 months later - he became seriously ill and had to come home after only a couple of months. I also know that my two boys are unlikely to serve missions because of the medication they are required to take - so I seek different opportunties for them to feel they are on the path they want in life. 20 years ago it was expected - you will serve a mission - if you don't serve a mission it will be a mark against you - I feel the new mission protocols take into acocunt that there are vast differences between people. I respect young men who choose to serve a mission and I respect those who choose another life path.

    Namaste - Danielle

  3. We raised our children to hopefully act in a way that that their friends or neighbors would know they are trying to "Be Like Jesus"(reference to a song from Primary). So it wouldn't be so different from how you live your everyday life to how you would act if you went on a mission. My oldest son did not go on a mission because he made choices in life at age 18 that took him in another direction. Sure it was disappointing, but we have never loved him less than our other children. He is a wonderful person and contributes so much to society and our family. We have a daughter who served in Argentina and my husband tells our other daughters it was too tough on him to worry about her being safe and well, that he thinks girls should not serve missions (of course they can if they choose to). We have a son in Russia serving who returns in 2 months. There is absolutely no way they could do what they are doing unless they knew it was helping to make peoples lives better. They love the people they serve.When they return, they have learned so much about life and who they are. It is an experience unlike anything else!
    Serving a mission is a very personal decision. I did not serve one because 30 years ago girls really didn't go much, but the ones that go now are pretty sharp (as I'm sure they were 30 years ago)! I really respect anyone who has gone and come home and is still serving others as much as they can because serving others has become a way of life and truly makes them happy.

  4. My dad was the bishop of our ward when my brother was 18 and trying to decide whether to go on a mission. My dad (his bishop) told him he would not allow him to go unless it was what he really wanted to do. I think this may have been a fairly unusual attitude at the time. He knew that if my brother (or any missionary) went solely out of a sense of obligation or expectation they would not only be miserable and ineffective, but would make others (companions, primarily) miserable as well.

    My brother ultimately did go and as far as I know never regretted it. Kenny is planning on going on a mission and there's no way I will discourage him. If he chooses not to go in the end I will be disappointed, but will love and respect him and his choices no matter what.

    Good questions, Heather!