Hello MamaBakers, this is the first in a series of Curiosity Without Judgement articles where we explore the experiences of families of different religions. The intention is to provide an opportunity for people to learn about the real lives of different people, to dispel myths and discover both similarities and differences.
I met Allison when I was in my first year of university. She was the manager of a fast food restaurant where she employed me and we quickly became friends. Allison is a Mormon and during the time we worked together she met Reed at their church and they fell in love and got married. I was privileged enough to attend their wedding. Since then they have had four utterly gorgeous children and live in Canberra.
Like all religions, there are a lot of misconceptions about Mormons and Mormon life, not helped by portrayals in popular media. Television programs like HBO’s Big Love have portrayed the controversial practice of polygamy by fundamentalist Mormons from both in the lives of the suburban protagonists to their extreme origins, but often people don’t realise that this particular practice is extremely rare and largely condemned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. There are estimated to be over 15 million members of this church and their day to day lives are really no different from the majority of modern Western families. Largely, Mormons reside in the USA and Canada, with a large population in South America. In Australia there are estimated to be over 50,000 people who self-identify as Mormon.
I asked Allison some questions about Mormonism, raising children in the church and their daily lives as a Mormon family. She provided me with wonderfully honest and detailed answers and I have done my best to leave this conversation as unedited as possible. As always, our Curiosity without Judgement series is a space to learn about the day to day lives of other families, dispel myths and misconceptions, and to appreciate the diversity of families and experiences we have in Australia. Please keep any negative comments you may have to yourself.
Allison describes her family in her own words.
I think I am organised, friendly, loving and always try to do my best. I love spending time with my family, playing the piano, cross stitch, gardening, baking and cooking. I am obsessed with Jamie Oliver and would love to meet him one day. I am very involved with my religion and very proud to have a big family. I enjoy going out on a date with my hubby every now and then, I love watching movies and listening to uplifting music. “
Reed, husband and father, is laid back and easy going. He works as a Army Psychologist, which has meant the family has moved around the country a bit. Reed is “friendly, kind, modest and patient with myself and the kids. Reed always puts his family first and strives to meet our needs before his. Reed is an adaptable, trust worthy and honest person.
Lara, age 8, is an intelligent, creative, imaginative, sporty, competitive and self-motivated little girl. Lara loves to play with little children and loves babies. She gets on well with both boys and girls she has great leadership skills and is honest and resourceful.
Emmeline is very sweet, soft spoken, goofy, giggly and kind. Friendliness and sharing behaviours come naturally to her. Emmeline loves chocolate and will do anything to get some; it can be cute but annoying at times. Emmeline is a very fast learner and loves animals and hopes to become a vet one day.
Charlotte is funny, sweet, loves to give hugs, very social and friendly and very well mannered. Charlotte has a great sense of humour and naturally makes everyone laugh. She loves to make up songs to sing, she is crazy about swimming and playing with Barbies. Charlotte has trouble coping with other not-well-behaved children, and whinges easily, they are things we are working on.
Adorable Oliver is smiley, excitable, and can be very energetic. He enjoys playing with cars, trucks as well as his sister’s girl toys. As the only boy of four children, Oliver likes to hang out with his dad for a bit of ‘man’ time and loves going out. Oliver is very social and friendly and is learning how to communicate using simple words.
How were you first introduced to the Mormon religion?
Well my parents split when I was 13, I just moved from Taiwan to New Zealand and didn’t speak a word of English. I had a couple of very hands off and emotionally un-supportive parents so that was a very stressful and unhappy time for me. As I grew older I became rebellious and made many mistakes, many of them I am not proud of. When I reached early 20s, I had no directions in life, was not close to my family, unhappy in romantic relationships and unsatisfied with the choice of uni course I made. I felt stuck, lost, lonely and angry with any parts of my life. I desperately wanted to find a way to be happy and have a meaningful life.
Then I came across The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Two sister missionaries knocked on my door inviting me to hear their message of Jesus Christ. At the time I was searching for a religion and wanted direction and happiness in my life. I thought it was a great opportunity to learn from a different Christian group. I invited them into my home and had a powerful spiritual experience. I cried, I learnt to pray, and read the scriptures and shared my life story. I felt something wonderful in my heart that day that I can’t deny. I joined the church on my birthday in 2003. It was the best decision I made in my life. Through the knowledge I learnt I knows purpose in life and how to live a happy life. I realised that I am a child of God and that Gods loves me no matter what. I was also baptised which meant I could make amends with all the mistakes I made, I had a fresh start in life and having that second chance, the guidance and knowledge was what I needed have lead me to the life I have today. It doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen or life is easy but I have heavenly help and I will never be alone again.
What are Mormon beliefs regarding having children?
We believe we lived in Heaven with our Heavenly Father (God) before we came to earth. We all choose to come to earth, we are born to receive a body, to search and learn the gospel, gain knowledge, be tested and one day return to live with God for eternity. Having children is part of God’s plan; it is a sacred privilege between God and Men to bring His spirit children to the world and raising them in righteousness.
How do Mormon beliefs inform the way that you care for and teach your children?
We believe in eternal families; marriage and family relationships extend beyond death. Being a Mormon we learn the eternal aspects of family life and we parent with that perspective in mind. We raise our children to knowing they have divine potential to live with God one day, potential to do God’s work, potential to be parents, missionaries, husbands and wives to their future families. We teach our children values of what it mean to be Mormon, we teach and live simple habits such as reading scriptures daily, family and individual prayers, pay tithing, attend church, serve in the church and communities, have weekly family time (Family Home Evening), follow the prophet, keep all the commandments. We teach by example and with testimony. However the children have free choice to choose their beliefs for their own when they turn 18 or late teens.
Are there any Mormon beliefs that you think might surprise non-Mormons who know little about the religion?
We believe that family and marriage relationships can be eternal and beyond death. This concept of our religion is the most important. We view life with an eternal perspective; we work hard on our family and marriage relationships.
There are also a couple of things I think are really interesting about the religion that I think readers would be interested to know. Mormons believe that the body is precious, a gift from God and they should be maintained in health and strength. Proper eating is advised and stimulants such as tobacco, illicit drugs, alcohol, and caffeine such as coffee and tea are not allowed.
The young men of the Mormon Church are expected to serve 2 years of a proselytising mission between the ages of 18 and 25, though this is not compulsory and they can also choose to leave the Church at this age. These young men have completed their high school studies, are yet to be married, and are assessed for their ability and worthiness to complete this task. This is a self-funded mission, not paid for by the church. Young women, over the age of 19 can also serve a mission for about 18 months but there is less expectation and the decision is a personal one. These are the young men and women, modestly dressed, often in white shirts with black ties and trousers that occasionally knock on your door. They’re not trying to sell you anything and they can be benefited by a hot meal and some company if you are so inclined.
What do Mormon beliefs or rules state about the structure of a family household and responsibilities?
Yes. It is outlined in the document “The Family: The Proclamation to the World”, this document is very important to the church. It mentions the importance of marriage and the father and mother’s responsibility in the home. Here is an excerpt:
“Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives–mothers and fathers–will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.”
The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurturing of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.
Describe an average day in your family’s household from wake up to bedtime.
Wake up and get ready for the day. The kids do their chores: cleaning out the dishwasher; vacuuming the living room. Then there is breakfast, scriptures and prayer, then the bigger kids head to school. Morning activities with the little children at home such as playgroup, going to the park, playing with toys, reading, and they also accompany me helping people in the community who are in need. Lunch, prayers and then a rest or movie time follow. Meanwhile I catch up on cleaning and exercises. Then there’s school pick up, afternoon tea, sometimes play dates, homework and piano practice. The kids do other chores: setting the table, laundry, cleaning the bathroom. I cook dinner, we eat together and then have prayers. I play the piano and the kids play. We get ready for bed, have quiet reading time, the kids go to bed and say prayers. Reed and I catch up on cleaning and chatting, working on church responsibilities. Sometimes there are meetings at night, then we go to bed and say our prayers.
Sunday is a day to worship God and devoted to family time. We don’t work, make purchases, watch TV, go to sports, go to birthday parties on Sundays. We can spend Sunday together as a family doing low key activities like having family and friends over for dinner, write letters, read church magazines, play the piano, watch church related videos and rest.
Somehow amongst all this, Allison and Reed have the time to care for a huge and prolific vegetable garden. I am always amazed at the food they produce!
What does your family do together for fun?
We ride bikes, visit local attractions like the zoo, gardens, park, playground, have fish and chips by the lake, have friends over for dinner and watch movies.
What are some important Mormon events for families and children? How are these celebrated/observed?
Easter – we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Easter Sunday we would have talks, lessons about Easter. We eat and purchase chocolates just like everyone else.
Christmas – we celebrate the birth and life of Jesus Christ. On the Sunday before Christmas we have talks and lessons about Christmas. We purchase gifts and have Christmas dinners just like everyone else.
Baptism – turning 8 is a big deal to a Mormon child. That is the age God believes a child is accountable for their actions. The baptism symbolises their commitment to be a member of the church, trying to follow God’s example, they promise to stand as a witness of God at all times, help others in need and keep God’s commandments. In return they are blessed with the gift of the Holy Ghost to help and guide them.
Attending the temple for the 1st time – when a child turns 12, has been baptised, has been attending church and keeping the commandments and have been found worthy, they may enter the Holy Temple to do baptism for the dead. That is giving the deceased a chance to learn and join the gospel.
Temple marriage/family sealing – temple marriage and family sealing is a significant day to the couple and families It’s the day they make covenants with God to be married for time and all eternity, children sealed to their parents for eternity. families are also blessed with wonderful blessings and promises.
Is there a lasting message you would like our readers to understand about Mormonism and family?
Family is essential to Heavenly Father’s plan in this life, it is important to Mormons and is our most important priority.
Our religion provides our family with peace, love, hope, guidance, purpose and a chance to be with our loved ones for eternity.
*Please note MamaBake has no affiliation with any religion (except kindness. Our religion is kindness….).