Venus & Mars and the Empty Bucket

[ 6 ] Comments

by Paul

(CC) Dilung Kirat

I can never remember if I’m from Mars or my wife is.  And even if I remembered, I’m not sure I’d remember what it means, except that we see the world differently.  Well, duh.

I live, true to the Proclamation, in the world of providing and protecting.  And my wife lives (by her choice) in the world of nurturing.

It should come as no surprise, then, that we measure success in our worlds differently.  In my world, I can measure my success by my job performance and my compensation compared with my peers.  I can observe whether my family members are fed and clothed, whether we’re able to provide the necessities of life, and also teach our children a little about giving to those in need.

How is it that my wife can and should measure her success?  If she were a school teacher in today’s political climate, we’d suggest we could measure her success by the outcome of her work: how are her children doing?  And yet, unless you’re in the middle of the matter, you would objectively (and correctly) say that one cannot judge a parent’s effectiveness by how the children turn out.

Elder Packer said so, too:  In 1992 he said,

The measure of our success as parents, however, will not rest solely on how our children turn out. That judgment would be just only if we could raise our families in a perfectly moral environment, and that now is not possible.

And, yet, how can anyone tell a mother that although she did everything she could do, her children still made choices that she wishes they hadn’t.

Yes, there are scriptural examples: Eve and Cain.  Sariah and Laman & Lemuel.  Sister Alma and Sister Mosiah and their sons (for a while, anyway).  We assume those moms are terrific because they each had children who turned out “right,” who were faithful and strong (or, as in the case of Alma and the sons of Mosiah, turned their lives around).

How to comfort a mother, however, who in a moment of human exhaustion, wonders out loud what more she could have done for children gone astray, and what more she could do for children still deciding which way they will go?

I’m writing because I don’t have an easy answer.  It is in these quiet dark moments that platitudes do not comfort.  Pithy sayings about no success compensating are no longer motivational but painful.  Suggesting that daily scripture study and weekly family home evening are adequate insurance do not cover the hole in a wounded heart.

This is why, I believe, in many Relief Societies (and, to a lesser extent, High Priest groups), more experienced members may make fewer comments than less experienced ones; the bruises of our children’s choices are tender for a long time.

Where is there hope?  It is, sometimes unsatisfyingly, always in the long run.  As a stake president (and dear friend) used to tell me often: eternity is a long time.  Faith requires us to hope for things unseen, and sometimes unimaginable.  Did Sister Alma know her young son would be visited by an angel and turn his life around?  (Did Sariah know hers would be visited and not turn around?)

Of course this issue affects fathers, too.  But we are not charged in the same way by proclamation with the nurture of our children.  We can compartmentalize our providing, protecting and child rearing, and see at least partial success, objectively measured.  We may feel deeply despondent from time to time about our own futile efforts as fathers, knowing the mistakes we make.  But I wonder if we will ever feel it in the same way our wives do.

So the question for discussion is this: 

  • Is there balm in Gilead?  
  • Where is the comfort for those who stand in need of comfort?  
  • How do mothers who embrace the Proclamation on the Family measure success?  
  • And how should fathers?

About Paul

Paul was a convert to the church with his parents and siblings when he was a child, and therefore has the great blessing of having some of his formative years in the church while still remembering his family’s conversion experience. He is the father of seven and husband to his lovely wife. He served an LDS mission in Germany and has lived in Latin America and twice in Asia for his employer; now he lives with his lovely wife and youngest two children in the Midwestern US. Prior to earning his MBA, Paul also earned degrees in English and Theatre History. He also blogs at A Latter-day Voice (see the link below -- in "Our Authors Elsewhere" section at the bottom of the page) where he writes, as he does here, of his own experience as a Latter-day Saint. He does not speak for the church but will speak in favor of it.

6 Responses to Venus & Mars and the Empty Bucket

  1. Jae says:

    This is an excellent article and discussion query. Why is this issue different for the father than the mother? How can a mother’s heart bear alone the sorrow that comes from wayward children if the father puts her pain as well as the wayward’s behavior into a compartment that blocks empathy and compassion? Those are questions I put heavenward. You are correct in stating that the bruises are tender and can take long to heal. Children often take a long time returning to the fold. When and if they do, there is much to recover from and repair for the wayward child and the mother. I do feel, however, it is faulty to measure success only by those offspring who serve missions, marry in the temple or never wander. Obedience is not to be discounted in any way. The consequence of obedience children bring blessings to the whole family. This life is not all the Father gives to repent and return. A Master Shepherd works to see that not one soul will be lost. Pieces of this condition of mortality bring to mind two remarkable scripture stories; the prodigal son and the master of the vineyard. As for balm in Gilead, I believe, from my own personal experience, that it comes through the exercising of your own personal faith as a mother and daughter of God. No, it won’t be easy, but peace and comfort can come. This is an example of the principle of opposition in all things. Some of us mothers have been called upon to be the one to bear the struggle of a wayward child. To lift and support this struggling soul possibly throughout the remainder of their early life. Where would that love come from for a son or daughter of God such as this, except from a mother who can love nearly as purely as the Father. It is my witness these mothers will be blessed for this trial.

    • Paul says:

      Jae, this sentence: “Where would that love come from for a son or daughter of God such as this, except from a mother who can love nearly as purely as the Father. ”

      Very compassionate. Thank you for your thoughts.

  2. templegoer says:

    I do not accept that my children are the only or major measure of my success. I have felt that from time to time though, and it was destructive. It is not right that I define myself by the choices of others. Whilst I accept my reponsibility to do my very best, my adult children make their own choices. They are also responsible for their understanding and forgiveness of me, in the same way that I am responsible for better understanding my parents and their choices, and forgiving them.
    But I am not alone as a parent, no parent is. Whether the spouse is absent or present, their behaviour and choices have influenced their children. In spite of the fact that my husband has been largely engaged in providing for his children, he is responsible for his own relationship and it’s consequences for our children. I am not alone, we are both parents.
    Furthermore, as our lives change, so do our opportunities to serve our children and to participate in providing. Working outside the home has helped me to disentangle my self esteem from my children’s , and my husband’s unemployment has helped him to redefine himself as a Father to his children as and take an equal role in their parenting. Interestingly, as he does so I see him take equal responsibility for the outcomes. Whilst I accept that the most important work we will ever do will be with our own children, we have opportunities to take many different roles in a lifetime, and can learn to see our actions and choices in different lights. Redemption can begin in this life. Tender mercies.

    • Paul says:

      templegoer, these are great thoughts. I think your view is very healthy, though I’m not sure all moms are there. You write that you have felt differently from time to time, and it would be interesting to hear how you made the change. One way you suggest is working outside the home. Are there things that made that choice easier (or more difficult) for you?

      I appreciate your thoughts about Dad’s role, as well. I did not intend to excuse dads in my OP, but recognize that they may think differently just because of their different tasks and approaches. You are right that we fathers share equally in the responsibility to teach and foster positive relationships, and that we have an impact (positive or negative).

      You are certainly spot on on this: “Redemption can begin in this life. Tender mercies.”

      Thanks for your comments!

  3. templegoer says:

    Your questions are really constructive. In answer, I can only say that I have ripped my soul apart, and had to reconstruct it through the Spirit’s guidance. For me that has taken the form of slugging it out with my spouse primarily, and requiring him to work with me on our children’s spiritual welfare and not accepting that his responsibility to provide negates his reponsibility to look to their spiritual and emotional welfare. Whilst I accept that this has been my specialism rather than his, we can and should change when the opportunities present themselves. This is what I am referring to as redemption-taking every opportunity we can to embrace change and progress through the Spirit’s promptings. I do think the Spirit prompts us to healing within our families, and that this is often counter-intuitive and very ,very challenging. We have had to really challenge our own assumptions about parenting, even those that have been unconscious, and I experience this as not a once-for-all process,there is always more.

    So, I have learnt that it is not constructive to take responsibility for those things which are not my responsibility, and that doing so dams growth within our family. The consequences of my doing this have held up our growth for years.

    It’s essential not to define ourselves by our children’s performance- that can’t be right, can it? For me, in an effort to disentangle myself I felt it was right to invest in my development in other areas. This galvanised my husband’s commitment-always there-to his children’s welfare. He had to find the way of getting home to attend to them because ultimately he wanted to, he’s a good man who’s work is as long as a piece of string, and it was difficult to imagine that he could set boundaries. He did it. I could have chosen to maintain the status quo, but rocking the boat has taken us to a far better place.

    Our kids have made their own choices. We can’t choose for them.

    • Paul says:

      What a terrific story, templegoer. Thanks for sharing it.

      I agree with you: the Proclamation does not release fathers from nurturing nor mothers from providing & protecting; it simply offers a way to clarify focus when possible (and allows for deviation along the way). And wise parents of both sexes will work as equal partners to sort out the best way.

      I’m also impressed that you’ve come to the conclusion that you can only accept responsibility for what is yours. I think that many parents, and moms in particular, struggle with that step in personal development, precisely because we sometimes unwittingly teach that if we do everything right as parents it will somehow guarantee and outcome. Of course it won’t, as a clear understanding of the doctrine of agency makes clear.

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