Venus & Mars and the Empty Bucket
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?