I recently re-read Carol Lynn Pearson’s amazing No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons around Our Gay Loved Ones for the second time because a woman in my very-Mormon book club picked it for us to read. For me, it was at least as inspiring and heartbreaking and maddening the second time as it was the first. It was a tough read for all of us, although perhaps for different reasons. Pearson doesn’t pull any punches. She’s a straight talker and calls a spade a spade. She also oozes love and compassion and kindness and really stresses the importance of listening to people’s stories in order to better understand them. She reminds us that an enemy is one whose story we do not know. I love that message.
So my very Mormon book club discussed what we had learned from the book and what some of the take-away messages are. Clearly, we covered the issue of homosexuality, since that’s the main theme of the book. We also discussed the related, but perhaps even bigger, issue of how to handle what happens when your child grows up to be or do or believe something other than what you had hoped. This quote by Rabbi Harold Kushner—one of my favorite modern-day “prophets”—is so powerful:
When you have a child, you start to dream of how this kid will grow up and make you proud. The only thing you can predict with 100% certainty is that the reality will diverge somehow from that dream. Some of our children will disappoint us by not being the scholars we hoped they would be. Some children will disappoint us by not being the athletes we hoped they would be. Some will disappoint us by coming out and telling us they are gay and they won’t give us grandchildren…the real question is not, what book can I read, what technique can I use to raise a perfect child? The real question is how will you handle that gap between the child you dreamt of having and the real child growing up in your home (p. 118).
If I could pause this blog post for a moment of silence in order to properly respect those words, I would do it.
The only thing we know for sure is that our kids will not “turn out” how we dreamed they would. How will we handle the gap between the child we hoped to have and “the real child growing up in [our] home” or—to extend the metaphor—to our adult children, wherever they might be living? How do we handle the disappointment that comes with seeing one of our children veer from the path we labored so diligently to lay out for them?
I have only a tiny bit of experience with this because my kids are young enough (8, 11, and 15) that I still mostly control their lives (cue the wicked laughter). I’ve had moments of disappointment. I fretted that one of my kids wasn’t going to be a reader. (Gasp! How can I have birthed someone who doesn’t like to read? Not liking to read is like being anti-babies or anti-democracy . . . right?) I really wanted Kennedy to play volleyball in 9th grade. She didn’t. The current gap centers around a certain someone in my house saying she wants to be on the cheerleading or dance team. It hurts my small, judgmental mind to say those words in public. (But seriously, how can someone with my DNA want to be a cheerleader? I thought 2 + 2 = 4.)
Those are mostly small things. I can handle a cheerleader (with some yoga and therapeutic massage, perhaps).
But I can see the gap looming up ahead. Before too long, they will be able to make decisions that diverge from mine in more significant ways. How will I handle that gap? A friend once told me that her friend’s mother sobbed on the floorboard of the car all the way to her daughter’s wedding because she was not happy about the person her daughter was marrying (and for the record, my friend assured, he was a perfectly nice guy—just not the son-in-law the mom was hoping for). No More Goodbyes is full of stories of parents so devastated and perplexed by the news that their son or daughter is gay or lesbian that they cut off contact with them. I’ve heard and read many stories of people who decide to leave the Mormon church; their family members similarly cut off contact with them. I read a sad comment on Facebook by a gay Mormon woman whose sisters recently told her that they do not want her to have any contact with their children (are they afraid her sexuality is contagious?). We can do better than this. We have to do better than this.
How will I handle the gap?
- What if one of my children is gay/lesbian?
- What if one of my children decides to leave the Mormon church?
- What if one of my children decided to convert to Islam? Or Judaism?
- What if one of my children doesn’t graduate from college?
- What if one of my children becomes (gasp) a Republican? (Confession: I did this to my parents for a few years. Sorry, Mom & Dad, if you’re reading.)
- What if one of my daughters decides to marry a loser?
These are all possible outcomes over which I will have no control. I hope I can take my cues from Carol Lynn Pearson and remember to ask myself this question:
“What if we are each in the correct classroom being assigned the correct homework, and what if the answer to the question on every test is to love a little more?”