Claim your blessing!

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Because children are baptized at age 8 rather than as infants, the Mormon version of a baby’s christening (blessing) is not considered a saving ordinance on their behalf. The LDS interpretation of this ritual is found in D&C 20:70:

“Every member of the church of Christ having children is to bring them unto the elders before the church, who are to lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and bless them in his name.”

We’ve all seen how it goes: dad, grandpa or some other worthy Melchizedek priesthood holder brings the baby to the front of the chapel, a few other men surround them in a circle, they collectively bounce the baby like she’s on a trampoline to keep her from fussing during the blessing, a deacon holds a microphone in front of the speaker’s mouth as the child is given “a name, by which she will be known on the records of the church and throughout her life,” followed by a brief blessing. Funny thing is, she’ll still get her name on the records of the church with or without a blessing, so it’s not even a required ritual for entrance on our attendance rolls.

And some of us wonder….”Where’s her mother?” We think that all too-often, don’t we? Oh, there she is! A few pews back, arms reverently folded as she strains to hear the man’s blessing on her child while other shrieks and squeaks punctuate the sacred silence, the same plight afforded to a father only when he is deemed “unworthy.”  Is she also unworthy?It seems paradoxical that in a church which reveres motherhood as a woman’s highest and holiest calling, she cannot participate in presenting her newly born child in front of her friends and ward members, let alone act as voice for the blessing, despite it not being a saving ordinance. While some members see no problem with this, many woman have felt wounded by this exclusion.  For example, according to the Church Handbook, there is no direct prohibition of having the mother hold the child during the blessing, and while some women have been successful at getting permission from their bishop to do so, others have been turned down. It seems to be left up to the discretion of the bishop or stake president in most cases. And even then, as Caroline points out, it’s still a male-centric ritual.

What’s wrong with this picture?!?

Pregnancy, labor and childbirth are, by all metrics, woman-centric. And yet, women traditionally have no part in the blessing of their children before the congregation.

I gave birth to my 3rd child (and first daughter!) earlier this year and the prospect of not being involved in welcoming and blessing her into life was very discouraging. I have a very understanding bishop and stake president, and I bet that I would not have run into much resistance if I had asked to hold her for the blessing. After all, I hold my other children in my arms as their father anoints and blesses them for other occasions, including sickness — how could this be different?

But even then, the idea of being the voiceless mother became so repugnant to me. My husband was generous and helpful, offered for us to write the blessing together and he deliver it memorized. That didn’t feel much better.  I didn’t want to just hold her. I wanted to hold my baby girl in my arms and bless her myself.

So that’s what I did.

I decided that the system in place for fathers to bless their children was very nice, but that it wasn’t really about me, nor could it include me in the way I wanted to be included. So I released any feelings of wanting to control or wishing it could be different and just allowed it to be something special her Daddy gets to do with her.

I followed in the footsteps of many faithful women who have already done likewise and held a matriarchal blessing ceremony in my own home on the night before my daughter’s traditional church blessing.

I asked a handful of women to attend and invited far-away family and friends to send a poem or blessing to be read. I gathered some inspiring poetry, blessings and music to make a short program and printed the texts into a little booklet.  We gathered and sang Susan Howe’s and Linda Hoffman Newell’s text Hymn of Welcome to the tune of “Come thou fount of ev’ry blessing” (I prefer that tune over the Hie to Kolob melody), and each woman in attendance read some of the poetry selections. Some dear friends and family wrote blessings and poems for my child to be read in their absence.  Each of us was in tears as we spoke the tender words of our selection. (If anyone would like a pdf copy of my selections, I’m happy to share. It was a community effort in the first place.)

Then the time came for me to pronounce my eagerly-anticipated blessing on my little girl. I was surprised at the awkwardness and slight embarrassment that passed through me at this moment. Should I even be doing this? I realized yet another privilege that being a priesthood holding man in the church affords: practice giving blessings in front of other people. From confirming converts on their mission, to blessing and confirming their children, to blessings of health and comfort, men in the church are expected to be inspired and pronounce Heaven’s blessings in front of an audience. Even in front of some of my dearest friends, I felt self-conscious and almost backed out of having us stand around in a circle until one of them nudged me into doing it as I had imagined. I was grateful for the show of confidence.

Once I got going, I was able to pour out my heart for this child. All of my hopes, wishes, dreams and blessings for her flowed freely from my lips. I felt no shame, no hesitation, only the confirmation that “there are few things more powerful than the faithful prayers of a righteous mother.” I felt no pressure to make my blessing brief or to repeat tired old rote sentiments. I stopped and adjusted her when she fussed, hot tears licking my cheeks as I went. I blessed her with all the good gifts a mother desires for her daughter. The gift of tongues, that she may learn about the people of the world and communicate with them in their own languages. The gift of healing, that she might understand the workings of her body and keep it healthy. The ability to know of my love for her, and God’s love for her, and likewise the love that our Heavenly Parents have for all of their children and to let the knowledge of that love guide her in seeking out systems of oppression and to find ways to relieve suffering.

Afterward, we all had cake and ice cream. Because really….what’s a Mormon gathering without cake?!

Unabashedly blessing my child was such a gift of empowerment. No longer did I feel like a mute observer of my child’s future, but a creator and facilitator in such.  It made me want to rise up and claim more of the power I already have. I’m looking forward to the mother’s blessings I will give my children on the eve of their baptisms, ordinations and birthdays. I anticipate making it every bit a tradition as father’s blessings, with nary a competitive whit about it.

For all of us who feel like voiceless observers on the pews, let us all rise up and claim those blessings that we are entitled to give!

Violadiva

Violadiva is an oxymoron, a musician, a yogi, a Suzuki violin teacher, a late-night baker of sourdough breads, proud Mormon feminist, happy wife of Pianoman and lucky mother to three.

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45 Responses

  1. Ziff says:

    I love that you did this! What a beautiful experience!

  2. KLC says:

    “Pregnancy, labor and childbirth are, by all metrics, woman-centric. And yet, women traditionally have no part in the blessing of their children before the congregation.”

    This is a sincere question, I’m not trying to invalidate your feelings about your place in this blessing or be a negative voice. This is a a recurring theme on many LDS blogs as you note. As a man I always have the same reaction.

    As you said, childbirth, by all metrics, is woman-centric, and why should it be otherwise? All attention is on the mother from the first annoucement through the preparations for the birth. And after the birth all attention is on the mother and new child. Men have some part in all of this, but it is an assigned role with no vital need, sort of like receiving an honorary doctorate at a graduation. Women can and do have children all the time without any involvement from the father. As a father I often felt during my wife’s pregnancy much like I felt during my engagement and wedding, an vitally interested but decidedly secondary party.

    Given that, it seems almost petty and selfish for mothers to demand that this one time during the whole childbirth process when the father can take sole responsibility for something must also involve her. The world has revolved around her for more than 9 months, why can’t she be generous and willingly give these 5 minutes to her husband and the father of their child without hurt feelings and demands for inclusion?

    Again, I’m trying to honestly explain my feelings as a father when I read discussions like this. I’m in no way trying to play my priesthood/patriarchal hand and assert my dominance, but am honestly looking for more understanding about a situation that puzzles me. I’m hoping that these thoughts from a man, which may not be obvious to women upset over their lack of participation in LDS baby blessings, are worth noting. Thanks for reading this charitably.

    • debo says:

      What about children who are adopted? Adoption often (not always) happens after a painful period of infertility, and the mother already feels conflicting emotions — love and gratitude for the new child, sadness/inadequacy about not being able to bear children, and now she’s shut out from that important ordinance? Your argument above is just another application of the motherhood/priesthood false equivalency.

      • KLC says:

        Debo, I don’t believe in priesthood/motherhood equivalency, I’m making no claims about that. I’m not making an argument, I’m merely offering a personal observation.

      • Violadiva says:

        Debo, you win the prize for pointing out something very important that I neglected to address in the OP. Thank you so much for adding this in. Adoptive mothers have the potential to feel even more left out than others.

    • Liz says:

      I don’t find it petty or unselfish for her to want more participation or to bless her daughter herself – is it petty and unselfish for a man to want to be in the delivery room and to help his wife birth her child? I think that it can definitely be a “yes, and” question instead of an “either, or” question. Why not have both blessings, and publicly? Especially given that not all mothers physically carry/birth their children, I see no reason why mothers and fathers can’t participate in this blessing the way that they find most meaningful for their families.

    • Pleiades says:

      Comments like this seem to be painting pregnancy as this beautiful, mystical, transformative journey, and I could understand the argument if it really was that way. For many women, though, it is a complicated and life-sucking process. There is nothing magical about puking every day for 9 months and then being cut open like a slab of meat on an operating table because my baby won’t progress naturally through the birth process. To work so hard and sacrifice so much of my health only to be an afterthought who can’t even hear the blessing is painful.

      • KLC says:

        Pleiades, I’m making no claims or comments about pregnancy itself, whether it is mystical or life-sucking. I merely agree with Violadiva when she says that pregnancy, and everything that it entails, is woman-centric. I believe that is true, no matter what the quality of that experience is. And I’m not complaining about that, as I said in my first comment, I don’t see any reason why it should not be that way. But given that reality, why is giving 5 minutes to the father for the blessing such a problem?

        As I’ve thought about this more since I wrote my first comment I realize that the perception of what blessing the baby is probably colors how you see this issue. I personally don’t see the LDS baby blessing as very high up in the hierarchy of importance surrounding the birth of a new baby. I think it is a wonderful ritual but I don’t see it as the culminating action which the previous 9+ months and labor and discomfort and joy lead up to. I don’t see the promises as binding, I don’t see it as salvific or even necessary. So giving the father those 5 minutes seems, to me, more like a courtesy than a deprivation of a right. Seeing the blessing as more significant and important would change that perception.

      • Violadiva says:

        Thank you for including this perspective. Valuable insights!

    • Rachel says:

      I know of at least one other man who feels quite similarly to you. In his case, it was also that he had been told his entire life by the church, because of the priesthood/motherhood rhetoric, that the way he could be close to his children was through priesthood ordinances. He had not been told that he could be close to them, nurture them, or care for them in other natural, fatherly ways. When his wife expressed a desire to hold their baby during the child’s blessing, it very much hurt his feelings. She did not hold the babe during that blessing, but give the child a mother’s blessing, later. I don’t find her desire selfish.

      Nor do I find Violadiva’s desire selfish. This is perhaps because I didn’t experience the 9 months that I carried my daughter in my womb as a time when the whole world was revolved around me. Instead, the work of carrying and birthing a child felt physically and emotionally challenging, and often lonely. This was even with inviting my husband’s participation as much as possible. And like Liz said, I would never have told him it was selfish for him to participate in the birth circle, to support me in back labor, to catch our daughter, or cut the umbilical cord. I’m immensely grateful he was present and active. He made the birth much easier, and it felt better for something we did together. I wish that baby blessings could be the same way.

      • KLC says:

        Rachel, I can assure you that my thoughts and feelings about this issue don’t have anything to do with that kind of rhetoric. No one, not once, from my father to my bishops, to my YM leaders and AP leaders, to my mission president, ever even hinted to me, let alone taught me, that priesthood ordinances were the only way to get close to my children. Not only has it never been taught to me, I’ve never heard it taught at all, it is a completely foreign concept. My thoughts in no way have anything to with selfish priesthood patriarchy demanding what is rightfully theirs.

      • Violadiva says:

        My husband was an excellent pregnancy, labor and birth partner, just like yours. It makes such a difference. I like how it sets up the parenting partnership right from the beginning. Thanks, Rachel.

    • AuntM says:

      KLC – It seems to me that the blessing feels like the celebration that comes after a lot of hard work. It feels strange to have someone who did most of the hard work excluded from the celebration.

      I think the “male” counterpart to childbirth has often been considered baptism (another birth) in traditional Christianity, although there are many reasonable concerns about excluding women there as well.

      Additionally, many couples are starting to change how they publicly embrace pregnancy. Many more baby showers are co-ed as both parents-to-be are included as well as friends and family of both genders. Lots of fathers-to-be get involved in documenting pregnancy, childbirth, and the first few months in the life of their child. Fathers are showing up to more prenatal medical appointments. This is not to imply that the experiences of a pregnant woman and her partner are equal, just that fathers are perhaps less excluded than they have been in the past.

      And, as others have already mentioned, adoptive mothers are very similarly situated to adoptive fathers which makes the mothers’ exclusion from the celebratory blessing potentially very hurtful.

      • Violadiva says:

        The celebration, the presenting before the congregation of friends and family….absolutely! I went up to the front of the chapel to hand the baby to my husband and we stood there together and showed her to the crowd while they “Oooh-ed” at her. So precious.

    • Caroline says:

      I’m still scratching my head as to why someone might think that one human wanting to bless or participate in blessing another human is selfish or petty. Isn’t that the opposite of selfish or petty? Wanting to participate in calling down God’s love and blessings on someone for that other person’s benefit? The mind is boggling.

    • EBK says:

      KLC,
      I think the main theme that many of the responses to your post have mentioned is that men are allowed to be involved in pregnancy, labor, and childbirth. My husband was right there with me for every ultrasound during my pregnancies. He was by my side for the entirety of both of my labors (which were very long!) He was there when the babies were born and saw them both before I did. He cut the umbilical chord. While it is true that it would have been impossible for him to be as involved as I was in the process, he was very very much involved. Much more so than my mother (even though she was the physician who delivered both of my babies), any of my sisters, the Bishop, or the Relief Society President. That is not the case with the baby blessing. Is it selfish to want to have more involvement with the blessing of my own children than the Bishop has? Or the random male friends from the ward that were invited into the circle? Why does this need to be a father or mother thing? Why can’t it be both?

      • EBK says:

        Also, it seems rather selfish to me, if a woman has done absolutely everything she possibly can to include her husband in the pregnancy, labor, and birth of their child, for him to then say, “No, you can’t participate in the blessing. This is MY moment. You have already had yours.”

      • Violadiva says:

        Really good points!

    • Laura Penn says:

      I think, as a woman who has borne two children and been shut out of the blessing of both, that the issue is not who is center stage here, but that women are treated the same way a man deemed “unworthy” would be treated. This moment, as any ritual moment in the church involving one’s children, should not be a male only affair. While I understand that a man may feel like he deserves to do this because, after all, the woman has been the one involved in everything else and it’s his child as well, it reinforces the idea the motherhood = priesthood. I believe these ordinances and rituals (all of them) should primarily reinforce the idea that parent(s) are bringing their children into and guiding their children through the world and they are doing so with the support of those communities of people closest to them. Those are the people who should be participating in these rituals, no matter their gender.

      For women this ritual is uniquely painful in that it is not a priesthood function and yet they are shut out of it because it is done in church. This only highlights the marginalization and disposability of women in the church. We have no place beyond birthing babies and attending to the needs of men.

      No matter what your personal feelings and practices are about what women’s places are, for the church — regardless of all their rhetoric to the contrary — this and only this is what women are for. Any time we are confronted with that reality — and it is in these exclusions where it is most concrete and visible to all — it is painful and humiliating.

      I can understand your feelings of exclusion surrounding pregnancy and childbirth because I, as a woman, am subjected to it everywhere in the church. May I not so humbly suggest that you use those feelings of exclusion you felt around pregnancy and childbirth to grow in compassion and understanding of what women live with as a matter of course. Every time you see something happening in the church where you see only men, call on those feelings and apply them to the women who are being excluded from what you are witnessing or participating in; imagine being forbidden to do whatever it is you are doing — presiding, giving a blessing, baptizing, confirming, blessing and passing the sacrament, sealing, deciding — and you will begin to understand why women write these blog posts, why women grieve for what you take or do as simply and rightly yours to have or to to do.

    • lj says:

      Completely agree with you. Even the scripture she quoted says that the elders of the church should bring the baby forward. A mother definitely has the power to pray, bless and watch over her children but to try to imitate or perform something that is the father’s role seems selfish and silly.

      • Violadiva says:

        Oh gosh, can’t believe I’m falling for troll bait.

        Try the scripture again: “every member” (I am a woman and a member) having children (pretty sure I was the one who “had” the baby) “bring them unto the elders” (I would do that by carrying the babe in my arms)
        For the elders to lay hands on the baby and bless in the name of Christ.

        Now that you mention it, I think the scripture proves the point that women can hold their babies in blessings quite nicely.

        Role? Selfish? Silly? Tsk tsk tsk.

  3. Caroline says:

    Beautiful post, Violadiva. I’m so glad you had such a powerful blessing experience in your circle of women friends. I wish more Mormon women could have such an experience — and I think that posts like yours will help open up people’s eyes to possibilities that aren’t even generally considered. Wish I could have been there!

  4. JSW says:

    Absolutely beautiful. I love how carefully you think about these profound experiences and how clearly you articulate your thoughts and processes. What a beautiful, inspiring gift you are giving. To yourself, your daughter, your friends, your husband and your sons; a gift that will truly keep giving as not only the blessings are fulfilled (& added to at other key moments in their lives), but to have children grow up having a mother who gives blessings and it being a normal part of family life – priceless. Thank you.

  5. KLC says:

    Violadiva, I apologize for drawing the conversation away from your original post. I thought I could phrase my observation in a way that would not be confrontational or inflammatory but instead make it an example of how the same premise could draw two different conclusions. I should have listened to the still small voice that kept telling me I was making a big mistake before I hit the submit button.

    • Violadiva says:

      Thank you, KLC, for the apology. I forgive you.
      Let’s not miss the forest for a wood chip, here. I think you see that now.
      The point of the post was to illustrate that fathers need to continue to bless their children (my husband’s blessing of our baby was never in jeopardy) and that mothers also need to bless their children, male and female, publicly and privately, at significant life milestones. I think it neither selfish nor petty that any parent should desire to participate in blessing their child. It was team work that got the child there, they should bless as a team. The post is meant to embolden some of the mothers out there who feel uneasy or excluded about blessing their children that, Yes! You are allowed to do this.
      And simply holding her as a way to participate was, as I said above, not enough to satisfy me. The power came in deciding that more than one blessing could be given. Too many women would believe this is neither their right nor privilege, and that is a great pity.
      That aside, I can see you have an earnestly expressed opinion. I think many of the other commenters have made very good points to your original question, particularly regarding adoption, husbands as birth partners, the glamour of pregnancy, and the dichotomy of priesthood = motherhood dyad, and I hope you are able to see more nuance into your held belief.

      And, mad props to the Holy Spirit in hinting that posting a comment which amounts to “but what about the men?” in a feminist space is something you should probably not submit. Word to the wise.

  6. Dovie says:

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing the love and hopefully empowering others. I think that it’s not so much about giving this one thing, because in this blessing nothing was taken away from the father but the mother claiming some sacred space. Good stuff.

  7. nrc42 says:

    This is so beautiful. I don’t have children yet, but carving out my own space to bless them is definitely something I will want to do.

    • Violadiva says:

      Good! We need more mothers thinking this way.

      • Genhy says:

        Yes, we need more mothers usurping the father’s authority. Don’t forget me no matter how beautiful it may seem what you do on Earth may not be recognized in heaven. Follow the patterns of authority.

      • Genhy, did you read the post? Violadiva pointed out that the father DID bless the baby. Just because Violadiva had her own, separate mother’s blessing in no way stopped or detracted from the father’s blessing. Do you believe the blessings of God are so limited that a mother’s blessing somehow invalidates a father’s blessing, usurping his authority to bless?

  8. Genhy says:

    I don’t pretend to know your situation that’s what I said may not be recognized in heaven. Just be careful with assumption/presumption of authority.

    • nrc42 says:

      Gehny, I am so sorry to hear that you feel that the prayer of a mother carries no authority or that it will not be recognized in heaven. Although I am not a mother, I can assure you that I felt the impact of my mother’s prayers just as much as, if not more than, the impact of the occasional father’s blessing I received. I hope you know that God is listening.

  9. Genhy says:

    Why i said

  10. Genhy says:

    Just be careful with assumption/presumption of authority.
    I stand by this. No matter how good the feeling you do not want something that’s performed on earth not to be recognized in heaven. Check with your bishop or stake president.

    • nrc42 says:

      Prayers are always recognized in heaven.

      • Genhy says:

        Someone was praying that is same sex marriage would be recognized in heaven. So no not everything is recognised in heaven.

      • nrc42 says:

        If you’ll recall from your Sunbeams class (if you were raised LDS), Heavenly Father hears and answers all prayers, but they aren’t always answered the way we want. They are always heard though. They are always recognized. They always matter.

        Just a suggestion though – I’d not advise making claims about what is or is not recognized in heaven.

    • Milly says:

      Absolutely first rate and coetbr-poptomed, gentlemen!

  11. Melissa says:

    There are so many things I love about this. Thank you for being so courageous. I have blessed my children, but I had never considered this type of blessing. I find it wonderful. Blessings to you!

  12. Katie says:

    This is beautiful, if we have another baby I want to be able to offer a blessing as well as my husband- if you don’t mind sharing the PDF I would love ideas.

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