Family Back-to-school Blessings

photo courtesy of ordain women.org

A few weeks ago, as the first day of school approached for my first first-grader, who was going to school for the first time, my husband turned to me one evening and said, “It’s not uncommon in our faith tradition for children to have a blessing before starting the new school year. Should we do that?”

“We should if we do it together.” I replied.

“Well, of course.” he responded. “How should we do it?”

“Let’s tag team. One person starts, the other person adds on, then we end it together.”

We’ve each blessed our children throughout their lives — as babies and toddlers, when they couldn’t sleep, or been sick, or felt afraid, or felt unhappy — but this was the first time we were blessing the same child together at the same time, each with our own unique words.

 

On the evening before school began, we approached our child and asked, “Would you like a special prayer blessing from Mama and Daddy before you start school tomorrow?” After hearing us describe what we were planning to do, he decided he did want it.  We all sat together on our big bed, with my son on my lap, and our pre-schooler and toddler bouncing on the pillows nearby.

My husband and I both put our hands together on our child’s head. Not knowing quite what language would feel the most comfortable, I began the blessing like a prayer to God, referring to my child in the third person as I petitioned God for all the wishes in my mother-heart for my child as he was about to do something new and brave. I prayed for him to be an includer, to have a calm mind for learning, to be creative, to be confident in trying to new things, to give people lots of chances to be his friend, to be kind and show empathy to others. When I had exhausted my list of hopes and wishes for him, I nodded to my husband and he continued with his blessing.  He shifted the language to the first person and addressed his blessing directly to our child.  In that moment, I felt a slight embarrassment in my unfamiliarity with blessing language — I had wanted to address my child directly but didn’t know quite how to start it. Did I have to call him by name and state some sort of authority? I’m his mother who loves him, did I need any more authority to bless and wish goodness on his life than that?

In my mind, a battle ensued: Was it a “Priesthood” blessing because my husband and I hold the Priesthood together, because we were sealed in the temple together? Was is not a “Priesthood” blessing at all, because I have no Priesthood ordination? Did that make it more or less efficacious if so? Did authority need to be stated at all, or could we both just say our blessings from our hearts and God would see our righteous intent as loving parents?

I agree with one of my favorite podcast hosts, Vanessa Zoltan, when she says,

“What I love about blessings is that… I feel like when you bless something you are tapping into your most vulnerable wish for someone and I just think that when you bless something you are admitting you have no power over something but you are hoping with every fiber of your being.”

Just as I was coming to the conclusion that a beautiful blessing from parents to their child needs no categorization or qualifiers, my two younger children quietly and eagerly added their hands to the pile on top of their brother’s head and left them there until the blessing was finished. They all giggled in delight afterward.  The children all said, “me next! me next!” and the next child climbed onto my lap with a smile. My blessing language came much easier the second time, and our two pairs of adult hands were again joined by two pairs of children’s hands.  “Me next, me next!” came the third call, and all of our children were blessed by both parents, with siblings participating with their hands and intent. I believe these three children were blessed by a quartet of parents this night, that the deepest wishes spoken by their earthly parents were in accord with the wishes and blessings from their Heavenly Parents.

Realizing that we weren’t finished for the night, my astute 6-year old declared, “Now Mama blesses Daddy, and Daddy blesses Mama!”  It was obvious to him that everyone should have a blessing that night, and we can all bless each other, of course!  My thoughts went momentarily to the story of Emma Smith wanting a blessing and Joseph telling her to write out her own blessing and that he would sign it. Why not bless everyone around you, and yourself while at it! God is good and generous!

I looked at my husband quizzically. I had never blessed him before.  It was a rare and precious gift to reach deep into my heart and pull out wishes and blessings for my husband, with four sets of hands on his head. In the blessing language, my expressed desires for him to manage his time successfully to allow for work, family, and his own personal creative endeavors didn’t feel like nagging or advice, just what a wife wishes for her husband to be happy and fulfilled.

He in turn gave a blessing to me (with 3 assistants) and mentioned things like: how important it is for me to take time to be involved in good causes outside our family, for clarity in how to improve my business, and words of gratitude for my patience in motherhood.  It was nice to hear what was on his mind and heart for me, too.

When we were all finished, a calm cheerfulness rested in the room.  It felt like a family co-operative; nobody was there on business, nobody cited authority over anyone else. The language was familiar and child-friendly,  and not formulaic or administrative.  In the end, we really all did bless each other, and the peaceful unity in our family that night felt warm and kind.

I think Family Back-to-School Blessings will be a tradition every year.

 

 

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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13 Responses

  1. Wendy says:

    I’m in tears, Violadiva. This is so touching. Thank you for sharing such a sacred, beautiful experience with us.

    If the priesthood is, as we are taught in the LDS Church, simply the “power of God on earth,” I don’t think it can be monopolized by one sex. Providing blessings is your birthright as a Mormon woman. And it is a beautiful gift to your children. As you likely know, historically in the LDS Church women were set apart to give healing blessings. There was even a “washing and annointing” before childbirth—-performed by women exclusively. Women’s healing work was the primary use of the SLC Temple during the week in the early days of the church. The church’s own gospel topics essay on this subject indicates that men in the church simply correlated this institutionalized healing work away. With no revelation from God to do so.

    I applaud your courage in sharing how you and your family are reinstituting this sacred work. Together. It’s so important for us women to reclaim our spiritual heritage and authority. Especially when it comes to blessing our children and those we love. And even blessing ourselves, as Emma did. I would assert that she didn’t need Joseph to sign her blessing. Again, as we are taught in the LDS Church, there is no intermediary between us and God, except Jesus. I do think there is power in numbers, however, when giving blessings. I’m not sure why that is, but it has been my experience. And that image of your family combining your love and faith to bless each other is going to stay with me for a long time.

  2. Ziff says:

    Wow, Violadiva! I love this! Thanks so much for sharing it!

  3. Caroline says:

    I love this so much, Violadiva. I’ve engaged in a few blessings myself as giver and recipient, and they were beautiful experiences. As you mention in your post, it’s an opportunity to state your best hopes and dreams for someone you care about — I see giving blessings as acts of love, and I see no reason for LDS women, who have a historical birthright to this, to not do it. I loved receiving blessings from women I care about and I’ve also been moved by the opportunity to voice them myself. Your experiences sounds so touching and memorable. Thank you, thank you for sharing this with us.

    As a side note, I think even among orthodox Mormons, there is often some sense that it’s ok for women to engage in blessings in their own homes. One of my bishops didn’t have any issue with us giving our baby a “parents’ blessing” in our house.

  4. Carolyn Nielsen says:

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful family experience.

  5. MJ says:

    This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you.

  6. paws says:

    How wonderful!

  7. Jason K. says:

    Oh, goodness, this is beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Vajra2 says:

    It’s a lovely moment. Although I don’t really understand why it’s such a big deal. You and your husband agreed and but for your willingness to share the beauty with us, no one could possibly criticize you.

  9. Lazuli bunting says:

    Oh goodness, this moved me to tears. What a beautiful, harmonious moment. Thank you.

  10. Rob says:

    I too felt the sweet love in your experience Violadiva. Very sweet. And to have the kids join in! So tender. But I also, like you, had an internal “battle” ensue. I yearn for experiences where the whole family is uplifted, strengthened, edified and our love for each other strongly felt as what you describe here. So why do I feel so afraid to do something like this. Like my bishop, a good man, might strongly call me out if we did something like this with my wife and children. Is this just a vestige of the strong patriarchal order in which I was raised or is there really cause for concern. I’m feeling very conflicted and having a very hard time reconciling a priesthood/father’s blessing from a parental/familial blessing. Where, then, does the Priesthood come in? And why have the priesthood? Does my having the priesthood not matter in the family? Is it reserved only for blessings with annointings? As the father in the home what is my role? If this is a good thing (and I definitely see so much good there) why doesn’t the church leadership encourage us to do this kind of thing more? Help! I’m yearning for insight and torn between faithfully following my leaders who I love and support and exploring righteous, joyful ways of strengthening my family.

  11. Jane Doe says:

    Personally I feel as if this is very wrong. I do not doubt that it was a special experience for you and your family, but to say that you acted in the name of the holy priesthood is completely false. You do not hold the priesthood and therefore cannot give priesthood blessings. That is a priesthood holders responsibility. The act of laying on it hands and pronuncing a priesthood blessing is only done, in validity, when all the parties participating hold the priesthood authority and have the permission to do so in God’s name.

    We as women do not have the right to hold the priesthood authority and that’s okay. As someone who grew up recieving blessings from a priesthood holding father, these we’re special bonding moments for my entire family. No my mother did not lay her hands on my head, but I could feel that she fully supported the words of the blessing because I knew she supported my father in his priesthood duties. Had my mother joined in I would have known that it was not done by the power of the priesthood, because my mother does not hold the priesthood. It would have been the same idea had my mother try to baptize me.

    It doesn’t work. God has an order of how things are to be done. You cannot participate in valid priesthood ordinances/blessings if you do not have the priesthood. It doesn’t take away from anyone’s role as a mother nor does it mean that you don’t love your children as much if you can’t participate in the way you want in priesthood blessings.

    You can still have these beautiful moments between your family, but please know that the moment you tried to give a blessing by the power of the priesthood, it was not by the priesthood since you do not hold the priesthood.

  12. Emily U says:

    Jane Doe, if I was Violadiva I’d be very hurt by what you wrote. It seems you’ve seriously misunderstood her. She doesn’t claim she acted in the name of the priesthood. Rather, she’s acting in the perfectly legitimate tradition of working with gifts of the spirit. Surely God does not frown on calling down his blessings in a family blessing in which both parents participate. This is not an ordinance. To say the sacred experience Violadiva shared is out of order is pretty harsh.

    Also, you may not have known this, but women in Mormon history blessed each other and their families regularly. This is documented. And Spencer W. Kimball’s son documented an example in his own family, you can read about it in a Journal of Mormon History article on Female Ritual Healing by Jonathan Stapley and Kristine Wright.

  13. Caroline says:

    Jane Doe, I agree with Emily U completely. Violadiva never invoked the priesthood in these beautiful blessings. She blessed from her all the generosity and good will and love that were in her heart — a practice that many many Mormon women have engaged in. LDS.org says this of Joseph Smith’s teaching about women laying on hands to bless:

    “The second aspect of Joseph Smith’s teachings to the Relief Society that may be unfamiliar today is his endorsement of women’s participation in giving blessings of healing. “Respecting the female laying on hands,” the Nauvoo Relief Society minutes record, Joseph said that “it is no sin for any body to do it that has faith,” and admonished, “if the sisters should have faith to heal the sick, let all hold their tongues, and let every thing roll on.”” See https://www.lds.org/topics/joseph-smiths-teachings-about-priesthood-temple-and-women?lang=eng

    Mormons of good faith may engage in a variety of spiritual practices that feed their individual souls. We are best off as a community of Saints if we extend to one another the benefit of doubt, show generosity towards one another, and refrain from chastising because of perceived heterodox behavior.

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