Fields of Clover

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While I wait to collect my kindergartener I sometimes pass the time looking through the “grass” (people will insist on trying to grow grass in Phoenix) for a 4 leaf clover.

It occurred to me the other day that, given the way we talk about clovers, it’s easy to think that 4 leaf clovers are commonplace.

As evidenced by my failure to find one thus far, I’ve learned that 4 leaf clovers are elusive and rare, and that finding one would truly be a stroke of luck.

This all struck me as being rather similar to another elusive beast- the Ideal Family. Given the way we talk about it, you’d think every family had 2 healthy parents, (a stay-at-home mom and a dad with a great job) and several rosy-cheeked kids.

In practice though, families like that are the exception rather than the rule. Quite often the criticism of LDS discourse about ideal families is met with the argument that one must teach the ideal, otherwise no one will even try to reach it.

I think that it is entirely possible to teach about families with a sensitivity towards the lived reality of the vast majority of people, without giving up on the ‘ideal.’ Perhaps a more thoughtful approach would help us believe that we are not failures simply because we haven’t found the four leaf clover of a perfect family for ourselves. And maybe then we could recognize that most of those Ideal Families come from luck more than anything else.

Starfoxy

Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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11 Responses

  1. Jenny says:

    Thanks for sharing. I am hoping for a little luck in that department.

  2. lmzbooklvr says:

    I love this! And it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently since we’ve had some difficulties in our extended family and relocated to Utah.

    I was feeling conflicted because I felt convicted on the following two points:
    1) the Proclamation is true
    2) the life I’m living is the life the Lord wants me to be living right now – even though that life seems to contrast from what the Proclamation teaches

    In my thoughts, I went much the same direction as you did. The Ideal Family is exactly that – an Ideal. We don’t live in an Ideal world, and it’s critical that we use dialogue that supports people wherever they are with their families in the world we actually LIVE in. (As opposed to the world where I’ve moved now which is so so far from the world the majority of LDS people I’ve spent my life with live in.) And how much our family (outwardly or inwardly) reflects the Ideal family is NOT a measure of anyone’s righteousness or goodness. You’re right – luck had a lot to do with it!

  3. I disagree with the reasons you give for not teaching the ideal. To me, not teaching with an eye toward having an ideal family would be like not teaching with an eye toward being like the idea person, Jesus Christ.

    Although there certainly needs to be a lot more work in teaching that none of us, not even those who appear to have the ideal family, have reached that ideal. As with Christ, just because we cannot accomplish the ideal in this life does not mean we should not be pursuing it.

    • Starfoxy says:

      Frank, If you’ll note, I didn’t say that we shouldn’t teach the ideal. I’m simply saying that we don’t need to teach it in such a way that makes people feel like miserable failures because they aren’t lucky enough.

      We actually manage to do that pretty well with your example about being like Christ. We all try to be like Christ, but very rarely are people made to feel like unrighteous failures who aren’t trying hard enough when they fall short. The same cannot be said about the way we talk about marriage and families.

      • I read it a third time, and you’re right. Thanks for te correction.

        It’s annoying that some people choose to use the beam in their own eye to blugeon others, so they will hold still to get that pesky mote removed.

  4. unknown says:

    “This all struck me as being rather similar to another elusive beast- the Ideal Family. Given the way we talk about it, you’d think every family had 2 healthy parents, (a stay-at-home mom and a dad with a great job) and several rosy-cheeked kids.” – Many on this blog might question whether this is the Ideal. I do agree that from the Gospel/Church perspective it is.

    “In practice though, families like that are the exception rather than the rule” – Statistically speaking, that may be true. But, there are places and families in the Church and world where the Ideal is being acheived. The point should be not to make people feel bad because they do not now have the Ideal, but to help everyone understand that it is acheivable over time so that they can make the choices necessary to obtain it. For some, that may not be in this life. For some families, it may take several generations of purging old habits and behaviors before the Ideal is the reality.

    • April says:

      Many on this blog might question whether this is the Ideal.

      That is true. I do not see that as my ideal, personally. I work and I like working. My kids do not seem to suffer because of my work and I am not striving to someday be able to be a stay-at-home mom. I agree that such a goal might be achievable for me (if health care reform continues to move forward), but that is not my goal.

      I would prefer to see an emphasis on principles over strategies. I see having a stay-at-home mom and a very gainfully employed dad as one strategy for raising children that are well-cared for. I think the principle is to care for your children well. My husband and I have chosen a different strategy, shared responsibility for providing and nurturing, that also works to raise children who are well cared for. Since many different strategies accomplish the same end, I don’t see why it is necessary for all families to employ the same strategy.

  5. Diane says:

    I love this, I don’t believe the “ideal family” exist because while it may look perfect from the outside there are many problems on the inside. These people in these families are just better at hiding these problems and that’s why when something happens like divorce, or one spouse killing another people on the outside are always surprised and usually the response is always, “They seemed like such “nice” “successful” people. It throw everyone off.

    Rather than comparing your family, which the church kind of sets people up to do (I’m not sure if this is conscience or not) because of the Proclamation, I think we should concentrate on what works for your family and not worry about what goes on in someones. I think it would make a lot of people much more happy.

  6. April

    I love your suggestion to emphasize principles over strategies. There are definitely multiple strategies couples and individuals can use in achieving what is best for their own family.

  7. Fran says:

    I don’t know what to say to this…I feel like we may very much look like the ideal family to many (husband self-employed in his own practice, me at home, 2 happy, healthy cute kids, with a third on the way). I’m sure our life seems rosy, and happy, and perfect. And I kind of think it is. I also think that in many ways, we’ve just been really lucky/blessed. We’ve been fortunate that illness hasn’t struck our family in some way that would really impact our way of life. We’ve been lucky/blessed to be able to get a good education that allows my husband to get good employment. We really have it good, and I’m very grateful.

    On the other hand, I don’t want to sit down and feel like it was “pure luck” that got us here. Those years of my husband pursuing his profession degree alongside an MS were grueling for both of us. We have a lot of debt, and that could bite us in the back at some point, but it’s a risk we took. I chose to stay at home with the kids, even though there may have been a way to lower the debt by me working during the school years.

    So, in a way, I feel like we worked for our goals, and we paid a price. And I’d imagine that’s what life is about. Some things we can control, and choose to have or not to come as close to our personal ideals as we can. Sometimes, there is just bad luck, and things happen that are beyond your control that alter the path of your lives.

    But I think the course of our lives is not just a matter of luck, just as I think happy families (and I’d rather use happy families than “ideal” families, because I know the family I grew up in looked very idea by Mormon standards, but I don’t know that it was always a happy family) aren’t JUST a matter of luck. I think it also takes some conscious choices…mixed with good fortune.

  8. Naismith says:

    I have a bunch of 4-leaf clover in my front yard. They are weeds that I can’t quite get rid of. Guess that is an example of how things are different in different places.

    I totally agree with concerns about the Ideal Family. I just haven’t felt that the church promotes any such stereotype.

    Elder Baxter and Elder Oaks have spoken about being raised in single-parent homes. Elder Ballard has assured us that, “There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique.” (Apr 2008 conference)

    The Feb 2008 Worldwide Leadership “Building Up a Righteous Posterity” was particularly instructive about this.

    Then-Primary president Cheryl Lant said, “…. it has occurred to me—well, it’s evident—that the division of labor for young couples today is different than it was when I was first married. I watch the young couples in my family—my children and their spouses—and the way they do things in their family. It’s different than we did. They still get the job done. They work together in a different way. And in many ways it’s better than the way we did it. The point is, though, that it’s individual. Each couple has to work out how they will do things.”

    Then Elder Holland chimed in, “You’re taking me back to the proclamation, which speaks of being equal partners and that we don’t just say, “You’re going to be the only nurturer, and I’m going to be the only one that’s concerned about the money and whatever.” There will be ebbing and flowing. There’s a balance and components, but we’ve got to be in this together. We’ve got to share in this. It seems to me that’s exactly what the proclamation said.”

    So while some members may indeed preach a sterotypical ideal, church leaders themselves are teaching that there are many ways to raise children. They are even explicitly supporting young couples with less-definitive gender assignment lines!

    (Now if I could only get that Sting song out of my head…)

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