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Heavenly Family Photo

Earthly Family

Earthly Family

by Jessawhy

My six year old brought home a handout from his primary class yesterday. Beautifully colored, the paper was meant for cutting and assembling into a picture frame. It featured a family, with an empty spot meant for the boy or girl to include a picture of his or herself (or color one attached).

The top of the frame says, “I am a child of God.” The bottom says, “My Heavenly Family Photo.”

What is most remarkable, however, is the family depicted in the photo frame.

Three children along the bottom and two adults behind them.

The adults are both bearded men.

Yep.

On earth you have one mommy and one daddy.

But in heaven, you have two . . . daddies?

While amusing, this handout also makes me sad. It demonstrates the lack of divine feminine presence in our church. Perhaps we have a Heavenly Mother. There’s been quite a lot of discussion on BCC about Bored in Vernal’s response to Kevin Barney’s paper on an OT goddess, Asherah, as our Heavenly Mother and how we can honor her today.

While I’m glad to see the dialog about a Mother in Heaven, but I’m not getting my hopes up that it will progress anywhere beyond the bloggernacle.

Not while a my son brings home from church a photo of our Heavenly Family without a mother.

In the interest of full-disclosure, the handout does not appear to be material from a church-approved source. The images are cartoon-like and good for coloring. It was probably taken from a supplemental resource that you could buy at Deseret Book.

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Jessawhy

Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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  1. amelia says:

    i find it amusing that this soon after the whole prop. 8 debacle a primary teacher might risk confusing our precious children by depicting an ideal family without a clearly identifiable father and mother and with what looks like two daddies.

    but i have to agree with you, jessawhy. i find it deeply troubling and very sad that we can’t acknowledge a heavenly mother even in these innocent circumstances. what harm would there be in teaching our primary children that in heaven they’ll have a mother too? that is correct doctrine after all and it gets an occasional nod even if it’s never fully fleshed out.

    for what it’s worth, yesterday my stake president gave me a blessing in which he specifically blessed me with my heavenly mother’s love and guidance. it was a lovely blessing.

  2. makakona says:

    wow. i would be equally disappointed. we’ve been going rounds with our very precocious five-year-old about heavenly mother. she insists that there’s no such person despite every argument we’ve thrown her way. we’ve always talked of a heavenly mother in our home, but primary has convinced her there’s no such person. it’s very frustrating.

  3. makakona says:

    and amelia’s right. i momentarily stopped reading after i got to the “two bearded men” part because i thought it was someone’s idea of being more open-minded. made me laugh.

  4. Grace says:

    This makes me so sad. I recently got called to be a primary teacher to the 9 and 10 year old girls, and in our class yesterday I made a fleeting reference to Heavenly Mother when discussing the path our eternities might take. It was amazing- their chattering and giggling to each other immediately stopped, and they wouldn’t let me go on to anything else because of their questions. Most of them had never heard of Heavenly Mother, and the few that had weren’t sure if it was real. They were so excited about the idea. One of the girls said that it makes so much sense and she had never understood how we were supposed to become like God, because he’s a BOY! They kept asking why we didn’t know more about her. I gave the standard “keeping sacred things sacred” answer, and one girl who had heard of her before commented on how she didn’t understand how we could learn to be like her if we couldn’t talk about her.

    All this broke my heart, but at the same time I left feeling oddly inspired. I’d had a real, substantive conversation about something extremely important to me that I’d never been able to have in Relief Society. In my class we’ve had discussions about the lack of women in the scriptures and how to handle their constant “he” pronouns, all initiated by the girls themselves. I have such hope for the future if there are more girls like these in the Church who are unafraid to raise their questions. And who knows? Maybe they’ll take their questions home to the dinner table and inspire a dialogue there. (Now here’s hoping none of the parents come after me with pitchforks and torches…)

  5. Julie says:

    I know exactly the picture you’re talking about – I’ve got it sitting right next to me. From the first second I saw it, I just had an “eww…not good” feeling about me. I don’t talk much at all to my kids (4, 2 and 8 mo.) about Heavenly Mother, but a family photo with God and Jesus and no mother? Just didn’t sit right. And I also felt uncomfortable talking to my kids – often – about how, if we live righteously, we will be together forever, yet in that picture it’s just kids, God and Jesus? I’m not being too eloquent, but I did feel uncomfortable with the pic right away.

  6. imapsyc says:

    My son came home with the exact same handout from Sunbeams yesterday.

  7. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for your comments, everyone.
    I met with some friends in my ward for a park playgroup today and discussed this issue. One friend is the primary chorister and had sharing time dumped on her at the last minute on Saturday. She was the one who had made the handout and she said she did think it was weird at first, but she really needed something and that was what she had.
    She did explain to the children that the photo was not two daddies, but Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
    Amelia,
    I’m glad to hear that you felt comforted by a blessing from a priesthood leader. That is a wonderful experience and I appreciate you sharing it, especially since Heavenly Mother was mentioned specifically.

    makakona,
    I have to admit that I am still on the fence about the existence of Heavenly Mother. Reading Kevin Barney’s paper helped me a little, though. Sadly, it seems that the more the LDS church tries to fit into mainstream Christianity, the less we focus on the doctrines that set us apart, like the doctrine of a Mother in Heaven.

    Grace,
    Isn’t the openness and innocence of children refreshing? Talking about the divine feminine with the girls in your class sounds like it was beneficial for you and the girls. From the way you explained it, I doubt you’ll get any pitchforks. 🙂

    Julie,
    I don’t think you’re the only one who was uncomfortable. I’ll have to see if I can get my son’s version scanned in and posted so others can see what we’re talking about. Thanks for commenting.

    imapsyc,
    Yes, I’m guessing it’s the big project for January in the new Primary supplement book. I imagine a lot of children are seeing it.

  8. Jill says:

    If a lot of children are seeing this, they shouldn’t be. I currently serve in Primary and I want to say that this picture was definitely not part of this month’s church-produced curriculum. On sunday the Primary President taught Sharing Time and very clearly taught the children that when they were in the pre-existence as spirits they lived with our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. She taught with the spirit and we all felt it knew it was true. If anything I think that not constantly discussing and debating about our Heavenly Mother adds to Her sacredness.

  9. amelia says:

    not constantly discussing and debating about our Heavenly Mother adds to Her sacredness.

    jill is, of course, entitled to her opinions. but my opinion is that i’ve never heard anything so ridiculous. does talking about god every single sunday (and frequently between) detract from his sacredness? does discussing jesus christ and his life detract from his sacredness? of course not. if something is sacred, then it’s sacred regardless of whether it’s discussed or not. it’s not whether *we* talk about something that makes it sacred; it’s something inherent in that thing that makes it sacred.

    in the meantime, when we refuse to acknowledge our goddess’s existence we do ourselves a disservice–especially our sisters. and we ignore her sacred role in the creation and throughout every aspect of the plan of happiness. which i believe detracts from her sacredness. if she were sacred, would we not acknowledge it? would we not honor her? i’m sick of all of the ridiculous mental gymnastics we do to hide her behind doors as if she were the ugly stepchild of whom we are ashamed. shame on us.

  10. mraynes says:

    Oh my goodness, Baby Monster’s nursery leader made this picture (or something like it) into a mobile. When I arrived to pick the monster up, he was in the process of ripping it to shreds. I thought it was pretty funny when the nursery leader told me that apparently Monster didn’t like his celestial family…this post makes that statement so much better! Thanks for the post.

    Oh, and amen, amelia!

  11. E says:

    The handout makes me sad too.

  12. Jessawhy says:

    Jill,
    Thanks for your comments. I hope you feel welcome to explain or defend your beliefs as you see fit.
    At Exponent, we want to be a place where we can express our differing opinions on issues and feel validated and understood.
    In that spirit, when I read your statement, I thought, “How do we know?” I don’t know enough about Heavenly Mother (again, IF she exists), to know that she’s sacred. That makes me feel sad.

    amelia,
    Thanks for your thoughts. Indeed, I can imagine a stronger role for a divine feminine in our church. Perhaps someday we’ll see that happen.

    mraynes,
    Interesting how many people are seeing this image. I’m wondering how I can get my hands on this resource book and find out what else we’ve got coming for this year . . .

    E,
    Thanks for your comment.

  13. amelia says:

    i want to make one thing clear: i really appreciate the experience jill shared from her own primary on sunday. i think children should be taught about both of their heavenly parents very clearly from as early as possible. primary is a wonderful venue to do that with the spirit. being silent about our goddess is certainly no way to make sure our children understand our doctrine.

  14. EmilyCC says:

    Goodness! I’m the sharing time person in my ward this month, and I haven’t mentioned Heavenly Mother once–didn’t even realize it until I read this post! So, I’ve had to think about why…

    I think I’ve been hyper-focused on showing all different kinds of earth families, and as I give my lesson, I watch the kids and think, “Don’t forget, these kids are being raised by grandma.” “Don’t forget, that teacher couple can’t have kids.”, etc.

    But, I think bringing Heavenly Mother into the lesson is something I would do very carefully. How far do I go? When does me talking about her cross the line from teaching the children about her to focusing on her because of my own issues?

    Thanks for the post and all the comments! This is definitely something I need to think about for the rest of the sharing time preparations.

  15. RoAnn says:

    This experience with a teaching aid that was developed by a well-meaning third party is a very good example of why Primary workers are encouraged to stick with Church approved materials.

    Since the Proclamation on the Family mentions that each of us “is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents,” it shouldn’t be a problem to mention and teach that concept in Primary.

    What I see as potentially problematic is going beyond “parents” to start talking about “the divine feminine,” “our goddess,” or even speculating at all about any details concerning “Heavenly Mother” with Primary children. Are we really know about her is that she exists. If we go beyond what has been revealed, we run the risk of upsetting parents like me, who are not very happy when teachers or leaders go too far outside the doctrinal norm when teaching their children.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with answering children’s questions about Heavenly Mother (or anything else) with, “We don’t know.” There are actually lots of things we don’t know, aren’t there? And that seems to be a very important part of our mortal test.

    We do know that we have been given all the knowledge we need in order to return to our “heavenly parents.” The rest, we trust, we will learn in good time.

  16. Jill says:

    Thanks RoAnn, you said exactly what I was trying to say a lot more eloquently!

  17. Ziff says:

    i’m sick of all of the ridiculous mental gymnastics we do to hide her behind doors as if she were the ugly stepchild of whom we are ashamed. shame on us.

    I love this, amelia!

    RoAnn, I think I understand what you’re saying. I feel the same way, although perhaps about different topics. I don’t want my kids to be taught ideas like that you can’t believe in God and evolution at the same time or that blacks were less valiant in the pre-existence or that women are naturally more righteous and that’s why they don’t need the priesthood. But then I guess if they are taught such things, I hope they’ll bring them up to my wife and me and we at least have a good jumping off point for discussion of not only the topic at hand, but the meta-issue of people in the Church believing different things.

  18. Kiskilili says:

    Another interesting post, Jessawhy! It fascinates me how oblivious we (in general) seem to be about the ways in which our divine model of family life clashes directly with our earthly ideals. Two men (and zero women) at the head of our model family? It’s amazing more people aren’t scratching their heads over this.

  19. Starfoxy says:

    This reminded me of an image from the “Primary Visual Aids Cutouts, Set 1- People” It’s image 1-6 “Two older Primary boys with child at meetinghouse.”
    Yes. Two older primary boys. Of course.

  20. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks again for your comments.
    Not to belabor this post, but I finally got this picture scanned in and uploaded, thanks to my little brother.

    EmilyCC,
    I’m glad you found this rather critical post in a positive light. I hope you find a way to work in references to our Heavenly Mother.

    RoAnn,
    Thanks for your comments. As a former Primary teacher, I do see the difficulty in walking the fine line between teaching what is important to you and not upsetting parents. Indeed, this entire post is about my reaction to a Primary hand-out.

    Ziff,
    You said just what I was thinking, only much better.
    Thanks!

    Kiskilili,
    I was shocked to see that many people didn’t flinch when I showed them the picture.
    I wish I had done a poll on this post. I would have shown the picture, then asked people to select if they found it unusual or not. Then we could talk more about why and the implications.
    You are exactly right that this picture illuminates the vast difference we see between earthly and heavenly families. But, there do seem to be quite a lot of concepts that are opposed to each other that we keep trying to say are the same (like forcing the wrong ends of two magnets together).
    Patriarchy and Equality anyone? 🙂

    Starfoxy,
    Yes, that is a strange image. I wonder if there’s a story that it’s associated with . . .

  21. amelia says:

    that image just makes it that much more wonderful. the irony of two men and three little children just three short months after prop 8 passed with full-on mormon support. makes me laugh out loud.

  22. Oh this makes me laugh. . . especially with Proposition 8 still so fresh on people’s minds. Wow! My daughter came home today with a similar picture only it was the pre-earth life when we lived with Heavenly Father and Jesus. I just cringe when I think that we are missing out on Heavenly Mother. Why leave her out? Given the church’s current position on homosexuality, I would think they would want to emphasize it that the eternal family has a mother.

  23. Melanie2 says:

    Not that this solves the Heavenly Mother issue, but I think the other two “children” are actually meant to be the primary child’s (earthly) parents. It’s the typical Children’s Friend illustration shorthand for adults — sensible hair for mom, collared shirt for dad, in contrast to the hair bow on the little girl and the t-shirt on the little boy.

  24. Jessawhy says:

    Melanie2
    Wow, I hadn’t even thought of that.
    But, you could be right!
    It seems strange that the child in the middle would be so much larger than the parents, but, I’m not an illustrator so what do I know?

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