“Oh! goodness. You aren’t going to have any MORE, are you?”
I’m sure I was looking hot and frazzled at the art museum with my baby and three young children. And the well-put-together lady asking me the question, in such horrified tones, may have been genuinely concerned for my sanity. I’ve written about the encounter before. It wasn’t a long conversation. It wasn’t even that hateful of a comment. But it was a significant event for me because of how I responded. I felt embarrassed, apologetic. And worst of all, I—pregnant with child #5 at that very moment—gave a half laugh and said, “More children? No.”
As I reflect on this encounter, my greatest regret is not that I didn’t give some clever retort—she probably wouldn’t have been impressed with what I had to say, anyway. But I regret that at the time, my own testimony of Family didn’t fill me with confidence instead of embarrassment. I regret that I didn’t say, even just in my own head, “Sure, being a mother can be messy and exhausting. But I trust that this work is essential for my eternal destiny, and that it will bring me ultimate joy.”
I don’t know why things happen the way they do. I didn’t come home that day convinced I needed to gain a testimony of Family. In fact, I mostly forgot it had even happened. And sometime later and seemingly out of nowhere, I felt impelled to make the Proclamation on the Family a bigger part of our lives. In Part I, I wrote about that: how memorizing the Proclamation blessed our family as a whole. But maybe even more important is how much this effort blessed ME, personally.
Because here’s the thing: misconceptions about the family are everywhere! These mistaken ideas seem to be part of the very air we breathe. Fathers are clueless and inept. True fulfillment can’t begin until the kids are off at school. Excellence in academics or sports will ensure adult success. A good career is the key to a worthwhile life. Focusing on yourself will bring happiness. Some lives just aren’t worth living. And of course, the one pointed out so effectively to me by my Art Museum Nemesis: Big families are irresponsible, distasteful, and embarrassing!
It’s hard—maybe impossible—to hear these things day after day, year after year, and not be affected by them. Though we as Latter-Day Saints know better, we may even be reinforcing some of them ourselves. I’ve realized that I sometimes speak about families in ways that are unwittingly destructive; implicitly accepting these erroneous worldly standards and passing them along. It seems so harmless to make casual conversation about how I’d love my pre-baby body back and how husbands are so whiny when they’re sick; typical men! I’ve made my share of those comments. I’ve had my share of those thoughts. Honestly, they seem pretty normal.
And yet. They are wrong. There is a better way. And Heavenly Father has given us a guide to show us what it is.
I’m not saying we have to be perfect at embracing the ideal of Family, yet. I guess it’s kind of like when you have to go from a small car to a minivan—or from a minivan to a “haha-do-you-have-to-have-a-CDL-to-drive-that-thing?” big van. Or like similar moments that come whether you have a big family or not: choosing the sensible, stain-proof couches over the cool modern ones; skipping the hair salon highlights to save money for a house. Those moments when, just for a minute, you want to draw back and say—”Hold on, now I have to give up this TOO?” For all the cute little indie shops advertising that “you don’t have to sacrifice your design sense just because you have a family!”—you DO have to sacrifice something. Everyone does. And when those moments come, where you have to leave a little part of your old self behind—well, it hurts a bit, and you worry, “Is this really going to be worth it? How can I ever know?”
But here’s what the Family Proclamation has done for me: I KNOW. I know because “the family is ordained of God;” I know because “each [of us] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of Heavenly Parents, and as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.” I know because the whole reason we’re here is to “gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection, and ultimately realize [our] divine destiny as heirs of eternal life.”
And so as I study the Proclamation, I become more and more convinced that the way I think and speak of the family should focus on the ideal and eternal, just as the Proclamation does. Complaining about my body may send the message to others that their own bodies are unacceptable. It might subtly reinforce the incorrect idea that a woman’s value lies in her physical appearance rather than the fact that she is a “beloved spirit daughter of Heavenly Parents.” Even a careless comment about the “uselessness” of “men” may undermine the confidence of my boys and teach bad habits to my girls. When I think about it, it’s obvious that the view of fatherhood I really want them to gain is NOT that “typical men” are doomed to be wimpy and useless—but the inspired, elevated view given in the Proclamation: “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness, and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.”
I feel like having the words of the Proclamation on the Family in my heart has given me a layer of protection against the subtle untruths I may encounter. I feel stronger, braver, and less defensive. When I start to feel self-conscious, I can say to myself, “The family is central to the Creator’s plan!” and move on with a peaceful heart. I’m not a good debater, and I hate conflict, so I may not ever try to use these truths to prove a point to someone who disagrees. But, when I have trouble expressing HOW or WHY I know certain things are right or wrong, it brings me great peace to repeat to myself the words are I know are true: “We affirm the sanctity of life, and of its importance in Heavenly Father’s plan,” or “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”
Studying and internalizing the family proclamation has helped me identify areas where I need to make a stronger case for the family—the ideal, eternal idea of Family—even as I realize no earthly family can completely live up to the ideal. Having the words in my head, in my heart, gives me something to aim for, and when I’m sweeping the floor or folding laundry, I often find those words running through my head again and again, as if to remind me of their importance.
Happily, the lady who said, “You’re not going to have more, are you?” is not the only person who has commented on our family. Here are some other things people (strangers!) have said to us:
“I love to see big families. I was only able to have two children, but I always thought it would be fun to have more.”
“You’re doing a good job with those kids.”
“Hang in there! We had 11 ourselves.”
“Oh, I loved my teenagers! Teenagers are the best.”
“We struggled to get pregnant, so we know what a blessing each new child is.”
“Seven! How wonderful.”
All these are such affirming, family-celebrating sentiments! They give me hope and remind me that what I’m doing is worthwhile, and will bring eternal joy. And ultimately, that’s what memorizing the Family Proclamation has done for me as well. It’s given me a constant chorus of truth and direction in my head, always there to counteract the ubiquitous falsehoods that Satan wants me to believe. I feel like the words of the proclamation are MY words now, MY testimony, and I’m so grateful to have them in my heart!
Marilyn always wants to know other what other people’s children are named, so here are the names of hers: Abraham Thomas, Sebastian Dane, Malachi Norris, Daisy Aurora, Juniper Lark, Marigold Eve, and Theodore August. She loves homeschooling, running, writing, eating, and playing the piano. She is happiest when collaborating with her brilliant husband Sam on all kinds of interesting projects, not least of which are those seven aforementioned little people. Marilyn keeps two blogs about their homeschool and family life.
Be sure to visit We Talk of Christ and A Thing Called Love for more articles celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Family Proclamation! Don’t forget one easy way to share your testimony of the Proclamation and join the celebration is to share your photos on social media using the hashtag #ILovetheFamilyProclamation and explain why.