As a former Mormon with still-Mormon family, one of the many fine balances I have to strive towards is being simultaneously grateful for my experiences that helped me become who I am, while hoping no one else has to go through them in the same way. I could post (and have posted) quite a bit about the ways I think the church could change or improve, but even without my faith, I can still see so much of the good in the church. For what it tries to accomplish, it does SO well for so many people (so long as they fit the mold and they sincerely believe- which millions(ish) do).
I was raised to ask questions, to do what was right, to trust my brain, and to have principles not because God dictated them but because they were a path towards happiness and health. Logic was always a part of faith and morality. I feel extremely lucky and grateful that I had the parents and leaders that I did.
My parents are both converts, but my dad particularly came from a background that was… at odds with Mormon standards. I remember asking him in high school what was so bad about smoking pot- all my friends did it and while I didn’t do it myself, I had a hard time picturing God really caring so much. And my very Mormon father told me from his own experiences the natural consequences of pot smoking, completely independent of theology or doctrine. And he didn’t make it out to be a big deal- just a simple calculation of risks and benefits vs the goals of my life. My parents’ down-to-earth, nonjudgmental and honest approach kept me out of all sorts of trouble, not because of guilt or fear of eternal repercussions but because I knew what I wanted and didn’t want to be distracted from my goals.
- Tithing (especially with my naive understanding at the time of what it was and how it was used) helped teach me about charity, and gratitude, and priorities. I still feel drawn to, and find joy in, donating regularly to good causes.
- I was surrounded by, and taught all about, integrity.
- Prayer and scripture study taught me self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.
- Watching my siblings go on missions taught me about sacrifice and dedication.
- Preparing for the temple taught me about goals, worthiness, honesty, and commitment.
- Doing genealogy taught me about my roots and connected me to my family.
There were obvious social benefits, too:
- I loved having a group of friends at school that had high values and knew how to have fun without unhealthy behaviors.
- I had a circle of friends that were a constant in my life, from birth to college.
- I really loved YW Girl’s Camp, EFY, dance festivals and youth conferences (well, most of them).
- I loved many YW activities (though I won’t pretend I liked them all- I really didn’t. I frequently wished I could’ve done scouting instead.)
- I love that I practiced public speaking from a very young age. I had confidence in my interactions with others in formal settings.
- I grew up surrounded by amazing work ethic. I built a strong network that would help me in my young adult life.
- I learned to keep a balanced budget, and to be responsible in my use of resources.
- I was surrounded by children and by opportunities to learn future parenting skills.
- I was raised in a culture that values art and culture. I learned how to sing in the pews growing up. I learned piano from a lady in our ward. My heart still perks up when it hears certain Mormon melodies.
- I loved my BYU experience. Not only did I meet my husband there, but I got a great education at a very low cost (well, it’s not THAT low if you consider that I paid 10% of my life income to be eligible for it, but still). Plus, as I’ve stated before- Mormons really know how to have good clean fun.
I know now- and in truth, knew then- that my route of learning these principles wasn’t the only route, but it was the route I took, and I’m grateful for the outcome.
I love that Mormon standards kept me from making some horrible mistakes. While I also believe Mormonism is partially to blame for my poor self-image and inability to moderate, the fact is that I get addicted to bad behaviors very easily and had VERY low self-esteem that made me allow boys to use me. It was bad enough as it was (I only ever kissed 7 boys, but all but the last one was a mistake- not because kissing lots of boys is bad, but because kissing is a horrible way to seek validation), but it would have been worse if I hadn’t had clear lines in the sand that I would not cross.
I am so incredibly bone-deep grateful for Mormonism’s role in building my own little family. I have zero doubt that the church is why I had such a deep desire to marry and have children. It sounds horrible, but I would have married any worthy guy who asked- and probably some of the unworthy ones too, I was so eager to meet my eternal potential of wife and mother. But I lucked into (or “was blessed with”) the most amazing husband and children. It could have gone so wrong (it very nearly did, looking at the other BYU guys I was chasing) but the universe could not have found me a better husband than this guy from my dorm neighbor’s FHE group that eventually became my life partner. And while a Mormon courtship can be agony- especially when you slip up and do minor things that fiancées do- I am glad I have the memories and the perspective that being adults in love yet willfully celibate can provide.
I am grateful for Mormonism pulling me through hard times. I can’t tell you how many nights as a depressed teen that I spent sobbing, then reading Nephi’s psalm and feeling (or imagining, I don’t care) a warm hug from the divine. Of course, Mormonism fed into my sorrows- “be ye therefore perfect” is a pretty tall order, and as a teenage girl who thought no boy would ever want her, the future mother/wife rhetoric made me nearly suicidal- but I could not in good conscience blame Mormonism entirely for those issues. Me and my chemical imbalances are responsible for how I chose to interpret things (but the YW manual certainly didn’t help).
But these ideas stay with me from my youth: actions have consequences, and your actions should take you towards life goals. Joy comes from hard work, from building relationships and family, and keeping a proper perspective. Making certain choices can prevent future freedom and happiness.
The fact is, I had a healthy, clean, trauma-free youth in a family and community of amazing people. I now realize that Mormonism doesn’t have a monopoly on any of these wonderful things about my youth but that doesn’t diminish my gratitude. While my childhood was awesome, it was not inherently superior because of the gospel. But if the gospel is the toolset that my parents and leaders chose to build me into who I am, then I can’t like the final product without recognizing the methods and tools that worked. The best thing in all of this, is that in saying I want things to be different, I don’t have to reject my own childhood, but rather pick the best pieces up out of it and build my life round that. My toolset may look different but the goals I am working towards haven’t changed.