As I’ve considered the messages girls and women in the LDS church are forced to digest, I decided to begin at the beginning: Primary. For anyone not familiar with the LDS church, this is the organization that teaches the children ages 18 months to 11 years old.
Last year my “faith crisis” was in full swing. I strongly doubted the truth claims of the LDS church and was trying to gently let my husband know of my change of heart. I didn’t know how I could tell our children that I no longer believed. And then one Sunday I picked up my four year old daughter from her Sunbeam class and out she came with a white veil in her hair and plastic faux-pearls about her neck. And with a big smile she told me, “I can get married, Mom!” It took everything I had not to show my displeasure. I was taking my children to church in spite of my overwhelming doubt because I thought they’d be learning how to be good people. But I was wrong. They weren’t learning to be kind, or use soft words, or to be nice to animals. My four-year-old baby was learning she needed to get married.
(This photo was obviously not taken at an LDS church)
Although my daughter’s Primary teacher took some creative license in order to make that day’s lesson fun, a perusal of the church website that night showed me that the lesson was indeed about getting married and why each child would need to get married in order to return to Heavenly Father. Don’t ask me to explain the marriage obsession of Joseph Smith and the church he formed. Since I began to think more critically I have been unable to determine why marriage would be required to enter the kingdom of God. I suppose that’s beside the point and totally my own fault for not having a testimony of the truthiness of eternal marriage.
Looking at the materials available on lds.org I was able to see some of what our children from ages one-and-a-half to eleven are taught about their roles and what they should be thinking about at this stage of life.
From the 2013 Primary Sharing Time Outline:
Ask a few children to stand and share why they would like to be married in the temple and what they can do now to prepare for that blessing.
Yes, please, children, share why, at the ripe old age of 5, you are thinking about the when’s, where’s, how’s and why’s of marriage. Please tell us, in your own, pre-elementary school words, how you can prepare now to be married. Should you stop picking your nose? Chewing your hair? Hitting your brother when he makes you mad? These are the types of things five-year-olds are working on. How will perfecting these make you a better wife?
From the 2014 Primary Sharing Time Outline:
Stand by the “mother” and explain that it is the mother’s responsibility to care for and nurture the family. Ask the children for examples of what mothers do to fulfill their roles, and ask the “mother” to pantomime what they describe.
Guess which child is the mother in this photo. She’s obviously the one holding the bowl, because of course she’s in the kitchen making dinner. Heaven forbid that someone hand the “mother” a checkbook, a briefcase, a stethoscope or a lab coat.
Still in the 2014 Sharing Time Outline:
Explain that Heavenly Father’s commandment for a man and a woman to be married and have a family is just as important today as it was when Adam and Eve were on the earth. Show pictures of families and let the children point out the man, the woman, and the children.
Should we or should we not ignore the fact that the church still uses the Biblical creation myth to teach the proper form a family should take? Fine, we’ll skip that for now. It bothers me greatly that children are encouraged to “apply” the lesson they have learned by looking at pictures of families and pointing out the man, the woman, and the children. Is a woman with no husband but with children not a family? What about a man and woman who can’t have children? Obviously the only type of family that is acceptable to God has two heterosexual parents and multiple children.
From the Primary 3 Manual, Choose the Right B, Lesson 35, titled, “Temples and Eternal Families”:
The LDS church places a huge amount of emphasis on temple sealings. Children learn early and often that their families can only be together if they are sealed as an eternal family in the temple of the Lord. Which must mean that they are otherwise separated eternally. Sorry kids. We don’t want to hurt your feelings or upset you, but when you die, mommy and daddy won’t be able to see you anymore because your family wasn’t good enough to go to the temple. I wish your parents loved you enough to choose the right so you can be together again. Unfortunately they love sin more.
Let us not forget the messages of the Children’s Songbook.
Families Can Be Together Forever
While I am in my early years
I’ll prepare most carefully
So I can marry in God’s temple
This is one of the first songs that many primary children learn. Thus begins an early focus on getting married. In the temple. For eternity. Since you’re five, it’s about time you started thinking about marriage. Now, I’d like you to draw a picture of your future spouse. I see, he looks like this, does he?
The Family is of God
A father’s place is to preside, provide,
To love and teach the gospel to his children.
A father leads in fam’ly prayer to share
Their love for Father in Heaven.
A mother’s purpose is to care, prepare,
To nurture and to strengthen all her children.
She teaches children to obey, to pray,
To love and serve in the fam’ly.
Once again, father provides, mother nurtures. And never the two shall cross.
Next time we’ll take a look at the Young Women’s program, where every Mormon girl learns to either dream of motherhood or wonder if something is wrong with her.