Dear Ms. Feverfew –
Last April at General Conference, Elder Cook gave a talk titled, “LDS Women are Incredible!.” I have to agree, for the most part. Most of the women I hang out with who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are pretty amazing, accomplished, and intelligent women. They are women who have figured out how to balance the rewarding demands of being a mother with the rewarding demands of a life “outside of the home” as well. And GASP (said tongue in cheek) some of them are even single women. In fact, a few of them have never married but have adopted older children from the foster care system. Yes, that means they are single parents. By choice. Single mothers of previously unwanted and unruly teenagers who flourish under their loving, consistent care.
An overarching theme of this spring’s General Conference was that of service and charitable works for others. Elder Cook’s talk was tucked in amongst others such as Elder Eyring’s “Opportunities to Do Good” and Elder Ballard’s “Finding Joy Through Loving Service.” I particularly loved Elder Ballard’s emphasis on showing our appreciation of the Atonement of Jesus Christ by doing as He did – “simple, compassionate acts of service.” To me, this is where true Christianity is manifest – when we do as Christ would have done.
But back to Elder Cook’s address. When he gave his talk, one phrase jumped out at me. Perhaps it is because of my history of being a single parent, both with you and with Captain Knuckle that my ear and heart are attuned to these kinds of things. But for whatever reason, I was heartened by his words,
“You devoted sisters who are single parents for whatever reason, our hearts reach out to you with appreciation. Prophets have made it clear ‘that many hands stand ready to help you. The Lord is not unmindful of you. Neither is His Church.’ ” (April, 2011. Elder Quinten L. Cook, quoting President Gordon B. Hinkley from 1996; emphasis mine).
Single parents. For whatever reason.
Here is a man I believe to be an apostle of the Lord, admonishing His followers to reach out to single mothers — regardless of how or why they became single parents. He is telling us to reach out with hands ready to help and appreciative hearts. His words fortified my courage – my future efforts to reach out to single expectant mothers is in complete keeping with newly established official policy and directly in line with divinely inspired advice from a modern-day apostle of Jesus Christ.
While my heart and mind soared at the possibilities this new authority could afford my efforts, another part of my heart sank into despair.
I wondered…why didn’t this include me all those years ago? Why didn’t it include us? The moment I found out I was pregnant with you, I turned my life “around” and returned to church. At the time I relinquished you, I had been actively participating in church services for over 16 months. I did my Visiting Teaching. I attended Relief Society events. I held callings. I paid my tithing. I sang in ward choir. I attended Sacrament meeting faithfully.
Was I not a devoted sister? Were you not just as precious and irreplaceable as my future children? Where were the many hands that should have stood ready to help me? Instead of support, I felt tremendous pressure from my culture and my priesthood leaders to “do the right thing” and place you for adoption, simply because I was single. That phrase, “It is never to late to do the right thing” is seared into my soul. Why was I held up as the paragon of a “good mother” by giving you away to strangers so you could have “better” life? How completely sick and wrong is that??? More importantly, how is telling a young mother that her child was entitled to more than she could offer (at that moment in time) in keeping with the teachings of Jesus Christ? How is that loving, for either the mother or her child???
And where was God in all of this? An apostle of the Lord just told me that the Lord was mindful of me during that time period in my life as a single parent…but where was He?
I reject the idea that you had a “better” life than you would have had with me. Different, yes, but better? Was it better for you to grow up completely divorced from your culture, from your people? Was it better for you not to know your Samoan grandmother and aunties? Was it better for you to be raised without the knowledge of whose blood courses through your veins? Of the history of the mitochondrial DNA that powers your every breath? Was it better for you to be raised by people who don’t understand your love of words and the deep longing you have for education? Was it better for you to be raised not knowing your brothers and your sister?
Bottom line: Was it better for you to be raised by strangers or would it have been better for you to have remained with me?
Sure, there might have been more money (initially), but can money truly replace your heritage? Was that extra trip to Disneyland worth the loss of a mother who loves you beyond all reason and has from the moment she discovered she was pregnant? Were the piano lessons worth the sorrow your brothers feel at your absence in their lives? Was the college tuition worth not knowing you are an exact carbon copy of your mother, right down to the rhythms in your poetry?
Those are questions only you can answer.
And then I come back to the here and now and the lessons I learned from Elder Cook’s talk: We are called to love, support, and serve sisters who are single parents for whatever reason. This tells me it is not for me to determine who is worthy of my efforts, who is deserving to be a mother and who isn’t deserving. My role is to support and care for these single mothers and help strengthen their parenting skills. Period. Not convince them they are not able to parent. Not convince them their child would be better off with strangers, to be adopted and sealed away from their natural families for time and all eternity.
Support and love them in their role as mother in every way possible. That is the sum total of what we are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are called to do. Not convince them they are not capable or able to parent.
I could spend another couple of hours pontificating, but I can hear little Penelope over the baby monitor. “Ma, ma, ma, ma, ma, ma, ma” she says, with ever increasing intensity. It makes me wonder how long you called for me all those years ago and the heartbreak you must have felt when I never came for you. You didn’t understand I thought I was doing what was best for you, that I was trying to protect you from the “horrors” of being raised by a single mother.
All you knew is that you called out for me and I never returned.
I am so sorry for that.