When one spouse does not follow the Word of Wisdom but is not being irresponsible (e.g. drinks alcohol responsibly, drinks coffee or tea), what can parents in such a family say to help children understand and not judge the parent due to teachings they receive at church? Would your advice differ if the spouse is a non-member vs. one who has left the church or chooses not to comply with this aspect of his/her religion? Is it best for parents to be open about this or to keep those things (alcohol, coffee, tea) outside the home? How can husbands and wives respect these differences while achieving a common ground on parenting? How can parents help kids understand that what may be okay for adults is still not okay for children?
Any time there are differences between spouses on how to raise their children, trouble and tension can brew. And since a parenting structure consists of two unique individuals, there will in almost all cases be some differences that present themselves over the developmental cycle of raising children. It is a sometimes unnerving fact that the people with whom we choose to have children with are individuals in control of their own thoughts, ideas and behaviors: individuals we have little, if any control over. Therefore, our children will be subject to the beliefs, testimonies, ideas, discipline styles, habits, strengths, sins and gene pools of both individuals. There is no getting around this. Hopefully, most of the time, we are OK with the examples our spouses offer our kids. However, here are some things to consider when this is not the case:
- Children and adolescents are incredibly savvy and creative when it comes to figuring out what their limits and bounds are within their family systems. Any time that the parents are in disagreement on ANY issue, it will present a prime opportunity for children to take advantage of the situation. And they will! This is their job actually: to figure out their limits, and they are very good at it. It is in your and your childrens’ best interests to find what your common stance can be as the parental authorities and then present it as such.
- It is important for parents to be able to move beyond their individual concerns and anxiety to a team approach in parenting. At times this may take painful compromise. But, again, it is better and healthier for your kids to see a united front, than for you to win a fight with your spouse. And by this I do not necessarily mean that you are in agreement or that your children are not aware that you do not agree (they have undoubtedly already figured that out anyway). It can be beneficial for children to see their parents struggle with an issue at hand and then see a resolution. This teaches kids that a marriage takes work and compromise. For instance, in the situation where one is going to drink alcohol and the spouse opposes it you could say something like: “Your father believes that drinking is an OK thing for him to do. I do not agree with your Dad but I still love him and respect him. Drinking alcohol causes changes in our brains that affect how we act. However, your dad is a grown up and part of being a grown up is making your own decisions. You will have to make your own choices when you are grown up too. However, as long as you live in this house you are not allowed to drink alcohol and your father supports me in this position.” These kinds of statements should be made in front of both parents, so that the child understands that the stance is united, even though the parents disagree. Parents should come to an agreement of what types of statements are acceptable to be positioned in front of the children and be prepared to present them jointly.
- My advice does not change regardless of whether the couple finds itself just beginning to struggle with these issues (i.e. one spouse has lost their testimony regarding alcohol use as presented in the word of wisdom) or if they have had these issues all along (i.e. one spouse is a non-member and has always drank alcohol). The additional challenge for the first couple, however, is that there is a sense of change from the original “contract” both spouses thought they entered into. In other words, the position of one spouse has changed from what was originally agreed upon. In these situations, I would caution the one who is doing the changing to walk with caution and respect for their spouse – and lean on the side of the original plan of parenting so that the important relationship of the marriage isn’t damaged further.
- It is important to note that regardless of what the word of wisdom says on the matter, the statistics overwhelmingly show that children will more than likely follow their parents’ examples regarding oral habits (i.e. overeating, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, coffee drinking, etc.). Therefore, it is our responsibility as parents to try to provide our children with as healthy of an environment as possible in our homes. Agreeing to what this will specifically look like is ultimately up to each couple to decide.
- In cases of divorce, children are often finding themselves in homes where different rules apply. I would hope that in their co-parenting efforts, divorced couples attempt to keep this at a minimum. The parenting relationship should not end with divorce and couples therapy and/or mediation can be helpful in achieving a higher level of harmony in both homes. However, if faced with these issues, open communication with the children is paramount. “I know that when you are at your mother’s house she lets you watch rated R movies. That is her choice and her right in her home. However, I want you to know that I do not believe we should watch these types of movies as they can introduce powerful and inappropriate ideas in our minds.” Because children in these situations are dealing with huge issues of loyalty and confusion in general, I would not berate a child when they have gone along with the parent who has a rule you are in disagreement with. I would just be open to talking about the situation, state your position and make clear why you have that position. I realize that these situations cause high levels of anxiety and can be extremely painful.
- If you are a newlywed, or engaged to be married, it is imperative that you discuss these types of issues now and know where each of you stand. If you are marrying a non-member, it is even more important to discuss how you plan on presenting differing belief systems, rituals (i.e. baptisms, blessings, etc.), etc. And don’t assume that just because you are marrying someone within your faith, in the temple for example, that you will have automatic agreement regarding parenting. Although you will not be able to foresee every parenting struggle you will come across, communicating now about basic parenting styles will save yourselves a lot of grief later.
- I want to reiterate that the number one thing you can model to your children is our basic Christian foundation of love and respect for oneself and for others. If you cannot win the “word of wisdom battle” brewing in your home, you can show a deeper example of how to handle situations where we love, respect and live amongst those we disagree with. That is the most important lesson you can ultimately teach. No other doctrinal teaching trumps it. It is basic and applies to almost any situation you can find yourself in. Hopefully as parents with your child’s best interests in mind, you can at the very least present this united stance.
How would you handle (or have you handled) similar situations in your home?
Are certain things “deal breakers?”
Do you agree with my advice or not? If not, what would your advice be?
My reply to the topic is that first the parents should actually take the time to read and understand the Word of Wisdom as it’s presented in the Doctrine and Covenants: A principle with promise not given by commandment or constraint.
“When one spouse does not follow the Word of Wisdom but is not being irresponsible (e.g. drinks alcohol responsibly, drinks coffee or tea)…”
That statement contradicts itself because the entire point of the Word of Wisdom as it reads in Section 89 is to be responsible when consuming things that are good for you in moderate amounts, including things like alcohol and some blends of coffee and tea. So how is that not following the Word of Wisdom? What people need to do is do some research and find out WHY some things are good for you in small amounts, bad in large, and what should be avoided entirely (tobacco is one of the few things mentioned in the actual section) and come to a prayerful conclusion, even if you decide to continue to abstain from some things entirely.
The Word of Wisdom is not the Law of Moses and it’s sad that so many people have to say, “No coffee and no tea,” not even mentioning having to ask, “What about soda? What about caffeine? What about chocolate?” Here’s a challenge for anyone who reads this: look up some articles online to find out the differences between green tea (a natural herbal tea chock full of antioxidants) vs. nearly any kind of soda (a high-calorie over-sweetened drink full of dangerous artificial sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup or, even worse in diet drinks, aspartame) and think about which one does greater long-term harm to the body.
PS: For those who don’t know, “hot drinks” means just that. That can include too-hot hot chocolate because it will burn the throat and damage the vocal chords just as much as too-hot coffee or tea. Another risk with coffee is that brewing it too hot can release the harmful chemical of tannic acid, which is far worse than caffeine.
“The parenting relationship should not end with divorce”
Which assumes there was a parenting relationship BEFORE the divorce. 😀
I’m faced with these sorts of dilemmas all the time; my ex letting my 4-year-old daughter watch PG-13 movies and leaving me to deal with the nightmares she has afterwards, not feeding her healthy food and leaving me to deal with the aftermath, etc. Even at four years old, she picks up on the difference in standards.
My strategies have been twofold: first, I explain why I do what I do in terms I think she’ll understand, and direct her back to him to ask why he does what he does. I respond with “I don’t let you watch PG-13 movies because I think they are too scary for you right now. When you are 13, I’ll let you choose for yourself whether or not you will watch those movies. I don’t know why daddy lets you watch them, you would have to ask him. Sometimes daddy and mommy do things differently,” or something like that.
Second, when she suffers the consequences of doing something other than I would like her to do (nightmares from scary movies, or digestion difficulties from not eating enough veggies when she is with him), I explain to her why I think she is experiencing those difficulties. I reemphasize that these consequences are why I want her to eat healthy food (or whatever the case may be.)
This way, I hope to give her as much information as I can as to why I’ve decided differently than her father so she can make her own decisions within her sphere of understanding. So far, so good. In the above cases, she’s volunteered on her own that she doesn’t want to watch any more scary movies until she is bigger, and she even asks to eat lettuce, broccoli or other veggies before she eats “the good part” of the meal.
It also has the side effect of helping me make sure I make rules for a reason and not arbitrarily, since I’ll have to explain them to her.
Dave P. thanks for setting the record for a threadjack right out of the gates! Yikes. I think Natasha’s question is completely valid and most people will understand it surrounds the practice of the word of wisdom today in the church.
Natasha, I think you’ve outlined some great ideas. Most valuable to me, for parents who are together or not, is your comment, “I want to reiterate that the number one thing you can model to your children is our basic Christian foundation of love and respect for oneself and for others.” Kids who grow up in a home full of Christ-like love are in a great position to mature into adults for whom these issues need not deteriorate into arguments full of rancor and malice.
2: Excellent examples of how you’re dealing with this difficult situation! Thanks for sharing.
3: Thanks for the positive feedback. At the same time, I don’t think Dave is threadjacking the conversation – these are exactly the types of things parents within the LDS faith can spend lots of time arguing and disagreeing about. And both usually have a lot of good points. The issue is then, how do we go about the process of compromise when this is the case?
2: I love your emphasis on explaining the “whys” in common sense language, rather than just using the “because I said so” approach.
Don’t get me wrong, Natasha. Every once in a while I find myself unable to explain in ways she’ll understand, so I tell her she’ll just have to trust me for now. *lol*
4 (and 1) — Fair point, Natasha. My apologies Dave P.
But I do believe a serious discussion of the word of wisdom needs to include the teachings of the church today, not just a read of Section 89, if we also are interested in helping / allowing our children to be active Latter-day Saints. If we are not interested in that objective, then I suppose it doesn’t matter.
Said differently, I think parents need to consider the effect of their pronouncements to their children from a variety of perspectives. Children who grow up in the Salt Lake Valley may have a differnt social network in which they operate, for instance, that children in the Midwestern US or in urban Taipei. Further, a parent’s view of the relative importance of church activity will affect his or her counsel to the children.
I don’t mean to suggest that our standards or values within our homes change, but the way we explain them, and the way we prepare our children to face whatever situations they will face will change based on what those situations might be.
First and foremost, one is responsible for who THEY choose as a spouse. If that spouse does not follow the WoW for whatever reason when they are married, the person should not expect them to change. If, on the other hand, the spouse followed the WoW and now does not, the person has a choice to make. Is it a deal breaker or not? In marriage and child-rearing, you have to pick your battles.
OTHO, the spouse who once followed the WoW and now wishes not to, shows an incredible amount of disrespect to the other by insisting on the right to openly do so, contradicting the religious behaviors in the home.
And what is that business about NOT JUDGING. We judge all the time for good reasons. We need to judge whether the other person’s actions are a deal-breaker for us or not. At the very least.
I think it depends on the level of communication between the spouses about the behavior. Like for example, it would be a lot different for me if my husband was open and told me that he was thinking about breaking the WOW or had done it, and why, etc than if I were to find out that he was doing it behind my back.
I’m the deal breaker in my marriage. We have three primary-age kids. When I started questioning my world view my wife went quietly along. But when I decided that I just wanted to try alcohol. Just try it to see what the big deal is, that’s when my wife went ballistic. It wasn’t my doubt in Joseph Smith or the historical accuracy of the Book of Mormon that’s threatened our marriage, it is the Word of Wisdom. Frankly, in my reading of D&C 89, I cannot see that being the Lord’s intent. I think Joseph Smith’s jaw would be on the ground to see families being broken up because of tea, coffee, or even the weekend bottle of beer.
And please don’t tell me it’s about obedience.
Even though my wife and I have come to a truce in our home and hopefully have unified front for the children when the issue comes up, I know that every Sunday, when my children go to Church, they will be told that their Father is evil and is one of “them” because of his beverage choices. My morality does not reside in my cup. It is shown by how I treat my fellow man.
SilverRain, I like how you approach the issues.
8 Jeff, I think you’re right as long as it’s just a question of two married folks. But as Natasha points out, once kids enter the picture, parents are parents whether they stay married or not. So a deal breaker for spouses doesn’t change the parental role.
Species373, I think it is a good opportunity to teach your kids through your example that it isn’t as black and white as the church makes it seem, and that you can indeed be a good, functional person even if you use use some of the forbidden substances in the WOW, albeit responsibly. You can certainly be unified with your wife in teaching your kids that drugs, alcohol, tobacco, etc… are not to be trifled with and can do great harm when not used appropriately – and that some substances ought not be used at all. You can also use it as an opportunity to teach the pragmatic reasons why it is sometimes good to abstain, which is an area that sometimes the church falls short in. After all, there are many more reasons not to use heroin than because God says so. Even with different opinions, I expect that with most couples there is probably plenty that you can still be unified about.
“So a deal breaker for spouses doesn’t change the parental role.”
But it can impact how much control and influence the ex-spouse have over the behavior of the other.
The church has evolved from that ‘not given as a commandment’ view. Brigham Young started it off requiring full abstinence from alcohol, tea and coffee. Then there was a vote in general conference in 1908 on the WoW:
“President Joseph F. Smith read section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants—the Word of Wisdom. Then he, both of his counsellors, and the President of the Twelve all spoke to the same subject, the Word of Wisdom. Then a vote to accept it as binding upon the members of the Church was unanimously passed.” The Spirit of the Tabernacle April 2007
Then President Grant added the WoW question to the Temple Recommend Questions. So if one only reads section 89 we miss out on all the following ‘revelations’ and agreements us mormons accepted as a people years ago. Also the church has declared for years that the ‘hot drinks’ refers to tea and coffee only not chocolate.
The question is how would you negotiate with a traditional spouse your different belief of the WoW? I wonder. For me it would be very difficult to do because the WoW is not only about a commandment but it is also about our identity as mormons, and there is definitely a huge change from that original “contract”. It would be a difficult and long negotiation.
When I was a teen my convert parents had me read DC 89 to prove a point, and afterwards, they looked confused and said, “That didn’t say what we thought it said.”
It’s unrealistic to expect that there will never be any changes in marriage. I don’t see how leaving one’s spouse over this kind of change is justifiable. Deciding not to marry is one thing, but divorcing is quite another. The one thing marriage cannot take, though, is controlling behavior. Control is the opposite of love and drives out love as surely as anything. Personally I think more marriages end over control than infidelity.
Jeff, I agree with you as it relates to spouses.
Of course parents who agree on WoW or other issues have a similar problem, though perhaps not quite as direct as in #10: how to teach their children to accept / be tolerant of others with different beliefs while continuing to foster our own.
The Christian approach advocated by Natasha in the OP seems wise in both cases.
Certainly agree with both your and Natasha’s point. What I find interesting is that the recommended Christian thing to do is to allow the misbehaving spouse to have their way. but to address Hawk’s point, I do agree that ending a marriage is a serious thing and not to be taken lightly.
I don’t agree that the Christian way is necessarily to allow the dissenting spouse to have his or her way. (It may not seem misbehaving to the spouse.) And I don’t pretend that it is in any way simple or good to have that kind of disagreement among parents.
We can communicate assertively even when we disagree; we do not need just to “live and let live.” A parent may say, “Your mother and I do not agree on this issue, but we have agreed that while you’re young, this is what we’d like you to do…” When I was very young, before they joined the church my parents did not live according to the word of wisdom. But there was no suggestion at any time that it would be acceptable for any of us children to smoke or drink alcohol. That said, I’m sure had their habits not changed, it would have been easy for me as a teenager to cry foul and cite their hypocrisy (rightly or not).
As it is, my parents did live the church’s modern interpretation of the word of wisdom. And frankly, I would have been embarrassed to have chosen differently from them, although I don’t recall either of them ever telling me the evils of tobacco or alcohol.
I am not sayin’ that this is what you are sayin’ but the overall tone of these types of posts is for the observant spouse to be the one who gives in to the lack of standards by the other spouse, that tolerance has to be observed and these things are not possibly deal-breakers for a marriage. To me, in many ways, it is a possible slippery slope to other actions and when the other person values and morals and personal observances change dramatically, it is something to consider the long term viability of the relationship. And that the spouse is not required to wait until something bad happens.
Always being respectful of others is important, but I am not sure we always have to be tolerant of their actions.
Jeff, I appreciate your viewpoint. And, frankly, I agree with it. What do you see is the differnce between being respectful and being tolerant?
Frankly, I just can’t see how a kid growing up in a two-value home/family has an easy choice.
Yes, kids placed in those types of situations do not have an easy choice. Being a kid these days just isn’t on so many levels!
I guess when I think of respectful is to recognize that others may have a different viewpoint, a different practice or a different opinion than ourselves. But it does not mean we have to tolerate it and not express an opposing view to it. Whether it is a racist view, a political opinion or a opinion of drinking or drugs, we can understand that someone is entitled to their view, however misguided we might think it is, but we do not have to be silent and just tolerate or accept it.
That what I meant.
Jeff, I think we agree. When I suggest we learn tolerance toward others who are different, I guess I don’t mean that we only sit passively by in the face of unacceptable behavior, but that while we may not accept the behavior (and speak out against it) we do treat the offender with respect, and acknowledge that he may operate from a different point of view or point of knowledge than we do.
Personally I struggle with the inherent condescension in that description I’ve just given, but nevertheless it is the approach I take.
“To me, in many ways, it is a possible slippery slope to other actions…”
Because a cup of coffee leads to a glass of beer which leads to porn which leads to the full Scott Peterson treatment.
I admit I may have more skepticism about “slippery slope” arguments than many people.
you are right to be skeptical of the slippery slope argument. it is not a foregone conclusion. as is is not the cup of coffee or the beer but the abandonement of a belief system that creates the potential slippery slope.
Jeff, what concerns me is the phrase “lack of standards.” “Standards,” to me, speaks to morality. Since I view the Word of Wisdom as more of a ritual rule than a moral rule, I tend not to look at Word of Wisdom non-observance, or different observance (i.e., a person choosing to live the pre-1933 Word of Wisdom) as reflecting a “lack of standards,” which (rightly or wrongly) I interpret as meaning a lack of moral standards.
I wouldn’t view an Orthodox Jew who converted to Christianity and proceeded to eat a shrimp cocktail as “lacking standards.” Different practices, maybe, but “lack of standards” suggests, to me, a moral deficiency. In cases where there is a decline in moral standards, I agree that maybe it’s wise to fear a slippery slope to greater immorality. But I just don’t view the Word of Wisdom, or other essentially sectarian matters, as existing on the same slope as the kinds of dangers that could legitimately justify destroying a marriage. You leave a marriage based on Good Person/Bad Person differences, not sectarian differences.
Thomas, your argument works only if you’re one of the partners in the marriage in question.
It’s entirely possible that when Marty and Molly marry that they both live the standards of the church, including our present interpretation of the WoW. Years later Molly takes a D&C-only view of the revelation and changes her observance. Though SHE may not view it as a change in standard, she will no longer qualify to attend the temple, and Marty therefore may well see it as a change in standards AND a moral dilemma for him as he tries to teach the children to be temple worthy, something he and Molly agreed on when they originally married.
One can argue all day about whether or not present observance should be required for temple attendance, but one can hardly quibble that it is.
I love that you can eat yourself into oblivion and still be eligible for a temple recommend, but if you drink coffee — which is GOOD for you!!! you can’t. And that this is a source of marital discord is just astonishing. We’re talking about coffee, people. COFFEE.
Mormon indoctrination runs deep, very, very deep.
“We’re talking about coffee, people. COFFEE.”
No, we’re not. that’s why you don’t seem to get it.
“I wouldn’t view an Orthodox Jew who converted to Christianity and proceeded to eat a shrimp cocktail as “lacking standards.”
Yeah, but observant Orthodox Jews do view it that way. In fact, they would have an even stronger opinion of that person.
“Jeff, what concerns me is the phrase “lack of standards.” “Standards,” to me, speaks to morality.’
But that is your interpretation. Standards, as a definition, would encompass all we are asked to observe in the Church, moral, behavioral, language, service, WoW, etc…..
Explain it to me, Jeff.
“Yeah, but observant Orthodox Jews do view it that way.”
And they’re wrong, as is anyone who thinks sectarian affiliation is the measure of a person’s moral worth.
But Thomas, going back to the premise of the OP — if two people marry while affiliating with the same sect, and then one walks away from the standards of that sect, the person who remains would very likely see the movement away as a departure from the standards of the sect.
And the question is how to teach children in that environment, not how to behave like one, stamping one’s foot and endlessly repeating that others are wrong for believing as they do. You demonstrate that one way to teach children is for the parent who has left the sect (or departed from its norms) to teach them that adherence to the sect and its norms is not important (and therefore the other parent, who has not changed from the original contract, is wrong). But I would suggest that’s unfair to the other parent and to the children.
“And the question is how to teach children in that environment, not how to behave like one, stamping one’s foot and endlessly repeating that others are wrong for believing as they do.”
Interesting turn of phrase, “stamping one’s foot,” as if standing on what one is convinced is right is childish. If so, we could perhaps use more children. Quietistic collegiality is not the only virtue, whether in academia, society, or a marriage.
And I would dispute that a person’s marriage contract includes a promise never to change. I know “for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health” is language as the Gentiles use, but a person entering into a marriage — certainly into a young marriage — must accept the likelihood that his or her partner may change, even in substantial ways.
Clearly religious differences in a marriage — especially differences that are thought of as having eternal significance, as Mormonism teaches perhaps more than, say, the various Protestant flavors — present a serious challenge to a couple. I’m not faced with such a situation, so I’m not inclined to tell others what their response ought to be. It may well be the case that a couple might decide, together, that a nonbelieving spouse’s nonobservance of the Word of Wisdom would present such difficulties that the nonbeliever ought to continue to observe the teaching, even if he doesn’t believe it. (And really, root beer instead of Sam Adams isn’t all that much of a sacrifice.) But what I see here is people making an across-the-board judgment that this ought to be the case in all cases, and that a nonbelieving spouse is less of a moral person for ceasing to observe a teaching she or he no longer believes, and (critically) has no inherent moral content. (There is nothing inherently immoral about using alcohol in moderation, any more than there is anything immoral about eating shrimp; it’s only when one does so while professing a belief in a belief system that prohibits these things that issues of morality come up.)
“And I would dispute that a person’s marriage contract includes a promise never to change.”
I don’t think it is that simple. You enter a marriage for many reasons, one being a shared value system. If that shared value system is altered in some dramatic way, it does require a re-assessment of the entire situation. I am going to resist using an analogy because most of the time they are silly comparisons.
There are many things that can easily derail a marriage. The rejection of a common religious basis is just one of them. The two individuals must work through a solution, which may include the end of the marriage, in some cases.
“But what I see here is people making an across-the-board judgment that this ought to be the case in all cases, and that a nonbelieving spouse is less of a moral person for ceasing to observe a teaching she or he no longer believes, and (critically) has no inherent moral content. (There is nothing inherently immoral about using alcohol in moderation, any more than there is anything immoral about eating shrimp; it’s only when one does so while professing a belief in a belief system that prohibits these things that issues of morality come up.)”
In the world view context, you are right, there is no moral issue with a beer and/or a shrimp. But in an strict LDS context, there is a moral problem just as there is a moral problem in an Orthodox Jewish context with eating shellfish. if the belief is no longer there, sure they are free to do as they wish. but, they cannot expect the other person to accept it. maybe they will and maybe they won’t. There is a consequence to every choice.
Thomas, I agree that it is not reasonable to think that early 20-somethings won’t change over the course of a marriage — at least I hope we change! I hope that I’m a better person now than I was thirty years ago.
And I agree with you that the marriage covenant suggests we’ll work together as we change.
But the OP is not about the marriage covenant, it’s about how to rear children when one believes and one doesn’t. I know that my wife and I are both TBMs, and we have plenty of parenting struggles. I can only imagine how complicated it becomes when parents disagree, especially on matters that are likely to be very sensitive to TBMs.
My own experience with my kids, frankly, is the more uptight I get about WoW issues, the more it drives them from the behaviors I would seek them to choose. So maybe there’s a hidden blessing in a family where marriage partners have learned to speak calmly and lovingly even about their differences about religious practices. It seems in that environment, children then can better choose for themselves. But it’s still easy to imagine that it’s not easy.
I think that Jeff Spector and Mike over at mormonexpression.com are either the same person, or very close friends.
Maybe they were spirit brothers separated at birth?