Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Top Ten

Here are some of the most important things I have learned this semester:

1. The statistic that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce is false. I still don't quite understand the actual ratio; something about how in a year, certain people stay married while others divorce. The good news is that I can point out that that statistic is false! I believe that to mean that although divorce is still quite common, it isn't as common as I thought. Hopefully that can give others hope in marrying, instead of giving them the false expectation that their marriage has a 50/50 chance of making it. It also helped me to look closer at the statistic I've heard that even 50 percent of temple marriages end in divorce. I need more evidence to be convinced now, instead of just a random percentage thrown out in the open.

2. Much of the research about the outcomes of same-sex marriage and the ability to overcome same-sex attraction is skewed towards those who favor same-sex marriage. There are a lot of people right now who are taking sides about same-sex marriage. I loved Dennis Prager's article about how both sides have two different questions they ask, and that's where the problems come. Both facts are true: gay people need more equality, but that does not mean that gay marriage is the best for our society. Sound bytes are made out of skewed information about SSA and the public is confused and misled.

3. Much of the world lives in moral relativism, saying that things are only good or bad depending on how you label them. This concept is false. The truth is that there is absolute good and bad. I can definitely see this pull happening in our society, with people being too focused on tolerance. It's so important to be aware of the fact that this is happening, or it is easier to get sucked into doing it and allowing it ourselves. We must live according to Heavenly Father's law, or everyone will become a law unto themselves, only to find out how mistaken they were at the judgment bar.

4. A few of the most important factors in a happy marriage are that you think of your partner as your best friend and that you respect him. Without those foundations, you are in trouble. Best friends know what each other like and dislike, and they cater to those preferences. They know about each other. They talk about what happens day to day as well as deep things. Do the little things you know your spouse would love and avoid the things you know they dislike. Those little drops in the bucket add up to a strong marriage.

5. The most important things we can do for our children is help them learn to govern themselves and to have strong ballast. I learned this in the parenting class, but I have felt it reinforced this semester. Children definitely need freedom, but they definitely also need limits if they are to learn to have the discipline they will need to fuel their lives after they leave home. Instilling values that apply to many situations is more useful than constantly saying "don't touch that" and "don't say that".

6. About 70 percent of married BYU-I students said that the first year of marriage was bearable. I love this statistic because it shows reality. Many people fall into believing that once you are married, life is happily ever after. The truth is, we know that's not how it's going to be. We aren't going to be ecstatic every day and our level of happiness will stay pretty much the same, or (if our expectations were unrealistically high) they will decrease. If you aren't happy when you're single, you won't be happy when you're married. The truth of the matter is that although married life can bring happiness that can't be experienced in any other way, it is also hard. Hard and joyful don't have to cancel each other one - in fact, the struggle is often what makes the happiness rich.

7. Working together as a family is one of the most important things we can do, but it's also one of the things that has been nearly eliminated from our modern world. Adam and Eve were commanded to till the earth together. Our world has tried to go "back to Eden" where there was less work required. But work is a blessing because it gives us a chance to teach our children, give them good role models, and spend time together. Even the aspects of work that make it seem unappealing, like repetition and being mundane, are what make them perfect ways for families to connect. Although life is easier now, that does not mean it is more fulfilling. We sacrificed a lot when we let technology take over.

8. There is incredible power in labels. I remember Brother Williams told a story about a guy he knows who was labeled moody when he was younger. The man is very capable and bright, but that label followed him his whole life and he still lives in his parents' basement. In the same light, labeling someone as gay can have incredible power to change the course of someone's life. I am making sure that my children never ever label others because of the powerful repercussions it can have.

9. There is no perfect person out there for you, and even if there was, he's not spending every waking minute looking for you. He has his own life! I remember reading the devotional by Brother Chadwick about finding your future spouse. Everything he said is true! You reap what you sow. If you spend all semester in your apartment, the Spirit is probably not going to whisper to an imaginary Prince Charming, "knock on apartment 203 and ask for Ashley." The very best thing we can do is trust that Heavenly Father will help us in finding our future spouse as we go about living full lives while doing our parts to find him!

10. Recognize that research comes from humans. That means it can be flawed, skewed, misinterpreted, or done by those without credentials. Like I mentioned in my first point, it is so easy to want to believe anything that has a percentage attached to it. The implications can be huge! People can decide whether or not they are going to marry or have children based on a false statistic or false interpretation of a statistic. Also, the more people you have researching a topic with the same results, the more you can trust it. Law of witnesses! Also, as President Uchtdorf said in his CES devotional, " is always good to keep in mind, just because something is printed on paper, appears on the Internet, is frequently repeated, or has a powerful group of followers doesn’t make it true."

Monday, April 8, 2013

Lesson 4: Gender and Family Life; Same-Sex Attraction

I read a really interesting chapter this week on the subject of same-sex attraction (SSA). The author of the article, Dean Byrd, gave some really good facts about studies that have been done on SSA. A lot of the information from these studies has been misinterpreted by the media, misleading a lot of people. And in a lot of instances these studies have been done by those with SSA. I'm not saying that all these researchers skew the facts - some have found information that goes against their beliefs and thus changed their beliefs - but some have not tried to correct those who misinterpret their findings, like the media.

The article talked about the different factors that influence SSA. The first was genetics. We can't assume that people WILL be attracted to the same gender based on genes alone. This has been reinforced by studies done with identical twins. If SSA was completely up to genes then every pair of identical twins with an SSA gene (which is also a false concept) would act identically in regards to SSA. An interesting perspective from Dr. Janet Cummings says, “The belief that homosexuality is always inbred flies in the face of available evidence that genetics, childhood environment, and personal choice are all factors. Granted, some may be more salient than others, but from the genetic standpoint alone, the genes responsible would have disappeared throughout the millennia from lack of reproductive activity.”

I definitely believe that SSA, just like other aspects of a person, is based in large part on environment, which makes me think about how so many people are pushing for gay and lesbian marriage to be legalized. If gay marriage becomes the norm, I believe that a lot more people will consider SSA a normal tendency and just another route for them in having a family. I believe that these would both be detrimental to our society. I am completely in favor of those with SSA having equal rights as heterosexuals, because we are all God's children and all have fundamental rights. However, I don't support gay marriage because it goes directly against Heavenly Father's commandment to multiply and replenish the earth.

An interesting study found that 46 percent of gay men and 22 percent of lesbian women were sexually abused as children. 68 percent of those with SSA didn't identify as such until after they had been abused. Also, those who didn't connect with their same-sex parent had a greater tendency to SSA.

Also, even if the genetics and the environment give a greater predisposition towards SSA, there is always agency! I firmly believe that the choices you make determine your desires. Brother Williams, our teacher (who is also a counselor) gave steps to overcoming SSA. 1. Stop doing the things that increase feelings of SSA, whether they are actions with other people, virtual, or through thoughts. 2. Learn to have healthy friendships with those of the same gender. Recognize that intimacy and sexuality are different. Everyone has the need for intimacy, or closeness with others. Intimacy can and should be with both genders - sexuality is meant to be with those of the opposite gender. 3. Seek appropriate intimacy with those of the opposite gender. 4. Turn to Heavenly Father for help.

I also learned about the less-touted research on those with SSA tendencies who try to overcome them. A lot of advocates for SSA have tried to argue that you can't change those tendencies. Studies have shown that belief to be false. In one study, 65 percent of those who went through psychological care to try to overcome SSA recovered after five years.

Brother Williams also pointed out that as a counselor, he has met with many people who have SSA. He has almost without exception, seen a pattern in their stories. We'll take the hypothetical story of a young boy. On the scale of feminine to masculine, he is more towards the middle than most boys. This leads him to enjoy doing different things than other boys. The other boys might start teasing him and even calling him gay. He might begin to believe these labels. When the boy gets a little bit older and the boys and girls are starting to become interested in each other, he might feel different. Whereas the other boys have spent their time together up to this point, the boy has spent much of his time either alone or with girls. Thus, while other boys are becoming interested in girls because they are different, this boy feels the boys are different, because he hasn't had time around them. This is especially true if the boy's father does give him healthy affection. What should be a reality of appropriate same-gender affection is more of a novelty. Now, the scale can tip if the boy experiments. He may feel aroused and this, to him, "confirms" that he is gay. This is also true, if the boy is a victim of sexual abuse, especially from someone of the same gender. He believes the feelings he has are proof that he is gay. He may look back at other occasions and think to himself "Maybe I was gay earlier too. I remember this instance..." His paradigm becomes skewed. While all this is happening, he may be continually labeled as gay, which reinforces the untruth.

There is such power in labeling. We should never label other people, because it has powerful repercussions.

All in all, we all seek intimacy, closeness with others. We must give others, especially our children, the appropriate intimacy they need or they will search for it in other avenues.

We would do well to remember that attributes are neither male or female, and that some of Christ's greatest attributes were kindness, nurturing, and gentleness.

If you are interested in getting a deeper understanding on this subject, look into chapter 8, "Homosexuality - What Science Can and Cannot Say" by Dean Byrd, from Understanding Same-Sex Attraction - LDS Edition.

Lesson 1: Societal Trends and the Family

This week we talked about trends in the U.S. regarding the family. Premarital sex, cohabitation, delayed marriage, fewer children, working mothers, and children born to unmarried mothers are all on the rise. The adversary is working hard against the family at a greater and greater pace.

I loved a quote from President Brigham Young about having children: "“There are multitudes of pure and holy spirits waiting to take tabernacles, now what is our duty?—To prepare tabernacles for them; to take a course that will not tend to drive those spirits into the families of the wicked, where they will be trained in wickedness, debauchery, and every species of crime. It is the duty of every righteous man and woman to prepare tabernacles for all the spirits they can.”

President Spencer W. Kimball also had a good quote: "You did not come on earth just to 'eat, drink and be merry.' You came knowing full well your responsibilities. You came to get for yourself a mortal body that could become perfected, immortalized, and you understood that you were to act in partnership with God in providing bodies for other spirits equally anxious to come to the earth for righteous purposes. And so you will not postpone parenthood. There will be rationalists who will name to you numerous reasons for postponement. Of course, it will be harder to get your college degrees or your financial start with a family, but strength like yours will be undaunted in the face of difficult obstacles. 
Have your family as the Lord intended. Of course it is expensive, but you will find a way, and besides, it is often those children who grow up with responsibility and hardships who carry on the world’s work. And, John and Mary, do not limit your family as the world does. I am wondering now where I might have been had my parents decided arbitrarily that one or two children would be enough, or that three or four would be all they could support, or that even five would be the limit; for I was the sixth of eleven children. Don’t think you will love the later ones less or have few material things for them. Perhaps like Jacob, you might love the eleventh one most. Young people, have your family, love them, sacrifice for them, teach them righteousness, and you will be blessed and happy all the days of your eternal lives.“

Lesson 3: Social Class and Cultural Diversity

This week held a lot of water. One of the assignments was to watch Elder Oaks's CES devotional, Truth and Tolerance. I feel like it fits perfectly with the conflicts going on right now. All over Facebook, people are showing their views on touchy topics, from abortion to same-sex marriage. Lately everyone has been making their profile pictures into either equal signs (to represent equality for everyone, especially those who want same-sex marriage legalized) or plus signs (to represent that marriage should be a man plus a woman). One thing that the devotional showed me is that we are all entitled to our beliefs. Further, whatever our beliefs are, we have no right to be cruel in expressing them, and we have no right to try to keep others from expressing their views or by quarreling with them. In my eyes, the instant you stop being kind is the moment you have lost all ground. No one will listen to someone who attacks them; it only further entrenches them in their views. We can only win others over through kindness. President Hinckley put it best: "There may be situations, there will be situations, where, with serious moral issues involved, we cannot bend on matters of principle. But in such instances we can politely disagree without being disagreeable. We can acknowledge the sincerity of those whose positions we cannot accept. We can speak of principles rather than personalities.” Elder Oaks also talked about how many have fallen into a culture of moral relativism - the belief that things are right and wrong based merely on your opinion of what is right and wrong. Elder Oaks discredits this fallacy by pointing out that there are absolute truths. Truth is truth, no matter if you conform to it or not.

We also learned about illegal immigrant families from Mexico and how they adjust. It was a sad study, because the families were doing this for their children to have better opportunities than they had. But, they had to give up a lot. The fathers often went over first, to secure a home and job. If the separation time was longer than a year or more, the family dynamics changed. The family system had to shift to fill the void that the father had left. Often, when the family reunited, things didn't go back to how they were before. It was hard for the children to reconnect in some cases. Also, the parents became more authoritarian in many cases, because they didn't know the American culture, didn't want their children to get involved in the dangers of drugs, bad friends, etc., and they needed to stay away from deportation. Also, the mother often had to enter the workforce to keep up financially. Thus, the children lost their father for a time, and once they got to America, they often lost their mother too. Not only that, but when they left Mexico they often left a tight-knit family system of cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Familialism is a big part of the Mexican culture. The traditional family (with father coming home from work while mother stays at home with the children) had been replaced by the family sometimes not talking to each other for a few days due to conflicting schedules.

We also learned that class has a lot to do with the success of the family. In many lower class U.S. families, there are a lot of single-parent families. It's not that these families don't want stable families. In many cases, they don't have a single positive role model of how a family should be. Also, the culture in many lower-class societies is that when problems come, you can walk away. Many people, like William Doherty, are trying to help these disadvantaged families.

Finally, Brother Williams asked the question, "Are all cultures equal and valid?" That question made me ponder a lot. What do you think: are all cultures equal? Food for thought.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Lesson 12: Divorce and Blended Families

None of us expect to be part of a divorce or blended family, but there is always the possibility that it can happen.

It is very important to know your spouse before you marry him. There are plenty of good books and questionnaires out there to help you know who you're planning to spend eternity with. Two solid resources are "How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk" by John Van Epp and "Before Your Wedding" by Laura Nielson Denke. There are also many good resources listed on Amazon if you type in the title "300 Questions LDS Couples Should Ask Before Marriage".

I found out that the statistic that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce is false. I have seen that statistic all. over. the. place. I'm glad to see that the percent is lower than that.

One thing I have learned over and over is that one of the best assurances for a strong marriage is a strong friendship with your spouse. That is why it is so important to begin a relationship with a strong foundation of friendship.

I also learned the importance of understanding each other's unwritten contracts for what is expected in marriage. The possible struggles that might come up need to be addressed before marriage.

One of the assignments I read gave a play-by-play of each stage for each person in a simulated divorce and remarriage. It was painful to read. It reinforced to me that our decisions affect so many other people, especially when it's related to family. Divorce most often has the deepest impact on the children, who are the ones who have very little control over the situation. I also felt over and over again that almost all (if not all) these problems could have been circumvented if each person had turned to Heavenly Father and each other. The husband in this story turned instead to alcoholism - he could not have overcome that except through Christlike principles. The mother of the wife had an unhealthy relationship with her daughter because she had not been able to move past her husband's death. Again, the Atonement could have helped her.

Now, I understand that there are many different situations and I have no right to point fingers, especially in such a tender situation. Divorce is a painful, painful subject. It gets to the very heart of our purpose on earth, and for those who have gone through it, calling them failures is uncalled for. But I do know that whatever stage a family is in, the Atonement can help them and they need to turn to Christ for healing and strength. The same is true for whatever trials we face in life. I know this to be true.

There are lots of precautions we can take against divorce. You can working on growing in respect between spouses. Working on finances can help. Talking about physical intimacy expectations, focusing on the other person's needs, and letting your spouse know what you like and don't like are all things you can do. Practice acknowledging what your spouse says, even if it's something as simple as an article in the paper. Have traditions together like time to talk every night, weekly dates, regular temple trips, and couple prayer and scripture study. Set up codewords or actions that let each other know that an argument is about to ensue. Guard yourself against infidelity by not spending time with those of the opposite sex, even virtually. Make your spouse your number one commitment. Seek extra help if necessary.

What do you think are some ways that we can help divorce-proof a marriage?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lesson 11: Parenting

Parenting: there are many things accomplished by parenting for both the parent and child. The parent grows in incredible ways that cannot be accomplished in any other way. Parenting is the ultimate way to become more like Heavenly Father. There will be many blessings as well as trials in parenting, but one study (Rosen 1990) found that "93 percent [of mothers] said they were as happy or happier than they were before they became mothers." (Marriage and Family: the Quest for Intimacy, Eighth Edition - Robert H. and Jeanette C. Lauer) That's an exciting statistic, especially in a world that idolizes self-fulfillment and leisure time and looks down on those who decide to be "just" a mother instead of pursuing a career. Of course, the child is also blessed through having parents - it is so much the harder to grow up well-adjusted without loving parents.

When it comes to trials in parenting, there will of course be no shortage. However, we have many options for how we will deal with those trials. I believe that the best option is principle-based parenting. Parenting based on principles gives the parent a preplanned response to a multitude of trials because principles relate to many circumstances. This means that "natural man" parenting is less likely to occur.

Two excellent resources when talking about principle-based parenting are Active Parenting of Teens (Third Edition) by Michael Popkin and Parenting with Love: Making a Difference in a Day by Glenn Latham.

One of my favorite principles for parenting is ignoring weed behavior (as Latham calls it). Latham points out that the behavior that is noticed is the behavior that continues. Your children want your attention, and if the only way they can get it is through misbehaving, you had better believe that they will misbehave! So many parents believe that they have to stifle every bad behavior. In reality, what they really need to do is commend good behavior, especially when the child isn't asking for it. Consistent, small recognition of the good things they do will lead to strong children. It is also important to note that as parents we shouldn't comment on the character of the child ("You are..." statements like "You are so lazy" or "You are a good/bad boy"). These lead the child to think that their actions are who they are and if they make a mistake, they ARE bad. Instead, focus on their efforts. "You put a lot of hard work into your project" and pointing out specific accomplishments like "I love the way you blended the blue and green" let the child know you are paying attention and it gives them something they can focus on. Admit it, even as adults, hearing "Thank you for talking about how grace has helped you overcome being a single parent; you were an answer to my prayers" means infinitely more than the "Great talk!" we often hear at church.

Another aspect of parenting are the three main types of parenting: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. Authoritarian is rules with little affection; authoritative is affection with clear expectations; permissive is affection with few rules. Children function best with authoritative (aka active) parenting. Sometimes one parent can be authoritarian, and to compensate, the other parent will be permissive. This cycle will continue as each tries to make up for the other. If you and your spouse have different parenting styles, the best thing to do is discover the benefits of authoritative parenting and try to find middle ground.

One of the best things you can do for your children is to make sure expectations are clear and then sticking to them consistently. It is easy to think that if you enforce the rules your children won't like you, but that isn't true. They will be grateful for boundaries, as long as they're not too tight. Remember that they are still growing up and they need the direction of boundaries to protect them. At the same time, remember that natural consequences are often the most powerful teachers. You can tell your child not to touch a hot stove, but he will understand the lesson as soon as he touches the stove. I'm not saying to let your child get hurt, but in situations where he isn't in danger, natural consequences are powerful. Imagine, for example, that the night before a project is due your child comes to you, telling you that he hasn't even started and he needs your help. Will he be more benefitted long-term by your bailing him out or letting him feel the natural consequences? It's also important to note that the consequences are almost always lower the younger a child is. Do you want your child to learn from 8-year-old mistakes or 21-year-old mistakes?

What are your thoughts on parenting? What are some things you're going to do to help your children be successful?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lesson 9: Communication and Mutual Problem-Solving

I learned some very important things this week. Mainly that communication is SO IMPORTANT in marriage. And before I was kind of disillusioned because communication seemed like the fix-all buzz word in marriage.'s true. A strong marriage is based on a strong friendship, and a strong friendship is based on knowing what the other person loves and hates. Our teacher cited the example of back rubs. You can let the other person know what you like and what you don't like and they can tailor better to you and it's a better experience for both of you! Be aware of what your spouse likes and do those things. If your husband HATES skim milk, don't buy skim milk! Those tiny contributions are all drops in the bucket, and there are no shortcuts. If you are focused on fulfilling your spouse's needs and your spouse is focused on your needs, both of your needs will be fulfilled and your marriage will bloom. I think communication makes all the difference between living heart-to-heart instead of just side-by-side. Also, I learned that your spouse becomes pretty much your everything once you get married. Yes, you still have friends, but things will be different than when you were single. All I can say future husband had BETTER be my best friend! And he'd better be funny. Or eternity is going to be a LONG time.

Hopefully this link lasts forever! Communication and Solving Conflict