Mormon Families


Oversized clans breed lots of love

By Jenny Maher, Delaware State News

DOVER — It is dinnertime at the Seibach household in Dover and all are quiet as mother Holly says grace.


With arms folded and head bowed, she thanks God for her dear family and the good meal that sits before them.


The children sit quietly, reflecting on her words — it is a moment that could be referred to as the calm before the storm.


Seconds later they are delving into the warm pizza pasta dish that she has prepared and chattering about their busy day at school.


The clamor of dishes and friendly conversation fills the room and Mrs. Seibach offers a stern look as her youngest son, Sam, licks tomato sauce from his plate.


"I don't want to see any little piggies at this table," she says, her lips pursed.


But inside, Mrs. Seibach is smiling.


The messy dishes and noisy children are a reminder that her lifelong dream has been fulfilled.


There are eight children in the Seibach household and four more who have grown up and moved out.


Mrs. Seibach, 45, always wanted a big family.


A devout Mormon, she says her religious beliefs played a role in her decision to have 12 kids — eight with her first husband and four with current husband Ron Seibach.


Mr. Seibach, 48, was a bachelor 10 years ago when he met his wife at church.


He was not intimidated by her many children.


"When I saw how happy she was and her joy for living, I said this woman is worth looking into," he recalls.


"I was 38 with no kids and then we got married and I was 38 with eight kids. I adopted them all and they took my name."


Mrs. Seibach is a stay-at-home mom and Mr. Seibach is a teacher at Milford High School and a member of the Delaware National Guard.


Their oldest children, Jacob, 23, Luke, 21, Nathan, 20, and Sarah, 18, have moved out.


Leah, 17, Joshua, 16, Rebekah, 14, Hannah, 12, Caleb, 7, Michael, 9, Sam, 5, and Elisabeth, 2, live at home.


Mrs. Seibach says the house seems empty without her oldest kids.


To the casual observer, this is hard to understand.


"Empty" is the last word that comes to mind when entering the Seibach household.


The laughter of children, the smell of home cooked meals and the sound of feet running up and down the stairs fill the busy home.


For the kids, it is a reminder that they are never alone — there is always someone with whom they can play, talk, laugh or cry.

While families like this are few and far between, there is, coincidentally, another family of 14 living down the street from the Seibachs.


Marian and John Stant, owners of Uno Pizzeria in Dover, have 12 children ages 30 to five.


Like the Seibachs, the Stants have seven boys and five girls, eight of whom still live at home.


A practicing Catholic, Mrs. Stant says that religion actually had little to do with her wish to have a big family.


"I just love kids and my biggest ambition was to be a mother. That's all I ever wanted to be," she says. "(My husband) went along with the plan."


Although she loves heading a big household, Mrs. Stant admits it isn't always easy providing for so many children.

"It can be hard making ends meet," she says.


"You use a lot of coupons and you don't have steak too often. I'm not sure if I want my kids to have such big families, because I'm not sure I want them to struggle that hard."


Still, she wouldn't have done it any other way.


Expensive cars, fine jewelry and designer clothes are not nearly as valuable to her as a big, loving family.


Mrs. Seibach feels the same, and doesn't mind forgoing certain extravagances to provide for her children.


"Family is everything," she says. "It's more important than anything material."


The Seibachs have become experts at saving money, often shopping at Goodwill, garage sales and scratch and dent grocery stores.


A talented seamstress, Mrs. Seibach made the burgundy curtains that hang in her family room, and Mr. Seibach made his daughters' bedroom furniture, etching such Mormon values as "faith," "worth," "knowledge" and "integrity" into the woodwork.

Recently, the family built an extension onto their house, rather than paying a contractor to do it.


The kids willingly pitched in, helping to pour concrete, spackle the walls and lay insulation.


The Seibachs reside in a spacious four-bedroom house, which would look big if almost any other family lived there.


But, with eight kids still at home, the three youngest girls and three youngest boys must share bedrooms. The boys sleep in the finished basement, which boasts a set of bunk beds and a king size waterbed.


The Seibach children say they don't mind sharing bedrooms.


After all, they're used to sharing pretty much everything, from clothes to toys.


"It grows on you — it just becomes natural," says middle child Josh. "But I don't like sharing books, because as soon as you put it down somebody else takes it and walks away with it."


This, however, is a minor grievance.


Possibly the hardest part of having so many siblings is that the older ones must help care for the younger ones.


Josh, for example, says he doesn't want to have many kids because he has "already raised a bunch."


Billy Stant, 15, who is the eighth of 12 children, can empathize.


"I make sure (my younger siblings) get dressed and get breakfast in the morning and take their baths and brush their teeth at night," he says. "My parents always need help."


Craig Porterfield, a Camden child psychologist, says this is common in big households.


"You see older kids taking on responsibilities that you might not see in a smaller family, because it's impossible for the parents to handle it all," he says.


"But it can be a positive thing, because you learn responsibility. And, in some cases, it might not be positive, because you don't get to be a kid. It really depends on the family."


For the Seibachs and the Stants, the positives seem to outweigh the negatives.


Rebekah, the seventh Seibach child, says that being part of a big family has taught her how to get along with others.


And younger sister Hannah thought of another plus — "If something (bad) happens, our parents never know which kid did it."


Mrs. Seibach jokes that the worst part of having a big family is the laundry.


On Monday, for example, she folded eight loads of laundry and washed another three.


However, that didn't stop her from preparing a home cooked meal and an apple pie from scratch.


She and her husband are clearly devoted to their children, providing them with everything they can.


"I think my kids are awesome," Mrs. Seibach says, as her 17-year-old daughter, Leah, rests on her lap.


"How many teenagers even talk to their parents, let alone sit on their lap? My kids hug me, sit next to me and aren't embarrassed by me."


Perhaps such affection goes along with being part of such a big family.


Because there is little room for privacy, everyone spends their time together, bonding.


"There's always someone to depend on and always someone to help you out," says Billy, from the Stant household.


"I like it. I wouldn't want to be an only child. It would be boring."


Mormon children 'fed chillies'

The Sun

April 18, 2007
SIX kids were fed raw chillies and stung with nettles by a pair of “out of control” Mormons, a jury heard yesterday.


The four girls and two boys allegedly suffered nine years of cruelty by pals Deidre Carrington, 41, and Maria Keable, 60, who had met at church.


Prosecutor Robin Johnson told Canterbury Crown Court the children, aged under 16 at the time, were also hit with wooden rolling pins, punched and kicked.


One of the boys was gagged and tied to a bed.


Carrington, of Chiswick, West London, and Keable, of Ramsgate, Kent, deny cruelty and assault.


The case continues.


Mormon family's sex secrets

Christine Kellett

Fairfax Digital

April 20, 2007


A Brisbane teenager was quoted religious scripture and banned from taking the sacrament as punishment for molesting a female relative after the girl's parents decided against reporting the offence to police, a court has been told.


The family instead left it to a church bishop to discipline the boy, but the strategy failed and the teenager went on to commit multiple sex offences against young girls over a 15-year period, ending with the stalking of his wife's 16 year-old sister last year.


Now aged 29, the man admitted at Brisbane's District Court yesterday to spying on his sister-in-law on eight separate occasions while she used the bathroom.


He also pleaded guilty to seven counts of indecent dealing with children under 12 and 16, stemming from the molestation of his younger sister and two female cousins between 1991 and 2006.


The court heard the man, who cannot be named, had been just 13 when he began sexually abusing the girls, the youngest of them aged 11.


The abuse continued for years, with one of the attacks occurring in the back of the family car while the man's mother and father were present.


When one of the girls complained, her father was persuaded to allow her attacker to be counselled by the church bishop for six months, instead of going to the police.


"The bishop quoted scriptures to him and the discipline was that he was not to take the sacraments for a period of time," Defence counsel Tim Ryan said.


"It didn't have the desired effect."


Mr Ryan told the court of his client's "dysfunctional" upbringing in a Mormon household of eight children "where there were completely inappropriate [sexual] behaviours."


Mr Ryan said the man and his brother had been sent out to trawl through recycling bins in search of pornographic magazines for their father, who would discuss his sexual exploits at the dinner table and play "inappropriate" movies while the children were present.


The man's father was convicted in 2004 of sexually abusing his daughter and two other young girls.


Although the prosecution yesterday argued for a two year jail term for the man, Judge Robert Pack was asked to take into account the impact of his father's behaviour on shaping his own "abnormal" sexual conduct.


The judge sentenced him to serve four months behind bars, with a probationary period of three years.


Faiths and divorce: Mormon - 'The way we came to see the world was completely different'

By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune



    Phillip Barlow was 27 when he met his future wife in a Weber State University LDS student ward. He had served a church mission to the San Francisco Bay Area, graduated from college and was heading to Harvard to study religion.

    But Phil was inexperienced in love. He was apprehensive about leaving the womb of Utah for what he feared would be Babylon. He didn't know what to expect and was nervous about being alone.

    So he proposed to the girl he had been dating only a few months.

    After seven years, two kids and endless trips to counselors and Mormon leaders, Phil and his wife divorced. As a devoted member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he was emotionally, religiously and financially devastated.

    "From my perspective, she is a perfectly nice person, but we had no business being married," he says now. "The way we came to see the world was completely different. I have my own weaknesses and they punched her buttons."

    Growing up in a small Utah town, the woman felt oppressed by her father, the church and men in general. Though her mild-mannered husband was the antithesis of her authoritarian father, she transferred all those feelings to Phil.

    "She felt suffocated by men," he says. "The way she chose to break out was by eating."

    Phil began to notice crazy things. When he came back from work, the heart of a newly purchased watermelon would be gone. After the week's groceries disappeared in a single day, he had to hide food for himself and their two children. He had no idea what was happening. "It was as severe a form of addiction as alcoholism or cocaine," he says.

    Today, they would have realized the woman was bulimic, but this was 1980 and her disease was not yet widely recognized. They sought counseling, but no one had any answers.

    While dealing with a marriage spiraling out of control, Phil was teaching at the LDS Institute of Religion for Mormon students in the Boston area and completing graduate work on religion.

    Phil's wife became involved with a New Age religion called Eckankar, which believes in souls traveling outside their bodies. He tried to be understanding, even attended a few Eckankar meetings, but that just added religion to their list of growing differences.

    After several years of struggle and counseling, their professional marriage counselor asked them, "What would it be like to imagine yourself apart?"

    As a Mormon, divorce was unthinkable, but the suggestion gave the couple a sense of profound relief.

    The two agreed to share child-raising, alternating a year-long stay with each parent. Phil had them first.

    The divorce cost Phil his livelihood. No divorced person can teach at the LDS Institute, no matter what caused it.

    "They fired me with comments of great compassion," he recalls. "It didn't sound like they were judging me. They were trying to be soft and gentle, saying things like, 'Can you imagine how awkward it would be if you were assigned to teach a class on marriage and family?' They implied they were doing this for my own good."

    In a flash, he was thrust into the gravest economic, occupational, marital, faith and religious crisis of his life. He felt abandoned by some church members.

    "I didn't even know if I could finish my doctoral program," he says. "I had to pull out of my exams, come back to Utah and live in the basement of my parents' house. I was sick day and night for months."

    It took years of soul-searching, mental anguish and hard work for Phil to regain his equilibrium. Eventually, he was able to finish his degree and trust love again. He finally met a divorced Mormon woman with three children, and, he says, "things got happy."

    Today he has been joyously married for 18 years, is the proud father of six and chairs Mormon studies at Utah State University.

    "Divorce should not be a casual thing," he says. "I appreciate the church's support of marriage and family in its various dimensions. However, we may err when we confuse ironclad rules with guiding principles. There are situations where divorce is the most constructive, compassionate and wise thing to do."


Therapist works to help Mormons survive divorce

By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune



   Jennifer James no longer believes in checklists - LDS seminary graduate; served a two-year church mission; temple worthiness - for potential Mormon mates. They are not enough.

    "Too many people check these things off their to-do list and then wake up to find they had no relationship," says James, a Mormon author and divorce therapist. "Such marriages are an event to accomplish, rather than a lifelong experience to nurture and learn from. Real marriages require work and dedication."

    Clients often come to her with a sense of betrayal. They did everything the LDS Church told them to, yet their marriages still failed.

     James knows how they feel.

    As an LDS convert, she sought a faithful Mormon to marry her in one of the church's 125 temples. She found two husbands; the first marriage failed after three years, the second lasted two decades.

    "We fell in love, got married and thought the temple would solve everything," James says. "It didn't solve anything. We felt trapped."

    She readily acknowledges her part in the collapse of her marriages.

    "We did not know how to create a meaningful partnership and there was no help from the church," James says.

    Now James is trying to help others with her therapy practice, her book, Latter-day Divorce and Beyond: Surviving Singlehood, and public speaking.

    When James speaks at LDS singles conferences, both men and women rush up to her and say, "All I'm dating are losers."

    That suggests both groups see themselves as "winners," she says, and should date each other, but they don't. They need to be more self-scrutinizing and realize it's not all the other person's fault.

    "It's our natural inclination to pose and pretend, to 'fake it 'til we make it,' to to blame or deny or delude others," she says. "All that is a pattern of hiding our true selves."

    James thinks premarital counseling should be required before any temple wedding, followed after marriage with regular group therapy so people can see where their marriage falls on the happiness barometer, so they can seek help sooner if necessary.

    She would like to see a beefed-up department of LDS social services, with Mormon professionals offering marriage therapy.

    "An entire subculture of Saints are out there broken, hurting and disenfranchised with no programs to help or heal them so that they can have successful future relationships," James says. "The [LDS] Church can't even keep a head-count because 'we' should not exist in this 'forever family' church."



Conference address by LDS relief society president sparks furious debate


By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune



LDS General Relief Society President Julie B. Beck (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune)


Posted: 5:16 PM- Julie B. Beck has been the general president of the all-women LDS Relief Society for only six months, but already she has caused a stir among Mormon women not seen since 1987, when President Ezra Taft Benson said unequivocally that mothers should not work outside the home except in emergencies.

    In her first LDS General Conference address on Sunday, Beck did not mention the working-versus-stay-at-home issue, but quoted Benson's infamous speech, "To the Mothers in Zion," urging Mormon women not to limit or delay child-bearing.

    She then went on to say that Mormon mothers honor their sacred covenants by bringing daughters to church "in clean and ironed dresses with hair brushed to perfection; their sons wear white shirts and ties and have missionary haircuts."

    Beck also linked the idea of nurturing with housekeeping and that included "cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and keeping an orderly house." She suggested that Mormon women cut back on activities outside the home "to conserve their limited strength in order to maximize their influence where it matters most."

    Within minutes of giving the speech before the 21,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered in the giant Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City or listening via television, radio or satellite feed, Mormon men and women across the country were furiously responding on Mormon blogs.

    "I want to sustain Beck," wrote Lisa Butterworh on "I don't want to bash her, but there is no way that I can believe that 'keeping our homes as tidy as the temple' or 'being the best homemakers in the world' are the vital lessons that will bring myself and my family closer to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

    Single women were even more troubled.

    "I'd love to be the best homemaker in the world, but that's not an option for me right now," said Sallee Reynolds, who works for Ascend Alliance, a nonprofit organization in Salt Lake City, addressing poverty issues in South America and Africa. "I have influence on children's lives. They are just not my own children."

    The speech made her feel "like an outsider in my own church and inadequate," Reynolds said. "Whatever offering I can give is not enough because I don't have my own kids."

    Debate about the speech has continued unabated throughout this week. By now, there have been a half-dozen conversations simultaneously raging on several Mormon sites, generating hundreds of mostly critical comments about the speech, though not about Beck herself.

    Beck clearly knows the Mormon landscape, having chosen for her two counselors a woman who was born outside the U.S. and one who has never been married.

    So what prompted her to give the speech?

    Beck declined to be interviewed, nor would LDS spokesman Scott Trotter comment on whether the speech was proposed or approved by any of the leaders in the church's all-male hierarchy.

    To many Mormon women, she seemed to contradict the church's direction since 1987. The church has never taken an official stand against birth control, for example, nor in recent years pushed members to have as many children as possible.

    In 2005, Brigham Young University President Cecil O. Samuelson told the school's female science students that the church "is in favor of [children]. This means not only having them, but caring for and rearing them in righteousness."

    But LDS scriptures and prophets "have not been explicit about things such as number, timing, and so forth," Samuelson said. "This is because not only are these things intensely personal in terms of decisions, they are absolutely unique in terms of our customized, individual circumstances."

    While Beck mentioned childless women, saying they would get their chance at motherhood in heaven, she didn't acknowledge that a growing number of Mormon women have influence outside their families or that some of her discussion was irrelevant to the millions of members who live outside the U.S.

    Middle-class American women have the luxury of staying home with children, said BYU sociologist Marie Cornwall, partly because "they can buy a T-shirt at Wal-Mart for $5, because other women somewhere else sat at a sewing machine working for almost nothing."

    In today's world, many LDS women work in order to have health insurance, to support children on church missions or to educate them. These couples often share household responsibilities equally, dividing the labor in unconventional ways.

    "I never had the knack of styling my daughters' hair; their hair on Sunday is usually au naturel, which looks beautiful to my eyes," said Valerie Hudson, a BYU political science professor and mother of eight. "My husband does the cooking in our family, and takes great satisfaction in making what he calls 'food for the soul.' He even bakes the treats for our children's class parties. . .This year I'm teaching my 13-year-old son to sew his own special Halloween costume."

    Hudson and her landscape architect husband, David Cassler, take solace in the words of Apostle Boyd K. Packer, who said in 1989, ""There is no task, however menial, connected with the care of babies, the nurturing of children, or with the maintenance of the home that is not the husband's equal obligation. The tasks which come with parenthood, which many consider to be below other tasks, are simply above them."

    They also appreciate the teaching of LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley, who has spoken repeatedly about women getting the most education they can and not only to be better mothers.

    "You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part," Hinckley told the young women of the church in a speech published last month in the New Era, an official church magazine. "Set your priorities in terms of marriage and family, but also pursue educational programs which will lead to satisfying work and productive employment in case you do not marry, or to a sense of security and fulfillment in the event you do marry."

    That fits with the general advice given from every Mormon pulpit and prophet in the past few decades. And it corresponds with the views shared by most Mormon women around the country and on the Internet.

    "As we wives and husbands prayerfully and unitedly follow the promptings of the [Holy] Spirit, we will be led to fulfill those promises we made before we came to mortality, and we will know joy thereby," Hudson said, "even if our lives are not identical to the lives of our neighbors."

A young musician's talent silenced forever

Youth led a dual life and was deeply involved in tagging. It may have cost him his life.

By Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 21, 2007

On the night of Aug. 16, Michael Pena stood outside of his family's Mid-City apartment complex with some friends.

A gunman emerged from a car and began shooting.

Fleeing, Pena tripped and fell in the complex's grassy commons, witnesses said. The gunman pointed his gun at others, then stood on Pena's legs and fired several bullets into his back.

Pena died several hours later. He was 17.

Los Angeles police still have no suspect or motive in his death.

But Pena had been living a dual life, family and friends said.

He had been a drum major and lead trumpeter in the city's best high school marching band. He was a priest in the Mormon Church's Aaronic priesthood for young men.

Pena also was a high school dropout with a long career as a dedicated tagger. His nickname -- "Once" -- was spray painted on walls, buses and freeway underpasses.

Pena's is a story of a talented young man struggling between two worlds and whose poor decisions may have cost him his life.

"We can choose our actions," said Joseph Larnyoh, youth leader of the Mormon Church's Adams Ward in Los Angeles, "but we cannot choose their consequences."

Pena was the son of Salvadoran immigrants. His father is a truck driver; his mother a housewife who is nearly blind.

The family lives in a small apartment building in Mid-City. Felipe Pena is the only father in the 11-unit complex who lives with his children.

The oldest of two teenage boys, Michael was a handsome kid, whom others remember as immediately likeable. But in class, he could be disruptive and talkative. He was not a good student.

"He was just sure of his raw energy and innate talent and his zest for life," said Hardy Edwards, an English teacher at Los Angeles High School, which Pena attended. "He had a core energy that was as vibrant as anyone I'd ever met."

Pena's life at school revolved around its band.

The Los Angeles High School Marching Band is the most dominant in the city. At a school with few other successes, it has won the city's Division 1A band championship 17 years in a row, and often places first or second in regional competitions.

Pena distinguished himself in it.

He had taken up the trumpet and drums in band class at Mt. Vernon Middle School and worked hard at mastering his instruments.


Michael Pena funeral: An Oct. 21 article in the California section about the death of 17-year-old Michael Pena, a trumpeter and graffiti tagger who was fatally shot Aug. 16, 2007, said members of his tagging crew wore RIP T-shirts to his funeral. The mourners who wore those shirts were friends from his neighborhood and not affiliated with his graffiti group, according to those who were wearing the shirts. —


On a Deadline (How Not to Get Married)
by David Schmader

When the news first broke, it was just another story, albeit a triumphant one: California's Republican-dominated supreme court had voted 4–3 to strike down the state ban on same-sex marriage, effectively legalizing gay marriage in the most populous state in the nation. But it got personal soon enough, via an instant message: "Wanna get married?"


Jake knew my answer; we'd hashed it out a year or so into our now-seven-year relationship: Yes. "I do." Having officially acknowledged our willingness to commit, for real and for life, we were loath to involve ourselves in any of the available close-but-no-cigar approximations. Registering as domestic partners seemed as romantic as a day at the DMV, while trekking to Massachusetts to get married seemed like traveling to Quebec to stay in an ice hotel—a quirky lark that's beautiful while it's happening but has little bearing on the rest of your life. Partaking in any of the inherently limited options felt like scrambling for a seat at the back of the bus. Our commitment was legitimate; we'd get married when the law acknowledged as much.


Why did the California decision seem "legitimate" in a way that Massachusetts's didn't? Part of it is proximity: California is big and close and home to friends we visit annually. But more important is the sense of the inevitability of full marriage equality the California decision heralds. This equality won't be easy or immediate—even the California triumph comes with the threat of impending invalidation, with voters given the opportunity this November to overturn the court's decision via ballot measure restricting legal marriage to heterosexual couples. However, as lawyer friends have told me, nothing in this proposed constitutional amendment invalidates same-sex marriages performed during this window of legality, opening the door for a deliciously sticky, decade-spanning legal battle I'd be proud to be part of and delighted to watch unfold over the rest of my natural life.


Getting married before California's November election wouldn't be a problem—we're required to visit Los Angeles between September 3 and October 19 for the pre-Broadway run of Dolly Parton's 9 to 5: The Musical (Jake loves Dolly like some love Jesus), and popping into a courthouse to tie the knot would be a delightful curtain raiser. The only obstacle to full speed ahead is our families, certain members of which would be crushed if denied involvement with our real-life, fully legal wedding. These certain members come from both our families—parents and aunts and siblings.


But mixed among the approving in Jake's family are those who are forbidden to approve, explicitly and eternally, on religious grounds. Specifically, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, under whose guidance both sides of Jake's family have conducted their earthly existences for generations. For those who don't know, Mormonism is essentially Christianity with an alternate ending: After Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection in the New Testament, Mormons believe He came back to earth, living for many years in the Americas while compiling a newer New Testament, revealed to LDS founder Joseph Smith. Distinguishing characteristics of what followers believe is the One True Faith: sunny dispositions, special prohibitions against misdemeanor intoxicants (caffeine, games of chance), and most importantly, a belief in a Mormon-only afterlife, where all earthly sacrifice is redeemed and families are literally together forever.


Unless a family member is gay. For Mormons, homosexuality is a choice incompatible with a righteous life, and for Jake's family, the idea of "choice" was solidified by the presence of at least two relatives known to have rejected homosexual temptation to remain true to their LDS beliefs. I've met one of these relatives; from his insistent eye contact and vigorous massaging of my shoulders, I believe he chooses not to be gay every minute of every day. Worse was the perceived precedent these relatives set for Jake, whose refusal to fight his sinful urges was seen by his family and their church as unforgivable.


Faced with the challenge of a gay son, Jake's family members did the best they could with the tools at their disposal. Unfortunately, all these tools were provided by the Mormon Church, and primarily entailed Jake's mandatory attendance at a church that insisted one of his deepest natural urges was pure evil. For their efforts, Jake's parents were rewarded with their son's failed suicide attempt followed by a decade of estrangement.


But everything would be different the second time around. Ten years after Jake sullied his family's pristine Mormonism, the family gained its second gay son when Jake's 17-year-old brother came out. Jake's dad had tortured himself over his failures as a father to his first gay son, and was determined to do better with his second. He also understood that this was an experience his church was insufficiently equipped to help him handle, and sought guidance from outside the church.


Thus commenced the Great Spiritual Journey of Jake's dad, a naturally inquisitive deep thinker who'd been accumulating doubts about the One True Faith ever since it drove one of his sons to believe he'd be better off dead. This doubt accumulation was hidden from the family's true believers—Jake's mom and three sisters—who responded to any challenge to their faith with inconsolable distress. The source of Jake's dad's doubts ranged from the superficial (why did he derive greater spiritual rewards from Aretha Franklin tapes than church choirs?) to the fundamental, including at least one instance where evidence of child sexual abuse within the church was met with orders to circle the wagons rather than call the cops.


But exerting greater influence than anything else were his gay sons, whose existence required him to make the hardest decision of his life: Did he want to be a good Mormon or a good father? Heroically, Jake's dad chose the latter, and set about strategizing how to best share this news with the people it would hurt the worst—his wife, who believed she and her husband's shared Mormon faith would literally unite them for eternity, and his daughters, who'd already made great sacrifices (early marriage, immediate children) for the faith their father indoctrinated them into.


Mormon life revolves around the Temple, the exclusive sacred space that's home to "secret ceremonies" and extravagantly appointed approximations of the afterlife. Mormons gain entry to the Temple through a "temple recommend," an annually updated document confirming the holder's good Mormon standing and successfully paid tithes. It was through his soon-to-be-expiring temple recommend that Jake's dad decided to apprise his wife and daughters about his fluctuating faith. In short, Jake's dad announced that when his current recommend expired, he would not apply for another—an attempt to present his plate-shifting change in faith as a benign clerical matter. The announcement was met with wracking sobs from his wife and daughters, the youngest of whom—18-year-old Marta—took her distress to a whole other level.


Over several days, Marta prayed to God for guidance. Eventually she got it, when God instructed Marta to get married in the Temple before the expiration of her father's temple recommend—three months away. Even Jake's mom and sisters tried to persuade Marta to not rush into anything, but God had spoken, and in the summer of 2007, mere weeks after Marta graduated from high school, we flew to Utah for her wedding to a 26-year-old returned missionary she'd known for a month or two (she was his family's babysitter). We weren't allowed at the actual ceremony of course—all us unrecommended heathens could only wait outside. (And if you think being invited to attend a Mormon wedding is weird, imagine being invited to stand around outside one.)


Still, God and Marta got their wish: During her Temple wedding, her father was by her side, not by virtue of his own belief, but an arbitrary expiration date. The whole thing was the biggest shared-delusion puppet show I've ever been required to take seriously, and a bracing lesson in reciprocal tolerance. The faithful Mormons in Jake's family had never treated me with anything less than love and respect—to my face, at least. (Their church tithes, meanwhile, continue to fund attacks on my basic rights—see the just-announced LDS quest to help overturn the California marriage decision.) Still, if they could grin and bear it when their family-damning son brought home his gay lover to meet the folks and sleep in the same bed, I could grin and bear it through a barely legal, beat-the-clock, sham-sacred wedding. Tolerance is a two-way street, and smiling politely at each other's insanity is a big part of what family's all about.


Sometimes I fantasize about retaliating against Marta and the Mormons with a shockingly gay wedding that would fuck with their minds precisely as Marta's fucked with mine. But "retaliation" isn't high among my reasons for wanting to get married, which are more prosaic: I want to be around this dude until we're both dead, and if one of us finds himself in mortal danger first, I want the other to be able to legally visit his hospital room. Our nuptials, when they happen, will be a private affair, conducted in a California courthouse with Jake and me and a few friends and the spirit of Dolly. Within a month or so, we'll have an official celebration, complete with forbidden intoxicants, and everyone will be invited inside.


Explaining that large Mormon family

By Tiffany Gee Lewis

Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008


One of the signatures of our Mormon faith is our penchant for having large families.

So here we are, expecting our fourth child. When people ask me why I'm having a fourth, I don't quite know how to answer.

Of course, this question usually comes when we're in the grocery store checkout aisle, where Sons 1 and 2 are eating each other's fingers, Son 3 is still wearing his pajamas (in the mid-afternoon) and my own outfit, which was clean when I put it on that morning, sports enough stains of the day to be mistaken for Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

"So," says the store clerk, glancing at my children, then my belly. "You're having another one?"


"Oh, yes," I say, throwing her my most winning smile. "I just love children."

I grit my teeth and gently usher the boys and the grocery cart out to the car.

It's my standard answer in a pinch. And it's true. I do love children, and I love my children, but that’s not why we're lapping the national average twice over.

One of my other standard answers is: Well, my husband and I both come from big families, so we've always wanted to have a big family ourselves. That, too, is true. Who doesn't love growing up in a big, chaotic family, where there's always a game to play, a mess to be a made, a fight to pick? Every sibling adds their own unique personality to the family stew. I want my kids to have that same experience, not of growing up in a silent museum, but a vibrant, living household spilling over with little bodies who slide down the stairs and dissect the vacuum cleaner.

My family consists of three girls and three boys. Now that all of our voices have matured, we get together and sing harmony in a perfect King's Singers sextuplet. We have a pianist, several guitarists, a violinist, and a trumpeter. Our family gatherings resemble a non-stop vaudeville act. It's a musical tradition I hope to preserve. I'm thinking that if I have a fourth boy, he and his brothers can go on tour as a barbershop quartet.

Meanwhile, on this question of why we have such big families, a standard answer I hear from many Mormon families goes something like this: "Well, our church really puts an emphasis on family." I'm careful not to use this answer, because I see these fantastic parents around me, all of who became parents because they also believe in family. Our church certainly does not have exclusive rights to believing in the importance of family.

What people usually assume, when they see my three boys, is that we’re "going for the girl." Goodness, what a role of the dice that would be! Why would I ever put pressure on such an innocent child to be one gender or another? And is it worth throwing another soul into the crazy lap of the Lewis family in hopes that I can finally pull out the pink hair ribbons and fulfill my dreams of having just one of my children take ballet lessons? No, that doesn't seem quite fair. (Plus, "going for the girl" would wreck my plans for a barbershop quartet.)

The real answer to why we have large families is much more complicated. It involves an understanding of a pre-mortal realm, where millions of souls are just waiting to come down. And we feel that, as good parents with the gospel covenant, we want to take as many as we can handle emotionally, physically and mentally.

And the final reason comes because of something called obedience. When, through the Spirit, the Lord taps us on the shoulder and says, "There's another one meant to come to this family of yours," we believe in obeying His will. God’s first commandment to Adam and Eve was to "multiply and replenish the Earth," and that remains our first charge as husband and wife. For some families, that means one child; for others it means 10. For some it means adoption or bringing in foster children. Some wrangle the enormity of parenting better than others. All do it differently.

But I would argue that most of us are doing it to the best of our abilities, one child at a time -- through Little League, scripture study, ballet lessons and sacrament meetings -- armed with a vision of this gospel plan and a firm knowledge that these immense, vibrant families only succeed because we have a Savior who supports us "moment to moment" (see Mosiah 2:21).

It's not something we can explain easily in the checkout aisle, but there it is.