by Brent Winn
My parents are from SLC. My mother joined the church when she married my father, basically to please him. Mom served in the Church for several years and, ironically, Dad stopped going to church. After figuring out what was wrong with that picture, Mom joined the Unitarian Universalists. Soon after that, the family relocated to California and Dad started back to church since nobody else was going to take the kids (myself, older brother, younger sister). Dad never did become terribly active (he was painfully shy), but he kept taking us to church. Dad never “pushed” us to go to church – as far as I can remember, we just went along willingly.
When I was about age 10, we moved to a new city (still in California) and I fell in with a great group of friends in the church. My LDS peers were exceptional – we basically had an unspoken covenant with each other that we would all go on missions and get married in the temple. I have mixed emotions about the fact that, in my teenage years, Church seemed more like “home” than my family did. Long story short, my folks eventually divorced and Dad left the house. By that time (about age 15), I was already converted to the Gospel, so my dad’s sudden absence did not affect my church attendance. An example of how the church was my other “family” is that when our ward split, I attended meetings in both wards so I could still be with all of my church friends.
Along with all my friends, I fulfilled a mission (Switzerland) and married in the temple. Life was good for about 15 years. Then, in the course of about a year, my wife had an affair, stopped going to church, and filed for divorce.
Of course I was personally devastated, but one of my biggest concerns in the divorce was that our four children be able to stay active in the church. Unlike most non-custodial dads who see their children every other weekend, I arranged to have the kids every weekend so that the children could go to church regularly.
Over the years, my children have had an experience similar to mine, where Dad took them to church and their Mom wasn’t really supportive but didn’t oppose it. Because of my own childhood experience, I made the assumption (or mistake ?) that, if I kept the kids going long enough, they would develop strong relationships in the Church and be converted and active in the gospel in spite of their mom’s “other” example.
Ironically, only one of the children (my oldest daughter) ever bonded closely with any LDS friends and that “bonding” was not strong enough to influence her to stay active. My three oldest are now in college. Apparently these three took their mom seriously when she would say “You have to go to church with your dad at least until you are 18”, because so far they have all stopped going when they went away to college.
I am now nearly an “empty nester” with my youngest child at age 16. Facing this “empty nest” is hard for me as I am still trying to figure out what my role is now with respect to my older children. My first question has been “How can I still be a positive influence for my children when they are away at school ?” But, another part of me says that maybe I am done “raising” my children now — that I should just love and support them and enjoy what time I have with them and quit stressing about how I can still influence them towards gospel activity.
Looking back, I know what I should have done differently with my children when they were younger and deeply regret that I didn’t know what was needed when it was needed. I really, really do not want to keep making bad assumptions in the future. For sure, I don’t want to look back 10 years from now and have even more the same kinds of regrets.
I’m hoping to hear from some who have already lived the next 10 years of my life. Or, maybe you are the child or friend of someone who has already lived the next 10 years of my life.
What works best for “empty nesters” with wandering children?
Brent Winn lives in Southern California and works as an Environmental Engineer. He has a BS in Mechanical Engineering. Brent is an active High Priest, father of 2 sons, 2 daughters, ages 16 to 23. He has recently remarried and has a wonderful wife and three new (step) children.
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