Choice In A Polygamous Family

Caleb and His Mother On Graduation

Caleb Darger and His Mother On Graduation

When I started having children it was a very deliberate process. We entered into this marriage to have children and we did not delay. We spent our years courting planning on our family, taking parenting classes, reading books and teaching our younger brothers and sisters to gain valuable insight into the family we wanted to establish. Early on I wanted to teach my children to be independent, and to make choices for themselves. I had no idea how hard that would be.

I was full of hope and promise as any young father is. I was still in school at the University of Utah when my first two boys came. Like so often has happened in my family things came in batches. I quickly had to grow as a Dad and with my older boys I made plenty of mistakes that I now avoid with my children. For example, I was quick tempered, and strong willed. I got caught up in the trap I see a lot of parents make these days, the idea that my kids were a reflection of me.

I found that with two boys from different mothers there were common traits that couldn’t help but be from me. If there was something about myself I did not like and it manifested itself in my boys I was quick to want get it out of them. Other times I unwittingly turned my boys into competing with each other for my approval, and many other errors as a parent. If there is one truism in parenting, it is tough and they don’t give you a manual!

But in those mistakes, in those trials as a parent I really emotionally bonded with my older boys. I learned with them, I cried with them and I was their idol, and they were my pride and joy. When they got to the teenage years we certainly had our rough times though.  As I have learned is now common with teenage boys, they pulled away, turned to their friends for acceptance, and challenged us in our values.  I found myself hurt, confused and often times unable to reach out to them.

My older boys found it easy to blame polygamy for anything and everything bad in their life. If they did not fit in, did not get a cell phone, or a myriad of comparisons that came up with their friends, the one common theme to them was our polygamous family. Like me, my boys were strong minded and hated to be told what to do, and I learned that my guiding principle of my faith, what we call “free agency” had to be not only understood, but practiced if I was to get anywhere with them.

I feel like it is our job to raise our children to be on their own and make choices for themselves. At 14 we encourage our children to get a job, and we begin to charge them “rent”. We credit them for school. This does many things.  It teaches them that they are responsible for their choices and that there is an accountability to the family.  Also it tells them that we value education; so long as they are in school, including college, their rent is minimal.

We also have them pay their own insurance and car, phones, and anything above and beyond what we budget for their school clothes, i.e. top brand names. My younger teenagers now accept it and though at times they complain they know it is the way it is. But the older boys had a tough time, again wanting to blame it on polygamy. They now look back and appreciate the lessons learned from it.

By the time they are 18 we expect them to be on their own. I now have 5 moved out and over 18 with the sixth ready to leave in a few weeks.  And it is they that often cause me the most worry and grief. It turns out we are in a new stage of our life: kids leaving the “nest.”

As our children leave and make their choices, it is still tough to let go, especially when you see the consequences. Our daughter, Laura who is married has talked about having the baby in Mexico where her husband is from. We were concerned about the lack of medical facilities there, and I very much wanted her to choose differently. It was hard from even wanting to hint to them my preference, which I felt important to do. I figure if they want advice they will ask, and I find that is the only time they really listen anyway.

Recently my son, Caleb was babptised into the LDS, or Mormon Church. We showed up with all the parents, most of the older children, and I think quite suprprised the bishop, who remarked on the size of the multitude there to witness the event. He asked us to get up and state our relationship to Caleb and why everyone was there. All three of his mom’s, got up and proudly proclaimed that they were his mother and were there to support him in his choice.

Needless to say there were a lot of shocked faces. I wondered how many of those church goers would have come to a Fundamentalist baptism if one of their children were in similar circumstances? My feelings were very torn that day. I was proud of him. Caleb is an immensely talented musician, scholar and a good person. He had expressed to me that he felt the Church gave him the structure and helped him in his relationship to God. I could not feel bad about that aspect.

However, as the time came during the baptism for what we call the “confirmation” where they asked all the “worthy members of the Priesthood” to lay their hands upon his head, I realized at that moment I was both literally and figuratively outside of that circle. Though the priesthood is one of the most important aspects of my life, and while I can recognize their priesthood, they do not recognize mine.

It saddened my heart to think one of the most sacred and important parts of my lives was not fully connected with my son. Such is the consequence of choice. I was both happy for him and sad for me. Choice by its nature means our children will not choose right all the time, or certainly will not choose what I think is right. Yet I believe that is God’s plan as well. None of us do choose the way we should all the time. That is the reason for His grace.

For me, I have tried harder to reach out to my son and connect to him on the many things that we do agree on. He is really so much like me in so many ways, and in many ways so much better of a person than I am. Ultimately I find in my letting go of my expectations of my kids I have grown as a father and as  a person. They continue to grow me and expand me as a person. I find the more I think I know the more I find I don’t know. That in itself sums up parenting to me.

Love to hear from all of you parents out there who have gone through the empty nest, or are dealing with teenagers.


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21 Responses to Choice In A Polygamous Family

  1. Sandra says:

    My oldest just turned 18 and her little sister is just 4 years behind her. The teenage years have been tough but, I also have the rule that they must get out on their own and I have tried to make them independent. It’s not easy to stop being completely responsible for them, though. I have to keep reminding myself to treat her with respect and treat her like the adult she is. I can only hope she makes good choices. My job is done. I hope I did right by her.

    Your post was beautifully written. I wish you the best of luck. Wish me the same, because I don’t have the answers either. :)

  2. Angel says:

    I am a huge fan first of all, but I must say making your kids pay rent at 14 and forcing them out at 18 is too much I think. They should have responsibility and pay for extras, but rent????? Just because your child is 18 doesn’t mean they are ready to take on the world. First of all they have no college education at that point so their wages are tiny and they need time to study to get a degree so to just tell them to get going is more than harsh:( I couldn’t imagine treating my kids in the manor;( I can see why your kids would blame polygamy, in the rest of society that doesn’t normally happen;( Chilren need support beyond age 18 if you want them to be educated and have a white collar job! Some might suceed under these conditions, but statically far more will fall;(

    • Joe says:

      We don’t force them out at 18, we only encourage them and begin at a young age preparing them to be on their own by 18. The reason we credit them for college is so they can stay home and get help for college. We have also helped out with books and supplies if they go to college, but find when they are responsible for paying for it their grades and performance have been much higher. A minimal rent is not an effort to abdicate responsibility as parents, but to teach them to never be victims of circumstance. They may not be ready to live on their own at 18, but they certainly better be able to hold a job or help around the home as contributors to the family. We don’t believe in handouts from the state excepting extraordinary circumstances, and we apply the same principles to our children. That said, we still love, nurture, and apply wisdom in each individual circumstance.

      • Lauraleigh says:

        Thank you Joe for your honesty. I must admit when i saw the rent issue i freaked inside….I better understand your theory. My son has moved back home… he just turned 28. Circumstances made me choose to have him come back home. WE have goal on when he should be moved out. I am proud he is meeting the goals set. Sometimes as a Parent. we have to show our children to see even our rules can go by the wayside, in circumstances that better everyone involved. I could never ever close my door to my son . i do no care what age he is. He IS a very responsible young man. He just needed HIS family for awhile. You would not begrudge one of your children this would you at any age?

  3. Linda Green says:

    Thanks for sharing that Joe. Tom and I have just had the same experience with our 18yr old son. The Bishop and the ward made us feel very welcome and made sure we knew about the confirmation the next day and that our whole family would be welcome to attend. I sat through the baptism with tears in my eyes as we sang hymns realizing that my son was making the choice that he felt was going to bring him closest to God and at the same time separate him from what I think will bring me (and him) closest to God. I am very grateful that he has a testimony of the Gospel of Christ and plans to share it with others by serving a 2 year mission for the Mormon Church. Letting them choose their path is very hard, especially when that path separates him from the most important part of my life. I am very happy for the good relationship that we have with our son in other areas of our life and we will do everything we can to cultivate that. It is interesting how in the beginning we had so many plans and ideals for our children to live up to. :) I agree with you so much – the more we learn, the more we find out we don’t know. Thanks again for sharing. I admire you and your family very much. You have built a wonderful family. I feel privileged to know all of you.

  4. Dawn says:

    I enjoyed reading your post, Joe. It is never easy letting go, but I’m glad you supported Caleb in his choice. As you know, too many people cut their children off for making similar choices. Doing what you did will only cement your relationship that much more. But I have to chuckle when I think of the stir you must have made in that congregation. I have a feeling that they haven’t seen the last of you yet.

  5. Dale says:

    I think charging rent is a good idea. I was expected to earn money for extras, do my own chores (laundry), and do well in school at a young age. The one area where I feel my parents could have better prepared me was to teach me how to be on my own by the time I was 18. But no parent is perfect.

    Angel, the fact that you would still consider a person a child at 18 is probably why that “child” isn’t ready for adulthood and hasn’t been prepared for it.

  6. Sarah says:

    Joe – can you please clarify what you mean by your kids paying “rent” with credits for school.

    • Joe says:

      “Rent” certainly has a lot of connotations to people that I can see could easily be misconstrued. We chose the word to give our children a sense that there is a responsibility that they will always have for their living arrangements. We have had many friends and relatives who have had trouble getting their 20 and 30 years old kids out on their own. Of course as parents we feel it our responsibility to house, feed and clothe our own children. All of us contributed when old enough to have a job to our families and realize what a valuable lesson that was to us. My parents for example, required me to pay half of what I made to the family. If they did not need the 1/2 my Father saved it for college.

      We decided to call it rent, and require our kids to have a part-time job or do extra chores around the house at 14. This means they either go get a job or if they cannot, we make an easily attainable list of extra chores that require a similar time commitment for them to earn their keep. This helps them to learn the importance of being responsible at a young age in away that is easily successful. The rent is $50 per month. Anything they make beyond that they are able to keep for themselves and we work with them to learn how to save and budget, especially to help them be able to get their own car. In order to discourage kids from either dropping out of school, or those that graduate from staying home jobless and instead encourage them to go to college, we tell them that their rent will go to $300 per month if they are not going to school. Put another way, they have a rent of $300 per month from 14 to when they move out, but if they go to school they receive a $250 month credit.

      The real benefit has already been realized. Our oldest boys took advantage of the school credit and stayed at home for two years while they went to college. They finally wanted to go out on their own, and in doing so were well prepared for the experience, and both came an thanked us for all that we provided for them that they still took for granted. Our son who just graduated from high school spent half a year not committed to college or a full time job. He began to resent having to pay rent, but when we offered him extra jobs to do around the house, he found the motivation to get full time work. He is now preparing to move to Chicago with his brother to work full time. All of our teenagers 14 on up now work part time. It has done wonders for their confidence and taught them budgeting and financial skills. They all are doing very well in school. When some of them struggled to get jobs, we had plenty of chores to do around home to make money. Now the 12 and 13 year old kids want to do those chores to earn money. That has been our biggest problem, for when we are able to give them money and then have them pay rent it works well; but we can easily end up with them working really hard and wanting money we did not budget for them making. In a way it starts to work like an allowance where they are able to earn extra money. When we have it, it is great motivator and a way for them to earn money for things they are focused on earning, but when we don’t we have had a few surprise “bills” due at the end of the month.

  7. i love it!!!! if more parents did this i think we would have much better kids/ adults in this world!

  8. Stephania says:

    “as the time came during the baptism for what we call the “confirmation” where they asked all the “worthy members of the Priesthood” to lay their hands upon his head, I realized at that moment I was both literally and figuratively outside of that circle. Though the priesthood is one of the most important aspects of my life, and while I can recognize their priesthood, they do not recognize mine.”>>

    I hope that should another event arise such as this you might be able to recognize your own worthiness, and not add to the separation of the ‘old-order LDS’ and the ‘new LDS’ by , though you likely meant to be polite, tactful, respectful and non-confrontational etc- but to recognize that though you may exist outside their circle officially, it does not take away from what was originally written and your own accomplishments and contributions – that and the fact that you are the boy’s father no less- it would have seemed fitting -as the women stood up proudly despite shocked faces.
    If you didn’t do it (the laying on of hands on the head) because you don’t believe in their current doctrine, not so much that they don’t recognize theirs, I can see how there may have been some cognitive dissonance there, but realize that no matter what theological differences and ensuing ‘rifts’ have come about, the church originally started as you are living it, thus it is hard to fathom this separation of different priesthoods and ‘worthiness’ when theirs stemmed from yours or feeling that somehow they don’t accept you or aren’t ‘worthy’ or in their ‘new church’, but because of this fact- not in spite of it-you are in fact the ‘orthodox version 1.0′ , I see that giving you more credibility/worthiness, not less, and that it is their failure to come to terms with not only their past, not yours- the fact that many people are still living this ‘orthodox/old order’ way, either tied to some off-shoot of LDS or no doubt descended from it.

    • S. says:

      I think that the reason Joe did not participate in the laying of hands is because the church he was in, would not have allowed him to do so—similar to how Catholic priests are not supposed to allow non-Catholics or even Catholics that are not in “good standing” to take communion.

      You judge Joe harshly, but I think he would have participated in a heartbeat if the opportunity was there.

      • Lauraleigh says:

        S,, I agree 100 per cent…I give Joe kudos. for not trying to participate. I believe in my heart of hearts Joe would have stood up with such honor.
        I have seen the LDS in a service not like something.. it was not a pleasant scene for those involved. I am not LDS but my son is. He decided at 12 he wanted to join the LDS. His reasoning was and is sound to this day. I was welcomed in many ways by hi ward… was even given a calling or two. The Bishop even brought young women to “talk to me” when there was an issue a young lady could not talk to their parents about .. yet. NOW i could not become a member of the LDS …after all the lessons. all the years involved, because i had lived with a man without being married to him.. go figure….

  9. Stephania says:

    in response to last poster: I was not aware that when he said “recognize” it meant that is was not allowed by his church, thank you for the information- as none of that was stated in the original post- and for those unfamiliar with the religion(s), it is even more unclear. I don’t see what I wrote as “harshly judging”, if anything it was the recognition, vindication and defense of his beliefs. It is sad that the new order church won’t proclaim a kind of ‘amnesty’ or acceptance on something they once believed in themselves. It’s that kind of hypocrisy that may have made my post read as harsh, when that is not was what was intended.

  10. Kat says:

    Great article! Thanks for sharing!
    I have two questions. Of course I understand if you don’t want to answer neither.

    1) Congrats to Caleb! Although I understand why this is bittersweet for you. How did the LDS react when seeing all of you? What I mean is: Did they ask Caleb whether he himself would give up polygamy (as he should in the LDS…) or was it not brought up in that way?

    2) Mexico? Is your son-in-law part of the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times?

    • Joe says:

      Thanks for your questions. Caleb was interviewed before hand and certainly they knew of his family background. He told us they did not require him to disassociate from his family. He has said he does not have a testimony that it is for him. We are unaware of anything more than that. They were quite shocked to see us there, and I am not sure most people in the LDS church would be willing to go to a baptism of their children if they joined a polygamous church.

      My son in law is not part of any Church, and I am not familiar with that Church myself. They live in Sonora Mexico, and come from a family line of people from John W. Taylor’s mission to that area to keep polygamy alive during the time the U.S. government was persecuting the LDS Church. Interestingly enough, they say the Mexican government has never come after them or had a problem with their beliefs, and in many ways they feel more free in that country than ours.

  11. Alicia says:

    Thank you for this post. As I am new to your site after seeing your family on Sister Wives I have to say I have a huge respect for your family and wish I would have known about this site years ago. I am a single mother and am currently struggling with my 16 year old and our difference of opinion of what should be allowed as he grows into a man. This brought me to tears because I can so closely relate and have recently laid down the law with my son on getting a job and paying his own insurance and fuel. Great idea on the “rent” wish I would have thought of something like that sooner.

  12. Melinda says:

    I have a parenting question. I have 5 kids that I am raising on my own. I don’t get a dime of child support so when it comes time for the seasons to change I never know how much to buy and of like many pairs of jeans does one child have in your family. I’ve always wondered this and at on point thanks to both new and passed down nothing my daughter had over 20 pairs of jeans..I’m not joking both of my older girls needed new sizes and I had shopped for all girls new was crazy. So I donated all but 7 pairs of pants. But even 7 seems like too much.
    I have a daughter that’s getting ready to turn 14 and I love the rent idea but here they give out 4-6 hours of homework so even simple chores put her behind in her homework. It’s insane and us parents have raised a fuss but we get told they can only teach them so much during school hours and the actual work part is to be done at home.

  13. Eric Parent says:

    First, I want to say that I think Polygamy can be a beautiful thing when it’s done for Heavenly Father and all are honorable within the marriage. I love the show Big Love because I feel Bill Hendrickson did an amazing job of portraying a VERY honorable man that still makes mistakes, but he owns them when he does and he is ALL about his family. I don’t think Polygamists could ask for a better representation of their faith than the man HBO chose in that show.

    Secondly, I was really touched about your sadness that came from not being able to lay your hand on your son at that moment, and I find it completely selfless that you didn’t even try knowing that it would spark great controversy and likely disrupt his special day. You sound like an amazing man and father and I think as a father myself (not in a polygamist marriage) I have learned a lot from your writing here and I appreciate your sharing these thoughts. Good luck to you and your entire family, you should be very proud, as I know you are!

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