Returning back to Leslie’s story, her therapist mentioned that familial stresses were a major contributor to her self-loathing. Now, that is a broad diagnosis and any discussion about family is akin to a walk through a minefield.
Because no family is perfect and each family has a unique dynamic that cannot and should not be replicated by other families. So any discussion of family tends to invite comparison, which is the exact opposite of what God, wants.
My family was not perfect. I grew up with four siblings and we struggled being supportive of each other. I can still vividly remember, though I was quite young at the time, when the Harris family was assigned to speak (perform) at one of our Sacrament meetings. If ever there was an Ensign family, it was the Harrises.
The parents were smart and talented. Each of the five children had strong musical and performing skills. They were all beautiful people and very kind. When they spoke and performed musical numbers at that fateful Sacrament meeting, my heart ached. I wanted my family to be like the Harrises.
Now, I was about 10 or 11 and had the simple faith that all I had to do was pray and God would grant me my desire. Besides, wasn’t a happy family a thing worthy of prayer? I was not asking for a new pony.
Each night I would plead with God to make our family like the Harrises. Nothing changed. In fact, things got worse. I prayed more earnestly. I sought to change my own attitude so that I was more kind and forgiving myself. Still nothing changed. I was devastated.
As I got older and spent more time with the Harris family I finally learned that my prayers were indeed answered. No, my family didn’t change. We still argued and struggled to get along. But I saw that the Harris family was more like us. They argued and struggled to get along just like we did.
My prayer was answered not by a tectonic shift in my family dynamic but in the realization that my family was not unique. Families are hard and never perfect.
In Leslie’s case, however, there were some extreme pressures that could have been remedied but were not. For her, home was not a refuge from the storm. Rather it was the storm. I am sure her parents did their best, but poor Leslie was inundated with a constant barrage of criticism that eroded her self-esteem.
Her mother would constantly tell her that her poor eating habits were making her fat. Any success at school, recitals, or concerts would rarely result in praise. Her parents paid more attention to their career and social status. Leslie felt that she became a burden to the family because of her imperfections. Home became a reminder of constant her failure.
Again, Leslie’s life was in the extreme. But there are lessons to be learned. As parents we need to do all we can to make home a refuge. Yes, there will be times when our children’s behavior makes this a challenge. As a result, we, as parents, will not be perfect. But mortality is not about perfection. Rather mortality is about striving. President Hinckley said it best when he stated:
We don’t need perfect families. We don’t get perfect children. We will not be perfect parents. We will all stumble and struggle as we try to rear our children. But we can create a refuge from the storm. If Leslie had but one refuge, her live could have followed an entirely different trajectory.