One of my favorite movies is Mrs. Doubtfire. It is one of those movies that makes me double over with laughter, but also makes me reach for the tissue box. At the end of the movie, the character played by Robin Williams makes this poignant statement in response to a letter from a little girl whose parents are having marital problems.
There are all sorts of different families, Katie. Some families have one mommy, some families have one daddy, or two families. And some children live with their uncle or aunt. Some live with their grandparents, and some children live with foster parents. And some live in separate homes, in separate neighborhoods, in different areas of the country – and they may not see each other for days, or weeks, months… even years at a time. But if there’s love, dear… those are the ties that bind, and you’ll have a family in your heart, forever. All my love to you, poppet, you’re going to be all right… bye-bye.
When Mrs. Doubtfire was released, that statement resonated with me very strongly. As a child, my family was different. My father died when I was very young and my mother remarried, moved us over two hundred miles from where I was born and where my father’s extended family lived, and then she and my stepfather had two children. My stepfather did not adopt me and my last name was different from anyone else in the house.
By the time Mrs. Doubtfire was released, I had an immediate family of my own that was different. Despite our best efforts, my ex-husband and I had not been able to save our marriage. Consequently, our seven and nine-year old daughters were two of the very few children in our suburban neighborhood to have divorced parents, and particularly a parent who lived in another city.
I experienced a lot of pain, both as a child and as a mother, because my family did not look like other families. As a child, I knew that questions were being asked about why I had a different last name and I always felt the need to come to the defense of what I perceived to be an attack on my mother’s honor. As a mother, I saw the pain my children experienced as they had to deal with the fact that their father did not live with us anymore. I winced each time they were asked questions by their little friends or, having momentarily forgotten about the situation, rushed home to share news with both Mommy and Daddy.
Those painful memories all came rushing back as I sat and listened to the talks at the Women’s Session of General Conference about “strengthening the family.” I felt that the talks, and by extension, the Church I love, were minimizing the pain that I had experienced by characterizing traumatic events such as the loss of my father or the break-up of my marriage as “stretching opportunities.” I also felt that the comment about the need for a “contingency plan” was an insult to faithful single sisters all over the world. At a time when we were supposed to be being spiritually fed, I felt that the talks simply did not include or feed all of us.
However, those talks were not the end of the story. The session had barely ended before members of the Mormon feminist community grabbed their smartphones or their tablets or sat down in front of their computers and began to write blogs and create memes that rejected the narrow-minded views of the word “family” that permeated the talks.
FEMWOC joins with the rest of the Mormon feminist community in reclaiming and redefining the word “family.” The single adult living on her or his own, the single mother with her child(ren), the single father with his child(ren), the grandparents with their grandchild(ren), the gay couple with their child(ren), the lesbian couple with their child(ren), the couple who struggles with infertility, the couple who has decided not to have children, the foster parents with their foster children, the younger relative who lives with and takes care of older relatives, the parent(s) and the adult disabled child(ren) — each one of these individuals or groups is a family and each one of these groups is precious in the eyes of our Heavenly Parents.
So, let us remember the statement from Mrs. Doubtfire and may it evoke in each of us the warm feelings it evoked in me. Let us join together to spread the messages captured in the beautiful “strengthen the family” memes created by the talented and artistic Elizabeth Siler Moore. Let us do all that we can to make sure that ALL of our sisters and brothers know that family is for everyone.