To anyone unfamiliar, the age at which a child can be baptized into the LDS (Mormon) church is 8.

I’m not sure how deep I need to go into doctrine, reasons and whatnot to have this post make sense as so many of you come from such different backgrounds, but I will say this: there are many traditions and rituals that are very much a part of my religion, probably any religion. Many of them make me very uncomfortable as I did not grow up in the LDS church despite living in Utah where traditions and rituals are most prevalent. There are assumptions placed on people from the moment they turn eight.

You are eight, you will now be baptized.

You graduated from high school, you will now go on a mission.

You got back from your mission, you will now get married.

You got married, now make a baby.

You had a baby, now make more babies.

Included with each of these expectations is a sort of blueprint way of doing things because it’s the way things have been done for generations. It’s a breeding ground for stereotypes and unrealistic expectations. I hope this is making sense to you.

The thing is, there is a HUGE difference between tradition and ritual as opposed to ordinances and covenants.

When it comes to a baptism, there is a very short list of what has to happen to make the ordinance count in the eyes of God. This includes witnesses, a body of water and a prayer.

When it comes to the baptism of a child (or anyone really) in the LDS church there is a very LONG list of things that traditionally or ritualistically happen. Songs, talks, programs, an open house, small gifts, a new dress or suit and a lot of fluff and stress that really has nothing to do with the actual 10 second part of the baptism that actually matters. Much like a wedding, all that matters in the end is that the right words are said by the right person and a piece of paper is signed making it legal. Everything else is fluff and fun but some people take the fluff and fun and blow it up to enormous proportions if only to outdo those around them. Many LDS women I know run themselves ragged trying to outdo the last thing that was done or come up with the next great thing, leaving them exhausted and everyone around them feeling as though they aren’t doing enough. It’s a terrible cycle.

I’m not saying everyone does this, but I am saying the wedding industry has gotten a little out of control. So have some people within my church, which is probably true of any church or organization.

My fear was that Addie was approaching her baptism with the idea of parties, cookies, presents and adoration at the forefront of her mind. She told me about what her Sunday School teacher promised to buy her and she began planning what cakes and treats she wanted and who she wanted to come and what she was going to wear. She has grown up in the church being told “When you turn 8, you get baptized, everyone comes and at the end we eat cookies.” whereas my thoughts have always been “When you turn 8 you have the opportunity to get baptized if you would like to.”

Deep.

To say Cody and I have gone to blows over this one for the last 6 months would be an understatement.

I wanted to make sure Addie understood it was up to her and I wasn’t going to force her, I just wanted to know she was doing it for the right reasons, not for a party and cake. There was also a part of me that remembered how much my friends resented their parents for forcing/expecting them to get baptized the moment the calendar changed over to eight. I didn’t want that for Addie.

Her birthday came and went and whenever someone within our church found out she had turned eight, they excitedly asked her about her baptism. “I didn’t get baptized.” she would respond. I could always tell who was in the “TRADITION!” school of thinking and those who approached the topic the way I did. Even the bishop pointed at me in the hallway at church one week and boomed “We need to get that kid of yours in the water.”

“It’s complicated.” I responded.

He didn’t ask about it again.

Last week Addie said “I want to get baptized next Saturday, okay?”

I began making arrangements based on tradition (because honestly it’s all I’ve known) I began asking her who she wanted to give the talks, what songs she wanted to sing and who she wanted there. She responded with “I don’t want any talks, I don’t want any songs, I just want you, daddy and Vivi there. Maybe my teacher if she can make it.”

The kid didn’t want tradition. She wanted the ordinance without the rituals.

She suddenly sprouted some young lady where there used to be nothing but child.

For anyone who may be totally lost, basically what Addie decided on was the equivalent of going to the courthouse with only the people you love most in the world and getting married. Forgoing all the stress, expense and fanfare of a traditional wedding. Sometimes you just want to be with someone for the rest of your life. While weddings can be fun, you don’t need a big fanfare to make a marriage real.

Addie wants to take her first major step towards her own relationship with God, no fanfare, just the basics. No one told her to do it and no one told her how to do it.

One of the greatest privileges in life is to watch her grow and be at the center of her universe for these few magical years.

We may not fit the traditional mold of an LDS family, but we fit with what God expects of us, we try to do our best and that’s all that really matters.

**********

Curious about Mormons? Find out more here.

Comments

  1. Good for you. I had a very similar (almost parallel) struggle when it came to my daughter and her first communion last year. To be honest, if she wasn’t in a catholic school and if it wasn’t something she was doing with the whole class, I’m not sure she would have chosen it on her own. Now that we’ve switched to the Episcopal church there is no first communion ritual and I don’t have to worry about the fanfare for my son, not that he’d really care one way or the other. He thinks the wine tastes funny.

  2. My husband and I {both raised in the church} share your view. Our daughter, Brooklyn just turned 8 in September. She went through a year {4-5} of hating church, though we still went. And for the year before she turned 8, had no interest in getting baptized. Obviously we wanted her to want it, but there is no way we were going to force her. And we didn’t. I did, however, have lots of chats with her about it and asked her often why {scared of not being able to touch, not ready, etc.} I also explained that it was okay to not feel ready {it’s a big decision} buuuut that it if it was something she wanted to do, despite not feeling ready, it was then her responsibility to GET ready. And so we talked lots, I bought some books, I prayed…and when the time came there was no aversion. She was excited and happy and ultimately can never say we forced her {important to us}.

    Great post – and I love her decision and the way she wanted it. Love it! 🙂

  3. Love this. Great work all around. Xo

  4. This is possibly my favorite post i’ve ever read. Ever. Thank you.

  5. My parents told my twin sister and I they were getting divorced about 9 days before my 8th birthday. My baptism became ALL about who was invited, would my Mom allow my Dad to baptize us (no, she wouldn’t), would she allow his parents to be there (yes, but barely)…and here I am 22 years later and all I remember about the whole thing was that I felt forced to make choices of who and what and where and when that would publicly disgrace my Dad but would show the neighborhood/ward that my Mom was a true victim (which she wasn’t, not really).

    I wish I’d had someone (Bishop? Teacher? Aunt? Grandparent?) tell me that it was okay to wait until I was ready to make the decision for myself, and to not make such a big choice because I was trying to avoid being collateral damage in my parents breakup. *Sigh*

    xox

  6. I get it.

    When we were driving home from my baptism (to the party at our house), my mom compared me to my friend who was being good in the car. I remember thinking, “Dang,I was perfect there for a minute after I came out of the water. I’ve screwed it up already.” So much pressure.

  7. Jennifer Downing says:

    I agree so much with you that the idea that baptism should just be the next step is completely wrong. Its the same as saying we have been together for 2 yrs now its time to get married. We should be encouraging our children to make the choice based on decisions to become part of the church not just doing because they turned 8. Also, I think Addie is making the right choice to take away the fluff and very proud of her for making the decision on her own to be baptized. I wish more families encouraged their children to make the decision instead telling them its time to be baptized and make them do it. Maybe you are starting a new tradition. It will definitely be the way when Sebastian turns eight. 🙂

  8. Oh my goodness. I love this post so much! My husband left the church this last year, so I’ve been worrying about all the “traditions” and rituals in the LDS church without his support. But if I can raise my kids like Addie, I know they will be making the choice for themselves and no one else. That’s all I can hope for them. Thank you so much for sharing this!!!

  9. I’m crying into my lunch reading this. What a special little girl you are raising.

  10. I always thought it was so hokey when parents got up to bear their testimonies saying how proud they were of their 8 year old for making the decision to get baptized. And certainly I don’t know what happened in their homes, but I’m pretty sure that for the most part the decision was made for the child. Good for you for teaching Addie to understand what she was doing.

  11. As someone who doesn’t know all that much about the LDS church and rituals (and as someone who learned a lot simply by reading this post), I still want to extend a big hand to you–both for instilling a deep significance of the decision in Addie and in giving her the space to truly make that decision. We daughters (and, I imagine, the sons too) are lucky to have mothers who give us this sort of space. So right on, you!

  12. good for her! that shows that it really means something to her. i would be so proud of her (as I can tell you are) 🙂

  13. Thanks for this post. I’m a big believer in keeping with traditions, but this post really struck a chord with me. I want my boys to get baptised because they want to. I mean at 8 we tell them that they are accountable for their own actions, so we should give them the choice to be baptised or not as well.

  14. I think this is great. I grew up Mormon, but left the church at age 25. I remember being told that when I was baptized, I would become a real member of the Church. I remember thinking, what? I’m not a member now? That’s ALL I remember. I really feel 8 is too young for such a grown up decision. But what do I know…

    I love the way you handled it and the way Addie handled it.

  15. For Baptists, there is no designated age, but we ran into a bit of the opposite problem because my kids made a decision much younger than many people would have liked them to. My son and daughter were both 5 when they made a committment of faith but they werent baptized until they were a little older bc they didnt like the idea of being in front of other people. I totally get that. It really is such a personal thing. I understand the logic behind publicly stating your beliefs, but ultimately it’s not the water or the words, but the connection with your creator and your promise to do your best to follow. That just seems so intimate that it’s kinda weird how routine we make it seem.

  16. Really beautiful, touching.

  17. I give you a lot of credit for letting her make the decision on her own terms, not based just on tradition.

  18. Aww that’s great, just the way a baptism should be, her decision. When I christened my son that it wasn’t a baptism but a christening. The difference being that a baptism is the person’s CHOICE and a christening is just a blessing on a baby. Though I didn’t christen my daughter.

  19. Good for Addie!

    My older daughter was 11 when she got baptized because we had been inactive. The day of her baptism, our landlord’s contractor suddenly showed up to replace the kitchen floor (three weeks late). So he disconnected the washer and dryer and tore up the floor. I suddenly realized we didn’t make arrangements for not dripping on the hallway carpet at church, so I had to wash all our towels at the laundromat. I was also baking cookies in a kitchen without a floor, stepping on the floor joists to get around. It was a huge hassle. I wonder if the day would have been better with just a few family members there instead of the grand expectations. My younger daughter was baptized the same year, on her birthday. Things went smoother for her, luckily.

    But yes, it definitely helps to have the person getting baptized make their own decision about that and about how much of the extra stuff to include.

  20. As much as I would have wanted to be there for her baptism, I’m so glad it turned out the way it did. I respect how you handled it. We did the same thing with sacrament. Didn’t let G take it because I didn’t want it to be a habit before he even needed it. Anyway, I’ve had the same thoughts about wanting the choice to be up to him when he turns 8. That Addie sure is special. Sure love her.

  21. From the one who actually did go to the courthouse and get married, just because we loved each other and didn’t need all that other stuff? I’d say that girl is tops. Happy Birthday, Addie!

  22. I absolutely loved reading this and I’m not even an active Mormon anymore.

    I wish more people remembered the important parts of these traditions.

  23. That girl of yours… she certainly is a special one.

    My family isn’t religious. At all. We’re a church on Christmas and Easter bunch (and that was if we were really feeling it). We are more about faith and belief on our own terms… not so much organized, church, religion. As children we went until we learned what we needed to learn and then kinda just stopped going. (Does that make sense?) We were always more about family time. Sundays were about family.

    Nick’s family is Russian Orthodox… and quite church tradition religious. Nick not so much, but his family? Church people. Choir. Church council. Sunday school teachers. Prayers. 6 weeks of strict lent before Easter (which isn’t until May 5 this year… there’s a whole different calendar).

    So, religion is important to his family. We were married in his church (think My Big Fat Greek Wedding), the girls were baptized in his church, the girls have taken communion since they were 6 weeks old, and Zoe is studying for first confession now. It’s important to his family.

    Me? Not so much. But I figure the girls will learn what they learn, and believe what they believe. And, it will be up to them if these traditions have meaning or not.

    (and now I will stop babbling.) 🙂

  24. I love this! I was baptized the day after I turned 8, which I loathed. Though I love the church and have a testimony at 8 I didn’t and I knew that. I wanted so bad to wait, and felt like a liar anytime people asked me if I wanted to be baptized and I said yes. But because of the culture of getting baptized at eight I was never told that I could wait a while if I wanted to. When my siblings were old enough to be baptized years later I always would ask them if thats what they really wanted, and told them they could wait if they desired to. Because if I could go back and do it again I would. I would wait till I felt ready, and felt comfortable and prepared. Not afraid and upset because I didn’t feel like I was ready

  25. Interesting reading, very different from our traditions here in Sweden.

    Rgds,
    Mary