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20 years later: Unconventional LDS families find strength in the Family Proclamation

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The Whipples were married in their mid-30s, then experienced infertility before completing their family by adopting two daughters. Over the years, truths in the Family Proclamation saw them through.

The Whipples were married in their mid-30s, then experienced infertility before completing their family by adopting two daughters. Over the years, truths in the Family Proclamation brought them peace. (Photo courtesy Rachelle Whipple)

When Gordon B. Hinckley read “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” in September 1995, Rachelle Whipple loved what she heard and was confident that everything in it fit perfectly with her life plan. She would get married and have five children, she thought, staying home with them to be the primary nurturer while her husband went to work to provide for the family.

As time went on, it became clear that her life wasn’t going according to her plan. She got married later than she anticipated—at 35—and after that, she and her husband experienced infertility. But the Proclamation still applied to her in every situation of her life.

“My thoughts about families changed a lot over those 20 years I was single,” Whipple says. “Sometimes you hear ‘a family has a mother and a father,’ and sometimes that felt a little painful because I wasn’t experiencing that. But even when I was single, I never lost my testimony of the family. I always knew the things in the Proclamation were true, but I just wondered, ‘When will that happen for me?’ Now that my husband and I have two kids, I can see what the plan was.”

The Proclamation

“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” is an iconic document that is signed by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Proclamation declares marriage as between a man and a woman, defines the God-ordained roles of men and women, and declares other truths regarding gender, support from extended families, the penalties for abuse and so on.

The Proclamation has brought specific direction to the lives of many Latter-day Saints, who strive to live the idyllic family situation outlined in the document. Even in difficult circumstances, many find comfort in the truths in the Proclamation that were read in a General Women’s Meeting in September 1995 — 20 years ago this fall.

“A family can look different depending on the circumstance,” Whipple said. “I don’t think that the Lord sees any family as better than another one. We all have to have our own trials, and we learn different things through them. I still totally believe in the validity of that document, no matter what my family looked like through those years.”

When things don’t go as planned

Many young adults, like Rachelle, remain single even after they feel ready for marriage. Lyndi Buchanan, a kindergarten teacher in Provo, doesn’t have children of her own. But she studies the Proclamation regularly and will be attending the World Conference of Families this October.

“One of the main reasons I became a teacher was to be able to create a loving, safe environment in my classroom for children who don’t have that at home,” Buchanan said. “Every year there are are a few children that I know going home is not a super positive experience for. Even though I’m primarily responsible for my students’ education, I also try to teach social skills, and I use what we have in the Proclamation to guide me. I can’t talk about Jesus Christ, but I can use the other principles in Proclamation — like ‘respect, love, compassion, work and wholesome recreational activities.’ I like to have a balance of those things in my classroom.”

A strong sense of family

When it became clear to Krystal Gresham of Moscow, Idaho, that divorce was in her family’s future, she knew a few things for sure. One was that she wanted her two children to have a good relationship with their dad. Another was that she wanted them to continue to have a strong sense of family.

“I wanted my boys to be around their dad and make that relationship solid,” Gresham said. “Even though we’re not parents in the same home, we’re still co-parents.”

Gresham and her husband have a good, amicable relationship, which helps her young sons navigate the changes in their lives. She also continually teaches her children the doctrines in the Proclamation. 

“My husband and I tried to impress on our kids from the beginning (of our divorce) that I’ll always be their mom — always, no matter what — and their dad will always be their dad,” Gresham said. “I want them to really grasp and understand that even though we don’t have the ‘ideal’ family right now, Heavenly Father is always their Heavenly Father, just like their dad here on Earth is always their dad, and I’m always their mom.

“They understand what families in general should be like — a mom is a woman, a dad is a male. They know they will not have another sibling or parent in their lives again until another marriage happens — they know that you bring children into the world in a marriage.

Building eternal families

Every person’s journey can ultimately shape that person’s role in his or her current and future family. Whipple says her struggle to become a mother has made the experience that much richer since she and her husband adopted a child.

“I’m starting out motherhood the hard way, and I’m older than I thought I’d be,” she says. “But I feel like I’ve appreciated my role in a different way than maybe someone who had an easier time getting started. Motherhood is dang hard — you’re tired, and all the things that go with it. But because I had to fight so hard for it, I’ve been able to embrace it and really be so grateful for the opportunities I’ve been able to get, because for a time I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get them.

Whipple and her husband are preparing to have their children sealed to them in the temple. The children know their family is working toward this goal, and as Whipple and her husband have focused on teaching their children the gospel, the truths in the Proclamation have rung true.

“Our daughter came to us with some pretty good baggage,” Whipple says. “There are times you feel like, ‘Why are we doing this? This is too hard.’ But we are doing it because we’re a family. We’ll stick through this no matter how hard it is, because this is what we want to do — we want to create a family with her and we love her. The opposite end of that difficulty is the greatest joy. The whole point of the Proclamation is for families to be together forever.”

Happy, no matter what

The doctrines in the Proclamation are meant to lead to eternal happiness, and today is part of eternity.

“My life has been more fulfilling and productive because I’ve chosen to be happy. Does that mean I never cried about it? No. I had lots of heartache and hard days, but I didn’t want to be a bitter, sad person.” —Rachelle Whipple

“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to be happy, no matter what,” Whipple said. “I needed to be happy when I was single. At that time, my work friends and my ward became like my family. I had to find happiness in that. It has done me no good, in all these years of being single, and then childless, to feel sorry for myself. My life has been more fulfilling and productive because I’ve chosen to be happy. Does that mean I never cried about it? No. I had lots of heartache and hard days, but I didn’t want to be a bitter, sad person.”

A testimony of the family and its purpose in God’s plan can help individuals feel secure in God’s plan for them — even if that plan isn’t unfolding the way they might have imagined.

“We had a lesson in Relief Society a couple weeks ago that had a lot to do with marriage,”Gresham said. “After the lesson, the teacher asked if I was OK. She said ‘I hope I didn’t say anything that offended you.’ I said, ‘You know what? I know this is my plan. I believe that this is the plan that God has had for me.’

“I am completely at peace with not being married right now. I mean, not always! But I’m happy with my life — happier than I’ve ever been before. I know I’ll be married again, and until that day, I know everything in the Proclamation is true, and that it applies to everybody.”

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