Margaret recently received her Master’s degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution with a focus on conflicts relating to refugees and immigrants. She is now at home with her 8-week-old daughter, which is why all these issues of parenting have recently resurfaced in her mind.
In the summer of 2006, I travelled with my husband to a small town in Ghana. We spent two months volunteering, making friends, and helping in some public health research. I spent three days a week at a ‘Babies Home,’ a type of orphanage. The children were all under the age of seven and most were not actually orphans. Their mothers were dead and there was no female relative to take them in. Since men were not expected to care for children there, the babies went to the Home until they were five or six and could basically take care of themselves.
I had expected the Babies Home to be bad, but I was not prepared to stare into the gates of Hell. The living conditions were deplorable. The food supply was infested with rats; infants spent all day lying in their own feces; the only form of adult physical contact the children received were smacks; the older kids regularly abused the younger ones. Many of the children were desperately ill with easily treatable diseases. When I would enter a room, the toddlers would deliberately throw themselves downstairs in order to get attention. The babies would scream desperately to be held. The Home was rancid and lacked any sense of joy or hope.
After a few weeks, I found myself disdaining the fathers of these children. Regardless of cultural context, I could not understand how any parent would not move heaven and earth to stop their child from living in such a hole. I understood that it would be a burden to keep the baby at home. But I could not understand how anyone with an ounce of compassion or parental love would not undertake that burden.
A few weeks after that, I found myself disdaining God. I have always loved the Mormon idea of a literal Heavenly Father and Mother. But if the poor, struggling earthly fathers of these babies were negligent for leaving them in the Babies Home, what did that make their Heavenly Father? How could an all-powerful God, parents to the souls of these children, ignore their plight? What kind of lousy parents were They to not intervene?
In the years since then, I have only come to an uneasy peace with the idea of Heavenly Parents. Good parents do not play favorites with their children. Good parents do not let their children suffer abuse and despair when they can make things better. The babies at the Home were not learning from their trials or facing consequences for their actions. They were innocent victims of a system that their earthly and Heavenly parents silently accepted. I find it hard to worship Parents who could restrain themselves from intervening and stopping such a situation.
Do you like the idea of a literal Heavenly Father and Mother? Do you think that they are good Parents? Is being a good parent necessary for divinity?