A Crowded Boat

primary-class-609711-galleryYou grew up in the Church, attended Primary. Your father baptised you when you were eight. Soon you graduated, and went on to Young Women’s, where you eagerly completed the Personal Progress program. You were diligent in living a gospel centered life. You tried your best in every calling and went the extra mile in service. You did well at school, got a part-time job, and saved your money. As soon as you could, you held a temple recommend.

brisbane-australia-temple-lds-766362-galleryYour dreams came true. A wonderful young man came into your life. He had honourably returned from a mission. You had a beautiful courtship and then marriage in the temple. You were surrounded by family—his family and yours—and the day was beautiful.

Later, you welcomed a new member of the family as your first child arrived. The years rolled by, more children came along. You were a happy mother. Some of the stresses that go with young motherhood were yours, but you had a strong family and good friends. Your husband did well in school, and secured a good job. Everything was good.

Then things started to change. You gradually noticed that your husband worked later more often. He was more distracted when he was at home. The years rolled by, and one day you found yourself standing in a divorce court. Suddenly you were a single mother with young children.

PrayerBecause you were dedicated to the gospel of Jesus Christ, you got on your knees and poured out your problems to your Saviour. You sought blessings and did the things you should do because you needed the blessings and strength from Heavenly Father. You were a diligent visiting teacher, and when you were called into leadership positions, you worked hard. You sorted out the issues from your past and spiritually matured.

You talked regularly with your children to help them understand that whatever happened to you would not happen to them and that their lives could be different.

Your children grew up. Those who needed to serve missions did so, and the others went to university, got degrees, and eventually they all married in the temple.

Then the wonderful joy of grandchildren began. You were able to enjoy this season holding these little grand babies. You delighted in watching your family grow.

Time passed until one day you noticed some of your children had became a bit grumpy. They were somewhat negative and critical. There were difficult conversations. You came away feeling not quite so joyous. Why were they so terse on the phone? You looked to yourself to figure out what you needed to do to improve things. You continued to pray and seek help and inspiration.

The day came when somebody yelled at you on the phone and hung up. Contention hung in the air. The days and weeks passed, and they didn’t call back. When you rang, they didn’t answer the phone. When you sent a text message, they didn’t answer. What on earth was going on?

You might have remarried and tried now to talk to your new partner. He endeavored to be supportive, but he didn’t understand. Or you were still single and cried many tears alone.

There wasn’t really a place to talk about this at Church. It didn’t seem to fit into Relief Society discussions. You hunted anxiously at local women’s conferences for a class, but nobody dealt with this. They talked about inactive children and how to be patient with the choices they make, but they didn’t talk about active children who reject you. You now walked through life with a broken-heart and felt very alone.

Years later you just let it all go because you realised you couldn’t change it. You and your friends couldn’t see anything you had done; there were no answers.

Unexpectedly a non-member friend mentioned to you that she was terribly upset that one of her children had announced she was not to come over anymore, that all she did was upset the family, and she was not to see the grandchildren. She was heart-broken.

You realised you weren’t alone; there was somebody else in this boat with you. You shared your sorrow and tried to lift each other along the way.

A sister from Church turned up at your doorstep heart-broken and upset. Through her tears, she told an awful story of being rejected by her children and how they told her to stay away. She caused too many problems and was too strange. She was not to see the grandchildren anymore because she would be a bad influence.

You worry about the possibility of attending the same temple session as your child. What would you do? You don’t really know what happened and what changed. You’re just lost. Nobody talks about this heart-breaking sorrow. Over time, you find other women who have the same challenges.

You sadly realise this is a crowded boat. There are a lot of mothers with adult children who are fully active in the gospel of Jesus Christ, have callings, attend Church every week, raise their children in the gospel, attend the temple, live their lives within the framework of the gospel, and never speak to their mothers.

How can mothers deal with this grief? What can you do? The first thing, of course, is to get on your knees and take your heart-broken sorrow to the Lord and ask Him for comfort. Many women have cried on their knees and asked to go home. The sorrow of this life becomes just too much, but you must get up and keep going. You need to exercise faith. It will help if you can hope and keep praying.

Susan’s Story

brent-h-nielson-largeElder Brent H. Nielson spoke at the April 2015 General Conference (‘Waiting for the Prodigal‘). He prayed that you and I would receive revelation to know how best to approach those in our lives who are lost. He told the story of his sister, Susan. She allowed her faith in living prophets and apostles to diminish. You don’t know if that’s the problem that you are dealing with your adult children who disconnect from you, however, the lessons from Elder Nielson’s experience with his sister are profound and helpful.

He talked of how he and his family felt devastated. That feeling is the same for mothers with children who reject them. They struggle with the same broken-hearts. Elder Nielson’s extended family sought to serve Susan. They extended invitations to her. They reached out with efforts to rescue her and invite her back, but she only pushed them further away.

‘…we sought heavenly guidance,’ he said, ‘as to how we might properly respond to her…’

‘…with renewed love and kindness, we watched and we waited.’

Are you a broken-hearted rejected mother? That’s what you need to do as well: watch and wait.

First, though, take your sorrow to the Lord, cast you burden upon Him, and then let it go.

While you watch and wait, never stop loving and caring. As Sister Burton reminded us, we need to ‘first observe, then serve‘ (Linda K. Burton, ‘First Observe, Then serve,‘ Oct. 2012 General Conference).

BednarYou need to pray daily for your children, and for yourselves. Give gratitude. (See Elder David A. Bednar, ‘Pray Always,‘ Oct. 2008 General Conference.)  Ask for insight. Ask for comfort.

Invite your children to all family events. It doesn’t matter that they might not come. Send them invitations. If you can’t ring, e-mail, or text, send an old-fashioned letter. Make a pretty card and invite them. Find ways to reach out. Brace yourself for rejection.

As time passes, there will be times when the sorrow is greater. Watch and wait because in addition to your working with loving concern, Heavenly Father will be doing everything to resolve the situation.

KeepScott quote busy. Occupy your mind. Create. Serve, and develop your talents. It’s harder to do that when the people you love won’t join you, but you have to be wise. You can’t just tread water while you wait.

Send birthday cards; send Christmas cards. If you travel, send postcards. Even if you are rejected, your decision to love regardless is in your control. Don’t let their coldness creep into your heart. Love from a distance is still love. Eventually, Elder Nielson’s sister Susan came back. The watching and waiting were over.

For many a mother the watch and wait are not over. You may have days, weeks, months, even years in front of you. Sometimes these things will be resolved in the eternities.

First, you must recognize two foundation principles:

  1. While there are many things you can do to help a loved one in need, there are some things that must be done by the Lord.

  2. Also, no enduring improvement can occur without righteous exercise of agency. Do not attempt to override agency. The Lord himself would not do that. Forced obedience yields no blessings (see D&C 58:26-33) (Elder Richard G. Scott, “To Help a Loved One in Need,” Apr. 1998 General Conference).

The ironic twist, the paradox is, we are now talking about adult children who are fully active in Church, hold callings, pay tithing, raise children in the gospel, attend temple recommend interviews, attend the temple, and yet remain distant and estranged from family. It’s a bittersweet twist.

The only counsel can be to watch, wait, and love—to believe, hope, and go on with your life so that you may be an example of the joy of the gospel.

You may find you experience a range of emotions as you work towards letting go. There may be tears; you may judge yourself harshly. Don’t. It’s not your fault. You may identify things you could have done better, but all mothers can do that. If you find you are becoming depressed, please talk to someone. A trusted friend. Your Relief Society president. Your bishop. Call (USA) National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1 (800) 273-8255; (Australia) Lifeline 13 11 14;  (Canada) Suicide Action 1-866-APPELLE; United Kingdom +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90 (UK – local rate), +44 (0) 8457 90 91 92 (UK minicom) 1850 60 90 90 (ROI – local rate), 1850 60 90 91 (ROI minicom).

Be patient with yourself.

In your sorrowing days, in the moments wherein you could choose bitterness, don’t. In the long nights of grief and tears, remember you are not alone. Sadly you are in a crowded boat.

Dearest sister, Remember ‘joy cometh in the morning‘ (Psalms 30:5).

In the fullness of time, when all is restored, the once crowded boat shall be empty, drying to dust as family love flourishes.

Dream of the joy that is to come and press forward…

Boat to Dust




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Jane Furey

Jane lives in Queensland Australia and has been a member of the church for 2/3 of her life. She was born in New Zealand. As a young teenager she came with her family to live in Australia, originally settling in Melbourne.
As an adult Jane moved north to Queensland, here she experienced an intense sense of belonging. She quickly took up Australian citizenship. Research shows that relatives had originally arrived in the states capital in 1881 and built a home which remains standing today.

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This entry was posted in Faith, Family, Motherhood and tagged , , , on by .

About Jane Furey

Jane lives in Queensland Australia and has been a member of the church for 2/3 of her life. She was born in New Zealand. As a young teenager she came with her family to live in Australia, originally settling in Melbourne. As an adult Jane moved north to Queensland, here she experienced an intense sense of belonging. She quickly took up Australian citizenship. Research shows that relatives had originally arrived in the states capital in 1881 and built a home which remains standing today.

13 thoughts on “A Crowded Boat

  1. Becky

    This is very well written and the perfect wake-up call I needed to reach out to my mother more. But it would be good of the author to understand that sometimes it actually IS the mother’s fault. Some childhoods are harder to get over than others. My mother will tell you how she raised her children in love, but the reality is, the prevailing emotion I relate to my mother is fear, not respect or love. But this article has helped me to see that I can do a lot of the mending in the relationship. Thank you.

  2. Sarah

    I have to agree with Becky. It’s possible that a mother could portray herself as having done a wonderful job (and even believe that herself) but in reality perpetuated a lot of emotional abuse on children and grandchildren. In some cases adult children are able to set much needed boundaries. This can be emotionally draining and difficult. As a parent, I want my children to have difficult conversations with me and express even things that are hard for me to hear if it means keeping our relationship strong.

  3. Sarah

    I have come to learn over the years that we often carry much pain with us through life, and some of it may even be inherited through the generations. We may be walking a path of behaviour that has been well trodden throughout the past generations, and we don’t fully understand that we don’t need to automatically follow those footsteps. We are uniquely placed as members of the church to understand the Atonement and apply it in a fuller sense – one that transcends time and space. Remember how we perform ordinances for the long-since dead, and how Adam and Eve were able to utilise the Atonement long before the Saviour was even born.

    My family on both sides come from abusive homes; over and over again I read and hear of stories about heartache, pain, and estrangement. I have found the idea of non-attachment to be very comforting; at first it seemed to me to contradict the gospel doctrine of families are forever, but when I thought deeply on it, I realised that my attachment to how I *wanted* my mother to be versus how she actually *was* caused me deep pain. She is who she is – a woman with flaws like me, who loves me to the best of her ability. She cannot live up to the mythical mother in my mind’s eye because that woman doesn’t even exist! Once I detached myself from my expectations and accepted her for who she was and *where* she was, my love for her grew exponentially. I am no longer disappointed in her behaviour or get upset when our interactions don’t go my way.

    Additionally, meditation has calmed my mind and opened my heart to inspiration and helped me in this issue and many others!

    1. Laurie White

      Thank you for your wonderful comments. Abusive situations are very difficult. You are to be commended for being able to work this out in such a forgiving and Christ-like manner. Please be assured that the author of this article was not talking about abusive situations at all, just situations where misunderstandings have become monumental hurdles to family relationships.

      I love your comment about the “mythical mother in [your] mind’s eye.” I think that can be a huge problem. I think most of us have that “mythical mother” as well as other “mythical” relationships that stand in the way of our real relationships with people.

    2. Beth

      Thank you for putting beautifully exactly what I have had happen and come to learn and know for myself. The reality, hearing from other family members, is that my grandmother was feared by other family members, and in turn my mother was also. I kept wanting the Brady Bunch family and we were not. Mom could have, perhaps, reacted differently, but we all function the best we can with what we’ve got. She has finally admitted that the failed marriage was due to her “not needing” my father, and our relationship has found ways to mend as the criticism has began to cease. I am so grateful for the gospel and the ability to repent and to heal.

  4. Lucybelle

    Yes, sometimes the parent (father or mother) has been less of a parent than they should have been. And sometimes children truly are fully justified in getting that influence out of their lives. And sometimes those errant parents later see their errors, but don’t always recognize all aspects of those errors at first, simply because they became too much a part of their “normal” behavior. Still, a fundamental gospel principle is to be patient and long suffering – as the Lord is with us. After all, in some cases a parent truly does wish to repent. They won’t become perfect overnight, and distrust (and even minor disappointments that may seem huge because of triggering past memories) will occur. But the reward of working together, mutually listening and mutually supporting, can result in a truly eternal family.

    There is no greater reward. Truly, no other success in life can compensate for failure in the home, but ultimately failure does not have to happen if both “sides” will begin to dialog (not blast), seeking understanding, expressing sorry, and offering beginning forgiveness that can grow with time. Thus, the responsibility for healing rests with all concerned. Justice and mercy are just as important within a family as they are in an overall gospel framework. And what joy will those damaged children feel when they can one day (hopefully in this life) embrace their parents to whom they’ve given the chance at redemption?

    Thank you for the article needed to re-ground in a more encouraging place – while I wait.

  5. Sarah

    This is a hard read. My mother probably has convinced herself that her children have all abandoned her when she drove each and every one of us away even while we tried with all our might to help her. She was so deep into prescription drug abuse that she couldn’t see anything clearly, cried to us of her sorrows but retaliated with vengeance if we did anything to help her. When she turned to threats to take us to court for “interference” we backed off and just loved her till she pushed each of us in turn so far that we couldn’t handle the stress anymore and still take care of our own lives and families. My mother is welcome back in my life when she proves she has gone through drug rehab and can write me five normal letters telling me the good things she is doing in her life.

    1. Laurie White

      That’s so sad! I hope she can turn things around. Yes, these family things do work both directions. I think one of the biggest challenges we all have in life is learning how to interact, love, and accept our own families. Drug addiction puts a whole different spin on things. Very sad.

  6. MarilynG

    This happened in my husband’s family. My mother-in-law was a wonderful woman. On her 50th wedding anniversary, they were going to have a family photo taken. One daughter was late. We waited and waited, but she never showed up. Finally the photographer said he would have to leave, so the picture was taken. My oldest son, then about 8, said she had showed up he thinks while the photo was being taken. She never got out of her car, but drove away. Her sister, to whom she was very close, went to her house afterwards to deliver a chair, but she didn’t get invited into the house. She wouldn’t answer the door. She left the chair on the front lawn and went home. We have not heard from her since. When first her mother died and then her father, she didn’t show up to the funerals. No one has ever been able to talk to her. My husband has talked to her husband, but he refuses to talk about his wife. It is up to her to talk. Her oldest daughter regularly attends family events, but also says it is up to her mother to talk. It has been 20 years. It breaks the family’s hearts to know their sister is lost to them.

  7. Jane

    I cut off a parent who was, at least on the outside, an active great church member, parent, etc. This person was and is an abusive, manipulative mess. I have no intention of rug sweeping terrible behavior under the banner of honoring my parents. I would a terrible parent if I taught my children to allow and be okay with such behavior. I absolutely believe in forgiveness, but that is not the same as reconciliation.

  8. Kim

    Jane, I absolutely agree. My in-laws are emotionally abusive, manipulative, controlling, and,m selfish people. After 12 years of marriage my husband and I finally agreed that we needed to separate ourselves and our children from their toxic influence. It was the hardest thing I have ever gone through and they aren’t even my parents. We are taught from birth to obey and honor our parents. We aren’t unreasonable people. Problems arise in every family that can and should be worked through. But how can you honor parents who are destroying your marriage, hurting your children, and are unwilling to see that any of the problem lies with them?

  9. Charlotte Rheinschmidt

    2Nephi 4:15-35 Is a good example on how to handle family rejection.
    In a positive way.

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