Unconventional Upbringings: Yes, They Work

My family is unconventional, to say the least. In fact, while I was growing up, my parents called me a “social experiment,” because they never enforced traditional gender norms, nor did they impose any sort of religious influence. Growing up in Utah, I heard over and over again that those without religion were indecent, immoral, unethical, misguided, etc. But I was also immersed in a culture that highly supported a traditional family structure where, starting from a fairly young adult age, husbands would develop and commit to their careers while their wives had and raised multiple children. While I don’t have any major issues with the good things religion does for people – creating communities, reinforcing good ethical behaviors, implementing values – nor do I see any real problems with traditional family structures as long as they’re what people want, I would like to emphasize that such expectations don’t successfully apply to everyone. And despite my seemingly unusual upbringing, I believe I’ve turned out okay thanks to my mom and dad’s irregularities in parenting.

My mom grew up Catholic, and my dad grew up Mormon – each in a household that held traditional religious and family expectations. And it seemed to work for their families. But as my mom got older, going through a chemical engineering degree and then through medical school, she began to drift away from her Catholic upbringing. Additionally, while my dad went to Brigham Young University, and also served an LDS mission, he later found out that he was having a hard time with the foundations of his religious background, its authorities, and the seemingly illogical and incoherent testimonial details it was built on.

So, when I was born, my parents mutually came to the decision to raise me religion-free. Throughout my childhood, their intentions were always to expose me to, and educate me on various religions and forms of spirituality in order to leave any relevant pursuits up to me. While I didn’t end up conforming to any one religion, I think the various exposures I had, and the overall acceptance my parents displayed for all religious backgrounds, including the one most common in our community, taught me some good things about how to be a good, understanding person without submitting myself to anything I didn’t particularly believe in.

Additionally, my mom has opposed traditional gender norms as long as I’ve known her, and long before that, I’m sure. She has always worked, focusing much of her live on her education and career. And while work has always been an extremely important thing to my dad and his identity, he and my mom have been able to compromise and take turns staying at home to look after me while I was growing up. My dad did most of the work at home when I was really young and my mom was finishing up her residency for medical school here at the U. Afterwards my dad continued to look after me while my mom started her professional career as an M.D. And down the road, when I started fifth grade, they were able to switch off while my mom made the transition into a less demanding career track as a physician.

My parents have shown me that while traditional structures can be good molds to consider when developing a structure for your life and family, it’s important to pay attention to what would be best given the circumstances that are specific to you and your loved ones. What works for you might not be what works for someone else. Maybe down the road, your husband has to learn to cook a thing or two for those nights you work late, maybe it’s okay for you to mow the lawn from time to time and maybe some of the local religious beliefs may coincide with where your moral compass leads while other components may not sit right with you. It’s taken me a long time to learn to trust myself to do the right thing for me, even if some people disapprove or don’t understand. So, these are just a couple examples to show that there is more than one right philosophy to stand by when going through life. Do what works for you, even if it doesn’t align with conventional norms.