Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed are the author’s.
“It’s Not About You. It’s About Them.”
When my wife and I were taking classes to become foster parents, that phrase was blasted at us more than any other, several times a session, every week, for 12 weeks. “It’s not about you, it’s about them.” It was repeated so often that it became annoying. And each time it was repeated, the sincerity and seriousness of its delivery was cloying. Especially because when taking on the role of parenthood, whether biologically or otherwise, it seems obvious that the truth of this statement would be inherently understood.
But recently I have come to see the importance of having this aphorism ingrained in our collective conscience. This is primarily due to an episode covered by author Jason F. Wright in which young Kaydin Alabbas, a day away from entering the Missionary Training Center, told his parents he couldn’t go through with it. According to Kaydin, after telling his father,
“He made me tell my mom, she was obviously furious, so she went to the car, rounded up my brother and sister, got them in the car, and took my suitcases out of the van, left them in the dirt at the campsite, got everyone in the van and they drove off, and they left me in Bryce Canyon and uh, they drove back home to Washington.”
Luckily, the folks who run a convenience store in Bryce Canyon brought him in for the night. Kaydin called his grandparents, who retrieved him from their home a few hours away, validated his feelings, and lovingly talked him into at least giving the MTC a try. Good for them. Those with struggles need someone to listen, not be taught dramatic lessons in abandonment by those who matter most to them.
And therein lays the major problem. It’s been a year since the incident, and Kaydin made it through the MTC and has happily served a mission. Wright states that Kaydin’s mom, Sarah Hyatt, “has no regrets,” and that her methods were inspired. Who doesn’t regret abandoning his or her child, even if the final outcome is great for all parties involved? And Jason Wright attempted to make an inspirational story out of it!
This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Of course, the first reaction of many has been “child endangerment/abandonment!” Many social media users exclaimed that Kaydin could have died there, helpless as a baby, and how dare this mother just leave her baby. Now, of course death is (always) a possibility, but my feelings are that this young man was abandoned, at least emotionally abandoned, a long time ago. This episode just happened to be a manifestation of that. But here was an 18-year-old kid who probably had enough Boy Scout know-how to be at least a little comfortable in nature for a night. The fact that his parents just kept driving deserves the initial outburst that may escape your lips.
My abiding horror and criticism, however, isn’t rooted in the fact that Kaydin was left alone. It is in the fact he was left so vindictively, in such a knee-jerk reaction, so rude, selfish, and hasty, rooted in pain, rather than love. Ultimately the desire to control another’s actions and call it parenting is neither affective or a true representation of the awesome-but-difficult responsibility it is to actually parent, instead of just biologically being a parent. The difference is apparent.
Another telling fact is that in Kaydin’s own video (below) he talks about how his parents filled out his mission papers when he was unsure of it. I’m sorry, but isn’t it time that the Church required mission prospective missionaries to fill out their own papers? We won’t baptize kids without parental consent, but we’ll let those same parents push their kids out the door on a mission?
They left him and drove all the way home, several states away. Sorry if I’m just not seeing the hand of the Lord in that. I’m not so sure he is either, listening and watching him retell it to a camera.
God Bless Grandma And Grandpa
The grandparents had the appropriate response, bless their wise old souls. They listened to his concerns (imagine that!). They didn’t put their doubting grandson down. They invited him to stick through a decision he already made up to a nearer milestone, and negotiated a back door. They loved him, put their arms around him, comforted him, and let them know that whatever he decided, they would still be there for him, going as far as to say that if Kaydin wasn’t happy at the MTC after a few days, he could come home “no questions asked.” They displayed a profound respect for another’s agency, and they worked together within a loving context to make a plan for moving forward.
They encouraged him according to their beliefs and the context of the situation, and they didn’t just say “well, whatever you want, that’s what’s best.” They filled a parental role and a mentor role while lovingly and boldly challenging Kaydin’s assertions, and they made a plan—together—to move forward. They also, ya know, picked him up from where he was abandoned.
The Need For A Faith To Be Free To Develop
Creating a safe and loving place in the home for children to work through their thoughts and major life decisions is one of the core functions of the family. It’s just too bad that the flexibility, grace and patience that foster healthy development, both of body and soul, seem to be replaced with the certainty and pesky absolutism so rampant in many LDS homes today. Writer Anne Lamott has wisely observed, “the opposite of faith isn’t doubt: it is certainty.”
Speaking of writers, one review of a book by popular Mormon mystery writer, Mette Harrison’s, is prescient here, noting that her story “will have readers considering if their love for family is stronger than their preconceived expectations for each other.” I’m afraid the story of this would-be missionary abandoned at Bryce Canyon will not have any readers considering that at all.
Faith Promoting Rumor
It’s a rather cruel and unusual culture that puts too much value in accomplishing the milestones and not enough value in the personal journey of each individual in coming to Christ. This is further exacerbated by the fact that LDS Living thought to publish it. They have since rethought that, opting to focus on the grandparents (so bully for them), but the initial reaction was to focus on the dramatic story of a child abandoned, and how he was eventually found in more ways than one.
Check out the repost below, with renewed focused on the grandparents:
The new LDS Living version completely sanitizes the parents’ ditching of their kid. Now Kaydin was miraculously”stranded all by himself in the middle of nowhere,” just like that! Magic! No culpa for the parents.
And it’s rather odd that a “New York Times bestselling author” wanted to use his platform to bring massive amounts of attention to—oh wait, it’s the guy who wrote Christmas Jars, otherwise known as the worst seasonal novella of all time. That makes sense.
I refuse to believe that leaving someone in their vulnerable moments, when they’ve just mustered the courage to assert themselves, despite the fear and unsafe condition of the situation—and coupled with the full range of emotions of teenagedom—is anything close to what Christ would have done. And yet, it’s presented as a faith-promoting story worthy of LDS Living. This is evidence of a certain sickness in our culture that we must call out and root out, not only for this one family, but for all families. We know better, and certainly our kids deserve better.
All Is Well And Zion Weeps
Fortunately it appears the right message got through. Rather pointedly, in his reply when asked about what the big takeaway was, Elder Alabbas said,
“It’s not about being left at Bryce. I mean that’s interesting to people, sure, but the lesson is that I was invited to try and I was willing. I was willing to trust. No strings attached.”
He also has some stellar advice for parents of prospective missionaries, which is basically an admonition not to follow his parent’s example:
“Be patient. Talk to your kids as they’re preparing to serve. Listen. Tell them it’s all right to be afraid. Invite them to try and to trust the Lord and just take one more step, to make one more commitment. And if they serve, love them! And if they don’t serve, love them even more. But if you leave them somewhere, make sure they get picked up.”
The interviewer notes that he laughed with that punchline. I’m just glad he can.