In the past we’ve argued repeatedly on the bloggernacle over the ways in which polygyny, in particular, does (or does not) negatively impact women, who are asked to share their husbands with rival wives but are also potentially afforded worldly opportunities while their sister wives conveniently stay home and play Hausfrau and nanny.
But the effects polygamy had on children have received, in my experience, little or no mention. (Perhaps someone can point me to literature on the topic?) With the Proclamation on the Family as a centerpiece, a fair portion of the Church’s rhetoric about fatherhood specifically seems to revolve around governance and provision, both of which can theoretically be accomplished in the absence of any particular emotional bond or even interaction with offspring. But a number of statements go further than this, insisting that fatherly involvement brings an integral component to children’s lives: “The contribution of fathers to childrearing is unique and irreplaceable,” David Popenoe is quoted as asserting in a recent Church press release on same-sex marriage.
In our current thought, then, both motherhood and fatherhood are indispensable to the welfare of children, such that the absence of a parent of one sex sets in motion deleterious repercussions that cannot entirely be mitigated by the presence of a second parent of the same sex (presumably including a helpful sister wife).
I genuinely wonder: how involved in their children’s lives were those fathers who presided over polygamous fiefdoms? Was Joseph F. Smith, for example, able to maintain, in practical terms, a close relationship with all 48 children, or did the finitude of his resources, both temporal and emotional, compromise and compress such opportunities in spite of his best intentions?
Were polygamous fathers adequately enough involved to satisfy the requirements sociologists such as Popenoe have outlined–and if so, how did they pull it off without stretching themselves to the breaking point? And if polygamous fathers were not fixtures in their children’s emotional landscapes, in what ways can the current claim that involved fathers are essential to God’s plan be grounded? We hear a lot of static about the importance of gender roles, but what exactly does the Church’s vision of fatherhood entail?
- 13 November 2008