Why Can’t My Faithful Son Be Baptized?

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“But why can’t I be baptized?”

My son had just turned eight, and we’d attended many of his friend’s baptisms that year, and I knew next year would be harder when he would watch his cousins be baptized on their eighth birthdays.

“Your dad and I think its best that you wait until you’re twelve. It’s a big decision and we feel that you’ll be better prepared to make it when you’re older.”

Ever since the divorce and my ex-husband’s departure from the gospel, I worried about this day. I knew where he stood, and twelve was a compromise: an excellent compromise if you considered his current feelings toward the Church.

“Braden, do you know what it means to be baptized?”

“It means you get your body dunked in the water and you get candy.” The candy leis were tradition, every kid in our ward knew this.

“That’s not what it means.” Maybe he really isn’t ready. “To be baptized is a very special promise you make with Heavenly Father.”

“What kind of promise?”

“Well, you promise to try to always be obedient. That you try your hardest to be the best you can be. Saying your prayers every night and reading your scriptures. Attend church every Sunday so that you can take the Sacrament and renew that promise. Do you think you can make that promise?”

“Oh . . . I don’t know if I can.” The humility of a child.

“Every Sunday we take the bread and the water, do you remember the words they say?”

“Not really.”

“When we take the bread we are remembering the body of Jesus Christ: that he died for us. We take the water to remember the blood that Jesus spilt when He atoned for our sins. We take it every week to renew our promise we made at baptism, that we will always remember Jesus Christ and that we will obey His commandments.”

I could see him thinking, and with a hopeful smile he relented, “I think I can make that promise when I’m twelve.”

He will be ten soon and has started to bring up the topic of baptism, as he should. As a primary worker, I get to teach his class and see how much he has grown in the understanding of the gospel. He loves Primary (but hates singing, regardless of how wonderful our music teacher is). Every Sunday he puts on his white shirt, tie, and grabs his scriptures to attend a primary class where he knows everyone has been baptized except for him. Some days it doesn’t seem to bother him, other days you can tell it is weighing on him.

It also doesn’t help that baptism has become an over-the-top celebration often overlapping the sacred ordinance. This isn’t a moment for CTR cakes, Pinterest “It’s great to be eight!” decorations and the expectations of gifts; that’s what birthdays are for. Baptism needs to be brought back to its reverent, simple roots. Our children shouldn’t see it as a big party to be had but a spiritual experience to be felt. I want my child to come away with a deeper understanding of the sacred ordinance and principles being exercised, not just a chance to see his friends dunked under water and given candy.

As a single parent it has been a balancing act between a gospel-enriched life at my home and the agnostic, religion-free life at his father’s. He has an amazing dad and a close relationship that I would never come between. He needs his dad, who has been a very positive light in our son’s life. Our son also needs a strong priesthood example. I just never thought that the priesthood would have to come from a different source.

child thinking: what does it mean to get baptized
After a child reaches maturity, he or she can make an informed decision about their own church membership. Nothing is lost to them in the end if that’s the direction they want to go.

It’s a tricky situation, and although I’ve become less defensive about it, my son is the one who has to deal with the consequences. Like not going to scouts, not being baptized, not having the priesthood presence in his home. As single parents we often feel the guilt of our children suffering from our own actions, and it hurts.

In Doctrine and Covenants 68:25, it says, “And again, insomuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized and teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.”

I believe the doctrine of baptism to be true, but what do you do when your child cannot follow the spiritual teachings because of their parent’s (or parents’) choices?

I found comfort and clarity in an unlikely article. When Elder Christofferson was interviewed on November 12, 2015, about the Church’s policy affecting same-sex couples and their children, I felt a deeper meaning. This wasn’t just for children of same-sex couples, this can apply to any child who is growing up in an environment where one or more of the parents are not supportive of the child’s involvement with the gospel.

Speaking not only as an apostle, but also as a husband, father, and grandfather, Elder Christofferson said the new policy originates out of compassion. “It originates from a desire to protect children in their innocence and in their minority years. We don’t want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the Church are very different. After the child reaches maturity, he or she can make an informed and conscious decision about their own church membership. Nothing is lost to them in the end if that’s the direction they want to go. In the meantime, they’re not placed in a position where there will be difficulties, challenges, conflicts that can injure their development in very tender years.”

Here was my answer to all the questioning friends and church members who didn’t understand why my son couldn’t be baptized at age eight and were concerned for his eternal well-being. For all the times I felt that I was being less of a mother, a wavering member who couldn’t stand up for my child’s spiritual journey; instead I am being sensitive to the position my child is in. I would never want him to feel he is going against his father’s wishes whether I agreed with them or not.

Each time I pray about my son’s baptism, I am reassured and at peace. Heavenly Father has a specific plan for Braden, and this journey he is taking will lead to great things. Braden has been blessed with an obedient nature, an inquisitive mind, and calm demeanor. His sweetness is often overrun by his silliness, but he has a knack for making friends and making his peers feel at ease around him. I see his strength and am humbled when I see his testimony in action.

And when he is baptized, I know that it will be his decision based on his own understanding of the gospel. I know that his testimony will develop from his own works and not “borrowed” from his parents. I know that even though he wasn’t baptized at eight, his baptism will still be great.

Maybe it will be my son’s example to his father and not the other way around.

So for now my son waits, and I take every opportunity to teach and be that example he needs to help him grow into the man he is meant to become.

Megan is a thirty-something single mom blogger who lives in Portland, OR. She has worked in Pharmacy for the past 15 years and spends her free time free-lance writing for parenting blogs and writing fiction. When in "time-out" (of her own accord) she reads and writes, then reads some more. Her historical fiction novella is available on Amazon The Max Effect.