After being raised by an orthodox Mormon mother and a “redneck, somewhat Jack Mormon Pioneer stock dad,” Gretchen Day decided that she was going to be an “all in” Mormon mother. After getting engaged at age 19 (as a BYU Freshman), Gretchen went on to get married in the LDS temple, and to fulfill many of the stereotypes of a Utah County Ultra-Orthodox Mormon mother, including:
- Having 8 children.
- Homeschooling her children using Book of Mormon-based curriculum.
- Raising her children with little to no media.
- Imposing strict “modesty” guidelines on her children (mostly her daughters).
- Doing at least one underwater home birth.
- Pursuing strict dietary practices (“perfect eating) such as restricting sugar, eating only raw, vegan foods, etc.
Over time, Gretchen’s ultra-orthodox Mormon dream began to crumble in several different ways:
- She began to experience serious depression.
- She started making serious life decisions based on “spiritual experiences” based on feelings — that may not have been very healthy for her (in hindsight).
- Some of her children started to lose their testimonies of the church.
- She had a son who became seriously depressed and ultimately suicidal, based in part on inhumane “worthiness” interviews conducted by well-intentioned bishops, mission, and stake presidents – who were/are operating within an abusive system. This included feeling pressure to lie about his faith crisis to his home ward and BYU bishop, in order to keep his place at BYU and to stay in good standing with the church.
- She began learning about factual Mormon church history (e.g., polygamy, Book of Mormon problems), which became deeply triggering for her.
As Gretchen’s faith began to crumble, she started to feel trapped within the Utah County Mormon bubble.
- Should she lie to her son about her faith journey, as he was preparing to leave on his mission, or should she be honest with him and risk spoiling his experience?
- Was she trapped in a “Mormon mafia” of sorts, with no escape?
- Should she “come out” to fellow ward members and leadership, and risk social ostracization?
- Or should she quietly “fade away” from church activity to avoid any conflict?
In Gretchen’s case, she decided to leave the church in a very vocal fashion. This has included:
- Writing a letter/email to ward members to explain why she was leaving the church.
- Inviting her bishopric to attend a “Resignation Speech” that she offered to them, primarily with the intent of recovering her lost voice as a Mormon woman, and speaking her truth.
- Diving deeply into the “cult” and “unethical persuasion” literature,
- Creating a web site to share her story and perspectives with the world.
- Authoring a series of children’s books to help parents educate their children about how to avoid falling prey to undue influence of any sort.
If you are seeking a powerful, inspiring story of one ultra-orthodox Utah county Mother’s journey out of Mormonism, this is it. If you enjoyed the interviews of folks like Donna Showalter, Leah Young, you will deeply treasure this interview (but only after it breaks your heart).
Gretchen, because of a breakdown I suffered on my mission nearly 60 years ago, when I read your post about your son’s return from his mission in broken health , mental and physical, I mourned for the boy. I had returned from a 2.5 year mission fatigued , mentally broken and suicidal. Now, nearly 80, for the first time in my life I am finally better enough to deal with my mission-induced PTSD and its companions: depression and anxiety. However, I still see my psychologist once a month and my psychiatrist quarterly. Your son is fortunate to have such a mother-bear mother who knows how to help him. I’m sure my mother would have moved heaven and earth to help me too if I weren’t so ashamed about what had happened to me on my mission. I had read a passage in Journal of Discourses by Brigham young about members of the church being surrounded by Satan’s minions just waiting for us to let our guards down so they can take possession of us. I Had no idea of why I felt so awful and scared that I soon became suicidal. Trying to understand my horrendous situation, I remembered Brigham’s statement and immediately became convinced that I had done something so horrible that I had fallen under the influence of Satan, and then I felt such great shame that I never told anyone I how I really felt for many years after my mission, when I finally got the courage to get mental health help. It was then that my psychiatrist told me that what had happened to me in my mission was the result of a breakdown. I was glad to finally know what had happened to me on that morning that I had woken up feeling broken. Around the same time as I learned about my breakdown, My psychologist told me that one of the effects of the breakdown was my PTSD. My dear friend, please keep up with yours son’s mental and physical needs. Perhaps if he gets the proper care now you can save him from years of fear, depression and anxiety, and suicidallity.
I’d like to share with you some advice that my psychologist recently shared with me. As a result of the riot ion January 6, My PTSD started rearing its ugly head, and I became upset and scared, anticipating another attack. My doctor helped me talk through my fears, but the most significant thing he told me about the day of my breakdown was that I needed to remember that when it happend to me I was still just an immature kid and didn’t have any idea of how to deal with the pressure that was building up in my mind and body. My advice to you is to remember that you were just an immature child when you made the decision that your were not going to be vulnerable to your parents faults. You were still an immature teenager when you bought into the idea that you could avoid your parents mistakes and have a perfect life. And right now I believe that more than ever you need to remember that the dear sweet, innocent child you once were is still very much with you. Accept her as she was, as you were: you didn’t know any better. You most likely reacted to your life the only way you knew how as an ignorant innocent kid
Any way, Gretchen, I loved your part in the discussion with John. After I read you speech to your bishopric , I sent an email to John recommending you as a worthy interview, as I ‘m sure a number of you friends must also have done. When I recommend that you take care of yourself, I’m not just blowing smoke somewhere, Your kids and husband need you dearly, and unless you can take care of yourself, there will be no way that you can help other others. I retire from my college job after a long career of over 40 years. In that same year I resigned from my church. Within that same year a became so depressed that in order to save my life life I had myself committed to the mental ward in the nearby hospital and in the next two or three years was hospitalized three more times. I didn’t know that I was grieving the lose the loss of my professional and spiritual identity. It has only been in the past two years that I have become fairly mentally a physically healthy again. I share my experience with you to ask you to be careful to grieve your great loss of your identity as being a Mormon girl and Mormon mother. Please do all that you can to keep your sanity in these next few months and years, Let people know how you feel, just like John told you.
May Zeus and Hera be with you!
The BYU Professor who taught Teachings of the Living Prophets in the early 1990s was Dale LeBaron.
I took the class in the fall of 1992 also a young, ambitious, academically gifted female. The class didn’t cause me to question my faith, but I can pinpoint that class as the precise moment in time that my journey out of the church began, although I wouldn’t know it for a few more years. As with Day, the class experience was little more than barrage of teachings that left no room for any conclusion except that my life was to proceed in exactly one way (get married, do not postpone children for even a minute for any reason other than my physical health, do not space out children, do not work outside the home once children arrive). Every class emphasized that there was no choice other than to do exactly as instructed, and even the slightest deviation constituted disobedience to God’s anointed. (I remember one class student’s wife was working part time while he went to school full time, and he said in one class, with a pitiable what-will-we-do crack in his voice, “my wife has to quit her job.”)
The class caused me extreme dissonance. From that day until I left the church a few years later, I never felt a moment’s peace about myself, my future, and my place in the church.
The ironic thing is that Dale LeBaron was also my stake president at BYU. He interviewed me for my temple recommend, and I answered the questions frankly including some activities of a borderline sexual nature. While I do no think my conduct should have kept me from getting a temple recommend, he was kind, nonjudgmental, and issued my recommend without hesitation. So, based on my experience, his hardline course teachings were 100% a reflection of the church leader’s extremely harmful positions at the time. He himself was kind and not inclined to exercise his high position to engage in spiritual abuse. (Frankly, his kindness probably added to my cognitive dissonance.)
Wow… thanks for this. I’m going to copy and paste and save :-) I swear No One Believes Me When I describe that class:)
When my son who has severe ADHD and anxiety was 16, he got involved with a girl in our ward who was from a “good” Mormon family. It was a consensual relationship. Both of them met with the bishop and the girl was “forgiven” very quickly. She was called as class president in Young Women’s and was giving talks in sacrament meeting but my son was in repentance mode for a lot longer. When my son approached the bishops months later about passing the sacrament again he was told by the bishop that allowing him to pass the sacrament would “destroy the reputation of the church”. I was livid. How can one 16 year old boy with a sincere desire to participate in the church be responsible for the reputation of the church? Soon after my son stopped attending church, and had some very serious mental health challenges. He was suffering from suicidal ideation, anxiety and depression. He feels unworthy and rejected by the community he was raised in. Recently I was interviewed by the bishop for a temple recommend interview. The bishop asked about my son and I said he was willing to come to church with me just to sit with me. I was promptly informed that my son was not allowed to partake of the sacrament. I told the bishop that I wasn’t going to stop him. It was his business and not mine. The bishop told me if I didn’t stop him from taking the sacrament, he would have to talk to him after the meeting. The Bishop emphasized that he was the judge in Israel. Nothing good was going to come out of this. Suddenly I realized that this place really is a toxic and unsafe environment for my children. My son is hugely discriminated against because he is neuro diverse and can’t play the role of the “good Mormon boy”. I once thought the only good place to raise my children was in the church but now I see that is not always the case. I now feel that God is so much bigger than the Mormon Church. There is more goodness and acceptance outside of the Mormon church. Our experience was a nightmare. I wrote letters to my Bishop and my Stake president about our experience and I was brushed over. There is no accountability in the Mormon church. I have felt so powerless to protect my children in the Mormon church.
Stories like this is why I’m speaking up and did the interview #leave loud💜
Great interview! I have to ask. Would someone really pass a personal interview question with a church leader by saying, “my therapist said it is not okay to ask me that question, and I do not give you permission to ask me that question.” That is genius! I do not see that passing with some of the local leaders where I live. Local leaders where I live, are telling non- tithe payers that its their authority to take away people’s temple recommends that are not full tithe payers. Like calling members in for these interviews. That is and will be the last time I have a personal interview with anyone in the church! That is when I decided I would no longer be going to a church school because I have to talk to the bishop and member of the stake presidency about living the honor code, which I do. I refuse to allow these interviews to happen to myself or members of my family and I am a man. I cannot imagine being a female, and being interviewed by a male this way. Its just a terrible practice!
It’s true. It’s Bishop roulette but if he’s not ready to leave I figure at least he knows healthy boundaries. If they don’t respect them he can get up and walk out :-) ironically he just found a girlfriend who is not religious luckily💜
I have the same issues as your son has. I would recommend:
First, that he choose a profession with “low stress” such as Social Worker, where the bosses are very understanding if you must take time off once in awhile. Let me emphasis: LOW stress job/career.
Second. Start a secret savings account for your son. Keep it a secret from him. Put something in that savings account every month for the next 30 to 40 years. Don’t tell him about it, for 30 years. Then tell him about it. He’s probably gonna need it by the time you’re 75 or 80.
Third, file for Social Security Disability. It will be rejected. Get an SSD/SSI specialist attorney (who takes no fee but a percentage). It will only be $600 a month, but it will be for the rest of his life. He can use that to attend college, for social worker. A stressful “regular” job will not work.
Fourth: realize that he should not have children, to pass on that gene. Attractive women won’t date him for any period of time, once they discover his disabilities. He’s gonna get a broken heart, a LOT. HE WILL WANT TO DATE AND FALL IN LOVE. But, believe me, BAD news. His best bet is to not date before he has a degree in Social Work (non-stressful job). Also, drug and alcohol counselor is non-stressful, and the employers are understanding of disabilities. Sure, every young man wants to date, but, in his case, suggest to him he should not date women until he finishes college and gets a job. High-stress jobs will not work out. Keep his stress level as low as possible. Beautiful women will HURT HIM. Believe it. Best to avoid dating until graduated and employed.
Fifth: he won’t be able to handle HIGH stress situations. He won’t sleep. Avoid Ambien (Zolpedim) as you would the Devil. Try Adivan for sleep. Ambien is far too dangerous. Xanax is far too dangerous. His school should be part-time, and he should be financially supported through college. Otherwise, not gonna work. Activan/Adivan would be good. An Ambien or Xanax Withdrawal is more painful than death. Also, try Melatonin. Tell him to avoid romantic relationships until he is graduated school, has a job, and is earning a living. He’s gonna want children, but, really, should these genes be passed along? Having these conditions are life-shattering. I would never want to pass my genes on to anyone. Life is far too painful. He’s also want and strive to be “normal”. But he is never gonna be. No matter what. It won’t change. Beautiful women will reject him over and over again. Best that he not try. If he does choose a woman, they will be women most men don’t want. Sorry, but that is the way it will be. Beautiful women and their “head games” are gonna give him mega-grief.
Sixth: Open that secret savings account. Thirty years from now, he’s probably gonna need it. This savings, plus the Social Security Disability, will give him enough to survive when both parents have passed on. His life has a lot of pain ahead. Put something in it every single month for the rest of your life, and then tell him about it and turn it over to him. That, plus SSD/SSI, will put him through. Otherwise, he may end up homeless after both parents have passed. He’ll expect to live a normal life, but he never will. Sorry, that’s the truth. Social work. Low stress/understanding employers.
Seventh: Prepare for PAIN.
My mom is bipolar, too, but wasn’t diagnosed until mid 40s…great advice and you already described him a lot. Luckily he did finish his Associates at BYU Idaho already.
Gretchen is in my ward, but I do not know her very well. It was fascinating for me to learn of her life story. She is very courageous to share her profound experiences and I have tremendous respect for her.
Thanks Kevin. I didn’t figure anyone from the neighborhood would ever watch this :-) I used to visit teach your wife Joanne over a decade ago… how are you guys? Please tell her I said hello.
Are we not talking about this grand religion that is the greatest gift ever given to mankind, to know that if we can as individuals, overcome the blood and sins , of this generation, we can somehow become kings and queens priests unto the most high God , and rule and reign for an eternity? Or is this the perfect place to find that in all of His or Her wonders that the ferocious spirit of love and charity that only a mother can know ,embodies the very description that Jesus Christ teaches throughout the New Testament. God is love , He or she is kind , gracious, and ever so patient, especially with us the broken ones , those of a contrite heart , and an understanding spirit. Though he were a son yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered, and being made perfect, , he became the author of salvation unto all who would believe in Him, suffering seems to be a really big part of becoming perfect especially among Mormons . Wow do we ever take this god complex to never ending heights . Through careful listening and keen intellect it is apparent that the one thing that Mormonism embodies, this so called perfection, is in fact acceptance and the love that comes with that abominable word towards all mankind. The church has brought many unto Christ only to find that when we got there we found him in the dark realization that no one can stand between us and Him or Her . Only those who have had the suffering that comes with a faith crisis . Can succor those currently going through one . Would you trade an eternity as a king and a priest for one moment of realization that if God is love , there is no better teacher than a mother who has put her life on the line 8 times and then would sacrifice her peer group and support network and all she believes for her offspring. Sainthood is eminent! In all of Bruce r mckonkies writing s where do you find the essence of this lifetime of experience? The love that comes, when Christ explains to the rich man give everything you have to the poor and come follow me . Was he not talking to the active l d s person today who would give up that coveted temple recommend and all of the acceptance and benefits that come through believing that if you stay the course you will somehow become a king . That’s a lot to sacrifice. Yet some are willing. May God bless you and your children. May He be with all of us choosing this ever so difficult path ,letting go , is the first step towards peace. Thanks John . Work like this requires a professional. Your just scratching the surface keep it up . The spirit of hope and the fire of of what is right is quickly consuming the Mormonism our generation grew up with.
Thanks for doing this interview…I can relate to the horrible conclusion that we raised our kids in an extremely unhealthy environment…many of us figured it out too late, and sadly there are no do-overs…it kills me sometimes. I just ordered your book, maybe it will help with the grandkids ! Thanks again!
Gretchen, I love your candor, your momma bear fierceness, and your intellect. Thank you for sharing your guts and strength if your convictions! I am better for hearing your thoughts and story. 💜
Gretchen I would love to chat with you! You seem like a kindred spirit.
I have similar visions for a healthy church for my grandchildren to grow up in. I play with ideas of what that might look like.
I’m a life coach currently building my client base around helping people in faith crisis – without being excommunicated myself for speaking out against the church. I’m still figuring that out. To be clear, I’m not soliciting my business here, just hoping to connect with another woman who “gets it” and share some ideas.
Anyway, if you’re up for connecting with me in any way, please reach out.
Thank you for your candor and courage.
Thank you for sharing your story! Your interview really resonated with my TBM wife, more so than any of the other podcasts/materials I have tried sharing with her since I left the church a couple years ago. Much healing and healthy relationship-building has happened since watching this podcast together, and we are both tremendously thankful to you for taking the time to do this podcast. Would love to hear your husband’s story as well someday, if he’s ever interested/willing to share. :)
Gretchen is very animated which made for a very entertaining interview! I’m disappointed that very little was mentioned about her husband. How did he take it? Did he leave the church too? How did Gretchen’s siblings and parents react? I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the F word so many times in Mormon Stories.
Bob – That was intentional. Gretchen’s husband did not want to be discussed on the podcast.
Oh my. I’m speechless. Such as an intense Mormon Story.
One minor correction. The Church’s statement on Masonry is not a Gospel Topic essay, but rather an article buried on their website. I wish it was an essay, but imagine the blow back if a mass of TBMs realize that the ritual aspect of endowment is man made. Even in the way they write the article you have to be a researched reader to understand all the implications of what the Masonic article says.
Gretchen, I hope for the best for you and your family.