Pt 31-A: My Mama Esther LeBaron Spencer, the Mexico LeBarons, and Mental Illness

Pt 31-A: My Mama Esther LeBaron Spencer,
the Mexico LeBarons, and Mental Illness

Grandpa Alma Dayer LeBaron and his second oldest daughter Lucinda LeBaron Butchereit

“No influence is so powerful as that of the mother.”
Sarah Josepha Hale

As I said in the previous blog, both my mother and maternal grandmother Maud LeBaron believed the cause of mental illness in their immediate family was mainly due to the townspeople who ostracized and persecuted them incessantly.

But I believe people need to take a good look at what part they, themselves, played/ play in what happens to them and the lives of their children. My opinion as to what caused the mental illnesses includes the following list:

But I believe people need to take a good look at what part they, themselves, played/ play in what happens to them and the lives of their children. My opinion as to what caused the mental illnesses includes the following list:

1-  The genes for susceptibility to a number of mental illnesses runs in both of my maternal grandparents’ family lines! That’s a biggie!

2-  There were some huge problems in my grandparents’ household and in the upbringing of their children — problems that affected their mental well-being from the womb to the tomb. 

3-  Enduring their whole life the small-town Mormon venom, denigration, and ostracism definitely played a large part in my grandparents’ children’s succumbing to multiple mental and emotional illnesses. Especially damaging to the LeBaron children was being shunned by the most influential people of their own religion and community.

4- In hindsight, and judging by my own personal sight, my grandparents’ choices greatly affected their children. I’ve listed some of those choices here:

     A-  Staying in the Mormon colonies to raise their children, despite the devastating effects ostracization and persecution have on especially sensitive children .

     B-  Taking a plural wife, thereby ignoring their church’s Manifesto of 1890 that outlawed polygamy. This not only compounded the familial problems that already existed, but forced my grandparents to move to Old Mexico to raise their family — a place where Grandfather Dayer was not allowed to earn a living. So he had to leave his family for months at a time to work in the United States.

     C-  Living polygamy multiplied the poverty, stress, deprivation, and emotional upheaval, not to mention that it brought on ostracism and persecution BIG-time. All these things lead to stress—and stress helps lead to mental illness, especially when it already exists in the genes.

     D-  Sticking to Mormon fundamentalist beliefs and values, come hell or high water, meant having all the children they could possibly have — whether it was healthy or not — which also meant much greater poverty and far less time, money, attention, food, and love for each child.

     E-  Having lots of kids meant the older children, especially, had to work far too hard to help raise all those babies. Since the oldest child born to my grandparents was a girl (Irene), she suffered the biggest brunt of having to play mommy to the huge family born to Grandpa Dayer and Grandma Maud. (Orthodox Mormon beliefs put quantity ahead of quality … and their beliefs ahead of common sense and the needs of their babies, children, and themselves.)

(Continued January 7, 2019, in Pt 31-B: My Mama Esther LeBaron Spencer, the Mexico LeBarons, and Mental Illness)

Pt 30: My Mama Esther LeBaron Spencer, Me, and Mental Illness

Pt 30: My Mama Esther LeBaron Spencer, Me, and Mental Illness

family, all but sharon
My parents in 1964 with their 13 out of 14 children

“A mother’s love for her child
is like nothing else in the world. 
It knows no law, no pity; it dares all things, 
and crushes down remorselessly
all that stands in its path.”

Agatha Christie

Mother once confided in me: “I told yer Pa, before I married him, that he must promise to never raise his voice to me — never argue, fight, nor abuse me in front of my children or where they can hear … or I’d leave him!”

She continued, “I believe the terrible, bitter battles and arguments between my parents is part of the reason why my older siblings Ben and Lucinda broke [I.e: Had their first mental illness episodes] by the time they hit their late teens … eventually ended up the rest of their lives in mental institutions! I remember, too well, throughout our childhood, the fear ‘n’ misery my parents’ constant screaming and fighting caused in me and my siblings.

“That’s why I always do my best to keep a good spirit ’round me and you kids. I don’t believe in psychologists! They say Ben and Lucinda are schizophrenic. But I thoroughly believe evil spirits took them over because, for one thing, they fought with their parents, and didn’t do what their parents told them to do. And they didn’t keep a good spirit with them.

“My oldest brother Ben first went crazy in his late teens, shortly after he had a violent fist fight with Pa … beat him up badly. After that, he prayed out loud! The devil was able to hear what he was thinkin’, so could take him over,” moaned Mama.

“But it probably would’ve never of happened,” she continued, “if it weren’t for all the terrible persecution perpetrated against Ben and our family by the Mormons in Colonia Juarez all the while we was growin’ up and goin’ to school. Being treated as wicked outcasts is the main thing that lead to his mental breakdown — and Lucinda’s too.”

Regardless of what Mother and her immediate LeBaron family wanted to believe, I know and they knew mental illness ran in their family. Still, they believed the devil was Just tryin’ to thwart God’s work on earth — if he possibly could — by taking over Maud and Dayer’s children. In other words, they generally projected onto others and Satan the blame for their problems.

But let me insert some personal commentary here: First of all, schizophrenia generally sets in, in one’s late teens and is often preceded by extreme stress. As for my uncle Ben’s behavior, I believe he was already becoming mentally unstrung when he lit into his worst fist fight with his father.

 Second of all, and on a different note, I only recall four cases wherein Mother and Grandma LeBaron ever took any responsibility for what may have helped cause the mental illness in their family.

The first case I recall was when Mother, as I related above, believed the terrible fighting between her parents had affected her and her siblings.

Another partial acceptance of the blame was when Grandmother told me, with tears in her eyes: “I feel bad because I believe part of the reason my children had mental problems was I neglected them so much all them years I was away for days at a time teachin’ piano lessons in the Mormon colonies to help support our family … keep the wolves away.”

The third incident I recall, wherein Mother admitted any iota of responsibility for the family’s mental illness, is the following: When I was in my pre-adolescence, in an effort to teach me to obey her and to also never take medicine without her permission, she told me her sister Lucinda’s first mental breakdown happened after she went into the medicine cabinet and secretly took a bunch of pills to try to start her period … because she feared she was pregnant and was trying to hide it from her parents.

[Commentary: In those days and with the strict teachings she was raised on concerning virginity, fearing she had become pregnant (and all that entailed!) was enough, in itself, to cause an already compromised mentality to go over the brink … in my humble opinion!]

The fourth case wherein they accepted a little blame is, as I related above, Mother believed her siblings that went crazy didn’t keep a good spirit with them. She said Ben, especially, often argued with his father and treated him disrespectfully, including, in his late teens, having fist fights with him — once even beating him up badly.

Right after that,” Mama told me, “he prayed out loud so the devil could hear what he was thinkin’ and so was able to take him over.”

Commentary: This is old-fashioned, old-world, backward thinking. But the last I knew, Mother still (even after having graduated in 1981 with a BA in journalism from the University of Utah) did not believe in Psychology nor Psychologists. She still believed evil spirits took over her beloved and brilliant siblings Ben, Lucinda, and Ervil.

Her raising me with such beliefs scared me into trying to keep a good spirit with me, come hell or high water, all the years I was growing up. Not a bad thing … as long as you don’t go around with a fake smile on your face, like I did. People must accept and work with their emotions and problems, not stuff and deny them. 

(Continued December 26, 2018, in Pt 31: My Mama Esther LeBaron Spencer, Me, and Mental Illness)