New York, NY
Lorinda Belnap has lived in Manhattan for the past 20 years with her husband, Brent, and their six children in a three-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side. In addition to mothering six children in a small space, Lorinda has been a mother figure to countless New Yorkers as the wife of the stake president there for ten years.
When did you solidify your goal to have a large family?
As long as I can remember I’ve wanted six kids. I’m the fifth of six, and when I was a little girl I said I was going to have six kids myself. Brent and I discussed it before we got married, he was in agreement, and once we started having a family I reserved the right to opt out at any time!
You moved to New York right after getting married. Did you think you were going to stay here a long time?
No, we didn’t think we’d stay here. Three to five years tops. I saw that most people in the city had very small families, and I remember telling my husband Brent, “I’m not going to let the city determine the size of our family. We’re going to do it!” And I think that was an important decision to make early on.
Did you assume that you would eventually move out of the city?
Yeah, absolutely. We noticed very early on that most couples seemed to move out of the city after having one or two children, or when their oldest child started school. We didn’t think that we would be any different. The New York City public and private school systems can seem quite daunting when you are on the outside looking in. Once you get immersed in it you just jump through the right hoops like everyone else. I recall Brent and I experienced opposing sine waves: when I was down on life in the city and ready to leave, he’d be loving life here, and then I’d have an up phase and he would be down. After we had been married about four and a half years, shortly before Brent was called to be stake president of the newly formed Manhattan Stake, we were going through the typical debate: should we move out or should we stay? I don’t know that it was necessarily a matter of prayer, but I remember waking up one morning and thinking, We’re fine. We can have a large family in New York City and we will be fine.
Was it hard for you to come to terms with what you’d be giving up, or did you recognize how much the city had to offer?
I’m not sure I ever thought of it in terms of giving up or gaining. I do remember, however, mourning that our kids wouldn’t have the same type of childhood that we had had, namely, the freedom to run and explore, ride bikes, have pets (I refuse to have a dog or cat in a NYC apartment, although many people do), have more independence to be kids and not have an omnipresent adult around. It was hard to come to terms with the limited space we had, especially as our children grew. At some point I thought, “If our Mormon ancestors could live in one bedroom homes with large families, I can do New York City!”
It has given me perspective on all the stuff with which we fill our lives. It’s just not necessary! My siblings have beautiful homes and there was a time I really envied it, but once I helped my brother move out of one big home into another beautiful home, I no longer envied it! The stuff in our lives takes so much time. It’s just not necessary. I don’t want it anymore. I really don’t; in fact, accumulating stuff stresses me out.
Living with eight people in a three bedroom apartment, how you manage the “stuff” issue?
I never really feel on top of managing the “stuff”. I usually have a big urge in the spring to clean out, and then again around Christmas time before more “stuff” comes in. Clothes and toys that are in good condition we pass on to friends or the Goodwill. The past couple of years we’ve given our stuff for use at the tag sale at a street fair our Stake sponsors on East 87th Street.
My life is overrun by papers. I used to save everything the children created—that ended pretty quickly. Now I save writing pieces that contain personal history. If they write about an experience they had during the summer, I’ll save it. If they write about the solar system, I don’t. I save a couple of representative art pieces for the year, the rest goes in the trash. Little Nathan has fished things out of the trash before—whoops! My ideal is that each child has a file each year with their name and grade listed on it and any work that is saved goes in that file. I’m working toward that ideal, but not there yet.
Aside from the fact that you live in a smaller space than most families with six children, do you think your life is very different from other mothers of large families?
It’s probably pretty similar: I wake up the older kids for Seminary. Seminary is just down the street at the East Side chapel so they walk. This year they all come home, have some breakfast, finish getting ready and leave for school around 8:00. David and Christopher take the subway up to the Bronx where they attend the Bronx High School of Science and Caroline walks a mile south to Eleanor Roosevelt High School. Spencer, who is now in middle school takes the bus or walks a mile south to Wagner Middle School. Depending on the weather Rebecca and I either bike or walk to her school on 78th and York; it’s about a mile. I participate in a preschool co-op with some other moms in our ward for my youngest, Nathan. We have a great time. After school, Rebecca, Nathan and I go to the playground if the weather’s the least bit agreeable. Rain is the only thing that keeps us away. We even stay in the snow. Come home, get dinner ready, kids do homework, just the typical stuff. Frequently, I feel like we’re living a very suburban life in New York City, except we don’t have a car!
One thing we haven’t done a lot of is extracurricular activities. They’re too expensive around here, plus it’s too much hassle for me to get them to their different classes. When they get old enough to get themselves places, then they start taking extra-curriculars, if they’re interested. One of the great things about living here is you can just send them off on their own! I don’t do any carpooling.
What has been your gospel experience living in New York?
It has been very, very good. The city has been very good to me. My testimony has grown tremendously. I’m beginning to understand the Atonement. It’s been very good for me to be away from Utah and away from family. It’s made me depend more on my husband. Being in contact with so many people who have such vastly different life experiences than mine has been enriching and has broadened my idea of the Gospel, of who it takes in, of what the Atonement is, of really every aspect of the Gospel.
You can grow as member of the Church no matter where you live. For active LDS women everywhere, the gospel very much influences our lives and our decisions. Our goals are the same. Our minds are frequently focused on what’s going to bring us closer to God and on doing His will. It really doesn’t matter the circumstances in which we live, our hearts are in the same spot and we’re headed in the same direction spiritually. That sisterhood that I feel in Relief Society is very real, even though the women are constantly changing.
That turnover is a situation that can be unique to urban wards. How have you dealt with that over the years?
I’m one of the older women in the ward – at 46! But I still think the insights of the younger women who are just coming to the city are tremendous! I think, Wow, you are so spiritually mature! Everyone has unique life experiences and I love that they’re willing to give the city a try even though they may be here temporarily, which is the case with most of them. I feel a great spirit in Relief Society. There are also a couple of other moms my age in similar circumstances, and I gain incredible strength from them.
And has that been enough for you socially?
Because the Mormon group is constantly changing, I have a very good group of non-LDS friends who live in the neighborhood. They’ve always been very supportive. But I have to tell you, when we were moving to this apartment from our old apartment up the street I didn’t have any particularly close LDS friends at the time. I didn’t feel like I wanted to ask people to help us, but I was pregnant with Rebecca and I thought, I’ll ask my neighborhood friends. Well, not a single neighborhood friend came. But people from the Church found out and they were here in mass. And it made me think about how much service is just in our blood, we’re just taught it from the get-go. My non-LDS friends all had legitimate reasons they didn’t show up, but in our community we will drop everything to go help.
We are our neighborhood friends’ introduction to Mormonism. Christopher’s Scout troop is made up of him and three of his community friends and that’s it. I love that our friends feel comfortable sending their boys to our church building every Friday night. They’re never going to become LDS, ever, which is fine, but those friends who come to the church building actually end up doing missionary work for us. There have been a few instances that have gotten back to me where someone will say, You’re sending your child to the Mormon church? And those boys and their parents stick up for us.
I’d love to know more about your role as the stake president’s wife in a time of tremendous growth and temple-building in the stake. Was that stressful for your family? For you personally? How did you define that role for yourself?
I didn’t take on much of a visible role as the stake president’s wife. The only “role” I intentionally set for myself was to be kind to people and to get to know as many people as possible from the different wards when the occasion arose. Since we had a young family I felt my priority was to be with the children as much as possible while Brent was administering and ministering to the stake. Sundays were his longest days of the week. He left usually around 6:00 a.m. and on most Sundays didn’t get home until after 10:00 p.m. Brent served as Stake President for ten years during which time three of our six children were born. Absolutely there were times that were stressful, and admittedly times that I was resentful. However, it got easier managing the family, and precisely because of Brent’s service our family had some singular experiences that were very special. For example, we were able to meet President Hinckley on a few occasions. Prior to the dedication of the Manhattan Temple, the children were able to go inside several times to see the progress. They felt so comfortable inside the temple that once it was dedicated they were sad that they weren’t able to go back inside until they were 12! I see that as a definite plus.
Let’s talk about you outside of motherhood as we wrap up. Is there something you enjoy personally? What are you going to spend time on yourself as your children get older?
That’s a really good question! One I should give some thought to! I used to wish I were doing some big project, but I’ve realized it’s just not me. There was a time where I kind of, I don’t know if “resent” is the right word, but I didn’t really enjoy being a mom. And I was always thinking, I need time for me, I need time for me, I have no time for me. Eventually, I had this epiphany that the time will come. I chose to be a mom. I chose this, and having little personal time is just part of motherhood. And that feeling of resentment or whatever it was kind of left. I felt that was a tender mercy for me.
I’m not one of these grand people who has grand ideas and who is involved in all sorts of other things. I love nature, I love being in the mountains, Central Park is my salvation here in the city. And so something I would do more of when the kids get older is just go out into nature more.
I love serving people in need. I’ve thought of the years that lie ahead, several possibilities for me include going back to work as a physical therapist and working with the geriatric population, or getting more involved with abused/neglected children here in the city, or lastly, becoming more involved helping new moms adjust to being a mom, and being a mom in the city.
I’ve realized that — and this sounds so trite! — that the greatest work I can do really is in the walls of my own home. I used to balk at that, I used to laugh at it. I feel like everything I used to laugh at has come true in my life and I’ve had to eat my words and been humbled by it! But truly, teaching the kids the Gospel, fostering a testimony of Jesus Christ is the greatest gift I can give them. It is only in Him and through Him that they are going to be able to work out any problems that come their way, that they’re going to be able to feel the peace that they need in life. It’s been a long time in coming and I’m really sad for our older children that I didn’t understand that when they were younger. But that is the greatest work I can do. I love being a mom, and I didn’t used to be able to say that!
At A Glance
Lorinda Goff Belnap
Location: New York, NY
Marital status: Married since 1991
Children: six: 18 y.o. boy, 16 y.o. girl, 14 y.o. boy, 11 y.o. boy, 7 y.o. girl, 3 y.o. boy
Occupation: Stay-at-home Mom, physical therapist in my life before motherhood
Schools Attended: Weber State College, University of Utah
Languages Spoken at Home: English
Favorite Hymn: “Abide With Me”
Interview by Neylan McBaine. Photos used with permission.