Thursday, September 25, 2014

On "The Working (Mormon) Mother Problem"

This is actually something that has been on my mind for quite some time, but as the urge to actually blog about it was inspired by a particular thing, I'm going to do this in "open letter" format, as those are kind of popular these days.

Dear Leaders of the Latter Day Saint Church/Directors of the LDS Institute of Religion,

First of all, I love you guys.  I really do.  I know we don't always see eye-to-eye on things and sometimes you make me cry and question my self-worth entirely, but hey, I'm a Mormon feminist, so that's just part of the package.  I try to trust in your counsel and believe that you mean well and kind of know what you're doing (your line of communication to the Person In Charge is much shorter than mine, after all), but then I read this (for people who don't like to click on things, it's the chapter on "Mothers' Employment Outside the Home" in the "Eternal Marriage" Institute Student Manual), and I felt a little perturbed, to be quite honest with you.  As a single LDS woman who hopes to one day have a PhD and also a husband and children, this is something that's on my mind quite a bit, and I hope you don't mind if I offer some of my thoughts:

First, this manual was published in 2003; however, the most recent quote in this chapter is from 1996, and the majority of the quotes are from before I was born.  I know that some principles are eternal, but things have changed.  As Dallin H. Oaks so kindly pointed out last October, the median age for first marriage for men and women is on the rise.  A lot of LDS women aren't getting married at age 21 anymore.  And not because we're too busy burning our bras and singing along to Helen Reddy--we're just facing the reality that marriage isn't a guarantee.  So we're following the counsel of Gordon B. Hinckley and "getting all the education that we possibly can," and with that education comes opportunities and careers, hopes and plans.  Imagine what it would be like to plan for several years to build a house, and lay a foundation, and then have to leave it behind.  Getting married and having children would be lovely; but sacrificing our entire careers to do so would feel as if we were abandoning a huge part of ourselves.  It's not that we love our careers more than our families, but we've loved them longer.  Furthermore, with that large amount of education we obtained, many of us also obtained student debt.  Even if I were married to a billionaire, I would still feel a responsibility to pay for my education myself.  And unless my mommy blogging really takes off, that means I need a job outside of the home.

Secondly, many of the quotes seem to imply that the only reason mothers would work (if they have husbands who also work) would be to afford fancy and unnecessary things.  This is not why most mothers work outside the home.  As I mentioned before--we put a great deal of time and sacrifice into developing our talents and our careers.  We find fulfillment and joy in them.  One quote by Ezra Taft Benson wondered how any woman could find anything more exciting and fulfilling than housework and changing diapers, begging the question, has Ezra Taft Benson ever changed a diaper?  Of course there is joy in motherhood, and some women need only that to be fulfilled, and that's great, but every personality is different.  A woman should not be made to feel like a bad parent (or the instigator of her divorce or the cause of gang violence and societal collapse) because she is truly happy being a working mother.

Third, not only are the quotes in the lesson a little outdated, they also lack variety of source.  None of the people cited have ever had the experience of being a working mother...or a stay-at-home mother...or a mother...or a woman.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if women who are trying to make important decisions about their families and careers could hear the perspectives of women who have had to make these same decisions?  I'm sure there are women in the General Auxiliary Presidencies who would love to chime in about their experiences as mothers or as career women (as some of them haven't even been married!).

Finally (though I could say more), and maybe this part is to all of the married or hoping-to-be-married people who read this blog, but I want to stress two words in "The Family: A Proclamation to the World":  "individual adaptation."  Actually, I just want to stress one word:  "individual."  I strongly believe that there is no "one size fits all" approach to raising a family.  I came from the "working dad/homemaker mom" household, but we weren't the Cleavers.  Some kids I knew came from the "two-income family" household, but they weren't the Huxtables.  (I don't know of any pop-culture reference of a family where the mom worked and the dad stayed home off the top of my head.)  Following a tradition out of a sense of societal obligation only can be really harmful and can cause resentment if partners feel that compromises are unfair or sacrifices are unequal.  (Also, they could be limiting to men who are--gasp!--actually better at nurturing than their wives are.)  Husbands and wives should consider together, as equal partners, what situation works best for them as a couple and as a family.

And that's all I have to say about that.  To sum up, maybe just think about updating the Institute Manual a little bit.  Thanks.




  1. Alexandre's, I love and appreciate you. And I'm impressed with how many attributes you have in common with Sheri Dew. I hope you are praying and studying your scriptures daily.

    1. What does the, "I hope you are praying and studying your scriptures daily" have to do with anything? In Mormon-land that sounds kind of you think that if the author read her scriptures daily her opinion about women working outside the home might be different. I think comments like that are those which "make [working women] cry and question [their] self-worth entirely."

      I think the author's comments about this subject are exactly right. This has nothing to do with her level of faithfulness.

  2. Excellent post, Alex.

    And don't worry about condescending comments, clothed in "I hope you [X]" righteousness. ;-)

  3. Yes, Alex has many attributes in common with Sheri Dew - mostly those of being a single Mormon woman with short hair. Wait, is Sheri Dew's hair short?? Not sure. Better put that one in the "maybe" column.