The Cult of Motherhood

By: hawkgrrrl
February 12, 2013

I recently read an article in The Nation called “I’m Not Mother First.”  I also just finished reading Betty Friedan’s well-known tome, The Feminine Mystique, a book that turns 50 years old this year.  As I read the Feminine Mystique, there were several times when the cultural observations seemed anachronistic to me.  I have sometimes thought of myself as post-feminist, benefiting from the actions of the women who came before me and fought for equality.  After all, I have a successful career in business and am also a mother to three amazing kids.  I don’t feel conflicted by false dichotomies.  I didn’t expect motherhood to make me a “woman.”  I didn’t feel obligated to breastfeed or deliver my babies without drugs, despite some attempted social pressure.  I saw day care as a social experiment just like a SAHM is.

I recently attended a conference for female executives in my company.  We got to hear from some incredible women in this conference, and we also got to talk to peers who, like us, are high level female executives.  A few observations I had:

  • Women are still advised how to make it easier for men to work with us.  It’s like “righties” telling “lefties” how to get by and hide their “handicap.”
  • Women have a narrower “acceptable” range of behaviours in a business setting than do men.  At one extreme, women are seen as too emotional (basket case), and at the other, not emotional enough (bitch).  As a person with a degree in English literature, this sounded like the old “mother/whore” archetype, alive and well and modified for a business context (in literature women are often portrayed as either the “good” mother or the “bad” witch or whore.  To male writers of yore anyway).
  • Women tend to be perfectionists and far too self-critical.  The advice on this seemed to vary from person to person.  Some felt that this is necessary for women to succeed.  Others felt that this leads women to burn out and take off-ramps, ultimately choosing not to achieve C-level positions.
  • Women are leaving spaces behind at home as we move into the business world, and most men have been unwilling to fill those vacancies.

Honestly, I’m not too worried that women in business will succeed and that things like pay and benefits and hiring will ultimately be equal.  In a recent conference in Singapore, E. Oaks, as a side comment, pointed out the necessity of pursuing things like equal pay for women and treating women equally in the workplace.  The valuable contributions of women in the workplace speak for themselves and make equality an imperative.  I’m more worried about the women who are encouraged to take the easy road and who ultimately don’t live up to their full potential because the idea of motherhood as an achievement and contribution is easier than personal growth, establishing an identity and contributing to the world at large.  And these are not false dichotomies.  We can do both.

So, what is still left to solve?  The article talks about the “cult of motherhood,” the idealisation of motherhood to the point that women are subsumed, not elevated, by the role.  Here are three issues that still need attention if we are to help women realize their full potential.  I believe even the most staunch “mother-lover” can agree that these are important to address (I’m looking at you, Will).

Identity Crisis

According to the cult of motherhood, a woman who wants an identity is selfish.  Women are expected to put all others first (children, husbands, extended family).  Women’s identity is relational rather than individual. 

Whatever women do that seems to separate them from “true” motherhood is seen as misguided, or at worst, selfish. If we formula feed we’re not giving our babies the best start in life. If we work outside the home, we must do it with tremendous guilt and anxiety. Time away from our children in the form of an occasional movie or hobby is seen as a treat rather than an expected part of living a full life.

Fathers sometimes refer to taking care of the children as “babysitting,” not parenting.  The underlying assumption is that they are doing their wife (whose responsibility is to be 100% available at all times for the children) a big huge favor and deserve thanks and reward.  For men, it’s extra credit; for women it’s the expectation.

Women don’t have to work outside the home to realize their full potential.  Plenty of people who work don’t realize their full potential.  The work we do may not be important in the scheme of the world.  It may not elevate the human condition.  Sometimes it just pays the bills and enables us to have more freedom and choice in our own lives.  The upside to work is that we are connected to the world, we feel a part of society, and we are contributing to something that is much larger than ourselves.  We are exposed to new ideas that stimulate our minds and develop our skills.

Women (and men) who experience identity crisis have put too much faith in their role and have spent too little time developing self-awareness and being exposed to new ideas and feedback from people outside of our immediate circle.  Two great opportunities for young people in the church to develop their identity are 1) completing their higher education, and 2) serving a mission. 

While I always felt encouraged by family and church members to do both, I was surprised at BYU how many women I met whose sole purpose was to get married.  They short-changed themselves in the process by not taking their education or themselves seriously.  The most important assets they cultivated in their quest for motherhood (which is seen as a rite of passage for women in the church) were their looks and their compliant nature.  That’s practically a recipe for a mid-life identity crisis.  Looks will fade, and frankly you can’t subordinate your wishes forever.  Eventually you will resent the person whose wishes you’ve been putting above your own.

What’s the long term outcome of that?  At the extreme (which in my experience is not uncommon), we place our children in the care of women who are uneducated, who have low expectations of themselves and of their daughters (in particular), and who foster boy-craziness in their daughters rather than self-improvement and meaningful contribution.  Anyone who has spent time in Young Women knows that these are tendencies that should be countered, not fostered.  Even the new manuals, a great improvement, retain inherent lower expectations for females in terms of leadership and mission preparation. 

Another outcome is that women who lack identity will try to find meaning through perfectionism and unpaid hobbies.  Interestingly, these are two symptoms I’ve seen throughout my adult life in Relief Society, which are finally being addressed.  So-called enrichment activities held little interest for me as a career woman because they were craft-oriented, expensive, and felt like a waste of time.  I’d rather spend my evenings with my family!  Relief Society sometimes felt like a cadre of dilettantes, trying to find some creative outlet that I wasn’t lacking.  The other outcome, perfectionism, leads to nagging and controlling wives, depression (at one extreme) and backbiting.  One benefit to being a career woman is that I didn’t associate the house and kids with my personal brand.

Lack of Representation

The second problem with elevating motherhood to the highest station expected for women is political and representative inequity.  When women’s voices are not involved in policy-making (whether in church or state), policies are based on the roles women play in relation to men (including as incubators for their seed), not what actual women want and need.  If it’s expected that women are fully “fulfilled” by being mothers, there is no need to provide real support for women in the workplace in the form of leaves, equal pay, and flexible scheduling.

Curttailing reproductive rights, for some, is also linked to this ideology.  Motherhood must come before individual choice.  The child (even unborn) has more rights than the woman because the woman is only a role, not a real person. She is a means to a more important end (a child).  While I am not a fan of elective abortion as an “oops” form of contraception (except in cases of rape or incest or health of the mother – my stance is basically the same as the church’s actual position), I certainly believe that females should have ready access to contraception, and providing free or very inexpensive contraception to the poor is just good social planning.

Women are often faced with questions like:  “Can you be a CEO and good mother?” or “Can you be a Senator and a good mother?”  The correct answer is, “Yes, if you can be a CEO or senator and a good father.”  Men are never asked these questions.  For women who enter the workplace, especially in male-dominated fields, they find that they truly are living in a “man’s” world – a world set up by men for men in which women were the silent supporters in the background.  Men with wives at home have a hidden, assumed advantage – an unexamined privilege that most women do not share. 

I once had a dinner conversation with a male peer and his wife that illustrated this point.  His wife was complaining about having to iron all his shirts so he would look impressive and polished in his job and be more successful.  This was something they were referring to as the role of the wife.  I looked at my husband (both of us worked) and said, “What is this wife of which they speak?  We need to get one!”  The next day, my male colleague said that he didn’t understand my comment the night before.  He asked, “What do you think a wife does?”  I replied, “I AM a wife.  And I don’t iron my husband’s shirts.  He doesn’t iron mine either.”  Strangely, this seemed to be the first time it had occurred to him that I had to do everything he did at work without a cast of helpers and cheerleaders in the background.

When motherhood is the highest aim for a woman, women who work are sometimes seen as less than men because they must be working only to support a husband who can’t provide.  Both the man and the woman are viewed as unsuccessful in this scenario: the woman for choosing a “bad” breadwinner or being personally unrighteous and selfish, and the man for being inadequate.  It’s a ridiculous false dichotomy that some in the church seem to believe.  It may really be that both spouses are achievement-oriented, educated, and driven to contribute.

Elitism

Women who aren’t mothers have a lower place when we believe motherhood is the highest calling for women.  This doesn’t apply only to women who never have children, but also to those who are before or after their child-bearing years.  Once a woman is done bearing children and the nest is empty, she no longer has a purpose or contribution to make.  She may feel ignored by society.

Betty Friedan points out the tendency for some SAHMs to live vicariously through their husbands or children.  In the church, I have sometimes heard women say things like “we’re in grad school” or “we’re in law school” when it is just the husband pursuing the degree.  Some women push their children toward achievements or opportunities that appealed to them but that they were denied, such as ballet or piano, despite the child’s own unique interests.  Parental pride in our children is appropriate; trying to take over their identity because we lack our own is not.

In the church, men are divided into High Priests and Elders for the third hour.  All women, from age 18 to 108, are in one class together.  I once suggested that the men should similarly be all together.  The reply I got was that it would never work because the Elders were in a different stage of life, earlier in their careers, with more young children and different concerns, while the High Priests were closer to retirement age or past it, no young children at home, and so their needs in the lessons would be completely different.  Again, I waited in vain for the obvious parallel to be drawn.

We know from experience that the elevation of motherhood in the church as the highest (and really the only recognized) achievement for women results in women who are single or don’t (or can’t) have children, or are past their motherhood years, feeling ignored or judged.  Many fall away because it is too painful to deal with being the oddball in a church that prizes the one thing you don’t and feel you can’t have.

Personally, I think the church is finally doing a fairly decent job addressing this by having the lessons be more focused on personal experiences and less on motherhood or parenting.  The area we could still do much better is in recognizing openly the achievements of women outside of motherhood:  acts of service outside the home, contributions to society, and intellectual contributions from women (quoting more women – which only happens when more women are quotable).  Again, reverting to E. Oaks recent visit to Singapore, I was impressed that he made it a point to quote women, specifically Eliza R. Snow.  Baby steps, people.

What do you think?

  • Is the “cult of motherhood” damaging and limiting to women?  If so, how do we avoid it?  If not, how do we elevate fatherhood to the same status?  Should we only talk about the achievements of men in the home?
  • Is this issue more common in the church or is it the same throughout society?  Will it improve with time?
  • Do you agree that identity crisis, lack of representation, and elitism are the next big issues to tackle for women in the church and in society?  Why or why not?

Discuss.

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45 Responses to The Cult of Motherhood

  1. Paul on February 12, 2013 at 8:26 AM

    Fascinating discussion, Hawk.

    I for one would favor raising the value of fatherhood. Part of the problem, however, in defining either of us — mothers and fathers — by that role is how to determine “success” in that role. If the success of the parent is determined by the success of the children (perhaps the most damaging facet of the cult of motherhood in my view), it goes against everything we’ve learned about agency, and therefore the Plan of Salvation.

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  2. unknown on February 12, 2013 at 11:48 AM

    Hawk – You say: “I’m more worried about the women who are encouraged to take the easy road and who ultimately don’t live up to their full potential because the idea of motherhood as an achievement and contribution is easier than personal growth, establishing an identity and contributing to the world at large.”

    I hope I am reading this incorrectly, but after several read-throughs it sounds like you are saying that: (1) motherhood is the “easy road;” (2) motherhood does not lead to “personal growth, establishing an identity and contributing to the world at large;” and (3) motherhood does not help one to “live up to their full potential.” Although you do not explicitly say it, it seems as is this comment is not just directed to motherhood in general, but to those who are stay at home moms and do not have independent professions.

    Please correct any misunderstanding on my part.

    If I am by some chance reading you correctly, these are pretty strong statements to make that are demeaning to a lot of women.

    This statement may be true for you personally. If so, I am glad you have found a path that you are comfortable with.

    But many of the the young educated women that I know that choose have chosen to make
    motherhood their primary focus at the expense of a career have done so with the feeling that it would be much harder to stay home with the children all day than to go out into the workplace. Many them do so feeling that being a mom is the most rewarding, identity forming and world-changing thing that they could do. For them, being a stay at home mom is not an escape, but a commitment to do things that they believe in and that are really hard without a lot of postive reinforcement.

    Thus, if I am not reading you incorrectly, I think that you should be careful making such broad-based statements. The feminism I believe in allows women to choose their own path. Contrary, to how I read your statement, for many, being a stay at home mom and not having a full time job is the path that provides the fulfillment that you speak of, and we should not denigrate their choices.

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  3. Jeff Spector on February 12, 2013 at 2:23 PM

    I think this all depends on how you define potential as earthly or eternally.

    I work to provide for my family. It does not define me in any way, in spite of how much time I spend. I would much rather enjoy myself doing it, but it is not an absolute.

    I much rather be defined as a good husband, father, friend than have my career by my defining point.

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  4. zez on February 12, 2013 at 4:36 PM

    Interesting ideas… but you’re trying too hard. Most of your focus is on changing women. Don’t. Most (righteous) women already innately know/understand how to live. The change needs to happen with men. Regardless, the bottom line is that too many, both men and women, are consumed with establishing their own identity. That’s what the adversary wants – use your agency to chose your own way. True happiness comes from focusing on understanding and living to the identity that He, Father, has already defined for us. It’s not the same for everyone and isn’t divided by gender.

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  5. Will on February 12, 2013 at 5:31 PM

    I had a very strong impression when President Benson, as a Prophet, indicated mothers should be at home with their children. They are needed at home. I knew that this is what the Lord intended for me and my wife and family. I am 100 percent certain of this.

    This counsel was given nearly 35 years ago when America was the king of the world. I believe the rise of this great nation was due to a general adherence to this view of the family. It has been mostly ignored since President Benson spoke it from the pulpit and our society has suffered as a result. The economic and social ills in our society have gotten worse since then and I maintain it is closely tied to women leaving the home in mass.

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  6. Kaylie on February 12, 2013 at 5:36 PM

    I’m glad you mentioned Elder Oaks’ remarks. But are we doing anything about them? It’s not the first time I’ve heard GAs talk about men doing more at home, family-friendly workplaces, equality for women, etc. But the SAHM model is so prevalent, even if we don’t preach it the way we used to, that it seems to be taking a long time for us to move in that direction. I have a website about family-friendly workplaces, but most of my Mormon friends are SAHMs and don’t seem very interested in these issues. If women are going to be working outside the home, then everything else has to change. Men and children have to contribute more at home. Workplaces need to treat mothers with as much respect as fathers get, and to stop using the workaholic “team players” as the only promotion pool. Sometimes quantity seems to be rewarded over quality.

    Your point about underpaid child care workers is an interesting one. Funny how it’s still unaffordable for so many parents, even though they make next to nothing. The only solution I can see to mitigate this problem is subsidized child care on a sliding scale according to income, with mandatory certification and higher incomes for child care workers.

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  7. xenawarriorscientist on February 12, 2013 at 5:53 PM

    If only men were afraid of women’s power and potential, this wouldn’t be a hard row to hoe. *Women* are afraid of women’s power. There are plenty of people don’t like being an individual or having a wide array of choices to deal with. Unfortunately, the church sort of glamorizes that kind of personality for women into the ideal. (Imagine what a church leader would say to a man who said he “didn’t want all the responsibility” of priesthood. Methinks the odds that such a man would be praised for his humility are low, and the odds that he would be called a chicken quite high.)

    Women need to change plenty.

    I know not a few LDS SAHMs who are bored to tears, consumed by depression, and isolated. But they don’t dare to even think about furthering their education or doing anything else useful outside the home because people keep telling them “That’s the devil’s work!” So their kids get to be raised by a woman who’s technically there, physically, but she’s dried-up, resentful, and not really there. And they are doing it because playing the martyr is easier- yup, easier- and more comfortable than facing the thought that maybe people they love and respect didn’t know what they were talking about when they prescribed gender roles.

    I have to ask how that’s “Fulfilling the measure” of anybody’s creation, the mom’s or the kids’. And for that matter, isn’t that supposed to be the problem with day care? That kids are raised by people who are burned-out and resentful and it turns them into alcoholics (as we were once solemnly informed by an Area Authority 70)?

    My husband is the last of 6 kids, raised by an LDS woman who studied or worked full-time his whole life. He’s great. He doesn’t take women’s time for granted. He doesn’t see “women’s work” tasks with taking care of the kids and home as emasculating because both of his parents did it. He’s the best. dad. ever. So claims that men and women have to stick to Leave It To Beaver gender roles or else, or that that the sky will fall if moms also do other things, just don’t stick here.

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  8. hawkgrrrl on February 12, 2013 at 6:02 PM

    unknown: I am saying that motherhood ALONE is not the totality of a woman’s potential, and that women who believe that it will be and short-change their education or contribution outside the home (doesn’t have to be in a career as I’ve stated in the OP) will probably experience an identity crisis at some point in their lives. Can you be a SAHM and finish your education and contribute outside the home? Yes, you can. But are most SAHMs in the church doing this? I can’t say that they are.

    I hasten to add (as I did in the OP) that a career doesn’t mean you won’t have an identity crisis – for many people it’s just a way to get a paycheck, not a way to contribute to society or to be mentally and socially stimulated. There’s nothing wrong with motherhood or even with being a SAHM, but those things are not a substitute for personal growth. I have met many many women in the church, and especially at BYU, who felt that the highest thing that was asked of them was to marry a faithful priesthood holder and make babies. It doesn’t take special skills to make a baby. Good parenting does require skills that are developed in parenting. But so many women get to the end of their brief child rearing years and find they have nothing else to do and because they threw away their education they have few options. So many women in this situation have to start over and go back to school to forge an identity in their middle age. Hats off to them. But they avoided it the first go-around.

    As a church, why do we ask so little of women? Men are pushed to be leaders, breadwinners, missionaries, successful in business, and good fathers. If they aren’t, there is enormous social pressure on them to pony up. Women are only asked to breed which any welfare mom can do. We are told this is the highest achievement we can make. It’s too often a self-fulfilling prophesy. Those unlucky enough to marry a man who cheats on them or doesn’t fit the mold can’t take that empty promise to the bank.

    Is it demeaning to say women should be given higher expectations than they are? I agree with Betty Friedan that I see many women who dial down their ambitions and personal growth to fit the smaller mold. It is easier until it’s not.

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  9. hawkgrrrl on February 12, 2013 at 6:20 PM

    Let me give one quick example of a woman I know who is a SAHM by choice but contributes in a meaningful way outside of the home. She has 5 children. She is a returned missionary. She finished her education and is extremely well read – she devours books. She participates in a home school network, and she also runs a La Leche League to help underprivileged women learn to breast feed. I don’t see her on the path to an identity crisis. She is doing something she finds personally challenging and meaningful. She is definitely exceptional among LDS women from what I see.

    Betty Friedan cautions about doing unpaid work or hobbies as an alternative to making a contribution in the world. I’m not sure I would go that far because I know that paid work is not always meaningful. But I do think engaging with the world beyond the borders of the home is essential. Again, this isn’t an either/or dichotomy. You can do both.

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  10. Will on February 12, 2013 at 6:25 PM

    Those of you that think the role of a stay at home mom is the easy path clearly don’t understand the significance or importance of motherhood, or what is involved. To me, the issues my wife deals with on a daily basis raising our kids are as challenging as the ones I deal with as the sole provider. To me, the easy solution for her would be dump these problems on school or day care and go to work. This is precisely what has been done in general and we are reaping the social ills stemming from our children being raised by the village.

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  11. unknown on February 12, 2013 at 6:53 PM

    Hawk –

    I guess one place where you an I differ is in your assumption that being a SAHM is not an avenue for personal growth. (You say: “There’s nothing wrong with motherhood or even with being a SAHM, but those things are not a substitute for personal growth.”) I do not think the two are mutually exclusive; indeed, I know many that would assert that the very act of being a SAHM itself was an exceptional vehicle for personal growth, much more so than contributing in the work place or community. Perhaps, the act of child-rearing itself, i.e. the gestation and delivery process, did not engender this growth. But the years of service, creativity, sacrifice, and intellectual challenges involved in raising the children did lead to such growth. Indeed, some people in the Church measure their personal growth by how closely they feel that they have grown to God, and many who have chosen to solely focus on being SAHMs feel that that effort has led them to God.

    In addition, I think that you are wrong to say that women who devote themselves to child-rearing have avoided forging an identity. Many women I know have chosen to make their primary identity that of a mother Many I know are imensely happy about it.

    You seem to suggest that the only reason someone would make this choice is because they were duped into doing so. However, most of the under 40 SAHMs moms that I know had a variety of options upon graduating from college, including prosperous careers, and conciously chose motherhood. They were not hoodwinked, they did not have a lack of options. They chose to make this path their identity.

    I also disagree that we only ask women to breed children in the church. (You say: “Women are only asked to breed which any welfare mom can do.”) I think although the brethren have counseled women to make their role as mothers the most important activity in their lives, they have also strongly encouraged women to become educated, to build strong homes, to contribute to their communities, to do missionary work, to serve in leadership positions in wards and stakes, to become scriptorians, to serve the poor, etc. In fact, the only thing that women are not overtly encouraged to do that men are to my knowledge is not to work outside the home when there is a male breadwinner in the house and the children are young. I might also add that the brethren regularly tell fathers that the most important work they do will be in their homes.

    Obviously, we can both find competing annecdotes and individual life stories to support our viewpoints here. But, I know many women who stayed at home to raise their kids and then, once the kids had left the home, they took the skill and traits and attributes that they developed to go on to do marvelous things in the community and workplace. These women do not view their childraising years as a blackhole — even thought that was largely, even entirely, what they focused on.

    Again, I am not judging your or anyone else for their life choices. I am just asking that you not judge others or accuse them of “dialing down their expectations” or refusing to “forge an identity” because they choice that they make is to be solely a mother.

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  12. Will on February 12, 2013 at 7:02 PM

    Unknown, you need to become known. You need to prodly stand up for what you said because it was outstanding.

    Great comment — it was worth repeating.

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  13. ji on February 12, 2013 at 7:06 PM

    Women are only asked to breed which any welfare mom can do. We are told this is the highest achievement we can make.

    This must be hyperbole — I have to challenge it as a statement of truth. But each person has his or her own ears.

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  14. Wahm on February 12, 2013 at 7:54 PM

    This article and it’s comments are fascinating to me. I know that everyone comes from a different background but there seems to be the same constants that I’d expect of any man vs motherhood type discussion.
    I am probably the luckiest (?) woman in the world. I married my best friend, taught high school while he attended law school, and “accidentally” started my own business. I tried the SAHM thing for about 8 weeks before I realized I was bored to tears. I began babysitting an infant part-time. It’s now almost 6 years later and my business in fabulously busy. I still tutor in the evenings, too.
    This means I work more hours than my husband. Because I’m gone several evenings a week, he does the full bedtime routine for our children and has an AMAZING relationship with them. If I was home, All The Time, that relationship would not be as solid as it is.
    Motherhood does not define me. It certainly impacts how I think about many things in life, but I won’t always be “a mom”.
    I’m trying to teach my children independence on a scale I don’t see in most of the parents around me. Eventually they will leave home and develop lives of their own. Because I will have been keeping my mental skills fairly sharp (I’m not the brightest crayon in the box but my degree is in mathematics so I’m not stupid, either–just not good with words!) I should be able to transition into empty-nest phase without all the grief and depression that I see in so many women around me.
    As I move from one phase in life to another, I do my best to keep a firm grip on my divine nature, identity, and a strong bond with my spouse.
    I consider myself the luckiest woman in the world because I do feel, very much, that I “have it all”.
    *And my husband has always ironed his own shirts. And he does most of the dishes. He’s awesome.*

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  15. rebeccar on February 12, 2013 at 9:02 PM

    THIS: “The area we could still do much better is in recognizing openly the achievements of women outside of motherhood: acts of service outside the home, contributions to society, and intellectual contributions from women (quoting more women – which only happens when more women are quotable).”

    Yes. Oh so very much yes.

    I interpret “outside of motherhood” not to exclude wisdom of mothers about motherhood, but to assert that we already have many outstanding women talking about motherhood, and really need women (mothers and non-mothers) talking about the many, many other things that are part of women’s discipleship.

    General Conference is not that far off. During your post-Conference conversations, notice how seldom the women’s talks are talked about. Even allowing for the fact that most of the talks are by the brethren in the first place, it’s appalling how little attention is paid to the words of the sisters who also serve as general officers of the church.

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  16. Jeff Spector on February 12, 2013 at 9:41 PM

    Speak for yourself. We discuss all the talks including the Sisters. That if, so long as they don’t give it in their Primary voice and talk like an adult.

    Just as valuable.

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  17. jks on February 12, 2013 at 11:08 PM

    I agree with unknown’s comments.
    Hawkgrrl, whether someone makes personal growth a priority does not seem to be a result of working or being a SAHM. I know all types.
    I finished my education and I worked for a few years after college. I very much liked my job, especially when it was challenging and I was learning new things. I was proud of my accomplishments and the skills I was learning.
    As a mother I have felt the same thing. I have found it mentally and physically challenging and I am proud of all the ways I have risen to meet the challenges along the way.
    I have now been a mother for 15 years so of course it means I have been focusing on that “career” for a long time. I have another 14 years to go before all four of my kids are adults.
    Since I am always planning and reevaluating and living my life deliberately based on my priorities and goals, I am sure that between now and then I will be making good decisions for myself and my happiness. Although it might be a little sad to retire from a 29 year career of motherhood, I am quite sure that I won’t feel worthless and have an identity crisis.
    My journey in motherhood requires frequent reevaluations and transitions. I often decide I need to adjust my parenting based on my child’s maturity and how much I think they need to take responsibility for themselves.
    Just today I needed to tell my 13 year old son that he should do what he felt was right in the situation and that we were just here to help and support him, and we simply expect him to keep us informed of the situation so we can continue to support him. I am absolutely aware that my job is to raise my children so that I become unneccesary.
    I find it a blessing that I can be this thoughtful about parenting because I have four children and over the years I have found that they have had needs that I couldn’t have filled if I wasn’t around.
    If I had had fewer children, or different children with different needs I think I could have handled a job too.
    Is there danger of living vicariously? Yes. I know there is, but I think that most mothers can resist the temptation. If the temptation is greater for SAHMs I can’t say for sure, but I think saying it as a blanket generalization is ridiculous because it is like saying a working mother doesn’t have time for her kids or a working mother always puts her work first and her child feels like second place. These kinds of parenting pitfalls can happen to either a working mother who lives vicariously through her children or a SAHM who cares more about her RS calling or keeping her house spotless.

    The most important thing I want to point out, however, is perhaps……when I think about people I consider wise people or poor choice people (and really, I tend to be generous about people) I think that whether they work outside the home or whether they are a SAHM is irrelevant to their ability to prioritize personal growth and making good decisions about their lives and relationships.
    When someone is a poor choice/unable to facilitate their own growth kind of person, it is quite rare that it is just ONE decision that keeps them from improving themselves or contributing to the world around them. So just that ONE choice to be a SAHM isn’t the culprit. Just as the ONE choice to work doesn’t mean she is all about personal growth, since she could make countless other poor decisions to undermine her personal growth.

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  18. Hedgehog on February 13, 2013 at 3:01 AM

    Eeeh! I take a day to digest the post, and now I need to digest the comments too. A thought-provoking post and discussion.

    I guess in this I am more closely aligned with jks experience (#17) in having been a SAHM for 15 ½ years. I have less than 6 years before my 2 two children are adults, however. I finished my education first, and also worked a few years before having my children. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to juggle both a career and children. I’m sure that doesn’t apply to everyone, and I do sometimes feel people perceive that to be a failing in me (especially given my level of education: PhD), so I was cheered to hear Fiona Givens say much the same thing in her interview on the Mormon Stories podcast I was listening to last week. I hope that puts me in good company.

    For me the whole education and work was vital to my being able to be a good parent afterwards. I’m the eldest of 7 children, and certainly felt I had had my fill of child-care experience by the time I was 18. I had to get away, and do other things. I became a parent when I was ready to do so. In that, I feel very blessed. I adore my children. I hope I am encouraging them to develop their own talents and interests, rather than live vicariously through them. My own education and experiences have beneficial, in enabling me to help my children develop their own interests.

    I didn’t enjoy the baby stage so much, but I loved teaching them to read, and to love reading. I enjoyed playing with construction toys. I’ve enjoyed designing and making costumes for their dressing up days at school. I’ve enjoyed making clothes for my daughter. It has been interesting to see their very different characters/ personalities, watch their interests develop. They are interesting to talk to. I enjoy being with them. They are demanding children, and I hope I am encouraging them to develop independence.

    Perhaps with different children I could have returned to work and a career once they were in school, but not with these children. Our son has an ASD (Aspergers) diagnosis, has anxiety issues and needs a calm, stable, predictable environment, which he has. Our daughter has some ASD traits, although no formal diagnosis, and copes well enough. Encouraging independence, whilst being there when needed is a tricky balance to achieve. I hope I’m managing it. However, the children I have suit me, and the way I do things too. I couldn’t have juggled more children, any more than I could have juggled children and a career. I’m just better at concentrated attention than I am at spreading myself thinner.

    I’ve learnt a lot. Things I wouldn’t have learnt otherwise. I’ve definitely been taken out of my comfort zone. I’ve had to fight for support for my son at school. In the past, I have had to be the one to say to well-meaning teachers, don’t pander to his every whim, he needs to do hard things and see he can succeed, or that it isn’t as bad as he feared. He has to do those things, but have support in place while he’s doing them. I’ve had to deal with bureaucracy. I’ve had to push to get my son into the best school for him, where he can develop both academically (he is very academically gifted) and have the support necessary for him.

    I’m not sure what you mean by potential or fulfilment Hawkgrrrl. As words I see them bandied around a lot. I think I have to go with Jeff #3 on that particular one. It’s a rough world for the most part, and I think there are very few people who can say they got that opportunity. Both in the past, and now. I think it is more a case of doing the best we can with the hand we’re dealt, and helping others to do the same.

    So to your questions, finally: I do understand your issue with the rhetoric we hear, and have certainly heard in the past regarding roles. Certainly, I like to be seen as the individual I actually am, and not to be defined by any role. I hate the whole labelling of people that so many of us seem to do. Motherhood definitely seems to be one of those categories, and much of the rhetoric we hear at church has me cringing. There are women who really embrace that identity though, and find it incredibly fulfilling. I don’t understand that brand of feminism myself however. My brothers similarly object to much of the hammering men seem to come in for from church leaders, so hopefully as the generations move on there will be some improvement – always assuming leaders are selected from a sufficiently wide spectrum of the membership. Can we assume that though?

    I do get concerned about the identity crisis issue, of men and women assuming roles without thought. I have seen that happen. I get very nervous when I hear some parents (and leaders) talking in terms of raising future missionaries, or church leaders, or priesthood holders or mothers, as opposed to talking about their children developing their own interests and talents. I do think we should be conscious of our life choices rather than fall into them without thought. Having said that, I think we should also be conscious that the choices we have are not available to everyone, now or in the past.

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  19. hawkgrrrl on February 13, 2013 at 3:23 AM

    Hedgehog: “I do get concerned about the identity crisis issue, of men and women assuming roles without thought.” This is well said. Identity crisis originates in assuming a role (defining yourself in relation to others), at least in my opinion. In that regard, the same can happen in a job. You can identify with your role there and still not find fulfillment. And many people unfortunately spend their lives toiling in obscurity for a paycheck and don’t really align their life’s work with a real contribution to society. To me, that’s what fulfillment means. Motherhood is not a panacea any more than career is, although meaning can be found in both.

    Jeff: As to eternal vs. earthly potential, I see earthly potential as a subset of our eternal potential. You have to find and fulfill your calling in life, your work and life have to have some meaning to you personally. Setting low expectations for oneself or giving up on personal dreams is not a good foundation for godhood. Not all SAHMs have set expectations low, but the majority of women I have met in the church do feel at least some regret about it later in life or the figure it out and find something to fill the void. I am hard pressed to think of any woman whose entire “dream” in life is just to bear and raise children. Motherhood is great. But it’s not the sum total of a person’s existence. Unfortunately, too many women feel encouraged to drop everything else in the church and expect total fulfillment as a result: dropping their education, not going on a mission, or otherwise disengaging in the world outside the home.

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  20. Howard on February 13, 2013 at 5:19 AM

    My interest in philanthropy exposes me to a huge socioeconomic range of families from street people to the very well to do. Some women turn having and raising children into an creative art form but they are the rare exception, just as only a small percentage of the population end up making great teachers. The biggest indicators of outcome for the children are how loved they feel, how mentally healthy their mother is and whether or not she is involved in their lives, but she need not be present in their lives full time. At the upper income level nannies and tutors successfully do much of the heavy lifting leaving the mom’s free part time to do something else they find fulfilling and this contributes positively to the family in many ways including making her a much more interesting and capable wife. As long as love, health and involvement are present the children do exceptionally well. It has been my observation that in the mid-income level Mormon children do stand out in an innocent(meaning not jaded)and happy way.

    The people I happen to know on top not only have a lot of money they are also the mentally healthiest of the bunch and display more love for and interest in their children and spouses. In short they are far less stressed than the other groups and it shows in their children’s outcomes.

    I think mental health and income combined explains much of the difference in opinion in the church. When you are raised without a lot of stress and internal dissonance and more money your life tends to be much easier and you are free of subconscious stresses and compulsions. For these people a little discipline goes a long way and they find more value in obeying and following counsel as it stresses them far less. Chances are if you were raised this way you don’t understand the stressed life and visa versa. Those raised in less loving, less healthy families suffer often unknowingly from compulsions to act out in various ways. This added stress makes their lives and roles much more difficult and they tend to find less benefit from and more effort required to do all the church asks, many simply cannot comply with all the commandments due to their compulsions. In this area the church and it’s one set of rote rules fits all doesn’t seem to understand those who are struggling with more inherent life stress.

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  21. Liffey Banks on February 13, 2013 at 8:08 AM

    Being a mother is *of course* a wonderful thing, I have that on good authority from 98% of the mothers I know. The imbalance is that being a Mother is taught in our church as the pinnacle of a woman’s pursuits – it is The Goal, The Purpose (despite the fact that actual child-rearing will only take up a fraction of a woman’s life.) But being a father is not spoken of in the same way for men in the church. Fatherhood is one of *many* responsibilities the church encourages for men, alongside a list of other encouraged roles: priesthood holder, provider, leader, citizen of the community, even just the ambiguous title of Men (Let Us Be Men, D. Todd Christoffersen.) Perhaps this is because the men in our church leadership recognize that in their own lives, fatherhood was not the only part of their identity that was important, even if it was the most important. Unfortunately, that is just as true for women, but recognition of that fact has not yet happened.

    Tack onto that the inherent privilege of statements that imply women should stay at home (a family has to have a certain economic status before any potential breadwinner can *afford* to stay at home), the historical anomaly of the prescribed family model (the nuclear family with a working father is a modern invention, not traditional in the least), and it seems clear that prescribed gender roles are an issue of church culture, and not doctrine.

    We’ll get there, as hawk says, with baby steps.

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  22. Douglas on February 13, 2013 at 10:10 AM

    Hawk, the impression that you made in the OP wasn’t positive. You came across as being prideful and arrogant, which seems out of your demeanor. You give the impression of having a superiority complex because you’re “more” than a mother, as if all the pontifications from the pulpit are designed to confine and circumscribe a woman’s role. In thirty-four years of Church membership I have never bought into the cultural notion that a married woman with children ought to be barred from outside pursuits, gainful employment included. I’d say that the use of a woman’s time and energy ought to be decided by herself, but her husband and the Lord should be included. It’s NOT a one-size-fits-all proposition.
    I think of two talented, educated women who went the SAHM route. The first, my erstwhile sister-in-law, though an RM and BYU grad, proceeded to marry, pop out five kids, and has made do on her husband’s earnings. Still, she could manage quite well in any situation, and any firm would be foolish to turn her down for a job. The second, my baby sister, got through nursing school, but about eleven years ago, with graduation looming, I asked her if she was looking for work in her field. My brother-in-law retorted, “she HAS a full-time job…a three-year old”! The transition to a nursing career was gradual and the family is doing great.
    A “new” commandment I give unto thee: Thou shalt conduct thy personal affairs w/o concerning thyself with the opinions of they that don’t matter, and likewise thou shalt accord others the same privilege w/o ridicule or snobbery.

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  23. Usually a lurker on February 13, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    I am interested in this topic, one, because I have filled many of the roles described, and two because my views have changed drastically as my roles have changed.

    When I was younger, I very much embraced the idea of “having it all”–career, kids, husband, amazingly fulfilled life–and never really saw being a SAHM as an option. I don’t know if I tuned out the majority of what I learned in church (very possible), but I don’t recall being taught that being a SAHM was the ideal. It certainly wasn’t the ideal I embraced. I received my degree and worked full-time for years. As I dated (for far too many years!), it was a point of pride for me not to look at a man for his capability as a breadwinner. After all, I was capable and educated, and I could earn my own money. We’d be partners in the money-making department.

    Fast forward: I’m married, working full-time, and trying to get pregnant. It took years. During that time, my husband’s money-making ability sort of took off while mine stagnated (mostly due to my husband’s great people skills in his career in management vs. my desire/skill set in a work-alone sort of job). Many of the women I worked with were having babies. Not one–I repeat, not one–of those women wanted to keep working after having kids. Something changed after they had the baby. The intricate plans put in place for juggling motherhood/career were often completely abandoned in favor of staying home with the baby or working part-time or working nights, etc. They did not want to turn their baby’s care over to someone else. I realize there are women that do not fit this mold–this was simply what I saw. And only about half of these women were LDS.

    Finally, I got pregnant and started looking at my options for juggling career/motherhood. At that time, my husband made about double what I made. Based on other’s experiences, we decided to try the SAHM route and see if the money could work out. If I made double what my husband made, I think we would have tried to have him as the primary caretaker.

    The money worked out just fine. Fast forward again, and I’m a SAHM mom of two, with my youngest in kindergarten. I’ve worked part-time from home for ten years (only about 10 hours per week) and I’m planning to expand my hours working at home. I have loved the years as a SAHM mom. I didn’t really grow up and learn responsibility until then (and I was almost 40 when I had my first). I didn’t really connect with my ward/neighbors/community until being a SAHM. I’m an introvert, and my social needs were more than fulfilled at work before then. I never really embraced service for others before then. Frankly, I just didn’t have the time.

    Lack of time is the greatest barrier to fulfillment, IMO. I am grateful I have had this time to actually find creative outlets. I truly have much more free time than my husband (I’m not a great housekeeper, so I save time there!), and he’d love the option to stay home. We often discuss how in the future I could be the primary breadwinner while he works part-time or some such thing.

    Careers/jobs are for making money. We work to live, not live to work. We find fulfillment in our life at home and with family and friends.

    I’m leaving out any possible benefits to my kids, because I think that’s always debatable, and we never really know, do we? But the benefits I feel are tremendous. I feel so much more fulfilled–a complete adult–than before having kids.

    If my path were different, and I hadn’t had a degree and so many years in my profession, perhaps I would feel some regret, but for me my current role is by far the best, and most fulfilling.

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  24. TopHat on February 13, 2013 at 10:53 AM

    I’m a SAHM with 3 kids and keeping myself occupied with hobbies (knitting!), volunteering, homeschooling, RS book groups, blogging, and other activities. My husband has a great stable job. I’m right in the thralls of the cult of motherhood and perpetuating it, but I feel at a loss of what I can do about the fact that my simple existence is continuing the cycle. The choices have beenmade and I can’t go back and undo pregnancies that occurred before I really knew what I wanted. I haven’t worked for pay in 5 years and like you mentioned above- “working” doesn’t mean you won’t have identity crises. I guess I feel split. On one hand, I do feel like I’m working (albeit slowly) into my own identity and have goals I’m working towards- including my own business in the future. But I also seem to have to worry if other people “see” that I have an identity outside of motherhood. Because on the surface, I don’t. When someone moves into my ward, they could look at me and conclude that my whole identity is wrapped in motherhood. People probably have. I feel like I have to play both offense and defense: working on my own identity while trying to show everyone else that I’m more than motherhood. I also feel like I have to make sure my kids, especially my daughters, know I exist outside of motherhood, too, so they know they have other options if they want them.

    I definitely agree with you that the church is set up to give women only one identity and we need to make sure girls and YW are making choices about their futures that they really want instead of the script that is given to them by default (which isn’t “bad” it just may/may not be what they want for themselves). But in the meantime, what can we do if we’re stuck in it?

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  25. jenna on February 13, 2013 at 12:24 PM

    Wow there are a lot of interesting comments here. I don’t think she was saying motherhood is evil, but I think everyone here who is saying that the church doesn’t promote stay at home motherhood must know that they are lying. Or maybe you all live somewhere really enlightened. Or maybe your cafeteria Mormonism let you ignore damaging information. All I know is that I am under 30, I have a lot of toddlers and I get pressure to have more. My youngest is 3and when I talk about going back to school(ya know Cuz my MRS degree was the priority pre-children) people get their g ‘s in a bunch worrying about my poor abandoned children. The problem is the cult of motherhood sucks you dry, and the mormon version is the especially bad at this. You are supposed to get married BEFORE your finish college, have babies BEFORE you finish college. There are. A lot of women on here who decided to become a SAHM after multiple degrees and years of working. You had some time to form identities and find a measure of fulfillment before you become a mother and dedicated a portion of your life to offspring. You are now better equipped to find a work / volunteer /balance while you are at home. I don’t think this piece is neccessarily aimed at you. This piece is an act of med y to all the girls at BYU who had to listen to Elaine Dalton last month champion young, young all consuming motherhood. Some of these girls will have children before they figure out how to be rounded adults. I personally think it is great for women to devote time to their kids early years, but we are creating a narrative where woman are only defined on how much they can offer in sacrifice, and speicifically drudgery. Yes Will, your sacrifice at the office is commendable but it is not the same as shutting yourself away from other adults and cleaning bodily fluids.

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  26. Hedgehog on February 13, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    TopHat #24 : “But I also seem to have to worry if other people “see” that I have an identity outside of motherhood. Because on the surface, I don’t. When someone moves into my ward, they could look at me and conclude that my whole identity is wrapped in motherhood. People probably have. I feel like I have to play both offense and defense: working on my own identity while trying to show everyone else that I’m more than motherhood. I also feel like I have to make sure my kids, especially my daughters, know I exist outside of motherhood, too, so they know they have other options if they want them.”

    This, I can relate to, in large part. Many people don’t know me well enough to know what I’ve done before, and have never enquired, and my daughter is especially keen that motherhood isn’t the only thing that defines me. However, for me, the truly galling thing is when those at church, who have known me since I was a child, then turn and are expecting me to be doing more than I am at the moment (and I am following the script at the moment, I guess), and seem appalled that I am not doing more – it really is no win!

    Jenna #25:
    “All I know is that I am under 30, I have a lot of toddlers and I get pressure to have more. My youngest is 3and when I talk about going back to school(ya know Cuz my MRS degree was the priority pre-children) people get their g ‘s in a bunch worrying about my poor abandoned children. The problem is the cult of motherhood sucks you dry, and the mormon version is the especially bad at this. You are supposed to get married BEFORE your finish college, have babies BEFORE you finish college. There are. A lot of women on here who decided to become a SAHM after multiple degrees and years of working. You had some time to form identities and find a measure of fulfillment before you become a mother and dedicated a portion of your life to offspring.”

    Well, I’m in Britain, not the same pressure as Utah I don’t suppose, though my ward and stake seemed conservative when I was growing up. There were a lot of people who pushed the early marriage formula, though not all did. I was an intellectual rebel though, and went through YW saying I didn’t want children, and I enjoyed arguing and hated the whole role / picture presented for women. I hope you don’t feel my comment implied I did things the way I did them, only to find motherhood was ‘the thing’ afterall. That wasn’t my intent. Simply that it was one thing I decided to do, when I was ready to, that I personally had to give it my full attention and that I find it rewarding now, because I was ready.
    My younger sister did things the more prescribed way around. Married before I did, started a family straight away, was a SAHM, had her last and 5th child shortly after her husband finally finished his education and a started working. Now that the eldest is about to serve a mission, and the youngest is well into school, she’s at University studying primary education, and is planning on teaching. She seems to have been able to make things work for her that way about (we are very different personalities). As I said at the end of my first comment, I dislike the whole talking about people in terms of roles, rather than as individuals. I always have.

    “This piece is an act of med y to all the girls at BYU who had to listen to Elaine Dalton last month champion young, young all consuming motherhood. Some of these girls will have children before they figure out how to be rounded adults. I personally think it is great for women to devote time to their kids early years, but we are creating a narrative where woman are only defined on how much they can offer in sacrifice, and speicifically drudgery.”

    Sure, and I hope they can read the comments of those of us who did things differently, and benefited from that, and can learn from our experiences too.

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  27. Usually a lurker on February 13, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    Jenna, this comment:

    “I think everyone here who is saying that the church doesn’t promote stay at home motherhood must know that they are lying. Or maybe you all live somewhere really enlightened. Or maybe your cafeteria Mormonism let you ignore damaging information.”

    Yes, I ignored that I heard some of those messages growing up. I think either my innate religious skepticism or my cafeteria mormonism, whatever you want to call it, somewhat “protected” me from falling into lock-step with the proscribed formula. Of course, life simply happened as well. If I had married earlier, or been able to have kids earlier, I might have felt stifled by being a SAHM.

    I remember hearing President Benson’s comments about women staying at home if possible and being appalled. I also remember saying the “I need a wife” comment quite a few times when I was working full-time.

    So I get what you’re saying. And yes, I disagree with the formula of early marriage and have as many children as soon as possible. But I do know quite a few who followed that formula and seem very happy and, as well, advanced, thoughtful, enlightened women to me.

    I guess I just mostly disagree with the idea that a career/work is where most people find fulfillment.

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  28. Liffey Banks on February 13, 2013 at 1:50 PM

    Douglas. Mansplaining. And Tone Argument… go ahead and look those up.

    Top Hat, I think that is such an important question. I mean, the problem isn’t just that young girls are given the motherhood script, and then make these decisions before they really know what they want. The problem is institutional – our economy, our political system, doesn’t really accomodate parenthood+personhood well. Once you know kind of what you want in life, you already have a bunch of kids, and now what? Nobody wants to hire a mom of 5 who hasn’t had a regular paying job or taken a class in 8 years.

    For all of our lip service to motherhood being The Most Important Thing Ever Omygosh, we don’t have programs that would allow people to parent effectively while providing for their families’ financial and physical needs. (Or conversely, to develop professionally and intellectually while raising kids.) So our compromise has been to take the parental unit, cut it in half, and have one half (most of the time, the dude) make the money full time and the other half (the wife) stay at home full time. It’s Really Really Difficult to try and slice the pie any other way, like divvying up the parenting/providing responsibilities evenly between partners. Insurance, Retirement, and other benefits require a full-time employee, and most companies don’t look fondly on employees of either gender taking time to take care of their kids. If you want to be promoted, long hours are key, which means you rely on someone else picking up the parenting slack for you. The system just isn’t amenable to people who want to parent, of either gender.

    Once the child-rearing is done, or the kids are old enough to go to school, many SAH moms are not viable employees anymore because their education or previous certifications are out-dated. Sometimes, a mom who would like to return to work can’t because her potential earning power might be less than the cost of childcare. The skills associated with motherhood (cleaning, child-rearing) are some of the lowest paid (read: under-valued) services in our economy, so the SAHM is screwed if her husband should die or divorce her. When you raise women to put the role of MOTHER before the role of PERSON, and then put that Mother in a system that only rewards People, you get a lot of screwed-over Moms, messed up legislation, gaping holes in family-planning programs and policies, and lots of unfulfilled people.

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  29. KT on February 13, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    I loved this post!
    “unknown: I am saying that motherhood ALONE is not the totality of a woman’s potential, and that women who believe that it will be and short-change their education or contribution outside the home (doesn’t have to be in a career as I’ve stated in the OP) will probably experience an identity crisis at some point in their lives. Can you be a SAHM and finish your education and contribute outside the home? Yes, you can. But are most SAHMs in the church doing this? I can’t say that they are.”
    Exactly!

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  30. Douglas on February 13, 2013 at 9:24 PM

    #28 – (LifeyBanks) – got this from “Urban Dictionary”

    Mansplaining: “Originally, this term was used to describe boorish men who felt the need to “correct” what a woman said, even on topics that the man didn’t know anything about. However, the term quickly degenerated into a get-out-of-jail-free card used by angry women when a man dares to point out even the most blatant error.”

    I’d say the latter applies. If you’d bother to actually READ my previous post, you’d find that I objected to what I perceived was a superiority complex on the HawkChick’s part because she deems herself as not MERELY a mother. It’s that feminist-style arrogance that I object to, not that she has accomplishments other than wifery and motherhood. In fact, I laud her talents, w/o doubt they not only provide personal fulfillment which ought not to respect gender but likely she’s the type that benefits family and Church with it as well. If you read any further you’d see that I object to the well-meaning but insensitive busybodies that presume to comment on a young lady member’s musing about the career vs. motherhood thing. Kee-ripes! Do these fellow members that “get their G’s in a twist” offer to assist struggling young families who cope with lack of time, energy, and money, or are they content to pontificate? That’s why I advise anyone, sisters especially, when given overbearing advice or commentary on the subject, to respond at first with a subtle MYOB, and then if said members don’t get the message, a healthy dose of STFU.
    However, I will NOT refrain from the issue simply because I have need to wear a jock when engaging in contact sports. I worked two jobs and got by on darned little when it was important for the kids to have their mother home. OTOH, when circumstances warranted the wife working outside the home, I was supportive and shouldered a commensurate burden with the household and kids. I don’t consider that any special good, only that I knew the job was dangerous when I took it. Now that it’s time to “rent” the grandkids, I render what assistance I can but especially support efforts to keep the respective mothers of said grandkids in the home as much as possible. THAT qualifies me to have voice on the subject, and I resent any feminist claptrap that says otherwise.

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  31. hawkgrrrl on February 14, 2013 at 12:30 AM

    Douglas and others: “Women don’t have to work outside the home to realize their full potential.” I thought I’d repeat that line from the OP since people are degenerating into an argument of career = personal fulfillment, motherhood = life of drudgery. Both have the capacity for drudgery and both can lead to personal growth. I see this as a false dichotomy.

    My point is that we should encourage everyone to maximize their personal growth in whatever life choices they make, not make the choices for them and assume the growth will follow (it won’t without effort). When we tell women that motherhood is the biggest achievement they can make, unfortunately that translates to mean that women should do nothing else or if they do it’s pure selfishness. We expect great things of men in the church. To women, we don’t talk about expectations. We tell them they are entitled to a good man who will take care of them.

    My parents had higher expectations of me. I had higher expectations of myself. I have higher expectations of my daughter. But I found at BYU that many many women had been fed a steady diet of low expectations for themselves yet high expectations of men. They did not take their education or themselves seriously, having no intentions to finish, going after easy degrees, having only a superficial interest in things. They were literally only at college to snare a man. I had too many women specifically tell me this to think it’s rare. Likewise, I have had too many women tell me as they got older and their kids needed them less that they felt they had nothing for themselves because they hadn’t finished their education or done anything outside the home. They had a lot to do to rejoin the work world when they craved it in their middle age.

    Kudos to the exceptions to the rule! You rock! If we simply did a better job to encourage people to make meaningful contributions in addition to their parenting roles, we would avoid a lot of this heartache.

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  32. John Mansfield on February 14, 2013 at 6:38 AM

    From Nicholas Ostler’s Empires of the Word:

    “In 1666, after three generations of French colonial presence, Louis XIV’s minister for the colonies, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, complained that Frenchmen who wanted to trade—mostly for furs—still had to communicate in the natives’ language.

    “Part of the solution to this was to send out well-brought-up French girls, filles à marier to marry the settlers and create French-speaking homes. Among them were the famous filles du Roy, ‘king’s daughters’, mostly orphans from bourgeois families, whose travel and subsistence costs—and in some cases dowries—were borne by the Treasury. [. . .] Although the intendant of the colony, Jean Talon, told Colbert that he would have preferred village girls, ready to work like men, rather than these delicate young ladies, they seem to have been a good investment. [. . .] Although only some 40 per cent of the immigrants spoke un bon français, over half of the women did, and the variant dialects of the immigrant families seem to have been levelled out in the seventeenth century, in favour of standard French learnt at Mother’s knee. In 1698 the Controller-General of the navy remarked: ‘People speak here perfectly well without any bad accent. Although there is a mixture from almost all the provinces in France, none of their dialects can be distinguished in the Canadian provinces.’”

    Talon wanted woman who would do the same work as men, but he already had men doing that work. He lacked women who would do the work of women that propagates a culture. There is a reason a person’s native language is called the mother tongue.

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  33. Douglas on February 14, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    Hawk – apologies if I put you on the defensive. Not that I’m vying for a second career as a psychoanalyst (“Bones” told James Tiberius Kirk that he would’ve made a “fair” psychologist, me the good doctor would’ve sent to the bowels of Engineering before my counsel caused someone to vault themselves out an airlock into space), but me detects some long-held cultural resentments. Which in this forum is appropriate to vent!
    What, pray tell, is so WRONG with BYU coeds there to pursue their “MRS” degree? NOT that I encourage(d) my daughters to have THAT attitude (like your parents, I have expectations of them that diligent pursuit of higher education is worthwhile in its own right, and there is NOTHING the matter with a young lady having “career” aspirations) other than their taking up valuable slots and crowding out those young women that might actually do “something” (at least as perhaps you and I would see it) with their higher education? For the BYU campuses themselves, we must remember that they’ve greater purposes than an education mill. If part of this is getting together young people that are religiously, socially, and intellectually compatible, so be it.
    Part of the trouble may be that the Church, at least in North America, tends to lag culturally. According to my Dad, alma mater of the same place (good ol’ Fresno State, go Dogs!), getting an “Mrs” degree what fairly much WHY most coeds went in the first place! Again, it’s a matter of their parents, many whom probably took out a second on the farm (this was Fresno in the fifties) to get their daughter to FSU, wanting the kid to hook up with a fine, upstanding, upwardly mobile young man. My mother, herself on a scholarship and two years behind dear ol’ Dad, was also a majorette. She DID have hopes to finish her degree, but she followed Dad when he graduated along with his ROTC class, fulfilled his military commitment, and then made it a career. Not atypical of the times.
    Methinks this jaundiced attitude towards the education and/or career “versus” motherhood was displayed best about ten years ago in “Mona Lisa Smile”. Now, I always liked Julia Roberts smart-alecky attitude, and the movie did have a slew of upcoming young hotties. But I’m acquainted with a Wellesley alum that went during that period, herself at the time a recent retired Government executive, and she though the movie to be utter garbage. The school she remembered was NOT a glorified finishing school. I hope that BYU isn’t considered same for our young women, it has so much more to offer them, and they in turn will have so much to offer the world…STARTING WITH (But NOT limited to) their families.

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  34. Jeff Spector on February 14, 2013 at 5:24 PM

    My observation is that we rationalize whatever decision we choose as the correct one.We defend it, we argue for it and only when or if we find it to have been a bad choice,are we willing to entertain that idea.

    The Church may preach SAHM but I’ve not heard of a woman get in trouble for not choosing it.

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  35. RockiesGma on February 14, 2013 at 7:17 PM

    Couple thoughts….

    Excellent points, well-made Hawk. But I wonder if you see the irony that you quoted EDO and no female General Officers?

    Also, what rich irony that in the church we deem motherhood to be the highest, holiest work on earth, but it is our HF we go to for everything. I wonder if HF tells HM that he’s willing/happy “babysitting” us children while She has a spa day?

    We ALL have so, so far to go in understanding one another and our choices. But Hawkgrrl’s points are worthy of pondering, studying, asking questions for clarification, etc. But to reject her post because it doesn’t fit our own choices or definitions reminds me of how much the kids get away with when Dad’s “babysitting” compared to when Mom is anxiously engaged in parenting…..

    Glory, Heavenly Mother where art thou??? We sorely need Thee!!!

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  36. hawkgrrrl on February 14, 2013 at 9:02 PM

    “the irony that you quoted EDO and no female General Officers” A few reasons: 1) I do tend to think of myself as post-feminist so I don’t deliberately cherry pick female quotes (I would if I were writing manuals and not just teeing up a discussion on the internet), but 2) if they start saying something that doesn’t make me want to vomit, maybe I’ll quote it.

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  37. Jonathon on February 15, 2013 at 7:08 AM

    I appreciated this, hawkgrrrl. Not an easy thing to navigate, rhetorically or actually.

    A minor point, and one that most MP-aged men don’t know, but the primary reason for the separation is that the high priests group has a more specific set of responsibilities, one bound up operationally with the stake mission (special responsibility for prospective elders, widows, single mothers, orphans, etc.). The EQ, also an arm of the stake, functions more generally within the unit, with a primary responsibility for other elders and their families. If everything functioned as it ought, this distinction would be felt more clearly. RS presidencies, as I understand them, are more integrally involved with the general welfare of the unit. The person who works most closely with the unit leader on welfare issues is, after all, the RS president. Whether or not that relationship is properly exploited, it goes some way in explaining the functional integrity/separation difference between RS/MP.

    Like I said, a minor point. Unfortunately, we have this tendency in our institutional culture to misunderstand and therefore either limit or exaggerate roles. Would you say that the culture of gender roles in the Church, structure aside, is a reflection of the construction of those roles in traditional American society, and that now our tendency, culturally, to retrenchment instead of flexibility is an attempt to reflexively defend that culture?

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  38. Liffey Banks on February 15, 2013 at 7:29 AM

    Douglas, the education/career vs. motherhood isn’t a debate, it’s a false dichotomy, or should be. It’s also a sloppy reading of this post. No one here is saying that motherhood isn’t great – it is! No one is saying that getting a Mrs. Degree is a bad thing although the pun is annoying – I am lucky to be married! But realistically, even for SAHMs who *love* staying at home and raising their kids, which is a big chunk of LDS moms, motherhood is still not their Only Purpose In Life. Women are (surprise!!) PEOPLE, which means their needs and aspirations aren’t usually limited to one thing only. Many of them would like to do other things, accomplish other goals, and they should be able to do so, free from shame or guilt. Women who aren’t mothers should be free from judgment and suspicion. And men should be trusted to be nurturing parents to their children to the same degree as women.

    The discourse in our church frames motherhood like it is the only acceptable aspiration for women. (BKP: “thing that is of most worth for a woman in this life [is] to live the gospel, to be the wife and the mother of the children of a worthy holder of the priesthood.”) This excellent post and lots of others like it demonstrate that this discourse has damaging consequences for the individual women: guilt for wanting more, shame for not being a perfect mother, resentment when a few years down the line many of us wish we’d made different choices, not to mention the shame for women who are single or don’t have kids.

    I’m not sure how any of this is controversial. All of this is pretty obvious to me. I would fight for any woman to be able to choose to stay home to raise her kids if that’s her choice. I would also do the same for any man. No one is saying that women *should* or *shouldn’t* make any specific choices one way or another. This is simply a critique about the system that limits those choices for women, and then shames them when they make a different choice.

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  39. Douglas on February 15, 2013 at 1:20 PM

    #38 (Liffey) – with regard to the first paragraph..

    Spock: Captain, I believe that I already said that.

    Yes, of course women are people…else there’d be more of a push to develop either a realistic “holosuite” program OR a female droid, right? The Stepford Wives run amok.

    I can understand if you’ve tired of the endless pontification about your “designated” role as if somehow you’re acting contrary to the teachings of the Savior if you’ve other things to do with your life than serve as brood mare and mother hen. As for “shame” on women whom have remained single for whatever reason or even in marriage weren’t blessed with children…well, a pox on the houses of the insensitive nitwits who made them feel thus!

    I would agree about not IMPOSING limits and dressing it up with the Gospel. However, in practice, have your ever heard of a mother of young children who happens to be employed outside of the home, otherwise fully temple worthy, being denied a temple recommend on that basis alone? I haven’t, and it’d be an utter shock if it did occur.

    As everyone’s situation is different it’d be hard to devise a set of heuristics as to whether a young mother with children should work or not. Some want “fulfillment”, others enjoy the “luxury” of the rent being paid and food put on the table.

    I’d say that “they” that presume to comment on your choices of what to do with your time and energy ought to only have sway if they pay your bills or otherwise shoulder some of your burdens in life. Else, ignore them, and do what is right (for yourself and your family), let the consequence(s) or blessings follow…

    Keep in mind that it’s no different for Brethren. On the one hand, we get the saying of a Prophet dead some 40 years, Harold B. Lee, about the most important work in your life being inside the walls of your home. Advice that is current, IMHO. OTOH, at times amongst LDS we have the “Klingon” attitude towards what defines a man…

    Lt. Klag (to Will Riker): A man is his work, not his family. It is the way of things.

    We define a man’s worth by the perception of financial and career success, in spite of all the blather about “all are equal..”. How many plumbers serve in Stake Presidencies, never the mind that many plumbers do quite well financially and are solid businessmen? I got some of this crap not too long ago overhearing a conversation about myself..(“Doug’s a government employee, and you know the type, they sit back in their chairs and drink coffee all day…)..this after having spent a week in the field, happier than a hog rolling in muck, inspecting recently-installed sewer lines from the inside, with hazmat gear and in freezing cold. My fifty-three year old frame sore from inspecting 10,000 feet of pipe on a creeper for ten hours each day.

    So you see, Liffey, the sisters aren’t the only ones that deal with insensitivity and rudeness. Of course, I’ll do my best to heed the words of the great Shogun Ieyasu: requite malice with kindness.

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  40. RockiesGma on February 15, 2013 at 11:57 PM

    Whoa, Hawkgrrl — everything every LDS female leader has said makes you want to vomit??? Love your OP, but that distinction for only quoting an apostle is plain lame. You either aren’t well-read on women leaders, or your seer stone is cracked. Hope you’ll get a new one. And if it’s their tone of voice that shuts down “hearing” and induces nausea…for shame. Women speak in all kinds of voices with many nuanced messages — just like the men do. Oak’s comment was spot on. But women leaders do that too. Like you, for example. And even general auxiliary boards quite regularly. I don’t always agree with them, nor do I always agree with the Q15. But good golly HG, these women often rock. Some would make better apostles than some apostles.

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  41. hawkgrrrl on February 16, 2013 at 3:33 AM

    RockiesGma – I’ll take your feedback. I really enjoyed Chieko Okazaki. I’ve enjoyed some of Barbara Whatzername’s talks also. But quoting Julie Beck, Elaine Dalton or many of the current female leaders in this OP is nearly impossible since almost everything they say contradicts my views. I’d have to go back to former leaders. Belle Spafford is somewhat quotable as I recall. And in the aforementioned talk by E. Oaks, he exclusively quoted females, Eliza Snow in particular.

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  42. RockiesGma on February 16, 2013 at 5:09 PM

    Awesome! Or, as I say, glo-o-ory! Susa Young Gates, Emmiline B. Wwells, Emma Smith — oh yeah. Sheri Dew writes good gender neutral stuff. Ardith Kapp, Susan Tanner. Sylvia Allred. Then Mother Teresa, Hillary, Michele, etc. I didn’t just mean LDS women in my mind, but my words came out that way. Also, I wasn’t even critical in heart or words about the irony. That came across that way, so I own that and apologize. I love EDO’s comment. I wish he would address this in GC so the whole church can hear this. Really Hawkgrrl…..I think this is an excellent, provocative, important post, and I love your comments on fMh! I’ll watch my reactions better, k? I’ll hush up now….

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  43. [...] Sadly, the ladies aren’t feeling much love when it comes to praying in church. (If you missed it here’s an overview.) Perhaps a consolation: it’s not just the Mormons. Next thing you know, the women will be wanting to get an education and equal pay and questioning the cult of motherhood!!! [...]

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  44. Laurie on March 1, 2013 at 10:38 AM

    Great post. It helped me become even more aware of some of my own hidden biases. I felt ashamed thinking back on how I once judged women who didn’t want children or who didn’t want to stay at home with their children. I think I’ve come quite a long way since then. Having a baby of my own 16 months ago also helped to “open my eyes” in many ways. My main criticism of the post was that there was never really an adequate acknowledgment that motherhood -in and of itself- is a very demanding, very fulfilling, and very important contribution -at least to many women. Some women may not in fact feel more fulfilled or more fully realize their potential by working outside the home. There is no “one size fits all.” Maybe that is just the point the author was trying to make. The post did acknowledge, “Women don’t have to work outside the home to realize their full potential. Plenty of people work who don’t realize their full potential.” I guess I just felt this point was under-emphasized. There are many ways for a women to feel connected to the world/society and to be exposed to new and stimulating ideas without working outside the home. However, the issues of identity and representation are very important, and I especially liked the idea of quoting more females and more openly discussing their non-motherhood-accomplishments within the church.

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  45. andrea on March 24, 2014 at 10:33 AM

    Very interesting. I’ve always wondered how many women would answer questions like “who are you?” or “what do you do?” unless they had kids, because so many women describe themselves as mothers first, and offer little else in terms of their identity. It can make the state of motherhood seem like some sort of elitist social club that some women will never be able to join. And it’s very true that childless women are often marginalized and looked down upon. I’ve felt the sting of that kind of discrimination for years, and it actually does hurt, especially when I experience it from other women. It’s become so common for people to ask me “how many kids do you have?” and then give me a really disapproving look when I say “none, and I don’t plan on having any.” Now, my reasons for this make complete sense to me – I have serious health problems that would make a pregnancy very dangerous for me physically, and I’m too poor to afford kids without going on welfare, but the few times I’ve bothered to explain this to others, they’ve bombarded me with challenges to my stance, as though my reasons for not having kids were silly or misinformed. And then I’ve been treated to a whole bunch of unwanted sympathy because they assume that I must desperately want kids in the first place. It’s almost as if some women think “if you’re not a mother, then you must be really selfish, or work-obsessed, or something even worse.” Well yes, motherhood is great, but it’s not the only thing that women can do with their lives. And sorry, but just having a kid doesn’t make you a good parent, so it’s not an accomplishment in and of itself. I agree with the points made here about more open discussion of non-motherhood accomplishments, but I don’t think that should just happen in the church. It should happen everywhere! Women need to know that they can do anything they set their minds and hearts to – whether it’s having beautiful babies or running a Fortune 500! Women shouldn’t sell each other short by harping on motherhood as an end-all-be-all.

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