He is truly baffled by the criticism he's receiving, because it's true: SAHMs need more props. The problem, when you defend them in a way that holds it up as the one true way things should be done? Yeah, you might ruffle a few feathers. A few short years ago I would have agreed with him. That's how I was raised. Good mothers stay home. Mothers who choose to work and doing irreparable damage to children. They are choosing to work for unnecessary extravagances of life. Of course if you have to work, you have no choice, so that's your out. Pages and pages of quotes from leaders in my church can be found over the last few decades echoing the sentiment.
Yet I have found my experience to be different. I feel I have some authority to speak in this area, as I've worked full-time, part-time, and been a SAHM as well. I will tell you that being home full-time is so psychologically draining sometimes I just wanted to stab myself with a spoon to make it stop. It is very, very hard with little ones and messes and potty training, etc. Just learning how to manage the tornado of life with little ones afoot is a sheer act of superpower.
I also just finished working-full time while my daughter was in first and second grades. It was a completely different kind of stress. It is a very different kind of hard, a very different kind of not-one-moment-for-yourself and burdened by the needs and expectations of everyone in your life. The amount of time we had to do the important things was extremely condensed . . . and yet I still fit in the important things.
I have also worked part-time and I must admit it is entirely preferable. In a perfect world I would have would still be an Asset Management Analyst for 30 hours a week. I know Sheryl Sandberg would be disappointed with my brand of Leaning In, but it truly would have provided a perfect work/home balance. Kids and moms need a break from each other. There is such a thing as too much kid time and not taking care of yourself, and there's such a thing as kids having moms meet their needs too much.
While I was working I attended training in Cincinnati the week my daughter started second grade. It was a tortuous decision for me to go. Guilt laden. And you know what? My daughter was better for it. She didn't need her mom that day: her dad curled her hair and got her ready and pulled me up on Skype so I could say goodbye and watch her get on the bus. There were times she had to attend day care. It was good for her. My daughter relies far too much on me, and getting out of the car and going to day care where she didn't know anyone was a hard thing. She had to learn how to do a hard thing. And she was better for it. Part of my job as a good parent is to slowly teach my child that they do not need me, so that by the time they are 18 they have all the tools to be successful without me.
While I was working I was surrounded by other working mothers. Their kids were loving and obedient and smart, their marriages were happy, and they have found a balance that truly worked for their families. They were good moms with good kids. I finally came to a realization: there are good mothers who work and good mothers who stay-at-home. There are also really crappy mothers that work and really crappy mothers who stay-at-home. The home/work split is not where the definition of 'good mother' is found. As another woman discovered as she researched the principles of biblical womanhood, if you want to be a woman of valor, it is found in your character, not in your role.
I know mostly it was how I was raised. When I was home it made me feel like I was making the right choice when others were wrong about theirs. It reinforced my decision and made me feel better in all the hard moments - like the day when I was covered with three different body fluids from three different children. I felt better when I thought what I was doing was the one right way, but I figured something out. There is not one right way to be or live your life or manage your family.
I have a friend who teaches the online Family Proclamation class for BYUI while her husband stays at home. Recently Segullah, an online literary journal for LDS women, ran a series about working mothers, their stories, and how the Spirit prompted them into the workforce. One woman is a cancer nurse, another an engineer. The engineer ended her story with this advice, "If there was one piece of advice I could give a young woman it would be to follow the Spirit. No matter what you think your life should be, no matter your dreams, always be willing to follow promptings of the Spirit. They will lead to happiness and usually something better than you have dreamed for yourself."
If personal revelation to do what is best for you and your family has been the answer all along, what about all those quotes over the past five decades from the prophets? Has there been a time in the past where it was okay for women to work outside the home without destroying the family? I decided to do some research (my favorite thing). Brigham Young was a conundrum - at times portrayed as feminist and sometimes anti-feminist. In the 1978 study "A Woman's Place in Brigham Young's World", the author shows that both are correct. He taught that men are to be masters over their wives because the curse that came upon women in the Garden of Eden for them to be dependent upon men (yikes). But later on he turned out to be a champion of female education and women working outside the home to build the kingdom. Granted, after the end of the Civil War in the 1860s the telegraph and transcontinental railroad came to Utah, as well as non-members with a promise to settle and overwhelm the Mormons at the ballot box. So when gentile doctors and accountants showed up in Utah, he felt compelled to provide those things within our own community as a form of self-reliance.
“I do not know how long it will be before we call upon the brethren and sisters to enter upon business in an entirely different way from what they have done,” Young postulated at April conference in 1867. The following December he announced, “We have sisters now engaged in several of our telegraph offices, and we wish them to learn not only to act as operators but to keep the books of our offices.”
Brigham Young was a particularly strong advocate of women's education. "We have sisters here who, if they had the privilege of studying, would make just as good mathematicians or accountants as any man; and we think they ought to have the privilege to study these branches of knowledge that they may develop the powers with which they are endowed," he said. "We believe that women are useful, not only to sweep houses, wash dishes, make beds, and raise babies, but that they should stand behind the counter, study law or [medicine], or become good book-keepers and be able to do the business in any counting house, and all this to enlarge their sphere of usefulness for the benefit of society at large" (Journal of Discourses, [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854–86], vol. 13, p. 61).
In 1873 Bathsheba Smith reported that “the President had suggested to her that three women from each ward be chosen to form a class for studying physiology and obstetrics.” A few weeks later Eliza R. Snow declared that “President Young is requiring the sisters to get students of Medicine. He wants a good many to get a classical education, and then get a degree for Medicine. . . . If they cannot meet their own expenses, we have means of doing so.” For several years Young had been teaching that women should attend to the health of their sex. With the influx of educated gentile doctors following the Civil War and the coming of the railroad, Young realized the Latter-day Saints would need professional doctors in order to remain self-sustaining. Romania Bunnell Pratt, the first Mormon woman to get professional training under this program, returned to Utah from the Woman’s Medical College in New York after her freshman year there. Her finances were depleted and so she paid a visit to President Young who instructed Eliza R Snow to “see to it that the Relief Societies furnish Sister Pratt with the necessary money to complete her studies.” This encouragement came in spite of the fact that Romania had to leave her young children with her own mother in order to complete the training. “We need her here,” said Young, “and her talents will be of great use to this people.”So if Brigham Young built the Kingdom by having women work, what to do about the gender roles we are currently taught? I find it instructive that two years ago in Conference Elder Packer called the Family Proclamation a "revelation from God", but in the text released from the Church, they reworded his description to "a guide that members of the Church would do well to read and follow.” It's a guide, and if we follow the Spirit, Heavenly Father will guide us on a path that we are supposed to follow, regardless of whether it fits into "how things are supposed to be done." How are things supposed to be done in my life? I'll tell you I have no idea. I know I'm doing my best to follow the Spirit. I feel like I had been so converted in my life to the teachings of gender roles and what I was supposed to be doing - Heavenly Father had to smack a brick up the side of my head to get me to go to school and finish my degree. I've felt the most peace when I wasn't trying to have a baby. Recently I received an impression based on some things in my Patriarchal Blessing that I should get a job so I can help prepare for the future. So, this week I start a new part-time job: I can be reached at email@example.com. I feel like Heavenly Father's had a plan and a path for me this whole time, and He's frustrated I haven't been open to other possibilities other than the 'ideal'.
So for the love of all things beautiful, I call truce.
We need to stop. Stop the mommy wars. All mothers need support. All good mothers need praise. This is the problem: judging. When we feel judged we want to lash right back. And it's not just about whether we stay at home or work, we also receive judgment about a million other things. We don’t need to go around devaluing others based on our own choices. It’s a simple matter of appreciating everyone…every parent who contributes to the proper raising of a child to the very best of their abilities. If you find that you get some contentment out of putting down others based on their life decisions; I would suggest therapy. Because I have a secret, everyone is doing the best they can in this beautiful, messy thing we call life.