Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Calling a Truce to the Mommy Wars

Recently Matt Walsh, a popular conservative Christian blogger, authored a viral post: he defended stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs), and lit up a firestorm of controversy.  Matt, welcome to the Mommy Wars: the she-should-be-at-home/what-do-you-do-all-day female judgment-apalooza.


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

So why this either or dichotomy?

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  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.


Monday, October 14, 2013

The Beauty of the Ocean and Following our Leaders

The knowledge of God and the Gospel is like the ocean.  When we enter the waters of baptism we dip our feet into the crystal clear waters near the shoreline.  We have oceanographers who are the few experts to help us navigate the waters.  The regularly hold classes to help us learn and understand what is around us.   As we enter the water there are family and friends who help teach us how to swim.  We are surrounded by those we love.  It is beautiful.  As we get to be better swimmers we can venture out and even learn to tread water in the deeper parts. 

Being as we are all different individuals it doesn't make sense that we all enjoy the ocean in the same way.  Some people feel closer to God by keeping their feet on the ground, others enjoy all the beauty and splendors found in the clear water but they like to go out deep and scuba dive, and some people get into the water and bring some tools to measure the salinity.  There are some parts of the ocean that have cloudy waters.   There have even been discoveries made by people wondering what's in all that darkness.  People asked questions and our Oceanographers brought back something we didn't think could possibly exist, ever.  Those waters aren't off limits, we're welcome to study different parts of the ocean.   It is important to remember that all we ever need for salvation is actually found in shallow, clear waters.  Some people find their love for their creator is strengthened by the clear waters.  Some people find their love strengthened in cloudy waters.  Our Oceanographers have always encouraged Oceanic study, and welcome questions that we bring to them.  

 When you're in the cloudy waters you find a lot of questions.  Where is the bottom?  Does it drop off?  What animals live in these conditions?  How many?  How do they survive?  What about plant life?  Almost any answer is possible.  We don't even have the tools to find the answers to all of our questions.  When I think about the cloudy waters, I am in awe of what God has done.  It strengthens my testimony of His Omniscience, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence.  I think there is beauty in the possibilities of what we can't see with our mortal eyes.  The wonder of the ocean sometimes requires our imagination.

I find beauty in a question and in saying, "I don't know the answer to my questions.  The possibilities are sometimes endless, for only God knows all things." 

There is danger when through our own reasoning we think we know more than the Oceanographers.  That when someone goes treading in cloudy waters they think they know where the bottom is, even though they've been told otherwise by Oceanographers.  They may have even found out through their own study where the bottom is.   Does that mean the Oceanographers are no longer your guide?  Do you doubt their place as our leaders? There is also danger in assuming to know something about the ocean does not exist, that it won't be discovered later on, or that what we know about the ocean is everything there is to know.  Those are two extreme sides of a completely acceptable journey in the ocean. 

It is true that past Oceanographers have taught things about the ocean that turned out to be false when new understanding and technology came.  But our current Oceanographers are always the most world-renowned experts in Oceanography.  They know more than has ever been known about the ocean.  Still, it's impossible that they know everything.  The Ocean is so deep and so expansive our minds can't even comprehend its size and weight.  It doesn't change the fact that they are who God has chosen or lead, guide, and teach us.  God hasn't promised that his Oceanographers know everything about the ocean, but he's promised that if we listen to them we will never be in danger. 


I think you guys can see where I'm going with this.  It can be taken in a million different ways.  Right now I see a lot of people in the Ocean angry with each other.  There is contention instead of meekness and humility.  Sometimes I think God may be prompting the ladies of OW to test our hearts, to see how we respond to those who do not agree with us.  I know their activism, which I don't agree with, has led me to uplifting and sincere study in the temple and out of it.  I'm grateful for that.  I also believe we received words specific for our situation today from our leaders in General Conference.  And no, I didn't see a "feminist smackdown" as my cousin purported. I did see that our leaders love and care for us enough to address our concerns.  I added some of my favorite quotes in an appendix below. 

To wrap this baby up, I just want to say I'm a big time believer in modern revelation.  In acknowledging that the understanding of man is limited in understanding the knowledge of God.  I believe there is a lot more revelation coming down the pike the next few generations.  That the temple ceremony will likely change as much in the next 100 years as it has in the last 100 years as we receive further light and knowledge. 

If we feel that there is a teaching out there that may be subject to change in the future, what do we do?  I'll tell you what I do, I follow Elder Hafen:
My experience has taught me always to give the Lord and his church the benefit of any doubts I may have when some such case seems too close to call. I stress that the willingness to be believing and accepting in these cases is a very different matter from blind obedience. It is rather, a loving and knowing kind of obedience.
That when it comes down to it, if there's a question for me -- I say, the teachings we have for today are the teachings for today.  I accept them.  I follow the Prophet.   I leave open the possibility that God may change how he's running the show in the future, and it may simply blow our minds.  

Or in the wise words of Jerry Seinfeld regarding authority, "Pants always beats no pants." **

**This reference could be construed as deeper meaning of who gets to wear the pants.  It's not.  Literally we trust doctors because they have training.  We trust leaders because they are chosen.  


Below you will find some of my favorite thoughts and moments from last weekend.  

Elder Hales opened conference by speaking about speaking in General Conference.  It was very meta.  But it was almost as if the Lord was giving us a preface before we jumped in with both feet this time: 
President Harold B. Lee taught: “The only safety we have as members of this church is to … give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet. There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your [personal] views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; … and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory’ (D&C 21:6).”10
Immediately after Elder Soares speaks about the importance of being meek, humble, and teachable in responding to others and not just our leaders.  Most of the anger and hate I've seen is towards the small group of women who has a different opinion than the majority. 
What about when people disagree with your ideas, even though you are absolutely sure that they represent the proper solution to a problem? What is your response when someone offends you, critiques your efforts, or is simply unkind because he or she is in a bad mood? At these moments and in other difficult situations, we must learn to control our temper and convey our feelings with patience and gentle persuasion.
I love the story he finishes his talk with, about the man in South Africa who is kept out of the church even though he believes it.  It's not right that he's kept out, it's an injustice.  And he responds in love and meekness in asking the window be opened so he could partake of the Gospel until years later when he is baptized.  There are similar stories in the scriptures, too.

I love this teaching from Lorenzo Snow that I've been pondering for a while.  My first read was that he was saying when we hear something we don't disagree with we should pray for a witness that it is true. But it's actually saying that we can pray to know of their motives and interests.  We can feel their love for us.
There may be some things that the First Presidency do; that the Apostles do, that cannot for the moment be explained; yet the spirit, the motives that inspire the action can be understood, because each member of the Church has a right to have that measure of the Spirit of God that they can judge as to those who are acting in their interests or otherwise.[9]
 Of course I loved Elder Uchtdorf.  For someone whose very nature is to question and to ask why, and whose testimony has been strengthened by finding questions or imperfections -- the man is an answer to my prayers.  
In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth

Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of Church history—along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and divine events—there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.  Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction.

Sometimes there is a difference of opinion as to what the “facts” really mean. A question that creates doubt in some can, build faith in others.  And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.