Tuesday, November 20, 2007

LDS Women: Working Without Going to Work

Julie B. Beck, General President of the Relief Society of the LDS church, gave a wonderfully inspired talk during the past General Conference entitled Mothers Who Know. A sign of just how inspired this talk was is the small but vocal amount of criticism the talk has garnered from within the LDS church. The point of the talk was that the ideal LDS woman desires to be a mother, to have children, to be a person of integrity, and to be spiritually minded as opposed to being materialistic and superficial.

My wife has just finished a great book by Jane Clayson Johnson (former LDS CBS anchor) entitled, I am a Mother . According to my wife and her friends, this book recounts Jane Clayson's decision to turn down a contract renewal at CBS so that she could focus on being a wife and mother. The book's main point seems to be that "just being a mother is enough." However, in discussing the book and contrasting it's thesis with Pres. Beck's talk, my wife is of the opinion that "just being a mother" does not represent LDS Doctrine, nor does it correlate in any way with the spirit and message of Pres. Beck in talk during this past General Conference.

Now, don't misunderstand, Jane Clayson's book is excellent. However, it is clear that Clayson's life since her decision to turn down the CBS job starkly contradicts her thesis statement. Being "just a mother" is not enough for Clayson. That's why she wrote this book and why she travels the country on a book tour and giving endless firesides and motivational speeches. In the same way, "just being a mother" shouldn't be considered enough for any woman. And again we get into the pendulum swinging false dichotomy thing yet again where one side argues that just being a mom is good enough while the other side argues that woman need to perform a male role to be considered of value to society.

When Pres. Beck said that "mothers who know desire to bare children, are nurturers, and do less" she is not saying that just being a mother is enough. But on the other hand, the measure of a woman's worth should not held to a male standard. The crux of Pres. Beck's talk was that baring and nurturing children along with personal spirituality and obedience are the things that will bring women their most fulfillment in life. This is not an issue of capability. The issue is that at the end of the day, if a woman earns all the honors of men but never rears a family she is more likely to feel regret. Now the other side is trying to tell us that this guilt is artificially put on women by a negative and chauvinistic society and that if we changed the traditional foundation of our society that women could be freed to perform the male role be be freed from the oppressive feelings of regret and guilt.

I do not want to be misunderstood either on the point of women in the workplace. I fully support women in the workplace. Women in the workplace make an amazing and critical contribution. I fully support allowing women the freedom to choose when and if they will gain an education, work, marry and have children. However, I hope I can be free to encourage and champion the role of woman as mother and nurturer in the home.

That said, "just being a mother" is not enough for any woman. It is not enough for Pres. Beck, for Jane Clayson, or my wife, and does not reflect LDS Doctrine in any way. My wife told me as we discussed this Clayson book and the Beck talk that it is very important that she feel she can both work inside and outside the home without having to leave her children and go to work outside the home.

So, how does my wife find the right balance in her life. Well, honestly she hasn't always been balanced. But, she choose to get married and have a family during college. And we have been blessed to have 3 healthy children despite considerable difficulty and adversity. She has worked hard to develop a skill as an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter. As it turns out she has not finished her college degree yet which she has mixed feelings about. When we moved to our current job we were disappointed that there is not a prominent deaf community in the area. Consequently, my wife hasn't had the pleasure of using her ASL skills the last 2 years. However, as divine providence would have it, a member of our LDS congregation is loosing her hearing and now requires ASL translation. My wife hasn't been happier since she has started to ASL translate for this deaf sister each Sunday and to teach a Sunday School class in ASL. She also is busy planning baby showers for other new mothers in our neighborhood and social circle as well as planning play dates, going to the gym regularly, making dinners when needed and planning other social engagements. She also loves to actively participate in our children's school classes. And she has 4 of her best girlfriends who she went to highschool with who all attend medical school here and who look up to her and envy her.

My wife's experience supports that "just being a mom" should never be considered enough for any woman. My wife will be the first to tell you that she is far from the ideal (I disagree however). She has no intention to be a so-called "supermon" and we make it a point to ignore the "Jones'" and the latest fashions. And although the home is the source of her greatest happiness and joy, it is important for my wife to be a well-rounded, productive, and balanced individual where she is free to work inside and outside the home without being forced to go to work.


Anonymous said...

Pardon me for barging into your blog, but I have to tell you how much I enjoyed your post. It puts into words something I've been noticing in my own life.

I was happy to leave a career to become "just a mom" but I seemed to attract other projects too. I ended up writing for a local newspaper. Then the neighbor asked me to tutor her learning-disabled son during the summer, which led to a crash course on education.

I was called to a demanding calling at church. You know, I've heard women complain that mothers of young children shouldn't have to have demanding Church callings. Honestly though, a demanding Church calling can be a sanity saver. It's nice to have an obligation that people recognize as valid in a way they might not accept my tutoring or writing, as those are completely voluntary on my part. But who can turn down a Church calling? I believe Church callings are a wonderful way for a woman to be "more than a mom" without the stigma of putting children in daycare to work outside the home. Bring on the big callings!


Jessica said...

Melinda I have to digress and say that the safe assumption should always be to avoid giving mothers of young children "big callings." I think that Beck said it right when she said that mothers who know "do less," and I think that in the recent General Conference Ballard warned about not burdening young moms with hard callings. It REALLY bothers me when the people who suggest names for hard callings have not asked that person their opinion and feelings on tackling demanding callings. (in particular, the mid-week activity, bi-monthly presidency meetings, firesides, small speaking demands, stuff you need a babysitter for a lot, etc). I feel SO strongly about this. We're told in scripture to study things out before we ask for direction from the Lord. Why don't more church members apply this principle when there are vacant callings that need to be filled? It could be done tastefully and would in no way undermine the dependency on inspiration from the Lord. I've been an active member my whole life and have never once been asked (BEFORE a call was extended) how I would feel about a certain calling. Once you're ASKED BY THE LORD, you just CAN'T say no without negative consequences. Anyone who takes issue with that last sentence is just kidding themselves about the way the church operates. (even if the "negative consequence" is nothing more than feeling twinges of guilt or doubt for the rest of your life thinking that with God all things are possible....even a nursing baby at Girls camp for a strapped young mom on medicaid, or a 5 day a week early morning seminary with no gas reimursement for a poor young medical student who recently had his first child)

My new mantra as an active believing member: the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

Go ahead and judge....we all know about our own karma-esque philosopy about judging others.