Mormon Mothers and Mediocrity

I live in the D.C. area, so I take the Washington Post. There was an interesting article today about some insensitive remarks that Larry Summers, controversial President of Harvard, made about women in the sciences. I don't know how to link to the Post, so I'll copy the parts of the article I found interesting: [Summers] saw what he considered to be a dearth of women in 'high-end scientific professions' and had offered up his own personal conclusions. Maybe it's because women do not have the same 'intinsic aptitude' for these fields, he suggested, or maybe they make trade-offs when it comes to balancing work with family. Maybe, he said, the discrepency wasn't about socialization--girls being encouraged in certain fields, boys in others- -but rather about taste. The article's focus was not necessarily Summers' remarks, but rather one woman scientist's response to those remarks. She called them "uninspiring and false." The article then went on to chronicle this woman's incredible career as a scientist. Vera Rubin is "an esteemed scientist whose pioneering research on galaxies is considered some of the most significant work in her field. She has raised innovative questions about the movements of galaxies and the existence of dark matter. She's one of the world's outstanding astronomers and one of the great Carnegie scientists." She's also a mother of 4. How did she do it? Well, as the Post put it, "There were blips." The Post also states, "...after...she had her first child, she found herself outside academia and frequently in tears at the playground with her toddler son. 'I wept', she says, 'thinking of all those people out there studying science'." Um, does that sentence resonate with anybody else? The article goes on to say that Vera and her husband, also an astronomer, had to make adjustments. She enrolled in a graduate program, got babysitters, etc, etc, and now her 4 children all have Ph.Ds and are as brillant as she is. Ok, so why am I posting about this? 2 reasons: 1) I like to celebrate a mother's accomplishments outside of just baking banana bread (which is what I did this morning), especially in a field that is so overwhelmingly dominated by men. 2)I'm hoping to spark a discussion about whether or not the messages we get from the Church about being mothers also contributes to us being mediocre in other areas of our lives. We hear that we should stay at home, raise our families. I am a stay at home mom, so clearly I believe in the benefits of being there for my son. But being a stay at home mom has not made me a better speech pathologist, at least not the last time I checked, which frankly, has been a while. I am not particularly interested in science, like Vera Rubin, but if I were, could being a Mormon mother also allow me to be a world class scientist, like she is? Vera's story shows us that we can be good mothers and world class whatevers, but if she were Mormon, do you think she would have gotten the support she needed along the way? As it was, the article said that she was overwhelmingly discouraged by professors, etc, as was her daughter, interestingly enough. Her daughter was even told that she should quit and go get married. Needless to say, the daughter chose a female mentor after that. I think the church wants women to excel at being mothers, that the home is the first line of defense against the evils of the world, with the mother being the one in the trenches. I believe that, wholeheartedly. But are there more subtle messages that keep us from fulfilling our potential outside of the home? And is being an excellent mother a significant enough contribution to the world that we don't need to worry about doing things like discovering radon, or teaching deaf and blind people how to read and write? Don't get me wrong--I am NOT trying to devalue the good of raising well-adjusted human beings. I just wonder if the messages about being an excellent mother we hear so often makes it impossible to be anything but mediocre everywhere else.


Blogger Melissa said...

Interesting post Heather... I think you've hit on something that not only Mormon's are struggling with ... a friend of mine (not a member) forwarded this to me:


I think -- in spite of all we do as women, whether Mormon or not -- there isn't any way we can do everything. I don't think it's physically or emotionally possible to be an excellent mother and excel at something else.

Unless... we get a lot more support from our husbands. That's one of the things that bugs me about the whole feminist movement: there's a lot of emphasis on women "having it all" and nothing on men helping out. I've always felt that women could do more if they weren't expected to come home and be super-mom, super-nanny, super-cook and super-chauffer after work.

I've been blessed with a DH that's incredibly supportive, as have many of my friends, so whether or not I excel at anything is my own fault for lack of trying. Not for lack of support or from the Church "telling" me I can't.

3/17/2005 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger Julie M. Smith said...

Great post.

I think the demands of being an active LDS mean that man or woman, parent or no, we've got a hard task in fields that demand huge chunks of time, what with Sunday not available, and then callings, home/visiting teaching, Temple trips, etc., etc., etc.,

That said, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is my hero. While I'm sure she put in the hours, the impression I have is that she worked smart, not just hard. She raised five kids, taught seminary, and still ended up with a Pulitzer and a job at Harvard.

3/17/2005 03:02:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

I don't think my husband is encouraged to do amazing things outside of home and church any more than I am. He is encouraged to provide, of course. But not to cure cancer.
I am really surprised at what I've been reading the past month on all these Mormon blogs. Are there really so many women feeling trapped in their lives....feeling unsatisfied? I think men have the same feelings. They just ignore them longer till they blow up in one big mid-life crisis.
Women, instead, have these continual smaller mid life crisis feelings of "what is my life about" and deal with them all the way along.
I just wonder why all these feelings center on being a woman and disporportionally blame gender for every feeling of limitation, lack of opportunity, failure or disappointment.
When I feel like I'm failing, or I feel dissatisfied, or I feel frustrated, it isn't because of my gender. It is because this is life. Everyone has problems.
Is it too easy blame your circumstances (poor paying job, living in a certain city, marital status, or gender, etc) whenever you are unhappy with something.
We live in the US. We live in the 21st century. We have modern medicine. We have running water and plumbing and electricity. We have all the material goods we need and some we want. We don't have to churn our butter or grow our own vegetables.
What would our great great grandparents think of our dissatisfaction?
Wouldn't they point out that we have so much time on our hands. We have so many avenues and opportunities to fulfill whatever goals we set for ourselves.

If you want to be a better speech pathologist, you DO have options.
I have a ton of suggestions, if you worked with kids, that is, since all of my experience is about my son.
What you might want to keep in mind is that being a SAHM has made ME a better SLP. I am immensely proud of what I have learned and accomplished as a mother in an SLP role.
If we are not off being world class scientists, perhaps we are learning something equally important when we are parenting our kids.
I've got to go, so I have to wrap up quick. I think that perhaps I didn't feel like I was learning great things in the first couple years of being a mother. Sometimes it was more like training for a marathon, physically exhausting and keeping yourself mentally in the game even when it was hard. Later it became a little more intellectually challenging.
Anyway, in my 34 years, I don't think I can look back on any time in my life that I don't think I was learning something worthwhile.

3/17/2005 05:46:00 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

I think, interestingly enough, that it's that the time we have that breeds dissatisfaction. If we were churning our own bread and growing our own vegetables would we be wondering what meaning our lives had?

Working smarter, not more, like Julie said, is probably the answer. That, and the same things the church teaches: service, service, service. Can you say your life is mediocre when you're out helping people? Even if it is just doing VT every month?

3/17/2005 06:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Heather O. said...


I don't know that I am totally dissatisfied with my life. After all, it is my life, and I feel that I am exactly where my choices have taken me. But what I struggle with is the difficulty I personally have with balancing being a good mother, and all of those responsibilities, and trying to do anything else on an excellent level. I think what Melissa said about how the enormous amount of time we have can add to the dissatisfaction is true. And that goes along with what you said about the time we live in and the opportunities that we have. We have so much, it's sometimes hard to figure out how to take advantage of it all, and having so much available to us and NOT taking advantage of it is where the feelings of mediocrity creep in.


Laurel Thathcer Ulrich is one of my heros too. She is a self-described stay-at-home mom, and now her husband gets to retire on her salary at Harvard!

3/17/2005 06:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Mathew said...

I just don't see the institutional support for young mothers who want to do something besides full-time mothering. Is there a more subtle message that keeps them from fulfilling their potential outside the home? Well--there is a message, but it doesn't strike me as particularly subtle. How much more explicit can you get than to say to young mothers that they should stay at home? And it seems clear to me that there is a certain stigma attached to women who have small children and still work--especially when they are working in the professions. This is probably due to the perception that they are "choosing" to work rather than doing it to make ends meet.

Of course someone has to take care of small children and middle-class people usually can't afford to outsource this task, even if they wanted to.

It seems, however, that the church has great institutional support for dilletantism among women. They are encouraged to pursue an education, but not a career. Yet it is during the crucial early years following an education where a person gets the invaluable experience and depth that most of us need to see ourselves as able to work independently. I can think of multiple instances where I have heard about a G.A.'s wife who takes classes or frequently attends lectures--but can't recall an example of one who taught or gave the lecture.

That's not to say that we don't all have to make choices and live with the consequences--it is much easier to make choices the consequences of which we are happy to live with when the institutions we belong to support our choices.

3/17/2005 06:57:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

"I struggle with is the difficulty I personally have with balancing being a good mother, and all of those responsibilities, and trying to do anything else on an excellent level."

This is an interesting comment. I recently decided that it is pointless to have friends over as entertainment because of my 3 kids, their kids, and me playing hostess prevents me from being fun. I thought to myself, I used to be more fun. How am I supposed to make friends if I'm not any fun. So, for the first time since we had kids, we paid a babysitter and went out to dinner with friends. It was great. Expensive though, and that's probably why we hadn't considered doing it before. Never had that kind of money in the budget.
And then there's the how can you have a sex life after kids. I really miss those long weekend mornings and we won't get them back until they are teenagers and start sleeping in!
And how can you finish a conversation after kids--you can't save everything until the baby's asleep.
I do put a priority on an excellent sex life. Takes a lot, though. And I put a priority on being happily married, instead of just married.
I guess all that stuff is inside the home (unless we go parking and get frisky in the car).
Oh, but I am working on making more girlfriends. A good friend recenty moved, there were ward boundary changes, and I felt like I needed more connections with people at church and in the community.
And this year I starting volunteering at my child's school and love teaching kids math. I get a babysitting and everything. One hour and 15 minutes a week.
I chose to do it not just because I am a good tutor, but because it is my child's school, I can be involved in her education and the children she will grow up with. I only ever tutored for money before. So I'd put it in the category of parenting, rather than pursuing excellence outside the home.
I guess I don't want to do anything else on an excellent level. It would require making choices I am not willing to make.
I do wonder how much my experience having a child with difficulties has affected my perspective on this. When you feel that desperation to help them NOW because later isn't good enough.

Anyway, speaking of which, I don't think I can continue to be so excellent at being addicted to internet blogs as I seem to have been the past couple weeks, so pretty soon I may have to quit cold turkey.

3/17/2005 08:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Andrea Wright said...

Thinking about all this reminds me of a time right after I'd had my first baby. I was happily married, had just quit my job and was a full-time Mom to a beautiful baby girl. My husband came home from work one day to find me holding our screaming colicky daugher crying right along with her. When he asked me what was wrong, I said through sobs, "Nothing, I have everything I ever wanted." I willingly made the choice to be a stay-at-home mom, but that doesn't mean that like Heather, I don't question whether I'm doing enough both as a Mother and as just a person.

JKS, I agree it's good to keep things in perspective, but that doesn't mean we can't ever evaluate our life and it's purpose and if there's more we should be doing. There's a difference between discontent and divine discontent as Elder Maxwell taught. Sometimes discontent can be just the tool we need to open our eyes and see something we've previously missed.

Heather, I have felt lately like The Church has encouraged women to find ways to develop and serve outside of being mothers as well as excelling as mothers. In a former Stake of mine, the Stake RS Pres told us that Pres. Hinkley (I'm not sure what her source was) was concerned that the women of the church were not looking beyond the walls of their own homes. I think it's us (meaning me and perhaps others) who box ourselves into a narrow defnition of our duty. I'm not saying I think we can have it all, but I do think that we can have more than a lot of people think. There are women who successfully raise and nurture their children (and enjoy it) and also develop and use their other talents.

Julie, I think you're a great example of that. I think, are you the one who wrote a book? If you're not, you're probably still a good example of that. :)

3/17/2005 11:33:00 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

matthew --

I don't feel that the Church discourages us from fulfilling our potential outside the home. I think the problem is that "fulfilling your potential" is generally interpreted as "having a job". Do we need to earn money to be fulfilled?

Russell brought up the possibility that in the Church we overreact to the above interpretation which leads us to the "dilletantism". Maybe, because of that, we as Mormon women haven't learned to focus -- as Julie, or Laurel Thatcher Ulrich did -- to do a little bit of something "worthwhile" at a time.

As an aside, I know Mormon women who are the main breadwinners in their household and their husbands stay home with the kids. I don't know what kind of institutional stigma is attached to their choices. Or if they even feel stigma at all.

3/18/2005 09:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Nate Oman said...

With regard to "dilletantism" it is worth remembering that the majority of people -- male or female -- are dilletants at best. Indeed, even the majority of scholars and professionals are, I'll wager, basically dilletants most of the time. I can certainly see how commitments to family, church, etc. could dampen one's striving for excellence, but it is worth remembering that excellence, by definition, eludes the grasp of most.

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings."

3/18/2005 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger Heather O. said...


I would say that most stay-at-home dads feel a stigma, even the ones that I have met who are not Mormon. I even know of one Mormon woman who was appalled that a man was a stay-at-home dad because frankly, he could not get a teaching job at the college level, and his wife could make big bucks doing her thing. This woman said, "Then he should teach in high school while his wife stays home!" I doubt that's this woman's opinion is the minority one in the church. She just had the courage (audacity?) to express it.

3/18/2005 11:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Mathew said...


You make an interesting observation--that mothers with young children are discouraged from working for pay. There doesn't seem to be a problem with volunteer work. I wonder why that is. [insert your theory here!]

I still remember enough of my days as an English major to say that we don't need to earn money to be fulfilled, but knowing someone values your contributions enough to pay you for them is an important sign of recognition. I started feeling a lot more fulfilled when I went from making my waiter's salary to making my lawyer's salary. The subsequent improvement in my standing within my family and community was very real--and undeniably pleasant.

Moeny isn't the only mark of success, but in our society it does an admirable job of signaling our contributions are valued and, perhaps more importantly as it relates to the question of dilletantism, encouraging us to further develop our skills once we have left the ivory tower.


By setting the bar unfairly high you ignore the idea that fulfillment can be had in the striving. Striving for excellence, though we never attain it, will cover a host of mediocrities.

3/18/2005 01:32:00 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Heather -- You're probably right that they do feel a bit of a stigma; though the two friends of ours who stay home have never really expressed it. Or if they have, they've never really dwelt on it. It's probably telling that we feel that it's fundamentally the woman's job to do the parenting. What's wrong with both parents? I would love to see more GA's talk about the importance of father's being home.

Matthew -- In your post, you hit upon what I consider one of the main problems with American society. Why is making a lawyer's salary more fulfilling that making a waiter's? Why is teaching college better than teaching high school? Why is being paid for work more important and fulfilling than being a volunteer? What's the big deal with succeeding anyway?

3/18/2005 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...


Great questions! Nate used to laugh at me because I would always go into a funk after seeing a girlfriend of mine who is a concert violinist (and a mother of 3--ages 3 and under-whoa!). He would say, "You feel like a failure next to her, don't you?" And I would say, "Yes!" And he would say, "But you don't want to be a concert violinst--you've never wanted to be a concert violinist. You don't even know how to play the violin!" I would shrug and mumble, then finally he said, "You just feel like a failure because she is a concert violinist and you're not? That's psychotic!" Men see things so much simpler sometimes, don't they?

I read a quote somewhere that said that success makes one intolerant of failure, and failure makes one intolerant of success. Maybe that's our problem--we're just not tolerant enough of everybody!

3/18/2005 01:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Mathew said...


It isn't only American society. It seems almost certain that there is correlation between badges of status and fulfillment. Some of that may come from being admired and some of it may come from possessing unique skills that would bring satisfaction independent of their ability to generate admiration. Most people, though, aren't too good at obtaining those skills without encouragement from their social structure.

That's one reason I think it is harder for Mormon women to be fulfilled outside the home--their religious community supports only limited activities outside the home and likely penalizes them in terms of status as they obtain the badges of status valued by the larger American populace.

The second paragraph is a little loosey-goosey--I'm trying to work though a lot of work on my desk and don't have the time to formulate a proper response. I'm throwing it out there to see if it will stick.

3/18/2005 02:11:00 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Heather -- I've felt some of the same things especially as I've watched friends careers (in music, too) take off. I don't want to be a violinist or a cabaret singer or an accountant for charity organizations. But I do want to have a "thing". And Russell supports me by encouraging me to find my "thing". It's not that I'm unhappy being a mom. Or that I want to be paid for it. But I do want something aside from my kids.

I don't know if I feel discouraged by the church to do that but maybe, as I said Russell suggested earlier, and what Matthew's getting at, the RS tends to help us find our "things" in more traditional "homemaker" avenues: cleaning, cooking, crafts, sewing, etc. I've never been personally set off by someone who works outside the home. Perhaps some of my friends who are SAHMs would be, though.

Matthew -- what does it say of us humans that we live for validation from outside sources? Perhaps this is part of what the gospel is about -- finding satisfaction and fulfillment from sources other than the world?

I'm still not willing to say that the Church as an institution stigmitzies women for pursuing fulfillment outside the home. I guess, however, encouraging women to be at home with ther children is a kind of discouragement from pursuing worldly fulfillment. What kinds of status penalities are you suggesting? Relegation to primary? No stake callings?

3/18/2005 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...


Maybe the messages aren't directly coming from the institution. But I know that my violinst friend, who is, by the way, an excellent mom, gets a lot of static from people in the ward who view her as working outside the home. It's caused some friction in her relationships with other women who view themselves as more traditional SAHMs.

3/18/2005 04:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Mathew said...


You hit the nail right on the head--institutionally the church doesn't need to take formal action to stigmatize women pursing fulfillment outside the home, all it needs to do is lay out an ideal sharply at odds with such activities--the disparate membership will do the rest. Shaming is still one of the most an effective means of reinforcing group mores.

Institutionally the church has yet to make a place for women devoting large quanties of time outside the home. If it did, Mormon women shaming women as Mormom women would dry up.

Of course the mommy wars are contained just to women in the church--our society would have to change quite a bit before women shaming women for working (and vice-versa) ends. But for those who self-identify first as a Mormon mom, insitutional change in the church would make a big difference.

3/18/2005 04:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Mathew said...

That should read "aren't contained just to the church".

3/18/2005 04:51:00 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Heather and Matthew --

Point granted.

But as you pointed out, the shaming and guilt aren't contained to just the church. Which begs the question -- not to threadjack -- how could the Church change their point of view institutionally? If the family is the most important thing, and the building block of society (both of which I agree with) how can there not be an emphasis on someone staying home to tend the hearth? And since the women have the babies...

What I would like the church to do is not so much change their empahsis on women staying home so much as put more emphasis on men being at home to help. Not just preside, but help.

3/18/2005 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...


Again, great questions. And I don't think there's a good answer. If you look at General Conference talks, they are very similar over the years. We tend to hear the same things: Faith, repentence, prayer, keeping the Sabbath Day--all pretty basic stuff. When you compare the speeches today to earlier stuff-well, let's just say the earlier stuff had a lot more "meat". And the argument is made that the Church harps on the same things over and over because they are the basics, and people have to master the basics, understand the rules before they can start making exceptions. Perhaps it is the same with family messages. The Church wants the family to be strong, and the best way for that to happen is to have the parents take the role of parenting seriously, and have at least one parent in the home. Yes, there can be exceptions to this rule that can work quite effectively, but just like the other principles of the Gospel, the brethren have to expound the rules before they can consider exceptions.

3/18/2005 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger Oscar said...

"Institutionally the church has yet to make a place for women devoting large quanties of time outside the home. If it did, Mormon women shaming women as Mormom women would dry up."

This discussion is interesting, particularly since I think there is still a rather significant stigma in the broader society about women staying at home with their small children - it's not just a Mormon phenomenon.

I worked at a large law firm for a few years, and women attorneys with small children at home were typically criticized for working so many long hours, whereas no one ever remarked on the fact that the male attorneys with children were spending too much time at the office.

Not to say that the religious aspect is unimportant, but I think there need to be many changes in the way we as a society (in the U.S. in particular) view work and family responsibilities, in order for more women to feel comfortable pursuing interests outside the home.

3/18/2005 08:19:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

I really try not to judge working mothers. So many are single and have to support themselves and their kids. So many really couldn't make it without their income. So many try to switch off hours with the husbands to avoid daycare even though it's tough on family life.
But it is truly hard to watch a friend make choices that hurt their kids.
Today I babysat a 7 year old for a non-school day. Last minute. He was here for 12 hours.
I took the him plus 4 other kids to the science center. My 7 yr old girl, her 7 yr old friend, my 5 yr old boy and my 1 year old girl. All together those four other kids were less trouble than he was.
He whined so much. He couldn't stay with the group. He wouldn't obey my instructions. I would have to physically move him in order to get him to be where he needed to be.
This kid needs help. Who is going to give it to him?

3/19/2005 02:51:00 AM  
Blogger TftCarrie said...


First I want to tell you that I really enjoy the Mommy Wars blog. I am hoping to be able to carve out enough time to read it more often and comment as well. I especially enjoyed this post because it is a subject that I think about quite often and discuss with family members and friends. I am a mother of one 2 year old with one on the way. I call myself a SAHM but I have also been working part time for the past year.

I can definitely relate to the tears of Andrea as she sat in her life that she had always wanted. When I had my daughter, I always knew that I would quit my job. At first I knew this because it was what I was "supposed" to do. When the baby came, my boss, even though she knew my intentions were to quit, told me to just go on maternity leave to keep the door open "just in case". I thought it was funny that she thought I might change my mind, but I did what she suggested. The thing that surprised me once I had the baby was that I really did miss my job. From lessons that I had been taught ever since I started YW, I just sort of thought that the fulfillment I would find in raising a child would somehow replace that fulfillment I got from my career. Boy was I wrong. I loved my daughter more than anything, but I still felt like there was this big hole in my life. I can't even begin to tell you how I held on to that notion that I was just on maternity leave. I spent the first three months trying to figure out what I was feeling and how I was going to feel like myself again without my career, which for me was also my creative outlet. I finally decided that I really did need to quite my job because working there would not allow me to be the kind of mother that I wanted to be (long hours, inflexible schedules, traveling). Even though I finally felt like I was the one making the decision, I still cried when I made the call to my boss to actually quit.

During the next year I did some freelance work here and there and then when my daughter was eighteen months old, I was offered a part-time job in my field was flexible hours and no traveling. The difference between what I am doing and what this original post was about it that I am not discovering new galaxies or curing cancer and some people would probably argue that what I do doesn't really help out society at all, but I love doing it and I know I am really good at it. Most of the time I feel like I am a better mom, a better wife, a better VT, a better daughter, a better friend, and better in my calling, etc. etc. Maybe it is because working outside the home gives me a confidence that I can't get anywhere else. Is this wrong? I don't know but it works for me.

I will admit though, there are times that I feel guilty because my house should be cleaner, my daughter should have more art on the walls, and I should make more dinners at home. The pressure to be a "perfect mother" and a "woman that has it all" is always there. I just keep trying to make up my own definitions of what those women are.

I do want to add that I also believe that having a "supportive social structure" is so vital. I am very lucky to live where I do because I have support from many other Mormon mothers who also work part-time. I also was brought up in what many would think was a very traditional and conservative Mormon family where my dad worked and my mom (who never finished college) stayed home. But, all of my 5 sisters work outside the home but in flexible positions where they excel in what they do. I also have a completely supportive husband that not only helps at home but has always encouraged me to excel all my areas of interest.

I always hope that other women feel like they have options when it comes to pursuing interests outside the home. It doesn't have to be full-time job or nothing at all.

Sorry so long. Still feel like I have a ton more to say.

3/19/2005 09:25:00 AM  
Blogger The Wiz said...

I can totally relate to wanting to go back to work after your first child was born - I went back to work after 12 weeks, because I had to in order to keep my health benefits. I was so excited. I decided that a lot of it was because being pregnant changed me so much physically, I was so anxious to get back to 'being me' again. And part of 'me' was my job.

I quit soon thereafter, because the guilt was setting in, the guilt of having my sister watch my baby so much, and she basically slept in the afternoon when I was home with her, so I felt like I wasn't getting to know her.

But soon after that, being 'me' didn't include making money, or having a job. I found new ways to define myself. And once the third child was born, there really was no way logistically that I would be able to work outside the home for quite a while.

However, my oldest daughter is already saying she's not sure she wants to have kids because she wants to be an artist when she grows up. She doesn't see how she can do both (Hi! She's 5). I tell her that she will be able to work it out, that lots of mommies do things other than being a mommy. She perked up at that, but I know it still worries her, because she brings it up quite a bit.

I always thought being home was best for my kids, and I still believe that, but the example I'm setting unwittingly seems to be teaching my girls (or at least my oldest) that being a mom means not being anything else. Maybe I will go back to work when they are older to offset this teaching.

3/19/2005 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger TftCarrie said...

I realize that soon, logistics will also keep me from doing the part-time job I have now. And when that time comes, I will give it up (sadly) because I also believe that it is more important for me to be home with my children. But, ever since that day three months after the birth of my daughter when I called in to quit my job, I have been comforted by the feeling that the Lord would from then on present opportunities to me where I would be able to work and learn in the areas of my talents. So when it is time to leave this opportunity, I know that soon there will be another that will be right for that time of my life.

On another note, in this months Ensign, there is an article called "My Stay-At-Home Education". I'm not sure exactly how to create a link, so if you want to check it out, you will have to get there the old fashioned way. I would be interested to hear everyon'e thoughts on the whole article, but specifically there is a quote by Pres. Benson titled "A Noble Profession"

"Teach your daughters to prepare for life's greatest career--that of homemaker, wife, and mother. Teach them to love home because you love home. Teach them the importance of being a full-time mother in the home. My eternal companion has wisely counseled mothers: 'Radiate a spirit of contentment and joy with homemaking. You teach by example your attitude toward homemaking. Your attitude will say to your daughters, 'I am only a housewife.' Or it will convey, 'Homemaking is the highest,, most noble profession to which a woman might aspire.'"

"To the Young Women of the Church," Ensign, Nov. 1986, 84-85.

This quote makes me feel so many different emotions. I think it is at first read one of those "messages about being an excellent mother we hear so often makes it impossible to be anything but mediocre everywhere else". I know that I would never say that I am "just a housewife" or say that about anyone else who chooses to be a SAHM because I do believe that it is a noble choice and it's definitely not an easy choice. But, I also think that it glosses over the fact that many women have a hard time finding the "contentment and joy" in being a housewife. Shouldn't we prepare our daughters with what might be the reality of being a SAHM instead of a glorified one? I sure wish my mother would have. Maybe then it wouldn't have been such a shock and I wouldn't have felt so alone in the beginning of my career as mommy.

3/19/2005 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

carrie --

I think you've hit upon something. I think that for some people, staying at home is a learned skill. And I'm not sure that the GA's really realize this. It was for me... I had to learn to be happy at home with my kids, learn to find fulfillment here. Some of my friends find this odd when I say this; they've never wanted to be anything other than a mom. But, as a child growing up, I did. I wanted to do lots of things. I always assumed I'd be a mom, but that wasn't my goal.

I gave up my job when I had my second daughter, mostly because the cost of daycare would outweigh my income. I decided to stay home for economic reasons. I made the right choice; I'm glad to be here with my daughters. But I also view this choice as a temporary one. When they get older, I'll probably look for a job, start a business, become that free-lance thing I've been talking about doing for years.

But until then, I'm proudly a SAHM.

Perhaps we should just view the tug between working and being at home as "for every time there is a season"?

3/20/2005 01:56:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

My mother taught me that being a SAHM was what you made it. She taught me that it had many challenges. She taught me that it didn't mean you didn't pursue your outside interests or that you have to quilt and sew.
Personal, Home and Family Enrichment still has a ways to go. Some wards still think you have to do crafts. This one coming up has gardening, another art I dislike. Sigh.
Anyway, yes, being a SAHM is a learned art. Also, it is so isolating that first year with post-partum depression and a baby who can't talk. Some women are all about babies.....you know, the ones who just beg to hold that newborn. I actually never beg to hold a newborn or a baby period. It's just not my thing.
Most American women are anxious to get back to work after having a baby. They are going crazy by 2 months!
Part-time work, especially with one child is in many ways so much nicer. Part-time, fullfulling work at home--a dream come true.
With 3 kids, honestly, they take up all of my time. Maybe other kids aren't as needy as mine, hard to tell. Maybe other husbands have a shorter commute or work less hours. Maybe other women can get by on less sleep.
But, anyway, there is no way I could devote more than a few hours a week on anything without giving up something important.
I'm really happy doing what I do all day long. And I am actually enjoying this "season" where I'm not pregnant, I don't have a baby up during the night, my husband doesn't have cancer, I'm not spending hours researching for my son's development, I don't have post-partum depression, and I'm not especially worried about any of my children because none of them have a problem at home or at school...it is just so fun to not be "the little engine that could" just pushing myself and telling myself I can do this I can do this.
I know my next big challenge will happen, but right now I'm storing up some good, fun times. I'm working on making friends and going out on dates (gasp!) with my husband.

3/21/2005 01:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Julie said...

This is a timely topic for me. Yesterday, the stake RS presidency spoke about self-reliance to our ward, with each member of the presidency taking a different topic. They talked about getting an education to be prepared to support your family in times of need, and how such times can arise unexpectedly at any time. Then the next speaker emphasized that we should never work outside the home except in those times of great need. But is there anything LESS employable than someone with a bachelor degree in, say, English who hasn't had a job in ten years? Is there any job such a woman can get that a high school graduate couldn't--even if she is very bright and capable? It's incredibly frustrating. I work(ed) in technology and can almost feel my skills atrophying daily. I went back to work part-time after my oldest was born and made a comment about using a particular approach and some obnoxious youngster said "Um, nobody uses DTDs anymore" (that's *so* last year!) and added gratuitously, "Note to self: never have children." Argh. But there's no in between path for anyone--for all the talk about job sharing, family friendly policies, etc., the actual opportunities for significant part-time work are sadly limited. How can you keep a foot in the door? How can you keep other skills--any skills--up to date when your day is comprised of play groups and laundry and (yes, Heather :-) poop? I don't know that the church emphasis on motherhood encourages mediocrity--we're just encouraged to perfect skills that don't translate well into the job market. Sweater-folder at the Gap, here I come!

3/22/2005 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...


Great comment, thanks. Sadly, I know of at least 2 very educated, bright, interesting capable women who did end up working at the Gap and one other retail clothing store. They did it because hours were flexible (they could work after their husband got home, or on Saturdays) and it didn't require a huge long-term commitment with training, etc. They both enjoyed it, but only because it was time away from the baby. And certainly it didn't teach them any significant skills except how to ring up a sweater.

3/22/2005 11:10:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

My father talked to me about career choices when I was 18. I remember him talking about picking a field that would be easier to go in and out of after having kids, etc. He knew I wanted to be a mom. But he always told me that I needed as much education as I wanted in order to be a mom, and to be prepared in case I needed to work. He went through examples of some careers that are impossible to take time off from and move back into.
I didn't know what I wanted to do then. I didn't even know what I wanted to do after college. It took working and a lucky job to really do that.
Anyway, it is something I think women should be aware of when picking a career. Often someone doesn't have one true love career. I, for instance, was interested in and good at lots of things, but had a hard time picturing myself majoring in one thing because I didn't love anything enough.

3/23/2005 01:19:00 AM  

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