Must Motherhood Deny Womanhood?

Glancing at my female Facebook friends’ profiles the other day I noticed something that struck me as very interesting. Most of my LDS friends’ profiles state where they are from, or the university they attended, or cite them as “CEO of the Jones Family Enterprise”, or something of that adorable sort. My non-LDS friends, however, list the companies they work for or the businesses they own. My LDS friends have, by-and-large, opted out of the workforce entirely, while my non-LDS ones have stayed in the game, pursuing both career and motherhood. Doubtless my never-Mormon friends value their children above all other pursuits, however they don’t eliminate those pursuits simply because they take some of their energy and attention. They have feminine identities apart from their role as mother.

In contrast, Mormon women are taught, actively and repeatedly, to focus solely on their families. They are told that their only worthy pursuits are wifehood and motherhood and that all else is unimportant.

“Do not … make the mistake of being drawn off into secondary tasks which will cause the neglect of your eternal assignments such as giving birth to and rearing the spirit children of our Father in Heaven” (Spencer W. Kimball).

“Young mothers and fathers, with all my heart I counsel you not to postpone having your children. Do not use the reasoning of the world, such as, ‘We’ll wait until we can better afford having children, until we are more secure, until John has completed his education, until he has a better paying job, until we have a larger home, until we’ve obtained a few of the material conveniences,’ and on and on.

“Mothers who enjoy good health, have your children and have them early. Husbands, always be considerate of your wives in the bearing of children.

“Do not curtail the number of your children for personal or selfish reasons. Material possessions, social convenience, and so-called professional advantages are nothing compared to a righteous posterity.” (Ezra Taft Benson)

 

“I recognize … that there are some women (it has become very many in fact) who have to work to provide for the needs of their families. To you I say, do the very best you can. I hope that if you are employed full-time you are doing it to ensure that basic needs are met and not simply to indulge a taste for an elaborate home, fancy cars, and other luxuries. The greatest job that any mother will ever do will be in nurturing, teaching, lifting, encouraging, and rearing her children in righteousness and truth. None other can adequately take her place.” (Gordon B. Hinckley)

With messages like these no wonder LDS women are less likely to work outside the home 1 and/or complete a college education. 2

I’m one of those women. I got damn good grades in school. I graduated with honors at the top of a prestigious program from a good university (not BYU). I had a marketable degree and nothing but a wide open future in front of me. With all the world laid out before me all I wanted was to have babies. And unlike my non-LDS friends it didn’t occur to me to pursue both a career and motherhood. I loved school and learning but I knew all along that the purpose of an education was to make me a better mother. I knew I should have as many children as my husband and I desired and could handle and I knew that we should not delay the start of our family.

Don’t get me wrong. I wanted each and every one of my babies, desperately. It actually took me a year to tell my husband that I wanted a baby (I knew he was not yet ready), another year or so to talk him into it, and almost two years to conceive. By the time our oldest was born I was beyond ready. I happily quit my job and relished the long hours I spent snuggling my blue-eyed baby girl. I love being a mother and do not regret the decision to become one.

What I do wonder, though, is how much of my desire to have children was me and how much was the incessant message of the LDS church. I wonder if I hadn’t been LDS if I’d have pursued graduate studies like I considered or dived into a career after college instead of just getting a job. Would I have looked for more opportunities to work part time? Would I have kept my foot in the business world? Would my husband and I have looked for more equitable ways to share the responsibilities of parenthood and career?

Currently I stand at a crossroad in my life. My kids are growing up. My youngest starts kindergarten in the fall and I have spent the last 12+ years of my life in the role of stay at home mother. My husband has been diagnosed with a degenerative, chronic health condition that will likely leave him unable to work at some point in the not too distant future and here I sit, feeling lost for what to do next. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a kick-ass woman and I’ll figure it out eventually, but damn it, it would sure be nice to have done what my non-LDS friends did: combine motherhood with work in one way or another because that’s what you do.

Over my next few blog posts I’d like to examine the messages being taught to LDS girls and women and the way those messages influences the choices they make to subjugate their personal growth, desires and needs for the so-called good of the family. As I do this, I’d love to hear from you. What are your personal experiences? How have these anti-feminist Mormon messages affected your life and choices? Have you struggled with your identity as a woman since distancing yourself from the LDS church?  Do you feel that your womanhood is dependent on your motherhood?