Note: I have done my best to write a clear post that presents my current thinking, but I know there are going to be many questions. I appreciate the conversation we have with each other, and will do my best to step in and clarify when possible, but it will not be possible for me to address every person and every concern. Thank you so much for all of the encouragement I’ve received thus far!
To understand this next shift, I think you have to take a moment to try to understand where I was coming from. Raised as a member of the LDS Church I understood that the living Prophet was God’s literal mouthpiece on the earth. Whatever the prophet said in an official capacity it was as though God Himself was right there letting me know what He wants for all of us. At least that’s how I interpreted things. Throughout this period of Awakening, I have realized that I am no longer interested in just accepting what I am told, I want to figure out for myself why the advice in question is right/wrong/best for me/best for everyone.
Lately That Husband has been pointing out some of my tendencies toward being a martyr. I would think, “We should move to Poland!” Why? Because maybe God wants/needs us to build up the Church there. Living in Poland would be difficult due to language and cultural barriers, but by golly, we would be able to serve as the bishop and relief society president and provide an example to the new converts of what a happy little Mormon family is like (no matter that it would mean never seeing my husband between his work and church responsibilities). In some weird way I felt that the only way to please God was to suffer a little bit. The natural man is an enemy to God, and so I needed to put my own desires aside, look toward the men who lead the Church, and let them tell me how to deepen my relationship with my own Father in Heaven.
What I didn’t understand until recently is that the leadership of the Church can do no more than teach general principles. With a membership that numbers in the millions, filled with members from Japan, Poland, Africa, Brazil, Utah all looking to the same handful of men to tell them how to fit the Gospel of Jesus Christ into their culture and lifestyle. One of those leaders, Elder Oaks, once said:
“As a General Authority, it is my responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.”
I wrote a post about one of these general principles titled Mothers Working Outside the Home and made a lot of people really angry. As I said before, this was not my intention. I needed to believe that this was the key to being what God wanted me to be, because then the sacrifice of myself would be worth it. It was a topic that kept coming up, and I wanted to explain my perspective on what I considered LDS doctrine to be on the subject. I think this sentence from my previous post is key:
I try to seek out the teachings that I believe came from God and apply them in my own life
I was seeking, but I wasn’t asking. I looked at the source (church leaders) and then tried my best to fit the idea into my life, because I was *going to be obedient*. It’s that martyr thing popping up again. It didn’t matter if I enjoyed staying home, or if I’m the best at it, I would force myself to work harder every day to make it work because that’s what we’ve been told to do.
But as I started questioning things, I started thinking about the reasons behind telling women they had to stay at home. It could be that women should stay home because they know and love their own children best and would be able to best judge what their children need. This certainly feels right to me, but from my own experience I realized that knowing what he needs most, and actually being able to provide that for him consistently are two seperate things (we’ll get into that more in a moment). Mentions have also been made about women taking time to talk about Jesus Christ with their children throughout the day, and so it seems to me that some might have been hoping that evangelical work would be done more often between parents and children. These statements about women staying home first started popping up decades ago, when there wasn’t the same professional childcare structure that we have today. As the men who are now our leaders at the highest level were raised up in the church, they would have heard those statements, they would have enjoyed the time spent at home with their mothers, and it stands to reason that they would have over time developed the opinion that women should stay home and raise children just like their own mothers did (because look at how they turned out after all). But at what cost to the mothers? Science today tells us that there is not right way for everyone to do it, that decisions should be made based on the individual child/parent situation.
This is the point in the post where I, as a mother, get real. I love my son, as he is a part of me. It’s biological, emotional, and spiritual. There are moments throughout the day when I pull him in close and feel the desire to never let go, smothering him with kisses and telling him how beautiful and wonderful he is to me. Sometimes when we are headed to the elevator I will run ahead, push the button, bend down and open my arms. He picks up speed and throws his own arms open, running full speed into me and that moment of impact is full of some of the most pure joy I have ever felt. Overall though, I’m not a baby mom. I have realized over time, that this is something you are never, ever supposed to say out loud. For babies/young children are perfect, precious, helpless, and I am never to question how lucky I am. I must Carpe Diem every moment with my, because when I am old I will sit around filled with regret that I don’t have a tiny human dependent on me for everything except breathing.
I read about a lot of women on blogs who I would classify as baby moms. They talk about how they want to do nothing but hold their new baby all day long, how they derive so much pleasure from coming up with games and new ways to interact with their toddler. I certainly enjoy both of those things, but not for 10-12 hours a day (go Mrs. Yoyo for admitting she sometimes feels drained after full days with her baby). My friend leaves her apartment a minimum of twice a day for museum trips, swimming, free classes and other adventures. Just the thought of doing that leaves me feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. How can you possibly keep up the house, cook all the meals, finish all of your goals for the day when you do those things? There are people out there running programs filled with employees who want to do nothing but those things with their charges. It’s so freeing to think that I can spend my time capitalizing on my strengths, while giving my child the opportunity to spend time with someone who is capitalizing on theirs. I’m not saying I want to outsource my childcare the moment they are out of the womb, but I am now allowing myself the option to think about full or part-time options for T1 and his siblings before they reach five and enter kindergarten. I have pondered how a social environment might help T1 with his speech delays, but I thought I had to figure out a way to force myself to make that sort of thing happen myself. Now I can look at each child individually and determine what would best meet their unique needs.
In recent years we as LDS members have been told both that women need to try to stay home, and that women need to get an education. When it came to that contradiction, I preferred to bury my head in the sand. Does education mean an associate’s degree? Bachelor’s? Master’s? What about women who spend over a decade in higher education earning a PhD, are they then supposed to just lay that aside and care for their brood for the next decade or so until the children are all old enough to be in school all day? I didn’t have to worry about it because I had no intention of pursuing any formal education past what I already had. Those other women could just work it out on their own while I forced myself to do what God had told someone else that I should do. It was only a few months ago that my friend brought up this blog for LDS women pursuing careers in medicine, asking how I felt about the claims these women made that they felt called by God into the work they were doing. I did not have an answer, because it didn’t make sense to me. Why would God tell most of us that we had to stay home, but a few others were told something different?
Now, I don’t think He did. I now think that the counsel/command to women about staying home was a product of culture. The law I want to follow moving forward is “How can I be happy and fulfilled, and leave this world knowing I worked to make it a better place? ”
Because I think this will come up in the comments made by LDS readers, I wanted to take a moment to talk about the word “sustain”. In the past I have felt like the phrase “Sustain our leaders” was used to say we should never disagree with them, ever. I no longer believe this is the case. I think we should sustain them in the literal sense of the word, support them. We can pray for them, we fund their lifestyles via tithing (if they use the stipend that is offered general authorities), we can talk positively about them. Disagreeing with someone’s interpretation of a situation is not bashing them it is done in a respectful manner, and I’ve come to realize that everything we know is in some way a mortal’s attempt to interpret the Divine. We are shaped by our experiences and knowledge base, biases and opinion develop, and we make our decisions accordingly. The leaders of the Church are no different. And so, as I have outlined in one way with this post, I do not always agree with the way the interpretation of God’s will is applied. Why would God give me Free Will and Personal Revelation if He didn’t want me to use them?
My friend Sophia has pointed out multiple times that many of the I Am A Mormon feature ads currently running highlight women who are doing more than staying home with their children. Like Emily, Ruth, and Irene. Again, I had no answer for this. Could it be that the Church is slowly moving toward a similar mindset, that women should work to figure out what works best for them personally? I like this approach so much more than the previous one that sounded to me more like “We prefer you stay home with your kids, but a very small minority of you can go out and work. It’s up to you to figure out what group you fall into.”
I was really touched by Beatrice’s story on Daughters of Mormonism, and how sincere she was in her desires to continue her research and contribute to the world in a way that feels meaningful for her. I realized I want to be like her. Moving forward, I have so many exciting possibilities ahead of me. I can write out a list of my dreams and make them happen. Before I felt limited, that I had to force my desires and ambitions to fit inside a specific mold. No more. For now I think I’m going to stick with part-time photography, as it’s something that works well with our family goals and lifestyle, and I find it very fulfilling on a mental/artistic/emotional level. It’s also incredibly flexible, which means I can make my schedule work around future pregnancies and little kids. After that, I don’t know. I know what I’m good at, and what I liked in high-school/college, and maybe I’ll explore some full or part-time work in those areas.
I’m still not sure where I’ll go, but I love that I’m the one who gets to decide.
*I didn’t feel like I had the time and space to get into it here, but if you’re curious about the Church’s stance on what is doctrine and what isn’t, this link is a good place to start.