Growing Up

It’s Mel from Doves and Serpents. My Wayfarer column is a place to talk about my travels, some to actual locations and others to ideas. Today, we’ll be meandering down my career path:

My answer as a little girl to the age-old “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question varied between a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, a movie star and POTUS. I clearly had big dreams and little judgment. By the time most Mormon girls like me get to Young Women, they’re not asked what they want to be anymore – they’re told. The current Young Women’s Manual says this about chosing a vocation:

Explain that as women, the class members should have two vocations in mind: first, being a homemaker; and second, doing something that will allow them to earn money to support a family if that should become necessary. Many women also find that before they are married or after the children are reared, there is time to be productive in a vocation. (YW Manual 3, Lesson 45)


And giving credit where it is due, this statement by President Hunter follows:

“There are impelling reasons for our sisters to plan toward employment. … We want them to obtain all the education and vocational training possible before marriage. If they become widowed or divorced and need to work, we want them to have dignified and rewarding employment. If a sister does not marry, she has every right to engage in a profession that allows her to magnify her talents and gifts”

I see several parallels between the LDS approach to women in the workforce and the general approach to women in political work as described by Ann M. Lewis on her blog The Historiann. Lewis writes about Michele Bachmann and women’s whimsical approach to political work, quoting Ryan Lizza’s biography of Bachmann from The New Yorker where he points out that despite having a long history of political activism and at least a year of targeting her opponent, “Bachmann has said that she showed up at the convention on a whim and nominated herself at the urging of some friends. She was, she suggests, an accidental candidate.”

Lewis discusses Bachmann as one more example of a woman being politically credible because of her supposed cluelessness:

Once again, we have white women’s political activism cast as a “whim” or “spur of the moment” decision, rather than the result of careful planning and strategic thinking:  “Oh my heck, I don’t know nothin’ ’bout politics!  I just care so deeply about the children that I had to get involved!”  Very cannily, Bachmann’s signature issue in Minnesota state politics was activism on behalf of home schoolers and charter schools–in other words, as a concerned mother.  She is smart to rewrite her biography this way, and I’m sure Will grasps that it just wouldn’t do to have a female presidential candidate who looked at all ambitious, or even scheming. . .

And so it is so often with Mormon women and the workforce. Besides the woman supporting a family because the husband is unable, those whose careers are accepted are those who choose a home-based “on the side” business, or the “accidental careerist,” the woman who stumbles into a career in the normal course of her parenting/homemaking. I’m sure there are exceptions that prove the rule, but generally the women whose careers are the result of a meaningful strategy and ambition are not honored or celebrated. They’re not called to work with the young women nor asked to share their professional talents in ways that men are.

The job market has changed drastically in the nearly 40 years since President Hunter issued this advice and Mormon women no longer have the luxury of stumbling into careers. I followed the manual on this one. I went to college, put my husband through graduate school, had children and then stayed home to raise them. As I returned to the workforce following a 12 year break I was astonished at how far behind I was in skill level and experience, something I hadn’t taken into account in my choice to be a fulltime SAHM. I was surprised, given I’d been gone a relatively short period of time compared to my peers.

I’d made no long-term strategy, believing myself to be employable based on my past experience, degree and volunteer efforts over the course of those years. But truthfully, I was essentially starting over with women nearly 20 years my junior.

It’s a daunting and humbling situation, one that I believe keeps many Mormon women from a meaningful career even after their children have left the home. I often wonder about the disservice it does them, their families and the world to have massive amount of talent lay latent well after they are no longer needed full time at home.

We can do better. We can teach young women how wonderful it is to concentrate on raising children for a portion of their lives (should they wish to) while also helping them strategize how that might fit in a larger career path. We can suggest that both their future children and the rest of the world are in need of their divine gifts and talents, which includes more than a capacity to nurture.

Most importantly, they should understand that women are neither so special nor so weak that they should not expect to be active participants in the “providing” aspect of their family just as men are neither too important nor inept to be key instruments in the “nurturing” of the children.

 

Stella

I’m an artist, writer, photographer, feminist, listener, lover, and a fighter. I believe that travel is fatal to prejudice, that skies are meant to be blue, and that the world is full of endless possibilities.

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60 Responses

  1. Mel – I’ve been trying to articulate this exact post for months now. Maybe it’s the (hopeful) middle age I find myself in, but there are so many of us being popped right back into the work force wishing we were more prepared for a larger career path.

  2. CatherineWO says:

    Thank you for stating this so well. I followed the same path you describe–got a college degree, then married, supported us while my husband finished graduate school, then stayed home to care for our children. I too found myself sadly unqualified to compete with the next generation when I re-entered the workforce fourteen years later. By that point, my income was essential for support of our family and I could not afford (in time or money) to go back to school for more training or degrees. I had to get that on the job, and frankly, I never caught up. I kept thinking I would, but by the time there was some family flexibility for me to get further training, I had developed a disability that kept me from it–a disability that would qualify me for Social Security and other government assistance, except that I didn’t have enough invested in the system (because of all those years outside the system) to qualify. It’s a Catch 22, and I got caught. I am trying to make sure that my own daughters don’t get caught in the same trap.

  3. Stella says:

    This is, sadly, very prevalent in many communities. Women give up so much to be at home on a daily basis. I am a career woman and love it. I find a lot of satisfaction in my day to day life and love the range of things I get to do. I see my mother, who gave up a lot to raise her five children, go back into the work force out of necessity and she is left with taking telemarketing jobs and other things that she does not find satisfying at all.

    Hopefully equal parenting will start coming into play more and more for women and men who want to have careers and a family. Moving past traditional roles for women might be the best career move we could ever make.

    • Marilyn says:

      “I’m sure there are exceptions that prove the rule, but generally the women whose careers are the result of a meaningful strategy and ambition are not honored or celebrated. They’re not called to work with the young women nor asked to share their professional talents in ways that men are.”

      I totally agree with this and really feel sad about this. But I have some good news.

      I’m an exception to this Stella. I’m a dentist. Deliberately. As a freshman at BYU. And I was YW president in my ward. Just thought you would be happy to know we are out there. To add additional hope, my priesthood holding, stereotypical mormon father was a huge fan of my decision.

  4. Alisa says:

    This is such an important topic near and dear to my heart. What we fail to teach YW is that education alone doesn’t prepare someone to be able to support a family, but work experience in the majority of fields is vital. A woman needs to work for awhile after obtaining her college education for most careers to really establish the sense of security that she will need to support her family.

    I was not prepared to support my family, but I landed a great job out of grad school when my husband was in law school. Luckily, I was still in that job when my husband’s unemployment hit around the time I had our baby. The legal job market is very bad, so DH has gone back to grad school and he is the SAHD while I work full time. It’s not what I envisioned, and I admit I’ve grieved that loss of a life I thought I would have as a SAHM while DH worked in a high-profile legal position. But, I am so greatful that I have the job I do despite my lack of career planning (does that make me an accidental career woman?). But I would counsel any young woman to not only get her education, but plan on working in her field for several years before leaving so that she has more experience behind her. Better yet, as Stella mentioned, seeing if she can work part-time or partner with her husband for childcare would be ideal. I know my husband’s relationship with our son is super strong because of the bonds they’ve formed with his direct care.

    I’ve been surprised how bad the economy is in some fields, that those with high levels of graduate education and strong fellowships behind them cannot find work. And I worry that this is turning into a double-dip recession. While I should have been more strategic in my career planning, I have certainly been very lucky to land a job where I did and have a lot of opportunity to prove myself for advancement.

    • Emily U says:

      I couldn’t agree more that work experience in many fields is vital. I’ve seen women leave the work force for a while and re-enter successfully, but they always had significant work experience before they left.

      I have mixed feelings about teaching this stuff to YW. Do the YM have lessons about careers? Is it the place of a church to teach people how to succeed in your career? Shouldn’t time at church be spent enriching our spiritual lives?

      But. Since the YW program seems bent on relentlessly telling YW their role is to be a mother, then yes, I think we could definitely do with some career exploration to counter that. But it would be so much better if they just dropped the mother stuff altogether and spent that valuable time focusing on how to be better disciples of Christ.

  5. Heather says:

    Love this, Mel.

    You wrote, “generally the women whose careers are the result of a meaningful strategy and ambition are not honored or celebrated. They’re not called to work with the young women nor asked to share their professional talents in ways that men are.”

    This is a sting I have felt acutely. I have a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction. I teach in a department of secondary education, which means I teach people who are preparing to be 8-12 teachers. In short, I spend my entire worklife swimming in adolescence. Yet no one seems to view me as a “good choice” to work in YW.

    To be fair, I don’t want to; I’m the primary chorister, which I LOVE LOVE LOVE . . . but it does seem a wee bit odd to me that I’m never asked to serve in YW. It’s because I’m not a “good” example of what an LDS woman “should” be.

    • Candace says:

      I always thought that one of the MANY objects of a calling was to stretch us in areas that we could use a little more growth. Sounds like you have the YW field-of-focus well-covered already! It takes a RARE talent to lead the Primary in singing and learning those songs…and I am inclined to think that what goes on in Primary influences the child for the REST of his/her life! Maybe you are not so devalued as you feel..kind of like a forget-me-not! 😉

    • EmilyCC says:

      Sorry, this is a little OT, but Heather, I wonder about this, too. I have a master’s in Hebrew Bible but have never been asked to teach an adult level Sunday School class.

      One of my favorite things about our Church is that we have lay clergy, and we’re all continually called to positions that require us to stretch and grow and find new talents, but every so often, I think, “I have a special skill set in X. Why haven’t I been called there?” 🙂

      • Diane says:

        I completely understand how you feel, I have a friend who has a theology degree and is trained in a Seminary Program from the same college. Yet, she was never called to teach. I find that a little odd

    • E says:

      I also have felt this sting. I have generally felt supported at church as an individual but I also have wondered if I am excluded from certain service opportunities because I am a medical doctor with a full time career. When someone is needed to speak to the YW about health issues, they choose a nurse. When there is a lesson about education/career planning, they ask the teachers, nurses, and part-time home-based business owners to answer questions from the girls. Once I lived in a ward with another (male) doctor who was asked to give a lesson to the YW about first aid. He had a conflict and suggested they ask me. They didn’t ask me. Every stake conference there is a first aid room that is staffed by never me, but always some nurses or paramedics that live in the stake. I could go on.

    • Kristina says:

      My Ph.D is in Chemistry and I am a young women’s leader. When I entered the ward someone asked me what calling I would want and I said YW and they let me do it. I love it and the girls are great. Im Planning a career fair for them to get professional women in the ward to discuss their jobs and requirements. I don’t live in Utah, so that probably helps with the professional women demographic, but I think something similar can be done in a Utah ward. There are plenty of women who wish they’d known their options when they were in a position to have some.

  6. alex w. says:

    We can teach young women how wonderful it is to concentrate on raising children for a portion of their lives (should they wish to) while also helping them strategize how that might fit in a larger career path. We can suggest that both their future children and the rest of the world are in need of their divine gifts and talents, which includes more than a capacity to nurture.

    I love this. It’s a wonderful way to make the YW program more welcoming for the girls who don’t feel like they’re cut out for being a stay-at-home mom or who don’t want to go the traditional route. And it can help build a bridge between the culture of working moms and stay-at-home moms! It just seems so positive and welcoming to me.

    those whose careers are accepted are those who choose a home-based “on the side” business, or the “accidental careerist,” the woman who stumbles into a career in the normal course of her parenting/homemaking. I’m sure there are exceptions that prove the rule, but generally the women whose careers are the result of a meaningful strategy and ambition are not honored or celebrated. They’re not called to work with the young women nor asked to share their professional talents in ways that men are.

    I’ve never really thought about it, but it was so true of my home ward growing up in Utah. I can only think of one woman in the ward who was a professional. I’m sure there were others, but I didn’t know about them. Wouldn’t it be great! Not that I don’t like women who sell Pampered Chef, candles or do hair out of a little salon built onto their homes or anything. (I have done business with all three at one point or another.) It would just be nice to learn about sister so-and-so who is a teacher or a doctor or a banker or something…

    My mom worked in insurance up until the day my sister was born, 16 years ago. She’s been thinking about going back to work for a few years, now that my sister is a teenager. I’ve heard her say on a few occasions that she wishes she had at least kept up her license so she would be better prepared to go back to work. This had no small impact on my life; if I have the career that I want by the time I have kids (and I hope I do), I’m going to try so hard to stay involved and at least work part-time so I don’t find myself starting over. Because cashiering at a superstore in a small college town was not what I wanted to do right out of college, and I don’t want to do it again ! 🙂

    Anyway, you’ve given me a lot to think about. I am loving this blog swap! (And I hope I did my html block quotes properly.)

  7. Heidi says:

    This topic is on my mind constantly these days. Same story for me with a slightly different arrangement — education, accidental career (which I loved and gave up because of a change in my husband’s job), five years at home with the children. My youngest started full-time school in September and I applied for no less than 15 jobs in August. I finally have two interviews (this week!) but I definitely feel like I’m starting over and not competitive despite my education and ability to work hard.

  8. Mel says:

    Love hearing your stories, thanks for sharing.

    Stella hits on something when she talks about equal parenting – another key issue. Because I chose to stay home, my husband chose a job that could support us by itself, a very demanding job. What that means is that while I have some financial freedom in my new career path, I don’t have flexibility in time. We have tried for the past 2 years, and we just can’t both sustain demanding jobs at the same time. While he would love to move to something else, I don’t yet have the potential to support us.

    I know there are worse situations, but I just want so much for Mormon women to be celebrated for their professional dreams in addition to their maternal ones.

    • Heidi says:

      This hits home as well. My husband would really like to go back to graduate school and get his PhD and change his career, but it’s impossible because I can’t support us alone.

  9. Janell says:

    The majority of the lesson seems to be built off of then-Elder Hunter’s talk on, “Preparing for Honorable Employment,” which tacks on that quote about sisters towards the end. Could the expectations of the type of employment women would typically seek in 1975 create some assumption that seeking education or training “before marriage” was all that is necessary? That is, that employment experience or maintaining of a skillset were unnecessary?

  10. Starfoxy says:

    This is fantastic. I was led to believe during my YW that simply getting a degree is all I’d really need to be secure. Now that I’m seriously looking at re-entering the workforce I realize just how thoroughly unprepared I am, and how laughably naive my previous understanding was.
    What I find so frustrating is there is no real reason for me to so unprepared. My lack of career prospects and options hasn’t improved my mothering one bit.

  11. Anonymous says:

    This is also a subject near and dear to my heart. I’m a doctor – training (the time it took, the intensity, the sheer emotional and physical strain) was rough. It was blood, sweat, and tears literally. But, I consider it a calling from God, and I love what I do. AND, I’m serving in young women’s. I’m dismayed by the homemaker-only oriented messages in young women’s. Many young women are SMART! They have so many talents and skills! I wish young women would consider careers not just because they need to support their families, but also for all that they can give to others and to serve outside of the home.

  12. Deborah says:

    I am 8-weeks into life away from the workforce, home with my firstborn. After 13 years doing a job I loved (loved), I view this as a welcome sabbatical, a chance to think about where I want my career to go next while I take time to drink up life with my long-awaited daughter.

    I’m lucky. I’m in a profession where re-entry is not particularly difficult, and I hope to engage in part-time or freelance work for the next two or three years.

    This isn’t the timing I imagined as a teen, but older motherhood has certain advantages . . . and while I waited for this baby, I was engaged in work that gave me a great deal of soul-satisfaction. I give my dad enormous credit for *expecting* his daughters to find vocations that matched their interests. His voice served as a wonderful counterbalance to the YW manuals.

    • Rachel says:

      Deborah, I had my first child at 31, so I had 10 solid years of working/grad school under my belt when I took time off. Like you, my work has always been soul-satisfying.
      I often wonder how my life would have turned out if I’d married at 20, had a baby at 21. I know I wouldn’t be where I am now, career-wise. I don’t think I’d be as happy/fulfilled, either. I work about 24 hours a week, am home before the kids get home from school.
      My daughters are constantly being talked to about being able to do both, to choose things that give them schedule flexibility, but also uses their talents for good.

      • Deborah says:

        Thanks, Rachel. Sounds like you’ve carved out a bit of the best of both worlds. One advantage of older motherhood = I have a decade+ of career contacts, so I feel pretty comfortable that I’ll be able to have some flexibility in my “next steps.”

  13. Candace says:

    I read many of these posts with a combination of frustration and despair.

    I am NOT addressing my remarks to single-mothers. We love and support you. I’m GLAD that girls are now counseled in the Church to “train for a career”. We live in a stressful age. I’m writing to mothers tempted to return to the workforce to keep up in their perceived “Career path”.

    I COULD have chosen any of my interests/ talents to develop into a CAREER, but I was blessed to be a MOTHER–the very BEST way to develop yourself in EVERY facet of your being. I have used EVERY brain cell in this CALLING! (not to mention checking in CONSTANTLY with my “Boss upstairs” in prayer) My daughters, now mothers, are highly-qualified professional women who use their amazing career-taught talents to enrich THEIR families as SAHM’s! My sons took their responsibility as fathers seriously too, and have been trained to acquire marketable skills and talents so that THEIR wives can be SAHM’s.

    So, having started in college in a Clothing&Textiles Design Major (math minor) I moved to a different college (Hubby’s job) and majored in ECE until my first child was born. Figured I’d need that training sooner..

    I could have graduated in that major, but it seemed counterintuitive to LEAVE my baby with another person while I studied the” effects of leaving one’s child with another person!”…I was missing milestones in my child’s LIFE while learning how to teach/care for other people’s children-um-NO!

    My “insurance” plan?I figured that, if my husband died, and I had to support the family, we carried enough insurance that I could brush up and get a decent-job..although I’ve discovered that I flourish as an entrepreneur).

    Ten children,5 foster-children, 20 years of running a childcare/preschool in-house to “help out” the family finances later, I succumbed to my husband’s pleas to come to his Accounting office and work for HIM (thus saving the many dollars that we had heretofore spent on secretarial help during “Tax Season”.

    It SEEMED logical. We were “down-to” two children, both older high-schoolers. They drove,cooked, seemed self-sufficient. Not only THAT, but their self-employed/married BIG sisters took turns watching the home front so that I could do this…I look back on this time,5 years later, as the WORST decision I ever made in my life.

    My relationships with my children suffered, their behavior suffered, at many points I wailed inwardly, ” WE NEED a mother!”

    What was wrong? My children only had a couple of more years at home, they were in full time school and were potty-trained” (isn’t that the benchmark for going out and grabbing the CAREER?) Sorry! I’m here to tell you that I saw the contrast so sharply because I had lived on BOTH sides!

    I’m STILL trying to repair the relationships that faltered so disastrously, and prayerfully ask YOU to NOT leave your children to be raised by another while you seek “the accolades of man”… ANYONE can be a Brain surgeon, ONLY YOU can be your child’s mother-for better or for worse, THAT is your stewardship.

    And don’t be a martyr! Your children will know that,too. Share your special gifts all around (imagine how much help your training will be both in your home and outside–Ward Family ), “magnify your calling” and enjoy your happy family…you’ll be blessed for it.

    • kmillecam says:

      I appreciate your passion for your position, Candace. And I don’t doubt for a second that if you say that going back to work was the worst decision you ever made, then it was. I have no problems with you saying that for you, it was the worst decision. But just because this didn’t work for you doesn’t mean that it’s a satisfying or meaningful answer for other women.

      There is not one way to be a mother (SAHM). Just because women go back to work doesn’t make them less of a mother. When my husband goes to work it doesn’t make him less of a father. When I volunteer or go to class, it doesn’t make me less of a mother. And when I go back to school full time, or take a job full/part time, I won’t be less of a mother then either. And even then, when I know what works for me in my situation, I still won’t assume that it will work for anyone else. You see, I trust these women here in comments, and everywhere else. I trust them to know themselves, and to make the best decisions they can for them and their families. I give them that courtesy, because it is the good and decent thing to do.

      You speak of living on both sides as if that gives you authority to tell us how it really is. But you seem not to see one very crucial thing: these women have lived on both sides as well, and they do not come to your same conclusion. Please keep your comments about your own personal experience, and don’t call other’s righteousness into question. That’s not what we do here.

      • Candace says:

        I’ve always been a bit frustrated with the limitations of the printed word and its inability to provide the right “voice”. If you felt I called anyone’s “righteousness” into question, I failed. I just wanted to convey a warning to my sisters. Childhood is relatively short and important, and parenthood is more than providing a body for a child. Of course, you all have your agency, and some moms have to work outside the home. My mother did …and I missed her a LOT.

      • Ziff says:

        just because this didn’t work for you doesn’t mean that it’s a satisfying or meaningful answer for other women.

        There is not one way to be a mother (SAHM).

        Well said, kmillecam!

    • Janna says:

      It’s comments such as this, “I was blessed to be a MOTHER–the very BEST way to develop yourself in EVERY facet of your being.” that I think, what site am I on?

      This statement is categorically untrue for many people.

  14. Alexander says:

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  15. Candace says:

    …If there was a “delete” button for my recent response, I would use it, as I see that I have run afoul of the “voice-thing” again! I am NOT saying that any of your mothering skills are irrelevant or shallow-or that you don’t prayerfully consider your decisions! You ALL have your own back-stories and I am not privy to them. I’m used to “seizing the teaching-moment”and just though I’d give you the benefit of my 20/20 hindsight..and I WAS trying to speak for the children involved.
    Pretty sure I blundered into a private party , I won’t return.

    • kmillecam says:

      Candace, you’re welcome to stay, but I understand if you need to go. It’s definitely hard to hear ones arguments disagreed with, and there are not many here who are agreeing with you! However, if you are up to it, I would ask you to consider reading here when you can (perhaps hold off commenting for a bit, and just listen to us). We have valid points to make about not fitting the “normal” LDS woman mold. I find it very affirming to be here with all these Exponent people. They are wonderful 🙂

    • Mel says:

      Candace,

      I tried to read your comment in a teaching moment spirit and I hope that’s how you read mine.

      My issue is not with women who choose to remain home, but with the lack of choice, the lack of teaching for those who don’t want that choice. Also part of my comments were targeted to women whose children are all out of the home. Not everyone has a husband who can get them a job, and I believe many are talented but daunted at what is required to go back.

      You suggested I just share my gifts – but no matter what my volunteer efforts are (and they are a fundamental part of my life I don’t want to lose) there is a special creative power I experience with the ability to make money or “make rain” as some would say, to do something so valuable that someone is willing to pay me for it, and to take an active part in providing for my family.

  16. EmilyCC says:

    Mel, a fabulous post!

    I wonder if anyone has put together (or attended) a YW activity that focused on preparing YW for work–a panel of women doing various kinds of work or something. I think that would be so powerful, but I’ve never seen it done or done it myself when I was a YW leader.

    • Heather says:

      I’ve put one together. It was nice, sort of . . .

      Mostly it was so disappointing and disheartening to me to see how I had to beg, borrow, and steal (practically) just to get 4-5 women in the ward who had intentional careers. We were in a fairly big ward and I was trying not to be snooty about the jobs I included. I ended up, by borrowing someone from another ward, with the following:

      a) a social worker
      b) a hair dresser
      c) a woman with a MS in biochemistry who had 6 kids and had never actually worked (she was sheepish about coming to a Career Night since she had never worked, but I told her to please join!)
      d) me
      e) a 100% inactive woman who was a nurse – she didn’t end up showing up

      So in a whole huge ward, I had 4 people there who could share. If the YM were to do that, imagine the numbers of people that could turn out.

  17. LovelyLauren says:

    I think it’s not only important in terms of awareness of what it takes these days to raise a family and be a part of the work force but also in terms of those young women who aren’t dead set on being mothers.

    I have always had career aspirations and I remember doing a Q&A panel in Young Women’s and I asked “What if I don’t want to be a SAHM?” The woman in question went on this whole thing about how my house could be just like a corporation and my kids could be my little helpers. I was 12 and it was possibly the least helpful thing that could have been said. I know there are YW out there who put motherhood as number one far before it happens, but I’m more interested in being the best person, best employee, best wife, best sister and best daughter I can be right now than in the best mother I can be.

  18. er MD says:

    I am currently trying to put together a career panel for a personal progress activity. I am having difficulty finding professional women to fill out the panel as there are only 3-4 women in our ward that have careers and they all are either teachers or nurses. I have found this to be true in other wards as well. In addition to helping the YW with long range planning for a career, it would be nice for them to realize that they don’t have to limit themselves to these 2 choices.

    • Rachel says:

      I’m pushing one of my daughters toward NP or PA–less school, less malpractice, highly flexible schedule. Do you live in an area where looking throughout the stake would be a reasonable drive for someone to attend in the evening?
      I imagine it is hard–just thinking about my ward, there’s myself, a clinical social worker, a PA, several nurses (who are grandmothers), a few teachers. But, no female engineers, etc. Maybe check with a stake employment specialist?

      • Jenzi says:

        The employment specialist, I hadn’t thought of that. Thanks for the wonderful idea. I will definitely be perusing the stake for candidates.

    • LovelyLauren says:

      As someone who chose teaching for a very specific and not mommy-related women, please do not exclude these women. I’ve often felt a bit shunned by Mormon feminists who feel that “women should have careers if they want! (But not teachers or nurses.)

      These women feel the burden of balancing a professional life and a family life without the respect that you get as an engineer or a lawyer, and while I understand you need variety for your panel, I wouldn’t exclude these career types just because they’re more traditionally “woman-friendly.”

    • Mel says:

      LOVE that you’re doing this!

  19. Michelle says:

    This is a topic I think about a lot. In fact, we’ll be addressing this topic at an upcoming Women in Business Conference (primarily for LDS women) at the end of October. I encourage you to check it out and come if you can. (Think ‘business’ broadly — we want to address some of these kinds of questions…about keeping a professional network and skills while at home, about finding a good mentor, about career planning, and more. We’re giving away a free student registration, btw. See more info at our FB group page or at the conference website, listed on the FB page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/220293131352394/) (I hope it’s ok that I shared that — it’s because I genuinely care about the topic and think it’s important to know that these issues are being discussed in a pretty significant event — one we hope will be annual — really soon.)

  20. Michelle says:

    Now for some personal thoughts:

    Even as I understand the OP’s position, I don’t think it really reflects the nuance of all that we are taught in the Church. I think that is part of the problem here. I think people tend to gravitate to one extreme point of view or the other without really hearing the other side of the equation in our teachings, and they often do it defensively, either because they feel they made mistakes or because they are resentful about something “the Church” has taught or done. So, you have women who are certain that the only thing they really need to do is get married and be a mom, and so education/career planning are unimportant. But that doesn’t acknowledge the very clear and repeated teachings we’ve gotten about ‘get all the education you can’ and self-reliance. On the flip side, you have women who insist that they are “not the mother type” or who sort of shut down when nurturing, etc. are talked about (honestly, that drives me crazy, because I didn’t start out as the mother type, either…some of us have to grow into that role) and want to put that teaching about motherhood, nurturing, and service somewhere off in a corner.

    In my opinion, we have to talk clearly about both sides of the tension and how to engage that tension. And then we have to help them understand what Sister Beck has repeated often — the most important skill we can develop is to learn how to get personal revelation.

    But again, I think people too often want to be prescriptive when addressing this tension (examples: “oh, don’t get THAT degree, you are going to be a mom” on one side, and “Don’t you dare get married and have a child before you finish your degree” on the other). I also think it’s wrong to insist that the only way to stay professionally able is to work for pay. There are many ways to keep an active network and résumé even while being at home or on haitus for a period of time. It takes deliberateness and creativity. We live in a time where we have to be more flexible and creative than ever. And, as some have noted, even the best laid plans won’t always pan out to equal a good job. There is a lot more to this than prescribed planning.

    I also think that Elder Cook’s comment about doing what we can to encourage family-friendly policies in the workplace can help with this. But by the same token, I think we have to be willing to choose fields that allow for some flexibility, too. I think women have to be smart in this way. Following dreams is good, but if one picks a a field that expects 10 years of school and full-time work after that to stay competitive, that limits one’s choices and flexibility.

    I have done presentations on this topic to both YW and college students several times over the years, as well as helping with a conference at BYU on this topic of life planning and decision making. There are a boatload of quotes from the 70s to our current leaders’ teachings that are consistent with a more nuanced sentiment. Yes, the manuals focus a lot on motherhood, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to help young women also see the importance of education, self-reliance, and vocational planning. Engage the tension, I say, but resist the temptation to make decisions for these young women. Some of them will feel inspired to get married and have a family young, and no parent or young women leader’s voice should be haunting them. Some will experience other variations with this tension, and should feel the confidence of their leaders and parents that they will be able to figure it all out. Give them the tools — all of them, all of the principles — and then let them learn to fly.

    So, in summary, I agree that we need to have more dialogue about navigating the tension, but I think that has to start by acknowledging all the nuanced teachings, rather than insisting that the Church is somehow leading women astray or hurting them somehow. No, I think the reality is that we have the basic principles we need, but we need to be more willing to dance in the tension and talk often to yw about learning to seek and receive personal revelation for how to engage that tension. And we need to not be afraid of that tension as we teach. Acknowledge it, because they feel it. They see it. Resist the temptation to be defensive or prescriptive. Help them have confidence that they are smart and will be able to figure it out with God’s help, I think they’ll be better prepared for all that life can and will throw at them.

  21. Michelle says:

    To see some of the nuance that I think has been here for longer than we often think, see this 1974 address by Dallin H. Oaks (then president of BYU):

    http://lds.org/ensign/1975/03/insights/women-and-education?lang=eng&query=education+women

  22. Mel says:

    Michelle –

    I believe that the teachings are nuanced on this issue at the local level, so your luck in the draw of geography determines how nuanced an approach you get. The one idea that is consistent is the manual, and I thought I was being very fair about the ideas presented and didn’t make this a church-bash, but a discussion about whether the plan presented still works 40 years later. My quotes were from the lesson specifically about vocation.

    I loved that message you linked to on education from Oaks, it was very forward-thinking for the time he gave it. But I would love to see something more current and equally forward thinking (I will acknowledge Elder Cook’s talk about not judging the valiance of a woman working outside the home – but he said not to judge because we don’t know a person’s circumstance, not because it was acceptable to work outside the home). Oaks was focused on the power of education, and I dare say that by now, most LDS members believe women should have higher education. But my point was that we can make room for women to plan and strategize careers as well, even as we reinforce the importance of motherhood. (BTW – it would be nice to acknowledge that just as women who stay home raising children are not less-than in intellect and capability, women who choose to work outside the home are not less-than in their love and teaching of their children).

    I also believe we could have some more nuanced teachings regarding gender roles. It seems modern men expect (and want) to be included in the nurturing of their children, that fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives have come a long way. But I see very little to acknowledge the desire of women to participate in providing.

  23. Michelle says:

    “The one idea that is consistent is the manual, and I thought I was being very fair about the ideas presented and didn’t make this a church-bash, but a discussion about whether the plan presented still works 40 years later. My quotes were from the lesson specifically about vocation.”

    I do understand what you are saying about the manuals, and I think everyone realizes that the manuals need some updating. But since we all realize this, one of my key points is that I think it’s good to talk about the topic with a wider net of quotes and teachings, rather than just what is in the manuals. Because we all know that isn’t a full view of what the Church teaches. I think we have the responsibility to be very familiar with all the teachings, not just a few quotes in the manuals.

    Besides, there is nothing that says we can’t and shouldn’t talk about wise life planning. I think that all is part of the larger realm of the teachings we have.

    “But I see very little to acknowledge the desire of women to participate in providing.”

    But neither is it completely discouraged, either. Again, I think there is more nuance than is reflected in this post. (I know it’s also hard to cover a topic like this in just one post!)

    I don’t think we’ll ever hear careers for women celebrated in and of themselves in a vacuum. In reality, men’s responsibility as primary provider isn’t in a vacuum, either. All of such decisions are set within the doctrine of the family. We are supposed to engage such a decision with serious prayer and personal revelation, not just personal desire alone. I also don’t think the primary roles thing is going to change. (My imo on this, is that in the end, I think that benefits women because we have more flexibility in our choices if we have husbands who can and do provide. There is a lot more to being educated and deliberate in life planning than just making money.)

    But look, for example, at the “equal partners” discussion at the Worldwide Leadership Broadcast from 2008. It’s too long to include here, but I think that is an example of how our leaders realize that there is no one-size-fits all approach for every situation. The Proclamation and other prophetic teachings are about *general* principles and patterns, and then we get our specific marching orders from God. (Take a look at Elder Holland’s talk in that same leadership meeting on that topic.)

    And note what Sister Beck just said at BYU Women’s Conference:

    “”One of the questions that I get frequently is, “Is it okay if I work outside of my home or I don’t work outside of my home?” You have to know that as an international, global, Relief Society president, that question isn’t always appropriate in all of the world’s countries. There are many, many places where if our women don’t work, they don’t eat. So of course they have to work. The question of whether or not to work is the wrong question. The question is, “Am I aligned with the Lord’s vision of me and what He needs me to become, and the roles and responsibilities He gave me in heaven that are not negotiable? Am I aligned with that, or am I trying to escape my duties?” Those are the kinds of things we need to understand. Our Heavenly Father loves His daughters, and because He loves us and the reward at the end is so glorious, we do not get a pass from the responsibilities we were given. We cannot give them away. They are our sacred duties and we fulfill them under covenant.””

    We’re being invited to ask ourselves hard questions as we consider all of this. But it’s definitely not a simple — “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about a career.”

    “generally the women whose careers are the result of a meaningful strategy and ambition are not honored or celebrated. They’re not called to work with the young women nor asked to share their professional talents in ways that men are.”

    This is another example to me of a generalization that I think is not really fair. I haven’t been in YW for over a decade. Not everyone is going to serve in YW. But not having a calling is not proof of some kind of deliberate profiling.

    Let me be clear here. I’m not trying to argue against having really solid discussions about life planning and career options. I think it’s really important to have these kinds of conversations. But I think that requires some thoroughness about what is taught, and that means both not shying away from the doctrine of motherhood but also being willing to engage energetically about education and career planning.

    One more article that I think might be of interest that I think addresses this tension really well: http://www.byui.edu/perspective/v7n2pdf/v7n2_hurley.pdf

    • Heather says:

      This question: “Am I aligned with that, or am I trying to escape my duties?” makes me want to poke my eyes out with a red hot poker.

      Ha ha. Just kidding (sort of . . .)

      Who decides what my “duties” are? I don’t think Beck and I would agree on what my “duties” are. My duties to whom? My children? myself???

    • Ziff says:

      I do understand what you are saying about the manuals, and I think everyone realizes that the manuals need some updating. But since we all realize this, one of my key points is that I think it’s good to talk about the topic with a wider net of quotes and teachings, rather than just what is in the manuals.

      I think the manuals are a great place to start if we want to know what YW are actually being taught on the ground in their wards. They likely get far more exposure to the manuals than to Conference talks or talks in other venues.

      You say that the manuals need updating. I couldn’t agree more, but I think the Church’s dragging its feet on this issue sends a pretty loud message that the GAs are just fine with YW being taught that SAHM is the only real way to go, and that they shouldn’t plan for a career.

      • Kim says:

        If you look on the churches web site, they have many other suggestions to supplement each lesson. They link you to all the current talks, videos, music, etc. I use all these in my lessons.
        The Lord’s teachings do not change. It is the Lord’s plan that mothers be at home with their children. I am so grateful for a mother that stayed home to care for me and my 8 sisters. She went to college with me (we even took an aerobics class together), and now works full-time as an RN. There is a time and season for everything. Make it a matter of prayer to figure out what your time and season is!

  24. There are so many ways to live, and so many reasons we make the choices we do. If we only present one lifestyle as being optimal or accepted, it’s hard for girls to see the choices they have. It’s really vital to try to get the youth to wrap their heads around what real life looks like and the many reasons why they would want to stay home and/or work. IMO, it’s not helpful to romanticize motherhood, or career life. As I look at the women my age (40’s), I realize that there are so many of us who have ended up needing to support ourselves who are simply unprepared – due to divorce, lost jobs, increased bills, etc. Staying out of the work force isn’t friendly to income level.

    When my sister was the Young Women’s Pres, she hosted a career night in her ward and brought in many of the women in the ward and stake who could share about their careers. One of them was an accountant. She broke down the current cost of living in their area, the costs of having children, and the average income for someone in their 30’s. She talked about what level-entry work gets paid, what skilled professionals are paid, and introduced many options for the girls on jobs that were available part time, full time, with different education levels that might meet their interests. All of the girls went home with their eyes opened, and the information they needed to approach their futures in a practical way.

    • Mel says:

      Laurie –

      Love the idea that we shouldn’t romanticize either. Life is at moments amazing and at moments trying and at moments mind-numbingly dull. I think these last 2 are easier to deal with when we feel we made our own choices.

  25. Michelle says:

    I’ve done presentations that are similar to that for both YW and college students. It helps to talk them through lots of options and ideas and needs and realities, I think. That’s one thing I liked about the BYU-I article (and that was the focus of what we did at the life planning and decision-making conference I helped with a year and a half ago).

    I also think we need to talk outside of just work for pay as a way to be prepared for possible unexpected twists and turns in life. If you make staying out of the work force the focus of the “problem,” then I don’t think you respect the reality that women can and do choose to stay at home and keep skills and networks active in creative and deliberate ways. It’s not necessarily an either/or scenario. I actually think it’s that either/or kind of thinking that scares some young women away from really thinking carefully about wise and deliberate planning.

    Examples:
    -My sister tutors in the evenings using her math degree and makes serious money. She has five children — all born in 7 years.
    -Another sister uses her art degree with a little custom art business on the side. She’s at home with three little ones.
    -Yet another sister is using her educational background as a member of her city’s planning commission. She just had her seventh child. She could easily move into a paid job if she chooses to at some point.
    -A friend with a business degree has four little girls and keeps a real estate license active so she can make money if need be.
    -Another friend kept her nurse’s license active all through the time she was raising her kids, and that eventually came in handy when she had to re-enter the workforce when her husband lost his job (her youngest was in high school at the time).
    -I’ve volunteered in my field, used my degree for service and non-profit volunteering, and deliberately done things to build and keep a network. I haven’t worked for pay for over a decade but am confident I could re-enter the workforce if need be.

    I’ve also talked with women who do things like go to a professional conference once a year, subscribe to journals in their field. You can volunteer a few hours a week or month or quarter to keep yourself connected. And, of course, you can work part-time, or work with your company to get some flex-time options going.

    • Heather says:

      Great examples, all. I’d like to add this one to your list:

      -I’ve worked full-time the whole time I’ve had kids (and my oldest is almost 15) with the exception of one whole dreadful summer (3 months) and a month or two here or there during other summers.

      They went to Mothers Day Outs, pre-ks, and we’ve had babysitters. We’re all happy and healthy.

    • Heidi says:

      Michelle, sometimes creative, wise and deliberate planning is not enough to make you truly competitive in the workforce. I have done many of the things you’ve listed — worked part-time, built networks, volunteered extensively during the last three years and I use my English degree by tutoring in the evenings (the money is good, but the work is not always consistent). This week, I was shortlisted and interviewed for two entry-level positions (kind of) in my field. I was competing against ten candidates for one of the positions and five in the other. I didn’t get either of the positions and in the rejection letters (which were kindly very specific to things I said in the interview and didn’t feel like form letters), I was basically told that they really liked me, but went with candidates with more recent and extensive experience. Despite my attempts to keep myself relevant and continue to use my skills while at home, I have no question that in the current economic climate my lack of experience is making things a lot harder for me.

  26. Michelle says:

    “When my sister was the Young Women’s Pres, she hosted a career night in her ward and brought in many of the women in the ward and stake who could share about their careers. One of them was an accountant. She broke down the current cost of living in their area, the costs of having children, and the average income for someone in their 30′s. She talked about what level-entry work gets paid, what skilled professionals are paid, and introduced many options for the girls on jobs that were available part time, full time, with different education levels that might meet their interests. All of the girls went home with their eyes opened, and the information they needed to approach their futures in a practical way.”

    By the way, I should have said that I think this was a great idea.

    And I really don’t want my comments to be about *me* — just sharing a lot of the things that are on the radar screen as we prepare this conference and on my own mind…it’s something I think about and work with a lot in my volunteer efforts. These ARE important topics and dialogue is important. I just hope people can feel some hope about it all.

  27. Mel says:

    I think we largely agree Michelle, and I hope that my words are not limited to paid work. I value the time women spend at home raising their children, but just want it to be part of a life strategy. In order to stay at home, you need a plan on how you can afford it financially – you’ll give up cable or eating out, whatever. I think the same is true with how you can afford it professionally – you’ll give up a couple nights a week to tutor or a week a year for a conference. Totally agree that the either/or choices don’t serve anyone.

    We may disagree with my other point where I find it sexist that women are only expected to participate in the providing side of the household as an exception while men are expected to participate in the nurturing side of raising children as a rule.

  28. Ziff says:

    Great post, Mel! I particularly like this point:

    generally the women whose careers are the result of a meaningful strategy and ambition are not honored or celebrated.

    I think you’re exactly right. It’s seen as perfectly okay to stumble into a career, to have had to fall back on one because of circumstance. But to plan for one? That’s totally going against all the norms, both prescriptive and (as er MD and Heather’s experiences show) descriptive.

  29. Kim says:

    I am surprised by many comments here. I believe that it is the Lord who calls those He wishes to serve. The Lord does not devalue anyone, nor does the churches handbook have any prerequisites about calling YW leaders who are stay at home moms.

    I have 4 children ages 19, 14, 11, & 8. I am a stay at home mom. I have a masters in Mathematics and did teach part time while my husband finished school. I am fortunate that I do not have to work out of the home. I thought when my kids all began school that I might go back to teach part time, but I have found that I am even busier now that they are in school than I was before.

    I think it is important for all women to seriously think about their education and career choices. I purposely picked a career choice that would enable me to be with my children as much as possible if I ever had to work in that field. The church leaders continue to encourage all women to get more education and training. We are encouraged to stay current in our fields, but we also need to pick careers that we are able to stay current in without having to “work” when we don’t have to. My sister who now has to work to provide for her family said to me, “I wish I had picked a different occupation, so I could work the hours my daughter goes to school.” We need to get our YW to think of these kinds of things before it is too late.

    I am currently serving as YW president in my ward. I have found that this is a very time consuming calling. The sister that had this calling before me was struggling to magnify it. She works as a librarian at a middle school and has no children at home. I think it would be extremely hard for someone with a full time job and children to really magnify this calling without her family “suffering” some. It seems that I am always going with the YW. I am fortunate that one of my YW is also my daughter, so I am able to spend time with her as I magnify my calling.

    If you are working because you need to work, then you should not feel badly. If you are working because you want to work and have made it a matter of prayer and received the Lord’s blessing, you should not feel badly. If you are feeling guilty about your choices, most likely you have not included the Lord in your decision making process. If you feel His blessing that your choice is right, I firmly believe you will no longer feel that you are not being “honored or celebrated.” When I hear the general authorities speak to women, they honor and celebrate ALL women. Just pray and be sure you are following the Lord’s plan for you!

  1. September 26, 2011

    […] – September 26, 2011Posted in: Columns, The WayfarerGuest Post from Stella as part of the The Exponent and Doves and Serpents swap.Hello, I’m Stella. I write over at Exponent. When I found out we were doing a swap, I quickly […]

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