The Fatherhood Shift

perryby MargaretOH

“We’ve demonstrated that women can do what men do, but not yet that men can do what women do. That’s why most women have two jobs—one inside the home and one outside it—which is impossible. The truth is that women can’t be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.” –Gloria Steinem, 2009.

Occasionally the gendered language of the church is more hurtful towards men than it is towards women.  We hear it when women are spoken of as naturally more righteous or when men are said to lack self-control.  The gendered culture of Mormonism is so strong that most of these messages, for most Latter-day Saints, go unobserved or unchallenged.  It’s the landscape we live with every day.  But it is damaging for everyone.

In the Saturday afternoon session of General Conference Elder L. Tom Perry said this in his (mostly good) talk about the crucial need for good parenting:

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General Conference: Feeling Tossed on the Old Ship Zion

life-preserver

For the most part I’m a fan of General Conference. I like to spend Saturdays working on a project, headphones on and hearing counsel and stories about the gospel. Sundays I turn it on in the kitchen and try to listen as I simultaneously instruct the kids on the proper way to make frijoles or corn chowder or whatever yumminess we’ll eat during the break between session. Sunday afternoon is spent in a food coma in the basement, drifting in and out of sleep as I recline on the futon. Some talks I like. Some bug me. But I usually walk away a little more committed and renewed. But this past weekend, I felt pulled in two different directions and I’m a little queasy as a result.

My favorite speaker is always Jeffrey Holland. I love his intelligence. I love his relationship with his wife Pat (she is his equal, not his “sweet companion”) and that comes out in how he talks about and to women. I love that he always has a thesis and sticks with it (English major here). His Saturday afternoon talk focused on how the Savior’s first “messianic call” was to care for the poor. “The great Redeemer has issued no more persistent call than for us to join him in lifting this heavy burden from the people.” He really hit home our duty to “seek opportunities to care for the poor.” Aside from fast offerings, he promised that God “will guide you in compassionate acts of discipleship if you are conscientiously wanting and praying and looking for ways to keep a commandment He has given us again and again.”

And other talks made reference to serving in our communities and as communities. I delighted in hearing Elder Wong talk (in Cantonese!!) about the absolute need to “Rescue in Unity.” “We can all help one another,” he said. “We should always be anxiously engaged in seeking to rescue those in need. … When we assist (Jesus Christ) in his mission of saving souls, we too will be rescued in the process.” I felt the truth of their admonitions. As I say to my teenage son who no longer identifies as Mormon, “I don’t care as much if you believe in Christ as I do that you act like Christ.”

But there was another theme: the need to put family gospel study first. This was referenced many times, most particularly by Elder Scott who focused on the necessity of making one’s family the center of all our efforts. On Sunday afternoon he spoke of four tools. And here is where I started to feel guilty. And stressed. And confused. But don’t mistake my anxiety as disapproval or dislike because I actually believe in the benefits of his four tools:

1)   Family Prayer morning and night is “nonnegotiable priority in daily life, more important than sleep, school, media…”

2)   Scripture Study as a family, same as above

3)   FHE needs to be every Monday night and nothing, not “employment, sports, homework” should stand in the way.

4)   Attend the Temple.

I kinda wanted to cry, because as a SAHM who is actively trying to raise her family in the gospel, I WANT these things in my life. I TRY to do these things but fail. Majorly. Especially if the standard for success is Every. Single. Day. Twice. Whatever happened to the lovely vagueness of the word “regular?”  Regular prayer and scripture study are goals I can live with. But nonnegotiable rocks my boat, because I cannot prioritize my family as Scott urges and also serve those around me in the way Holland envisions.

As I listened to Elder Scott, I started to picture two versions of Elder Ballard’s “Old Ship Zion.” One ship is large, filled with many souls. Sometimes I have to leave my kids on the poop deck to go into the galley and wash dishes or play shuffleboard with a widow who desperately needs the company. Scriptures are not always studied because my time and attention are spent elsewhere, mending sails and swabbing decks. But my kids are learning to work and serve as well. Yet when I think of Scott’s focus on shoring up my family, I see me and my kids on a small boat, a dinghy of sorts. The only way I can make those four tools a regular part of our lives is to isolate ourselves. Become the Swiss Family Robinson. If I am going to make it happen, I cannot pull other people onto my boat.

I freely admit that my life is better when I have managed to make prayer and scriptures a regular part of our lives. There is a peace. But there is also a price. Because FHE is not simply 4o minutes on Monday night. It means meals and homework and lessons and projects all have to be dealt with ahead of time, often at great cost. It means preparing a spiritual message that a 17 year old and an 8 year old will listen to. And nobody’s mad, but all those tasks usually fall on the woman’s shoulders. So as Elder Scott talks about the peace brought by these tasks, I feel a little resentful because if any of it is going to happen, the tasks will be mine and mine alone. It ain’t right, but that’s how it is for me and most of the women I know. So we hear this counsel, and we want the benefits but just don’t know if we are capable of paying the price. What (or who) will we have to toss overboard to keep our family afloat?

I am torn because I know I cannot heed both orders. I cannot serve in my ward and community, as I love to, as Holland and Wong urge us to, if my days are filled with nonnegotiable obligations. If I go out in the evening for a lecture, exercise, visiting teachings, service, then family prayers and scriptures will not happen.

And here is where I miss Chieko Okazaki. If she were around she would be tossing me a life vest, and a Diet Coke, telling me that of course I cannot do it all. She might say this: “[Heather], I think that many Mormon women do not have clear boundaries for themselves. They feel a sense of confusion about who they are, because many competing voices lay claim to them and they try to accommodate them all…. Remember, a boundary has ‘yes’ on one side and ‘no’ on the other. A woman who never feels that she can say ‘no’ is lacking an important element of personal identity and, hence, personal safety. A woman who also feels that she can never say ‘yes’ has an equally serious problem in her inability to move beyond her own boundaries.” (https://ojs.lib.byu.edu/spc/index.php/…/article/download/391/369)

So I come away from General Conference with lots to think about: my role as a mother, a sister, a friend, a disciple, a part of a community. I know I will have to find my own answers, my own balance. Choices will be made and I will live with the consequences. Ultimately it is Elder Uchtodorf words that provide a lifeline: “We are all pilgrims, seeking God’s light as we journey on the path of discipleship.” And in my quiet moments, I can almost see the sun on the horizon.

 

How do you reconcile what feel like conflicting admonitions from Church leaders?  What talks felt like life preservers? What make you feel like walking the plank? 

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Guest Post: Give a Title to the Woman who Has a Mission President Husband

by Frank Pellett

I saw this article about the wives of Mission Presidents in the Salt Lake Tribune this morning, and I wanted to share it with the wider readership of Exponent, as a small but good example of something in the Church doing something right in the way of improving gender issues.

It seems they’re working on having a formal title for the wife of the Mission President:

Don’t call her a “co-president” with her husband, either. Mission president is a “joint calling,” Evans says in an interview from church headquarters in Salt Lake City, but only the man carries the title “president.”

An appropriate moniker for “mission president wife” remains elusive, he says. The church’s all-male missionary committee recently asked the female LDS general auxiliary leaders to come up with one but so far has not settled on any that captures the job.

This is a refreshing change from the oft brought up lack of female voices in the drafting Proclamation on the Family.  No, it’s not a big thing.  Yes, they could probably start by getting some women actually in the missionary committee.  I just like to sometimes celebrate the little things.

So, that brings us to the post.  It’s not merely an attempt at a feel good flicker of hope.  I figure if they’re looking for titles, the least we can do is see what we can come up with on our own.  What would be a good title for what is now the “Mission President’s Wife”?

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(Not?) Watching Conference

Ten years ago, I was a freshman at BYU. One Saturday morning, I was sitting in my Deseret Towers dorm room doing my homework like a studious, dedicated undergrad. My roommate burst into the room, “Are you going to watch conference with us?”

“Conference?”

“Yeah, it starts in like 5 minutes.”

“It’s Saturday. I’m doing my homework. I’ll watch tomorrow’s conference.”

Clearly there was a clash of cultures.

I had grown up in Illinois in a family that didn’t have satellite television. We had to drive 45 minutes to the stake center to watch General Conference and my family was not going to do that for more than one session of conference. We always watched Sunday morning because that’s when we’d normally go to church and also the prophet always spoke in that session. To be honest, I thought the Saturday sessions were special for people on the other side of the international date line: Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Indonesia, Asia, so that they could watch sessions on their “Sunday.” I thought it was really generous and internationally-aware of the Church to have conference sessions on Saturday. But they weren’t sessions for me. That’s what the Sunday morning session was for! Heck- even Sunday afternoon was obviously geared towards the saints in Hawaii because it was at a time so that they’d get to see it “Sunday morning,” too!

I remember continuing my homework, flabbergasted that there probably existed people that expected me to listen to 8 hours of conference in a weekend. It was Saturday! That day is for soccer games and piano recitals and math team conference matches!

Snoozefest

As an adult, I’ve tried to listen to more of the sessions, but now that my kids are getting a little older, I think I’m going to go back to just the Sunday morning session. I don’t have a lot of boundaries with Church activities: I go to as many ward potlucks and visiting teaching nights and ward park days that I can. I try to accept callings and bring meals to families that need them. But the General Conference weekends are my two weekends of “Nope!” I’ll do 1, maybe 2, but not 5 sessions of conference. This Saturday you’ll find me making Halloween costumes and hanging with my family.

How was General Conference weekend treated when you were a kid? Do you keep those same traditions? Do you watch more/less that you used to?

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October 2014 Visiting Teaching Message: The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ: Bread of Life

Click for French Translation/Traduction en français

Rosh Hashan'naSometimes in the church, we become so familiar with symbols that we forget what the symbol really is. Bread is one of those symbols that we hear about every week as the sacrament is being blessed and passed. And as I was contemplating this message, my mind swirled with thoughts of bread— literal bread. I thought of those who are gluten-intolerant, and Celiac, and cultures where bread is uncommon… and I wondered… what is the real substance behind bread?

I confess that the message this month did not feel clear to me about the use of the symbol of bread. Clearly Christ is the bread—as recorded by John (John 6:35), “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”

And yet… there are days like today, where I still feel alone, weepy, and just, well—spiritually unfilled. My spirit is hungry and thirsty. I know Christ is “the bread of life,” yet through my prayers and study today, I still feel…. Empty. I sense and fear that I am not alone in this feeling. That although we might know what is supposed to fill us, sometimes we still feel unfed. We seek for more.

 

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Nachos and Green Tomato Salsa

canning jarsMy husband is getting ready to attend a play with friends. I am happy to stay home and putter, but he hesitates with keys in hand, looking around the kitchen with a concerned expression. “I may not be home in time for dinner.” One of the many perks of our empty nest is that occasionally I find myself blissfully alone. “I know. I will be fine.” He opens the fridge. “There may be some leftovers.” “I told you, I will figure something out.” He says, “You ate all the Wheat Chex last week.” Now I am annoyed. “Go! I will cook for myself.” He snorts and leaves. I go off and hermit around my workspace until hunger drives me back to the kitchen. I peer in the refrigerator, the freezer, the pantry, the refrigerator again.

My husband is truly gifted at cooking. I am not. This was established early in the relationship. On our first date he made a picnic lunch with teriyaki pheasant. A few dates later I burned a chicken concoction and we went out for pizza. In the first year of our marriage we attempted to trade off, but when my husband started graduate school, he took over. He said he wanted a “creative outlet.” We were both relieved.

It is hard to know what came first – my profound lack of aptitude or my subsequent lack of interest. One usually follows the other. For years I have sat on a stool at the edge of the kitchen island, watching my husband intently, trying to figure out the difference between us. We are both smart. We both love to eat. Perched there, eating scraps of food out of prep bowls, I have discovered clues. My brain thinks in geometric lines, taking apart and putting things back together in a linear process. If the points are not perfect in my quilt blocks, I remake them until they line up. I think: what is the most efficient way to go from point A to point B? What are the steps to achieve a specific result? My husband’s brain thinks like a lava lamp, organic, he perceives a million details at the same time. He chops and stirs and sautes this and roasts that. He senses temperature and color and somehow five dishes appear at the same time. If something doesn’t taste right he adapts the other ingredients to balance. He thinks: what flavors go together? What recipe fits the weather?  

Today I decide to make myself nachos. I find chips, pre-shredded cheese and an old piece of steak which I chop up and layer on the top. I turn on the broiler and can hear my husband’s voice in my head telling me not to burn them. In fact, why not use the microwave?

Our children grew up in a home where Dad was master of the kitchen, not just cooking, but preparing gourmet meals that people came to rave about. Dinner at our house was a culinary adventure and we loved entertaining as a family. I tried to feel that my contribution was bringing home the bacon rather than frying it up in a pan, but the referenced woman in the commercial could do both and look sexy. I worried that my lack of domestic proficiency diminished my value as a wife and mother. One Mother’s Day this was reinforced when the boys came home from Primary presenting a project they had made in class. It was constructed of two paper wheels held together by a brad. The top wheel had a window revealing tiny messages and pictures underneath. The title read: “My mother does many things for me!” and when the child turned the wheel, the captions below read “She bakes cookies!” “She makes dinner!” “She washes my clothes!” “ She meets me after school!” To which my little son gleefully confessed, “I told them that my mom doesn’t do any of those things!” My older son shook his head thoughtfully. “No, no she doesn’t.”  

I also faced incredulous clucking from other women assuring me of my “luck” in finding a man who would “help out” and cautioning that I had better “hang on to him” as if my inability to time an egg threatened our long term prospects. At first I would defensively explain that it all evened out, that he had a surly disposition and I cleaned the toilet. Eventually I just surrendered and shrugged. I had been judged by the dial-a-good-mother wheel and found wanting.

I don’t burn my nachos but they look boring so I dig through a pile of jars created from my husband’s new hobby, small batch canning. I find something green and chopped and open it. It smells like salsa. I taste it. The hacienda heavens open and choirs of mariachi angels sing. It is delicious. I dump it all over my nachos and devour them.

In his book, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, Andrew Solomon shares that most parents love their children at birth, but must learn over time to accept them. He says that “love aspires to acceptance” and that most parenting happens in the grey area between what we try to change in those we love and what we choose to celebrate as it unfolds. I believe this applies to how we view ourselves as well. Learning when to develop and push ourselves and when to simply be ourselves is an ongoing challenge. There are so many bad habits I know I must fix – my selfishness, my dental hygiene, my matchstick temper. In comparison, I can shelve the less urgent deficiencies, ignore the lists of shoulds catalogued by others and even revel in the quirks that make me who I am. My children may appreciate a mother who can make sock monkeys dressed as literary characters just as much as a mother who knows that Honey Nut corn flakes and strawberry yogurt should not be used to bread chicken nuggets. In the words of the very wise Queen Elsa, I am going to let it go.

Later that night, when my husband comes home, he asks what I ate for dinner. I tell him nachos which actually required use of the oven. Then I say, “So that green stuff I found in the pantry? It is amazing. I ate the whole jar.” He lights up. “It is green tomato salsa. The neighbor brought us all these green tomatoes and I made up the recipe in order to use them.” I assure him that it was the best salsa I have ever tasted. And that I never take his gifts for granted. He wonders if he will be able to replicate the recipe again. I say, “I am sure you will come up with something.”

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September 2014 General Women’s Meeting – Linda K. Burton

Pres Burton

Linda K. Burton

Linda K. Burton, General President of the Relief Society, opened this Women’s Meeting as the first speaker – and set the theme of “Temples” which continued throughout the meeting.

She discussed being prepared for the temple – starting with Jesus’ parable of the Ten Virgins: five of whom were prepared for Christ’s coming with oil in their lamps and five of whom did not prepare and were not ready to welcome Christ, the bridegroom. President Burton noted (and I agree with her) that gaining symbolic “oil” is a slow and consistent, life-long process.

She continues with the suggestion that the home is one place where we can prepare to enter the temple: creating a home environment that is peaceful and full of the spirit (like the temple) acclimates us to “things of the spirit”.  We, therefore, will feel comfortable  in the temple, allowing our spirit to receive revelation from heaven.  She emphasizes the importance of saving ordinances.

President Burton focuses most of her examples and her quotes on the Savior, which I appreciate.  Throughout her Presidency she has focused on Christ and that has impressed me.

While I found her personal stories in this particular talk were simplistic and her language overly “flowery”, I thought her message came across and was positive: prepare now and each day to know the Savior and to be ready to partake in the saving ordinances of the temple.

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