Sleeping with the Bishop

Maria is the author of this fabulous guest post. Thanks for sending it our way!

I was teaching sharing time one Sunday when the branch president’s 7-year-old son excitedly announced to the primary, “It’s a secret, but our family is moving!” Almost the moment the words left his mouth, I had a strong spiritual impression that my husband would be called to be the new branch president. The impression puzzled me—we were both only 25, we’d only lived in the branch a few months, we’d only been married a few months, and there were plenty of other men (read: men who were more capable) to choose from. But a few weeks later my impression was confirmed. The district president called us in and extended the calling to my husband. A short time later our district became a stake, and then branch became a ward, and I’ve been sleeping with the bishop ever since… It’s a good thing for me to reminisce about that initial impression, because it’s been a wild, and sometimes surreal, ride these past few years. As we live in a highly transient area, we’ve seen a lot of people come and go: five bishopric counselors, three RS presidents, and five EQ presidents. Oh, and there was that arsonist that tried to burn down the chapel, the graffiti artist who “decorated” our car in the church parking lot, the gypsy children from Romania with lice (I combed the nits out of their hair in the women’s restroom), the mentally ill eternal investigator who sneaked into the local temple for a few endowment sessions (the temple president asked my husband to make WANTED posters of her face to hang behind the recommend desk), the processional of Moonies that marched into the chapel and demanded an audience with our “great leader,” and the unhappy foreign circus performer passing through town who sought welfare assistance to help him out of indentured servitude in the circus. And those are just a few of the more…ahem…unusual situations we’ve found ourselves in.

Normal “all-bishops-go-through-this” stuff happens all the time, too—like sobbing women calling at all hours of the night (or showing up on the doorstep) because of their marital problems, porn-addicted men calling during dinner because they’re having a rough temptation night (or so I’m guessing), screaming mothers and teenage daughters demanding that the bishop come and act as referee during their weekly power struggles, etc.

But by far the biggest challenge for me has been dealing with feelings of isolation and loneliness. I think there are many factors that contribute to this. One factor is the difficulty I have had in making close friends within the ward. Many ward members view me as a not-so-secret agent on a constant reconnaissance mission for my husband (“I can’t let her know I’m anything but perfect, because if she figures it out then she’ll tell her husband…”). This leads presumably normal people to act incredibly weird around me, and said weirdness is often a challenging foundation to form a friendship upon.

To be fair, I have to say that as the bishop’s wife I often have a hard time being myself around ward members, too. I find that I am constantly self-censoring so that I don’t say anything Ensign-unfriendly that will then be attributed to my husband, or offend any testimony-teetering members into inactivity, or seem too outspoken for a wife who certainly has no authority over anything going on in the ward.

I feel like all bishops’ wives should be read Miranda-like warnings when their husbands are called: “anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of ward opinion.” I figured out early on (in, oh, the first week my husband was branch president, through a nasty three-page email) that any opinion I expressed, no matter how benign (that particular email was about…gasp…a testimony I had given about the Savior), would be subject to the strictest of scrutiny by ward members.

I thus began to plead the 5th on almost all occasions—better to be reticent than to have to deal with any blowback later on. But then I started getting blowback for being non-participatory, and I learned the next bishop’s wife’s rule of thumb: “No matter what you do or don’t do, someone in the ward will be unhappy about it, and won’t hesitate to let you know it.”

Not only is it difficult to make close friends within the ward, but the bishop’s wife’s best friend, her husband, is gone an extra 20 to 40 hours per week performing his bishoply duties. I can’t tell you how many dark nights I’ve spent alone as my husband attended meetings, interviews, and disciplinary councils, or rushed to members’ homes to minister in the way that only the bishop can. And, on the rare occasion he is at home, he is often fatigued, saddened, or stressed-out by the problems of the ward—emotionally unavailable to an already lonely wife. Add to that the fact that he really can’t discuss anything that’s bothering him in the ward (confidentiality issues), and some nights we just stare at each other and cry. On one particularly sad night I realized that he probably feels just as isolated, overwhelmed, and lonely as I do.

When we first began to feel the weight of my husband’s calling press down on our young shoulders, we sought out comfort, information, and advice. We prayed. We fasted. We did countless searches on lds.org for articles that would offer helpful suggestions. While a few of the articles were pleasant enough, I felt most of them sugar-coated the challenges inherent to being a bishop or bishop’s wife. Rather than address concerns directly, the mantra seemed to be that if we would just focus on the “many great blessings” we have because of the calling, “everything will just start to feel better soon.”

Hitting that dead end, I began to cautiously approach other bishops’ wives in the area and in our extended families. Each of these women was uncomfortable expressing anything negative about her husband’s calling—even though I could often see the pain and frustration brimming in their eyes. With that dead end, my husband and I just kind of gave up trying to find answers for this issue. While we’re committed to talking about our feelings with each other if we’re having a particularly Bad Bishop Day, we mostly just try to ignore the challenges his calling brings into our lives. If we don’t think too much about the hard stuff, it’ll just go away, right? Not a very mature or effective coping mechanism—but it’s surprisingly sort of worked over the past few years.

Recently I read an article in TIME magazine that piqued my interest: “What God Joined Together: Pastors’ wives have changed with the times. Now they’re finding fellowship—online.” <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1604902,00.html >

One of the large-font headlines reads: “What do you think is the No. 1 problem that preachers’ wives have? Loneliness.” I excitedly called my husband after reading only a few lines—I felt that the pastors’ wives in the article were channeling me. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but the article describes that many pastors’ wives face the same complex feelings about their husbands’ callings that I do—sadness, pride, isolation, joy, under-appreciation, guilt, pressure to be perfect, gratitude, uncertainty about their roles, and occasional anger and resentment. But, most importantly, these women are finding comfort, community, and answers to their problems online by conversing with other women in similarly-challenging situations.

I’ve visited many of the blogs and websites that these women have created, and have found them to be incredibly warm and inviting. Most make an up-front invitation to women of all faiths to participate in their conversations. A wealth of absolutely-applicable information is available at my fingertips. Practical tips on dealing with cranky congregation members, making the most of limited family time, learning how to say no to relentless inappropriate requests for your assistance (today a ward member informed me I am planning her wedding…uh…no…), and, the mother lode: improving communication with your husband about delicate topics such as gender roles within the church community. Unbelievable! SO helpful! I think these blogs are an answer to my prayers.

Maybe someday when I get my act together I’ll start my own blog specifically for bishops’ wives…if I do, I think I’ll call it “Sleeping with the Bishop.”

You may also like...

53 Responses

  1. Deborah says:

    Maria: I would be an avid reader of such a blog.

    I love this post because it is a topic we can (must) all relate to — because even if we have never been in your position, we all have had interactions with the wives and children of our bishop. And how tempting is it to place some extra importance/observation/emphasis/what-word-am-I-looking-for on this family . . . Thank you for providing this inside view. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard such frank discussion from a woman in your position.

    The hardest part, for me, would be the confidentiality. My husband is a school administrator, and as such deals with all kinds of difficult interpersonal issues. And each night, he tells me all about it. I’m his vault and sounding board — and these conversations bring us closer together. If he came home from a tough day and said “I can’t talk about it — ever.” Well, that would be really hard.

    Eve (if you are reading this) — do you feel some of this being married to a psychologist who also has confidentiality protocols to follow?

    Thanks again, Maria.

    (Sorry, Caroline — when I post I am automatically logged in as you till I switch identities!)

  2. Ana says:

    Maria, I really enjoyed your thoughts. It sounds like major adventures occur in your ward, for sure!

    Does anybody else remember hearing that Marjorie Pay Hinckley never complained about her husband’s absences for church services?

    I figure I have already ruined my record for that … I griped when G was called as a second counselor in an elders’ quorum several years ago. To the bishop, no less …

    So now I just gripe freely whenever I want. Ha! I’m not the wife of a bishop, but of a dedicated, hardworking eqp. As much as I would hate to be the thing holding him back from serving the way I know he could, I deeply fear the thought of being without him that much. He is so awesome as a dad and husband, and I depend on him so much. I am just not the kind of wife who can hold everything together all by myself.

    Maybe he can do it after our kids are grown up.

  3. Bored in Vernal says:

    This is why it would be so nice for a bishop’s wife to share in his calling (similar to that of a mission president’s wife.) What is the matter with sharing ward problems with a wife who is equally committed to confidentiality? Sometimes a female perspective is just what a bishop needs. Also, what is wrong with the wife hopping in the car and accompanying the bishop on one of those family calls? A better companion, even, than his first counselor!

    Until that day, Maria, you really need to start that blog. I think it would practically run itself. And it sounds like you’ve got some fun stories and great insights. So many bishop’s wives out there really need something like this.

  4. Tania says:

    Oh what a wonderful beautiful post. A friend pointed me here as I just started sleeping with the Bishop 2 months ago when my husband was called.

    I think I have two great advantages in my situation. I’ve been in my ward for 7 years already and have an extraordinary circle of friends who happily treat me no differently than before. This circle also includes the two other Bishops’ wives from the other 2 wards that share our building, so I have an extremely fortunate support network.

    And my …ahem…strong personality and range of opinions are well known in the ward already. I don’t feel I have to be hyper-cautious every time I open my mouth. And I haven’t yet felt the judgment or disapproval of others. Then again, we have an unusually wonderful ward and I’ve only been in this limbo-ish undefined position for two months. Maybe I’ll get some spectacular 3-page e-mails in the future calling me to repentance…

    The other advantage I have (with a depth of gratitude that knows no bounds) is the instructions given by our Stake President when we were called. I was treated very much as an equal in the conversation, and the SP took pains to draw out my concerns and address them. My two greatest fears were (1) Although my husband would try his best to keep a balance, ultimately I and the kids would take second place to the calling if only because he is so incredibly responsible, and (2) I dreaded–DREADED–the wedge I thought would be driven into our marriage when my husband would be required to carry great burdens that he could not share with me. I hated that we wouldn’t be able to talk about the details of this overwhleming second life of his that would dominate so many of his hours and take him away from us.

    To the first concern, the SP admonished my husband that family came first no matter what, but then went a step further and gave concrete examples of Bishops he had known who had been superb delegators and who had successfully upheld clear boundaries around family time.

    To the second concern he told us that as the wife, I was to act as an additional counselor to my husband as the Bishop. He said that there would probably be things that would need to be kept confidential, but that often the issues could be discussed without naming names. He said that there would even be times when my husband would confide things in me that he wouldn’t confide to his ward counselors.

    I felt such a flood of relief at this that I almost cried. It came as a surprise to my husband, who had never heard anything like it before. I get the feeling it’s not the typical approach in the church. But a few weeks ago, my husband ran into Claudia Bushman at a conference and his new calling came up, as well as how the SP was able to allay my worst fears. Claudia’s response was that they seem to be saying those things to Bishops more and more in the church. Here’s hoping.

    Anyway–Maria, thank you for a wonderful post. I hardly ever have time to troll the blogging world but would read your “Sleeping with the Bishop” blog religiously, should you start one!

  5. Eve says:

    Maria, holy COW. I had no idea. No idea at all.

    A ward or two ago I became pretty close friends with the branch president’s wife, and I think it was easier for her because (a) they ahd no children and (b) it was a small branch, we all knew each others’ quirks, and we all knew each other well enough not to change her into “bishop’s wife” with a wand when he got called. But that’s my outside perspective. I could just be guessing.

    Deborah, thanks for soliciting my opinion! (Wow, I’m so flattered. 😉 ). Actually, I think being a psychologist’s wife is much, much easier than what Maria describes here, mainly because I don’t know any of my husband’s clients, they don’t know me, and they expect nothing of me. Also, they don’t have our home number (it’s unlisted precisely because my husband’s a psychologist). A psychologist’s time is much more clearly marked off; you show up, you get your fifty minutes, you leave because someone else is in the waiting room. Because a psychologist isn’t really part of your life, you can’t expect him or her to perform any other roles in your life (like planning your wedding or refereeing your fights).

    As far as confidentiality goes, sometimes my husband has told me about situations without names or identifying details. That helps me know where he is, what he’s struggling with, without any betrayals. He’s very careful not to say anything that would identify the person. That helps a lot. I can see that this, too, would be much harder in a ward where you actually know all the people and can guess who he might be talking about.

    Ultimately, though, I find that if I know where my husband is emotionally–how he’s feeling, what in a general sense, is frustrating him, etc.–it’s OK for me not to know details (which at times he hasn’t been able to share when he’s had church callings).

    Still, I think Maria’s situation sounds gruelling. I don’t know how people endure such stress and isolation from one another. It’s a miracle bishops’ marraiges survive.

  6. madhousewife says:

    My best friend is not afraid to admit to anyone that the five years her husband spent as bishop were the worst five years of their marriage. Of course, part of that was due to the fact that her husband was focused on being a “perfect” bishop, but still, a lot of the stress just comes with the job description.

    It’s great that you’ve found support online.

  7. Ann says:

    Tania, I seem to recall Naismith saying something very similar; that when her husband was called, her SP told them that she was a counselor. I was surprised by that, and figured the SP was just placating the little woman; I’m cynical like that. That may have been aggravated by stories from years ago of husbands in high positions patting wifey on the head with “there there, don’t worry your pretty little head about priesthood matters.”

    Hearing the story again in the context you present gives some important additional insight. The shadow counselor role isn’t a way to placate the wife about her peripheral role; it’s a way to support the bishop and strengthen their marriage.

  8. maria says:

    First off, thank you much to everyone who has commented. When I initially considered writing this guest post my biggest concern was that people would be critical and judgmental (maybe because I’ve been exposed to so much criticism and judgment from the wardies?). But your comments are all so warm and affirmative. Thank you. I want to try to respond to everyone—I’m so excited to actually talk about this with people and I want to keep the conversation going!

    Deborah:

    I agree that most of us place some measure of importance/emphasis on the role of the Bishop’s wife. But what makes all of this so tricky, as a good friend recently pointed out to me, is that, as the bishop’s wife, no official calling has ever been extended. There are no formal guidelines, responsibilities, training manuals (how I would love a GHI geared toward me!), scriptural examples, or support networks, so I’m pretty much left to myself to work through what it means to be the bishop’s wife. To date, I haven’t developed a role that feels comfortable to me.

    So I pose a couple of questions (not just to Deborah, others please chime in as well!): If you were to define what the bishop’s wife’s role is, what would it be? And, for comparison’s sake, do you think that others in the church would have a similar definition (meaning do you think your understanding is informed by your particular life experiences, etc.)?

  9. maria says:

    Ann:

    Yes, I’ve heard that statement about Sister Hinckley before and it makes me cringe. She must have been a saint. Or…learned how to keep it all in without having an emotion breakdown.

    I’ve often also wondered about the wives of general authorities, apostles, and prophets. Surely there have been a few of them that have struggled with their unofficial roles even more than I have. I imagine that the challenges I describe are only compounded by the additional time constraints and high-level visibility. Yet, I can’t really picture any of these women discussing these issues, ever.

    Hmm…maybe it’s a generational thing? The reason I say that is that I’m just thinking, too, of my MIL (“just” a 3X bishop’s wife) who gets extremely uneasy if I ever try to discuss/connect with her on bishophy things I am struggling with. With her I definitely think it is a generational thing–a “good wife” from her generation shouldn’t complain about anything, let alone something as reverential/sacred as a calling.

    I would love to sit down and have a frank chat with someone like Wendy Watson Nelson (Elder Nelson’s new wife–formerly a prof at BYU, has a PhD, etc.) to see how she navigates her role.

  10. maria says:

    Ann:

    One other thing. I, too, have wondered at times if I’m holding my husband back. He is a very special person with a lot going for him, especially in the spiritual realm. I sometimes wonder where he’d be now (or where he’d go in the future) if he were married to a more traditional, Mo-Mo gal (that actually had the same last name as her husband, baked cinnamon roles for bishopric meeting, graciously offered to plan wardies’ weddings, etc.).

    But then I catch glimpses of him successfully fulfilling his calling in spite of me and my issues, and with heightened sensitivity to gender issues in the church to boot. At those times I think maybe God actually *did* want this particular bishop to be married to a crazy feminist like me. Maybe it was all part of his plan. 🙂

  11. maria says:

    I’m sorry, Ana! I directed the last two posts to Ann, but I meant to type Ana. (This could get confusing since an Ann posted below, too.)

  12. Michelle says:

    Maria, Thank you for writing and sharing such an honest and clearly difficult personal experience. I can’t believe all the crazy things you’ve been through! Really, it’s quite amazing. You should write your memoirs to document all these experiences.

    I was thinking about your experience with ward members and contrasting it with other bishops and their wives that I know and I think Tania is on to something. Both your newness in the ward–people’s only experience with you was as the primary bouncer/enforcer!!–and your youth made people emboldened to offer you perhaps what they (mistakenly) thought was constructive criticism, something they never would have done with someone older who had lived in the ward a long time. Plus, they didn’t have much of a context to build relationships with you and understand who you were before you were bishop’s wife, a role that often comes with a lot of cultural expectations and baggage.

    I am terrified of dh receiving a calling that would require him to be gone for long hours and would be emotionally distancing for us. I love–LOVE!–what the stake president told you Tania about being another counselor to him as a bishop. I feel like bishop’s wives often do have a unique view on the ward and can offer timely and inspired counsel to their husbands in a way that others can’t, and I’m glad that at least some are encouraging this. (I am wondering if you still have the same stake president there Tania?? When DH was called as a counselor in the bishopric, he told me, “Well, you’d better get used it. You’ll never sit together in church again.”)

    As a side issue, I have also wondered about “the bishop’s” identity. We are so conditioned to call any bishop “Bishop” no matter what our previous relationship with them was, and it seems like it would be a disconcerting identity shift for the man as well to have his church identity so completely and almost indistinguishably tied up in his calling.

    I’m so glad, maria, that you’ve found some resources to help you find a place to feel more comfortable as bishop’s wife, and I think that starting to gather a mormon community of bishop’s wives together in a similar way would be awesome contribution. Maybe you should start a blog. (In August, perhaps??)

  13. Michelle says:

    Maria, I fully agree with the idea that your husband is in large part the bishop he is BECAUSE of you. A lot of his ideas, the way he views the ward, and what he decides to do are because of his experience with you and your struggles about women in the church.

  14. maria says:

    Bored in Vernal:

    I’m so flattered that you commented on my post. I’ve read your blog and other comments around the bloggernacle and I always love what you have to say.

    I, too, would love to see the Bishop’s wife’s role be more formalized like that of the MP’s wife. Half the ward already calls me “La Obispa” (feminine version of “El Obispo”–the bishop–in Spanish). We invent callings all the time in the church–food storage specialist, enrichment publicity committee–why not invent the calling of “Bishopa”? (I’m sure someone else could come up with a better name than that). I would be all for it.

    From what I understand, however, although the MP’s wife’s role is much more official(she is clearly instructed at the MTC as to what her responsibilities are, which, incidentally, include “hostess”), being an MP’s wife is not exactly a “calling”-calling in the traditional sense of the word. While the couple is called to serve together, when the apostle sets apart the MP as the MP of the specific geographic area, the MP’s wife is only given a “blessing of comfort” to support her husband in his calling. At least that is what occurred when I attended an MP setting apart/blessing session a few years ago. Elder Nelson, the one presiding, actually made a point of teaching everyone in attendance that there was a distinction.

  15. maria says:

    Bored in Vernal:

    I really would like to start a blog for bishops’ wives. But, given many wives’ reluctance to candidly discuss their challenges, do you think it would actually work? And, how would I find these like-minded ladies in the first place? I guess there are a few that post on this blog–but we’d need more than two or three to actually make it viable.

    Hmmm…any ideas?

  16. Anonymous says:

    Maria, I am so impressed with your wisdom. We could never have handled it at such a young age.

    About Sister Hinckley, there is required training for GA wives from the time someone is called as an Area Seventy. And I am not sure how “unofficial” that call is, since some assignments specifically require the wife to go along. (For one couple I know, this meant a several-months leave of absence from a job for one woman.)

    I would hate for the job of Bishop’s wife to be codified in any way, because there are so many ways to do it, and each of us can choose/find a path that suits our particular talents. One friend was in graduate school when her husband was bishop, and she honestly didn’t miss him much because she wasn’t home, either. Some are very activist and get involved with ward members, and are there for every baptism and funeral visitation and write letters to missionaries. Others simply handle the homefront so their husband can serve. There is no right way to do it.

    For me, it helped that I had already been Relief Society president in the same ward, so I understood the dynamics, and had already dealt with the loneliness issues in terms of distance from ward members, and knew specifics of some of the recurring situations.

    Because we are older, I already had several friends who had been through this. One said that the worst part was the answering machine; they had to move it to their bedroom because too many callers would go on and on in details that they didn’t want their children to hear. When my husband was called, he set up a new email account just for church stuff and bought a new cell phone with a plan more suited for this calling.

    It also helped us that he’d already had other busy callings, so the time commitment is not *that* much more. When he got the calling, I subscribed to Netflix, figuring that if I was going to be alone more, at least I’d fill the time with something interesting.

    I also note the importance of vacations, both with the family and as a couple. Absolutely essential for keeping from burnout.

  17. Eve says:

    Does anybody else remember hearing that Marjorie Pay Hinckley never complained about her husband’s absences for church services?

    Maria and Ana both mentioned this, and I’ve seen variations on it in other church contexts–a reprinted talk by Elder Nelson that was in the Ensign last month said something about how his wife never complained while having nine children through his endless years of medical training and then church service.

    I’m sorry, folks, but if it’s true that their wives really never complained ever, there is something seriously wrong with them or their marriages. Either (a) they didn’t complain because they’d given up, become resigned, withdrew, no longer cared or (b) they could not be emotionally honest with their husbands, for whatever reason (perhaps because they’d internalized this ideal to such an extent!).

    There’s an interesting article by Helene Ringger that appeared in the April 1989 Ensign that sounds a little more realistic to me:

    Believe me, there were moments when I was rather furious and, in my thoughts, wanted to abolish politics and the army and to rearrange Church affairs so that I would have more time to spend with my husband and our children would have more time to spend with their father. At church, none of the sisters ever complained or talked about these problems because we were afraid of appearing critical.

    A talk I heard many years ago by Lois Brown, the wife of a former Presiding Bishop, changed my attitude. She convinced me that I was not alone in my problem and that it was acceptable to talk about being alone and feeling lonely. Sister Brown said that often, even in her later years, she had to fight feelings of disappointment when a good meal burned while she waited for her husband. A burnt meal became a symbol for her long hours of being alone.

    All of a sudden I didn’t feel guilty. I wasn’t ashamed of my feelings anymore; I dared talk about them—not in order to criticize, to wallow in self-pity, or to express anger, but in order to find solutions. When my husband was called to be a stake president, I expressed my feelings in an interview with President Monson. I talked about the fears I had when my husband returned by car long after midnight from Church meetings in other cities. President Monson must not have seen my comments as criticism, because those midnight meetings disappeared.

    Although this isn’t an issue I personally have to face, I so appreciate people like this who are willing to admit to being “rather furious” and to breaking the codes of silence about real problems. It’s such a relief to hear people be honest in this way.

  18. maria says:

    Tania:

    I really, really appreciate everything that you had to say. Although I’ve never met you, I’ve admired you from afar for years, and especially feel a kinship with you now that you, too, sleep with a bishop. 🙂

    Combining what Michelle said with your comments, I think your transition may have been/will be easier than mine because you weren’t new in the ward nor quite as young as me when you were thrown into this proverbial pool of ice cold water. I can’t imagine an established-in-the-ward, middle-aged (not that you are middle-aged!) wife being treated the way I have been these past few years. Plus, a wife like that would probably live in a well-established, fullly-functioning ward. I am positive that the very nature of our small, urban, transient, convert-based, Utah-transplant-reliant ward only exacerbates the challenges I have experienced.

    Also, positive guidance from a savvy stake president would have helped me to dip my toes in the water with less trepidation. Our stake president did say something along the lines of “you should act as your husband’s 3rd counselor,” but then immediately negated any meaning that that might actually have by saying that my husband could never really discuss anything important with me, ever. Huh?

    Since the calling was extended, I’ve met with the SP on several occasions for temple recommends, etc. He always asks something along the lines of “How’s the ward?” and if I respond with anything other than “Grrrrrreat!” he responds with a “Oh, that’s too bad. I’m sorry.” and moves on to the rest of the interview.

    Don’t get me wrong, I actually really like our SP. He is a good man with a kind heart that works tirelessly for the welfare of our stake. But he just doesn’t know what to make of me. Again, he’s of that older generation and I’m a new breed. I still remember when he decided to hyphenate my name for me when I spoke in Stake Conference–“just so everyone knows you’re Bishop X’s wife.”

  19. maria says:

    Thank you again for all of the comments–I promise I will respond more later. For now, I have a 30-page paper to write.

  20. Anonymous says:

    “I’m sorry, folks, but if it’s true that their wives really never complained ever, there is something seriously wrong with them or their marriages.”

    That might be it, or could it perhaps be that there really might be a great deal of variation in how such a calling effects various families?

    I think it’s sad that anyone would think that in order to prove one has a good marriage, one must complain about church service.

    Personally, I found having a newborn baby to be a nerve-racking, challenging time. I never knew if I was doing the right thing, they seemed to cry all the time. Other women find those early weeks to be peaceful and special, and they do a lot of reading while nursing the baby. We are all different and have different circumstances and react to things differently.

    I don’t think problems should be ignored or repressed. But just because someone doesn’t perceive problems does not mean their marriage is in trouble.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this post Maria. I thought it was very insightful and a great reminder to those of us (like myself) who always think we can do things better than the people in charge (not just at church for me but also at work, etc. etc.). I think your post really highlights the fact that the people who run our church do it for free and this is a huge sacrifice for their families.

  22. Eve says:

    That might be it, or could it perhaps be that there really might be a great deal of variation in how such a calling effects various families?

    OK, Anonymous, I’ll cheerfully (! 😉 ) grant that it’s possible. (Women who never complain and are always happy are a constant mystery to me, I admit. I can’t ever figure out if they’re really that way, or if they’re just faking it. I’ve been scrutinizing this puzzle, and coming to various tentative, ultimatey unsatisfactory conclusions, since Primary. So. Just another chapter in the ongoing mystery, I suppose.)

    But I didn’t mean to suggest that, as you put it, one has to complain about church service in order to have a good marriage. Church service in general–no. Because of my particular circumstances (no children), my husband’s callings, during his temporary forays into activity, have never been a problem for me, nor have mine been for him. But Maria’s circumstances, or those of a young mother of small children whose husband is working 100 hours a week as a medical resident–if a woman doesn’t struggle with those circumstance or feel some loneliness or frustration or exhaustion on occasion, I would submit that perhaps, on some level, she has given up on the marriage, or on the hope of her husband’s companionship and help. And it’s a bad sign when frustrations can’t be discussed in marriage, so if she never complains during such circumstances, I would tend to see that as a negative, and not a positive, sign.

    Maybe there are heroic women who really never feel it. But most of us are human, most of us long for adult companionship and help and private family time. My concern with holding up the “never complained once” model for women whose husbands are gone almost all of the time because of their jobs + callings as bishop or whatever is that it encourages the smothering of feelings, rather than their honest expression, which is, after all, the first step toward finding solutions (as I think Sister Ringger’s discussion above suggests).

  23. Anonymous says:

    Eve, I am not advocating that a “never complained once” model be held up for women to follow. I totally understand that some women may have concerns which need to be addressed, which should be raised.

    That does not negate the reality that some women don’t have problems. They just don’t. And when they don’t, it doesn’t make her “heroic” and it doesn’t mean that she has given up on her marriage. (I don’t know why you feel you can jump to such conclusions about other people’s marriages.) I see it as just personal differences, like the example of coping with a newborn given earlier.

    What are some of the blessings that a bishop’s wife might get, that make her not a martyr and yet not complaining? I think those lists vary a lot from person to person, probably unique to every family. Here are just a few of mine.

    1. Getting back to the title, I can sleep with my husband more often nowadays. I suffer from a sleep maintenance disorder such that if I am awakened, I have a hard time getting to sleep again. If my husband comes in horribly late, or has to get up early, he sleeps in another room. Except that when he got called as bishop, suddenly I could get back to sleep again on Sunday mornings. It’s not that my condition is better, because it’s just as bad on weekdays. But on Sundays he can get up at 6 a.m., shower, and I can get back to sleep.

    2. He’s home for dinner more often since he got called as bishop. Upon being called as bishop, he agreed to cut back on his professional travel as much as possible, so he is actually in town more than before.

    3. We have been financially comfortable ever since he first got called into a bishopric some years back. We’ve had it made clear to us that this is a blessing to allow us to concentrate on other things.

    4. When he comes home after a night of counseling and interviewing, he is much more considerate than he ever was before. He asks me if there is anything he can do to help and is so kind. He also thanks me profusely for everything I do to support him.

    5. We have youth in the youth program, and he goes to most of their activities, and knows what is going on with them. (And I get a few hours to myself if they are all away at an activity.)

    6. I’ve been a Relief Society president, and I know what shepherding work is like. I find it much more challenging than being the spouse left behind. I am sure that when it is my turn again, I will be ready and enjoy it. But my preference is to do a low-key calling and be the supportive one while he is the one in the limelight.

    7. Occasionally we get to do what we want, when no doctrine or policy is involved, and thus shape how things are done in the ward. He asked my opinion about having guitar at church on Christmas, and I told him about the history of Silent Night and it was wonderful. He knows that I prefer to stand up during intermediate hymns, and so during the time he has been bishop, we are invited to stand up during those hymns. (I hope people with sleeping babies or health issues know that it isn’t a problem to remain sitting.) I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t fun to be able to do what we want on occasion.

    8. I love having a license to care. I can call up anyone in the ward and ask how they are doing. If my husband didn’t have this calling, I might appear to be meddlesome. I get invited to baby showers and such that I wouldn’t be otherwise.

    All those blessings help mitigate the inconveniences of sleeping with the bishop, such that I don’t feel too much need to complain. Especially not when this call, while not sought after, was not unexpected; I know what a fine man my husband is, and unlike Maria, we are of an age where this happens to good men.

  24. Eve says:

    Anonymous, I’m glad it’s worked out so well for you. But from what you’ve said here, I don’t think your situation is quite the same as Maria’s. I think we’re talking past each other here–I’m not saying that being a bishop’s wife is inevitably a difficult, miserable experience. In your situation it clearly isn’t. But the fact that it isn’t also clearly has much to do with the circumstances you’ve ennumerated here. I wouldn’t put you in the category I was trying to talk about.

    My only point, truly, was that if a woman hardly ever sees her husband at all because of his calling or because of the combination of his calling and his job, and if she’s in a situation of raising small children alone by herself–and she’s really OK with that, she doesn’t miss her husband!–there’s a problem somewhere. I’m really not trying to pass judgment on your or anyone else’s marriage; clearly I hit a nerve for you, and I do apologize.

    Anyway, I don’t want to prolong the threadjack trying repeatedly to re-explain what I evidently didn’t make very clear in the first place–!–so I’ll move on now to wondering about some practical things Maria might recommend. How should we treat the bishop’s wife? Thoughts on what would help make your life easier?

  25. maria says:

    Eve:

    Thank you so much for the
    reference to Sister Ringger’s article. I hadn’t seen it before–perhaps we overlooked it because it only references her husband’s calling within the broader context of the generic feelings of loneliness that many members of the church face.

    The piece is eye-opening for me. Sister Ringger was not just a bishop’s wife, but the wife of a G.A., too (Elder Hans Ringger, 2nd Counselor in the Europe Area Presidency). Wow. She was very brave to write this article! And how doubly brave to have candidly discussed her concerns with President Monson directly. Wow again. I can only dream about such a conversation…

    The part of her article that struck me the most was where she recognized that feeling lonely is nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes I feel shame, too–like I’m not tough enough or that I need to have more faith–when I’m hit with a wave of loneliness.

    One of her main suggestions for combatting loneliness–consciously getting involved in other meaningful activities–is something that rings true for me as well. A pivotal turning point in my ability to cope with my husband’s calling occurred the very day I started law school. At the very least, I had a whole lot less time to think about what was bothering me. More importantly, it also increased my self-esteem, helped me feel valued for something other than being an appendage to my husband, and clued the wardies into the idea that I wasn’t waiting around with bated breath for them to call me with their often-ridiculous requests.

  26. maria says:

    Michelle:

    Going back to something you said earlier about the Bishop’s own identity–this is a topic I would love to explore further. Hubbie has noted the identity crisis on many occasions–how weird it is to be playing football with a group of guys approximately his same age, but for all of them to be calling him “bishop” as they pass him the ball. In many ways he’s their peer, yet he knows way too many of the intimate details of their lives (and is in an official position to opine on those details), so it makes it almost impossible to just be “one of the guys.” The result is that one of the most sociable, outgoing men I have ever met can only count a couple of actual “friends” within the ward.

    Hubbie once brought up this very topic with his former MP (now a GA) who happened to be passing through town. His response? “Bishop, leadership is a very lonely place. You’ll never get used to it.”

  27. maria says:

    Anonymous:

    I appreciate the way you bring up the idea that different families will deal with the challenges of the calling in different ways. I’m sure there are women out there who are genuinely thrilled the day their husbands are set apart, and can maintain that excitement throughout his tenure. I am happy for you, and others, who have had a more positive experience than I.

    It’s a good exercise for me to count the many blessings we’ve received since my husband became the bishop. Thank you for that reminder. On the worst of the worst days, it can really help to focus on the positive. My hope is just that this would be only one of the many officially-approved coping mechanisms offered to women struggling in these types of situations.

  28. maria says:

    Eve said: “How should we treat the bishop’s wife? Thoughts on what would help make your life easier?”

    It’s difficult to provide answers to these questions because, as has been brought up already, every woman is different and will respond to the situation in her own unique way. If I were making a list as to what would make my own life in our particular ward easier, I could give you more than an earful. But, here are a couple of ideas that I think might be more generally applicable:

    -Occasionally ask her how she’s feeling about her husband’s calling (“Wow…Bishop X must have a dozen interviews every week. How do you manage to get everything done with him being gone so much?”) If she’s struggling, and if you seem sincere, she might open up to you. Even if she’s not struggling, or if she doesn’t feel comfortable expressing her concerns, I imagine it would be refreshing to hear a ward member recognize that the bishop’s calling could possibly be affecting the bishop’s wife.

    -Call your home teachers first. Save the calls to the bishop/his wife for the times when the bishop really needs to be involved. Don’t call the bishop’s house for ward members’ phone numbers when you’ve lost your directory, when you’re lost on the freeway, when you’re wondering what time stake conference starts on Sunday, etc. Not that we don’t want to be helpful, but rest assured that 20 other members have already called that week with similarly non-pressing issues. Although your call only lasts 5 minutes, those 5 minutes add up quickly and really contribute to that smothering-I-can’t-ever-escape-the-wardies feeling.

    -Occasionally say thanks to the bishop/his wife for their contributions to the ward. Not that we’re in this for the thanks, but it certainly can make a big difference. For the first two years of my husband’s calling, really the only member of our ward who ever expressed any thanks was a sweet, elderly, Uruguayan woman who would send us a card every month or so in her beautiful, old-fashioned handwriting. It was certainly providential how one of her cards would arrive just at the point I was threatening to flee the ward forever. But then our angelic “abuelita” died. I cried bitterly that day.

    I’m sure I can come up with other suggestions later on…but it’s getting late. Happy Easter everyone!

  29. Anonymous says:

    “My only point, truly, was that if a woman hardly ever sees her husband at all because of his calling or because of the combination of his calling and his job, and if she’s in a situation of raising small children alone by herself–and she’s really OK with that, she doesn’t miss her husband!–there’s a problem somewhere.”

    Eve, I understand that this was your point. I still don’t buy it. And I very much resent your making the judgement of “a problem” with other people’s marriages. Why can’t we just accept that other marriages are different? It may not be what we prefer, but if it works for them, so be it.

    I’ve been there and done that. My husband didn’t finish schooling until we had three children, and during that time he also served in an elder’s quorum presidency and as a scoutmaster of a large troop, which were very time-intensive callings. During the last few years, we also lived out in the country, to live in a better school zone for our children, but which also increased our time apart when one of us had to leave.

    I didn’t miss my husband because I chose not to. I came to the conclusion that he was not responsible for my happiness, that I was responsible for my happiness. I developed friendships and interests outside of my marriage. I assured sufficient time off by trading childcare with other moms.

    I’m not saying that everyone should do what I did. I’m not holding myself up as a model. But I don’t consider myself “an exception,” either (the other women with whom I traded childcare were in a similar situation and had a similar outlook.) I totally agree that *IF* there is a problem, it needs to be addressed, and I support Maria’s quest for getting the support she needs.

    But can’t we accept the differences that exist and drop the p-word?

  30. Beijing says:

    Eve nailed it. Sister Nelson admitted to giving up on her husband’s companionship and help.

    “Someone once asked my sweetheart how she managed with ten children as well as a husband with a demanding surgical practice, major responsibilities in the Church, and little time to help. Her reply was unforgettable. ‘When I married him,’ she said, ‘I didn’t expect much, so I was rarely disappointed.'”

    Russell M. Nelson, A More Excellent Hope, January 8, 1995, BYU Speeches 1994-95.

  31. Deborah says:

    Maria:

    Your last comment of suggestions is so good, I’m tempted to copy it and turn it into a brand new post. Don’t be surprised if I do that sometime soon. I don’t want it to get lost in the pile of wonderful comments . . .

    I think there is an element of “first lady” in our view of bishop’s wives (perhaps for better but probably for worse). You know, hostess-in-chief who we all expect/assume to be a counselor — but not *too* overtly. Does one strive to be Eleanor, Jackie, Hillary, or Laura? Inevitably, I think people do watch the family, look at the parenting, the relationship (Oh the pressure!) We hope the bishop’s wife is welcoming, that she doesn’t have an exclusive circle of friends — especially if we are feeling on the outside of the ward socially.

    Personally I hope that, with the Relief Society president, she helps keep the experience and needs of women in the ward at the forefront.

    But mostly — especially after this post — I hope the family isn’t too overwhelmed. That they are setting appropriate boundaries to protect family relationships . . . It’s easy to forget that we are a lay leadership, an untrained leadership, a part-time leadership. And sometimes we, as parishers, expect full-time attention.

    Anonymous:

    One of the things I like about your list of “positives” is how the calling seemed to help your husband reprioritize other aspects of his life and this was a net positive his family life (less travel, more time at his children’s activities, more compassion . . .).

  32. Tania says:

    Maria,

    On starting a Blog for Bishop’s wives:

    If you build it, they will come!

    I would gladly support you with such a project in any way you ask. And don’t underestimate the Mormon network. Word will spread and women who need it will find it.

    When DH got this calling I thought of starting an anonymous column in Sunstone called “The Feminist Bishop’s Wife” just to have an outlet for working through everything I knew would hit me over time. But frankly a blog would be much richer and–well–multi-vocal. Plus “Sleeping with the Bishop” is *such* a better title.

    And on the threadjack topic…I’m leaning towards Anonymous’ point of view. The idea that Sister Nelson went into marriage with few expectations and was therefore rarely disappointed souds shocking to our generation. But it is precisely the rising expectations for marriage that have heavily contributed to climbing divorce rates. I honestly don’t know which way is better. My feminist views have been both a blessing and a curse in my marriage. 🙂 Whether “not missing your husband” is a marital problem or not depends on what you value in a marriage. And marriage is a complicated, multi-faceted, often historically and culturally determined thing, non?

    Or maybe I’ve just been watching too many episodes of “Big Love”…

    Tania

  33. Deborah says:

    I just read this in a (fascinating) nytimes op-ed:

    “Among the reasons Americans distrust the Mormon church is Mormon clannishness. Because every worthy Mormon male is expected to be a lay priest in voluntary service to the church, the demands on his time often leave little opportunity to cultivate close friendships with non-Mormon neighbors. A good Mormon is a busy Mormon. Those — like Mr. Romney — who serve as bishops (pastors of congregations) often find it difficult to schedule evenings at home with their own families.”

  34. Anonymous says:

    A Different Anonymous said…
    Maria,

    Thank you for your honest, honest post–for the courage I know it took to write it.

    What I think is most interesting here–and perhaps the saddest–is that in your description of searching for support, the greatest comfort and consolation you’ve found hasn’t come from us, your fellow members of the church, but from other denominations’ pastors’ wives. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with finding help from outside our Mormon circle, but it seems like being honest about problems in the church and supporting each other when we share those problems (both very Christ-like virtues, are they not?) are things we’re not very good at in Mormondon. I can’t think of any specific church-wide examples, but feeling unable to honestly express my “negative” feelings about church stuff was definitely something I struggled with as a missionary. Perhaps we’re better at supporting each other now with the web and blogs and such. But I think it’s very telling that you found empathetic voices for your frustrations with non-Mormons first.

    And as someone who has seen you in action in this “non-calling” of yours, let me say, and I hope you believe me, that your feminism, or your unconventionality, or your last-name-that-isn’t-the-same-as-your-husband’s have never interfered with your ability to be one of the most loving, giving, selfless people (and bishop’s wives) I’ve ever known. You may not bake cinnamon rolls, but what about all those chocolate cakes form scratch I’ve seen you make. =) Not that baking anything is required of you, but I’ve always deeply admired your ability to continue giving of yourself despite the loneliness and emptiness you’re feeling.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Maria:

    I can’t imagine how difficult and isolating it must feel to be a bishop’s wife in said ward. The needs and pressures of that ward, coupled with getting put into the position so soon after your marriage, it seems like a horribly difficult burden to give someone.

    However, are you lonely because you are the bishop’s wife, or because you push away potential friends with your “extreme busyness”? Do you look for differences between those women in your ward before you look for things in common?

    Those annoying “wardies…” are they all really that bad? I think (ok, actually I KNOW) some of them serve pretty faithfully? And the ones who end up on your doorstep…are you setting appropriate boundaries or are you and your DH telling them that they can “call anytime” or giving them the impression that you are there to help them at moment’s notice. That seems terribly unfair to them and to your private time…especially if you end up resenting them.

    I don’t envy the balancing act you and your DH must have and the trials you are made to endure…but I found your post pretty disrespectful to your fellow “wardies.”

    Do the blog…it sounds like it would be a great release for you!

    Respectfully, yet another anonymous

  36. maria says:

    Last anonymous poster:

    I’m sadly sighing, because, to me, your comment highlights the difficulty of being a bishop’s wife: women like me aren’t supposed to express our concerns, and, if we do, they’ll be interpretted harshly. Instead of seeking to understand where I’m coming from, I’m automatically fair game for criticism (I know your criticisms were framed in the form of questions, but they seem judgmental to me nonetheless).

    I’m sorry if me honestly expressing my feelings has made you feel in any way disrespected. That was not my intent. My intent was, for probably one of the first times in the past four years, to honestly talk about what it is like to be the bishop’s wife.

    There are many wonderful, wonderful people in our ward, and, although this obviously didn’t come through in my original post, most of the time I’m actually okay (not great, but okay) with how things in the ward are going. But the theme of this post wasn’t about how great the members of our ward can be, it was about how lonely and difficult it can be to be the bishop’s wife (and I don’t believe that the two themes are mutually exclusive–you can have a fabulous ward but still struggle with feelings of loneliness). So I guess I should thank you for providing an illustration of what I was trying to get at in my original post.

    It feels so good for me to actually talk about how I really feel that I’d like to make an open invitation to the last anonymous poster, or any other person in our ward who reads this, to actually talk with me in person. Ask me how I’m doing every once in a while. Throw a few “How’s life?” questions in there before Sunday School or RS starts. I promise I’ll ask how you’re doing, too, and perhaps we’ll both be able to benefit from the conversation.

  37. Eve says:

    Anonymous # Something Said,

    “Eve, I understand that this was your point. I still don’t buy it. And I very much resent your making the judgement of “a problem” with other people’s marriages. Why can’t we just accept that other marriages are different? It may not be what we prefer, but if it works for them, so be it.”

    Oh, dear. It sounds like my apology wasn’t abject enough.

    I suppose at this point I could engage in a long-winded philosophical comment both the necessity and the limits of accepting difference and relativism and all that. Tania, I believe, made the prescient observation that generation likely plays a role in our expectations about marriage, and certainly companionate marriage, it could be argued by the social-science types among us, is a relatively recent and culturally specific invention. (I happen to think it’s an advance over previous models of marriage, but there is that pesky and persistent question of difference you pose, and I can see your point, although I can’t quite embrace it.)

    But I doubt any more of that’s needed at this point in the discussion. Perhaps we could just drop the gauntlet and try out that other (dreaded!) p-word…peace?

  38. Responding to Last Anon . . . . not a wardie, but know Maria says:

    I have a hunch that the last anon is the type of wardie that probably causes the problems.

    I don’t want to start a fight with this wardie or anyone else, but I wish the person who wrote the last post would consider how brave it was for Maria to write this post and would try to be a supportive wardie rather than heap on additional negative criticism (which Maria already discussed makes her job difficult). Perhaps this wardie is feeling guilty or maybe she felt this comment would be constructive??? I find that hard to imagine . . .

    I didn’t read Maria’s post to mean she wasn’t appreciate of the “wardies” and wasn’t willing to help, I read Maria’s post as being one of expressing the difficulties that many people who aren’t in her position don’t understand. I for one appreciate the opportunity to hear what it would be like to have Maria’s job in such an honest and frank fashion. I don’t believe posts like anon add anything to this discussion so I hope that you will ignore it Maria.

    Thank you for the post – I enjoyed it.

  39. Caroline says:

    Maria,
    I was gone on vacation when you first posted this, so I’m coming late into the discussion here. But I just wanted to say thanks for such a fabulous post. I had my husband read it too. He is clerk now and is destined for greater things (if being married to me doesn’t hold him back – which it very well might). We had a good discussion about how we would deal if something like this ever happens.

    I really loved Tania’s comments about what her SP said. Mike and I agreed that that’s what we would want, and he said he would bring that method up to the SP if a calling like this was ever extended.

    I also liked your list of what ward members could do to try to lighten the bishop’s (and bishop’s family’s) load. One thing I might add is that female ward members should utilize their visiting teachers, in addition to home teachers.

  40. Bishop's Concubine says:

    Maria,
    I am a late comer to this blog and despite all the syntax, and hair splitting (as you mentioned demonstrate your point, and as already noted–also make the non-Mormon outlets more attractive) I find your confessions echoing the words and feelings I have experienced in my life. While my DH, a currently serving bishop, fundamentally believes that church leadership must establish a new model of both leaders and members who have spiritual independence, there are many practices that place tremendous time constraints on Bishops and therefore the Bishop’s family. I struggle most with the emotional exhaustion that he brings home after counseling members leaving me, regardless of his physical presence, alone in caring for our four children needs. I have been very fortunate to have a few close friends who just listen without pointing out their solutions to my problems when I need to vent about this non-calling position. The church as an institution does not address this with exception of the few CR talks (L.Tom Perry) that encourages bishops wives to not repeat confidential information and give up family vacations graciously. (This talk was printed and given to me after my DH was called and I was so irritated by it I threw it away). Ensign articles like the one quoted from Helene Riggner are a welcome and needed.

    My biggest request for the ward is to engage in responsibilities. Do H/VTing. Participate in the callings, and find a substitute if you can’t. The bishop shouldn’t need to decide if the congregation stands to sing the intermediate hymn. That’s why he calls a Music Chair and all the other ward callings. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if more than just one person felt ownership for the welfare of the ward.

    I would participate in a “Sleeping with the Bishop” blog to take comfort from knowing that there are more bishops who are “emotionally unavailable to an already lonely wife.” Not because miserly loves company, but because validation heals.

  41. Mary B says:

    Thanks for the post, Maria.

    Having been the wife of a 100 hour a week medical resident who was a counselor in a bishopric, the wife of a bishop with a family of young children and the wife of a stake president with teenagers, perhaps I can relate and comment.

    I notice the thread running through the comments that discuss the sense of lonliness. Actually, it’s not universal among bishops’ wives simply because 1) not all wards and branches do the “isolate and judge the bishop’s wife” routine that Maria seems to refer to 2) not all bishops do the “try to be perfect at all costs and never communicate any church stuff with your wife” routine and 3)many stake presidents do give the kind of counsel that encourages communication and counseling between spouses in this calling. But, as has been pointed out indirectly, when one of these elements is not working well, things can get difficult.

    Also, different women function differently in terms of their sociality. Some have been, all their lives, highly social, others prefer being solo and many fall in between. Some personalities and healthy marriages feel like they can fit more comfortably into the time constraints/locally expected social interactions of being a bishop and wife and some find it more of a stretch. Just as some couple dynamics feel it easier to work in youth callings or activities committee, or library staff than in Primary or Family History callings. And all of us just do the best we can.

    I sympathise with Maria’s thoughts and struggles, though being a person who enjoys working alone, I probably don’t understand fully the the feelings about being alone that she expresses. Our stake has occasionally had gatherings sponsored by the stake presidency and R.S. presidency for bishop and branch presidents’ wives to talk about their concerns and share their thoughts. They are honest and helpful times. Some sisters feel the isolation that Maria seems to be encountering, others don’t. For those who do, those gatherings are particularly helpful. For others they are a blessing in other ways. So much of how being the bishop’s wife feels depends on so many variables that there is no “one true way” of responding to it and there are a wide variety of honest and equally valid variations on the theme.

    Thanks, Maria, for sharing yours.

  42. Anonymous says:

    “Eve nailed it. Sister Nelson admitted to giving up on her husband’s companionship and help.”

    I didn’t get that from reading his talk. “Companionship and help” don’t always go together, and in partnerships where one person is willing to do more of the family/housework (or outsource those tasks), the choice is often made in order to trade “help” for “companionship.”

    That was the case in all the families with whom I traded babysitting, etc., many of whom had husbands who were medical residents or research fellows.

    I know other families with young children where dad comes home, and mom drops the kids and housework on him and takes her time off. This may be “fair” in terms of dad “doing his part” and thus more palatable to feminists, but it does not sound very chummy to me.

    When my husband comes home, I want to spend time with him playing scrabble, arguing about politics, or watching movies together (sometimes while naked). I want him to have time to read books with the kids, and help them with homework.

    So I don’t expect his help around the house, because I need him interacting with us.

    I’m sure that the Nelsons, on a surgeon’s salary, could afford lots of help with cleaning and yardwork and childcare, and by not expecting him to do that work, it might free up more time for them as a couple.

  43. Melanie says:

    I’m sure that the Nelsons, on a surgeon’s salary, could afford lots of help with cleaning and yardwork and childcare, and by not expecting him to do that work, it might free up more time for them as a couple.

    Anonymous, I understand your point and agree completely that there’s a need to prioritize the activities we choose for our “together” time. But I also think that emphasis on meaningful interaction isn’t just a luxury for those who can afford household help. According to Elder Nelson’s Feb. 2005 CES fireside, their financial situation was tight for the first decade (and 5 children) of their marriage:

    “Education was a lengthy process for us. Earning two doctor’s degrees took me a long time. Then we struggled through many more years of surgical specialization. I did not send a bill for surgical services until I had been out of medical school for more than 12 years! By then we had five children. But somehow we managed.”

    Money for help around the house is helpful, no question. But quality relationships are about effort, not finances. I love your distinction between “help” and “companionship,” but I don’t think anyone should feel discouraged (or unable to reach a strong companionship) based on their financial resources. It’s clear the Nelsons put a lot more than money into their companionship and family.

  44. amelia says:

    *tangent alert*

    i just want to respond to this:

    “I know other families with young children where dad comes home, and mom drops the kids and housework on him and takes her time off. This may be “fair” in terms of dad “doing his part” and thus more palatable to feminists, but it does not sound very chummy to me.”

    feminists are not interested in making men do the housework in the evening so they can take the evening off. selfish women are interested in that.

    feminists are interested in equality. which would translate to both partners making an equal contribution–equal although almost always different. in my experience (which does not include marriage for myself, but which does include an absolutely fabulous example of marriage in my parents’ relationship), the housework and the childcare is not done by evening. no matter how hard a stay-home mother works all day long. it’s a lovely thought to want to spend the evening playing games and arguing politics and watching movies, whether naked or not, but it’s not very realistic for daily life when there are children still at home. i see no reason why a husband should not pick up some of the evening chores that must be done.

    *tangent (and rant) over*

  45. Anonymous says:

    “it’s a lovely thought to want to spend the evening playing games and arguing politics and watching movies, whether naked or not, but it’s not very realistic for daily life when there are children still at home. i see no reason why a husband should not pick up some of the evening chores that must be done.”

    This wasn’t just a “thought,” it was something I have practiced. We found it to be realistic, and make a real difference in the happiness of our companionship.

    Of course if my husband is home and things need to be done, he does them. It’s just that this is going to be a small amount of the total work involved in running a household, since he isn’t home as much as we consider ideal.

    I am not advocating that dad be allowed to sit on the couch while mom does everything. I am only saying that expecting him to do half of the home/family work has its own pitfalls.

    For example, I have friends who believe that if one person cooks, the other should do kitchen cleanup. This sounds fair, but it might mean half an hour or more in the kitchen after dinner for the cleanup person. It might be time together if children are working with him, or if I read to him. But often it is just work that distracts from other things I’d rather do during the time he is available to us.

    So I try to clean up as a I cook, and get everything loaded into the dishwasher by suppertime, so that it is just five minutes to put the actual eating dishes in the dishwasher and wipe counters one more time.

    My own mother was more interested in the help than the companionship, so this has been a very conscious effort on my part to make time for us as a couple, even if it means doing a lot of work that I’d rather not do, in order to get it out of the way when he is out doing other things.

  46. Anonymous says:

    A friend forwarded “Sleeping with the Bishop” to me and my husband (also a bishop). At first it made me grateful, because I thought, “At least it hasn’t been THAT rough for us!” But then I realized it had. We live in an incredibly transient ward and are among a handful of long-term residents and members. We also have a healthy dose of inner-city issues and chronic welfare problems. I have received three choice letters (single-spaced, typed, three different authors), outlining my failings and where I needed to improve. By the time I received the third letter, my skin had thickened to the point that it no longer hurt. The letter said far more about the author than it could possibly say about me.

    It’s not that I have been the least bit reticent about voicing my complaints, feelings, opinions, and struggles. It’s merely that one maintains sanity by not dwelling on unpleasantness.

    As we approach the end of our five-year term, I offer these few perspectives:

    Confidentiality: Our SP explicitly told my husband I was his first counselor. My husband never revealed names to me, but he would discuss situations. He desperately needed someone in whom he could confide. It increased my burden, but at least we were carrying it together. In instances where I knew parties involved and had information independent of him, he would be more open. (Let’s face it–most ward members know a lot about one another!)

    Having said that, I did learn to be tight-lipped (after too many unfortunate incidents). For good or ill, people assume that the bishop’s wife has better information and that she speaks with some authority. Even if 30 people knew about the matter I discussed, everyone would cite me as the source of information, because I was the most credible source. One of the little- heralded (but very real) sacrifices bishops’ wives make is to isolate themselves and self-censor when doing so is in the best interested of the community.

    Stress on families: We had three young children when my husband was called, and have had a fourth while “in office”. He was in another bishopric immediately prior to being called. We haven’t attended church together in years, and it has been brutal physical and emotional work. During a bishopric training session for our stake, a member of the presiding bishopric stated that wives uniformly defined bishopric service as the most difficult period of their marriage. Knowing that didn’t make my life any easier, but it did help me feel that I was not abnormal or inadequate. It validated the very real costs of the sacrifices I was making (sometimes willingly, sometimes not).

    My husband was disappointed initially that I didn’t have more interest in being “co-bishop”, but I had a strong feeling that my job was to raise walls around our family. There would be many demands on his already severely limited time. I felt it was important that I protect the children from this to the extent that I possibly could and also send a fairly clear message to him that his family’s needs were real. If members called upon him, I wanted him to do a “cost-benefit” analysis of whether their need was greater than mine or the children’s. (Sometimes he made the wrong choice. I vividly remember being deathly ill once when he left me and the children one evening to visit a member with a broken ankle.) Being a martyr to the calling would not have been healthy in the long-run. I also reminded him that every hour he served was an hour I was serving through additional child-rearing duties. Once he came home, I wasn’t exactly eager to rush out and find more service opportunities.

    Some things I have learned: I am grateful that he was worthy and willing to serve. He has grown tremendously during the past five years, and that will benefit our marriage ane family for eternity. I have a testimony of the lay ministry. At times I have questioned whether or not we should pay clergy, but weird things happen when people become Church employees. (We have witnessed both incompetence and outright corruption.) Also, I have seen my husbands’ family come to grief with their various ministers, and I am glad we don’t complicate pastorship with employment. I am grateful for the confirming power of the Spirit. The one blessing I can point to during this time in our lives is a sure conviction that this was the right thing to do. People assume that blessings pour forth when you hold a “high” calling. I haven’t seen that, but I do recognize incredible blessings in our lives prior to his bishoping, and I am comfortable with the notion that it was our time to make good on what we had so bounteously received. Finally, I have learned the critical importance of not speaking ill of the Lord’s anointed. It’s not because they are perfect or always right. They are neither. However, they are volunteers who are sacrificing enormously, and they deserve our gratitude (not our censure) for their service, imperfect as it may be. (Also, from painful personal experience, I know that criticism deeply, deeply wounds their wives and children when we speak ill of them. Their families are making incredible personal sacrifices to enable them to serve, and we should shield them and their loved ones from our judgements.)

    I have also learned to think very differently about bishops. I love the primary song “Fathers”, but I have come to hate the middle verse about the bishop: “The father of our ward tends with loving care each member’s needs with kindly deeds. Our bishop’s always there!” This reinforces an entitlement mentality that the bishop should be available to each and every member. This is absolutely in contradiction to the notion of spiritual self-sufficiency. Besides, when the bishop doesn’t even remember his own children’s birthdates 🙂 then the priorities can get a bit warped. As a younger member, I used to vaguely resent the fact that bishops seemed completely oblivious to me and my needs. Now I understand that they are human, just like you and me. My job is to relieve him of every possible burden, because he is already carrying burdens beyond the ability of ordinary people.

  47. Anonymous says:

    I don’t call on my bishop if I don’t have to and most times, I don’t have to. People only have so much energy and in our Church one could be busy with callings or some Church related activity 24/7 with little time left for their family and still feel they weren’t doing all they’re supposed to. I wish there were a way LDS men could have less church duties and more time at home with their families. Maybe if more people politely decline a calling saying they choose more family time, then things might change?
    I wish there were a way more people could carry the bishop’s load. Maybe the bishoprics could seat 7 men instead of 3? However,there are sisters in my Ward who if they were the bishop’s wife and his “partner” in his calling, I would elect NOT to
    confide anything to them that I wanted to remain personal and confidential because it wouldn’t.

  48. Anonymous says:

    I love that Sister Ringger frankly discussed her problems with her husband’s callings with Pres. Monson and then the coming home after midnight meetings disappeared. For things to get better, we need to be heard by those in charge. Sometimes the Church needs to try a new way of doing something. They can use our ideas and any input. Future PPH’s(our sons) might thank us.

  49. Anonymous says:

    We could also ask our PPH’s what they think might be helpful to amend how things are done.

  50. Becky =) says:

    Thanks to Maria and other’s for your comments.
    I am not a Bishop’s wife, but I am the Bishop’s 1st counselor’s assistant =)
    I have been very frustrated lately, and wrote a long email to some friends yesterday about how I wish people would treat the Bishopric better.
    (a friend sent me this blog site)
    They get so beat up, and it hurts me to see my dear husband struggling.
    I will never again take a bishopric for granted.
    Thanks again for validating my feelings.
    Becky =)

  51. Melissa says:

    First…I love the title. Second, thank you. Everything you expressed is so what I’m going through. We too are young and my husband is the bishop. We have two small children, and the adjustment for me has been tremendous.
    I got online tonight to seek some answers. I have such a desire to find out how other women handle the pressures that we both feel.
    I thank you because someone else has those same feelings…there’s someone else out there afraid to speak because every word is scrutinized.
    Thank you, for it put a smile on my face tonight to know I’m NOT CRAZY!

  52. H says:

    1. I would totally read your blog. Thanks for sharing your story here!

    2. My dad is a bishop and I have been amazed at the emotional burden it comes with, and the effect it has on everyone in the family. Thank you for your service and sacrifice.

    3. Perhaps you already found it in your lds.org searching, but this poem was published in the Ensign a few years ago. I think it’s lovely and hope you enjoy it too:
    http://media.ldscdn.org/pdf/magazines/ensign-december-2013/2013-12-17-willing-sacrifice-eng.pdf

    4. I recently spoke with a friend whose husband was called to the Quorum of the Seventy. She said she attended the training and more than half of the discussion was “How to deal with loneliness, isolation, and depression.” I tend to think this could be helped by allowing wives to become full partners in their husband’s calling, as some missionary-president wives are beginning to do. From your experience, do you think that would help? Either way, thank you for your sacrifice and willingness to share the realities of your experience.

  1. May 19, 2016

    […] In this Exponent classic, guest poster Maria details what it’s like to be the Bishop’s wife. […]

Leave a Reply