What's a Feminist Mom to Do? Gender Roles and Primary

by Caroline

I recently learned about a song primary kids all over the country are learning. It’s called “The Family is of God” and here are the 2nd and 3rd verses.

A father’s place is to preside, provide,
To love and teach the gospel to his children.
A father leads in fam’ly prayer to share
Their love for Father in Heaven.

3. A mother’s purpose is to care, prepare,
To nurture and to strengthen all her children.
She teaches children to obey, to pray,
To love and serve in the fam’ly.

Finding out that this is the type of song that is being taught in primary has unsettled me. Particularly so since my son is entering primary this January. I never worried about what he was being taught in nursery – benign lessons about how God and Jesus love children don’t set off any major alarm bells. But songs like this…? Oh my.

I’ve been wondering this whole week what I can do about the presentation of gender roles that my child will be encountering in primary. I’m very uncomfortable with such stark presentations of the subject – it’s important to me that my son understand that both moms and dads can provide and preside and nurture, and that it’s wonderful when that works for a particular family.

So what’s a feminist mom to do in this situation? Here are some options I’ve been considering:

a) talk to the primary president and express my concerns about the presentation of gender roles. Ask her her thoughts on the subject. Ask if there’s any way she can affirm, acknowledge and present families in all their varieties, in addition to teaching the ‘ideal’.
b) ask for a list of lessons that will be taught to my child throughout the year. be sure to be present on those Sundays when the Proclamation or family is to be discussed, so that I can do private damage control later.
c) offer to provide resources and ideas on how make lessons on the family more inclusive. For instance, I would be happy to obtain and print out pictures of diverse families, or find examples in the scriptures of righteous families who didn’t fit the mold.

-Do any of you have ideas on how to handle troubling teachings in primary?

-Do you think it’s best to take a proactive approach, as I’ve outlined above, or do you think it’s better to just let kids be taught the black and white now, with the hope that they will learn nuance as they get older?

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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39 Responses

  1. Zeta says:

    It seems that a large part of the beliefs of the LDS church and what the prophet himself teaches us is in line with that song. If you have a problem with the Proclamation on the family, then maybe you need to do some soul searching and decide if you really want to be a member of the church. It’s kind of hard to pick and choose which teachings and commandments you want to follow. They are there to make us happy. Trust in the Lord and his prophets. They have a good track record.

  2. Lori says:

    I don’t try and change too much in Primary. I’ve worked in Primary most of my married life and they are hard jobs. Most of those who serve in Primary are just doing the best they can. Sooo . . . I make sure I am teaching my children what I want them to know and occasionally they will mention something they learned in Primary that I will correct.

    The best plan? Accept a calling in Primary. You will find that you can teach almost anything and nobody complains – ha ha! But seriously, being in there helps me counteract what I might not like. I am hearing the stuff my children are learning – some actually incorrect, some just not the way I would present it.

    Volunteer to sub or help – I’m sure they won’t turn you down. Or, just go sit with a class.

  3. Kim B. says:

    My anxiety went through the roof when my oldest son, now 11, started primary. My callings have been very limited in the primary, but have found myself attending on occasion. I find myself uneasy on more topics than I would like to admit about what is often taught.

    I discussed a lot with my husband how to combat differing views and to make sure the female role is not denigrated to a secondary status or that the male role is not pigeon-holed into the old patriarchal view. My husband is a firm believer in our children will most likely follow the pattern they see in the home. I do not think it would be very helpful to discuss with the primary leaders what will be taught for a couple of reasons,

    1. Either people get it or they do not. Many people will have the same reaction Zeta just did and call you to repentance.
    2. Like Lori, I believe the primary workers do have a very difficult job and do not need to add one more thing to their list by providing us what they will be teaching, plus many of the comments I have struggled with I can tell were off-the-cuff type comments anyway.

    So, this is what I do now. I recognize that the pattern my husband and I model in the home will have more power than what they hear for two hours every Sunday. And, I always ask them every week, “What did you learn in primary today?” I have noticed they tend to bring things up that concern them or do not seem in line with what is being taught at home. Then, we can discuss. Then, I ask, “What do you think about that?” which has led to very good discussions about confirming what I believe and still allow tolerance for other’s perspectives.

  4. mraynes says:

    Zeta, please check our comment policy, specifically #4. There is room in the church for individual members to have their own opinion, the General Authorities have said so time and time again. This is a blog where everybody is welcome to express their opinion but calls to repentance or invitations to leave the church are certainly not welcome here.

  5. Bro. Jones says:

    If you’re in a ward where most of the kids come from two-parent homes, you’re not going to get anywhere talking with Primary leaders from a gender stereotype standpoint. If there are kids from single-parent or divorced families, however, there’s a strong case for balanced messages that also happens to capture the gender issue.

    To be honest, that’s the part that worries me more. I’ve accepted that my own views on gender roles don’t always match up with the offical LDS line, but it’s my job within my family to express my own views where I feel appropriate. But it strikes me as borderline cruel to sing songs like that in wards where there are lots of Primary kids who don’t come from “typical” Mormon households. At the very least it calls for compassion and additional teaching from Primary leadership.

  6. Two of Three says:

    This is something that I constantly struggle with and I’m a primary president! There are some Sundays I have to bite my tongue before I say “and some families have two moms and some families have two dads and that’s ok”. Although I don’t agree with all church doctrine, I respect the church enough not to teach anything contradictory to accepted doctrine. I will often skip over things with which I am uncomfortable. As far as my own kids go, I teach them how I feel away from the church. I hope they grow up with open minds and forgive me for confusing them!

  7. James says:

    My issue with those lyrics isn’t so much that they’re “wrong,” but rather lack nuance. That said, expecting that from a simple song is probably asking too much.

    While I expect my kids hear ideas and attitudes about some things in primary that would make me wince at times, I’m fairly confident that if my wife and I are on our game at home, they’ll gravitate more towards family norms rather than outside social norms (and that goes for everything, not just primary). Maybe I overestimate the degree of influence we’ll have on our kids…only time will tell.

  8. Lisa says:

    I love that you are so mindful of your child’s spiritual education. What a gift to your child to help him navigate the beauty of the gospel and this life we encounter here on earth.

    I know your concerns go beyond this song, but as the primary music leader in my ward, I loved teaching the children The Family is of God. After all the pain of autumn’s Prop 8, I really loved hearing them sing

    “Our Father has a family
    it’s me, it’s you–all others too,
    we are His children”

    The idea that we are all children of Our Heavenly Father (no matter our spiritual and sexual differences) is such a powerful message in these turbulant times.

    The chorus also hit home for me personally:
    “God gave us families
    to help us become what He wants us to be
    this is how He shares His love
    for the family is of God.”

    My family is far from perfect, so it can be helpful at times to reflect on the ways I am learning and growing and loving despite not always fitting the ideal mold.

    We didn’t end up learning all of the verses of this song, due to time contraints and some sensitive issues in our own primary.

    Your bigger picture concerns are another issue. In my experience, the leaders in Primary really try to balance truth and doctrine with the compassion needed to deal with the reality these children face and the confusion that comes when Mormon Culture pushes in on the foundational gospel message (families are of God and our parents love and lead us vs. how mommy and daddy spend their days and split the work responsibilities). The specifics of gender roles in the social sense (SAHM and working father)were not a huge part of primary sharing time or music and were not really outlined by the Church to take the focus of the discussion in this year’s themed sharing times.

    If you are concerned about the lessons they receive in their individual classes, LDS.org has them all online. We address these concerns in FHE and do so with the words of our leaders and prophets. We talk about how mommy (me) has followed the counsel of the prophets and tried to gain the most education possible and to use her talents to bless the lives of others through her work (at home and in a chosen profession I’ll work in at various levels throughout their lifetimes). They know that fathers “care” and “prepare” and that mothers “provide” and “preside” (in partnership with their husbands and perhaps in different ways) by the way we live the gospel we hold dear.

    I think that taking what might be seen as a policing role (being present for certain sharing times and lessons) might put you at odds with primary leaders who are truly trying their best. A better approach may be to mention your concerns to the primary leaders and then focus on spiritual education within the four walls of your own home.

    Maybe praying about the situation is the best place to begin to navigate this new stage in your child’s spiritual education. Heavenly Father truly hears and answers the prayers of us as parents, seeking to raise our children the best way we know how.

    Perhaps some of your concerns will be put to rest knowing that this year’s Primary theme (My Eternal Family) is making way for a theme focused on the Savior (I Know My Savior Lives).

  9. ZD Eve says:

    I have no answers but I’m really glad you brought this up, Caroline, and I’m reading and considering everyone’s ideas carefully. As my daughter gets closer to Primary, it weighs on my mind more and more. I’m concerned both about the gender-role teachings I don’t accept and about the fact that her family is not the standard Mormon family (Mommy presides, i.e., calls on people to give prayers, because Daddy’s an atheist. Will she learn that Daddy is a bad person who’s preventing our family from being together forever?).

    I so want the church to be, at least on balance, a positive experience for her. (I realize there are always some drawbacks and that nothing’s perfect, but I just want the pluses to outweigh the minuses. Is that too much to ask?) If it’s not–if church is downright miserable for her, for whatever–that’s going to test my commitment more than anything else ever has.

    I can put up with a lot of things I don’t particularly like, even really hurtful things, for myself. But it’s an entirely different proposition when it comes to my daughter. Orders of magnitude different.

  10. Sam B says:

    In my previous ward, the Primary chorister subtly rewrote the lyrics to the third verse. I don’t remember what they became, but, while certainly in line with LDS thinking, they were far more inclusive. (It’s worth noting that the Primary president and all of the teachers knew what she had done and applauded her for it.)

    In that ward, everyone in the Primary was acutely aware that not everybody came from a traditional 1950s-style family. While underscoring the importance of family when it came up, the Primary generally also underscored the love that Heavenly Father has for all of his children, and the different constructions that families take.

    Of course, YMMV. It was a fortunate confluence of good people (not all of whom, it should be noted, were politically progressive, and many of whom were, themselves, in what we consider traditional families). I think it worked because nobody addressed the issues in an angry or confrontational way; instead, they were addressed in a matter-of-fact way, thinking of the children and the Lord. That is, if someone had angrily demanded that the lyrics be changed, who knows what would have happened. But with a snide comment that went over the kids’ heads, the chorister uncontroversially fixed the problem.

  11. Bekah says:

    That was definitely not my favorite song this year. But I have to agree with a lot of what other commenters said.
    1- get a calling in primary. If you’d volunteer in your kid’s class in school, why wouldn’t you be involved in their spiritual education as well? And don’t be afraid of the primary presidency. Talk to them. They love the children and it has been my experience that they are sensitive to the fact that all families are different. And your ward always needs sunbeams teachers.
    2- the example set at home is going to make way more of an impression on your child than what they hear an hour or so a week. I think family night is a great time to teach kids about women in the scriptures and other spiritual matters that are important to me.

  12. Caroline says:

    Lori and Bekah, good points about volunteering to be in primary. I was in primary 6 or 7 years ago and it wasn’t a good fit – I was so happy to get released after a year. But I imagine it might be different for me now with my own child in primary.

    Kim B. I’m glad you mentioned the difficulty of the job that primary workers already contend with. It’s good for me to keep that in mind and not do anything to stress them out further….(though I still would love to gently raise the issue in a very nice way to at least get them thinking about it…)

    Amen, Bro Jones. I’m worried about those kids from non-traditional families too. In my ward, however, there aren’t too many, so I may not make any headway if/when I bring this stuff up.

    Two of Three, I’m so glad you commented – an actual primary president! It’s good to know that you skip over some problematic things. I hope other primary leaders are willing to do the same.

    James, I too hope I’ll be able to counteract any unfortunate messages my child picks up from outside influences. With only a 3 year old and a 3 month old, I don’t know if it will work that way, but I sure hope it does.

    Lisa, thanks for sharing those other verses. I do like that inclusive one about everyone being God’s family. The other one if fine too, though I do wonder what kids who are being abused make of that line about how God shows his love through giving us family. Thanks for the heads up about lds.org. I will definitely be checking that out. And it’s good to know that sharing time did not focus on gender roles too much – and that next year’s theme focuses on Christ. Thank goodness!

    ZDEve, my father was not a Mormon, and I remember as a child having passing thoughts about what that meant for us as an eternal family. But I don’t remember worrying about it too much. Hopefully your child likewise will pick up on those things you emphasize in your home and will easily slough off those concepts that could be hurtful to her.

    Sam B, I love the fact that those lyrics were rewritten to be more inclusive. Gives me hope that that might have happened elsewhere as well.

  13. tara says:

    Be proactive– I despise this song and refuse
    to sing it– my husband and I team teach the
    6 year olds, If I had a child in primary I
    would definitly tell the pres I found it
    offensive, I believe its optional my sis is
    primary chorister and she said she was not
    teaching it to her primary

  14. EmilyCC says:

    Zeta, I don’t think God or the prophets wants us to tell people to think about leaving the Church either.

    Caroline, this post has been enlightening for me because it has reminded me that we do have a chance to make a difference as women in leadership positions. And, it’s great to see the commenters who have found ways to make this work.

    I think you’re smart to offer resources and lessons. As a current primary presidency member, I’d be all over a parent sending me that kind of stuff.

    When I’m out of primary, I think I’ll try to be on top of it enough to know what the lessons and sharing times are about. Then, I’ll follow-up with a FHE on Monday about the subject and teach it the way I see fit.

    Hmmmm…will I ever be that on top of it, though?

  15. Azucar says:

    This song is very black and white. My ward is gray.

    I was the primary chorister in my last ward. When I had to teach this song, as well as prepare the Mother’s Day/Father’s Day performances, I was mindful of my little flock.

    I talked about how some of us don’t live with our moms, some of us don’t live with our dads, some of us have grandmothers, or aunts who are like our moms. I don’t live with my mom and I miss her a lot, I said.

    I suggested that they can sing these songs and mean it about their aunts, or their granddads, or whoever the parental figure was in their home (I didn’t say “parental figure.”)

    I HOPE I was able to allow all the children feel included and loved even when their current families didn’t meet the “ideal.” Nothing is harder than teaching that song and knowing that a few of those girls had fathers who were abusive, or siblings whose mother had abandoned them in favor of a lover.

    So, to answer your question, I took a developmentally appropriate proactive stance. I felt prompted to be inclusive of all of the children, and I hope I was guided well.

  16. cms says:

    The best antidote to the idea that only men preside is the organization of the Primary Presidency itself.

    I’m glad so many pointed out how hard the primary workers and presidency are working, especially among all the primary isn’t for me comments.

    We are doing what we can. Be generous and open and engage these women who aren’t able to participate in gospel discussion in RElief Society or Sunday School when you see them. Be friendly, share quotes and stories and insights that support your point of view. They’ll find their way into Primary.

    And don’t assume that all of us in Primary are tow the line Mormons who embrace traditional gender roles. My primary (urban, full of new converts of part member, no member decidedly untraditional families) has found through prayer all sorts of inspiring ways to teach this year’s theme about eternal families.

  17. Margaret says:

    I believe it was Pres Hinkley who said a few years ago that parents were primarily responsible for teaching their children and Primary and Sunday School teachers were there merely to reinforce what was already being taught. It was part of an important message: unless it’s coming again and again from parents, the kids aren’t going to get it. That lays extra responsibility and one’s feet as a parent, but it also gives me a sense of relief. I don’t think that Primary messages I don’t like are going to sink in unless I am also teaching them to my child.

    My own memories of Primary are great and I’m grateful for what I learned there: I’m a child of God, singing is fun, and there are lots of adults who cared enough about me to voluntarily sacrifice their time to teach me. I’m betting that’s what your kids will get out of it too.

  18. jks says:

    Every year the church gives the primary leaders am 8.5 x 11 leaflet that has the them for the year, all the songs for the year, all the sharing time topics broken down for each week of each month.
    I can’t guarantee that they will always stick to it 100%, but it should be easy to request to see and it make a copy of it. My suggestion would be that do NOT start talking about your concerns until you actually see what the theme is and what your real concerns might actually be. The theme could be anything from families to missionary work to temples to the word of wisdom to the scriptures, etc.
    As a primary pianist I had one of those pamphlets or whatever you call them every year. I urge you to just ask for it because you are truly INTERESTED in what your child will be learning and singing. Ask for it because you want to be aware. If you ask for it and reveal an attitude that you are looking for things to FIGHT they will become defensive.
    Look through it, look for the good. Realize that you can’t control every sac. mtg. talk or every lesson given to your child….but it is completely ok to ask for a list of the topics so that you can be educated about the environment your child is in. Be sensitive that these are all volunteers that will be teaching your children and they will probably sometimes bore your children, sometimes talk over their heads, sometimes confuse them with irrelevant details, sometimes misspeak, sometimes make a mistake, sometimes be unprepared, sometimes be prepared have have the lesson go all wrong, sometimes be overwhelmed with the practicalities and be short on content, etc. Get used to it because no teacher your child will ever have will be perfect. Practice supporting the teachers and educators of your children because if you treat them with respect and kindness and support it will be better for your child in the long run.
    You will find that occasionally it you might need to say something, whether to a church teacher/leader or a school teacher. Just make sure you don’t jump the gun. Be careful. These are the people who have your children in their care. It makes sense to help them, and help them be happy in their role rather than unhappy and upset and wishing themselves anywhere but near your child.
    Good luck.

  19. Starfoxy says:

    JKS- the 2010 outline you mention is already available here.

  20. Carol says:

    I served in our ward Primary President when this song was taught. We were careful to teach the children that all families are valued and special–whether you have one or two parents or live with an extended family member. Although our ward is typically two-parent families, some children do not have that experience right now. We felt it was critical that all children realize that God’s loves and honors them and their families.

    Although not all Primary leaders may have the same perspective, what parents teach in their homes has great power in a child’s eyes. I would not have felt threatened if a parent came to me and expressed a concern about something I taught. I believe that feedback helps any leader to do a better job and would like to see more of it respectfully given and received in the Church.

  21. anon says:

    I was freaked out when I heard my son singing “a father’s place is to preside” at home last week. I immediately googled and of course, found that FMH had already covered the material. I found a link to the verses and read through them, over and over, and…surprisingly, it didn’t bother me anymore.

    The lyrics don’t pigeon hole in my opinion…both say “teach” and “love/nurture”. Part of me actually appreciates this. Dads do have to teach and love, not JUST provide and preside. Moms strengthen and teach their children, not JUST care for them.

    And all of these things can be done whether you stay at home or work. I like that it teaches good ideals for kids to look up to. In our family, my kids’ dad & I are divorced and he isn’t a member, and I’ve remarried. So I am very sensitive to how the “family” is shown in primary. I objected when I walked by our Primary board and ALL the pictures of the families were traditional 2 parent, 5 kids and a dog, etc. The next week, there were pictures of the families w/ single parents, grandparents, adopted children, etc. But I think this song is a good thing. Plus, my kids really love it. And the more I hear my son sing it, I am kind of proud that he wants to be a dad that loves, provides for, and teaches his children.

    I don’t think you should approach your primary president in the ways you described. I think it will come across as hostile no matter how you phrase it. You can buy the primary lesson manual at Deseret Book and read the lessons at home the week before (which I actually recommend doing anyway…all parents should know what is being taught to their kids so they can follow up at home). And if like me, you see that they haven’t been including diverse family pictures, then speak up. (although really, this theme has been going all year…you’ve sort of missed the boat on it, we’ll have a new one in a month!)

  22. Zeta says:

    I haven’t really come in contact much with members who have a problem with some of the teachings of the church, I’m sorry if I broke one of the posting rules, but I am trying to understand this position it sounds like many of you take. I understand trying to be sensitive to the feelings of the children who do not live in ideal families, I come from a broken home. As an adult I am blessed to have an ideal family of my own– a good husband who works so I can stay home and raise the children and run the household. If I hadn’t been taught the ideal in church and by reading and listening to general authorities talks, I’m not sure I would have taken the leap of faith it took for me to marry at all. So I guess I don’t understand what the problem is in teaching gender roles and aspiring to an ideal family. True, it doesn’t always turn out, but shouldn’t we try to obtain the ideal and teach it as such to our children? Is there another place where I can learn more about this thinking? It is quite new to me, maybe there is a better place to discuss this? Let me know.

  23. Andrea says:

    Caroline, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to micromanage your kids’ learning at church. Waaay to much work on your part. They can hear many, many lessons with the wrong nuances and information. Being an opinionated feminist, they will inevitably get your counter views along the way as things come up. I cherished the day when my 7-year old daughter asked, “Why don’t girls get the priesthood?” I thought, “Yessss, she’s a feminist already!”

    Studies on TV viewing have shown that children’s views are shaped by their parents’ commentary on what they heard, more than what they heard. I don’t think we need to combat each and every false doctrine to be effective. They will know our views over time. My kids sure do, and they are navigating the waters brilliantly. (Ages: 12,9,5)

    So, in a completely unpatronizing way — you can relax.

    Btw, I wonder if ZETA caught Pres. Uchtdorf’s conference talk? Way to many ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ from uninspired sources. Too many good ideas crowding out the eternal principles of Love God and Love others as you love yourself. AMEN to that!

  24. Tricia says:

    I guess I’m confused as to what part specifically of the song you’re concerned about? Like so many other teachings in the church, the ideal is presented in this song. If your family doesn’t fit the ideal right now, that’s ok, but you can have open discussions with your children about the what is going on in your family dynamic.

    As in ZD Eve’s situation, she would never want her child to think less of her father. I’ve always talked to my children about what our goals are, and where we actually are in our progression right now. For example we talk about how we are counseled to have daily family scripture study, but we only get it done about once a week, or many weeks not at all. That doesn’t make us a failure or wicked members. My husband didn’t grow up in a family that had scripture study so most times I lead and encourage and NAG!! 🙂

    My kids have noticed that my husband doesn’t “preside” and I’ve explained to them that he does his own scripture reading.

    I just think it’s important to talk to our children about what the ideal is, but then acknowledge that we can’t always live up to the ideal right now.

    I hope your primary leaders will be thoughtful when presenting songs like this and insert teachings of love and acceptance for families that don’t fit the ideal.

  25. Lashley says:

    The comments are all very good, but- Amen Andrea! “Studies on TV viewing have shown that childrens views are shaped by their parents’ commentary on what they heard, more than what they heard.”
    This is absolutely true. There are a lot of silly Primary songs.
    I teach Primary (and spent 9yrs in there as a child) and I can assure you the kids aren’t paying very close attention to those words. I was a smart kid and I thought the words to “Love One Another” included an exotic word “shalminnow” (from “by this shall men know”) for years until I read the words in the hymn book as a teenager. Chances are these words go in one ear and out the other.
    Keep being a great parent and your kids will grow up to think for themselves and be the loving caring disciples of Christ that you raise them to be.

  26. Caroline says:

    Tara, glad to know I’m not the only one who found the song disturbing.

    Emily, it’s good to know that you – a former primary pres – have a positive reaction to the idea of someone offering you additional resources.

    Azucar, I love that you explained to the kids that they could be thinking of their aunts or grandmas or whoever when singing the song. Well done!

    Cms, thanks for the advice. I’d love to know what inspiring ways you’ve found to teach the theme… I’m sure it can be done, but it sure does seem like a potential minefield to me.

    Thanks, Margaret. I’m hoping so too.

    Great advice, jks. Thank you.

    Carol, i’m relieved to hear that you wouldn’t mind feedback as a leader/teacher in primary. I would too, if I were in your shoes.

    anon, thanks for sharing your perspective. It is good to see a more positive reading of the song, and I love that you got your primary leaders to include diverse pictures.

    Zeta, I’m glad you commented again and explained where you were coming from. In response to your request to try to understand where I am coming from, I’ll try to explain a bit. (This will answer your question as well, Tricia.) My problem is with prescribed gender roles. I’m all for teaching principles – principles that the family is important, the family comes first, etc. But I am uncomfortable with prescriptions on how to live up to those principles, prescriptions such as moms nurture and dads provide. That seems highly culturally located. Goodness knows for thousands of years both parents provided and both nurtured in various cultures around the world. And that was just fine. I think that model is just as likely to achieve success in a family as the divided responsibility model that the Church now advocates. I am also uncomfortable with the song because I don’t find it nuanced. The actual Proclamation talks about parents acting as equal partners and helping one another with these responsibilities. The song gives no sense of this very important ideal of equal partnership and shared responsibility. There’s a lot more to say, but I’ll leave it at that.

    Andrea, thanks for your words of wisdom. I need to hear these things from feminists who have raised children in the church and seen things turn out ok.

  27. amelia says:

    i’m not a parent, so i don’t have any advice based on lived experience. and i’ve already given caroline my advice in person (to stay advised of lesson topics and pull her son out of class if she finds a topic problematic). but i want to speak to a point several of the commenters have brought up: the ideal family.

    my problem with this song is that it does not represent, for me, an ideal family. it represents a prescription for one approach to building a family. but it is only one approach among many. the ideal is not father presides and provides (with a bit of love and teaching on the side) while mother cares and prepares with a bit of strengthening thrown in. that’s just one possible structure for a family.

    the ideal is a family in which love governs actions and treatment of each other to such an extent that the family is a place of safety and peace, regardless of what problems or differences may arise.

    the church would do well to teach that ideal–the ideal of love, as established by the two great commandments–and spend less time prescribing the “correct” approach to accomplishing the ideal. prescriptions do very little good, in my opinion, since every life is different and will fall short of the prescription, even though they won’t necessarily fall short of the ideal. because, you see, when we think in terms of the ideal of love, any number of family structures work to create that ideal even if they don’t conform to some human-made prescription for the “ideal” family.

  28. jks says:

    Thanks for the link, Starfoxy. Nice to see what they will be learning next year.

  29. Kelly Ann says:

    What a great discussion! I think I have my own issues and then I think about how I’d teach my kids and I admire everyone who tries to do their best and really make their kids better as a consequence. I’ll try to remember many of these points for when I have my own.

  30. Ziff says:

    Like several others have mentioned, I just try to talk to my kids at home about troublesome things they might hear in primary. For example, of course this isn’t the topic you’re addressing here, but one of my kids is really interested in science, and we’ve discussed evolution quite a bit. I’ve made it a point to tell him that there are people in the church who will say he’s evil for believing in it, but that he doesn’t have to listen to them. As far as I know, he hasn’t had discussions about it at church, but I’m just hoping he won’t be surprised then when he has a teacher tell him that evolution is a doctrine of the devil.

    I haven’t tried this, but I wonder if it wouldn’t work to take a similar preemptive strategy for issues of gender roles. Of course it will always be valuable to do damage control after your kids have heard hard line gender role ideas you don’t believe in. But maybe discussing egalitarianism with them first (and modeling it), warning them about what they’ll inevitably hear, and supplying them with counterarguments in advance might help.

  31. Zeta says:

    I understand better where some of you are coming from. We probably agree more than we realize.
    To Caroline- Men and women are different. There is no doubt about it. Physically, men are stronger, women are the ones who bear the children. I don’t know which primitive cultures you are refering to where the men and women worked mostly together. In the ones I’m familiar with, the women prepared the food and the men hunted it. I don’t see gender roles as being cultural at all. Boys and girls are inherently different. I think the gender roles have become more equalized and blurred as a result of our modern technological advances where physical strength is no longer very necessary. It is a modern phenomenon. I think the proclamation when it says that fathers are to preside and mothers nurture helps us get back to our true natures as men and women doing the things that we are more predisposed to do. Presiding doesn’t mean unrighteous dominion, we are still working together but we each have our comparative advantage. Fathers can still nurture, but realistically, they are not as soft as we generally are. Working together, I can soften him a bit and he can help me require and expect more of the children than I would otherwise. The way men and women can work together complementing each other with their individual natures is beautiful really. Presiding and having the priesthood also gives men a responsibility of service they might not otherwise do. As women we tend to be more proactive and willing to help and serve, but sometimes the men need a little push. Just look at the difference between Relief society and Elder’s Quorum lessons. If they didn’t have a specific responsibility, they might be less inclined to do anything. But if there is something only they can do, then they will do it willingly. So I think that having the father preside and provide in the home and the mother mainly nurture is the ideal family situation. Not everyone will be able to do it, of course, but we should all be striving and supporting and teaching that ideal along the way.

  32. EmilyCC says:

    Zeta, I really admire that you’re taking the time to keep coming back with your thoughts and experiences. They have added to and enhanced this discussion. I hope you’ll keep joining us!

  33. Moniker Challenged says:

    Zeta, I’m admittedly not a professional anthropologist or historian, but it would seem that the advantage of physical strength and fleetness would decrease somewhat as a culture reaches agrarian status (this was still thousands of years ago in many areas of the world). Women can sew and reap pretty effectively, and they still do so all over the world with or without the aid of machinery or domesticated animals. So, often men and women have worked side-by-side in the fields while children helped or played within eyesight. As civilization progresses, families work together to produce goods for sale: pottery, milled grain, cloth. Even the industrial revolution continued to find multiple family members working in factories or shops while small children were watched by elderly relatives or by neighbors. I think for most of human history making a living has been the effort of a whole family, not the responsibility of an individual.
    As for the physical differences between sexes, I think many of us would count it progress to live in a society that makes no connection between physical might and civil or familial power. After all, if we as a species depended on our physical attributes for success we wouldn’t be around still. Unlike other creatures, our existence lies largely in the mind and soul, and within those arenas there are far more differences between individuals than there are between sexes, I believe.

  34. storonto says:

    I was Primary president in a former ward a couple of years ago when one of the programmed songs included the lyrics, “Home is where there’s father with strength and wisdom true. Home is where there’s mother and all the children too.”

    The lyrics speak for themselves. I was mortified to read them, and further mortified when an 11-year-old boy’s first, spontaneous reaction was “So that means the men are strong and smart, and the women have to stay at home with the kids.”

    I wrote a letter to the General Primary President and the director of Church music expressing how unhelpful to our children I felt these lyrics were. I never had a response from either, but I felt that voicing my opinion was valuable in and of itself.

  35. Caroline says:

    Moniker, thanks for your comment. That’s exactly my sense as well – that for the thousands and thousands of years that most human civilizations were agrarian-based, men and women worked together to provide for the family. And if we look at pre-agrarian times, both men and women were also providing then. The term “hunters and gatherers” makes that clear.

    Zeta, we are obviously coming from very different places when it comes to gender roles. And that’s just fine with me. Diversity within the church is one of the things I like the most to see. My only hope is that we might respect one another, despite differing views.

    Storonto, good for you! I’m so glad you voiced your opinion to your leaders. I think it’s so important for them to be aware of issues like these. I too would have been annoyed by those lyrics, no question.

  36. Caroline says:

    Ameilia, You said perfectly everything I wanted to say. Thank you!

    Ziff, good point about preemptive measures. I really really like that idea. A good way to be proactive but not make any leaders feel uncomfortable.

  37. Racy says:

    I’ve just skimmed these comments, so I may be
    repeditive, but I am just wondering what the hub
    bub is about this song? Yes the daddy “presides”,
    but I find the job to “provide” and the job to prepare and care synonomis. The dad needs to love, as does the mom, they both teach. I think that the real problem is not about how traditional roles subjugate women, the real problem is that we do not teach men adequately that preside and serve mean the same thing. I have much less of a problem telling little girls that when they become mothers they will nuture and care for their children than I do implying that when little boys grow up they are expected to be chauvinist windbags.

    Sorry to get on my soapbox, but I think much of these gender role problems still stem from the fact that we treat feminism as a female problem when it is largely a male problem that needs to be solved with education, such as asking boys in primary “what do you think it means to preside? Does that mean that you get to tell people what to do? Does that mean you get to help others?”

  38. Racy says:

    sorry for my spelling and lack of clarity, I eman to say that a working mother, to me, is caring and preparing for her children by providing an income for them to live on. A father is teaching how to obey and serve by leading family prayer and finding time to read scriptures, drive kids to seminary, whatever. The problem is where we allow these words to be attached to “ideals” when they can be taken any variety of ways that meet the needs of the children in that room.

  39. AS says:

    I think that’s overthinking it a bit. I thought the words were quite general. Yes, my husband has the priesthood and he leads in family prayer when he is here, but yes, when he is away, I lead in prayer and do not find it a problem. I also do think it is from the Proclamation and don’t have a problem with my kids hearing those words. Of COURSE there are times when I, as a woman, preside in my home and of COURSE there are times when my husband is nurturing. But, to say that men and women are different with different roles in general is not a problem with me. But, I ALWAYS think it’s a great idea to talk with my kids about what they’ve learned in primary or school and how they’ve understood it and do my own teaching at home. Heaven knows if I didn’t do that, my kids wouldn’t know half of what they know now. And as a primary leader, I can certainly tell which kids discuss things at home with their parents- AND KUDOS to you parents who do!

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