Capable of Providing

“Women just need to sacrifice more.”

He said it proudly as if expounding pure doctrine. We were in our ward’s Marriage and Family class and we were talking about male and female roles. Someone just got done explaining how marital strife was due to the “world” making women feel like they could have it all. Brother Soandso seconded this comment by raising his hand and very clearly stating, “Women just need to sacrifice more.” He then went on to explain that his mother only ever wanted to be a mom and she sacrificed everything for her kids and she was happy. I didn’t hear the rest of what he said because my mind was reeling.

There were so many problematic things about his statement that I couldn’t even decide what to say. I quickly said something flippant about how women working relieves the burden of male-only providing and allows them to do what they want to do rather than all becoming dentists.

I didn’t do a great job of explaining what I meant to say. I meant to say that men, women and families are all better off when couples are equal, that female financial autonomy leads to greater job satisfaction and happier marriages, that raising children is work, that definitions of “work” and deeds worth pay are historically and culturally relative, that men are missing out on some of life’s greatest joy if they let women do most of the care taking, that women are missing out on some of life’s most confidence building moments if they let men do most of the providing, etc. The problem was that I didn’t have any facts to prove what I was saying. I just had my own life experience and, sadly, in a room full of traditional conservative LDS members I felt like that wasn’t enough.

Luckily, I recently discovered the article entitled “Are Career Women Good for Marriage?” which argues that “for couples in which the wife can be considered a career woman, the probability of the marriage ending in divorce is 25 percent lower than for other couples” that number dropped even further for couples where both partners earn 50% of the income. Interestingly, these results did not hold true for single provider marriages regardless of income level.

When I read this article I wanted to scream “Hallelujah!” I’ve known for a long time that my marriage and family has greatly benefited from our equal providing. Currently our career paths mean we don’t always split the finances 50-50, rather we trade-off years where one of us is the full-time provider and the other the stay-at-home parent. However, this was not always the way I envisioned my life.

I was raised very traditionally and though I touted myself as a feminist early on in my marriage I can still clearly remember one of the most pivotal moments in my life. We were discussing our plan of living off of one income so that at any time one of us could stay at home and we wouldn’t be forced to be a dual-income family because of expenses. We were both in agreement until I commented that “I might want to stay at home for awhile once I had kids.” My husband agreed and said, “I might want to stay home at some point as well.”

All of a sudden this horrible crushing feeling overwhelmed me and for the first time in my entire life I felt what it must feel like to be solely financially responsible for an entire family. It was horrifying. Thoughts of braces, college, school fees, mortgage, Christmas, car repairs, and medical bills rushed into my mind. I had a mini panic attack and immediately backed out of our deal. I hadn’t chosen a career to provide. I just did what I enjoyed. What if I didn’t make enough money? What if I didn’t get a good job? What kind of standard of living could I provide alone? What if I didn’t want to work? etc. My husband calmly said, “Well if staying at home full time is an option for you at some point shouldn’t it be for me too?” I knew he was right, but I hadn’t planned on this. I had never ever not even once thought about providing for a family. How dumb am I? I’m half-way through the training for my career and I hadn’t even seriously thought about providing and what that meant. It was terrifying and it made me approach my career with a new seriousness and practicality. I was much more willing to negotiate a better wage, demand pay for my work rather than just being flattered that someone valued my insight, understand office politics, find ways to get ahead, procrastinate less and produce more.

Jump ahead six years and it is still scary, but just as I was unprepared for the terror of providing for a family I was equally unprepared for the joy. Strangely I have never heard anyone (male or female) talk about this feeling before. Are men just raised to expect it? Do they even notice it? Are they “keeping” it from us? Did I just never expect it of myself? or Do I just not know enough women who provide? Regardless, being able to provide is an amazing feeling. It is difficult for me to explain but there is a strong sense of pride and self-confidence in the knowledge that I can provide for my family. The best word I can come up with is capable–it makes me feel capable, capable of anything.

Have you ever felt the burden or joy of providing for your family? Why isn’t the joy of providing ever discussed? Has your marriage or family benefited from both parents providing? If you are a SAHM have you ever thought about being “paid” a portion of the income for your work and then contributing it back into family expenses? How can we help prepare both Young Women and Young men to provide?

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69 Responses

  1. Keri Brooks says:

    Great post! While I don’t have a husband or children, I do know the feeling of providing for myself. I still remember the first dinner I cooked in my first apartment with my first real paycheck. It was a simple meal, but it tasted delicious. Not because I’m a great cook (I’m not), but because I earned it. There was something immensely satisfying knowing that my work put that roof over my head and that food on my table. It made me feel powerful. (Not in some overbearing way, but in the way that I knew I wasn’t helpless.)

    • Whoa-man says:

      Agreed. Powerful was another word I felt but that seems like a bad word for a Mormon female to say sometimes. Do you ever feel that way?

      • Keri Brooks says:

        I definitely feel that there’s a taboo in admitting to wanting to be powerful. I almost didn’t even say it when I made my original comment, which is why I felt I had to add my qualifier about not being overbearing.

        The thing is, we’re told to be like God, and God is all-powerful, so we shouldn’t shy away from (righteous) power, but there’s still that cultural stuff to deal with.

      • Amy says:

        So sad that we would think that power is a bad word for us to use as Mormon women. I just got called as a Relief Society President and that is a word I am trying to bring back to the women in our ward. We should feel powerful. Maybe not angry, macho powerful, but empowered and having control of our destinies.
        I am a SAHM, but I do feel power in what I do. I think that comes in large part because of the respect that my husband has for what I do. And because I feel what I do is some of the most important work there is. But, although most people don’t seem to agree, and there are days I am not feeling it, I see the empowerment, challenge, and worth of being a SAHM.
        I do love how you felt how scary and empowering it feels to provide for a family and I’m sure that makes you more understanding of your husband as well.

      • T.H. Shrum says:

        So for men providing is a burden, and for women it’s a joy that makes them feel powerful? And you claim to be opposed to gender roles?

  2. Erin says:

    I’ve never been the sole provider, but even at working just 15 hours a week I get to enjoy the feelings that come from knowing that my paycheck will cover our rent or some other significant expenses. I LOVE feeling like I’m contributing to such things. While I know being a full-time SAHM is contributing (and a huge contribution at that), I’ve found that it never feels like it is for me. I have to work and get a paycheck to feel that.

    While my husband has been in grad. school one of the best benefits of me working part-time has been that it’s given my husband a chance to be a SAHD for most of the hours I work. I feel that he and our son have a much better relationship now than before I worked. And of course our marriage is better because I’m no longer miserable!

    • Whoa-man says:

      I’m glad you are no longer miserable! No one should have to be.

      • T.H. Shrum says:

        Could you tell us about how miserable you’re husband is, since he is at home while you’re feeling so much pride and power in being the provider? In order to be a provider, someone has to be the one provided for, which means staying home. If you believe staying at home makes you miserable, then you and your husband should be co-providers. Is it more important for you to feel pride even if it requires that your husband is miserable?

  3. Emily U says:

    Great post. This is a topic that hits close to home for me. To answer Whoa-man’s questions, yes I have felt the burden of providing, and to me it feels like more of a burden than a joy. But I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to be totally financially dependent on my husband, and I haven’t been. I wrote about that recently here:

    Like Erin, I think my son and husband are much closer than they’d be if I didn’t work, and I think that’s a very good thing. I feel badly for families where one spouse has to work such long hours that they barely see their children.

    • T.H. Shrum says:

      But the more hours you work, the more money you make and the more pride and power you can feel about being the provider. Isn’t that what it’s all about, feeling pride and power in being the provider? Apparently you can’t get pride and power by spending time with your children, only by providing. So how do we on the one hand advocate the need for pride in being the provider, and on the other hand criticize those who are working more hours to be more of a provider?

  4. Alisa says:

    Thanks for this post. It helps me be more grateful for what I have. While I had a lot of strengths in science and was a physics TA during my undergrad, I shied away from seriously focusing on building a career. I majored in English because I loved literature and critical theory, and because through my family and LDS culture (i.e., all the SAHMs who were my YW leaders and my friends’ moms in Utah), I didn’t think I would ever need a career to provide. I just needed a “just in case” education and career plan. I had wanted to go to medical school, but I reasoned that I would not be able to find an LDS husband who would move wherever I was accepted and thought it would be stressful to have all that student loan debt if I was going to be a SAHM. So, English it was for me. I’ve now been using my “just in case” Mormon woman education to provide for my family for 9 years.

    After grad school, I was lucky to find a job in the technical writing and busienss fields so I could put my husband through law school. I rose through the ranks and became a manager. Now that my husband is unemployed, I am glad that I have my job, but I always think I would have done things a little differently if I had known I would be my family’s primary provider for so long. I’ve got a great job and make a good living, but it came to me more by accident than by assertive choice.

    My husband is getting more education and is a SAHF. He does a great job and has a wonderful relationship with our son. But I ache to be with our son, who has special needs. It’s good to be reminded from you post that I should be proud of my ability to provide, but still, I admit I would like to be at home for a few years.

  5. mraynes says:

    I was the sole provider while my husband completed his doctoral program and I would say it was a joyous experience. I didn’t make a lot of money but I made enough for us to live off of and I loved the work I was doing. When my husband got his first job last year and I became a SAHM I almost immediately fell into a depression, I just did not feel like I was pulling my weight. When I worked I never felt like I nurtured my children any less and I certainly don’t feel like I nurture my children more now that I am a SAHM. Now as a grad student, I can’t wait to be done with my program so that I can go back to providing. I don’t mean to say that you can’t be an equal partner and stay home, just that for me, working even a little bit is what I need to feel good about the role I’m playing in the family. Great post!

  6. Alisa says:

    As far as paying the stay-at-home parent for what they do, I think it would be more insulting for me to pay my husband like he is my employee for the work he does at home. As a manager, I can have a hard enough time taking off my manager hat when I’m at home, and creating an employer-employee relationship with my stay-at-home husband would make it much worse. I mean, if I paid my husband part of my salary so that he would take care of our son, then why would I chip in when I come home from work? Or wouldn’t I have the right to demand that he do the child care in the way I best see fit since I’m the one paying his salary? (Or would he have to pay me back for every diaper I change when I’m at home, or every time I do the dishes?) While I believe there is monetary value to staying at home, you can’t tell me that just because I am the family’s provider that I don’t contribute to the home life as well. I do child development research, I take my son to the doctor, I reserve time for his physical therapy, I pump my breastmilk for him at work, and nurse him at home. I get up at night with him. I do the dishes (most of them!), and I hired a housekeeper to do bi-monthly deep cleans. So I would find that if I had to pay my husband for caring for our child during the day, it would destroy the partnership aspect of our marriage. My husband is not a child care professional, and he’s not a professional companion I hire to hang out with my and rub my shoulders when they’re sore. He is a father. He is a husband. And to me, that’s a lot more valuable than anyone I could hire. I can’t put a price tag on his service, and it only demeans him to try to do that.

    • nat kelly says:

      Alisa, your perspective here is interesting.

      I really sympathize with the reasons behind the movement to pay SAHPs for the work they do. In a situation where women are completely economically dependent on men, it makes more sense. But in an egalitarian marriage, without abuse, it can certainly take on the negative tones you describe.

      My husband takes care of our house now while I work. The income comes in my name, but it is “ours”. I don’t get to decide how to spend it, we do. I don’t think a “salary” is necessary, because they salary I earn is ours.

      • Alisa says:

        I guess I can’t sympathize with women who wish to be made employees of their husbands. Ick (IMHO).

        I think of my salary as my salary, but as the household finances as ours. We share expenses, and we share the means to cover them. But only one of us is employed by my employer, and that’s me.

        I guess I don’t see how making a stay-at-home wife in an already unequal marriage an employee of her husband is going to better things. I think there’s much more chance of equality in a husband-wife partnership, not an employer-employee relationship, particularly when parenting a child is concerned. Should the child be raised feeling like his/her upbringing was such a chore that one parent demanded a salary for a task that no one would do unless they were paid?

        Taxes are another issue. I can pay for child care tax free, but the person providing the services has to pay taxes on their salary (and self-employment taxes are quite high). If my husband and I file our taxes together, there’s no legal way for me to pay him for caring for our child (and any salary about $1,600 a year for any person you employ needs to be reported to the IRS). Financially and tax-wise, it doesn’t make sense for employed spouses to pay their unemployed spouses for work they do at home.

        And what if I were paid for all the work I acutally do in my current situation? Say I wanted our household finances to pay me for all of these things: going to work and earning my current salary, coming home and taking care of our child, housework, yardwork, errands, companionship to my husband, dates, outings with the in-laws, living with my husband 365 days a year, etc. My stay-at-home husband could never afford me as someone to earn a living for him, be a wife, and be a mother, if he treated me like a hired person, as he paying me to go to work for my company would already be a draw. It’s ridiculous to think I should treat him the same way.

        I really don’t think being a mother should be a paid position. I don’t think being a father should be a paid position. I don’t think that’s the road to financial independence for SAHMs, and I think it would do disastrous things to couples and their children, and is just a silly way to divide up the family’s finances (essentially paying taxes twice, and self-employment taxes to boot).

      • Alisa says:

        OK, my husband just brought up a good example that reinforces why I think it would make things worse for SAHMs to be hired employees of their husbands.

        Say I paid him what a foster parent is paid, since it is similar round-the-clock work (it is parenting after all, and my husband is not a child care professional, nor is he certified by the state for professional child care). Right now my husband has equal access to my accounts and the salary I make. But if we negotiated a salary for him to be paid for parenting our child, that would sever equal access and rights to our mutual accounts. Our money would be now divided, and he would only have access to the money I pay him, which I believe in our state foster care is only around $500 a month. That would barely cover his rent for half of our mortgage (which I would of course charge him for if we no longer have a partnership and sharing of mutual resources).

        Another point is, I don’t see how me paying him for stay-at-home work would help him if for some reason he needed to go out to get a job. Parenting is the same skill set whether you are paid for it or not. What would help SAHMs be more secure about providing for their families is getting the education and work experience that would allow them to provide for the family. That’s where security comes from. Because if their husbands are paying them for child care, they’re still going to be completely financially dependant on him and out of luck if divorce or death strikes.

  7. Stephanie2 says:

    If you are a SAHM have you ever thought about being “paid” a portion of the income for your work and then contributing it back into family expenses?

    No. I don’t need to be paid for my work to feel like I am “contributing”.

    For our first two years of marriage, we both attended school and worked, but I made significantly more and basically supported my husband. After our oldest was born, he supports our family. I might work for pay again at some point, but I might not. There are lots of volunteer opportunities I would like to take advantage of, and I appreciate that my husband values that work, too. I don’t feel that earning a paycheck or not earning a paycheck has anything to do with my work or value or contributions to my family or to society.

    I will say, however, that it is very important to me that I can provide for my family if necessary. I do take a lot of pride in my education and career connections, and it does give me a great sense of self worth that I am capable of providing if necessary. After watching my grandmother’s experience (widowed with young children) and mother’s experience (divorced with young children), I would not have been able to stay at home with my kids if I didn’t know I could re-enter the workforce and care for them at any time.

    At this point (10 years out of the workforce), I am taking a look around and figuring out what I can do to increase my marketability again. I might work part-time or volunteer in a particular organizations. I am waiting for enough time and the right opportunity. But, it does weigh heavily on my mind. Not because I feel like my life doesn’t have value if I am not earning money, but because I want to make sure that I really can support my family if necessary.

  8. Kate says:

    Growing up, one of my dad’s biggest goals was to instill in his children a solid work ethic. I’ve had a job for pay since I was was old enough to take out my working papers at 14 (and even before that, working under the table for my dad as a junior accountant, and random babysitting gigs). In high school, my paycheck went immediately to my parents, and I received an “allowance” out of what I paid to them each month.

    When I moved out and on my own at 17, it was taken for granted that I would have to manage paying for my own rent, groceries, utilities, etc. By the time I got married at 25, I’d already had 8 years of living on my own and managing my household.

    My hubby and I have been married for 7 years now, and we have one child. I have worked outside the home for the whole time that we’ve been married. My husband is in school, but he does get a stipend. Still, I’ve consistently made more than twice his salary at work. I can’t say that I have ever been the sole provider for the 3 of us, but my income does do a great deal.

    Over the course of our marriage, we have used various permutations of how we mentally “manage” our paychecks each month: each person’s income “covers” different household expenditures. Initially, the plan was for me to stay at home after our son was born, and so we aimed to live on only my husband’s salary, except for expenses that were exclusively mine (i.e., my healthcare, work-related travel expenses, etc.). After it was decided that I would continue in my career, the rule became that my working outside the home shouldn’t cause us to go into debt (I couldn’t pick childcare that would cost more than my yearly salary, for example).

    At present, theoretically, “my” paycheck covers the expenses of myself and my son, while my husband’s pay covers his expenses, plus the utilities and mortgage. Practically, it doesn’t really make a difference, since all of the money goes into and comes out of the same joint bank account. But at least mentally and emotionally for me, our arrangement has allowed me to feel like I have stake in my family’s expenditures and financial well-being. I feel like I have a lot of leveraging power with regard to my childcare and healthcare choices. I also feel very self-confident that if my husband and I were to ever be apart, I could manage as a single mother.

    I don’t think the way we have done things is the right way for everyone, and there are some slight tweaks I would make on the past if I could have a do-over. But, by and large, this approach has worked very well for my needs. Like most emotional creatures, I like the sense of accomplishment and personal pride that comes from being able to be self-reliant and independent.

  9. kmillecam says:

    This maybe hits a little too close to home for me, since I am sitting here pushing back tears as I read it. I have two small children and stay at home with them full time right now. As my husband (an attorney) and I have grown away from Mormon activity, the gender roles we bought into over the years as part of our identities have been painfully pried away from our relationship. We have had frustrations over why we had children so young, why I didn’t pursue my career seriously, and the good days in the future when our children will be old enough so that I can go back to school and we can both feel more true to ourselves and fulfilled.

    The trick is letting all of that go in the meantime. It’s hard not to get caught up on the “what could have beens” when so many things I thought were true (like being a stay-at-home, mother, wife, support, helpmeet would completely fulfill me) have now been discarded.

    • Ziff says:

      Argh! I’m sorry, k! That sounds hugely frustrating and difficult.

    • Whoa-man says:

      I’m also so sorry. This is such a poignant comment. Thank you.

    • Brooke says:

      K, I felt that way many times when my kids were smaller and I was their sole caregiver while my husband was the sole provider. It was a difficult time, fraught with depression, frustration, and searching for ways to change what we could change (obviously we were going to stick with our marriage and kids :)). Now, it’s six years later and everything feels different. In part, because I just finished a long journey towards earning my Master’s degree.

    • kmillecam says:

      Thanks for all the kind words. I keep reminding myself that things will change, and I can just enjoy this season as much as I can for now. But I have to admit that I am itching to get back to school, though I feel equally terrified at the idea.

      • ZD Eve says:

        K, for whatever comfort it is I’m so vividly remembering the mixed feelings I had when I decided to go back to school almost six years ago. I had actually come to the decision that I was through after my master’s, but then I felt prompted to go on. When I started making plans to do so two different bishops independently questioned my decision. And I found myself increasingly terrified the summer before I started again, sick to my stomach and unable to sleep nights and feeling completely out of my depth, sure I was about to flop on my face, hard and painfully and publicly.

        And yet once I did start, I found a kind of pure joy in it that I had been aching for all the long years I was putting my husband through school. There’s the obnoxious part of school, as there is of every institution. And there are definitely the final exams and other horrid periods when you bang your head on your desk and wonder why, why, why you are tormenting yourself in this fashion. But there is also a power, a pleasure, and a freedom–and a confidence and strength–in learning what you love and what gives you the power to sustain yourself that no misinformed if well-meaning bishop and not even your own fears can take from you.

        Now I have two small kids and it’s a completely different ballgame and I’m really struggling. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do next. But whatever I do, I will never regret any part of my education. It has changed me forever. It lives in me. And the process of gaining an education has become a vital part of my experience of God that I cling to when the institution of the church gets decidedly chilly. I know from the depths of my soul that God wants me to be powerful, to be passionate, to constantly expand my capabilities and my views and my understanding of this world–whatever some small-minded person at church might say to the contrary. That is a great and necessary solace.

        All that said, I really sympathize on the issue of regrets. I have plenty. I try not to dwell on them, but it’s so hard sometimes to review one’s life with the painful clarity of hindsight.

  10. Mommie Dearest says:

    I know exactly what I would have replied to the smug assertion that “women just need to sacrifice more,” though, being a well-bred Mormon woman, I can’t say for sure that I’d have the balls to actually say it out loud in a classroom.

    I made a lot of the same sacrifices he’s asking for; my children are mostly grown and I am starting to try and resuscitate my “career.” I made a conscious effort to not allow myself to be distracted by too much “outside activity” while my children needed my attention, because I knew that their dad, who isn’t a member of the church and doesn’t subscribe to the idea that children should be nurtured, would not be picking up the slack. So I made the sacrifices that this smug jerk seems to think his mother made easily. Because he was so adorable.

    I learned a couple of things he lacks awareness of: One, that these sacrifices are extremely painful to women personally. I think the degree varies because women are individuals, and we all have different circumstances and gifts in being able to either juggle well, or endure shutting off the part of ourselves that needs attention so that we can try to meet the overwhelming demands on our time that children present 24/7 over the course of their childhoods. I see the evidence of this in every women’s blog that I read, it’s standard operating procedure for every woman I know who is a mother. Yes, I know it’s not a good idea to do this for personal health reasons. I don’t recommend it, but we all do it anyway. I never, ever made this pain visible to my children, and no decent mother will. This man’s mother certainly didn’t, and he still hasn’t grown up enough to perceive it without her bluntly telling him.

    The second thing I learned is that no one has the right to ask a woman, or anyone to do this. The sacrifices are so great and personal, that no one, other than the mother herself (or father–they are called on to do this too) has any business deciding that this is what is necessary for the sake of the children. You find yourself presented with these pressing critical demands that never end, and there’s no one to fill this great maw of need but you, so you are called upon to decide what has to be done. It’s no surprise that such a blithe statement made by someone who has never been conscious of what it means for a woman to “sacrifice more” would stir up the hearts of every mother within hearing. I don’t think I could have kept the anger out of my voice while I tried to filter the swear words out of my reply.

    I hope you’ll forgive me for not filtering the anger out of my comment here.

    • Stephanie2 says:

      Great comment, Mommie Dearest.

    • Ziff says:

      I agree, Stephanie. Great comment, Mommie Dearest!

      I learned a couple of things he lacks awareness of: One, that these sacrifices are extremely painful to women personally.

      I know this is probably trivially obvious, but it’s so easy to ask (require?) some sacrifice of someone else if you know you’ll never have to go through it yourself. This seems to apply well to a surprising number of issues on which men like to command women. Childbearing leaps to mind. And in a much less central issue, I was just reading a discussion at fMh where Emily A. pointed out that it’s asking a lot more of women to wear Sunday dress to a devotional in the winter than it is asking of men, given that skirts don’t warm your legs as well as dress pants do.

      Anyway, a bit tangential, but I just wanted to voice support for your point here.

    • Whoa-man says:

      Perfect. I wish you were in class with me!

  11. spunky says:

    This is a very interesting post!

    When I hit 18, I was on my own. I resented it at first, but then found it to be a virtue. I usually went to school part time and work a combination of part time or full time jobs in order to make rent, etc. The funny thing is– I SWEAR– some Mormon men were more interested in dating me because I was self-sufficient. I seriously cannot tell you the number of guys who asked me out and on the first date either a) asked how I was able to do a budget without my parents’ help (these were often RM’s) and b) asked if I was interested in “putting my husband though school”. Seriously. Neither type of guy impressed me– after all, if I was self-sufficient, why should my partner be as well? But perhaps this is the basis of the stats in the post, we want to be with someone who is equal to our drive, motivation, etc and we do not want to be used either financially or as a type of foreordained indentured servitude.

    I married older, and at this point, my husband makes a substantial amount more of an income that I do. But, because of my experience, I learned how to budget, I knew the value of work and income, and how to be disciplined enough to look after myself financially (I honestly think many people do not learn or recognise this as this self discipline). As a result, I have only worked part time since marriage, budgeted well and have been able to indulge in post-graduate work. Luckily and because I learned these skills- I am now in a position where I am being paid to stay at home and work on a doctorate full time. I think of the many students (male and female) I knew who did correspondence coursework and failed it or did it all at the last second, and I wonder—if they couldn’t gage their lives to complete a home study class, how could they balance a career or a household? There is a self discipline that is gained in being able to provide for one’s-self, and a degree of empathy of the burden that my husband has at the moment in primarily providing for us. (even though I have an income, he has work politics that I do not have to deal with).

    I think all of this—the empathy, the self discipline, the knowledge and the knowledge that I can financially care for myself (and my husband) makes my marriage significantly stronger and more egalitarian than many of the marriages around us- which are primarily not LDS. So suffice to say, not only am I capable of providing for myself, I think I have a better capacity to support my marriage because of the principle of self-sufficiency that I gained in providing for myself independent of parents, government help, or marriage.

  12. nat kelly says:

    Wow, I can’t imagine how frustrating that Sunday School class was. I think I’d go crazy!

    Figuring out who will provide and who will take care of the kids is such a challenge. Right now, I’m able to make more money for the two of us. But we don’t have any kids yet, and my income would definitely not cover a whole family. Will we both have to earn an income simultaneously to make it work?

    Someday, I want to do work that is very meaningful for me. I’ll be able to make a living doing it too, but it’s incredibly demanding, with long hours and lots of time away from home. It is anything but family friendly. But it’s important. I’m excited for it.

    Then I think about having a baby – it would be so hard to leave! It would be so hard to miss out on a single moment in those first few years! I feel so bad for the generations of men that were always expected to leave, regardless of how they felt. My husband and I both want to take time off to raise our kids, but we don’t see how that will be financially possible.

    Unless we follow our pipe dreams and flee to Sweden. 🙂

  13. ssj says:

    In one of my classes, we read a book called when Partners Become Parents (yes, I majored in Human Development/Family Studies). It went over a lot of research about the multiple roles women have. It said that women that have more roles (ie mother, worker, etc.) have higher self esteem and are happier.

    I have been the primary provider throughout the entire four years of being married. I have purposely gone into a field that will give me the opportunity to work during the school year only. I like to work and I want to work, and working only part of the year will give me the chance to spend more time with the little ones when they arrive. I really wouldn’t mind if my husband changed his career to education as well so we could both be off a lot. For me, I would rather live on less with both of us working part-time, then have a husband that works 60 hours a week and be the sole provider.

  14. nat kelly says:

    Btw, I can’t get the link to the article in the OP to work. It sounds very interesting. I’ve tried in Mozilla Firefox and in Google Chrome. Can you give us the URL?

  15. ZD Eve says:

    You know, just once before I die, I want to see a young woman confidently raise her hand in a church setting and expound the pure doctrine of male sacrifice. When men express the desire to pursue occupations they enjoy and find meaningful and not necessarily those that make the most money, or to spend more time with their families, she could explain in no uncertain terms that these ideas of that big baddy The World that men can have it all are directly responsible for the increased marital strife of our time. “My father,” she could explain to the quiet young men who might have been misled by The World but are now raptly absorbing her wisdom, “never wanted to be anything but a provider. He sacrificed all his time and his health making money for his children, and he was happy.”

    Then, like Simeon and Anna of old, I could depart this life in peace.

  16. ZD Eve says:

    Also, I’d like to fill this comment box up with “amens” to Mommie Dearest.
    (It’s been a rough day on the kid homefront. I feel as if I’m being trampled to death by shrieking, crayon-throwing, snot-pouring reindeer.)

  17. Ziff says:

    Jump ahead six years and it is still scary, but just as I was unprepared for the terror of providing for a family I was equally unprepared for the joy. Strangely I have never heard anyone (male or female) talk about this feeling before. Are men just raised to expect it? Do they even notice it? Are they “keeping” it from us?

    I don’t know that I’ve ever felt this as a joy, but I’ve definitely felt tremendous fear about being able to provide for my family. It’s lessened, as my wife is such a can-do person that she gives me confidence that we can make do some way or another regardless of what bad things may happen, and as I’ve actually finished school and been lucky enough to find my first real job. But the fear always lurks in the back of my mind, and sometimes, when it’s late at night and I can’t sleep, it moves to the front.

    • ZD Eve says:

      But the fear always lurks in the back of my mind, and sometimes, when it’s late at night and I can’t sleep, it moves to the front.

      Haunting, Ziff.

      I do think that in an ideal marriage the two people complement each other, strengthen and supplement each other in all the work to be done (providing, homemaking, childrearing) and constantly keep working out the divisions of labor work best for them. And in an ideal world no one has to face these immense tasks alone. Of course, we’re very far from an ideal world–a lot of people do have to face these tasks alone, one reason a good extended family and a good ward and other such support networks are so vital. But excessively rigid gender roles just seem like an impediment to that process that should occur in every marriage.

      When I think about it, almost every couple I know evidences that fluidity in some way, large or small. In some ways I’m in an extremely gender traditional situation. My husband is a fearlessly entrepreneurial soul, and he’s constantly coming up with new financial schemes and dreams–starting businesses, investing, buying and rehabbing rental properties. I’m beyond terrible at that kind of thing, but I think I make a decent SAHM. (No aspirations to be more than decent.) I provide my kids with daily structures and routines and make decisions about their discipline and education. I do all the daily cooking and cleaning and laundry. And I’m the one who introduces them to the arts and books and reads to them.

      On the other hand, my husband cooks all the holiday meals. Nothing makes him happier than doing a giant turkey. He does all our home decorating (kind of fun, since everyone always compliments me on it. 😉 ). He loves nothing more than painting and decorating a room. I hate it. And I preside, since my husband’s an atheist. I direct and provide all the spiritual practice and education in our home. If I don’t, no one will.

      The very few couples I know that do absolutely everything by the book–father presides and provides, mother homemakes and nurtures, no exceptions nohow–seem pretty miserable.

    • Whoa-man says:

      I don’t think this haunting fear or burden of providing solo or pressure to choose a specific career is discussed enough for men. I have to admit I have SO much more empathy now. I don’t think the church prepares either sex for fulfilling roles if they are so one-sided.

  18. Corktree says:

    As one who is pursuing something that is more personally fulfilling than financially successful, I feel the panic of never adding to our security. I look forward to at least contributing, but I also know that because my husband does such a fabulous job providing (and claims that it’s neither a stress nor a joy?), that I have the luxury of choosing a life and career path that match my aspirations and ideals, and that I will be able to do it as a service to others and not just myself. And sadly, I think my outlook in how I pursue my end goal would be different if I had the added pressure of getting paid enough to make a difference with it.

    Interestingly, the path I was originally pursuing was one that would have set me up as the majority income provider (had I gone traditional), but it was precisely the cost of getting to that point that made me stop when it became clear that my family goals were usurping my career ones at the time. Aside from the insane time commitment of medical school and residency, I couldn’t imagine burdening anyone but myself with that debt. I’m not sure if that was pride or insecurity even now, but I do know that I don’t like the tipped scale and that in an ideal world, I would be able to pull my equal fiscal weight.

    And I’ll add another Amen to Mommie Dearest.

  19. ZD Eve says:

    One of the things that makes me absolutely crazy about YW and seminary, looking back on it now, is that I learned that there were two kinds of women: good godfearing homemaker women who stayed home with their kids, and bad selfish career women who pursued their bad selfish careers. Since we were all going to be good godfearing homemaker women, of course, there was no reason to talk about vocation or career. At all. Ever. And the only reason to talk about developing one’s talents was in a strictly decorative or personal entertainment sense. To consider one’s talents and inclinations and how they might lead to education and careers that could be remunerative was unfeminine in the highest degree. The only reason for a woman to plan a career was pride, pride, pride.

    As a result, I got no vocational help whatsoever and sustained a fair amount of damage. By the time I was in late elementary school, anytime I even ventured to mention that I might want to be a [chemist, geologist, writer, professional violinist, spy for the CIA] I was quickly shot down. How was I going to be a mother if I were a [chemist, geologist, writer, professional violinist, spy for the CIA]? By my senior year in high school, at my obligatory vocational meeting with my guidance counselor, I was mumbling something about being a music teacher until I got married because that was an appropriately feminine sort of thing, what I was supposed to do. Even as I forced the appropriate words out, I despaired. I hated the idea of teaching music to little kids more than I could say. By the time I was in college discovering whole new intellectual worlds that I adored, I was having sobbing prayers in which I asked God why he had made me love what I loved and made me have to give it all up because I was a woman. It seemed the height of cruelty.

    If I were in YW now, the first thing I would do–the very first–would be to rip. that. stupid. manual. up. (OK, not in front of the girls. Actually, the first thing I would do would be to get on the beginnings new blog and find ways to make those horrid little lessons bearable and meaningful. Those women are doing a fantastic job.) When I hear that the General YW presidency is doing random things like climbing Ensign peak and planting virtue flags and strengthening home and family and launching pink campaigns, I have to grit my teeth and remind myself that I’m sure they’re lovely people working under terrible constraints.

    But if we take our own gender rhetoric seriously, young women are going to be doing THE most important work there is on this earth. They’re going to be saving souls. They do not have time for four lessons in a row on new ways to honor the priesthood. They do not have time or energy to waste on trivia like whether or not their manuals are pink enough and whether or not they’re girly enough. They definitely don’t need any training in taking responsibility for priesthood holders’ lustful thoughts. And they certainly don’t need endless lessons on how to be more decorative.

    What these girls need is the strongest foundation in personal devotional spirituality, vocational education, and homemaking and life skills we can give them. They need to be addressed as subjects, not as the objects of others’ desires–modesty and chastity and beauty are for _you_, girls, to permit you to be comfortable with yourselves, confident, and strong, and capable of saying no to men and setting limits with them. Let the priesthood holders across the hall solve their own problems. And girls need to learn _everything_ they can, spiritually, vocationally, and practically. Of course the particular combination of education and skills required for individual lives is going to vary. But to leave vocational education out of the pictures on some crazy notion that it’s prideful, selfish, and unfeminine is economic and spiritual suicide. It’s so obvious it shouldn’t have to be repeated, but I constantly encounter people in the church who seem completely unaware that they are no longer living in a world where any girl can plan on being a full-time homemaker her entire life.

    In short, as a church and as women we simply cannot afford femininity. It’s way too costly.

    (Needless to say, I won’t be in YW anytime soon because my bishop is afraid of me and wouldn’t let me near his precious daughters with a ten-foot pole. 😉 )

    Wow, that was a novel. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest!

    • Whoa-man says:

      I often feel that way too! I feel like I was always a “good” LDS girl and choosing feminism, career, equal marriage, etc. turned me into a “bad” LDS woman. It was/is sad (and especially hard to choose if you are so used to being “good.”)

    • Ziff says:

      Wow, Eve! Wonderful comment! Can I have you teach in YW by special request when my daughter is old enough to go?

    • Caroline says:

      Love this comment, Eve!!

    • Marilyn says:

      “One of the things that makes me absolutely crazy about YW and seminary, looking back on it now, is that I learned that there were two kinds of women: good godfearing homemaker women who stayed home with their kids, and bad selfish career women who pursued their bad selfish careers.”

      Have hope. I’m 25, married for almost 4 years, with no children (gasp!), I’m a dentist, and my bishop asked me to be the Young Women’s president. I guess he never got the memo that I’m one of those bad career women. 🙂 He even asked my husband to work with the young men. I men what kind of a spineless guy would marry someone like me, and be allowed to work with YM?! 🙂

      • ZD Eve says:

        Thanks for all the kind words on my rant!

        Marilyn, I’m heartened to hear there are enlightened bishops out there like yours. I so wish I could know that you, or someone like you, would be running the YW program when my daughter hits it in a decade or so.

    • Ryan says:

      I have seen the impact of the ‘good homemaker’ script play out in vastly different ways in the lives of my sisters. There is something like a 13 year gap between my oldest and youngest sisters (the youngest is a senior in college), so I find the significant changes in the message(s) they have received from YW rather remarkable. The older sister was taught she’d grow up and marry a nice return missionary in the temple and live happily ever after. Needless to say, the failure of the story to play out as scripted caused no small amount of stress in her life. Conversely, my youngest sister is applying soon to a Masters program (incidentally, the same one as the middle sister) to the delight and approval of any and everyone.
      I don’t doubt that the ‘good homemaker’ narrative still looms large, but we also hear a ‘lot’ more nowadays about the innate goodness of women getting an education (and not simply so they can turn around and teach the rising generation). And we also see professional Mormon women celebrated in Church-approved venues. Witness the videos. So I admit I’m intrigued by how much criticism of the YW program (or other women’s issues in the church) I find on feminist-oriented sites. I wonder if the question of whether a given issue will bother someone or not isn’t somehow related to one’s age/generation. My youngest sister’s generation (or at least my youngest sister) can’t access the ‘good homemaker’ script as a stick with which to beat the church as, apparently, older sisters can.
      Please note that by saying this I do not intend to dismiss or belittle anyone’s experience.

    • A Francis Chisholm says:

      ZDE, I am a Bishop and I would love to have you serve in our YW. Your thoughts and insights are the ones that I seek to have our YW and YM taught and, more than taught, modeled and personified. It seems clear to me that you are describing our understanding of Christ’s gospel message to his children, female or male. Personal choice and personal consequences (including boys can’t blame girls for boys’ thoughts/actions and vice versa). Develop your talents, serve others, focus on your unique situation, don’t let culture override truth, don’t believe that someone else’s strongly, even passionately held views of what your gender should mean limit your capacity. It is your lifelong, and eternal, purpose to find out the marvelous capacity you have to do good in whatever you are capable of doing and you find that out in personal consultation with a loving God and with your husband/wife, if you have one. Don’t limit your view of your worth and ability by what other, generally, but not always, well meaning folks around you, in your ward and otherwise, have to say. Listen, weigh and decide for yourself. This is not merely about working for a wage or staying home. Those are only steps along the way. It is something much greater and more exciting and that is the gospel we should be teaching.
      I have daughters and would definitely opt for your messages to ring in their ears as they leave church each Sunday (and Wednesday). Thanks for saying it so well.

    • smug myself, I know says:

      That really does sound like a lot of pride actually. But you’re passionate and you love the girls. Why not try to integrate the concept of of the “manual” in a faithful way that helps show YW they can focus on what really matters in life and still find fulfillment in other sources? Or you could just almost-literally throw the baby out with the bathwater in pursuit of XYZ. Perhaps your answers aren’t the one’s the Lord wants applied to everyone, but rather he would like you to find a way to take your answers and make them a part of the whole that we almost must discover in our own person plan of Salvation. Or just rant and rip stuff up and feel self-righteous and smug about doing something “right”.

  20. CatherineWO says:

    I have too many deep-seated feelings (and lots of hurt) surrounding this topic to be able to add anything concrete to the conversation, but I want to give you all a round of applause–heck, make that a standing ovation.
    Mommie Dearest and ZD Eve, I echo your feelings. Thank you!

  21. Apame says:

    A couple months ago, I was talking with my husband on a lazy Saturday morning. Out of the blue, I turned to him and, with an ever so slight feeling that someone, somewhere was going to disapprove, said, “Husband, I just want you to know that I really would like to never be completely financially dependent on you.”

    Husband was like, “Um, ok. Cool. Was that actually something you were afraid to tell me?”

    And I was like, “Weirdly…yes.” (Weirdly because this man is the most supportive-of-my-education/career person I’ve ever known)

    Anyway, the main point is that even after getting two graduate degrees, being married to this man for almost 3 years now, absoLUTEly adoring my job (in environmental GIS), and being openly encouraged by my work-mates and husband to totally “go for it” when it comes to career…I still get this feeling of fear when I think about actually doing it all. Not a fear of losing myself to the world or a fear of my children being neglected and becoming drug addicts or a fear that my marriage might fall apart or a fear that I’ll be supremely unhappy if I’m not fulfilling my culturally prescribed divine role….it’s just the lame-o fear that “someone, somewhere” might disapprove.

    And I’m starting to finally realize how paranoid and idiotic it is to ever let that kind of fear determine how your life ends up–and how many women I know probably are just like me in how they let that fear into their minds under the guise of it being “the truth.” No–actually, you’re just afraid of being unaccepted. (By the way, I think this can actually go both ways. I know friends who aren’t LDS who want to be SAHMs but are afraid of their friends disapproving as well as LDS friends like me who want careers but have the same fear. However, I’d say that by FAR there are fewer of these fearful non-LDS friends than the LDS ones.) Point is: the social-pressure fear is dumb and silly.

    As an addendum, I remember having this conversation (which I’ve truncated) with my mother when I had just started college:

    Mom: “So, are you excited for college?”
    Me: “Yes! I want to be a professor. I want to get a PhD.”
    Mom: “Don’t you want to be…a Mom?”
    Me: “Uh…I don’t understand. I didn’t know that people went to college to be moms, I thought they went to college so they could get things like PhDs.”

    In that vein, I’ve really been baffled at how my mother has always been so proud of anything biggish I’ve accomplished in my school/career and likes to brag all over town about it–but then she’ll make me feel guilty for doing the things that made those accomplishments possible…

    Mixed messages!

    • Whoa-man says:

      I’ve had mixed messages my entire life. Why is that?

    • Ziff says:

      I wonder if it’s just that the givers of the mixed messages (your mom, et al.) are themselves more ambivalent than they let on, and they see value in what you’re doing and have done even while they listen to Church rhetoric that says it’s only second best.

    • We need to stop sending our daughters messages about false dichotomies. When I speak to YW in my ward I get so tired of hearing things like, “I’m not really interested in going on a mission; I want to get married.” or “College isn’t really for me, I just want to be a mom.”


      How is it that with all the wonderful things available in life our youth feel like this a multiple choice question with only one right answer. Real life is more like an essay question. Instead of telling our kids life should look like X, Y or Z, we need to teach them to listen to the Spirit so that they each achieve the best life possible.

  22. Whoa-man says:


    I’m traveling with family and sneaking in glimpses of your comments in between eggnog and family feuds. They are amazing. I agree with so many of you and think it is such a complicated issue.

    It was so shocking to me to realize that providing made me feel good. For my entire life I’d been told about the joy of motherhood and not once the joy of providing. YES it was/is/can be also a huge scary burden but so can motherhood.

    Thanks again!

  23. Jesse says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I read that paper a few weeks ago, as well. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I’m heading back to work in January after a 3-year hiatus. A complicated pregnancy and the resulting medically fragile child consumed all of my time for the first two of those years…and landed my family on welfare.

    The past year has been spent applying for every job that looked remotely do-able…and then some that looked not so do-able. I am so glad that we will be off welfare. My sense of responsibility took a huge hit when I realized I had to say, “We cannot provide for our family.”

  24. Deborah says:

    What a wonderful conversation. Eve’s last comment brought to mind this poignant post from Jana about financial independence:

    For the first time this year, I have begun to resent that my vocation — k-12 education — does not pay more. After 13 years of incredible devotion (including spending a chunk of my own money for classroom supplies and books each year), I make … not much more than I did ten years ago. Sheer love of the work has sustained me for a long time. Is it selfish to wish that this (female-dominated) occupation paid better?

  25. I’m enjoying reading the posts here, those I agree with wholeheartedly and otherwise. But, honestly, one of the most frustrating things on LDS blogs is that so many people — with some profound thoughts and ideas — hide behind pseudonyms.

    Yes, I know there is a cost to standing behind your words (I’ve been blogging for over eight years and writing on the internet since 1994). But I honestly think that until we do, there will be no change.

    We are just nameless, faceless people ranting and raving on the internet and aren’t distinguishable from the millions of people who will say nasty things about their bosses or friends or relatives — since no one will ever know who they are.

    I’ve been amazed at how many people approach me to talk about women’s issues and other things I’ve been open about BECAUSE they know who I am and feel safe to talk to me. But no one else in the ward has any idea how they feel. And there are MANY of them. But they all feel alone.

    Anyway, I really appreciate your thoughts and insights and frustrations. I just think, at some point, we have to put our faces to our words and let the chips fall where they may.

  26. What a great piece. My husband and I have tried every combination–dual, professional incomes; SAHM-ing during my first post-partum months; I’ve provided when we had two kids and husband went back to school; part time work (professional and otherwise) anywhere from 5-35 hours a week. We decided early on that it was nonsensical for my husband to work full time and part time (as we saw so many other couples do) while I stayed home. Not the least of those reasons being that I love work and feared going crazy if I didn’t have that kind of outlet. Despite his own, traditional upbringing, my husband embraced my need for fulfillment outside the home and we’ve been able to make all kinds of arrangements work, including my husband’s career in a field he enjoys where the pay is traditionally low. The blessings for us as a couple have been remarkable. I feel like my husband is a true partner in every sense of the word, with few jobs in and around our home being permanently assigned to any one gender. Having no daughters, I’m especially glad for my husband’s example to our sons when it comes to laundry, ironing, dishes, cooking, toilet-scrubbing . . . .

    Last week I was listening to a program called “Conversations” that is done by the Church. Elder Holland and his wife were interviewed and I was struck by how much of their life trials mimicked people in my own generation–struggling college students, a car that hardly worked, a cross-country move for graduate school, etc. etc. They spoke of their time at Yale in the 1960’s. Sister Holland spoke about feminism as a concept and insisted that she believed women could accomplish anything they wanted and should get equal pay for equal work, but that she couldn’t advocate any course that didn’t consider what was best for the children. Elder Holland added that any philosophy that encouraged people OUT of the home–men and women–was terribly misguided. He insisted that men too needed to be more home centered and share a more equal burden of responsibilities within the home. I loved the idea that as we make decisions as a couple we should not say “what makes us look the most like our neighbors, or an idealized LDS family circa 1957” but instead, “what is best for our family as a whole?” At different times and stages, that might be a very different answer.

    • Caroline says:

      science teacher,
      I loved reading about your life and the way you and your husband have navigated gender roles. I find that kind of flexibility inspiring and hope that more LDS couples will find ways to make the family work for them personally.

  27. Marjorie Conder says:

    I just wanted to agree with Allison about the power of using our real names. I think it is part of holding up the light for others. And for the record exactly nothing “dreadful” has happened to me because of it.

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