(Career) Woman Interrupted
New Year’s Eve party. Old friends. Some strangers. Fascinating careers: federal prosecutor, child life specialist, rocket scientist, producer, nurse … and those were the women. Most of my close friends are either still single, married recently, or have found alternative ways to structure their families. Yet, in so much of the LDS world, women are expected to give up their careers, if not upon marrying, definitely when they have their first child. For those women who have no desire to have a career outside the home, this would seem to pose no problem. However, this strict cultural tradition is very problematic for those women who find fulfillment and joy in doing what they’ve expended time and talent to learn to do. In the LDS world, should a woman be expected to give up her life to be a wife?
When I was in Young Women’s. I had my life mapped out. I would go to college, get a degree. Work for six years, and get sealed at the age of 28-30. At which point I would quit my job, and lavish love and attention on my husband and the numerous children who would come to bless our home. Sounds just about perfect, doesn’t it?
While in college, I remember a humanities class that touched on the subject of women’s depression, and how some women felt isolated from the world at large after becoming stay at home mothers. This puzzled me, and the next weekend I was home, I remember asking my mother if she had ever felt this way. She gave me a rueful smile, and asked if I remembered her crying a lot when I was young. I started to say no, then hesitated, as a couple buried memories surfaced in my mind. We then had a very frank talk about my mother’s life as a mother.
My mother had trained in a field that gave her a lot of independence at a relatively early age in Japan. And as she was in Japan, and had a very nurturing mother, she did not assume many traditionally feminine tasks until after her marriage to my father. When she was in her early twenties, she journeyed to the US for some additional training and met my father. After returning to Japan, a pan-Pacific letter campaign, and another journey to the US, they were married when she was 27. I arrived on the scene four years later, and my first brother three years after me. My mother continued in her line of work until I was about two or three, then settled into being a fulltime wife and mother for the next eight or so years. My memories of her apart from me are hazy during this time. I think I was pretty self-absorbed. When my youngest brother started school, my mother had a very frank talk with my father. She told him that she needed to get out of the house for a bit. They counseled together and did some research. She took some classes, got some training, and started part time work in a field that she continue to be active in today. She worked when we were in school, and was there after school to shuttle us around music lessons, sports groups and church activities. Three years later, my mother found a job in her original field of work (at the same company as my father), and continues there to this day, after my father’s retirement. She continues to work full time at this job, and still do seasonal work in the field she trained in when I was young, from which everyone in my family benefits. And although she hates wrangling with office politics and pettiness, I know that she finds a great deal of satisfaction in her work.
I would like to clarify that I never felt unloved by my mother. I knew that she fiercely loved her children. And I never felt unimportant to her. It was a heavy load, working full time and still bearing the majority of the homemaking and child rearing responsibilities. However, I also knew that having some self-specific time to develop her technical abilities helped her to be a better mother and wife. I also believe that the time she and my father spent together as a result of work helped to strengthen their marriage as a couple. We were also lucky that my maternal grandmother stayed at least half of every year with us, and was able to help with the practicalities of running the household. And, we children were assigned chores to help run the household as well.
And so, it’s with a hint of suspicion that I question the Proclamation on the Family. Not because I don’t think children deserve stable families, but because I’ve seen first hand how families can adapt to fill the needs of the individual members. One size definitely doesn’t fit all. I am happy for those women who are able to invest everything in their homes and not need to seek for things beyond it. However, I would also like to see some recognition of the needs (emotional, intellectual, professional, etc) of women who may not be able to devote everything to the home.
I work in a woman- dominated field. There are women at all stages of life in nursing. Single, married, young, old, mothers, non-mothers. Some work days, some work nights, full time, part time, per diem. And there are so many successful personalized solutions to the wife (and mother) issue, that I can’t help but wish that we could make more room for women with careers (who may or may not have children) in the mormon world. Chieko Okazaki is the only well-known woman I can think of in the LDS church. And, much as one may or may not hate her politics, Nancy Pelosi started her career in politics after her youngest child became a high school senior.
How about men who are better full-time dads than career men? Sure, it isn’t for everyone, but there are some families for whom this is a good solution. I don’t want to make people feel like they should go against their natural inclination, but would like to see a “best fit” mentality that allows for tailoring general rules (children need attentive parents) to specific needs of individual families.
I don’t have practical solutions … I’m single and have no children. But I would love to hear how families are dealing with finding ways to make things work. Please suppress the urge to post demeaning or belittling comments, as they will be deleted.