About two years ago parents and youth in our stake were invited to a fireside with our beloved Stake President. Our daughter had just turned 13, and we left the younger kids with our 11 year old and we both attended with her. The main thing I got out of the meeting was that we should stress the importance of marriage to our youth – missionaries should be getting married after their missions. Even though they are now coming home at 20 or 21, our church leaders feel that no time should be wasted in finding an eternal companion and settling down.
I was really kind of appalled. He asserted that it is better for our young people to marry and start their family life together right away. Apparently there are returned missionaries that move back home with their parents and play video games all the time – and this is why we are getting this counsel. I guess married life may be beneficial for many young men, but I argue that it is not beneficial for young women. Why? Because when they are married, the church machine expects them to prioritize their husband’s education and career above her own. Not only that, but his interests and well-being, as well as those of any future children, are expected to take center stage for the next several decades of her life. He may have an easier time finishing school and working when he has someone keeping house and feeding him, but what about her?
NO! I rebelled in my mind. I do not want my daughter to marry too young. Why? Because I was married too young – and it made me miserable for years! I became engaged the week I turned 20. I was married 3 months later. I went through the temple the night before my wedding, and the first sealing I attended was my own. I gave myself to my husband, before I learned that he would not be giving himself to me in return. I covenanted to submit before I knew that was what would be required in the temple. I entered into marriage with the first worthy priesthood holder I could get the attention of. After all, most of my conditioning in my early years of church had directed me toward that goal. I was to get a man who could take me to the temple and then make babies. This was supposed to be the best thing I could do with my life and make me supremely happy – and I embraced it with my entire being.
Early marriage was more that challenging. Because my husband hadn’t lived at home since before his mission and really wanted one last summer with his family,he convinced me to marry right after winter semester and live the summer with his parents. No one counseled me against it. Within the first week of married life, I found my husband would run off with his siblings without consulting or informing me . When I told him that made me feel like he didn’t care if I was there or not, he said “I don’t”. This was among the most hurtful comments he made. I felt trapped. I couldn’t let my temple marriage fail, so I tried harder. I knew no one in the entire state and had a hard time getting a worthwhile summer job. We both ended up working and saved up some money, but then our lemon of a car died on our way back across the country to Provo and we spent pretty much all we had saved on the repairs.
We had no money, in fact my husband was saddled with a large student debt. Back at BYU in the fall, we began to tackle that. He would take out no more student loans. I made sure we both worked to pay off his previous loans as well as continuing to pay for school (he had never worked while going to school before). But that meant rarely seeing each other. I worked mornings, attended school and was home by 6. He attended school and worked evenings, often until midnight.I managed to finish school, and was morning sick with my first child at graduation.
For the next 15 years I have been home having many babies and caring for the household. My husband had another 7 years of school after me, and still he doesn’t make much money. We buy our kids’ clothes second hand and eat a lot of rice and beans. It is not impossible to be happy when you are poor, but the church emphasizes prosperity for the righteous.
For years I blamed myself for my unhappiness. I bought into the myth I was raised on – that obeying everything taught by the brethren would make me happy. I struggled with depression, but felt it was due to my unworthiness. I tried to comply with every commandment and counsel, then tried harder and harder. Meanwhile I was saddled with guilt, growing depression, and anxiety that poisoned my marriage and my life. I took to heart every statement about selfishness and figuratively whipped myself about my pride. I continually felt my unhappiness was because I wasn’t righteous and unselfish enough.
It is only in the last 2 years I have decided that in spite of doing a decent job of compliance, and still being miserable that I had been sold a fairy tale. The script I was conditioned to follow was not a magic recipe for happiness. Only now have I given myself permission to not listen to every piece of advice I hear over the pulpit and punish myself for wanting something else. Trying to obey perfectly nearly killed me. I let it erase me and silenced my own desires – always trying to please God in the way I was told. Now I am committed to letting myself be a person again. I am finally getting medical attention for the depression I’ve carried for my entire adult life. Now I will give myself a voice in my life and not tell my children to blindly obey authority, as I was taught.
I am so tired of the glorification of early marriage and martyr motherhood. There is nothing innately galvanizing in beginning life together in poverty or suffering through each other’s immaturity. Marriage is hard enough. I hope my own daughter will not marry until she feels ready. Not have children until she wants to. Not listen to the brethren unless she happens to agree. I will encourage her to seek answers to her own questions to plan her own life.