Motherhood May Be Hazardous to Your Health

LDS teachings on motherhood are incomplete. Here’s what I wish I had been taught before having children.

As a struggling parent to a newborn and a toddler, I visited the home of a friend and poured out my heart about how defeated, unqualified, broken, and alone I felt as a mother. She listened with empathy and offered words of support. Her teenage daughter was listening in and quietly asked, “If it’s so bad all the time,” she mused, “why doesn’t someone tell women it’s going to be that way before they have babies? To help you prepare?”

“Oh honey,” my friend replied to her daughter and to me, “If we told you how just bad motherhood was going to be, nobody would ever do it.”

*****

Like other Young Women growing up in the LDS church, I was constantly taught about motherhood, often at the exclusion of other topics like education, career, and personal growth.  My friend perfectly identified the bait-and-switch I later felt about motherhood. After having infertility problems, a few miscarriages, a stillbirth, and a few children, I learned the hard way that what I had been told about motherhood in church was only one small side of motherhood, and I was severely lacking in information about the complete picture.

The lack of informed consent about motherhood can have catastrophic consequences for some women, as crucial features of child bearing and raising go unaddressed in church discourse at the expense of overemphasizing others. While some women may find many church teachings about motherhood helpful and comforting, others are troubled by the limits and inaccuracies presented.

This lopsided lens of looking at LDS motherhood can saddle women with innumerous struggles and challenges, including guilt, shame, depression, anxiety, perfectionism and frustration.

Of the hundreds of women I’ve spoken to about their concepts and beliefs about motherhood, a vast majority have internalized the remarks made by general authorities as the correct and true way to be a Mormon mother, and that any deviations from those ideals are a sign of unrighteousness or error.Church leaders regularly address women as the target demographic for their remarks, both in General and Women’s sessions of General Conference.  Over the last 20 years, male General Authorities include teachings about motherhood in nearly 60% of the talks they direct to women.  By contrast, female General Officers of the church teach women about motherhood in only 18% of talks.*

When male general authorities emphasize motherhood so frequently, everyone hears that being a mother is a woman’s defining essence, and the main contribution she brings to the church.  This limiting view prevents leaders and members from seeing women as anything else.

In their talks to women about motherhood, church leaders’ remarks tend to fall within the same dominant categories. I identify these categories and follow with my commentary about the inherent limits represented in the teaching.  

  1. Motherhood is every woman’s divine identity and role in life and in eternity
    Our Heavenly Father’s great plan of happiness tells you who you are and the purpose of your life. Latter-day Saint women understand that being a mother is their highest priority, their ultimate joy.” Oaks 2018

While many women look forward to raising children, it is erroneous to conclude that every woman’s core identity is her role as a mother. Motherhood is a relationship, not an identity.  Motherhood may be a piece of a woman’s life, but womanhood as an identity is larger in scope and includes many things a woman can do and be independent of her maternal status. Many women lead happy, fulfilling, and productive lives without opportunity or desire for motherhood.  All of us should see their paths as valid, not “less than ideal.”

  1. Mothers admired for self-sacrificing, seen as virtuous for putting the needs of others before her own
    “While I do not know all the Lord’s reasons for giving primary responsibility for nurturing in the family to faithful sisters, I believe it has to do with your capacity to love. It takes great love to feel the needs of someone else more than your own. “Eyring 2018
    “The effectiveness of God’s plan in the lives of His children hangs to a large degree on the character, the never-ending, bone-wearying work, and the faith of righteous mothers.” Sheri Dew

Assuming or encouraging women to perpetually put aside their own needs and sacrifice for the needs of others is unhealthy and unsustainable. To expect a mother to disregard her own health to the point of weariness indicates that her support system of partners, family members, friends or ward members are falling short of providing her adequate relief or care.

  1. Motherhood is the definition of womanhood, regardless of whether or not a woman has children
    “Please note that anytime I use the word mother, I am not talking only about women who have given birth or adopted children in this life. I am speaking about all of our Heavenly Parents’ adult daughters. Every woman is a mother by virtue of her eternal divine destiny.” Nelson 2018

To quote Trudy’s post about this, “The concept of a non-mother woman is so foreign that people feel the need to find ways to reassure childless women that they’re mothers, too – because if they’re not mothers, their womanhood is called into question. Equating womanhood and motherhood has several problematic implications: It devalues the hard work and sacrifice of mothers by saying it’s just part of femaleness and not really anything they did….It devalues the hard work and sacrifice of non-mothers by saying that our actual lives are meaningless so in order to give our lives meaning, we have to pretend that we’re something we’re not. It reinforces the notion that only motherhood matters, so we have to call everything motherhood so it can matter because it doesn’t matter on its own.”

  1. Mothers praised for assuming heavy loads of emotional labor in the home
    Often I have wondered how she kept track of our children and me. Meal preparation alone was a truly daunting task, not to mention activities such as doing the mountains of laundry our family generated every week and keeping shoes and appropriately sized clothing on the children. We all turned to her on a myriad of other issues that were important to us. And because they were important to us, they were also important to her. She was, in a word, magnificent—as a wife, as a mother, as a friend, as a neighbor, and as a daughter of God.” Ballard 2019

When mothers are expected or conditioned to bear the heaviest loads of emotional, physical, and mental labor for an entire household, it can negatively affect her work and health. For suggestions on how to share the emotional load in partnerships, please check out my other post about it.

  1. A woman’s most important contribution in her lifetime is raising children, not her career or individual pursuits
    “The greatest job that any woman will ever do will be in nurturing and teaching and living and encouraging and rearing her children in righteousness and truth. There is no other thing that will compare with that, regardless of what she does.” Hinckley, quoted by Oaks 2018“There is no superior career, and no amount of money, authority, or public acclaim can exceed the ultimate rewards of family. Whatever else a woman may accomplish, her moral influence is no more optimally employed than here.” Christofferson 2013

When a woman’s accomplishments in life are tied to bearing and raising children, then measured by how well her children turn out, it invalidates and minimizes her efforts and accomplishments as a whole person. It flattens her identity as one who cannot contribute to a family AND the world in meaningful ways.  Fathers don’t have to choose between making an impact on their children or making an impact on the world. Women are capable and strong enough to do and be both.

  1. A woman’s innate nature is to nurture
    Men can and often do communicate the love of Heavenly Father and the Savior to others. But women have a special gift for it—a divine endowment. You have the capacity to sense what someone needs—andwhen he or she needs it….Your nature leads you to think of others first, to consider the effect that any course of action will have on others.” Nelson 2018
    “Daughters of God know that it is the nurturing nature of women that can bring everlasting blessings, and they live to cultivate this divine attribute.”
    Margaret Nadauld 2000
    “Women bring with them into the world a certain virtue, a divine gift that makes them adept at instilling such qualities as faith, courage, empathy, and refinement in relationships and in cultures.” Christofferson 2013

    “Mothers who know are nurturers….To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow. … Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and keeping an orderly home.”
    Julie Beck

It is erroneous to conclude that all women, by virtue of their biology, are imbued with extra-special, automatic nurturing abilities that surpass the same abilities found in men.  An affinity for nurturing is a Christ-like attribute of humankind, not a gender-specific trait. Women who develop a skill for nurturing are taught to credit that talent to their nature, not their efforts. Women who find that nurturing does not come easily may consider themselves inadequate or broken. Telling men that they’re not naturally nurturing feeds the false stereotype of toxic Mormon masculinity.

  1. Women should marry and have children without delay in order to fulfill their part of God’s plan of Salvation
    I counsel you not to postpone having your children, being co-creators with our Father in heaven.Mothers who enjoy good health, have your children and have them early.Ezra Taft Benson, 1987
    “The average age of our Church members’ marriages has increased by more than two years, and the number of births to Church members is falling….Each of these trends works against our Father’s divine plan of salvation.”
    Oaks 2018

Many women have ambition to pursue education and career in their young adult years, in addition to their desires to have a family. Being taught that God’s plan of salvation for humanity depends on them having many children at a young age can cause confusion and pain, especially when women feel they must put off their own aspirations in order to have children sooner.

  1. Women assigned guardianship of the moral rectitude of her children and the world
    “In all events, a mother can exert an influence unequaled by any other person in any other relationship. By the power of her example and teaching, her sons learn to respect womanhood and to incorporate discipline and high moral standards in their own lives. Her daughters learn to cultivate their own virtue and to stand up for what is right, again and again, however unpopular. A mother’s love and high expectations lead her children to act responsibly without excuses, to be serious about education and personal development, and to make ongoing contributions to the well-being of all around them.” Christofferson 2013
    “From the dawning of time, women have been blessed with a unique moral compass
    —the ability to distinguish right from wrong….my dear sisters, your ability to discern truth from error, to be society’s guardians of morality, is crucial in these latter days. And we depend upon you to teach others to do likewise. Let me be very clear about this: if the world loses the moral rectitude of its women, the world will never recover.Nelson 2019

Placing the pressure of others’ moral rectitude on the shoulders of women contradicts what LDS members believe about individual agency. Assigning women to be the guardians of morality borders on rape culture and victim blaming.

*****

Here are other components of motherhood that often get eclipsed in LDS teachings, but are critical for prospective mothers to know:

Motherhood may affect your Physical Health

Maternal mortality is rising in the United States, up to 23.8 deaths per 100,000 births in 2014 from 18.6 in 2000.   These numbers are even higher for Black and Native women. Physical hardships women may endure as part of motherhood might include: infertility, pregnancy loss, unplanned pregnancy, miscarriage, complications in pregnancy, pre-term complications and delivery, labor and delivery, complications in recovery, and complications in breastfeeding. Awareness of possible complications, access to quality care, and adequate health insurance are all key features to helping women find success in the physical effects of childbirth.

Motherhood may affect your Mental Health

Transparent conversations about perinatal and post-partum mood disorders are critical for prospective mothers. Up to 20% of mothers may experience clinical depression and/or anxiety during or after pregnancy.  Adoptive parents also have challenging mental health situations. Partners and support networks should be vigilantly aware of helping mothers with mental health care.

Motherhood may affect your Social Health

Over half of mothers report feeling isolated or friendless after the birth of a baby. Families and church leaders can make tremendous impacts when they help mothers stay connected to their friend groups.

Motherhood may affect your Relationship Health

Studies have shown that satisfaction in marriage takes a steep decline after having children.  Partners can anticipate these changes and make intentional plans for how to keep their relationship strong after children join the family, including scheduled date nights and time to connect.  Church leaders and friends can support a couple’s relationship health by offering childcare.

Motherhood may affect your Sexual Health

Many women are disappointed to discover changes in their sexual health and desire after childbirth. It can take time after childbirth to be ready for intimacy again. Speaking candidly with trusted friends about sexual intimacy after childbirth may be beneficial to women.

Motherhood may affect your Educational Health

College students with pre-school aged children take longer to finish their degrees and are more likely to drop out than their childless peers. Supporting women to pursue their education should be of utmost priority to partners and support networks.

Motherhood may affect your Financial Health

Mothers make less money than childless women, up to $16k per year, or about a 7% wage reduction per child.  Women still do disproportionately higher amounts of unpaid work in homes. Many women without their own income do not have their own savings account or retirement funds, and are completely reliant on their partner’s income for survival.  Mothers should be able to work to support themselves if necessary, and have an investment plan for their future. Lack of financial autonomy can force women to stay in abusive marriages where divorce would be a healthier option. Partners and friends can help support mothers in making sound financial plans for her life (a man is not a plan.)

*****

My journey through motherhood has seen many transformations.  I feel happier now as a mother because I am also fulfilled in work that ignites my creativity and allows me to provide for myself.  I feel happier as a mother with a partner who shares the mental and physical load of the household, and who truly cares about my ambitions as person. I’m happier as a mother when I prioritize my mental health with therapy and healthy boundaries in relationships.  I’m glad that I’ve had mentors show me these benefits, and I wish that I had found them sooner.

A woman may be happier and better prepared when she acts in faith to pursue motherhood AND thoughtfully plans for contingencies, communicates her needs with partners and health care providers, establishes much needed support networks, and consents of her own free will and choice to raise children on the timetable she chooses. We owe it to the women of the world and the girls of the church to empower them with this informed preparation. If systems, institutions, or church leaders are unable to provide this type of support to prospective mothers, they should reevaluate why they teach women how to be mothers in the first place.

_____

*Ziff from ZD helped me gather this data.  We considered any talk given from 2000-2019 by a general authority, male or female, which addressed women as the target audience for the talk (in general sessions or women’s sessions), and examined the content of the talk to see if it included significant teachings to women about motherhood. Passing mentions to motherhood or references to the Family Proclamation were not included.  100% of these talks were given to audiences of women regardless of motherhood status.  In 41 talks given by men to women, teachings about motherhood are included in 23 talks. In 81 talks given by women to women, teachings about motherhood are included in 14 talks.  This is subjective, of course, but gives a pretty good picture of how often general leaders instruct women about motherhood.

Violadiva

Violadiva is an oxymoron, a musician, a yogi, a Suzuki violin teacher, a late-night baker of sourdough breads, proud Mormon feminist, happy wife of Pianoman and lucky mother to three.

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32 Responses

  1. Descent says:

    This is so important!!

    I would add more to the physical health topic: childbearing women are likely to experience auto immune disorders, chronic fatigue, exhaustion, anemia among other things that are caused by a lack of social support and self care. There are physical problems that women often live with after birth and or injuries caused by repetitive motions of mothering. Many women are chronically exhausted and in pain from intensive mothering. Check out the book Post Natal Depletion Syndrome.

    That said, can you imagine a resource written for LDS women sold by LDS bookstores that really fully describe the side effects and pros and cons of motherhood? Really, those this is something needed for the wider societal market too. I don’t think a resource exists like that for women in the western world

    • JM says:

      Seriously. I am 8 months post partum and feel like my body is falling apart. Every week I have a new complaint for my physical therapist. I got tendonitis in my wrists from picking up my baby. I have some new hip injury today that makes waking painful. I still haven’t lost all the baby weight because energy time I diet my milk supply tanks. My pelvic floor is weak so I pee myself a little when I sneeze. So many things I wasn’t warned about. And it’s not just women who need to know this. Husbands should be aware of what their wives are going to go through to bring a child into the world, and they should take more responsibility to help prevent issues.

  2. Too Young says:

    I just had a stretch mark tear open a few days ago, courtesy of my pregnancy almost 17 years ago, that tore my skin so badly, it never healed. They never teach you that in YWs!

    I had serious trauma from giving birth via emergency c-section to save my dying baby at the height of the SARS outbreak in one of the epicentres of the outbreak. I was told just to get over it and just be happy that he was alive.

    My former partner was angry he didn’t get his 4 kids, but after giving up my education, marrying young, and becoming a mother young, there was nothing left to give.

  3. Rachel says:

    Thank you for writing up this thoughtful and well-researched post.

    When I saw the statistic about 60% of talks by men including topics of motherhood, I immediately thought about how what they say about motherhood is not even useful about motherhood. It does not get at the heart of the lived reality of it, and often doesn’t even seem to try.

    When I became a mom and saw and felt what it was really like, I felt even more lonely + hurt that I was living “the covenant path” and felt very little support or actual preparation for this thing I had been taught is the pinnacle of a woman’s life and the most holy, important thing she can do. And it looked like being really tired and dealing with a lot of bodily fluids. Mine and my baby’s.

    If the church wanted to continue talking about motherhood as much as they seem to, I would love if they would do so in more helpful ways, including things like having trained professionals offer breastfeeding support for women who might want or need it + classes on topics like postpartum depression and anxiety. (I experienced this too, as did so many women I know.)

  4. Chiaroscuro says:

    Knocked this one out of the park! It made me cry. I feel so much shame over my disappointment and struggles with motherhood, still. And I mourn some of the naively offered sacrifices that made me a martyr for motherhood for way too long, and that I am still trying to come to terms with. Once you have babies and give up your health and opportunities for decades, you never get that time back, and many of those opportunities close behind you

  5. Erin says:

    This so accurately describes my feelings and experiences.
    After I was married at the ripe old age of 20, one of my Institute teachers told me that I should leave university (I was more than halfway done) so that I could start having babies.
    Thankfully I ignored his very inappropriate suggestion, but I have always wondered how many women dropped out because of him.
    We have so much more to offer the world than our uteruses.

  6. MICHELLE LLEWELLYN says:

    You never attended a singles ward did you? How does your article include THOSE women? Should we declare a worldwide day of fasting and prayer that President Nelson’s changes will continue to allow single, childless adults to remain safely on their side of the chastity fence where the grass is obviously so much greener?

    • Merry says:

      Michelle Llewellyn, there is nothing in this article that advocates for remaining single, abstinence, or not having children. I think the author is merely saying that General Authorities could give more useful, realistic information to members so that they are more adequately prepared for parenthood, if they choose to become parents. And that is their choice.

    • Rachel says:

      I’m having a hard time understanding what you’re trying to say. This post is about the pedestaled and superficial lessons about motherhood from GA’s vs the actual lived realities of mothers. Single, childless women are mentioned in the point about “all women are mothers.”

      Safely on their side of the chastity fence? I’m not sure if that’s sarcastic or not. Trust me, everyone in the single’s Ward is desperate to get on the “other side” of that fence. Complete abstinence into adulthood is the source for a lot of depression and anxiety.

    • Violadiva says:

      Hi Michelle, thanks for the comment. I did attend a singles ward, but haven’t been there lately to hear how motherhood is discussed in various meetings. Would you like to write a guest post about your experience with singles wards addressing marriage and child raising?
      While not addressing singles wards specifically, I amplified the words of a single woman, Trudy, in her own reflections of how problematic the rhetoric of “are we not all mothers” is. Perhaps I wasn’t explicit enough about the difference between women who do not have children who are married vs not married, and it would be good to show those distinctions.

  7. TerresaW says:

    Excellent post.

    Years ago the wife of a bishopric member asked me, “When were you married? When did you start having children?” (age 25 and age 30, respectively). Then she said, “Why did you wait five years to have children? You’re under the condemnation of God for not having children sooner. Why did you wait?”

    My answer: “To go to grad school and start my profession, which I don’t regret.”

    Later I realized her pain: she got married at a young age, had 7 kids one after another, and left her education and career completely behind. Prior to marriage she’d been interested in pursuing a PhD.

    We need to stop this ridiculousness. Women shaming other women are also part of this equation.

    I would like to see the church offer women more support (in the form of counseling, curriculum, and support groups) regarding the topics of: post-partum depression, empty nesting/launching kids, moms of missionaries, moms of return home early missionaries, etc.

    • Anna says:

      Back in the days when Relief Society was a women’s organization, (pre 1970] instead of a men’s organization for women, RS acted as this kind of support group. We had lessons for mothers and lessons for those not interested in lesson’s for mothers. As a very young mother, I remember how helpful a lesson on breast feeding was.

      Then correlation and we had lessons about men

      • PBJ says:

        My mom said those lessons were a godsend for her- she had had no idea how to care for babies, and those lessons taught her so much.

  8. Tanya says:

    I’m disappointed that the cost of adoption on women wasn’t included. *sigh* Mormon feminism ignoring adoption yet again. But it is an interesting concept– too much for one post. I think I would have preferred to see a series on this so the ideas could be better developed.

    • Violadiva says:

      Thanks for the comment, Tanya. I agree that the post was long enough to be an entire series, and it would be good to see these ideas fleshed out in individual follow up posts. Would you like to write one about the experiences of an adoptive mother in the church, assuming that’s your story?
      I tried not to neglect adoptive parents, I’m sorry you didn’t see that represented here well enough. I did include a short statement and link about adoptive parents experiencing a type of post partum depression in the Mental Health paragraph.
      Perhaps you’d like to share more with us?

    • Risa says:

      The cost of adoption on Mormon women…you mean the emotional cost of a church that preyed on single pregnant women for decades, shaming them for being pregnant outside of marriage, or threatening their eternal salvation if they didn’t relinquish their child to a more deserving, righteous, sealed-in-the temple family?

  9. Kathy B. says:

    Very interesting to see these graphs showing what women hear from whom. Thanks for all the research that went into this. I’m grateful to be a mother and grandmother, but have often felt like the women you describe because I don’t have the innate female qualities our leaders assume I should have.

  10. Jodi says:

    It’s telling that men speak to women about motherhood more often than women do. They can’t conceive of us as anything other than mothers. This is one of the many reasons we need more female leaders.

  11. Anna says:

    I have often thought as the men are telling women that the most glorious thing they can do is make babies, starting as soon as possible and having as many as you can possibly churn out, that these men have no concept of the costs of motherhood.

    I really like the idea of turning this into a series to go into a lot more detail of some of these costs. For example, you just sort of mentioned the US’s high mortality rate and skimmed by “complications of pregnancy” as if a little morning sickness is about it. I think women need to know some of the complications, enough so that will recognize pain that might mean an ectopic pregnancy before they bleed to death internally or recognize the headache and spots before their eyes of pre-eclampsia so they can get to the doctor. Our society is really good at teaching symptoms of heart attack, since it kills men, but really lousy at teaching women what is normal during pregnancy and what are symptoms that mean something is wrong. But that is only one of the many ways pregnancy and motherhood can be costly.

    And I don’t think you even mentioned the huge financial and huge emotional costs of infertility and treating infertility.

  12. MDearest says:

    I love everything about this post, and think developing it into a series would be of great service to women in the church who could access it. Looking back on the “training” I received from church as a woman and a mother, and the impact of it on my life, (which includes significant therapeutic work needed to mitigate the damage) how much better it would have been if I’d had female designed curriculum, at least in the area of how to live my female life. What we’ve received from all-male, non-professional leadership too often causes much unintentional harm, but I believe it’s by design that it keeps women infantilized and at a disadvantage in marriages and at church.

    So no criticism, but I did wonder if Ziff the Awesome could cull out an equivalent statistic with the frequency of both male and female leaders teaching men how to do fatherhood and masculinity. In a lovely pie chart, please.

    • Rachel says:

      I don’t think a woman has ever given a talk to a group of men in all the history of the church but men regularly speak to women.

      • Californian says:

        Rachel – you might be interested to know “According to Relief Society Minutes, new Relief Society General President Belle Spafford spoke to in the priesthood session of General Conference in 1946 teaching and encouraging bishops to work in a partnership with the RS and utilize the expertise of RS presidents.”

        Source “We shall now call on some of our sisters. LDS Women and General Conference Participation.” Juvenile Instructor Janiece Johnson March 24, 2013

    • Ziff says:

      Sorry to fall down on the job on this one, MDearest! (Thanks for calling me “the Awesome,” though!) It would be an interesting comparison, but unfortunately, I had to manually check all the talks for even what’s summarized in the post, and it took quite a while, so it’s unlikely I’ll do the comparison soon. If I do, though, I’ll be sure to post it!

  13. Jessica says:

    Thank you for saying every word in this post. I am trying to get to a place where I feel I CHOOSE motherhood, after the fact, since I didn’t get any informed consent beforehand and I had children mostly for other people, although I didn’t have boundaries and didn’t realize it at the time. How unfair is that to my children, my husband, my Mormon culture as a whole, and to ME? I don’t know where to go from here, but open conversations like this post is fostering certainly help.

  14. Ziff says:

    Outstanding post, Violadiva! Thanks for allowing me to contribute! It’s so unfortunate that women in the Church are drowning in useless pedestalizing rhetoric about motherhood, while at the same time, there’s hardly anything useful ever said about the subject.

  15. Childless in Zion says:

    This post resonated with me. As a married woman in her mid-thirties who has never been able to have children (despite best, expensive efforts for 12 years now), the church’s overemphasis on motherhood as “the only way” has been a primary factor in my disaffection. These talks are not just a constant, painful reminder of what I am not, but also reinforce the idea that if I am not a mother, there really is no place for me in the church. No matter what I accomplish in my career, no matter how amazing a wife/sister/daughter/friend/neighbor/aunt I am, no matter how much service I perform, no matter how hard I work, nothing I ever do will be good enough or important enough as being a mother. Without motherhood, I am nothing. It makes me feel worthless, and I have to imagine I’m not the only one driven away. Infertile women, single women, women who are mothers but feel unhappy or unfulfilled, etc. are utterly ignored or forgotten in favor of incessant, starry-eyed pedestalization. I’d like to think these speakers are sincerely trying to uplift and encourage women. But the only women who end up encouraged and uplifted are the church’s orthodox, white, female base–in other words, those who aren’t likely to be driven away anyway. No wonder the church is hemorrhaging members.

  16. MDearest says:

    Ziff, you summarized my long winded comment into this brief phrase— “useless pedestalizing rhetoric about motherhood.” I once believed that pedestal was a worthy aspiration, but in hindsight, it’s worse than useless, it’s poisonous. We women aren’t allowed to speak among ourselves about the difficult issues from our own experiences, openly and truthfully. If I were to do that, I’d be marginalized into complete invisibility. We don’t even know fully what’s happened to us except in hindsight, and most men never know. The bland (and useless) summaries of the hardships by the men in charge of us are considered sufficient by all of us, but it’s empty of any real healthy guidance for mothers and erases all women who aren’t actively mothering.

    It’s not just about the rhetoric over the pulpit. Women aren’t allowed to decide how to succor each other. I’ve had an experience just this week, of revisiting my own extremely steep learning curve as a new mom and considering what a young woman in that position might need from the church that would truly be both useful and doable. Two things immediately came to mind— first, that the father of the newborn be encouraged – at church!- to put in whatever time he has available into helping the mother find stability as they both parent the baby, with the expectation that it will take a few weeks and sometimes months. And second, that the issues of women’s mental health as a key part of her spiritual health be frankly addressed, thoroughly and regularly, in ways that are designed by kind-hearted women themselves. Which ways would not be limited just to the needs of new mothers, but would include all women and all aspects of their lives.

    And third, this would be made openly available for learning by men and boys. And fourth, that the mental health needs specific to male spirituality would be frankly addressed just as thoroughly and regularly, and shared with the women.

    That’s sheer fantasy, I admit.
    Here’s another, darker fantasy: that in the early decades of the church, the autonomy with which the women conducted Relief Society affairs, instead of being diluted, then discouraged, then forbidden, and then erased— instead was fostered and cultivated, and the early ritual practice of holy anointing and prayer for a woman in labor, which came of that autonomy, developed over the last century and half into a rich, fully organized culture of support not just for mothers, but for all women in all of their circumstances. That’s what women could do. If the male leadership would permit. /sarcasm

    I have faith in God, but my faith in these men is only dwindling.
    And more for Ziff: I know how time consuming it is, searching out meaningful data from the record. I appreciate all that you do.

  17. Kimberly says:

    Men teaching women regarding their idealized version of what they believe motherhood is supposed to look/feel like, absent of the realities and sacrifices they are not expected to make and also absent of them ever experiencing being a mother… Ultimate Mansplaining. And they will never hear a talk from a female authority on how they are supposed to fulfill fatherhood, nor will it ever be conflated with their essential manhood.

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