Exponent II Classics: Patti Perfect

retyped by EmilyCC
I thought I’d begin our newly formatted blog (thanks, Jana!) with one of the magazine’s most requested articles. Enjoy!

Margaret B. Black
Midge W. Nielsen
Orem Utah
Vol. 10: No. 2 (Winter 1984)

Many LDS women unconsciously compete with an idealized image of the already-perfect wife and mother who successfully incorporates all the demands of family, church, and society into her life. Although we have never met such a woman, we persist in believing she’s out there somewhere. We can just imagine what she must accomplish in a day…

Patti gets up very early and says her personal prayers. She zips up her slim, vigorous body into her warm-up suit and tiptoes outside to run her usual five miles (on Saturday she does ten). Returning home all aglow, she showers and dresses for the day in a tailored skirt and freshly starched and ironed blouse. She settles down for quiet meditation and scripture reading before preparing the family breakfast. The morning’s menu calls for whole wheat pancakes, homemade syrup, freshly squeezed orange juice, and powdered milk (the whole family loves it).

With classical music wafting through the air, Patti awakens her husband and ten children. She spends a quiet moment with each and helps them plan a happy day. The children quickly dress in clothes that were laid out the night before. They cheerfully make their beds, clean their rooms, and do the individual chores assigned to them on the Family Work Wheel Chart. They assemble for breakfast the minute mother calls.

After family prayer and scripture study, the children all practice their different musical instruments. Father leaves for work on a happy note. All too soon it is time for the children to leave for school. Having brushed (and flossed) their teeth, the children pick up coats, books bags, and lunches that were prepared the night before and arrive at school five minutes early.

With things more quiet, Patti has story-time with her pre-schoolers and teaches them cognitive reading skills. She feeds, bathes, and rocks the baby before putting him down for his morning nap. With the baby sleeping peacefully and the three-year-old twins absorbed in creative play, Patti tackles the laundry and the housework. In less than an hour, everything is in order. Thanks to wise scheduling and children who are trained to work, her house never really gets dirty.

Proceeding to the kitchen, Patti sets out tonight’s dinner: frozen veal parmigiana that she made in quantity from her home-grown tomatoes and peppers. She then mixes and kneads twelve loaves of bread. While the bread rises, Patti dips a batch of candles to supplement her food storage. As the bread bakes, she writes in her personal journal and dashes off a few quick letters: one to her Congressman and a couple genealogy inquiries to distant cousins. Patti then prepares her mini-class lesson on organic gardening. She also inserts two pictures and a certificate in little Paul’s scrapbook, noting with satisfaction that all family albums are up-to-date. Check the mail, Patti sees that their income tax refund has arrived—a result of having filed in January. It is earmarked for mission and college savings accounts. Although Patti’s hardworking husband earns only a modest salary, her careful budgeting has kept the family debt-free.

After lunch, Patti drops the children off at Grandma’s for their weekly visit. Grandma enjoys babysitting and appreciates the warm loaf of bread. Making an extra call, Patti takes a second loaf to one of the sisters she is assigned to visit teach. A third loaf goes to the non-member neighbor on the corner.

Patti arrives at the elementary school where she directs a special education program. A clinical psychologist, Patti finds directing this program an excellent way to stay abreast of her field while raising her family. Before picking up her little ones, Patti finishes collecting for the charity fund drive.

Home again, Patti settles the children down for their afternoon naps. She spends some quiet time catching up on her reading and filing. As she mists her luxuriant house plants, the school children come through the door. Patti listens attentively to each one as they tell about their day. The children start right in on their homework, with mother supervising and encouraging them. When all the schoolwork is done, Patti and the children enjoy working on one of their family projects. Today they work on the quilt stretched on frames in a corner of the family room.

Dinnertime and father arrives, and it is a special hour for the whole family. They enjoy Patti’s well-balanced, tasty meal, along with stimulating conversation. After dinner, Father and Mom can relax. She enjoys listening to the sounds of laughter and affection that come from the kitchen.

With the teenaged children in charge at home, Mother and Father attend an evening session at the temple. During the return trip, they sit close together as n courting days. “Well, dear,” says Paul Perfect, “did you have a good day?” Patti reflectively answers, “Yes, I really did. But I feel I need more challenge in my life. I think I’ll contact our Family Organization and volunteer to head up a reunion for August.”

Does this idealized image still ring true almost 30 years later? How is it different? What would a Young Woman Patti Perfect or a single Patti Perfect or a Grandma Patti Perfect look like?


EmilyCC lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She currently serves as a stake Just Serve specialists, and she recently returned to school to become a nurse. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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9 Responses

  1. Justine says:

    If I could stop laughing, I might be able to think seriously about this for a minute.

    I’m glad to hear the Erma Bombeck generation didn’t have it together any better than we do (or as much as all our mothers really want us to think they did).

    I do think we as women somehow feel that 30 years ago it might have been easier or less stressful to do all those things. I’m not sure where I get that assumption, but I’ve heard it numerous times.

    It’s just as true an assumption today as it was then, though. I don’t personally think it’s really any harder (or easier), but the responsibilities may have shifted slightly. We’re monitoring media and keeping our children from kidnappers every bit as much as women were in the 70s and 80s, we’re still fighting off a drug and sex culture. We’re mostly still pretending to have perfectly adorned homes and children 24/7, and we’re probably still pretending to never get stressed about anything ever.

    If anything has improved, I would say that…well, ok, maybe nothing has improved. I tried, I really tried to come up with something. Nada.

  2. Deborah says:

    Thanks, Emily. I remember reading this as a teenager — and have found myself googling for it more than once in the last decade. A true classic.

  3. G says:

    whew, wow… I think I’ll go take a nap now!

    great questions, btw “what would a YW Patti Perfect, etc… look like.”

    but seriously, just reading a day in the life of “Mormon Housewife Patti Perfect” just tired me out too much to be able to elucidate further at this time.

    maybe after my nap! 🙂

  4. Ana says:

    I want to tally up all that stuff and see how many hours it would actually take. But I really don’t have the energy.

    Yet it is a constant struggle for me not to hold up totally unrealistic standards for myself. This is a great, humorous reminder about how silly that can be.

    As for the generational difference – I think more Mormon women now are expecting this kind of stuff from themselves while they are also trying to earn some money, whether it’s through their own small business or FT employment outside the home. And there are more diversions and distractions – we’re blogging and shopping online and chatting and texting …

    The good thing is that today’s Paul Perfect is much more helpful than his counterpart in the previous generation. This might not be the reality for individuals, but I think it is part of our expectation and things are getting better for the would-be Pattis as a group.

  5. Jana says:

    This is one of my all-time favorite Exponent essays. I remember my Mom joking about it with her friends and I feel those very same pressures now.

    I think the hardest part is that I feel my kids and my spouse deserve a much more perfect mom/wife. I wish I could be this for them, and instead I am just a very flawed human w/o the world’s best homemaking skills.

  6. EmilyCC says:

    Justine, the only thing I could think of is that at least the expectation to have more than 6 kids isn’t common.

    G, glad I’m not the only one who was worn out after reading this!

    Ana, you inspired me!

    Jana, I think you hit the nail on the head. I don’t think we want to be Patti Perfect for ourselves, but with the idealized depiction of motherhood (in Mormondom and society at large), we want to be better for our families.

  7. betsy says:

    Its a joke! Where is the bickering and fighting, and bribing the kids and who in the hell has time or the want to make sure breakfast and not to mention dinner is on the table EVERY day! does it make me a bad lds mom because I don’t care if we eat cereal for a week straight? And I am sure that teenagers would just love tying a quit with the family. My heavens, if this is what we have to live up to as lds women, then I am afraid I have failed!!

  8. Canoelover says:

    Sounds like a very boring and unfulfilling life.

    True confessions: I eat white flour (and Cap’n Crunch from the box). And I’m 52.

  1. October 12, 2009

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