Poll: Marriage and Motherhood

In the Spring 2011 Journal of Mormon History, Catherine A. Brekus wrote an article titled ‘Mormon Women and Agency’, wherein she discusses the marginalization of Mormon women in American historiography, as well as the issue of including the Mormon women who were not feminists- i.e. Mormon women who use their agency to comply with a patriarchal society. In referencing Richard Bushman in his 2008 Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction, Brekus concludes: ‘Most Mormon women have not demanded the priesthood and most seem to value marriage and motherhood as their most important calling.’


This thought distracted me, if only because I feared that it was representative of me. And yet… I was glad that it might represent me as well, because my marriage is hands-down more important to me than the church. Just recently in a meeting with the Bishop in our new ward, I was very clear and adamant that my marriage always comes before callings. I consoled myself by telling myself that I find joy in marriage, and not a lot of joy at church so marriage is a smart investment. Plus, I am not “sealed” to church organizational structure in the afterlife, so it is better to invest my time in something I am going to be “sealed” to, right?   But in doing this, am I creating a disservice to women’s progression in the church?


Should women place the progression of women as our most important callings, even above marriage and family? As an odd comparison, it is clear to me that Joseph Smith thought his role as prophet was his most important calling, and though it is evident that he loved Emma, church came before Emma. Is this the model for us in to progress the divine role of women in the church, where we love our family, but place them second to “furthering the work”?



So, feminist or not, married and childless, single parents, single and childless… this is a question based on your long term views:


Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

You may also like...

16 Responses

  1. amelia says:

    This is slightly off topic, about which I feel a little badly because there’s a lot of room for good discussion here. But. As a single member of the church, one of the things that makes me the most crazy is that the church so regularly ignores and dismisses and just doesn’t even see the needs of its single members. And on this issue–what women’s most important work is–they fall flat on their face as far as remembering singles (especially childless singles) goes. It makes me a little sad and frankly a lot angry that the Exponent has done that very thing in this survey.

    The Exponent is usually very good about not ignoring single women. And I understand that there are perhaps issues that just don’t relate to single women. But. I don’t think this one–what constitutes women’s most important callings–is one of them. It doesn’t seem too much to ask that the Exponent always at least acknowledge that single women exist and are affected by this kind of rhetoric, even if the heart of the issue (do you place your commitment to marriage, motherhood, both over your commitment to other pursuits) is by definition not about single, childless women. The price I pay as a single, childless woman as a result of the church’s rhetoric about motherhood and marriage being a woman’s most important work is at least as high as, if not higher than, the price married women and mothers pay.

    /end rant

  2. Caroline says:

    Amelia, I thought Spunky did acknowledge that single/childless women exist in her post.

    I understand that posts like this make you feel excluded, but I think issues of marriage and motherhood are important ones for Mormon feminists to explore, and as such, I affirm posts like this that ask specifically about how Mormon women conceive of marriage/motherhood in relation to other callings in life. That said, I am very interested in other posts which explore issues not related to marriage/motherhood, so I would love for you to submit posts and polls that cover those topics.

    • Amelia says:

      Caroline, there is one line in this post that directly addresses single women:

      So, feminist or not, childless or single… this is a question based on your long term views

      I don’t find that adequate acknowledgement of women who are both single and childless, mostly because the lead up to that line is clearly talking to women who are married, married with children, or married without children. There’s no direct acknowledgement of women like me who are both unmarried and childless. And I find that very problematic since this issue (the way the church teaches that being a mother and having children is a woman’s greatest calling and how that plays out in real life, how it may affect the work we do to advance the causes of women) is of absolutely vital importance to women who are both single and childless in the church. What does it mean for me when the greatest work a woman can do is marry and have children? Me who is coming to grips with the fact that as I get older and older and more and more established in a career, it becomes less and less likely that I’ll marry?

      I get it that this issue seems to most directly concern women who are either married or mothers or both, since Spunky is asking about how women balance commitments to family, church, and the causes of women. But this issue also concerns women like me. And to give passing acknowledgement (in the last line of the intro; with answer options that include things like “extended family” and “relationships”) is as insulting to me as Sherri Dew and others trying to tell me that my relationships with my nieces and nephews and other children (which relationships are incredibly important to me, but are actually not very present in my day-to-day living) make me a mother and that that mothering is the most important work I do.

      So yes. issues of marriage and motherhood are absolutely important ones to explore, and I wholeheartedly support Mormon feminist forums exploring those issues. But please recognize that they do not only impact women who actually are mothers or married. Those issues also impact women who are not mothers or married, since many of us have spent our lives being drilled with the idea that we have somehow failed if we don’t get married and have children and since the church continues to engage in the ridiculous rhetoric of all-women-are-mothers. I have a place in a discussion about “how Mormon women conceive of marriage/motherhood in relation to other callings in life” but this poll did not acknowledge that I have a place in that discussion. Part of why it hurt so much is that the posts at X2 usually do recognize that even though I am not a mother or married, I do still have a place in discussions of issues related to marriage and motherhood as a result of the church’s overbearing emphasis on those things as the only sanctioned life path for women and how that has drastically impacted my life, my psychological health, my spirituality.

      Maybe I’m being a bitch. But this is too important for me to not speak up.

      • ohkj says:

        Amen, and amen, Amelia.

      • Spunky says:

        That is a fair comment, Amelia- I edited it to be *slightly* more inclusive, though still imperfect. I suspect that the title is off-putting as well, and I am sorry about that- I have always struggled with titles. But I am thrilled that other unmarried and childless women have responded because all contributions are important, vital and necessary in this specific discussion.

        I also agree with Caroline- your voice, participation and perspective is VERY important, please keep on speaking up in comments and posts.

  3. Janna says:

    I voted “Other” because I am neither married nor have children. So, as a result, not priorities on any level! 🙂

  4. Stella says:

    I voted the same as Janna. I have no children and no husband and will most likely have neither. This has probably been one of the largest contributing factors in my leaving the church (there were a lot, mind you). I think the church doesn’t know how to deal with marriageless or childless men and women at all–which is why they are losing most of us.

    In thinking about the poll, I wonder if men are more likely to put their callings before marriage and family because they are actually the ones doing the “big” jobs. It’s much easier for a woman to say that she is putting her marriage first when she’s a nursery leader than a man who is a Stake President saying he needs to put his marriage first. The men do *not* have to put their marriages first because the women are already doing so–allowing the men to have the big callings.

    • Whitney says:


      I magnify my calling. But let’s face it, I’ll never have to make a choice between my spouse and teaching RS once a month.

      I found the OP’s question and assumptions a bit odd, too, but maybe I’m just misunderstanding it. Working towards women’s progression is a “calling” and top priority for me, but I don’t see magnifying my callings at church as doing much to contribute to that. I mean, women aren’t suddenly going to get the priesthood because the brethren see how diligent and self-sacrificing we are in our callings.

    • Janna says:

      Excellent point. There is a huge social payoff for men to put callings before time with their wives and children.

      Also, continuing the thread of “the church doesn’t know what to do with the marriageless and childless,” you got that right. Today, a member of the bishopric treated the congregation with these gems (paraphrased):

      1) I hope my talk today will help you be a better parent, mother, father, wife or husband.
      2) Today my talk is about building an eternal family, and to those members who may be single, my words also apply to you. We are all on the same path, just at different points. You should be living your life so that you are a worthy companion and moving towards building an eternal family.
      3) Part of having an eternal family is bearing children.

      I understand that the adult membership of my ward is about 2/3’s married. But, most of the single members in my ward are over 35 years old, and very unlikely to bear children. Also, to say that we are on the same path, but at different points, implies some are ahead of others. Read, some are above others. Some are more advanced than others. That hurts.

      Whether someone intends that message, it is what is often heard by those of us who continue to stay despite huge swaths of time spent on only addressing people who are married with children and repeated underlying messages that we will not be with God after death. So, forgive us if we are a bit sensitive! 🙂

      That said, I do have to say. As I sat in the congregation and looked around at the married with children membership, I thought, “Whoa, what a burden!” The entire church leadership is pinning their hopes on them. They must raise perfect faithful children and have blissful marriages. That expectation must be crushing sometimes. Sometimes, I feel like I got off easy!

      • spunky says:

        That sounds like it was a HORRIBLE talk! On so many levels!!!

        I agree with you that it is hurtful to not be included, and I am sorry, I had hoped that you would feel included enough to participate and am very glad that you commented.

        This last year, I collected some oral histories of Mormon women for a post-grad research project… in doing so, I specifically asked childless and single women because I wanted to be sure to include all of us. The horrifying thing to me, even as a childless woman- was that other single and childless women I invited asked why I wanted them. They cried as they protested to NOT be included in LDS history. They individually expressed a sense that they feel valueless in Mormon society because they didn’t have temple marriages and children. But that is why I wanted to be sure to record them- because I don’t want any sister to feel like I do– which is unwanted at church, where are are supposed to be welcome. To whit, of the single and/or childless women I invited to participate- only ONE allowed me to record her history. Every other one said they couldn’t face being included in a history of a church that told them they were unimportant because they hadn’t married and had children, even though they are “active” members. Addressing this was one of the purposes of the poll– to show that we are a multidimensional collection of women and we have value, with or without partners, children or families.

  5. spunky says:

    Thanks for everyone’s comments, what a good discussion!

    These responses are exactly when I felt in reading the article by Brekus… I was angry because there was an underlying assumption that LDS Mormon women did not have priesthood because they continued to choose to place family first. Likewise, the article nods to the RLDS inclusion of women and the priesthood since 1984 but does so without addressing marriage or family obligations of the RLDS, wherein LDS women are stigmatized by their marital and reproductive place in Mormon society.

    The article further addresses the LDS women’s compliance to patriarchy as the issue in the overall marginalization of Mormon women in American history, i.e. the history of Mormon women engaged in suffragist activism are less popular to discuss, or are not taken seriously because of the hotter topic of plural marriage.

    It almost alluded to the idea that those of us—myself included- who do not have families, bear the bulk of responsibility for progressing the role of women. Yet the irony is that because we don’t have a family- we are not esteemed as academically pious in the church, so therefore are treated as though we have nothing to add. As people who are unpartnered or childless, we are therefore treated like we are children in someone else’s family, therefore have no authority (bah!) … (I love the ‘Rituals of Adulthood and Equality’ post by Whoa-Man—April’s comment “you don’t drink” addresses this perfectly).

    While Brekus might be right on these points about the past church, I don’t want her to be right now. Hence, the idea behind the poll, i.e. is the church disregarding the voice of women because placing family first is a reason for female marginalization?
    I want LDS women now to be heard for who we are, and not be ignored if we chose to place career, family, marriage or other before we place church. Hence, the question- is the assumption that LDS women always place family first correct? And further- if women do place family first, is this a reason for women to be less heard? I think not. So I challenged this notion, and want to develop the idea that even if women place family (or career or health) first, this does NOT mean that our voice is less valuable. The same goes for single women- just because you are unmarried does not mean that you have to sit at the kiddie table. We all have something to add, i.e. Sheri Dew might be able to assume some degree of religious authority because of her maternal position with nieces and nephews (as she has discussed), but I would rather give her credit and esteem because she is a brilliant daughter of God, regardless of her marital or reproductive status. We all need to be heard and taken seriously because of what we have to say, not because of to whom we were born, to whom we are married, or to whom we give birth.

  6. Diane says:

    I have to support Amelia in her comment, she wrote so eloquently what I have felt. So, often as a single person I have felt left out to pasture. Put with the nearly dead folks only because I was single. And or, used by the marrieds as a free baby sitter. My last ward had a nasty habit of putting all single ladies in primary. Ugh. Don’t get me wrong I was a nanny for many years, but, Its one thing if I say,” so and so, can I help you with your baby while you give your lesson?” as oppose to having to sit out a whole lesson in baby land.

    • spunky says:

      I agree with you, Diane. That is what bothered me about the article, and why I wanted to address it in this poll. It is because I think that there is significantly more to Mormon women than marriage and family. We have a lot of offer. But if assumptions continue, even in academia, that Mormon women place family first, therefore feminine progression isn’t as valued– then we need to address this, BECAUSE all women, married, single, mothers, childless, etc, as sisters, we all deserve to be heard. I am trying to de-bunk the assumption of blind female “family first” ideology in this poll, because like you, it doesn’t suit me, and I suspect it doesn’t suit the majority of modern Mormon women.

  7. Bones says:

    Family first. Always.

    When my husband and I were being “interviewed” by the stake president when he was called to be in the bishopric a few years ago, we were both told what DH’s priorities were to be:

    #3-his work
    #4-church work

    DH came home and wrote, on a small card: B, F, W, C. (b is for me). It has been on our mirror ever since for us both to see and remember each day.

    I’m the YW president, have a demanding career, two children still at home and I try to remember our Stake President’s priorities advice for myself,

  8. SilverRain says:

    I put “other” though I was once married and have children, who are very young and thus demand a lot of time.

    My priority is to be a disciple of Christ. Everything else takes second place to that. If I am first and foremost His servant, I am guided in how I set my other priorities.

    The truth is that ALL of these things take precedence at different times. The key is to know what to do RIGHT NOW IN THIS MOMENT. And Christ best knows how you can spend your immediate energy.

    Because I am first a disciple, I was able to get out of an abusive marriage, despite marriage being my top priority otherwise at the time. Because I am first a disciple, I can delay my schooling for a couple of years without guilt because my children need me right now. Because I am a disciple, I will be able to get my advance degree without guilt because that will best serve His needs when the time is right. Because I am first a disciple, I can know what callings to accept and how to magnify them efficiently. Because I am first a disciple, I can go to work every day despite wishing I was home with my children because I know that I have to provide for them the means of life right now, and I can rely on Him to help me make the time I have with them count for all it is worth. As a disciple, I can make marriage a priority even though I don’t have one right now, and may never have one.

    Because I am a disciple, I can trust Him to make up for all the myriad things I simply cannot do as a single working mother. AND I can support other women in whatever efforts they feel are right for them at the time, especially when they are seeking His guidance.