When Mormons Go Public….

…and embarrass the rest of us.

At least that’s the overwhelming feeling I had when I came across this Washington Post article about a Mormon Maryland county commissioner, Paul Smith, who goes public with his ideas about mothers’ place being in the home. As he does so, he hands out copies of The Proclamation on the Family.

Now if Paul Smith thinks that this choice has been the right one for his family, more power to him.

But please, Mr. Smith, don’t assume that that’s the right choice for everybody. And please, don’t justify voting to cut 2.3 million dollars to fund Head Start programs for low income families by saying that mothers belong in the home. I’m sure a lot of the women in those low income families would love to be stay at home moms. But that choice is one that’s based on privilege. Only women who have husbands with adequate paychecks (or access to other funds of some sort) can even begin to consider such a choice. Let’s not also forget that a lot of children are better off — emotionally as well as financially — for having mothers who are happily engaged in the community through their work.

Mothers are not a monolithic entity, Mr. Smith, and neither are families. I’m glad the traditional gender role division worked for you and your wife. But I think it’s probably best to keep your mouth zipped about your views on gender roles when you are making decisions in your job as commissioner. If you feel like you must discuss your views on this, please be careful about connecting them with the Mormon Church’s stance on this issue. Yes, the Church does promote the traditional division of labor as the ideal, but even the Proclamation allows for nuance and wiggle room. In fact, the types of situations that most Mormons would agree merit reconsideration of gender roles — financial distress, divorce, etc. — are probably the situations that many of those Head Start families are dealing with.

  • How do you feel about Mormons going public about their views on social issues?
  • Do you have a different reading of this Paul Smith situation?




Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.

You may also like...

23 Responses

  1. Emily says:

    *facepalm* I hope there is more to this story than meets the eye. Otherwise, I hope he becomes the ward mission leader in an inner city ward so he can see how not all families have mothers who can stay home.

  2. J says:

    I know this man and his family, his children went to school with me and he was my bishop in the 90’s when I was a youth. He is very traditional and is a lawyer, not a charismatic career politician. I think he saw the newspaper’s interest in his opinions as opportunity to talk about the Proclamation, but doesn’t realize how most of the world would view that as irrelevant and a sting to those women who would love to be home. His opinions are very reflective of my parent’s generation, who think Head Start and other preschool programs enable women to leave family behind to work, and that women work for extra money, rather than seeing that most women who work and need Head Start do so to survive.

  3. motion de smiths says:

    Ohhhh no. That’s SO BAD. Embarrassed is the word indeed.

    I’d like the LAWYER to find the language indicating that women should stay at home. For that matter, any language indicating a definition for HOW a woman nurtures her children. There certainly isn’t language that states that men should “provide” by making $80k a year with benefits. Yet he attempts to limit women by saying they should stay home. He has no authority to expound on or interpret this document for anyone but HIMSELF, not the whole damn county. It’s a broad document, Smith. Your narrow interpretation is offensively limited.

  4. Jessawhy says:

    This is so disappointing. What’s worse is that he’s probably feeling like the liberal left and the media are ganging up on him and trying to ruin his family values.
    I wish the church would engage this kind of nonsense and show more sympathy and support to women who have to work.

  5. Amy says:

    I think what J says makes a lot of sense. Yes, he should have probably been more sensitive on this topic because for a fact, there are many women who wish they could stay at home more with their children, and for whatever reason, they are not able to. That pains them, and it must feel like even more of a slap in the face or a failure to hear people talk about it like that. However, in general, as a SAHM, I often feel looked down on like all I am interested in life is being “barefoot and pregnant” and that type of sterotype. I feel like that because the world in general is becoming more open to women doing other things outside of the home, and those of us who have the choice to stay home and do so are made to feel like they are not fulfilling their potential. And I definitely think that having that kind of pressure on our self esteem makes it more difficult to make that choice (if we indeed have a choice) to stay at home. In regards to the Proclamation, it does say that there are different primary responsiblities for the mother and the father, but it certainly didn’t list those in particulars. I think that means much prayer and thought goes into each individual case. And when we make that choice in our families with the help of our Heavenly Father, it certainly doesn’t matter what Paul Smith or anyone else says about what we have chosen.
    I would certainly be most careful when sharing my own ideas that they are not necessarily church doctrine.

    • spunky says:

      I agree that there is a certain undercurrent of thought that women who are SAHM are not reaching their potential. I don’t currently have children, but am in a blessed position where my husband does well enough to support both of us and still save the money needed for adoption applications. I see my full time job as one of researching adoption options for us. But- since we don’t have children, I have had a bishop, and many women at church suggest I should babysit for free, get a job because I must have “nothing to do” and fill in for their callings at a drop of a hat… so the problem isn’t just a male perspective of stay at home women with babies, women subscribe to the “whatever do you do at home on your own without children”? idea as well.

  6. Duerma says:

    Ugh, this makes me mad for a variety of different reasons. There’s just so many things wrong with this.

    First, does he even KNOW what Head Start is? For the love, it’s not a daycare program so moms can get out and work. Unless you live far away and have bussing, you’re not even going to have enough time to work half a shift. It’s a preschool program to help low income children prepare for kindergarten, because low income children are less likely to have the preparation at home they need. Talk to any kindergarten teacher – kids are all over the spectrum when they enter public schools, and those who had preschool definitely perform better than those who did not. I’m a stay at home mom, and my kids went to Head Start, not because I couldn’t take care of them, but because I wanted them to have a school experience and we couldn’t afford preschool tuition.

    Second off, does he have any idea who his target audience is? As stated above, Head Start parents are low income families. Chances are high that if they could afford for the mother to stay home, then they wouldn’t qualify for Head Start due to their income level. Telling this group of people that it’s better for mothers to stay in the home is really hurtful, especially since many of them are probably single mothers.

    And finally, I have a HUGE problem with him treating the situation as if it’s Mormon doctrine. This only reinforces the view that we’re backward and misogynistic. No wonder the church is pushing the “I’m a Mormon” campaign when morons like this guy are causing such bad press.

  7. Carol says:

    Anytime we judge unrighteously, we not only hurt those we midjudge but we hurt ourselves as well. We cannot live peacefully when we point fingers at working mothers, stay-at-home mothers, or any other mother who seeks to raise her family well. To become peacemakers, we need to start by the words we speak and the thoughts we think. As we speak kindly and lovingly about ourselves and others, we create peace in our hearts and foster peace in our homes.

    Successful mothers fit in many catagories: disabled, working full-time, part-time, staying home and caring for children full-time. It is wrong to label or criticize anyone by his or own choices to be a stay-at-home or working-full-time mom or dad. When we celebrate one another as children of God, we will also celebrate the talents and gifts which each of His children possess and how His children use these gifts.

  8. shley says:

    Although I don’t agree with this guy’s reasoning and I do agree it was insensitive to the women who would like to stay home but have to work, he did have the guts to actually say this to people and I have to commend him for that.

    Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter what an LDS person says when they publicly speak of their beliefs or opinions on social views they are always going to be criticized for one reason or another. People are always going to find something wrong with it, even if some famous LDS person went on good morning america and said “Mormons like puppies” there would be people that would turn that into something bad and then start all the negative comments and false stereotypical remarks.

    Even if an LDS person’s opinion on a social issue is taken in a bad light by many people, it has still been said to many people and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

  9. Melanie says:

    like shley, I find it interesting that the issue of Mormons in the public sphere has come up in so many forms lately (I know, it comes up all the time). The first thing this brought to mind was the outrage among many TBMs over the Modern Love story about the single Mormon woman’s feelings on her virginity- many of whom, perhaps, might agree with Smith’s stance. The range of ideas expressed by the range of Mormons/ exMormons/ sortaMormons in public forums seems to always elicit a response that they are being too Mormon or not Mormon enough. I wonder what kind of comments Goldilocks would find if she encountered the “just right” in Mormon public discourse. Somewhere Gordon B. Hinckley is smiling- it would seem that most members see each other as the key to the Church’s PR mission.

  10. Peter says:

    Here is what the proclamation on the family actually says about this issue:

    “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed”.

    There are many women that must work to provide or help provide for kids. However, there are allot of women who would rather leave their kids and go to work.

    Programs such as Head Start are just an excuse for many. The reality is that kids can only learn stuff that is age appropriate. You can spend months and months trying to train a 4 year old about letters and sounds. Or you can wait a few years until he is ready to learn. I think it is terrible what we are doing to our kids. Here in California, schools are not so much concerned with learning as with passing tests. They receive government funds based on testing. That is why European students fair better on SAT type tests than Americans even though they often do not do any homework. It makes me angry to see our society use kids as a political footbal.

    Many of the valuable lessons I learned as a kid were from hobbies and non school activities which we are denying our kids today.

    • spunky says:

      That is an interesting comment, Peter. Many European countries are rote-based, whereas the US follows the German pattern of teaching by discovery. I prefer “teaching by discovery” as a teacher, because it encourages more students to internalize information. And I am surprised at the “non-school” activities comment…. there was a post in Segulla not too long ago about a mother refusing to do the socially encouraged the thousand after-school activities and hobby sports in order to develop family time.

      Where did you or your children attend school in Europe? Having lived and taught in the US an abroad, I find that statistical SAT claims to be based on very narrow studies at best and completely fictional at worst, so I am curious as to where you lived and attended (or taught?) school in Europe.

      • Amy says:

        Spunky, I have to say I was having much the same thoughts after reading Peter’s post. I definitely feel that people are judging me because I DON’T put my kids in tons of extracurricular activities. We do some, but not all.
        I haven’t seen a study, but my own experience shows that one of the greatest indicators of a child’s success in school is the involvement of the parents and I have had several teachers assure me they agree. However, I have seen stay-at-home parents be uninvolved. I saw a FB post from a stay at home parent who noted she just found out her child hadn’t done homework for two months…Parenting is a tricky thing!

  11. ssj says:

    I don’t agree with him about his ideas on women working or that he thinks it’s a good idea to cut HeadStart but I understand he is entitled to his own opinion.

    The thing that I find the most troubling is the fact that he was handing out proclamations with his address. Was this in a public arena? If so, what about the separation of church and state? Also, by handing out official church doctrine, doesn’t it imply that he is speaking for the church?

  12. Caroline says:

    Emily, yes. Some up close exposure to families who don’t fit into neat equations might do a world of good.

    J, thanks for the background info. It’s nice to hear the opinion of someone who actually knows him.

    motion de smiths, yes that’s the crux of the problem, IMO. It’s fine if he wants to interpret the Proc in a traditional way for himself and his family, but it’s problematic to use the Proc to define for others how they need to be structuring their families.

    Jess, I too wish the church supported working women more. And not only those who have to work, but those who work because they have something to contribute to their communities, and they know it. As I mentioned in another post, I think it would be great if the church considered allowing moms in the ward to run preschools in the church buildings on weekday mornings. What a service to all the families involved.

    Amy, I too wish there was more societal support for women who choose to stay at home. My personal definition of feminism is one that means supporting women in their choices – whether that means work or not. I think staying at home can lead to a lot of avenues of important self development for some women, just as working can do the same for others. And I certainly know kids who are better off for having happy moms engaged in careers, as well as other kids who are better off for having mom at home. It’s all about the need for individual adaptation, IMO.

  13. Caroline says:

    Duerma, Great point about Head Start. I didn’t even think about that — if Head Start’s a preschool program that goes for about 3 hours, there’s very little chance that such a program allows a mom to go out and pursue a career. Also, if the crux of his criticism for Head Start is centered around the idea that kids should be in the home with mom, then he should also by rights be critiquing families who send their kids to other preschools.

    Carol said:
    “Successful mothers fit in many catagories: disabled, working full-time, part-time, staying home and caring for children full-time.”


    you said, “Even if an LDS person’s opinion on a social issue is taken in a bad light by many people, it has still been said to many people and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” I’m interested in hearing more about the positives of Paul Smith talking as he did. There is the idea that bad press for Mormons is actually good press, since it turns attention to the church. Is this what you are thinking?

    good questions about the optimal Mormon public discourse. I’m not sure what the right answer is, but I personally lean towards discourse that favors compassion, generosity, a willingness to consider other viewpoints, etc.

    Peter, I’m interested in hearing more about this. “Programs such as Head Start are just an excuse for many.” Would you consider private preschools also an excuse for many?

    Spunky, good questions. I too get the sense that there’s actually a lot of push back from Mormons to step away from non-school activities, since kids are often so over programed these days.

    ssj, you bring up a good question as well. I think the article might have been a bit misleading. We don’t know the context in which he hands out these proclamations. Maybe it’s just to reporters who question him about his views? Or maybe it is more widespread? We just don’t know.

  14. Corktree says:

    I’ve been thinking about this since last night, and trying to remember how I would have reacted to hearing about this years ago before I started to see the world differently. And I think I would have really respected a public figure that took a stand for their beliefs like that, without even considering the damage it could do.

    But I see things differently now. And as I sat through testimonies this morning, the recurring theme of members practically being guilted into sharing their beliefs as widely and publicly as possible really struck me (as did many other aspects of church culture that I had already forgotten apparently). I think we are made to feel lately that if we’re not public with our personal beliefs (not just doctrine) that we are shrinking from be a disciple and good member. Similar to the FB statuses telling you to proclaim you are a Christian or else you are guilty of denying Christ. Is it possible that this attitude is at the root of people getting out there and sharing their opinions so scrupulously?

    And how do other members view the likes of us when we choose to be more open with our concerns and beliefs to the contrary?

  15. shley says:

    It’s not the “bad press is good press” idea that I had in mind, although that seems to be true to a certain extent.

    Like the above poster commented, there are people that feel guilted into sharing their beliefs because other people do, but there are also people that are just too scared to share their beliefs. It’s not like they are trying to convert anyone, they would just like their neighbors to know why they don’t appreciate them blasting very loud rap music on Sundays, just an example, but they’re too scared to say anything because they don’t want to speak up for their beliefs. Even though what this guy said, some people are going to be aghast at, he does give an example to other people to speak up, hopefully not so publicly with something that is so controversial. There are always going to be people who put their foot in their mouths when they talk publicly, and they are the ones who get noticed, but the quiet timid person who finally finds the courage to say to their friend that they don’t drink coffee after being offered coffee fifty-two times is the triumph here, again just an example.

    Contrary to popular belief, there are people intelligent enough to pick good points out of what he promoted and leave the bad points behind. There may be someone who says, “well, I don’t like what he said about pre-k and headstart, but I do like this proclamation thing, I am going to try and make more family time with my family.” It’s just an example, I’m not trying to say that actually happened. I like to think that people have the ability to adapt the things they think are good to themselves, and leave the rest behind.

    Something we see as having a negative effect, doesn’t necessarily have a negative effect everywhere.

    • Amy says:

      Thanks for that. I think in my life, I sometimes lean towards seeing the negative, so thanks for bringing some perspective there.

  16. spunky says:

    Paul’s admonition of women to stay home is Mormon worship based advice for the masses, which contradicts this 11th Article of faith.

    “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

    In disallowing the concept of women working within the privilege of their own conscience, Smith has become a type of false prophet, IMHO. This is what disturbs me more than if he said, “I think women should…” By inviting the Proc into his political agenda, he is practicing Mormonism in contradiction to the 11th article of faith, which – in my understanding- has heavier weight and authority than the Proc. In doing this, it is my opinion that Smith is treading in apostate waters, though I think it unrealistic for him to be excommunicated as a result. (man, I sound all hard core with that, don’t I? I swear I am generally easy-going 🙂 I wonder what Smith’s priesthood leaders think of this?

  17. Alisa says:

    I think any person who thinks that the majority of parents are working because they are selfish and can’t stand their kids is saying much more about him- or herself than other people. There are a lot of working parents who would like to be at home more with their children. That’s why we’re fighting for FMLA, for parental leave, for family-friendly policies that allows parents to take work off to take a sick child to the doctor, for more opportunities to work from home. I don’t know a lot of men or women who are thrilled that they have to work for a living. I certainly would rather have someone else do all the working so that I could be at home to spread out the chores I have to do on the weekends. And I’d maybe actually get to take my child on a playdate, which would be an amazing first.

    If Paul Smith is opposed to part-time preschool that is meant to bring kids who are behind up to kindergarten readiness because it gives their moms (who likely have other children at home) a couple of hours without that child at home, how does he feel about any school for any child? What a PR disaster, not just for the LDS Church, but for himself.

  18. Moniker Challenged says:

    For your sakes, and out of laziness, I’m trying to use the fewest words possible.

    Something similar happened in Idaho. As I understand it, a bill was proposed to tighten daycare licensing standards to require certain basic safety measures: smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, decent adult to child ratios, working telephones, etc. When queried, one of the opponents to this bill (an LDS man) explained his vote by saying that women should be at home taking care of their children.

    I feel it’s wrong for lawmakers or law enforcers to make their religious or moral belief the defacto law without considering the beliefs of their constituents and the intended or unintended effects their actions may have on constituents.
    If they are going to play God on behalf of God within their tiny spheres, it seems like incentivizing “good” behavior might have less potential for negative impact than trying to punish people who don’t live up to your person standards. So instead of trying to strongarm those wicked working mothers with the threat of their children dying in fires, or by withdrawing early education funding, why don’t they give the goodly mothers resources not available to the wicked ones? Direct payouts or tax incentives for childhood nutrition, educational materials, hygiene, and health care. Maybe those would help keep the uppity women home.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.