There’s been a furor in the Mormon blogworld about the leader of Mormon women, President Beck, and her speech this weekend about Motherhood. She said such things as:
“Mothers who know” are nurturers. This is their special assignment and role in the plan of happiness. To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow. Therefore, mothers who know create a climate for spiritual and temporal growth in their homes. Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes, and dishes and keeping an orderly home. Home is where women have the most power and influence. Therefore, Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world.
She adds: I have visited sacrament meetings in some of the poorest places on the earth, where mothers have dressed with great care in their Sunday best, despite walking for miles on dusty streets and using worn out public transportation. They bring daughters in clean and ironed dresses. Their sons where white shirts and ties and have missionary haircuts. [Cultural note: missionary haircuts are short ‘dos for men where the hair is above the ears and above their shirt collar. There is a cultural norm for boys/men to wear white shirts each Sunday for church and for girls/women to wear their best dresses. Mormon mothers who don’t enforce such dress rules for their children are sometimes maligned by church leaders…]
Wow, this was hard for many women to hear. To equate mothering with housekeeping seems an antiquated notion anyways. I’m also sad to hear her say that women’s power and influence is limited to a domestic sphere. And to call on LDS women to be the best homemakers in the world seems a shallow goal in the midst of so many ways that LDS women could make an impact on the world.
She said later in her speech:
“Mothers who know” do less. They permit less of what will not bear good fruit eternally. They allow less media in their homes, less distraction, less activity that draws their children away from their home. Mothers who know are willing to live on less and consume less of the world’s goods in order to spend more time with their children, more time eating together, more time working together, more time reading together, more time laughing, talking, singing, and exemplifying.
On this, I am on the same page with her in many respects. I think it is important for _everyone_ to carefully guard against too much busy-ness. It pains me that so many of us are too busy for relaxation, eating meals together, or for an evening stroll. Simplicity is an important goal, and perhaps our biggest challenge as 21st century Americans–especially those of us who live in urban and suburban regions of the country.
As I read through Pres Beck’s talk I thought back on my own mother. She gave birth to 5 children in a seven year span of time. About midway through her childbearing years, our family moved out of state–hundreds of miles away from all extended family members–and she had to care for her own growing family while my Dad traveled extensively with his job, sometimes he was gone three weeks/month. She had a large home to care for (4 or 5 bedrooms) and we moved every 5 years or so. Mom was called to lead the regional LDS women’s organization that covered parts of three states–meaning that she was frequently on the road traveling to distant church branches and leading meetings. During all that time she kept her teaching credential active in each state where we lived, often taking night classes or taking re-certification exams. By the time her youngest child was in the upper-grades of elementary school, she worked full-time as a teacher and was earning her master’s degree.
My Mom was an awesome mother in so many ways. Yes, she was busy. Yes, her health suffered at times from stress-related ailments. But she raised a great crew of kids. Um, and she wasn’t always the best homemaker. I don’t mean that as any kind of slight AT ALL. The house was rarely ‘messy.’ She had hearty meals on the table every night of the week. We had clean clothes to wear (sometimes even home-sewn clothes, because Mom is a great seamstress). But she hired a housecleaner to help fill in the gap. And later a gardener and a pool-cleaner, too. She taught us to do our own laundry as soon as we were in Jr High. We also made our own lunches and after school snacks and occasionally cooked dinner for the family.
And probably the most important part of this story is that when my Dad died after a rather aggressive bout with cancer, Mom had a good job (two of them, actually, because she was a school administrator by day and a college professor by night at that point). She had taught us all great life skills, too–we can each sew, clean, cook, budget, etc. Though all of us kids are creative types of people that sometimes find writing a story more important than scrubbing the bathtub, I think we all turned out well (we’ve all been gainfully employed, three of us have graduate degrees, etc).
I guess the upshot is, if Mom had stayed home and had only been a remarkable homemaker, well I don’t know that things would’ve turned out quite so well for her or for us. Of course everyone’s situation is different, which is why I’m dismayed to see a one-size-fits-all approach to motherhood that’s portrayed by Pres. Beck. IMO, parenthood has so little to do with how clean your house is and _everything_ to do with how you nurture, care, and respect for the children in your life, as well as making sure that you do all you can to teach them self-reliance and to provide for them financially.