Tuesday, February 08, 2005

A place for working LDS moms ... in the Church

Since I started this job I've been sort of living in a loophole, it seems.

This quote is from President Ezra Taft Benson in 1981. You can find it echoed in many Conference talks since then:

Beguiling voices in the world cry out for “alternative life-styles” for women. They maintain that some women are better suited for careers than for marriage and motherhood.

These individuals spread their discontent by the propaganda that there are more exciting and self-fulfilling roles for women than homemaking. Some even have been bold to suggest that the Church move away from the “Mormon woman stereotype” of homemaking and rearing children. They also say it is wise to limit your family so you can have more time for personal goals and self-fulfillment.

I am aware that many of you often find yourselves in circumstances that are not always ideal. I know this because I have talked with many of you who, because of necessity, must work and leave your children with others—even though your heart is in your home. To you go my love and sympathy for your present, and I hope temporary, situation and my prayers that you will be blessed by our Heavenly Father to compensate for a situation that is less than you may desire.

In other words, we're after an ideal. We want the father to have adequate income to support the family, the mother to be home with the children, the circumstances to allow additions to our families without obstacles of biology or money or marital discord. We want families free from abuse and divorce and early death. So much of what is taught by general authorities rests on that ideal situation as a foundation.

But in almost every talk about this subject -- at least in the last 25 years, which is longer than I've been able to keep track, since I'm only 30 -- there's that loophole, that place where you can look and say, Do I fit here?

I was so sure, when I was waiting to become a mother, that things were going to be ideal. Even when my kids didn't come by traditional means, I never imagined that I'd be a working mom. In fact, just the opposite. I can recall all too clearly many, many attempts at negotiation through prayer. Lord, if you'll just make me a mom, I swear, I will do everything right. I will give it a hundred percent. I will defend my family even unto bloodshed.

We adopted. Almost immediately, my commitment was challenged. When my oldest was about six months old, my former employer called me up, begging for just a few days, maybe even just a few afternoons a week. My first thought was defensive: I've waited five years for this baby! I'm not leaving him with someone else! (In those days, Sam even came on dates with Glenn and me.) Yet the thought of working wouldn't leave me alone. Turning it down wasn't right. Accepting it wasn't right. It wasn't until I hit on the idea, through lots of soul-searching and prayer, of working one full day each week that I found some peace. I did that for a year, with my babe spending his Fridays at Grandma's house, and then we had the money to adopt again. In the meantime, I think I was saved from baby burnout.

Now, with my husband working on a Ph.D., we are once again in less-than-ideal circumstances. We had the choice of sinking deeper into debt or sending me to work. Once this job opened up it sure seemed like a no-brainer, but I still didn't want to take it too lightly. It took six weeks of fasting, praying and temple attendance to decide what to do. My husband, bless his heart, stayed the heck out of it. It was my decision to make and my responsibility to face.

And here I am, working. Living in a loophole. I was so afraid that others, especially women in the Church, would judge me the way I know I judged others when I was in a more ideal situation. But I haven't found that, not a bit. Everyone I know seems to understand. Some people have even expressed admiration that I was willing to "take the pressure off" Glenn while he finishes his long education.

It's a comfortable place for me. In some ways, it will be hard to give it up when a more ideal family situation presents itself. But I hope I will give it up, especially when we are able to have more kids in our family. I think I will.

This all leads me to think that maybe what the Lord wants me to learn is not to obey the rules, but to obey Him. Not to accept without question words on paper or over the pulpit, but to search the depths of my soul for the place in me where His words are heard. Somehow He seems to like to make sure that I don't do things the conventional way, even when I'd be thrilled to do so. I think He wants me to learn to understand when others live a little outside the lines of the ideal family, too. It's not easy for me. But as I find my slightly-unconventional place, I'm learning.

5 comments:

Kitti said...

ANA,

I just found your blog and I'm excited to get reading. I'm also a working (mormon) mother and trying to find my place in this church. My husband is a PhD student as well and I'm supporting him.

I have to admit, though, I love that I'm using my degree and building my career. My questions are more related to how do I follow the prophets counsel to stay home when I don't have a "good reason" to keeping working anymore (because I won't be giving up my career easily.)

Anyway, thanks for posting your thoughts and struggles. It's great to get someone else's perspective.

Ana said...

Thanks for your comment, Kitti! You motivated me to put up my Blogroll, and you're on there! Hope you stick around ... it's nice to meet another Mo'Mama hard (??) at work!

liltreefrog said...

I often wonder the same thing. My hubby does work - but he is a teacher. Could we live on his salary alone? Possibly - but we would never be able to pay off our debts (most of which is my student loan) and would live in poverty. I make much more money than him, so could we live on my salary alone? Possibly - but we'd have to give up his benefits and the cost of replacing that health insurance would be astronomical.

So for now, we both work. Are we financially comfortable? Absolutely. We have been able to buy a home, a nice van, take vacations. We prayed about this matter when we had our first child and again when we had the second. I honestly just did not feel right about raising my children literally in poverty when I had the means and education to give them more. Others might make a different choice, but this is the one that was right for me and my family.

I agree with you - we must find what is right for us and our family. I have been tremendously blessed and so has my husband with finding jobs that fit our needs and also allow us the freedom to be with our children when they are sick, or need help at school, or just need us period.

Ana said...

Amy, you open up a lot of interesting things.

I've heard LDS women talk about families with working moms who have 2 cars and cell phones and nice houses and blah blah blah, and if they would just give up all those extras they could live on 1 income. Well, hm. The position we're in is that without my job, there's not enough for basics. With it, there's enough for "extras." So ... duh! We have a few extras! I have lived the life with no extras. It's so stressful. I admire moms who have the inner strength to live that way their entire childrearing lives. I don't have it. I feel so blessed and lucky that I have been able to get a job that takes us beyond subsistence level.

Also, it is a tremendous pressure for men to have to be the sole breadwinner. I think that role definition, combined with the way society prioritizes pay for different jobs, causes a lot of men to have to work in jobs they hate. How many guys would be great teachers or newspaper reporters or artists, but can't do it because they have to be the provider for their family? It's sad. Most of the time we just expect them to suck it up and get to work, without considering alternatives. Maybe this is radical for a Mormon mom, but I think husbands and fathers are better husbands and fathers when they are happy and loving their work! I know my DH was a bear to live with when he was working in consulting engineering. There was no question in my mind that he needed to get the Ph.D.

Which brings me to this: it's no sure thing that he'll be able to make enough for our family even after this degree is done. Especially not if we keep living in California, which I am more and more wont to do. A new professor in his field can make $45-50K annually. Not enough to buy a house around here, that's for sure! It will be interesting to see what happens. Maybe I won't have to give up my job. (Watch my horns grow ... lol ...)

Ms. Jane Doe said...

Ana:

What a great blog you all have here. I’m looking forward to reading more. Because I had to register in order to respond to your post, I have decided to begin blogging myself. I’m really excited about this, and frankly, I would have never had the guts to do it had I not been so determined to comment—so you are directly responsible for giving me this new hobby!

I just want you to know that there are many LDS women out there who have young kids and, due to various circumstances, are working outside of the home. My current Ward has a number of women in high-paying, professional jobs. I also know of a couple of men, not all in my Ward, who are stay-at-home dads. Several of these people also hold important leadership positions in the Ward, if that serves as any evidence that the Lord deems them fit to serve as leaders.

And as for myself, I am in a professional career and work outside of the home only out of necessity. My husband works very hard but is self-employed and cannot guarantee that he will bring in enough money year to year to cover all of our basic expenses; but the addition of my income provides more than enough for us. Life has turned out this way, and it’s not all that bad as I’m in a job that I enjoy and it has allowed us to own a home in a safe community with excellent schools.