Why I liked President Beck’s talk (mostly)

I think there was a lot to like about President Beck’s talk, despite its few cringe-worthy moments.

A while ago, at T&S, a poster took a BYU professor to task for lumping “disdain for housework” in with threats to the family like abortion and gay marriage. I think the problem with her talk is that she doesn’t go far enough. Disdain for housework is actually a much more serious threat to families than the other evils she lists.

I don’t know what sort of “housework” she had in mind, but, for the sake of argument discussion, let’s consider just a few kinds of work that need to be done in a household: cooking, cleaning, and caring for small children. (The cleaning of small children would require its own post, especially if your small children are as fat as mine were, necessitating ingenious methods of cleaning between rolls of delicious chubbiness!) These were jobs that the June Cleaver-patterned housewife of the 50s would have regarded as unquestionably her own. Moreover, she would have been concerned to teach her children (at least her daughters) to do them or help with them. A father could be expected to do the yardwork and many home repairs, and teach his children (at least his sons) to help with these tasks.

In the typical middle- or upper-middle-class American family these days, even those that conform to the most common interpretation of the Proclamation model–mother at home, employed father–these tasks are not necessarily considered the job of either parent. Even mothers not employed for pay are likely to be extremely busy volunteering at church and school, chauffeuring kids to and from school, after-school music lessons, sports practices, and other activities (including weekly YW and YM activities and Scouts or Achievement Days for younger children). The 40-hour work week for fathers is a distant memory, with most dads (particularly those who earn enough to afford to have their wives at home) logging easily 60 or more hours a week, plus long commutes in many areas.

The predictable result is that much of the work that used to belong to the family is now outsourced to housecleaners, landscaping services, and convenience-food suppliers–all of whom are paid abysmally and often lack basic benefits and work in unsafe and inhumane conditions. (See Barbara Ehrenreich’s _Nickel and Dimed_ for horrifying details. I love mentioning that book, just to make Frank Macintyre’s blood pressure rise).

This outsourcing, which creates efficient divisions of labor, is undoubtedly good for the economy–just look at those beautiful American productivity stats!–has terrible costs, both for the affluent families who can afford to outsource their work, and for the poor families, who absolutely need both parents to be working, probably more than one job apiece, just to afford rent and food. Affluent kids don’t learn to do chores. They learn to regard parents, teachers, YM/YW leaders as tools for their entertainment and edification. Mothers in particular take on the role of servant to their teenagers (I LOVE David Brooks’ line about the suburbs “where women weigh less than their tweens”), with nasty consequences for both mothers and children. Even diligent LDS parents can get so caught up in making sure their kids appear bright, accomplished and well-rounded to the Harvard admissions committee (let’s call this “Preparation H”) that they justify not making the kids work by saying they’re just too busy achieving their goals to be bothered with housework. Lacking the work that used to bind families together and create a sense of family identity, we resort to inventing identity with elaborate scrapbooks, framed Proclamations, and membership in political action groups that allow us to “thank God that we are not as other [families]” with working mothers, or divorced or gay parents.

For poor families, the costs are greater–parents are completely absent, childcare is spotty, there’s no one to help with homework or volunteer in the schools. Once upon a time, when AFDC was started, it was to help poor mothers be at home with their children. Now, of course, we regard having a mother at home as the privilege of rich children, and we cheer the passage of punitive welfare “reforms.” Losing sight of the value of having a parent readily and consistently available to children has huge social costs, borne physically and psychically by the poor, and, eventually, financially by all of us as taxpayers. The spiritual costs are immeasurable, for everyone.

So, I like it a lot that President Beck talked about the value and the power of the day-to-day tasks of mothering and, yes, homemaking. I don’t even mind that housekeeping and homemaking were conflated to some extent. They are closely related. It has taken me many years to admit that my lack of housekeeping skill is no badge of honor, and that it affects my family negatively. Of course we can’t keep our houses as clean and perfectly orderly as the temple, but the principle applies–some modicum of order is essential for a family to function. And attaching the proper value to the daily physical tasks that make a household run would go a long ways toward making the world a better place.

What I wish President Beck had talked a little bit more about was how our mothering can connect us with the rest of the world, and prepare our children not only to be missionaries, but to be engaged and capable citizens of the human family. I think there is great danger that our excessive focus on nuclear families will be profoundly atomizing (ha! a mixed metaphor that includes confused physics–both of my parents are writhing in agony :)). If we create orderly, happy homes only to benefit our own families, we will have utterly failed. Surely God has grander goals in mind. My favorite ever Mothers’ Day sermon (by the Reverend Canon Susan Harris) makes this point beautifully:

As mothers, as fathers, we have at our disposal a wonderful time of rehearsal. We may set aside our interests time and again; we may practice watching the interests of others. But if that sacrificial love starts with our children, and stops there, we will have lost our opportunity to fulfill Christ’s commandment, and so have everything that He has promised. Christ’s commandment is that we love, not just our children, but one another!

…Jesus said, ‘whosover loses his life for my sake, will keep it for eternity.’ If my sacrifice, and yours, is not so much pointed at personal fulfillment, and not even toward the health and education of my children, but beyond that, to the love of the world and God’s creation, then I have resurrection. Whatever I have lost, I will have gained–not in the shining faces and adulation of my own children but in the living fabric of the world they inhabit.

This is the best news of all, because, mothers and fathers, when our time has come, when, having fulfilled the duties of our state of life we are free to address ourselves to the needs of the world, when it comes time to love one another as Jesus loved us, we already know how! We have already learned! How to teach, how to feed, how to tend, how to heal, how to care, how to love. But it is different with us this time, because we act not out of duty. This time, in addition to knowing how to love, we also know why.

Because He first loved us. Because Christ has risen. Because in addition to being seen, spotted, glimpsed walking on earth, our beloved Christ has begun to dwell within us. …Having practiced our scales, played the daily exercises of love for our children, the scales of our belonging, now we come to the concerto. Now the music begins. Having loved our own, we now can love the world. Now we rise to the task for which parenting prepared us. Because he loved us; because while we lost ourselves not just in sin but in duty, not just in forgetfulness but in earnestness, in our sincere desire to do what was right for our children, because although we lost ourselves in our mothering, God remembered us, and brought us forward, and made us new.

I’m glad to hear a talk focused on mothering and homemaking, glad to hear women enjoined to do it better and encouraged to keep trying. Of course this will make many (me!) feel inadequate and small–that is as it should be. We are all too small for such an endeavor. It may also feel confining or limiting for some women (me!). But if we remember that the doors of our homes must not only swing shut to protect our families, but also, ultimately, open wide to invite the world and embrace it, we will never find home too narrow a sphere (to slightly paraphrase Great Aunt Eliza). And when we see our mothering and homemaking as part of the grand process of saving and redeeming the whole creation, we will surely also sense the grace that sustains us and covers our weakness with glory.

Comments

  1. Excellent post!

  2. Kristine, you make some excellent points, and you make them with both compassion and eloquence. Your observations remind me of something I read in an Ursula LeGuin essay long ago about the trivialization of housework/homemaking, which is an art like the “high arts” usually reserved to men, as a mark of our society’s degeneracy.

    This housework/homemaking issue (I don’t know exactly what to call it) clearly deserves a real overhaul in our collective understanding.

    Can I nominate you for next General RS President? Please??

  3. Kristine, this is a fine post and you highlight many important things. My regret is that President Beck seemed to me to conflate means and ends. I view the goal of the restoration as being Zion families and communities. These ends require many means. I don’t feel that we should produce that greatest housekeepers in the world. Our obligation is to do whatever we do well; but, house keeping is a means to an end, not an end. If men and women collaborate successfully in their homemaking, seeking guidance from God, perhaps there will be some couples that live the life that President Beck appears to love…but I believe that there will be those that sacrifice housekeeping on occasion for family night or a soccer game or a date night or even to make ends meet.

    I am a man whose wife doesn’t work for pay and am in a situation that President Beck would encourage. We have arrived here out of years of collaboration and it looks like for the next couple of years at least we will continue to do so. It is just that excessive focus on housework or providing cheapens my lifestyle. We aren’t doing what we are doing so that we can say that we have done it. We are doing what we are doing so that we can approach Zion. I am certain that path is different for us all.

  4. Kristine: I love this post, but I think it has the wrong title. You should have given it a title more like Heather’s. I would love it if President Beck had said what you say above. Unfortunately, she didn’t.

  5. J., I agree–I think housekeeping should always be in service to the greater goals of the family, and I don’t think Beck’s talk was as clear as it could have been on that point.

    That’s what I was trying to get at a little bit with the notion of a door that swings both ways–the door swinging shut on the nuclear family always feels cloying to me, and like an abdication of our other duties. The happy family as an end in itself is perhaps the most dangerous idol contemporary Mormons are tempted to worship.

  6. Kristine,
    Believe it or not, a little while ago skimming the comments elsewhere about this talk I thought, “I’d really love to hear what Kristine thought about it.” And here you have such a lovely reflection on what I think and hope Sister Beck meant to say. Thank you.

    And that is such a wonderful excerpt of the mothers day sermon. It is my great hope that somehow as I’m struggling through the responsibility I have to mother my small children, which entails many tasks I do not really enjoy, that somehow my heart is slowly being changed and enlarged and I’m learning to love better. It appears to be a very slow process. As my children get a little bigger and more challenging I fear sometimes I’m moving backwards. But I do have hope, because it seems to be what God is asking of me now, that God will remember me.

    Thanks for this.

  7. Affluent kids don’t learn to do chores.

    That hasn’t been my experience. I raised my first batch of children without any outside cleaning help, the second with a household cleaner. Frankly, I don’t see any difference in the level of work that the kids do. They still have daily tasks before and after supper, and weekly areas to clean, and annual deep cleaning.

    And I’ve been known to leave a pile of dirty dishes with a note for the cleaning person: “Please leave this pile for a teenager to handle later,” and the counter all around is spotless, and the sink cleaned up, but the dirty dishes left there so that there are consequences to a young person’s actions.

    What the cleaning person does is the stuff that I would do, if I was at home fulltime. It’s only about 1.25 hours per week.

  8. “The happy family as an end in itself is perhaps the most dangerous idol contemporary Mormons are tempted to worship.”

    Wow. This come across as very profound to me. I think you are spot on. I think a lot of times LDS people inparticular make terrible marriage and parenting decisions for the idol they have made the happy family into.

  9. It was nice to read some positive comments about her talk. I’m just jumping on for the first time today and have been disappointed in all the negativity. Actually, disappointment doesn’t describe how I’m feeling.

    If we create orderly, happy homes only to benefit our own families, we will have utterly failed.

    I think it’s unreasonable to expect one person in one talk to cover all of her bases. Take the talks together (add hers plus the one on service, for example) and your wish is fulfilled. I think there is too much of parsing out one talk and assuming that it’s supposed to stand alone. That is an unfair burden to put on any speaker, and also minimizes how vast (using Elder Ballard’s word) the gospel is and how many different ways we could be changing and improving to live it more fully and enjoy its blessings more completely.

  10. Steve Evans says:

    Very thoughtful, Kristine. It would seem that real life (like Beck’s talk) is fraught with contradictions.

  11. Tanya Spackman transcribed Beck’s talk and posted it on FMH

    I was impressed with this:

    Mothers who know are always teachers. Since they are not babysitters, they are never off duty…

    Think of the power of our future missionary force if mothers considered their homes as a pre-missionary training center. Then the doctrines of the gospel taught in the MTC would be a review and not a revelation. That is influence. That is power.

    Yes, that is POWER.

  12. I mostly liked Sister Beck’s talk too. I’m really not liking housework, and it was nice to hear the reminder that it is important. I’ve got the time to do it, it’s just not a priority. But I feel better when we’re eating decent meals and the house is clean.

    “The happy family as an end in itself is perhaps the most dangerous idol contemporary Mormons are tempted to worship.”

    I read a book recently that mentioned a similar point. It was “The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap” by Stephanie Coontz. She claims that when the nuclear family is promoted as more important than anything else, community and other organizations suffer. Good people figure that they should exclude other activities and concentrate solely on their own families. This leaves many community organizations without their best leaders.

  13. Melinda, that’s my favorite book to foist on LDS book clubs–always makes for,um, lively discussion :)

  14. Excellent post. I loved Sister Beck’s talk. My wife who was in the conference center mentioned that every member of the Quorum of the Twelve on the left side of the pulpit shook hands with her when she was done. We’ve never seen that happen before. They all seemed pleased.
    My wife has always called our home a mini-MTC (we have six sons and a daughter)

    Sister Beck’s talk reminded me of my wife. I’m certain she practiced what she preached.

  15. Melinda, some people think too much. If your summary really is her main argument, Coontz appears to be one of them.

  16. I was just relieved to hear the important message that we fathers have absolutely no responsibility whatsoever in child-rearing or housework, even those of us who are primary-care givers.

  17. Interesting thoughts.

    See Barbara Ehrenreich’s _Nickel and Dimed_ for horrifying details. I love mentioning that book, just to make Frank Macintyre’s blood pressure rise

    Actually, I think laughter brings down my blood pressure.

    Also, It’s McIntyre.

    Also, your cousin James is my TA right now. He’s graduating in April so if you have any other bright relatives please send them my way. Good TA’s are hard to find.

  18. To go along with Kristine’s thought of looking outward in our family influence: I often think that my ultimate goal for my children, daughter especially, is that I hope I can raise her to be just a little better than myself. I like to think I’m a little better than my mom – in better shape, take more time for hobbies, better relationship with my husband, more balance overall. If my daughter can improve on all of that, I’ll feel I’ve succeeded in life. So, while Sister Beck’s talk made me feel as I could try a little harder to be less selfish of my time, it didn’t drag me down because I don’t worry about being perfect myself, I just hope I can give my daughter a good enough example that she can be healthy and happy with more ease than I.

  19. Haggis Never Dies says:

    Kristine – I enjoyed reading this very thoughtful post. I felt that Pres. Beck was trying very hard to convey a message that centered around creating & maintaining an environment where spiritual power could be developed in children. Hence the comparison to the temple or the MTC (ideals to which we will certainly fall short – but worthy goals).

    “Of course we can’t keep our houses as clean and perfectly orderly as the temple, but the principle applies–some modicum of order is essential for a family to function.”

    My wife and I discussed this talk at length – she (a part-time working mother, by choice) said she was very motivated by it and felt it was excellent counsel to hear. My wife also commented that the brethren are constantly under fire from Church leaders to lead “traditional” lives and values, for which they are often scorned or mocked in the “real” world. Her last comment was that these things (“traditional” values & lifestyles), to the extent we can live them, are a small price to pay for the blessings (Pres. Beck’s words “influece” and “power”) of the Spirit in our homes.

  20. Out of the ballpark, Kristine. Very nice observations, especially about the door swinging two ways…

  21. Frank, sorry for misspelling your name.

    And I have 46 more cousins where that one came from :)

  22. Kristine, you have an aunt and uncle with 47 kids? I thought we supposed to stop after the 40th.

  23. oops. Not *exactly* where that one came from–just that I have 46 cousins, total, from my dad’s 10 siblings. Every last one of them is smarter than I am, so Frank should be able to find somebody useful!

  24. One more thing:

    I have heard some people complain about what Sister Beck didn’t say. To them, my reply is simple.

    “Have you ever tried to give a comprehensive talk on any particular subject to millions of very different people – in such a way that not one person misunderstands or is offended – in only a few minutes? If not, please cut Sister Beck some slack. She didn’t say about 3,000,000 things she might have said; why focus on those and not what she actually did say?”

  25. Excellent point Ray!

  26. Nice repurposing of Sister Beck’s talk, Kristine! I think she wouldn’t recognize very much of what you have to say, but your revaluation of her speech seems to increase the value of the original nonetheless.

    In reality, I have only one complaint about the original, and it’s pretty minor. Sister Beck’s talk had a number of typos in it. If you’re aware of them and can read around them, there’s no problem — but they might create doctrinal and practical confusion otherwise. So bear in mind that Sister Beck inadvertently said “mother” when she meant to say “parent” or “both parents.” With that read-around, everything becomes clear.

  27. Thanks, Kristine. As always, you have given me deliciuos food for thought.

  28. JNS: probably just a glitch in the teleprompter.

  29. MCQ, another possibility I’m considering is that Sister Beck deliberately used female words to refer to both men and women as a strategy for off-setting the imbalance in the scriptures, in which male words are often used to refer to both sexes. This is sometimes done by feminists and feminist-influenced scholars, so perhaps that was Sister Beck’s inspiration.

  30. I think you’ve hit gold, there JNS. That’s why she was wearing that little button on her lapel that read “I dig fMh.”

  31. All the talks in conference were very direct. I’m thankful that she didn’t pussyfoot around the subject. that we’re great, and we can do it… bla bla. She gave very specific examples and things to target. Who could ask for more, make a list, check it off. If you don’t check of everything everyday are you failing? NO, but give yourself something to strive toward. An outline given by a woman called of God who, undoubtedly prayed and wrote and rewrote her talk with the Lord’s guidance to reach women, with, as shown at all these blogs, was a desperately needed message.
    Trying to say she wasn’t speaking to men is silly. Men heard it, do you think all the parenting of our children’s souls is the woman’s sole responsibility? do you not think, that because of the yoke we bear, that our husbands are not roped in that yoke with us? That them fulfilling their eternal obligations does not actually make our job easier? The Wheat is being separated from the Chaff here.

  32. ASavage, I worry that the consequence of addressing the speech only to women might be to reinforce exactly the set of attitudes you discuss in that last paragraph.

  33. It doesn’t matter to me at all that Sister Beck didn’t make every point. Through the power of the spirit I felt what I should know about my god-given role as a Mother. As an older Mom I wish I had embraced the idea of working with my children in everyday housework earlier. Doing housework along side my children adds a divine dimension to our relationship that binds us to each other. Sister Becks talk helped me appreciate that much better.
    I fully support Sister Beck’s teaching that children should be taught and spiritually engaged before they get to the MTC. Too many kids with active parents only get spiritual building outside the home.
    She gave a marvelous talk that was truly inspired. It is too bad as Kristine explains, that many members have not let go of creating the IMAGE of the perfect, happy family. That problem is all tied into pride.
    In my weakness, I am moving forward in role as mother. The bumps have been smoothed by the Lord. Metaphorically He turns my water into wine. Marcia

  34. Steve Evans says:

    Asavage, are you just going around to various blogs and cutting and pasting your comments? We at BCC favor a personal touch, troll-man.

  35. Troll Man? I’m an 8 month pregnant nesting maniac! And cutting and pasting is all I have time for with all this housework. I also have to prepare my FHE lesson tonight.

  36. Besides, it was a really fun way to open a dialogue pertinent to my opinion with a wide range of people. Thanks for noticing!

  37. Steve Evans says:

    Asavage – apologies: troll-person.

  38. I’m Adam Greenwood and I endorse Julie Smith’s post.

    I appreciate the commenters who are willing to back away from their previous negativity on re-reading the talk.

    I do not appreciate those who admit that initial reactions were overblown but blame Julie Beck for the overblown initial reactions.

    My wife who works hard to cook, clean, and to manage the cooking and cleaning of the rest of us–not that our home is perfectly in order, of course–so we appreciate that Julie Beck appreciates that sort of thing and doesn’t dismiss it as superficial or trivial.

  39. Are we to understand the ASavage is the emminent Mrs. Greenwood, then?

  40. #42, you took my handle!

  41. Ahhh, if only you’d held yourself out as THEsavage, then maybe you’d have right of exclusivity. As it is, there are many savages. What a really fun way to open a dialogue pertinent to your opinion with a wide range of people!

  42. Annie Savage says:

    fine then, I’ll stop hiding.

  43. And don’t forget the fine pasting here, as well.

  44. sooooooooooo busted. Time to come up with original content, savagette.

  45. Adam Greenwood says:

    Sorry about mocking you, Annie Savage. Carry on.

  46. Kristine: I have been thinking about this post since I read it, and I just frankly want to ask you if I am reading into this too much. Are you meaning to be snarky or are you genuine here? Sorry for beings so dim, but I have to know.

  47. Annie Savage says:

    Come on! There’s a fine? I just wanted to talk to an adult!

  48. And pasted here too.

  49. strike…… four?

  50. Annie Savage says:

    But it has led to some original thoughts and meaningful discussion, which is what I was after in the first place. Second was fame… I see I’ve gotten that on accident!

  51. Infamous doesn’t mean famous.

  52. I love this post Kristine. And I think I would have liked Beck’s talk (mostly) too, if it had looked anything like this post. But it really didn’t much. Other than the common theme that housekeeping is important, an idea I don’t dispute, they don’t have much in common at all. Well, there is the strength of delivery and guilt inducement.

    Granted, I’m moving a bit to the camp that thinks the talk is better upon revisiting it, for various reasons. But still, I do think Beck is responsible to some degree for the (somewhat false) first impressions so many of us had. Talks are all about planting that first seed of reflection, they can be revisited, but they should succeed in the moment too, and this fell short. It’s not like only a few people misinterpreted . . . we have masses of people walking away thinking that we heard things like righteous women keep a house as clean as the temple.

  53. Annie Savage says:

    I only said fame.

    Let me say I really loved her comment about how our children should go to the MTC and find the teachings there a review as opposed to a revelation! I totally want to take up that challenge, we’re 10 years from the MTC with our oldest. Not depending on primary teachers to be the only ones to teach the gospel to my children would be step #1…

  54. Oh, and I very much like the “Universal She” theory, it sheds a whole new light on things.

    We really need buttons.

  55. Annie pasted her comment on my blog too, but I would never rat her out…oops.

    Let’s all encourage her to name her son Henry James. The world needs another Henry James, and the sooner the better.

  56. Thanks for a couple of laughs on the subject. I needed them. It sure beat the two cries I’d had on the subject. Although “Our Refined Heavenly Home” wins the most un-inspiring depressing talk of the decade, this one came close.

    This is a hard subject for me. Six kids, small house, homeschooling. We’re all here, all the time. And I’m trying. I really am. But if a clean house and neat children are required for exaltation, I’m out. Even trying my hardest, it’s a disaster around here.

    IF I could fufill the ideal she taught, my family and I would be happier. I like clean. I like organized. I like neat, reverent children. I like peace. I dream of these things. I despair of these things.

    So Sunday, I’d stayed home, listening to conference, hoping to hear “the pleasing word of God, yea the word which healeth the wounded soul.”

    Sabbath-breaker that I am, I needed to clean the “playroom.” So housework was exactly what I was doing when Sister Beck was talking. I stopped cleaning. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to send in my motherhood resignation, burn the house down, or ask to have my name removed from the records of the church. Love, civil duty and a testimony prevented me from following any of those knee-jerk reactions. Instead I just cried because one more fellow mom was judging her fellow moms one more time. I don’t know–maybe that’s the in the job desciption for GRS Presidents.

    The points that stabbed most deeply:

    (My memory of) Her definition of nurture. By “nurture” we mean housework, the physical upkeep of the family. (My dictionary says “Nurturing: 1. To nourish, feed. 2. To educate, train 3. To help grow or develop; cultivate.”)

    And did she really say that it didn’t really matter how much education you have if you can’t keep your home properly? I must have misheard.

    I’ve pondered “the wicked taketh the truth to be hard.” Am I wicked? ‘Cause that seemed pretty hard.

    Well, enough killing time. I need to go clean something, cook something and cancel some of my children’s outside activities.

    I live to serve. Jami

  57. JNS, your first couple comments made me laugh. Thanks.

    After Sister Beck’s talk my husband (who’s more conservative than I am and understands me well) paused Conference (aren’t DVRs great?), turned to me and asked, “So what did you think of that talk?” My response was something like, “It bothered me. A lot.” This didn’t surprise him, and he asked what in particular bothered me. I responded that the thing that bothered me the most was that it was addressed to mothers, rather than parents. Shouldn’t fathers also teach their children to work, and work alongside them? Shouldn’t fathers also be willing to forgo some of the nicer things of life in order to spend more time with their children?

    I think my husband was expecting to have to defend the talk a little, but this comment just made him sit back and nod. Then he asked, “So, other than that, what did you think?” And my reply was, “It was pretty good.” I didn’t agree with everything she said (for instance, I don’t think dresses need to be ironed, and I don’t think boys need to wear white shirts or have missionary haircuts to look nice), but I wouldn’t have had a problem with it if she’d just addressed it to parents rather than mothers.

  58. AnonForThis says:

    Jami,

    You’re certainly not alone. My wife cried herself to sleep last night because of Sister Beck’s talk.

  59. OK. I reread the talk instead of darning socks. Here are the exact quotes: “Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes, and dishes and keeping an orderly home….Nurturing mothers are knowlegable, but all the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make up homes that create a climate for spiritual growth.” The words are not quite as sharp as I remembered, but still sting.

    Off to nurture. Nutur-roo. Gonna serve up some whole-wheat Nutur-oni for lunch.

    Jami

  60. rockybranch32 says:

    After Sister Beck’s talk–and all of conference, actually–I spent the rest of Sunday feeling pretty low.

    When she said Mothers who know desire to bear children . . . don’t postpone it, etc. I sat very carefully, not looking at my husband.

    We’ve got teenager troubles at our house. Our youngest (we have four) is making a lot of stupid decisions right now, throwing phrases like “It’s YOUR stupid church, not MINE” into our faces.

    Two weeks ago, my husband and I got away on an anniversary trip. We called home to see how things were going. Not well, we learned. This daughter was flouting some pretty important household rules. When I got her on the phone, I bawled her out pretty royally.

    “That was the most venomous thing I’ve ever heard,” my husband said when I handed the cell phone back to him. And we spent the rest of our nice little 25th anniversary discussing how I had a history of being “venomous,” “flipping out,” “yeah, the other kids seemed to have made their peace with you, but this one . . .” and “how can you, an otherwise nice person, be like this?”

    The answer was pretty clear to me. My behavior is entirely consistent for someone who undertook motherhood as if she were licking soap. He remembers, very well, those conversations twenty-five years ago when I said, “Can’t we put it off a little? I don’t feel ready.” I remember, very well, his hints that putting it off would blow away all respect he had for me. I had also been raised with the “don’t postpone” admonition firmly in the front of my two righteous eyes. And who knew when or if I’d ever “feel ready”?

    So I submitted. Pregnant and excited? Not me, ever.

    What does a woman do when she’s caught between “I don’t want to” and “I’d better”? I did what I could. I did a lot of it without help from my husband. He was busy keeping up with his various jobs in this downsize-prone world, or he was wiped out with his illnesses. On the bad days–and there were quite a few–I clenched my jaw and muttered that I never wanted this job. I flipped out. I got venomous.

    So here we are. We decided I shouldn’t speak to my daughter, except through him. Sometimes I’m grateful that he’s preserving her connection to the family. But most of the time, I’m knots-in-the-stomach angry that 1) he disregarded my feelings way back when; 2) he missed out on the hard parts; and 3) he often assumes an air of sweeping in and fixing what, in his view, I have messed up so badly.

    Into this stew comes Sister Beck’s talk.

    I get the part about motherhood being necessary and all. Anything good about it has surprised me. But I still think it’s a crappy job. You have to tell kids things they don’t want to hear, embarrassing things like “Wipe your bottom,” “It’s time you started wearing deodorant,” “You shouldn’t have taken that last piece of chicken, since there wasn’t enough for everybody.” Does my husband appreciate and adore his mother? No, he doesn’t. Do I praise and emulate mine? Nope. Are there mothers out there who inspire warm fuzzies in their children’s hearts? Sure, but are there mothers that inspire dread and jokes and rolled eyes? Oh yeah.

    So that talk hit me at a pretty bad time. I’ve already had a few weeks of laying awake crying, of waking up early, tortured and angry all over again. I didn’t need to feel like a failure again.

    This morning was another early wake-up. I decided it was time for a heartfelt prayer, out in the car where nobody could hear me, because I might need to do some shouting. I drove to the park. God and I had a good little talk.

    We agreed that I could never have been the ideal mother that is so often portrayed from the pulpit. Given my social skills, my righteous-but-arid upbringing, my lack of help, I did the best I could. If I could do motherhood over, I would have complimented my kids more, but I still would have had to tell them the hard stuff, and they still would have resented it.

    Someday, they are going to break in to my journals and find out how I really felt about the job. Somebody ought to ask them the, “Would you rather have waited for a mother who felt ready? Or would you rather have come sooner to the mother you got?”

  61. rockybranch32:

    Thanks for sharing your pain. I am sure, when all is said and done, no child could ask for anything more than a mother who has “good little talks” with God and does the best she can.

  62. StillConfused says:

    rockybranch32, thank you for your comment. I am 40 and divorced with a 20 year old and 17 year old. I had a great time raising them. I was seeing a man recently who is my age and wants to start a new family. There is no way I would go there. No matter what a man thinks, the lions share of raising children falls on the mother and the mother has to be 100% on board for all to work out. Do I love being a mom…sure… do I want to do it all again. Nope. Sorry. No actually, I am not sorry. My sympathies to you and I hope that you can find peace.

  63. rockybranch32,

    I have felt many times the way you describe feeling in your post and my mother-weary heart goes out to you. I don’t think there is another job on earth that can be as thankless as Motherhood-after all, what exactly is the appropriate thank you for continuing the human race?

    I don’t know if this will help or comfort you in any way, but I offer it just in case. One of the most powerful concepts I have ever learned is about the power of forgiveness. I didn’t learn this lesson sitting in a warm fuzzy RS class, or from my YW leaders, or by reading the Ensign with my home teachers. I learned it the same way I learn most things…the hard way…after the Holy Ghost repeatedly smacks me around with a spiritual 2×4.

    Most of my life I had considered “forgiving” someone as the spiritual equivalent of a get out of jail free card. I felt like letting go of my pain and anguish (especially that which had nothing to do with my own actions but instead came from being acted upon by others) somehow trivialized the events, or let those responsible off the hook permanently.I knew in my heart that I was supposed to forgive, but I misunderstood completely WHY I should.It came as a huge shock (and one I didn’t handle well at first) that the deep and complete healing and peace that my soul yearned for could only come to me through forgiveness. It was just too unfair!

    But after long months of study and prayer Heavenly Father taught me that I could progress NO further spiritually without letting go of the massive weight of bitterness that was crushing my heart.With all that sorrow and hurt and resentment inside, there wasn’t any room for healing, peace, joy or progress. The question was no longer “Does this person deserve to be forgiven?” but rather “Are you going to let this person’s actions affect the rest of your life too?”. They say that being unforgiving is “like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”…and it is SO true.

    Forgiveness is the balm to heal yourself and your family. Forgiveness for your husband (and his weaknesses), for your children (and their lack of maturity), and for yourself (and all the things you feel badly about). You don’t HAVE to adore motherhood to forgive yourself for hating it. You don’t have to relish the hard things that mothers have to do, to forgive yourself for dreading them. You don’t have to spend a tense and unhappy future with your children if you can find it in your heart to forgive the mistakes made by regular old human beings in the past and lean on the Lord for the blessings of the future.

    He loves us SO much. He desires to bless us and heal us and bring us peace more than we ever realize. But we have to open the door and allow that healing to work in us, because He cannot never force it upon us. I sincerely pray that you find peace and love and healing in your life, wherever it comes from.

    Your fellow mom/sister/friend/etc

  64. rockybranch32 says:

    Matt W, StillConfused & Abish,

    Thank you for your kind comments.

    My oldest three have turned into cool young people. We do pretty well, in spite of rocky days in the past. My feelings about the job certainly do not equal my feelings about them as human beings. And I hope I never have to explain myself until they have felt the contradictions of parenting for themselves.

    Church talks on mothering never encourage me, because they all start with assumptions that don’t fit. I used to wish they’d acknowledge The Reluctant Mother. However, back when I was a Dr. Laura listener, I decided that it really is more noble to want to mother. Since church talks are all about being more noble than we are, all about telling us how we ought to be, we’re going to hear about the Sarahs and the Hannahs, not the less-than-nobles. That’s OK. That’s a church leader’s job.

    That leaves us less-than-nobles are on our own.

    Until we stumble into the bloggernacle. Some time ago, I read a thread on mothering in the BCC archive. The posters had little use for all the rhapsodizing, but they did the job because it needed doing. Now that was encouraging.

  65. Perhaps Sis. Beck would have been better understood had she borrowed a line from a talk years ago by Elder Loren Dunn. Elder Dunn’s father had purchased some cattle and gave his sons the responsibility of caring for them. A neighbor was concerned that the boys were ruining the animals by failing to care for them properly. Brother Dunn’s response: “I’m not raising cows. I raising boys.”

    We spend altogether too much time playing with our children, and not nearly enough working with them. Some of the work is, unfortunately, drudgery. Deal with it. That’s just the way life is. And the sooner a young person learns that doing a job well is worthwhile, even if the work is not cutting-edge and exciting, the better off he or she will be.

  66. Mark, a good story — and yet it raises a question in my mind. Aren’t there jobs that are worth doing badly? That is to say, tasks that have to be done but are simply less important than other things?

  67. Christy S says:

    Kristine,
    I appreciate you highlighting what can happen when we take time to digest something heard at conference, think about it, struggle with it and learn from it.

  68. It makes me sad to think of women, especially the particular women who’ve commented so eloquently here, being hurt to tears by this talk. This one didn’t do it to me, but I, too, have been stung, infuriated, wounded by Church rhetoric about mothering. I know how those tears feel, how terrible it is to be torn by fierce love for your children and by longing for something of yourself that can exist alongside them.

    And I’m convinced that there is something really profound, though inchoate, about how we make our homes. I wouldn’t dare guess whether it’s something innately female, or a learned feminine trait (I’m strongly inclined to this latter explanation), but I think for a lot of women, the identification with their houses is intense. I am ashamed in ways that I can’t intellectually account for when my house is messier than I think it should be (i.e. always). And, given how hard I am on myself about this, criticism from anyone else is pretty much unbearable.

    And if guilt over houses is intense, guilt over one’s actual mothering–the care and nurture and admonition of children–requires an entirely different Richter scale. My kids are still small, and so the number of ways they can break my heart is somewhat limited. I can barely imagine what it must be like to have teens and young adults who can *really* hurt you (by hurting themselves, mostly).

    All this to say, inadequately, that I weep with you and for you, and for all of us broken, fierce, wondering mothers. And that I believe with all my heart that the suffering of motherhood is redemptive in ways we can barely begin to imagine.

  69. Kristine, I agree with you, and sympathize with those women whose feelings of inadequacy, which are probably already very intense, were hurt even more. And I could sympathize even more if there were not so much loud cheerleading from the Relief Society whenever men’s failings are denounced, as they routinely are.

    I live in something of a company town, where one large employer dominates the market. Due to outsourcing, downsizing and mergers, the workforce has gone from 45,000 to 8,000 in the past few years. It is heartbreaking to see guys in my quorum lose their jobs, jobs which cannot be replaced at anywhere near the same salary. They learn how harsh life can be as they are forced to sell the home and move the family to a smaller place, or move somewhere else. And when men go to priesthood meeting, that scripture about being worse than an infidel if you don’t provide for your family gets used often. But when the RS gossip machine starts up and the sisters in the ward discuss the fact of his unemployment as though it were a character flaw, and express dismay that his wife now has to go to work “because he just won’t step up”, it hurts even worse.

  70. I teach a RS of mostly twenty somethings. Most of them believe that, if they just get as close to the commonly stated church ideal for women, their children will be near perfect and active in the church, their marriages will be sublime and they will be happy. Some of them seem quite unhappy in the attempt even at this early stage. A veteran of the guilt and pain that comes to a parent when children make disappointing choices, I tell my young sisters to make prayerful and well-analyzed decisions, mindful of counsel, but confident in their ability to make the right decisions for themselves and their families regardless of counsel or social pressure. Forcing a missionary haircut on some children could have unfortunate , even disastrous, consequences. Order works in most homes, but some of us are more productive and happier in seeming chaos. Any more ironing and my mother’s arthritis would have sent her to bed. In retrospect, I am unsure whether my working more or less would have been better for the family. I am only sure that along the line, I made considered and prayerful decisions regarding working. Different decisions might have yielded different results, some better, some worse. More or less conventional decisions would have yielded different causes of guilt and pain.
    I’m grateful for the counsel of leaders, but I alone must manage my life and exercise my free agency. I alone must stand before God and account for this life. I don’t dare tell him I didn’t appreciate a good mind enough to use it, that I just followed the counsel of the moment irrespective of his inspiration regarding the distinct individuals in my care.
    Dear sisters who are hurt by talks like these, use them to reassess and change if it seems wise for you and your family but then own the wisdom and final decisions that are yours alone.

  71. Most LDS families have a very middle class american way of looking at the wold and have not even had the opportunity to have help at home – when they look at women who have nannies, housekeepers they are jealous. It is convenient to say that they are looking to worldly ideals or are not living an enlightened life – that makes them feel a lot better about their station in life.

  72. walkinginthewoods says:

    I appreciated the person who said that one person can not say *it all*–

    I really do–

    I have the opposite problem of most people.

    I really love my children–

    but I have two VERY special needs children–

    I homeschooled, and my older special needs child was such a challenge that I was exhausted all the time–

    he wanted VERY much to serve a mission; his IQ wouldn’t let him, but his IQ didn’t prevent him from joining the army–and I taught him to be non-militant–

    so, there’s a bit of heartache there.

    He spent years wearing a white shirt and having a homemade missionary tag on; he would walk around with his scriptures all day saying, “Elder _________ is coming to dinner today and will be teaching you”–

    I did ALL the important things; I started reading him scriptures aloud from day one–and had classical and Mo-Tab on all the time–

    even if I didn’t like them–

    And he has broken my heart again and again; THAT part of her talk hurt me, but I don’t feel vitriol towards her; she is making some good points; our world has become child/home/family unfriendly–

    I wish I could have had the kind of son who COULD have served a mission; that would have been really nice–

    I have one *normal* child, and life is hard for that child, with two demanding and struggling siblings–

    I have made so many mistakes; I feel deeply inadequate–there are many reasons.

    After the heartache of almost 23 years of mothering and feeling like a complete failure I LOVE a well-baked pie, a nice pot of soup and a clean house. The pie won’t get up in the middle of the night and leave the house and do _________. The clean floor won’t get onto a bad internet site. Deliberately. The pot of soup won’t spend the entire day trying to provoke argument in every other person in the home.

    You can clean a house and it will stay that way (sort of)–for a reasonable amount of time–at least it would if the people who are difficult would allow it . . .

    it won’t throw the soap in your face. You can scrub a floor and it won’t throw the water back on you–

    etc.

    I like keeping a house, because the house doesn’t talk back–

    I like cooking a meal, because I can SEE that I have done something. I don’t have to be around people or get paid to do it; it just feels very primal–very basic . . .

    and satisfying.

    So, for once a talk didn’t make me feel guilty about liking to clean house and cook–for once; I was astounded; for years I had been put on guilt trips about “rocking my babies, and babies don’t keep–dust go to sleep”–

    when I wanted very much to scrub the floor, but I went ahead and rocked and I rocked willingly and I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t see why I was BAD for wanting a clean house–

    why couldn’t I scrub the floor while the baby played happily and STILL rock the baby and not feel guilty? This talk came 20 years too late for me.

    So I say, good for Sister Beck–

    the missionary haircuts and the white shirts . . .

    *in another world*

    (we read the scriptures, sang the hymns, listened to the right music, read the right talks, had FHE, did devotional, etc., etc., etc.–and there has been no MTC experience for us–oh, my aching heart . . . )–

    having a happy family an idolatry–sounds like liberal Lutheranism in the 1960s–honest; look it up/check it out . . .

    I think that is silly–

    just an excuse not to care about the family; we all make mistakes, but we don’t have to institutionalize our mistakes–

    Whoever said that hiring housecleaning help is demeaning to an *underclass*–thank you . . .

    I will look up that book it speaks to exploitation and stratification; it’s about time–

  73. Rockybranch32-

    You know, it’s important to remember that the scriptures don’t tell us a whole whopping lot about the Hannah’s and the Sarah’s…but one of my favorite scriptures is where upon hearing that God has promised that she will conceive and bare a son she doesn’t clasp her faithful hands to her heart in gratitude for decades worth of prayers answered…she bursts out laughing!And then when the “Lord” asks why she laughed..( isn’t God capable of doing anything?) she LIES and says “I did not laugh!” It made her VERY human to me.

    I think sometimes we lose the horizontal hold on the big picture. We look at our children and think that their rebellions or lost opportunities somehow indicates that we are horrible parents, but not ONE among us would reflect upon our Heavenly Father (or mother) in that way would we? Is God a horrible parent because his children exercise the gift he gave them (agency) in diverse and often wrong ways? Is it possible to truly relish joy if we haven’t felt agony? Would we be able to appreciate the small successes of our children if we had not mourned with them through much larger losses?

    As a mother with two teen girls (19 and 18) two “tween boys, and some little odds and ends thrown in there (some more odd than others)I promise you that this much is true…”it ain’t over till it’s over”. I have a couple of kids that have morphed in and out between human and sub-human form in a manner that might prompt some into the field of genetic research. But the teen daughter that can go from a Defcon 5 to a 1 in 60 seconds because her hair isn’t perfect is the same daughter who noticed a “sad” woman sitting alone in a restaurant a few months back and secretly paid for her dinner. The child who can spin her head around 360 degrees is also the one who adopted a needy child for “Shop with a Cop” and forked out almost all of her own paycheck to cover the end total.

    I guess what I mean to say is…we can only teach our children to do the best THEY can with the tools that WE have and trust in God to make up the difference. It isn’t the Holy Ghost telling us that we’re failures, or imperfect or even witches of the highest order…(I plan to take up that whole PMS thing with Father the first chance I get trust me) it’s Satan. God doesn’t make us feel depressed and worthless…that isn’t His nature. And it isn’t His nature to allow the quality or lack of someone’s mothering or fathering skills to be applied as an excuse for our children’s ultimate attainments. THEIR agency is just as responsible for their lives as ours is for ours.

    The best thing I have taught my own children (so far) is that adults make mistakes too. And when they do, adults should apologize, repent, and try to be better. And their children should forgive and do the same. If you don’t teach your kids how to fall flat on their faces and then get back up and keep going with grace and humility, someone else will…and they won’t love them nearly as much as we do.

    Hugs
    P.S. I TRIED to teach my kids that when adults make mistakes they should be sent to their rooms and grounded for months on end with NO visitors…but they drew pictures of emaciated and naked crayon children and slid them under the door on Mother’s Day….sigh…

  74. In light of the Beckstorm on various blogs I found this story in today’s LA Times interesting:

    href=”http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-homemaking11oct11,1,1377755.story?coll=la-headlines-nation&ctrack=1&cset=true”>

  75. Sis. Beck’s talk can now be read at lds.org.

  76. I must say during conference I was fighting to maintain some sense of reverence in my home during this talk. In retrospect there certainly were many interesting things spoken. But like all conference talks one must seek the Lord and search out revelation as to what this means in thier life. My wife and I did the “mormon” thing. We married relatively young while at BYU, had children relatively young and I must say parenthood and raising a family is difficult under the best of circumstances.I would prefer to follow President Hinckley’s counsel … be the best that you can, but be the very best that you can (or something like that). Our life is not perfect but happy. Focus on substance and not fluff. Your kids need to know that you love them. Teach them the gospel, spend time with them and be their bestest friends.In eternity no one will care how white your shirt is or how creasless your dress is unless you have charity.

  77. TJ

    If there is any kind of laundry duty or ironing required in eternity then I want to be human forever! At least here my kids will eventually leave home (and do their own laundry) and when my husband dies I can live in a mumu and bunny slippers if I wanna!!!!

  78. rockybranch32 says:

    Abish,

    I, too, love Sarah’s laugh. And I, too, have noticed that the Sarahs and the Hannahs play such bit parts that they leave little on which to model ourselves. Which, in my view, leaves us free to be the women we’d rather be, anyway.

    In my case, that means that temples and visiting teaching and clean kitchen counters are important, but so is chocolate milk and a good library book.

  79. laughingmatter says:

    I’ve never done this before, so I hope I am not slaughtering any type of protocol. When my friend’s daughter finished listening to this talk she asked her mom, “what was that talk about, are we supposed to be slaves?” I have recently gone back to work and when we headed out of town to watch conference I left a kitchen and a pile of laundry that would have been condemned, not only by my grandmother but probably would merit a visit from social services. I was discouraged before but felt even more inadequate after conference. I have had verbal discussions about Sister Beck’s talk with friends and family, but I have not, I realized just now, poured my heart out to my Heavenly Father. I am so grateful for everyone’s comments here. It has helped me see that I have not been approaching this with an open mind and I am glad that there are so many of you who are “study[ing] it out in your mind[s].” Now I just need to do the asking and wait for the BURN :) Thank you.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] (note, I’m certain President Beck is going to take flak for this talk from some in the Church, and particularly some who frequent the Bloggernacle. Frankly I liked it, and it was something that we needed to hear). (And, I was right. The onslaught and belittling has already begun. See here and here).  (Further note–for a different, and I think much more moderate and respectful review of President Beck’s talk, please see Kristine’s well done post over at BCC). [...]

  2. [...] at Tales: President Beck’s Other Talk. Kristine Haglund: I’m a Traitor to my Gender Why I Liked President Beck’s Talk (Mostly). Permanent Link : Comments [...]

  3. [...] Kristine’s post about it over at BCC is much better than mine will [...]

  4. [...] of my favorites, but there has been a lot said about President Beck’s talk (the best from Kristine and Julie) and I want to add my [...]

  5. [...] Kristine Haglund’s inspiring and uplifting take on RS President Julie Beck’s talk [...]

  6. [...] By Common Consent, Why I Like President Beck’s Talk (mostly) [...]

  7. [...] but I tracked down some of the blogosphere discussion that was referenced in the show (Julie Smith, Kristine, TftCarrie, fMhLisa). I found that most discussion seemed to miss the point of the talk that our [...]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,485 other followers