The Most Important Work

I named and blessed my daughter on Sunday. Of course, the name (Samara Tracey Kramer) was decided upon in advance by her mother and me, so in that sense the naming was mostly a formality, a kind of ratifying gesture (not that I take lightly the significance of conferring names via priesthood power onto those who have entered a new realm, but such is the stuff of other posts…). It was the blessing portion itself that got me thinking about writing this post. I thought about gendered divisions of labor in the Church, not solely because my wife did not participate in the ordinance but also because it was an occasion for my serious contemplation of and concern for what the future holds for this tiny little girl.

Our (LDS) attitudes toward and language about women have changed rather dramatically over the past century or so. Of course, one should avoid the suggestion of sweeping generalities here, and the complexity and varying extent of those changes must be acknowledged. But for a Church whose leaders once speculated that women were roughly as accountable for sin as small children, the new language of a husband/father presiding as a first among equals, the very definition of presiding as equal partnership, seems like a pretty radical shift.

A big part of this change has been the (re)new(ed) emphasis on the central importance of work most commonly associated with the purview of women: work in the home. This goes back at least as far as President McKay’s injunction to priesthood holders that the most important work they could do in life would be in their homes. It has been a staple of Mormon discourse about family responsibility ever since. At the same time, and perhaps as a consequence of this paradigm, Church leaders speak more and more on the importance of parenthood and especially motherhood. Raising children, we are repeatedly told, is the greatest work anyone can do in this world. And it is primarily (though by no means solely, as President McKay’s admonition reminds us) the duty of the mothers in the Church to carry out this great work.

I recognize that there are no clean and absolute divisions here between male and female roles. Even in more “traditional” LDS households where the man is the primary provider and the woman is a stay-at-home Mom, there is typically crossover in responsibilities, as women contribute to the day to day survival of their families in the world and men share the responsibility for nurturing their children. I suspect that, on some level, the vast majority of LDS accept — they are certainly strongly encouraged to accept — some degree of traditional division of labor within the family. And, to reiterate, we are told that the labor that typically, perhaps ideally, falls on the women’s side is the more important of the two.

My question is, Do we really believe it?

I’m a pretty ambitious guy, and I have high hopes for my professional career. I intend to exert a widely felt influence on the academic world (a sphere I consider to be pretty important) through my own scholarship as well as my mentoring of future students. I hope to make groundbreaking contributions to my field (Anthropology of Christianity) and to be a well regarded scholar. I also hope to raise wonderful kids; but since in spite of my very real effort to play an active and engaged role in their lives, I can do nothing about the fact that I spend copious amounts of time each week away from them while my wife gets to remain with them, I am forced to admit that the achievement of this latter goal will likely be due largely to my wife’s work, with me functioning as a drastically inferior understudy. I like to think I’m a pretty fun Dad; but she’s an absolutely astonishing Mom.

Do I mean it when I say that what she is trying to accomplish in our home is more important than what I am trying to accomplish in my studies?

I don’t have much experience as a minority. I’m a white male, raised in an upper-middle-class family in suburban America. Not even my Mormonism has furnished cause for my feeling the sting of minority status, since I was raised in Utah. I am a bit more of an outsider, at least in this regard, now that I am studying outside of Mormon country, but my religion hardly comes up. What does come up, and quite regularly at that, is the fact that I have no less than four children as a first year student in a PhD program. And I certainly feel the difference when I speak to fellow grad students or faculty members with children versus those without. The former are typically quite understanding, approving, even admiring of our unusual fertility. The latter often come across as confused, condescending, perhaps subtly critical of our family planning choices. Even putative compliments like, “I could never survive being a grad student and having kids to worry about,” tend to feel rather back-handed. No one has been even remotely impolite; but when the politeness feels feigned or the admiration less than sincere, it makes me feel uncomfortable, insignificant, judged. Perhaps I just need thicker skin. I certainly have no idea what it feels like to experience this masked prejudice for something more front-and-center — like race or gender. I imagine it feels awful. And yet I imagine that many people endure it on a far more regular basis than I ever have.

Which brings us back to the question: do we mean it when we say that what goes on in our homes is “the most important work” in the world? We can’t exactly avoid saying it, now, can we? It has become such a salient part of our dominant discourse that we are almost forced to repeat it and to formally voice our assent to it on practically a weekly basis. Since we can’t really opt out of saying it, we have only two options: we can keep saying it even if we don’t believe it; or we can change our beliefs. This is not a trivial point. It makes all the difference in the world. Do I really believe that even if I achieve all my professional and academic goals, even beyond my fairly ambitious expectations, my accomplishment will be greatly exceeded by the fact that we (mostly she) have managed to raise healthy, more-or-less socially well-adjusted kids, capable of taking care of themselves independently by the time they reach adulthood, hopefully capable of thinking independently, hopefully having strong testimonies, hopefully prepared to raise well-adjusted kids of their own — do I really believe that this is a greater work than anything I might be able to accomplish outside of my home? Because if I don’t believe this with absolute sincerity, then when I tell my wife that what she does is really important, I’ll just be making her feel small, making her feel deeply and regularly what I experience on a far smaller scale when I wonder if my colleagues are secretly sneering at my fruitful loins. What an awful thing for the man she most trusts to subject her to.

The only reasonable way for us to avoid the condescending, hypocritical, and terribly hurtful process of telling the women we love — the wives, mothers, and daughters in our lives — how important they are but only half meaning it is to accept the truth: theirs (and ours to the degree that we embrace the chance to participate in it) is indeed the most important work in the universe, worlds without end.

Comments

  1. I absolutely believe it. I am only one man. No matter what great things I do to improve this world, if my children are brought up well they can do even greater things.

  2. I would say NO, we don’t believe it. Or at least, I don’t believe it. Sure, I want to. I NEED to if I want to keep my sanity as a female in this church. But no, I don’t truly believe that the most important work I will ever do, the most important work in the world, is inside my home.

    I wish I did.

  3. Very, very interesting Brad. I didn’t believe it until I had kids. Now I see that there really is very little I hope to accomplish that can be compared to being a parent.

  4. I absolutely believe the work I do inside my home as a mother is the most important work I will ever do, and I am in a “helping” profession where I literally interact with hundreds of people every year. I would be interested to know what work Melissa thinks is more important than raising children.

  5. Great essay.

    I think you raise an important larger issue which is do we always believe the talking points that are ingrained in our doctrine, LDS value-system, and priorities that are inherent in our belief system.

    A common thread is that sometimes the talking points are at complete odds with how others view the world (outside our LDS worldview).

    In the US, people are having fewer children, doing it later in life, having dual incomes, and generally placing families, the role of mothers second to the priorities of more wealth, more time for “self” in professional and leisure settings. And many find this a rewarding trade-off and balance in life that they find fulfilling.

    Talks like Julie Beck’s at Conference are an attempt to break this paradigm that many non-LDS readily accept. This is what you’ve described as the “masked prejudice” felt from others judging you. One could argue even LDS families are becoming smaller and more women are working than ever before, that we are increasingly embracing this “masked prejudice” as well (ie we don’t believe the talking points as much as we used to).

    Sometimes I don’t think we sincerely believe (or at least live consistent with that belief) a lot of the talking points that are expected. Let me give a few examples:

    1) Some past prophets have taught the greatest calling we will ever hold is that of a hometeacher.

    Given that hometeaching is usually 25-30%, that may be a true statement, but we either don’t believe it, or our actions demonstrate that we don’t value it (as we should).

    2) A previous EQ lesson a few years back had a quote from a past Church president that said something to the effect that the Elders Quorum when functioning properly would be the most important organization you could belong to…superceding any country club, association, or other fraternal group. Personally, I could think of a lot of very nice private golf courses that would strain the integrity of that comparison (in fairness maybe that speaks more to my own EQ). Again, not that that statement isn’t intrisically true, I just don’t know if many people buy into it.

    3) The temple should be the pinnacle of our membership and our focus should lead us there frequently. While this maybe true for many, I think when it comes down to it on scheduling Saturday activities many things trump going to the temple (shopping, sports, other leisure activities). Again while these are correct goals and ideals, the reality is I don’t think the majority effectively believe in them (as demonstrated by their actions).

    Perhaps this is why our leaders have to keep stressing what is true and what should be our priorities, since we can easily become distracted and “buy in” to the worldly lense of priorities and rewards.

  6. I don’t believe it. Each marriage is it’s own thing. Each child is it’s own person. Each couple’s goals, should be their own goals.

    We don’t always get what we want, be we can deserve it. Just do your best at what you feel is right. Watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.”..with some hot coco, and hope your family is one of the lucky ones.
    I have seen many “sad kid things” happen to good parents. I think Mormons, more than any other group, push themselves too hard to this issue.

  7. This is an outstanding and visceral post, Brad.

    I think that we all accept the fruit of true genius, even if we know that the cost was no home life for the individual. If we were to go through the utilitarian exercise of comparing the value of two potential lives I think it is a much harder than considering the generic latter-day saint. E.g.:

    A) Someone who dedicated his or her life to producing a malaria vaccine and saved millions of lives at the expense of home life.

    B) Someone who invented a new way to grow food that eliminated famine, but got divorced because he or she was never home.

    Granted, most folks don’t have the chops to consider changing the world. But such extremes highlight the tension.

  8. Fabulous post, Brad.

    I have worked in the educational systems of some of the worst performing districts in the Eastern US. The biggest correlative common denominator in every single one of those districts is that a large percentage of the children come from broken and/or dysfunctional homes – the vast majority of which do not have parents who support the schools in their efforts to educate those children. From a completely irreligious, educational perspective, I agree 100% with the principle.

    My wife and I also have opened our home to many of our children’s friends whose family lives are far less than ideal. I have spent countless hours trying to model to young men what a loving father and good man should be (not always succeeding, but always trying and apologizing) – with mixed (mostly little) success. From a foster parent perspective, I agree 100% with the principle.

    NOTHING in life fills my heart more than to hear a teacher or parent praise my children. I had an enlightening experience with the first teaching job I wanted badly as a new college graduate. I felt *strongly* that it would be the best job for me, but it was not offered. As I was praying that night for understanding, it hit me so forcefully that the job would have been the best for me – but it would not have been the best for my family. The job I was offered a few weeks later was a difficult trial for me in many ways, but it was absolutely perfect for our second son – exactly what he needed for a condition we didn’t know existed when the job was offered. Due to that experience, I have turned down opportunities for career advancement because I believed it would not be good for my children. Based on my professional experiences, I agree 100% with the principle.

    Finally, fwiw, I faced the exact same reactions as our family grew throughout my college years. I was the only married freshman in recent institutional memory, and I was the only graduating senior with even one child (3) – except for the man in his 60’s who was finishing a degree interrupted by war. I got the looks and whispers constantly – but not even backhanded compliments.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Very thoughtful and intriguing question.

    I think I believed it when my kids were living at home. My career was in many ways just a job to me to earn money to support my family. It is difficult for a lawyer working in a big city to make time for family, and I worked very hard at doing that. Even though I’ve been successful and am a partner in a large firm, I certainly could have been more financially successful if I had not been so concerned with catching that train home in the evening. Raising my kids well was my number one priority.

    But now they’re out of the house, away at school. Their characters have been formed, and at this point any influence I can have on them would be marginal. They still need money for school, and they need my love and support, but to a great extent my job with them is done, as they are fully effected adults.

    So while raising them was the greatest work at the time I was doing it, now that it has been largely done I no longer see it as the greatest thing I can do. But I still see my career mainly as a way of earning money and not as some sort of noble endeavor in its own right (as one might with something like an academic career). These days I view other things as the most important work I can do.

  10. So I am guessing you served in Samara? My brother-in-law also served there, and also named his daughter Samara.

    Although I am the one home with the kids and ‘run the house’, children’s activities and all, as a mother I sincerely feel that the most important role a man can do is as a father–just as much as the most important role I play is as a mother. In short, I sincerely believe that as people in families our most important role is as parents–to support and raise the children in whatever situation we are in.

    From my experience as a woman, and having been a wife of a graduate student with 3 kids by the time we were done with school–it often felt like the world of academia glared at me as if I was holding back my poor husband.
    The wife of one of my husband’s professor had a few choice and condescending remarks to make as we left for graduate school. The looks of surprise and utter disapproval were awkward at an awards ceremony when my husband announced that he would be turning down a prestigious opportunity and we were expecting our first child. Quite frankly, the looks were at me, as if to say, “How could you?”
    Honestly, it never even occurred to me how shocking it was to my husband’s fellow classmates that he had a child, and then two and then three- until graduation when one classmate, while introducing him to his own family, included his awe that my husband had his first child his first grueling semester of graduate school. So yes, motherhood needs to be protected, but so does the idea that once it has been undertaken, parenthood truly is the most important work we can do. I’m not so sure that inside or outside of the church that people smile upon neglecting your children for your career if you are man. But that might be a double standard, at least that seems to be the rhetorical war fought between working and SAHMs.
    I’m not sure the idea that what a woman is doing at home with the kids is more important that the father outside the home providing for their needs. It wouldn’t be so great for the mother and kids to be homeless and starving. So shouldn’t the father as provider do all he can to excel at his work, (minus time with the family)? Couldn’t that be seen as part of his role in the divine family dynamic an contributing greatly to the ‘most important work’?

  11. Horbite, I don’t think it’s merely a matter of strength in numbers — i.e. that parenting is important for me because I have four kids even though I’m only one man. Raising just one kid is more important than anything else the two parents could be doing. At least, that’s the line we’re towing…

    E, I don’t think Melissa is lobbying for a more important work per se. I think her concerns — her desire to believe what we say about the importance of family responsibilities in spite of how difficult it is to believe it — reflect the sheer seductiveness of a world that claims to value children but then assigns in practice more compelling value to virtually everything else under the sun.

    Bob, I’m not sure I completely follow…

    J, I think utilitarian models of thinking about this questions are a major pert of the problem in the first place. Non-LDS often ask me if having children so young is worth the potential risk to my career. LDS often ask me why I think I can afford the luxury and idealism of remaining in school for so long now that I have real responsibilities. As if our decision to have children was merely an offshoot of our larger goals and was calculated in cost/benefit terms.

    But I digress. This, alas, is not a post for bashing the beliefs of those who lack the benefit of the restored gospel. This is about whether those blessed with greater light can embrace the frightening fact that the most important work they will ever do is in the walls of their own homes. And it’s about the damage we potentially do to those entrusted with this great work when we talk about how important it is without really meaning it.

  12. Just for the record, nmiles and I are not married. Her three children were born before the end of grad school; mine were born before the end of undergrad school.

    Since we posted such similar comments so close together, I thought I should stop any rumors before my wife heard them. :-)

  13. I can see your point of view and understand that an ideal home life simply isn’t going to happen for everyone.

    BUT I also see malaria and famine as two things that affect human bodies-temporal cures-momentary fruit-whereas the spirits we are entrusted with as parents are eternal in nature and the fruit grown by raising them up to the Lord is forever.

    Some of the men and women who have had the greatest effect on the world go completely unsung, unnoticed, or worse are ridiculed and despised by many. Most folks might not have the chops to consider changing the world, but how many of those that do are willing to change it in an eternal way and give all the glory and honor to God if they do?

  14. I’m not sure the idea that what a woman is doing at home with the kids is more important that the father outside the home providing for their needs. It wouldn’t be so great for the mother and kids to be homeless and starving.

    True. But the latter is only important in the service of the former.

  15. Tosh, I totally understand your concern. Let me make clear that this isn’t about denigrating the work that men and women do outside the home. I certainly don’t think it’s fair to hold people who don’t share our beliefs or have the same kinds of basic opportunities we have to the same standards. My whole point here is that when we, as LDS, talk about the great and important work of parenthood, especially when we are using such talk as a way of making women feel like their work is not inferior or trivial, we’d sure as hell better mean it.

  16. My only concern is that the question might lead to a stereotype or generalization about how to judge if someone else really believes it. For example, I made the statement that I have turned down job offers because I believed they would not be best for my children. That could be interpreted as a belief that fathers should not work for more than “x” hours each week – that they should be home every night – that they should spend more time with their children than at work – etc. In reality, what I should have said is that I have turned down opportunities for career advancement because those jobs would have upset the balance my wife I need in order to succeed with our family – a balance that will look very different than that of many other parents.

    Pres. Hinckley, after all, has said more than once that his success as a parent was the result, more than anything else, of his wife’s efforts – since his Church duties took him away from home so much. I’m sure Pres. Monson’s situation is the same, since he was a Bishop and SP and apostle from an inordinately young age. I believe the principle we are discussing deeply, but I understand others who believe it just as deeply can go about it in very different ways than I do.

  17. Ray, I’m not concerned with defining what the implications are (or should be) for men and women who believe this. Let them decide that for themselves. I certainly can’t cast stones as a student who spends 50 hours a week in class or studying on campus.

    I’m just concerned with whether or not we do believe it given our fondness of claiming we do. If we are sincere, I can’t think of anything more empowering for our families. But if it’s just a way of saying “don’t worry, honey, what you do is nice and important too,” that’s hypocrisy of the meanest sort.

  18. Amen, Brad.

  19. Some of the conversations I’ve had at tithing settlement have been interesting (I’m a low-level ward functionary in a support position at this time of year). Intermediate ward functionary and I were talking about our various professional challenges — we both do our part to keep American society from crashing down around our feet (and when I say “American society”, I mean that in all humble seriousness). And it hit me that really, the coolest things I’ve done this year weren’t stopping the ruination of a bank or an airline or a diamond seller or a brewery or a research hospital or a fast-food vendor or a shoe vendor. Really, none of that matters.

    What really mattered was walking with my son on the north coast of America, freezing in the early morning air. What really mattered was spending yet another hour with my daughter helping with defensive positioning in the midfield. What really mattered was being “Dah’y” to my 1-year-old (he can’t quite make out the middle D). What really mattered was helping my son deal with the 2nd-grade bullies. What really mattered was having a conversation with my daughter about liking boys and how it felt to be a 10-year-old boy. These are things only a father can provide. Anyone — despite the claims of professional royalty I claim on my resume — can save a subprime lender from itself.

    I can appreciate the idea of seriously influencing our domain of expertise. I’ve had some success in that regard, both professionally and in my academic field. I’ve taken on some the “state of the art” thinking and shown how it was lacking, and how things should be done. But really? In 20 years it will be obsolete, just like I helped make obsolete the thinking from a virtual generation before. My father’s research used to be cutting-edge stuff. I had friends come up to me in their classes and show me an assigned article and ask, “Is that your dad?” (it was). Now that he’s retired, though, his research has been relegated to the dustbin of history. But his legacy of his children lingers on.

    I might not have believed all of this at the beginning of my graduate program, while I was working full-time and had children. But I believe it now.

  20. Ah, Brad, I hear you and then some about the backhanded comments and all. Try being a woman PhD student with 2 kids. I’m on the wrong side of just about everybody’s judgments.

    Excellent post overall. #17 comment is golden.

  21. My PhD advisor (female, Christian, married) for a long time had no children, despite many thousands of dollars and years of struggle. When she and her husband finally conceived — to their great delight — a lot of their university colleagues were dismayed, like she was letting them down. I mean, there were a lot of comments from well-meaning grad students and professors who felt like she had insulted them by finally getting pregnant.

    This, despite the fact that she was a full professor, was the most powerful person — man or woman — in the department, and had been inducted into the both the teaching and research “halls of fame” at our university, before the age of 40 (and wrote a book and published 5 articles during her pregnancy).

    Academics are so catty.

  22. queuno sparked some memories, so ‘ll add to my own thoughts (#20). The worst was actually being pregnant. It is one thing for people to find out you have kids and be “confused, condescending, perhaps subtly critical of our family planning choices.” It is another when the evidence is ever-present; you can’t very well take a pregnant belly off and leave it at home on important academic occasions. The sense that getting pregnant must have been an accident, and not an understandable accident but a decidedly irresponsible one, were palpable on many occasions. As was the feeling that many people were uncomfortable with my now-immodestly-sized body and frankly just grossed out by it. It was very hurtful.

    Even when people would say positive things, I felt like “Can’t we just talk about my work!” Kind of like how large-bosomed women feel that men are always talking to their chests instead of to them (“hey, I’m up here!”), I felt like all anyone saw was my belly and nobody was seeing me anymore. It was impossible to be taken seriously for my ideas. And again, it’s not something that can be shed, not ever, not even for just an hour-I have this really important meeting, …

    Reconnecting back to the point of your post, I always thought that society idolized motherhood, perhaps even to an unrealistic-bordering-on-harmful degree. I was shocked when that wasn’t my experience. Maybe it’s just academia, but the like I say the irresponsible and physically gross reactions were ubiquitous. (Of course, one can’t let ignorant and rude people control your life–and I was fabulously happy with the pregnancy–but that doesn’t mean it didn’t get to me now and then.)

  23. My advisor ended up taking a sabbatical for the last half of her first pregnancy. I think she’d been considering it for awhile, but the comments from the department sealed it. She’d respond to emails from her students, but that was about it.

    With her second child, 2 years later, she gave us students a private cell phone number, took another maternity leave, and warned us that she wasn’t reading email, unless it was to review an article. She wasn’t going to deal with it a second time.

    (I still think she’s a genius. After having the two children, she came into the office twice a week, alternating with her husband, also a professor. She’d respond to emails within 2-3 hours and never have to leave her home, and the children had at least one parent around all the time, except for Friday mornings, when both parents had department meetings. You can do this when you’re the top research-grant recipient for an entire university.)

  24. Perhaps we don’t fully believe it. If we did, I think we would seek and value the counsel of those parents who actually do the important work of parenthood more than we do.

    But I’m uncomfortable with superlatives like the “most important” work we can do. I can’t isolate even parenthood as the “most important.” Good parenthood doesn’t arise in a vacuum. It seems to fit in a number of key integrations: learning the gospel, developing a relationship with the spirit, learning to be charitable, developing and using whatever talents with which God has blessed us for the service of our children and mankind, developing a strong marriage as an underpinning for raising children well, etc. These are all tough and all important, all arguably “most” important. Without any one, the job of raising children is much more difficult. I think they all fit together; all are part of a whole. I also think that if we dropped the “motherhood is the most important job” mantra and talked more of this wholeness we would not only be more accurate, but also be less divisive.

  25. Do I believe it? In the way the post intends, yes, with all of my heart. My professional ambition has melted away in the past few years. I still feel real responsibility to my students, to whom my professional life has always been dedicated, but it lacks the intensity it did before I was married or had children. All modesty aside, I know I have and still do make a significant difference in the lives of my students, but I feel my home life is critical.

    (Although Molly brings up a very good point: the maintenance of the self — intellectually, spiritually and physically — and one’s place in the community cannot be completely separated from our various efforts.)

    Do we, as a church culture, believe it? I went to a leadership fireside once, leaving my wife at home with the kids for a Sunday night, to be told how important families are. Hmm. The continuing emphasis on the uniform of the business world as the uniform of religiousness sends an odd message: so does the use of business and management models in the church (including those damn PowerPoints in training meetings). On the other hand, we have followed the counsel of Elder Ballard a few years ago to make much more time for our families as ward leaders. So maybe.

  26. Do we, as a church culture, believe it? I went to a leadership fireside once, leaving my wife at home with the kids for a Sunday night, to be told how important families are. Hmm.

    While my husband was the Bishop this drove me absolutely crazy. I had to fight constantly not to feel that the church did not actually beleive this at all. And to be honest, I think there were times my husband, in trying to be the best Bishop he could be, made the mistake of choosing ward members over his family at crucial times which were not inconsequential.

    In my view he was released just in the nick of time to repair much of the damage that had been to our oldest child.

    I have thought about this a lot, and I think maybe Bishops could use a whole lot more training about how to deal with this very issue.

    My husband was starting as a partner at his new law firm roughly the same time he was called as the Bishop, and even though I am sure there were a few times when he had to choose work over family, the vast majority of the hurtful times were due to churhc responsibilities.

    I’ve made some amount of peace with it. There were trade-offs and reasons that perhaps, he was the only person who could have handled certain issues that arose in the ward while he was the Bishop. Since our son ended up turning himself around and being okay – the damage does not appear to be lasting. However, I really wonder if I could feel this way if he had not turned out okay after all.

    At the time, it felt like hypocrisy of the highest order.

  27. re: 19

    I agree with your perspective relative to professional/career choices. But, I think the drift of the post was about church responsibilities. Which of those treasured experiences would you sacrifice to spend more time processing tithing settlement forms, or attending a routine priesthood training session, or attending a PEC or any of the other myriad church meetings that take us away from our families on a regular basis? And, how do you explain to other church members why you’re not attending X meeting. Perhaps your experience is different than mine, but I have never heard a church leader or even lay member say, “I had to skip this meeting or could not stay longer at that meeting because I needed to spend more time with my wife and/or kids or both.” I wish I heard of that happening, or even that sentiment being expressed at a local level, but I haven’t. It would be a breath of fresh air to hear a Bishop or Stake President get up and say “I’m sorry I couldn’t make X meeting recently. I have been very, very busy and it was more important to my family that I spend time with them.” ( I also think the church should pay for two annual all expenses paid weekends away for every single Relief Society President and her family, Bishop and his family and Stake President and his family every year. The trips could coincide with either stake or general conference weekends. The individual families would select the get away location, but I recommend Amelia Island in Florida.)

    To me, it’s an easy choice, where possible, to leave the office at a decent time to coach one of my kids’ sports teams or attend an event or just be at home with the family. However, I enjoy the flexibility of being able to make up for leaving earlier by going in earlier in the morning, taking work home to do after the kids go to bed or even the absolutely dreaded billing on the Sabbath to make up for extra bursts of family time. When the choice is more work or family, it’s an easy choice in most cases-family.

    However, when the choice is more church work or more family time, it’s not so easy. I think it’s in that arena that many LDS really struggle.

    FOr example, consider an LDS pilot who is about to leave on a two-week trip and it’s the end of the month and the poor guy, like all of us, still has some home teaching to do. Assume further he lives in a typical non-LDS corridor ward that is spread out so a regular night of home teaching can easily consume the evening hours, at least the waking hours of his children. Does he spend his last couple of nights at home finishing his home teaching or does he spend it with his family? Or, does he deputize his family as his HT companion and take them along with him? What about the inevitable conflict between a sporting event/theater performance in which a child is participating and the routine, perpetual church training meetings. How does a faithful LDS skip the church event in favor of the family event without feeling any pangs of guilt?

    I think most LDS, me included, vote with our feet and just skip the church meetings in favor of family time but aren’t really vocal about why we chose family over church.

  28. I actually don’t believe that raising children is necessarily the most important work anyone will do. I think some people get easy, self-sufficient kids because God needs them to do other things. God cares about all of his children, not just the ones lucky enough to be born to good and dedicated parents, and surely he needs our help with other people’s children, maybe sometimes even more than our children need us.

    It’s comforting to think there is a simple, universal answer to the question of what is most important, but I don’t think there is. There’s nothing to do but wrestle the angel yourself and try to get a vision of what God intends for you particularly. No general rule is sufficient.

  29. rb: Re: # 27. Actually God has provided. Send an e-mail to the home-teaching families explaining the situation, attach the lesson as an attachment, and give them the home teacher’s and the bishop’s e-mail in case of need. Here we go — cyber home teaching!

  30. I believe this, but we as a church do not.

    When the community of the church believes this we will be taught that our most important roles are not a mother and provider but as mother and father.

    When we really believe this, we will see our young men and women choosing professions that will allow them to contribute financially while being a parent. I really wonder about doctors. My ward is full of young families here for medical school, residencies, etc. These fathers (there are also a few mothers, but they don’t seem AS affected, maybe I am wrong) are literally absent for 10 years of their childrens lives. Is it worth it? For me, it wouldn’t be.

    Why doesn’t the church encourage equal sharing? Shouldn’t women sacrifice and work a bit so their partners can work a bit less and be home more?

    Your heart is where you serve and spend your time. If you serve in your job, great. If you serve in your job at the expense of your kids, that will make all the difference to your kids.

    Creating a vaccine for malaria is great–it would affect millions of people. But would it be worth it if you lost your family? Job share. Share the glory.

  31. May I recommend (since I taught it on Sunday) Good, Better Best from last Conference. It talks about reducing/skipping church meetings for family. We actually discussed skipping meetings to be with family in Elders Quorum.

  32. Perhaps your experience is different than mine, but I have never heard a church leader or even lay member say, “I had to skip this meeting or could not stay longer at that meeting because I needed to spend more time with my wife and/or kids or both.” I wish I heard of that happening, or even that sentiment being expressed at a local level, but I haven’t. It would be a breath of fresh air to hear a Bishop or Stake President get up and say “I’m sorry I couldn’t make X meeting recently. I have been very, very busy and it was more important to my family that I spend time with them.”

    My experience is definitely different from yours. It seems every bishop I’ve known in my adult life has routined skipped ward events and meetings where he wasn’t required if it interfered with one of their children’s major activities. One case: The stake held a meeting for all the bishops to discuss some problems with scouting, etc. The bishop I knew sent his counselor and went to his son’s baseball game. Bishops I know have routinely skipped ward activities (and sent a counselor in their place) because a family member had something going on. A bishop I know has decided that he will attend the convert baptisms in his ward but he will send his counselors to preside over the 8-year-old-child baptisms (because he can’t make all of them).

    I agree that we have too many meetings, but I think that our attitude about this is artificially colored by what used to commonly occur 10, 15 years ago. I think the Church has gone to great lengths in the Hinckley era to encourage wards and stakes to simplify this. This year, the Church moved up the earliest tithing settlement start time so that bishops and clerks could be done well before Christmas. More and more training is being delivered over the Internet and via DVD. Some important ward meetings are now only being held once a month.

  33. I queried DW, who attended one of the bishopric-related meetings on Sunday, and she reports that there were more counselors in attendance than quorum or auxiliary heads. Missing were the RS president (family in town), bishop (out of town), YW president (no reason given, but she sent a counselor), and the YM president (sent a counselor).

    I would chalk this up to the Sunday after a holiday, EXCEPT it’s the same experience I had attending these same meetings a couple of callings ago.

    Seriously – this is one reason why leaders have counselors. *Most* of the time, anything the president can do can be handled by a counselor. And presidents/bishops should learn to use counselors better.

    Come to think of it … I think I heard this lecture from our stake president in the adult session of stake conference several years ago (very sparsely attended, because you know, many families think movie night trumps stake conference).

    (I’ve also been present at Church planning meetings that were conducted completely over conference call, and other planning exercises done completely over email. I think sometimes we call meetings in the Church just to have an excuse to wear a tie more than three hours a week.)

  34. Are you really certain that “raising children” is what is taught to be the greatest work we can do? I thought the actual famous quote was “The most important of the Lord’s work that you will ever do will be the work you do within the walls of your own home”. It seems to me that my most important single work in my home is nurturing my relationship with my spouse and with God. I always thought raising children properly follows from that rather than supersedes it.

  35. BTW – The above quote (#34) is from Harold B. Lee. Here is the quote that President McKay made popular in the church:

    “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”
    ( Quoted from J. E. McCullough, Home: The Savior of Civilization [1924], 42; Conference Report, Apr. 1935, 116.)

  36. Brad,

    I agree with the gist of your post. There is nothing more important than what goes on in your home with your children and I would add spouse.

    When I was 29 and my wife was 27 we had 4 boys 4 and under. The most supportive group of people by far was older retired people “greatest generation types” We would repeatedly get extremely supportive comments from both men and women in public of this age group. Many would comment that they wished that there own children and grandchildren would produce more kids.

    I personally think these old folk understood that in the end all you have is the family that you created on earth. #19 sums it up nicely. Nothing beats watching your kid catch a 5 pound Bass, hitting the target for the first time with a .22, baptizing a kid, teaching tithing, or coming home with a 100 on his spelling test. I have had success professionally at a trade that I really like but in the end when the LORD plays my tape back I doubt there will be much focus on closing a million dollar deal or building a company and selling it to GE. The focus will be first on the family relationships that I created here in mortality.

  37. Queuno,
    Your experience with local church leaders has been the same as mine.

    Brad,
    #14 True. I think that the problem that arises from saying what a mother is doing is most important is that it gets interpreted as meaning the woman at home doing the cooking and cleaning is most important. It is really hard to see cooking and cleaning is as important as saving the world from malaria, much the same way the garbage man isn’t valued. Perhaps the problem is not so much that motherhood and fatherhood are not valued, but that children are not valued. Hence people have no problem leaving their children with someone with few skills so that he/she can work outside the home where their own well developed skills are highly valued. The same people complain that child care costs are too high as if the company/university they work for has a more important product/project to oversee, while the child production at home is seen as a less valuable commodity- and therefore should come at a lower cost. If we realized that the cooking, cleaning, and career building were all in benefit for the child or children–they being of supreme value, then the mantra would easily be reconcilable.
    It occurs to me that as countries like France, Russia and Germany promote the birthing of more babies with benefits like paid leave for a year and beyond-they are seeing children as more of cost benefit (at least the government is). (Maybe if the church instituted a Mat’ Geroina reward system it would make the mantra more tangible. :)) Although I’m not sure that there is evidence the new policies are working.
    I really like what Molly Bennion said too, that we are here to develop charity, etc. FWIW, I believe we can do that without becoming parents, but it seems to me it would actually take more external effort on our part without children. When children are our stewardship, it’s kind of a built in feauture of our lives to help us develop charity, etc–but without them one has to really focus hard and find ways to serve outwardly and bless others.

  38. re: 32 & 33

    Church service is a balancing act that I have not mastered very well. Maybe when the kids are grown and gone it will easier. For me, when I’m faced with the choice of a slate of Saturday games for my children, some of whom I coach, some unavoidable billing that has has to be done and Sunday church committments, I still feel uncomfortable admitting that I often choose to spend the Saturday with the family and Sunday morning billing while the family is at church so I can meet them at home after church.

    I would love to worship with folks like you describe. In my experience with church meetings and obligations, we often let the good be the enemy of the perfect.

    The magic number for raising children, imo, is One. There is one 5th grade play, one playoffs for a season, one first day of school, etc. It’s nice to be there for as many one moments as possible b/c when they are over, they are really over. Contrast that with the number of church meetings; like the priesthood itself, church meetings are seemingly endless. And, if you miss one church meeting just wait around because there will be another one shortly.

  39. Brad, if it isn’t true, then I’m sorely misappropriating my physical & spiritual efforts, and spending most of my prayers and tears on the wrong subject. It reminds me of the Cinque’s line in Amistad: “I am the whole reason they (my ancestors) have existed at all.”

    My wife and I are dedicated to our little family. Right or wrong, every other stewardship takes a back seat to it.

  40. Geoff, I think you are right. The famous phrase is an indictment on all sorts problems and a declaration of importance for the whole institution.

    Reading some of these comments makes me appreciate, yet again, doing my graduate work in the harder sciences. Sure we have our fair share of sociopaths but having kids was no big deal and there was no issue of religion or politics.

    Going back up a bit, I think that utilitarianism isn’t the way to go, but I certainly think that there is a certain brand of pragmatism that is mainstream in Mormon thought. For example, to be a performing artist, say on Broadway, requires a significant commitment in time and more than a little risk. That is a hard thing for someone to do that wants to support a family. The primacy of the family does close many doors for the average Latter-day Saint.

  41. Mmiles: countries like France, Russia and Germany promote the birthing of more babies with benefits like paid leave for a year and beyond-they are seeing children as more of cost benefit.

    Actually, what they are seeing is a materialism so rampant that their own refusal to have children because of the cost involved created insuperable financial problems and the specter of extinction within a few generations.

    In my home we have had very traditional roles. My wife stayed home and created a home business based on fashion design and custom clothing.I changed diapers and took out the garbage while working long hours to establish a law practice. She had by far the harder job when the kids were young. It is taxing and hard work to stay with small children. Not everyone has the luxury we had. We could have had more; but knowing that my wife was home with the kids, that they were not being raised by someone else and being left to be taught someone else’s values was the most valuable thing we could do. I didn’t spend near enough time assisting my wife and being equally yoked. But I have also had the burden of providing and knowing that the financial well-being of my family depended on me. That burden could have been lessened if my wife worked in a career. We chose a traditional approach and I wouldn’t do it differently knowing what I know now. I believe the traditional roles still work best for the kids and for the family — but it requires a lot more input from dads than is traditional.

  42. I agree, mmiles, that it’s hard to say that cooking and cleaning is as noteworthy as professional work. I’m just trying to offer the LDS male perspective that many of us already do “get it”. And in part, it’s because we already saw our fathers and grandfathers take the same opinion (family trumped Church and work). I honestly can’t think of a time when I was a youth where I didn’t think that being a father was going to be the coolest thing I could do, and when I picked a major, I looked for things that would allow me to not spend routine 90-hour weeks on the road or stuck in a cubicle.

    Part of this is that VERY FEW people will ever do anything that they’ll be rememberd for. As cool as our jobs sound when we’re trying to trump them up, most of us are just making widgets that will end up in a trash heap, or doing something to support the widget-makers.

    Many of us have elected less-glamorous (and less-compensated) careers so that we could be in a position to be fathers. I can’t count the times where I’ve sped home from work at 5pm so that I could be there for one of my kids and then after everyone goes to bed, logon at 2am to catch up on my work. If I were like some of the non-LDS fathers I know, I should have stayed at the office until 9pm, then went home and gotten a good night’s sleep after watching my 2 hours of sports.

    Some of the best counsel a stake president ever gave me was that *sometimes*, we should seek out a less-glamorous career with more sane work hours so that we can be with our families more.

    The primacy of the family does close many doors for the average Latter-day Saint.

    It closes professional doors, perhaps. But it opens *so* many more. I’ve complained to my wife about having to attend 2 soccer games and a math tournament in a single Saturday, while she’s working a fair, but really … those are the best Saturdays I have. I’ve rescheduled business trips to take the red-eye home on a Friday night (anyone who has flown out of Philly or Newark with regularity knows how bad this can be) just so that I can be home in time to be there for the 8am soccer game.

    (If I do have one complaint about Church overscheduling, it’s the 6:30AM priesthood temple session on a Saturday, with the comment that “come on, brethren, you’re not doing anything else at 6:30AM”. My response tends to be, “Well, actually, I am getting my son up, getting him breakfast, and getting him ready for his game. It’s not *nothing*.” And so then I make up missing the session with another temple session during a lunch hour during the week.)

    That said, I smiled last night when one of our ward members complained about how he had to wear a white shirt and tie 60 hours a week in his banker job downtown, and I genuflected on how this week, I’ll work from home 3 days a week with my 1-year-old while my wife attends to some other things.

    I can work, read blogs, do the laundry, do stuff with my son, and wear shorts and a teeshirt all at the same time. It’s a great day. And I didn’t have to comb my hair – just throw on a ballcap. If it warms up around noon, my son and I will go to the park while I dial into a conference call on my cell phone. If it weren’t for having to actually “do” work, it’d be the perfect day.

    The best compliment I ever had was when they asked my son in kindergarten what his dad did at work. His reply was that he didn’t know. Now that he’s 7, he has a better idea. But to his 5-year-old mind, his mental image of what I did was full of what he and I did together.

  43. Amen, queuno.

  44. Blake,
    Isn’t that the same problem in the US, and even in the church (except for the extinction part)?

    Queuno,
    I think a lot of men get it. My husband certainly does-and we both do as a couple. Part of it for us is choosing to have a very modest home close to work rather than a larger home with a commute. Very worth it.

    J. Stapely,
    I think you’re on to something–my DH is a physicist and it was his colleagues in other fields (he dabbled in other things) that were astounded by our choice to have children soon, and so many. His advisors did not have a problem with it at all.

    Work and family are hard to balance for anyone. We have become friends of a couple (a colleague and his wife) with two young children. At his wife’s request, he doesn’t travel at all, although he has ample opportunity. My husband travels some. Yet I don’t feel that travelling has trumped family, and it certainly has helped his career (plus, he enjoys it).

  45. Steve Evans says:

    Stapley (#40), come on. It’s not like you were in sociology or anthropology, like Brad. Everyone knows that people in food chemistry are loosey-goosey.

  46. I have mixed emotions about Brigham Young’s comment about women “not having sense enough.” On the one hand, I’m completely insulted; on the other hand, I’m relieved because I can just tell Bill, “Brigham Young says I don’t have enough sense to screw up.”

    I feel that Bill feels that what I do at home, especially in nurturing family relationships, is less important than the laundry, meals, or the dishes. If I do those three things and don’t spend any money doing it, he thinks I’m a good wife.

    If I spend money on the kids and spend time with them while doing it, thus neglecting said laundry, dishes and meals, he feels I’m failing as a wife.

    He always feels that anything he’s doing is more important than anything I’m doing. I’m bellyaching, I know, but I think it’s a more prevalent emotion among men than we realize.

    You guys, I’m getting this weird thing when I come to your page, I can only see one half of the page at a time.

  47. Kristine,
    I’m honestly, truly not concerned with whether or not we accept a black and white, clean cut definition of certain works as superior to others. And even if we can agree, on some level, that a very high premium ought to be placed on responsibilities inside the home, I don’t care how different individuals and couples choose to apply that understanding.

    My primary concern is that we do say it an awful lot as a church and that sometimes we say it as an apologetic for gendering divisions of labor — to make ourselves feel better for trying to keep women in traditional roles, and not necessarily because we actually believe those roles to be as valuable or more valuable than the ones we ask them to sacrifice in the process.

    If talking about the significance of work in the home is really just patting ourselves on the back and our stay-at-home-parents on the head, then what we really need is a good kick in the ass.

  48. Annegb makes an important point here. I’ve highlighted the danger of saying work in the home is really important when what we really mean is that it’s important but not that important. She’s highlighting perhaps a greater danger: that when we valorize work in the home, we’re really just reducing it to housekeeping.

    Perhaps this goes some distance at explaining why we, as Americans, are so often comfortable letting essentially live-in housekeepers raise our children

  49. Again, and this applies to most commenters here, I’m not particularly concerned with whether or not it is objectively true that our greatest work is in our homes or with what that means if it is true.

    My concern is with the fact that being orthopraxic Mormons encourages us to infuse our collective discourse with references to the great work our stay-at-home parents (mostly Moms) do and with my suspicion that we in fact denigrate that work and those people when we say it without really, sincerely, wholeheartedly, wholemightedly, wholestrengthedly meaning it.

  50. Adam Greenwood says:

    I believe it.

  51. The problem, Brad, is in the church it’s both believed wholeheartedly and said condecendingly. It’s said in reverence by the HPGL in one class and used to guilt women back into the home by a RS instructor. It said as a manipulation tool by a misigionist SP, and it’s heartfelt to a grad school parent.

    The problem is you can’t argue against it without sounding like you are selfish. Though I believe my family is my most important responsibility, I do hate when these ideas are used to beat people over the head.

  52. We have a bishop in our stake whose wife has cancer – and she had cancer when he was called. The SP told him explicitly that he could delegate most of his responsibilities to his counselors – even those that normally wold be restricted exclusively to his counselors – both as “permanent” assignments and whenever he had to be with his wife and son to support them. The way the ward leaders and the membership as whole has rallied around him has been beyond amazing.

    I know that is an extreme case, but we stress to our stake and ward leaders constantly that we really do believe the family comes first – and that if there is a conflict between a “regular old” meeting and an important family event the family event should win every time. (BTW, that important family event includes a date with the spouse that cannot be rescheduled for a different time that week.)

  53. 51 – I think that is what this post is about.

  54. Amen, KyleM.
    (That sorta rhymes)

  55. Too many mistakes in that last comment. I normally edit much more carefully than that. Sorry.

  56. Brad,
    Of course you are right, it is denigrating when said without sincerity. No one is going to argue that point. Insincerity by its nature is condescending. But consider the alternative.
    I had a great YW leader who once taught a fabulous lesson that I will never forget. In it she spoke of finishing nursing school at UCLA and as they went around the room asking her class what grand plans they had, she expressed that she would now be staying home with her 2 young children. She relays that the professors looked at her as if they had wasted their time. However, next she went on to say how mothers were the “queen bees”. The worker bee went out to work to support the queen and the baby bees.
    I admit, I somewhat like this analogy, but am very troubled by it at the same time. The question is, can we proclaim that the most important work is in the home, and imply that means rearing children, without creating inequality in our gender roles?

  57. So if a woman who has been at home as a full-time parent for 10 years applies for a job in your firm, how will you treat those years? As “not working”? Or as working, but in another field?

    I think this is a crucial point that helps define how much we really value that kind of work.

    My own career has been helped immeasurably because when I returned to the paid workforce after 9 years at home, I was hired by some (non-LDS) men who chose the latter approach. The salary they offered me was what I would have been making had I continued with paid employment during those nine years. They understood that during those years I was not dealing with the specifics of software & technical writing style, etc., but thought I was developing good managerial skills, which they wanted.

    And they were right. Scheduling a meeting with six busy faculty is about the same as scheduling a meeting with six busy Joy School moms, etc.

    So I try to give the same consideration to people I hire.

    I think it’s ugly and prejudicial to consider people “not working” when they are in fact doing one of the toughest jobs of their adult life.

  58. Naismith – I’ve been through that struggle you describe, both as an LDS employment specialist and as a hiring manager.

    It’s very difficult to navigate these waters in the technology arena.

    Our pay scales are color-blind. We base them strictly on technical merit and productivity. I’ve heard it said that IT salaries based this way are counter-productive to mothers coming back into the workforce, but what’s the solution? We can’t pay people the salaries they used to get, pushed ahead 5 or 6 years, if they haven’t retained their skills.

    There are some fields where it’s just really tough to take 5 years off and jump back into it. Really, you having to look into transitioning into something else. In the example you cite, they paid you for managerial work. That’s fine. But had you been a programmer and hadn’t written a line of code in 9 years and had forgotten languages and syntax, would you have expected the same salary?

    When I was in a position to do so, I would counsel stake members who had been out of the workforce for a period of time to write ‘functional’ resumes and ignore the time periods. That way, they could highlight church and family and community service in a way that reflected on their professional prospects. A woman who had been out of the workforce for 20 years touted on her resume all of the leadership experience she’d had as a girl’s camp director for 5 years, a primary president, and a teacher improvement teacher in the ward. She changed the calling titles into something more business-sounding and highlighted the business tie-in. On the application, when it asked for timelines, she put something like “Volunteer Service”. Another woman actually put “Sabbatical” on her resume — and touted all of the work she’d done in that interval (volunteer work for the city, church calling work, work at the schools, etc.).

    I should add — I’ve hired a lot of women for IT jobs. Most of them haven’t been away from the workforce, or in the process of returning, have taken technical classes to regain their skill before applying. I’ve just never had any luck being able to hire or help place a sister into a technical position that had completely ignored it and wanted to get back into it.

    I recently went through a frustrating experience of trying to fill a spot. One of the candidates was a woman who’d been out of the workforce for 5 years, and hadn’t picked up a technical manual in that time. Every time we asked her a question in the technical interview, she’d say, “Well, I did that 5 years ago this way …”. The problem was that knowing how it worked 5 years ago, and not knowing how it worked today, could literally kill some of our clients’ patients. We tried a number of options to allow her to come back to work and get up to speed on a probationary status while she regained her skills, but she rejected any attempt to classify her as less skilled than she’d been 5 years ago.

    But I concede that hard technology is a different beast. Project management/administration (herding cats) is a common destination for a lot of women in our stake who return to work.

  59. So if a woman who has been at home as a full-time parent for 10 years applies for a job in your firm, how will you treat those years? As “not working”? Or as working, but in another field?

    Not really on topic, but it’s interesting to note that the Austrian pension system has been reformed to account for the work women do in non-contributory years when raising children. Basically, the state makes the contributions rather than the employee/employer.

  60. Peter,
    Same in UK.

  61. My wife and I have always believed this. Somehow, when I was younger, I had thoughts of changing the world, but along the way, I ruled out law school, medical school, and other postgraduate programs, because I felt a need to begin providing for my family.

    I’ve loved the time spent with family. Interestingly, the real conflict has come from church callings. The years I spent as bishop and YM president almost always included a weeks vacation spent with the scouts or YM, and limited our family vacations to perhaps two week long vacations in 8 years. Those camps or activities almost always involved one of our sons, so there was overlap, but it is the only issue over which I can recall my wife feeling like the family was slighted.

    Add to that the reality of two adult sons, exercising their free agency to leave church activity, and suddenly my wife and I are faced with the sobering fact that one third of our children are outside the blessings of the gospel to a great extent.

    I tell myself that they had free agency, and I remember the scouts week-long canoe trip with my oldest son, the other hikes and camps with my second oldest son as great times.

    But now, as hard as I try to tell myself (and my wife especially) that they are still good people, there is a sense of failure that we just can’t shake.

    We believe it, we try to live it, but our efforts, both as parents, and as a church, are not perfect. That’s only limited comfort.

  62. kevinf – I think you’re hitting on an important issue, here. My mother struggles with how she could have done better as a mother, since my two older brothers have no intentions of coming back to church. When success is determined by having an active family, how do we speak real comfort to those whose families aren’t all active?

  63. Kevinf, Jacob M, you guys have touched on yet a third problem (see # 48). In addition to sometimes reducing the “most important work” to housekeeping, sometimes we define in terms that view nothing less than perfection as the standard for success. We want so badly for our children to serve missions, stay active, marry in the temple, etc, that we forget what a monumental accomplishment simply preparing them to be healthy, independent, well-adjusted adults by a reasonable age really is. I would never want to minimize you and your wife’s disappointment or very real pain, kevinf, but if you’ve succeeded in areas outside of church activity, I sure hope you feel the honor and pride you deserve.

  64. Thanks for your thoughts.

    When my wife and I went to a recent high school reunion, the number of which will remain unspecified, the common experience among our LDS classmates seemed to be children going inactive.

    It gets to the issue of agency, which we talked about here recently with quotas and missionary work. If the standard is perfection, how are we supposed to feel when these otherwise responsible adult children exercise their agency badly?

    I think from both my experience, and the stories I hear at church, and even some of the comments in conference or in Ensign articles, that many of the GA’s may also have inactive adult children. It’s a bigger problem in the church than we realize, and there’s a lot of us out there doing a lot of second guessing.

  65. It’s definitely a bigger problem than we want to believe, Kevin. It manifests itself on more than just the active/inactive level. Lots of missionaries are getting sent home from the MTC for depression/anxiety issues. And many who do choose inactivity have no major qualm with the Church, its fundamental claims, or anything like that; they just aren’t particularly interested in conforming to certain practices (i.e. not partying or having sex, at least in the dozens of cases I’m personally familiar with).

  66. Eric Russell says:

    “The most important of the Lord’s work that you will ever do will be the work you do within the walls of your own home.”

    A prophetic statement of the time spent blogging at the home computer.

  67. We’re leaning toward a different post (one Kevin Barney treated well not too long ago), but let me just say, kevinf and anyone else dealing with the issue of inactive children, it is a huge reality. Many of us are second guessing and grieving with you. But second guessing is not very useful; some changes in the past might have worked, but which ones? How could you know? In my more positive moments, I delight in the good lives and cherished free agency of my active and inactive children and trust progression is indeed eternal for us all. I need time as much as any of them do. I am grateful I love the non-believing no less for what I think are unfortunate choices which could rob them of joy. I am mostly proud of them. I hope they are mostly proud of me. I love being with them and try not to show disapproval over the small differences. They know how I feel so there’s nothing to be gained by further rejection.
    Actually, I find myself thinking often of my own mother, whose heart was wounded by my joining the Mormon church. She never rejected me. Our love and friendship has only grown over the years. She is my Christian mentor, regardless of her religious affiliation. And all because she kept loving me and my family through her tears and fears.
    We’re all cooked if the standard is perfection; just let that go for yourself and others. Easier said than done, but we have to try.

  68. But I’m uncomfortable with superlatives like the “most important” work we can do. I can’t isolate even parenthood as the “most important.” Good parenthood doesn’t arise in a vacuum. It seems to fit in a number of key integrations: learning the gospel, developing a relationship with the spirit, learning to be charitable, developing and using whatever talents with which God has blessed us for the service of our children and mankind, developing a strong marriage as an underpinning for raising children well, etc. These are all tough and all important, all arguably “most” important.

    In my opinion, all those things you mentioned ARE what Harold B. Lee was talking about when he said (to the brethren mind you) “The most important work you will ever do is within the walls of your home”. Neither the schools nor the Church will be held accountable for whether or not my children grew up with a consistent example of good and righteous parenting.

    Cooking/grocery shopping and laundry are “things that must be done” to facilitate basic human survival and protection from the elements etc-and on their most basic level they can be done by anyone-father, mother, maid, caterer, dry-cleaners. BUT there are many more valuable and enduring lessons that children can be taught by watching and participating in “things that must be done” that they lose out on if those things are done somewhere else.

    Things like science, use of financial resources, good dietary habits, fabric quality and cost, order, hard work, proper stewardship over belongings, respect for things purchased by the work of their parents, responsibility, and all of the things you mentioned like using ALL of our talents, serving others, and charity.

    C.S. Lewis in speaking about a “housewife’s work” (and I include ALL work done by BOTH parents) said it beautifully:

    But it is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, mines, cars, government, etc. exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavor.” (1st, to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter; 2nd, in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist. . . . (Letters of C. S. Lewis, London: Godfrey Bles Ltd., p. 262.)

  69. Molly, et al,

    I appreciate your thoughts, and they echo what my wife and I tell each other. I remember Kevin Barney’s post well, and have worked to continue to love and enjoy my time with the inactive members of my family.

    To get back to the original thread, like so many other things in the church, we have run into the paradox of perfection vs reality. We believe that our children are our greatest work and responsibility, both on a personal and an institutional level. We also revere and respect our prophets, stake presidents, and bishops. But all of them, from children on up, will from time to time disappoint us and often break our hearts.

    But I would rather shoot for perfection in this, than settle for a less lofty goal. As in so much of life, there is joy, growth, pain, and disappointment. But the message of the gospel is to get up, and get after it again. I’m not done yet. I still want to get my youngest, who currently is dealing with some chronic, not life threatening, but nonetheless significant health issues, launched into a good adult life that includes temple marriage and the blessings of his own family.

    So I am setting up that high bar for another hopefully strong finish.

  70. I should also point out that in spite of our best intentions, we also will frequently break their hearts and disappoint them as well.

    Grace is such a gift.

  71. Tosh, beautifully said. If only we would more often quote President Lee and you and never “motherhood is the most important job in the world,” which is unfortunately a popular and, I think, destructive bastardization.

  72. Kristine mentioned something on another thread about Mormons idolizing the perfect family. I don’t think the “perfect” family exists. Our job as parents is not to create “perfect” children any more than it is our job to create perfect spouses!
    When we are busy idolizing the perfect family and perfect children, we are losing sight of the real and tangible individuals involved. Isn’t our job to develop unconditional love and build strong relationships with family members? Isn’t that the real work within the walls of the home we are talking about? If we fail to do that, even if we’ve taught them everything else on the planet, we’ve failed indeed.

  73. When we are busy idolizing the perfect family and perfect children, we are losing sight of the real and tangible individuals involved. Isn’t our job to develop unconditional love and build strong relationships with family members? Isn’t that the real work within the walls of the home we are talking about?

    Beautifully put, mmiles.

  74. Sam Kitterman says:

    The Church’s emphasis on responsibilities of parents to their children and what happens inside the home being more important than anything outside the home has an unfortunate effect upon those who either a) have raised their child(ren) and no longer have any direct in-home involvement with their child(ren) or b) were unable to have children for reasons outside their ability to control or c) never married.

    In short, how do those of who are in such positions relate to the Church’s focus on the Family? For example, we as grandparents are told on one hand our importance towards our grandchildren and yet, how we should not become intertwined in the decisions our children make in raising our grandchildren. Those who joined the Church as individuals, not as families, who are disowned or otherwise, find themselves as being singles in the Church, how do they relate to that focus?

    Yes, I realize the Gospel encompasses far far more than the focus on family but the Church’s teachings whether through the lessons, conferences and other events makes Family the core….

    One other comment, such regarding the manner in which members treat those women who have chosen or been required to work outside the home, including professional roles. My wife is in upper management for a state agency, responsible for running an office of some 120 people. I recall she sharing with me how the primary president told her about putting together materials for her Achievement Days class that she could surely do it when she got home since she only “worked”.
    Needless to say, my wife found that remark to show a callous disregard for what the work environment can involve. Multiply the disputes and issues that arise within a family of 4 or 5 by 20 and one will surely realize managing a large office can simply not be described as only being “work”….

    My apologies for the length and though I could go on, I’ll leave it for now….

    Sam K.

  75. As far as I know, there is only one building at BYU named after a mother (maybe two?). We definitely do honor motherhood in our talks and teachings, but when it comes to formally bestowing church-wide honors of any kind, we inevitably turn to male general authorities or successful Mormon businessmen.
    I think this post is very important; we say we think motherhood is the most important work in the world, but honestly, do we? A lot of the times our treatment of mothers feels like we’re just giving women a verbal pat on the head so we can resume our fixation on the Great and Influential Men of the Church.

  76. Wow, it is hard to keep up with all these comments.

    I think there is a difference between what the Church values and what the individual members value. The Church, I think, does a good job of taking care of families, of talking about the importance of mothering and parenting. But if I am honest with myself, I do value my career over my ability to have children or the work I may one day do in my home (single, no kids). And when I look at other women in our church, I am most impressed by those who have achieved worldy success (no matter how much I want to change this, I am just being honest).

    Finally, I am a convert, and my parents greatly value academic success. My sister-in-law is a SAHM with her two daughters and my parents are always talking about her behind her back. They think she is lazy. They think her education was a waste. They hate the idea that she might have more than two children one day. I KNOW that if I value my family over my career, my parents will think the same things about me. Will I do my best to put my family above my career? Of course. But I won’t lie and tell you it won’t be hard.

  77. That kind of honesty, Melissa, is a big part of what this post is all about.

  78. kevinf,

    Perfection simply won’t be obtained in this lifetime and children that stray don’t always remain strayed (grammatical error included on purpose).

    The whole purpose behind our Heavenly Father’s plan and the need for a Savior was because He knew that EVERYONE would stray in some form or another. He knew that even the “saints” could stray enough in one week to require a chance to renew ourselves every seven days by covenant! The fact is that our religion highlights the fact that God gives His children repeated and varied and ongoing chances to change and “come unto Him”. He would do that if even ONE of us would need that many chances, but in reality MOST of us do.

    You can teach your children everything you know, give them every truth, but you cannot give them a testimony of their own. And the thing is that those who behave perfectly all of their lives cannot enter the kingdom of God without one either. Sometimes, straying into darkness and sorrow and sin is what ultimately brings us to a place where we gain our own personal and undeniable witness of what is true and eternal and what is not. And often, it causes us to deeply and sincerely repent and worship Christ to greater extent than we would have any other way.

    I always recall the story of Alma the elder with a smile as I picture this righteous and noble father who prayed continually that his wayward son (and his friends) would repent and come to “a knowledge of the truth”. When Mosiah’s sons brought a weakened and dumb Alma the younger home to his father and explained what had happened, his father not only REJOICED, but invited everyone he could find over to see for themselves! *grin*

    I don’t think the point of the story is that we should pray that our children get struck down and immobilized by angels (although I’ve been tempted to myself)-I think it is that the prayers of righteous parents and others are what brought about the event that resulted in the conversion of 5 young men who would become some of the most valiant and dedicated servants of God in history.

    I’ll shut up after leaving you with this quote from Orson F. Whitney-
    The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God. (Conference Report, April 1929, p. 110.)

  79. Tosh,

    It just now occurred to me that Alma the Younger could have been the first documented Taser victim. I often have wished for one of those in relation to my kids. :)

    Seriously, there are many kinds of work that we can do, and perhaps what now is left to my wife and I is just exactly what is described, ie, prayer, fasting, temple attendance, coupled with continued love and open communications.

  80. Melissa (76),

    I read of your parents and I think I can see more of why Sis. Beck has been saying what she says. I personally don’t know a single soul in the Church who doesn’t think parenting is the most important thing in the world. Thus my reaction to Sis. Beck: Who in the world is she talking to?

    I think many or most of us would fail a dinner party test on this issue- who would you rather invite to your dinner party, the SAHM in your ward with a degree in elementary education, or the well-traveled mother with a masters in Economics, who is also fluent in Arabic?

  81. Melissa,

    I don’t think that there is a thing wrong with you valuing your career at this point in your life! Until you have a life experience that impresses or satisfies you more (or at least in a different way) than career success has, it is a perfectly rational way to feel.

    I think you said something EXTREMELY important that I want to emphasize- you said

    Will I do my best to put my family above my career? Of course. But I won’t lie and tell you it won’t be hard.

    For some women, choosing a family over a career (or putting their family before their career) is easy. They love being with and around children, they are natural nurturers, and they always have the ingredients in their cabinets to make dinner AND finger paint. I admire these women because no matter how much I try, I haven’t managed to become one of them.

    BUT-for some women, putting their family above their career is HARD! Not just kind of hard-REALLY REALLY-sometimes-it-sucks HARD. They women love their children just as much, but they don’t revel in being around gibbering aliens and the biological and material waste that follows in their wake all day. They can nurture just as well as the other moms, but it might not be one of their many free flowing natural talents. These women might not know exactly what is in their cupboards or that it is even possible to MAKE your own finger paint, but they can tell you exactly what was in every file at their old office or how to make an entire paint company function.

    I honor those women who couldn’t wait to be mothers and willingly and happily entered into it, because whether you love it, like it, dread it, or hate it-being a mother is a lifelong task that includes a lot of unbelievably hard work, pain, sorrow, fear, joy etc. But the women that I admire the most are the women who sacrifice the most for motherhood. The women who are my heroes are the women who when forced to choose between what they desire and/or need and what their children need-do the selfless thing-and raise their children to believe that they were the obvious choice all along.

  82. I'll tell you later says:

    acadamiamom–how did you deal with grad school and children? I’ve talked with several women who had kids in grad school (none LDS) because my husband and I are going to have kids in grad school (relatively shortly, as it turns out). All of them cautioned me against having kids, actually, even though they love their children and love being parents. I’m at a school with a fairly family-friendly atmosphere (there are several young faculty with kids) but I’m still a little nervous about the reactions I’m likely to get.

  83. Dan,

    I personally don’t know a single soul in the Church who doesn’t think parenting is the most important thing in the world

    Unfortunately many of us profess this believe and maybe even do believe it to some extent, but too often our actions fail to support this. I’m sure that is an overgeneralization. But, I appreciate the comments regarding the fact that we aren’t perfect and our children won’t be perfect. To expect perfection is an exercise in frustration and disappointment. Of course we still try though….

  84. ITYL,
    The best advice I can give you is to a) take the sometimes smug reactions con granis salis and b) whichever of you is actually going to be attending grad school, perform well. Balancing family and academic responsibilities can be a real challenge, but based on our experience, I’d say God wants you to do well at both and will bless your efforts.

  85. My husband (a convert) finds great irony in the amount of time required by our “family friendly” church.

    I’m not sure our leadership really believes the rhetoric, either, and the examples of both the Hinkley and Monson families are perfect examples of why I think that. They sacrificed family time just as much as any successful businessman to their leadership responsibilities. I know that they love their kids, and I know they produced wonderful families, but I’m unsure how much they personally contributed to the upbringing of their children. That said, I am not privy to how much they personally contributed to the upbringing of their children–it might be much more than I realize, or much more potent, and I’m not really in a place to judge. Brad–I agree the statements about the importance of the family come off as non-genuine to me, though I admit I really like my work, have no kids, and am suspicious of anyone who claims parenthood is “the greatest thing they’ve ever done.” I always wonder if they’re trying to sucker me in.

    I wish I remembered where I saw the study, but I remember reading that families are best off emotionally when parents work a combined total of 60 hours a week outside the home. It doesn’t matter how that’s divided up, but apparently working more produces unhappy families, as does working much less (probably because of financial worries, I seem to recall). That actually leaves plenty of space for both parents to work, as long as one is willing to be part-time, and as long as one of you doesn’t have a 20 hour a week unpaid job.

  86. #81

    P.S. I feel the exact same way about FATHERHOOD. As I read through the posts here written by fathers who describe giving up promotions, jobs, or experiences they might have had to be home with their wives and children more-it brought tears to my eyes. The ability to righteously put the needs of someone else-be it a spouse, children, or God-before our own is the epitome of Christlike love.

    (I added the word “righteously” there because I think what Brad wants us to see that if we are doing/saying the right things for the wrong reasons-we can end up hurting those we love more than we help them. Did I get that right Brad?)

  87. kristine,

    I wonder though if the families of the men who have been “called” as the Lord’s annointed-and who dedicate their lives to doing what He wants them to do (as opposed to doing what they want to do)aren’t blessed in significant ways that resulted in their children growing up well and happy? It certainly doesn’t make any sense for God to require them to be away from home so much and not compensate their families in return.

    I say that because I’ve heard more than one bishops wife say that they didn’t want their husbands to be released because of the amazing spirit and blessings that they had experienced during the time their spouse held that office.

    Remind your husband that a ward is just a unit of the brothers and sisters in a much larger family and that time spent serving in our callings IS family related in the highest sense of the word. :-)

  88. Brad –

    Here’s another argument for having kids being important that I don’t think has been mentioned yet.

    Basically, it is really, really hard to have lasting impact and the world changes very slowly. If we look at the big historical perspective from a pseudo-Darwinian approach, then perhaps one of the most important things we can do to ensure that our ideas trickle down is to reproduce kids that we train to think in methods we believe in. I know that I am being reductive here, but I think it is worth pondering.

  89. Brad –

    The subtext of so many of the blogposts I write is actually about trying to negotiate a working relationship between academia and the church. So, I really sympathize with how hard it is to have a family in academia.

    But, recently, I have been feeling better about the situation. Although professors do sometimes express dismay about decisions to marry or have kids, I think it helps to bear it mind that these comments might stem from their own frustration with an organization whose hiring procedures make it very difficult to hire an academic couple. You’d think that an institution that is committed to having diverse opinions aired would want to hear from people who had children, since they would have a very different set of values than those who don’t, but it is hard to change the entrenched operations of a bureaucratic organization.

    Bearing this point in mind allows me to think about the issue as an organizational rather than an ideological problem. This keeps me sane.

  90. Tosh,
    It seems to me you are categorizing mothers unnecessarily.
    “For some women, choosing a family over a career (or putting their family before their career) is easy…. BUT-for some women, putting their family above their career is HARD! Not just kind of hard-REALLY REALLY-sometimes-it-sucks HARD.
    I don’t know one mother who would ever characterize her experience choosing to be a mother as easy. You are assuming the mother who can whip up dinner quick, and whip up finger paint revels, “in being around gibbering aliens and the biological and material waste that follows in their wake all day. “ Furthermore, you are creating two poles that don’t exist. Just because a woman can make finger paint doesn’t mean that she can’t also, “tell you exactly what was in every file at their old office or how to make an entire paint company function.”
    Truly I am astounded by this statement, “But the women that I admire the most are the women who sacrifice the most for motherhood. The women who are my heroes are the women who when forced to choose between what they desire and/or need and what their children need-do the selfless thing-and raise their children to believe that they were the obvious choice all along.”
    What crystal ball are you looking into to know who sacrificed the most? Has it come to the point where a woman has to express feelings of martyrdom as a mother to be of value? So the woman who made other options for herself is now worth more than the woman who dove right in to the pit of motherhood (if indeed it is a pit)?
    This goes back to the heart of the post. Do we really think family building is the most important thing? Or is it only noteworthy to build families if there is an obvious sacrifice to the rest of the world, making us unnecessary heroes?

  91. Last comment –

    Why do we even need to figure out what priority is “most” important in life? At this point in my career, I have come to accept that most of my choices will be a series of compromises between what I would ideally like to do and what I can do. When opportunities are available, I take them and run. I have stopped evaluating whether what I am currently doing is the most meaningful thing that I can do. When I worrying about if I could be doing something more significant, I tend to find myself not only over-estimating my importance in the world, but also distracting myself from the tasks at hand.

  92. Steve Evans says:

    Natalie and Brad, and all you academics, let me ask — do you think academics are really worse off with respect to families and children than any other profession? I am genuinely curious because I hear this notion again and again.

  93. Steve, I assume the faculty members are no more or less sympathetic than other highly-trained professionals. Many of the faculty I know are in relationships with other academics and that produces tensions as a consequence of institutional forces that make joint hiring in academia incredibly difficult.

    I suspect in the case of fellow students that it has more to do with the fact that they are young college students trying to make the most of their experience (i.e have the most fun) and just can’t really relate. I don’t think it’s a function of academia per se or that there’s any kind of systematic indoctrination against families.

    But being a young parent pursuing a career in academia incites snide, condescending remarks from all sides. I find comments about the need to come back into the real world and get a real job — you know, be a real provider — coming from Mormons to be just as judgmental and frustrating as dropped jaws or awkward silences from colleagues.

  94. I don’t know if academia is harder than other fields, but it is tough for students in the humanities.

    The first issue is that there are not enough jobs to go around, so you have no geographic control over your life. There are only 16 tenure-track jobs in my field this year, and there are probably at least a hundred qualified applicants for each job. So, seeing that my husband and I will probably not both land tenure-track jobs in the same city, we will have choices to make. Being fresh out of school in his case and still in school in mine, we don’t have enough weight in the academy to negotiate a spousal hire.

    There are a number of part-time jobs, but they don’t pay. (Not that full-time jobs pay much either.) An article last week in the New York Times explored the issue of part-time academic work in detail. It points out that it is not unusual for part-time faculty to be paid around $3-4,000 per class without any benefits.

    I think a final factor is the amount of time it takes to get a PhD. My department averages about 7 years. That’s on par with an MD, granted, but the job prospects on the other end are far less promising. This creates anxiety within the department.

    Given these facts, I actually think that any responsible faculty member should point out when you are making a personal decision that will carry negative consequences on the job market. My advisors are very supportive of my choices, but I appreciate how they help me understand both the consequences of my choices and the postive options I sometimes don’t see.

    All this said, I have been extremely lucky in my graduate experienc, and I feel that the opportunity to teach and research is one of the most rewarding experiences I could have. So, as someone with no dependents, it is worth my time to earn my PhD even if I don’t land a tenure-track dream job at the end. But, hopefully I will!

    What do other academics think?

  95. “The Most Important Thing?” I don’t know. The most common thing?, yes. Billions of people have done it. Some bad, most have done a good job, or the best they could given their life position. For most Americans today, it’s about a 1/3 of their lives. Maybe 20-45. Is a full life (no Kids) taking care of the poor, the sick, or the elderly, also an important fulfillment, yes. Only less open to us.

  96. #87 Tosh, I’m sure he does bless us for service, but not always as we wish. I think of the SP who stayed with us while his wife, mother of 8 children, was treated unsuccessfully for cancer. I suspect he wondered a bit about the blessings one can expect from service. Some of my children still hurt from their father’s absence when he was a bishop. Ironically, he took tremendous heat from his SP and one of his counselors for continuing to coach the kids’ ballteams all year long and for missing collateral activities to be at the kids’ important events. To be as good a father and as good a bishop as possible, he gave up personal activities, like reading and sleeping, but by trying to balance his responsibilities, he pleased few.

  97. #11: I apologize that I haven’t been able to keep up with this thread, and I haven’t read all the comments, but I don’t think you can’t dismiss the “strength-in-numbers” issue so quickly.

    I should have said “descendents”, not “children” in my comment #1. This removes the issue of having only 1 child. For an example just look at Laman and Nephi. I’m not suggesting that Laman took the wrong path as a result of his parents, but certainly we can agree that a child is more likely to go astray if he is not brought up well. Because Laman chose the wrong path, an entire nation dwindled in unbelief. They not only suffered spiritually but economically, socially, and it every other aspect of life. Because Nephi chose the right many followed after him as well and because of that many people lived fruitful lives and were followers of Christ. Of course there were some transitional characters on both sides, but clearly our influence in general extends well beyond one generation.

    Now what was the most important work Lehi did? Was it traveling across the ocean? Was it seeing visions? I would argue it’s being a “goodly parent” so that his posterity could continue and expand his legacy. I believe Lehi knew this, because one of the last things he did was sit down with his posterity to teach them.

    So I stand by my original point that no matter what great things I can do, if I’m a good parent my children and their children are likely to do even greater things collectively.

  98. how did you deal with grad school and children?

    I should maybe jump in since I did grad school with three children and my daughter is currently doing a doctoral program with one child.

    I had two children during my undergrad, and it was pretty disastrous. I get very ill, and had to do a lot of incompletes and take time off. So we used multiple methods of birth control during grad school, and getting pregnant was my worst fear.

    Also, I waited until my then-youngest was in kindergarten, which put me just over age 30, but unlike the humanities, my field is one which graduate study generally requires at least two years of professional experience, so I was not the oldest person in the program. I am ambivalent about whether it is better to have children who are preschoolers vs. school-aged. The older ones could be left alone occasionally, but they had swim lessons and school activities. Whereas the younger ones require lots of attention and get sick more often, but you can drop them at daycare and they don’t have to worry about school projects and music lessons.

    Although I’d been employed as a part-time professional for two years before thinking about grad school, it happened that I was at home for a month or so before taking the GRE (my husband had taken a temp teaching job out of state). I took advantage of that time to study, especially the math, and this helped a lot. I also had prayed and listened to the spirit, which during the test, counseled me to turn the test sheet over after I had gone through and answered, that I should not second-guess my responses. It was hard to do, and a few people stared at me, but I did well on the test.

    As a result of the high GRE scores, I got a University Fellowship, which was the most prestigious fellowship available, which paid tuition and a stipend, which means that I did not have to do a teaching or assistantship just for money. Since I knew I wanted to be 100% research, it was a relief not to have to spend so much time teaching. (Obviously, for someone pursuing a faculty situation, it would have been a poor choice not to TA, but it was a perfect fit in my case.) I also got a waiver to be able to continue 10 hours a week with my research, so financially it worked out very well.

    I limited my own class hours to times when my children were in school, which meant that I couldn’t take some courses I’d have like, but oh well.

    During the semester break, I cooked a lot of meals for the freezer and planned meals a semester at a time.

    As it happened, my husband was not in a position to give much support because he was a postdoc trying to land his first job. But he did all the dishes and handled the kids when I was working late at the library, etc.

    My daughter had her first child the third year of her graduate program, but her husband doesn’t have a regular job in order to be the supportive one at home. He is wonderful with their baby. He does part-time work when it is convenient.

    It was tough, but really worth it. I couldn’t do the work I love or earn the salary I do without my graduate degree.

  99. Some people have acknowledged that raising children may not necessarily be the greatest work.

    Let’s say a recent convert to the Church is adjusting to his new life. He loves the restored gospel and related teachings, but like a large cafeteria he doesn’t like everthing that is offered. In fact, he openly disagrees or dislikes the taste of a few items on the offering. At a cafeteria, no big deal – just don’t have any…

    Is there room to disagree on some of these food offerings because he sincerely doesn’t agree with it (but he loves many of the other values taught or advocated by the Church)?

    In short, is there room for “Cafeteria Mormons” in the Church or do you have to embrace all positions (which you sincerely don’t believe) even if they are non-essential for salvation or exaltation?

  100. In short, is there room for “Cafeteria Mormons” in the Church or do you have to embrace all positions (which you sincerely don’t believe) even if they are non-essential for salvation or exaltation?

    I sincerely hope there is. Otherwise, I suspect we’d all be in trouble in one way or another.

  101. wonder though if the families of the men who have been “called” as the Lord’s annointed-and who dedicate their lives to doing what He wants them to do (as opposed to doing what they want to do)aren’t blessed in significant ways that resulted in their children growing up well and happy? It certainly doesn’t make any sense for God to require them to be away from home so much and not compensate their families in return.

    I really have to jump in here and say that this was my idea before my husband was the Bishop. I really thought that something like this would happen. What really did happen is that my husband helped some people in ways which possibly, no one else could. Which in some instances saved some other families from destruction. But in our own family, my children suffered, and in the end, though I do not want to go into the details, we nearly lost a child to some pretty major problems that were a direct result of his absence.

    As I said above, all is well now, and so I have made my peace with the sacrifice. I grew in ways which were not fun, but were important, and so did our children. I would have rather not learned those hard lessons, honestly.

    At some point I wondered if Abraham was really actually wrong to say that he was willing to sacrifice his son. I’m sure that’s probably not an accurate way of looking at it. It’s certainly what we are taught (that his obedience was the important aspect of that story) – but I really still wonder if it would have been okay – and maybe, just maybe even desirable, if Abraham would have chosen his son.

    I really wish the church membership understood sometimes that the sacrifice of a Bishop or a Stake President is sometimes at the cost of his family. The blessings felt to me like they came after the release, not during his tenure in that calling.

    So again, I am left with these somewhat contradictory feelings about whether we really value “success in the home” over other success.

  102. I know this is a bit of a threadjack, but I feel compelled to mention it for some reason – probably as an example of things we learn about family in ways we wish weren’t necessary. Like Bandanamom, I think it is too easy to assume that if we “do all the right things” we will be kept from harm to ourselves and families – and get upset if we aren’t “protected” as we assumed we would be.

    A brother in our ward whom I admire greatly has served as a Bishop and Stake Presidency Counselor – and every ward leadership position imaginable. He is HIGHLY educated and holds a very prestigious position at a local university. He also is extremely humble, meek, quiet and sincere in his faith.

    In HP Group class some weeks ago, we were discussing Gospel lessons we had learned. His was that testimonies can be strengthened the most in terrible times of trial – like when one of his adult daughters who had stepped away from the Church died unexpectedly in a freak operation mistake, leaving a non-member husband and young daughter. His soft comment, shared with bowed head and intense emotion, touched me deeply: “I am SO grateful for the closeness to the Lord I gained because of my daughter’s death, but I wish I had been allowed to gain it in any other way.”

    I know another brother who lost a young daughter unexpectedly, and he has said that he thought he loved his daughter, but he never realized how much he loved her until she was gone. He said he would have acted a little differently in many moments if he had realized how much he would wish he had once she was gone. I think that goes directly to the heart of this post.

  103. mmiles,

    I’m sorry, but you seem to have interpreted messages into my post that go way beyond anything I actually said.

    The fact that you personally don’t know one mother who would characterize her choice to be a mother as “easy” doesn’t mean you know all mothers. I have friends who have dreamed about having children since childhood and are thrilled each time they become pregnant. I also have friends and relatives who have given up careers or other opportunities, struggled with infertility, and one of them died giving birth to her first child because she refused to terminate the pregnancy after finding out in her sixth month that she would not survive childbirth-and her heartbroken young husband courageously accepted widowhood the same day he entered fatherhood. I never said that my heroes have to be yours, and I find it insulting to suggest that such people would have to be vocal martyrs for anyone to know what they have been through.

    Building families IS the most important thing, and none of the people I know would tell you differently. But there can be no denying that some people struggle more during the process than others and some people have sacrificed a great deal more than I would ever want to. It doesn’t make them more valuable or noteworthy in anything except the examples they are to me.

  104. bandanamom,

    I’m sorry to hear that your family endured so much, especially when your husband was doing what he was called to do. My husband was serving in a bishopric when he left our family and I became the single mother of four. I know what not having a father in the home (at all) does to children. Like Ray mentioned, I had “done all the right things” and yet the agency of someone else ripped my family apart.

    We learned many lessons the hard way and I too would have preferred NOT to have to gain them in the manner we did. But looking back now, if that was the only way to gain what we’ve gained, and to know what I know today, I would endure it all again if I had to.

  105. Re #58

    We can’t pay people the salaries they used to get, pushed ahead 5 or 6 years, if they haven’t retained their skills.

    As you stated, this is a legitimate concern in some technical areas. But, depending on the job under consideration, I think it is also important for employers to recognize that other skills may be developed in the time at home. And this is what I generally do not see employers acknowledging.

    During my years at home, I became a stronger writer and much better people manager as a result of my volunteer efforts, church service, and home schooling. Some organizations don’t allow any consideration for volunteer work (although of course this is still going to come out in the interview and references).

    For example, when I returned to the workforce, coming to work for a university in 1998, I asked my boss how they managed bibliographic references. He pointed to some 3 x 5 cards. (!) I introduced him to the wonders of EndNote, which I’d been using for years as an involved faculty wife. I did demonstrations for several of the faculty, and the department chair totally supported it (and could buy it with the research dollars I brought in).

    In the example you cite, they paid you for managerial work. That’s fine. But had you been a programmer and hadn’t written a line of code in 9 years and had forgotten languages and syntax, would you have expected the same salary?

    I am not a programmer, so I am sure you are correct in that field. I think anyone hoping to return to a technical field should expect to do some retraining. And it’s a good reason to keep up continuing education credits and certification in a field where that is required (medical professions, etc.).

    But my work does involve some technical software, and in my case it turned out that the lab I had worked at nine years earlier had cutting-edge software, ahead of most places in the country. When I returned to work at another university years 9 years later, they had just replaced that software less than a year before, and were still finding their way through the new system. This meant that I could communicate to them using terminology from the old system, and also that I wasn’t that much behind. (I appreciate that this is not typical, but God does have a sense of humor.)

    I also have to say that the two weeks between being hired and starting work were spent poring over old manuals and reports and textbooks, filled with much panic at how much I had forgotten.

    Project management/administration (herding cats) is a common destination for a lot of women in our stake who return to work.

    It’s a natural fit, because any homemaker and mother of a family is probably used to running a three-ring circus. I had teenagers and preschoolers for five years previous, and it was great preparation for the multi-tasking.

    An advantage of re-entering that way is that it is a great jumping-off point if your interests are related but elsewhere; it puts you in a position to go off into different directions. You’re making good contacts, learning about the field. After a few years, I was offered a fellowship to get a doctorate.

    Another big advantage for moms is that there are often professional part-time opportunities. My half-time jobs over the last decade have paid about $30,000 per year. SInce we don’t have a mortgage, I could support the family on that if anything happened to my husband, without having to work full-time.

    A lot of people don’t like it because of the constant fire-putting-out efforts, and the 24/7 commitment. Even if you are part-time, you have to do what needs doing.

    Like being a mom–but I think I already said that.

  106. Tosh,
    You can have your heroes. I went back and reread your post aloud and realized I did make it into something else entirely. My apologies. You are right (on all counts), of course it is easier for some mothers than others to choose to mother their children.

  107. alittlebent says:

    On the topic that many have addressed here of balancing church service and family life, our previous bishop taught the HP lesson last week and commented that their oldest son suffered tremendously from his service as bishop. Now that he is released, he has been able to repair much of the damage, but still, it is sad that so many families seem to struggle when one or both parents are so heavily engaged in meetings, visits, etc. that accompany some callings. The same bishop commented before that he was counseled to put his wife and family first. I think it sounds nice in theory but is very difficult in practice. This seems like a huge issue that must effect many thousands of church members around the world.

    From a male perspective, the time I have spent away from home on callings has mainly been limited to early morning meetings. Although Sunday mornings were sometimes a challenge for my wife to get the kids ready for church, my service in the church has not been much of an issue in our family.

    My wife is much more devoted to service than I am. Whatever calling she has had, she has taken it to the nth degree. There have been many times that I have stayed home with the children while she attended various meetings, visited sisters/families, etc. To be honest, I prefer to be at home, so this wasn’t much of a sacrifice for me, but it has been a challenge in its own way.

    I do remember various conference talks suggesting that leaders simplify and be mindful of the need for family time, but I don’t think much of this has found its way into practice in most wards. Just my opinion though….

  108. nasamomdele says:

    Very good post. I recently had my first child born and I have to say that witnessing that event absolutely stamped in my mind that bringing a child into the world and raising her with my wife is the most profound thing I have done or will ever do in my life. There is nothing I could ever do to compare to that mission.

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