Mommies and Daddies: Primary Lessons

For just over a year now, I have been my ward’s primary pianist. It’s nice in that I get to spend time with my sons (all primary age). It’s also nice being able to avoid some of the tension headaches that tend to result from prolonged exposure to GD lessons and discussions. Retreat from the frequently agonizing realm of anachronism, cheap proof-textery, and the curious combination of wild speculation with monotonous, pre-packaged answers into the realm of the simple, pure, undiluted basics of the Gospel, formatted for children. Or so I imagined…

Actually, it is indeed, for the most part, a nice respite. Children are taught simple principles in simple language, encouraged to develop an independent interest in learning the gospel, instructed on the value of service and kindness, and reminded of the kinds of things that they can and should do to help their families be strong. Occasionally, however, there are problems. And those problems, from my perspective (not just sitting at the piano but as a father with children in the room), when they do come up, frustrate me in ways and to degrees with which even the lamest GD lesson can scarcely compete.

Case in point: 6 months ago I watched a Primary Presidency member give a lesson on family responsibilities and gender roles. Complete with church-provided visual aids. She put up pictures of a dad, a mom, and some kids. Then the primary kids took turns choosing from a bunch of “duties” written on laminated cards. When they drew a “duty” they had to walk up to the board and put it under the proper person. At the end of the lesson the kids had words like “help with chores”, “share”, “be helpful”, “cooperate,” underneath their pictures. Dad had everything from “preside” to “teach the gospel” to “family home evening” to “work” to “provide” on his list. Mom had (hand to God, without the least exaggeration!) exactly one card under her: “have babies.” Now, I don’t know if the lesson was incomplete at that point, if the PP member giving the lesson simply ran out of time, but I left primary that day so infuriated that I believe I experienced partial paralysis.

Fast forward to yesterday. As many of you no doubt already know, yesterday was to be the first of two lessons devoted to family responsibilities. My 7-year-old son was asked to give a talk. It was a short, 2 paragraph little sermon. The first paragraph focused on parental responsibilities toward children: they provide for them, teach them, help them learn to make right choices, love them, protect them, have fun with them. The second paragraph focused on the responsibilities of his audience — i.e. kids. Kids need to obey their parents, cooperate, treat each other kindly, share, learn, do their homework and chores, and be happy. He closed with his testimony that when we do our responsibilities, Heavenly Father blesses our families and we are happy. It was quite a nice little talk, especially since my wife and I made him fill in a lot of the substance (what parents and kids are supposed to do) on his own.

Then came the sharing time lesson.

The Primary Presidency member who gave the lesson is married with no kids and works full time. She got up and wrote the word “Nurterer” on the board and asked the kids what their moms do for them. She wrote down all the things they said (sometimes consolidating their ideas with fancier words, sometimes writing exactly what they said). The list included the following (I wrote it down):

educate
encourage
train
heal
support
nourish
nurse (as in medical)
sustain
love
comfort
give us clothes
give us food
give us stuff
help us to ride a bike and drive a car
snuggle

While she was writing all the “give us…” examples, she wrote the letters “prov–” and then said out loud, “actually we can’t write ‘provide’ because the dad is supposed to be the provider.” After which she chalked in “give us stuff.” Hilarious. 5 or 6 times during the lesson, one of the kids raised a hand and said “my dad does that.” Finally, she silenced such comments with “I know your dads can do these things, but it’s your mom’s job.” Okay.

On the one hand, it’s good that the list included so much stuff — including stuff that traditionally is construed as male responsibility (teaching, giving stuff, healing; cf the lesson from 6 months ago). On the other hand, watching us try desperately to cling to the language of imagined essential differences between mothering and fathering is absurd and embarrassing. We have an entire lesson on a word that literally has no meaning. It’s as if she began with the word “woman” on the board and then wrote important characteristics: eyes, skin, brain, hair, a spirit, feet, clothes, faith, love, knowledge, testimony, patience, teeth, abilities, etc. — you get the point. We’re literally spending two full weeks to say what we could say in 30 seconds: “Parents do important things for our families. They do x, y, and z and lots of wonderful things. A lot of the time, when circumstances allow, dad will work outside of the home while mom stays home and takes care of the kids. Sometimes it’s different. We should all be grateful for our families and all try to fulfill our responsibilities to make our families strong.” Basically, what my son said in his talk, followed by the obligatory reminder that, typically, traditionally, other things being equal, it’s the father who works while the mother takes care of the kids at home.

Note, I am not advocating that we abandon teaching the ideal. Just that we acknowledge that our model of the ideal is a contradictory mess of present reality and an absurd, imagined past. Next week, no doubt, we will make a similar list. Similar, in that it will include all the same words. Not similar, in that they will all be under the word “Provider.” Oh, and we’ll add the word “work” to the list, specifying that we mean “work for money.”

We’re telling our kids, “you must listen to us and never, never, no never forget! You are a natural nurturer and you are a natural provider.”

“Well,” they rightly ask, “what does that mean?”

“It means — and again, we can’t stress how critical it is that you learn and accept this because the strength of the family and of society depends on it — it means that you will both focus on getting an education and finding a suitable spouse, you will start a family with said spouse in which you will both be equally charged to love and care for and teach and instruct and protect and help and heal and your children and look after your home, in a perfectly equal partnership. Oh, and if you happen to have the luxury of only having one parent working outside the home to make money, that will more likely than not be the man, since he’s the natural Provider!”

For what it’s worth, FHE at our house tonight will involve my wife and I talking to our kids (with as little contradiction and convolution as we can manage) about the individual responsibilities we all have to support our family and keep it strong. Hopefully, choosing not to tell my sons that they are eternally predisposed to hunt giraffes, plot spreadsheets, manage financial capital, and preside over wives will not jeopardize the strength of their future families.

Bookmark Mommies and Daddies: Primary Lessons

Comments

  1. StillConfused says:

    It is nice to see that men are annoyed by this as well. While it is true that only women can be pregnant and breastfeed, that is about the only true line in the sand. And even that can be compensated for through adoption and formula. Maybe it is time to give that whole gender roles thing a rest.

  2. SC,
    Part of my point is that, in practice, we largely have given the gender roles thing a rest. But we still cling to a rhetoric that implies otherwise, with confusing, convoluted results. I suspect that the only practical consequence of pretending with our language and lesson plans like we live in a 1950s sitcom is that it makes members of the many, many families that don’t look like the Cleavers feel a wide range of reactions, from confused to uncomfortable to embarrassed or ashamed.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    I remember when I was in law school someone gave a lesson at church that began with the question, “How and men and women different?” or some such. He had the chalk to the ready and planned on writing a big, long list of differences. But this was a student ward at a major university, and the only difference people were willing to offer was the same one under the mommy card in your first lesson–women can bear children. I felt sorry for that poor teacher, who got blue in the face trying to encourage the class ot list all the essential differences between the sexes, and no one was willing to play along.

  4. Kevin Barney, I wouldn’t have felt sorry for the teacher trying to manipulate the discussion. I would have proudly smiled and relished the awkward silence.

    Yesterday, I heard a member of our Ward telling his three-year-old son to give a certain toy back to our three-year-old daughter. “That’s a girl’s toy,” he said with derision in his voice. “You don’t want to be a girl, do you?”

    It’s a good thing we have Primary lessons and dads like this one to teach these clueless kids about gender roles that are supposedly inherent! [tongue in cheek]

  5. In the YW manual, lesson 9 is about honoring parents. There is a questionnaire at the end of the lesson that has identical questions to ask your parents, with one exception. In the mother’s list, question #14 asks what type of work the mother did before marriage. In the father’s list, question #14 asks the father’s occupation. I know this is nit-picky but still very annoying. As if all women must quit their jobs the day they marry.

  6. This post is amazing. I am the Primary chorister and I love it for all the reasons you outlined. I also love it because if (when) ridiculous things come up like the lessons you described, I KNOW about it and can talk to my kids about it afterwards.

    My daughter also gave a talk yesterday. She’s almost 9 and wrote it entirely herself. She told a story of a time when her dad helped her and a time when I helped her. And then she said: “Moms and dads do everything they can to help take care of us. Sometimes my dad paints my fingernails and sometimes my mom plays football with us.” There were gasps and chuckles in the audience and then quiet. I can’t remember the last time I was that proud.

    Kids are capable of understanding MUCH more nuance than we give them credit for.

  7. I agree with you but only up to a point. Is it wrong for a woman to expect her husband to get a job and do his best to support the family? Is it wrong for a woman to prefer to take care of her children instead of working? Is it wrong for a woman to feel like she is a better nurturer than her husband? If we fail to make any “primarily responsible for” distinctions, what do we risk losing?
    That doesn’t mean that we say Dad’s don’t cook dinner and do housework and women don’t have jobs too. We should emphasize that parents are partners in making sure things get done.

  8. StillConfused says:

    #7 I will admit that generally I do think it is “just wrong” when a man doesn’t support his family. That does bug me. But I have always been a working woman even when I was married and sometimes earned more than the spouse. My sister works and her husband takes care of the baby. It works for them and we all support their decision. So I guess I would say that I do believe that a man should support his family unless he and his wife agree otherwise.

    Guess I do have a little sexism in me.

  9. I think that the teacher should NOT have gotten stressed about the overlap between the jobs that moms do and the jobs that dads do. How many times do we preach a principle and then list the practical ways that we can actually try to live the principal? And how people work around things that they can’t do, that aren’t practical to do, because of their own circumstances.
    Go to the temple, Have FHE, have family prayer & scriptures, Get married, Stay married, Have children
    Go on a mission, Go to church on Sundays, marry in the temple, bless your food before you eat it.
    I just think the cost of not teaching the Proclamation is greater than the slight confusion in interpreting it and the awkwardness of lame Primary leaders. Surely this can’t be the only subject they teach poorly?

  10. Natalie B. says:

    #7 – Every spouse should ideally be able to expect that his or her spouse will diligently strive to fulfill their responsibilities. There is nothing wrong with people choosing to divide their responsibilities in “traditional” ways. However, I believe it is ultimately a decision between the husband and wife as to how they divide that work that should be prayerfully considered. Suggesting that we quit prescribing specific gender roles in no way implies that we don’t also need to emphasize what parenters need to get done. It just means letting adults decide how to do it.

  11. FWIW. I do think men and women are different in many respects that go far beyond reproductive capacities and physiology.

    I agree with jks, that there is nothing wrong with a woman who prefers to stay home rather than work outside the home (my wife and my mother both fit into that category), or a man who prefers to work outside the home than to stay home with primary care of the children (like me). On the other hand, I do not think it is wrong for a woman to prefer to work outside the home and for a man to prefer to be a homemaker.

    I think there are biological, evolutionary, and hormonal bases, and perhaps sociological and anthropological reasons for the preferences of individuals and couples and families in this regard, and I personally think that as a general matter “traditional” gender roles may have their foundation in those bases.

    What makes me uneasy about what I understand is being portrayed in this year’s primary songs and sharing time is the apparent inflexibility of gender roles, and a de-emphasis or ignoring of the portion of the Proclamation that emphasize that husband and wives are to be full parties in working in these responsibilities and that familial adaptation is often appropriate.

    I think, in my ward, every member of the primary presidency works outside the home, as does our female primary chorister. I assume that they are sensitive to these issues, and will do what they can to present the official materials in a reasonable, thoughtful way.

  12. Brad–Awesome post!

    This reminds me of when we were studying Paul and the whole bit about women being silent, obeying etc. The teacher posed the questions “So is it different now? Do we follow this counsel?” Instead of the obvious answer of, “No. Of course women aren’t silent and church, And who “obeys” their spouse?” the class came up with some convoluted way of explaining how we did it still–and the explanation made no sense. I didn’t understand what was wrong with saying no. Just like the Primary President tries to make it all fit, she’s forcing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together when that aren’t from the same puzzle. Why do we cling to things and not keep them simple like your example?

    If we fail to make any “primarily responsible for” distinctions, what do we risk losing?

    JKS-Try answering your own question. You might be surprised at the answer.

  13. Natalie B. says:

    #9 – I don’t think the issue here is bad teaching. I think the issue is that, in principle, not all of us believe that the specific roles they are prescribing are always necessarily innate or ideal, and that the bad teaching is evidence of how attempts to over-prescribe roles can become nonsensical. I would strongly prefer that the Chuch refocused its message on Christ and would leave family planning to families.

  14. Natalie B. says:

    And, thanks Brad. It fills me with joy to see men bring this issue up.

  15. This makes me want to play piano in Primary so I know more about what’s going on.

  16. Amen, Natalie B., MMiles, and David H.

    I don’t think we gain anything by delineating these responsibilities. I think we only lose. What difference does it make which parent nurtures, provides, protects, teaches, etc.–as long as those things occur? My kids roll their eyes when they hear these kinds of distinctions made at church because they know they totally break down at the individual family level.

  17. I got to teach this in sharing time on Sunday, and I combined both the mom and dad lessons since we had stake conference last week. I was a bit worried about how I was going to present this. I wanted to be true to what the lesson entailed: that males and females DO have different roles, but I also wanted to be true to my feelings that the roles aren’t as different as some make them out to be and that they can and do overlap quite a bit. How that looks in each individual family, of course, varies tremendously. Luckily I went to the Proclamation on the Family and it states:

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

    It kind of solved my dilemma by providing me the opportunity to talk a bit about how parents are to help each other out in their roles. We also talked about the responsibilities they will have as parents.

    As I pondered this lesson, I realized that it really is important to have roles and standards along with the flexibility to adapt to certain situations. What if we never taught our sons that they need to be prepared to support their families? What would happen if we didn’t each our daughters that they need to be prepared for being mothers? That doesn’t mean these are the ONLY things we can do, but they are our DIVINE responsibilities and I believe that the Lord has set these guidelines to help us live happier lives, not to punish us in any way.

  18. bridgetpalmer says:

    Ugh. We had this lesson yesterday in Sharing Time, except I was the one in charge of giving it. A few points, not necessarily in defense of the teacher in your primary, but it might help to give context:

    1. The Sharing Time lessons are basically freestyle. All we get is a sentence or two, or maybe a teaching “idea.” There is no manual. For the lesson on fathers (ours was yesterday; it looks like maybe yours will be next week), all we were given to go with for the entire lesson was this: “Fathers preside over, provide for, and protect the family with love.” That’s it. I did my best. My main damage with this lesson was that in our entire senior primary, exactly 2 children actually had fathers, which made me feel like I was tip-toeing through the entire lesson. I ended up expanding it to include grandpas, stepfathers, mother’s fiances, and next-door neighbors just so everyone could have a reference point.

    2. The sentence for the lesson on mothers is: “Mothers nurture the family.” So your teacher interpreted it how she wanted to and maybe made it more awkward than she should have.

    I agree that these concepts are simplified according to traditional gender roles, but I don’t think they were meant to be exclusive of one another. If I had been that teacher, I wouldn’t have made such a big deal about keeping the providing and nurturing so totally separate. That was your teacher talking, not the ST curriculum.

    (The “having babies” thing, though…don’t get me started. Bless you for considering that she may have had other tasks for the mom and didn’t have time to put them up there.)

  19. Mark Brown says:

    DavidH, #11,

    I am inclined to agree with you that there are some good evolutionary, sociological, and anthropological explanations for the ways we think of gender roles. But those are all very different from divine explanations. To put it another way, doesn’t it make sense to think of evolutionary and sociological explanations as simply accomodations to a fallen world, rather than the divine foundation of our eternal nature?

  20. Mark (#19),

    Perhaps. [Threadjack warning:] FWIW, I tend to see most of human (including religious) morality as having foundations in evolutionary, biological, hormonal, and anthropological bases (as well as philosophical constructions–albeit I tend to think of the philosophical constructs as after the fact). Just as I accept that an evolutionary origin of humankind is not inconsistent with a divine origin, I do not think that an evolutionary/biological origin of human ethics and morality is inconsistent with a divine basis as well. [Perhaps the "light of Christ" is the biological evolutionary anthropological "conscience" within us.] Therefore, I am one of those who disagrees with the common understanding of the “natural [hu]man is an enemy to God”.

  21. Natalie B. says:

    I agree with Mark that there are often good evolutionary and social reasons to choose “traditional” gender roles. In fact, I find myself choosing them more and more every day. And, I think Mark is making an important distinction between accomodations to a fallen world and divine nature that we should discuss further.

    But, because this is a fallen world, I want my children of both genders to learn that it is vitally important to provide AND nurture, and then I want them all to be capable of fulfilling those tasks if needed. Neither gender will miss out on the importance of these duties if they are taught to both genders, but gendering specific duties does encourage children to think that some duties are outside of their responsbilities. I honestly believe that in economies like the present, more and more of us will not have the luxury of traditional families and that we need to create strong children who can adapt but also remained focused on eternal priorities.

  22. Natalie B. says:

    One more thought and then I’ll sut up:

    I am making choices far more frequently as I get older that reflect “traditional” gender roles. But I consider these choices to be compromises that I make for the sake of my marriage rather than as ideals. Some of the choices I have made have not been personally fulfilling or reflected my innate abilities or potential – but I make them for the good of my family organization as a whole. I think we need to draw a distinction between necessities and ideals, because they are often not the same.

  23. StillConfused says:

    Another thought: My patriarchal blessing discusses in great detail that I have been blessed with a quick mind and will be recognized in my profession. So clearly God planned for me to live a non-traditional role.

  24. In our primary, the woman who taught this sharing time ended it by asking each kid individually what one thing they could do this week to help their mother out. Most said things like sweeping the floor, making her bed, etc. Then she handed out a paper with “MOTHER” written across the top, and several blank lines, then “NURTURER” at the bottom. The kids had to fill in the blanks with adjectives that described their moms. It was cute. One of the oldest boys said, “strong,” and then changed it to “beefy.” His mom isn’t overly muscular, but she does work with horses and is very strong.

  25. Brad loved the post. I am also the pianist, which I love because I can observe my daughter and what she is being taught and was a little more than disheartened to see what the children would be learning this month. I too have been using family home evening to add to and correct any misconceptions taught in primary.

  26. Just to echo DeeAnn’s #17:

    I taught one of the Temple Marriage Prep classes yesterday in our ward – the one on Families. The Proclamation was the main text. The attendees were two adult convert couples and a young, engaged couple (one a convert, the other a life-long member). The final section of the lesson was about parental responsibilities.

    I wrote “Father” and “Mother” on the board in separate columns and asked the class members to list the responsibilities mentioned for each in the Proclamation. For father, we listed “provide” and “preside”; for mother we listed “nurture”. It took less than one minute to do that.

    I then read the next sentence (“In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”), and we spent a couple of minutes talking about “these” and “obligated” and “equal partners” – focusing on the idea that men shouldn’t use the Proclamation to insist that they don’t need to wash dishes and change diapers or insist that women never work. (I also mentioned that officially publishing such a statement fundamentally changed the default stance of the Church from what it used to be.)

    We ended by quoting the next sentence: “Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation” – focusing intently on “other circumstances” being open ended and undefined. We ended on the idea that exactly how any given couple structures their marriage and the responsibilities of parenthood is up to THEM and the Lord – that they can’t blame the Church or anyone else if their marriage fails, because they are obligated to work as equal partners and adapt individually to their own circumstances.

    I didn’t get any negative push back from anyone – not the attendees or the HPG leadership overseeing the class.

    Personally, the biggest problem with the Proclamation (with regard to this specific issue), imo, is that too many members don’t understand what the relevant paragraph actually says.

  27. hkobeal says:

    I also choose to focus on the “equal partners” line. But if it really is all about individual adaptation and nuance (which I wholeheartedly wish it would be), why bother delineating it?

  28. Jason L. says:

    I’m the primary chorister in my ward and also sat through a frustrating discussion of “Fathers’ roles” last week. Though the teacher did mention (in response to a challenge from one of the children) that she grew up in a home without a father, there was otherwise little recognition that most of our primary children do not belong to traditional nuclear families.

    Fortunately, the same sister gave the lesson on Sunday and began with an exercise about how our families are different. Each child (we have relatively few – only 6 yesterday) got to come up to the board and put up cutouts representing their family. She had plenty of grandparents, parents, siblings, and pets to go around. One child proudly identified their mom, stepdad, brother, and two dogs, complaining only that a cat stood in for one of the dogs. Only after this enlightening and reassuring recognition (no family was the same, no kid felt excluded or unnatural) did we get to “Mothers are nurturing.” And when we did, there was plenty of recognition that, for example, if mothers don’t do the dishes, then someone else needs to.

    I was so glad to have the primary presidency we have.

  29. I just don’t get why this has to be either or. I am a nurturer to my children and husband, in uniquely femine ways. I am also a provider for my children and husband, in uniquely feminine ways, as a criminal defense attorney. The same can be said for my husband, who is masculine, and a nurturer and provider. I would be upset if he were to abdicate either of his roles as nurturer or provider, although how we have negotiated these roles has certainly changed over time. [I have been a full-time mother, he has been a full-time dad, for example].

    I really get that my husband has a responsibility in our family, to provide. I get that I need to nurture. But vice versa, for both of us.

  30. drewmie says:

    “Oh, and if you happen to have the luxury of only having one parent working outside the home to make money,…”

    Hmm, a luxury? I don’t think I’d use that word. Most of the people in my company are women, and most of the married ones with small children talk openly about how working doesn’t really bring in much more money. For them, it’s a way to get out of the house and feel productive. I’ve heard the same thing from previous coworkers. After child care, extra transportation costs, etc, they don’t think it makes a lot of difference.

    In other cases, I’ve heard working women talk about how their lifestyle would have to drastically change if they (or their husband) stayed at home with the children.

    While I can understand both perspectives, I have to admit that the above two arguments often seem to boil down to “me time” and “comfort” respectively. Or, less sympathetically, to “fun” and “stuff.”

    I have a middle-class job and we live in the smallest, oldest crumbling house in our northeast Orem, Utah neighborhood. We don’t have a lot to spare, but our four kids are fed and clothed and loved. My wife is at least as capable to be a “provider” as I am, but she’s also a lot better at being a homemaker than I am. If she wanted to work, we’d consider it. But we’ve both taken the attitude that having a stay-at-home parent with our kids is far more important right now.

    So while it’s a decision each family should make on their own, and while I can’t say any particular family’s decision is wrong, I think the criteria for the decision should be clear: it’s about the kids. Period.

    If the kids won’t be sufficiently provided for with the mother staying at home, then she may need to work. But I’m increasingly irritated at hearing all kinds of criteria in people’s explanations OTHER than their kids’ welfare. I mean, how much stuff does a family really need?

    Am I frustrated needlessly? Or are people really making these decisions based on something other than their children’s best interest? Are they rationalizing their decision as I sometimes think? Are there really that many people who can’t live on a single income? Or are they simply unwilling to live on less? Hasn’t 99.9% of the human race lived with far less than we have in modern America?

  31. Can I say something in defense of Primary presidencies? (acknowledging the fact that there sometimes planning happens unthinkingly, gaffes are made, false or incomplete doctrine taught).

    Our Primary has 65+ kids, evenly divided btwn Jr and Sr. We have 13 sunbeams, 10 of those are VERY active little boys. When we prepare a Sharing Time, we have to figure out how to teach the topics we are assigned by Salt Lake in a faithful manner, how to keep 33+ kids occupied and listening, simplify lessons so that they are on a 3-year-old’s level, but also applicable to a 7 year old (not to mention adapting that same lesson so that it is interesting enough for 8-11 year olds). Oh, and we only have 20 minutes , plus another 20 minutes of music, to cover all the nuances of the very general assigned topic, and at the same time hear complaints that Primary isn’t fun like it used to be and kids shouldn’t be expected to sit still.
    Plus, which GA recently said, “We teach the rule, not the exception.”?

    You wouldn’t expect a schoolteacher who’s teaching the state-approved sex ed class to be able to discuss/explain all of the different standards each family and individual has, right? You talk with your child when he/she gets home and add to the lesson taught. The same thing with Primary. YOU are primarily responsible for the gospel teaching of your children.

    We do our best, we care, we think about the children. But as hard as we try, we are human and we do have limitations.

    end rant, back to the regularly scheduled discussion.

  32. Plus, which GA recently said, “We teach the rule, not the exception.”?

    You wouldn’t expect a schoolteacher who’s teaching the state-approved sex ed class to be able to discuss/explain all of the different standards each family and individual has, right? You talk with your child when he/she gets home and add to the lesson taught. The same thing with Primary. YOU are primarily responsible for the gospel teaching of your children.

    I think you should (re)read the post, JES.

  33. in Response to this:

    “Am I frustrated needlessly? Or are people really making these decisions based on something other than their children’s best interest? Are they rationalizing their decision as I sometimes think? Are there really that many people who can’t live on a single income? Or are they simply unwilling to live on less? Hasn’t 99.9% of the human race lived with far less than we have in modern America?”

    I get so tired of people in the church assuming stuff like this. Seriously, this is the kind of comment that makes my life sadder than it has to be. You don’t know us [working mothers]–you may know some of us, but simply put, you don’t know us. Don’t presume, or presume to know what motivates us.

    Ugh.

  34. Cynthia L. says:

    Very well said, Guen. I was struggling to form a response to that comment. Yours does very nicely. Thanks.

  35. Thanks Cynthia. Sometimes I get lonely in the church because of attitudes like the ones expressed in that email. I want to have a community of tolerance, not judgment. It’s a rough world out there. The least we can do is give our fellow parisioners a break.

  36. Re. Jason L. No. 28: That presentation sounds wonderful. The kids in your ward are lucky.

  37. Great post Brad. I miss being in primary. We made a similar list in High Priests a few months ago. The perception of roles hasn’t changed much for the older folks, this despite having those roles blurred over the years for almost everyone there.

    When my daughter was eight the primary president held up a picture of a Mother and Father and two kids and asked, “What is this a picture of?”

    My daughter’s hand flew up and waved frantically. The PP pointed at my daughter and said, “Yes Emily.” My daughter smiled and answered, “Humans.”

    The dangers of being raised by a Biologist.

  38. I would have been more irritated by this post if the teacher was in a traditional SAHM role herself. Because she has no children and works full-time she probably felt like she had to let others know that she was supportive of a that more common home environment that many middle class families in the Church experience.

    That is actually the bigger issue at play here–not necessarily what she was passing on as much as she perhaps felt like she HAD to use that language because she felt insecure that she was not playing that motherly role. Okay that is a huge assumption–but I bet that a traditional at-home mom would have been more inclined to say “yes daddies do that too” in her attempt to show her sympathy towards other situations. The more we let that language go the more likely we are to get rid of the G factor (guilt) that plagues many women.

    I think the traditional roles are fine and variations of the symphony are just as acceptable–if the Lord approves them no one else has to care.

  39. Drewmie- certainly the second parent may not bring in that much more money at that moment, but the opportunity cost of leaving the workforce is very high (think lifetime earnings), and the redundancy of having two active careers makes good sense in case one spouses contributions are no longer available (think death, job loss, divorce).
    Also to this

    I think the criteria for the decision should be clear: it’s about the kids. Period.

    Should be amended to say “it’s about the family. period.” Kids don’t benefit from a stay at home mom if she is depressed, lonely, resentful of them, and short tempered. Whatever a mom does to keep herself in a place where she best love and appreciate her kids is worthwhile.

  40. Ray, I talked to my 11 year old daughter tonight about what she learned in sharing time and used some of what you said in your comment #26! It was important to me to fill in what might have been missing from the actual sharing time with ideas that I agree with and that are still in harmony with the Proclamation. Thanks.

  41. Am I frustrated needlessly? Or are people really making these decisions based on something other than their children’s best interest? Are they rationalizing their decision as I sometimes think? Are there really that many people who can’t live on a single income? Or are they simply unwilling to live on less? Hasn’t 99.9% of the human race lived with far less than we have in modern America?

    It’s not all about the kids. Fundamentally, it’s about the family (right?), and the family is more than the sum of the kids.

    As far as what we have in America – go ahead and live like 99.9% of the human race. We won’t stop you.

    As Starfoxy says — families need employment backup plans. In some cases, that means that a mother needs to be employed part-time, ready to move to full-time, if the husband’s job goes away.

    As Ray so artfully articulates, it’s all about individual circumstances.

    There hasn’t been a particularly vocal instruction from on high about strict SAHMness from the last couple of presidents of the church.

  42. I also choose to focus on the “equal partners” line. But if it really is all about individual adaptation and nuance (which I wholeheartedly wish it would be), why bother delineating it?

    As Ray so artfully articulates, it’s all about individual circumstances.

    IMO, these two statements to me illustrate perfectly why we have the Proclamation. It *isn’t* all about individual circumstances. Those only come once we know the doctrine and teachings and ideals. If our leaders did was say, “do whatever you want,” we *would* lose sight of the ideal, the pattern.

    Elder Holland’s talk last year in the WW leadership broadcast, in my view, is one of the best I have ever heard on this topic.

    The gospel (and the Church’s role) is first about doctrine, standards, and principles that don’t change (even if and when exceptions clearly exist). Those ideals need to be clearly articulated for people to truly make their choices. We can’t fully exercise agency without knowledge and understanding of truth.

  43. BTW, I know too many women, too, whose husbands are not fulfilling those basic roles. IMO, every woman deserves to have her husband at least be willing and prepared to do what he can to provide the possibility for her to be home with her children. If individual circumstances vary from that ideal, then that’s between a couple and heaven. But if those standards don’t continue to be taught, I fear that more women will be forced to work when they don’t want to. That’s beyond individual adaptation. That’s just plain wrong in my view. And it actually removes agency from the woman, and perhaps could mean that incorrect principles are perpetuated for generations to come.

    BTW, I’m not men-bashing here. I know there are a lot of good men out there who know what it means to preside and provide, and take caring for their family seriously. But, imo, in the end, a family can’t fully function, and a woman can’t fully develop and fly, unless the man is willing and prepared to do all he can to fulfill those basic roles.

    On another note, as a woman who is more “naturally” suited in many ways to my career that I had before marriage and children, I am also extremely grateful for the teachings of prophets, because it was only in actually taking that leap of faith in choosing SAHMhood that I discovered that that really was something I could do. And something that I have grown to love doing. It’s the hardest thing I have ever done. I still have found ways to keep my pre-Mom self alive, and I am a fan of that. But because of the ideals that are taught, I have discovered more about who I am.

    I listened to an interview with Kathy Soper yesterday. She said something that I found profound. The thought was something along these lines: When women discover the mother within them (and that *is* a process for most women…it *doesn’t* just happen or come naturally for many of us), they discover the divinity within them.

    I have found this to be true. And so, again, I say thank heaven for prophets who teach us true and lasting principles. And then who also recognize the importance of agency *after* teaching those principles.

    As the saying goes, all things must be done in order….

    p.s. IMO, I can’t help but think that one reason these teachings are sometimes misunderstood is that sometimes people think they describe what we should all be born with. But if that doesn’t apply for any other gospel ideal (minus those few situations where someone may truly have a gift they don’t have to work and pray and sweat to obtain), why should these ideals be any different?

    Ten years into motherhood, I feel like I am becoming more of a nurturer. This is not about a checklist of tasks, but about what choosing to fulfill this role, with faith even though it didn’t come naturally, is doing to my heart and spirit.

    These ideals, imo, are about becoming, but we too often want to reduce them to just about doing.

  44. Whoa. Long. Sorry. This is on my mind because my VTs and I just talked about this today.

  45. And to think, all of that could be cleared up just by asking “What should mommies and daddies do together?”

    One list of responsibilities for a couple to decide how to handle based on the skills and personalities present in the partnership. Preparing them, in whatever way is possible at their age, for the monumental compromise that their marriages will likely be later in life.

    Isn’t that what we’re trying to do?

  46. #32 Brad, my apologies. My comments were not directed at your post (which I did read). I was feeling defensive b/c of all the comments deriding the “lame primary teachers” who teach our children such drivel. m&m described my own feelings on the subject very well, especially what I meant when I said, “teach the rule, not the exception”.

  47. #27 “But if it really is all about individual adaptation and nuance (which I wholeheartedly wish it would be), why bother delineating it?”

    Because it is always the purpose of the prophet to teach correct principles, and let us govern ourselves. Following the commandments of the gospel is not about following a series of rules. It is about using the rules to better understand the principles of eternity, and then staying true to those principles. There is no law that is merely immediate and exactly literal. It is not until you can understand the spiritual principle behind a law that you can truly follow it.

  48. My problem is not that teaching the general ideal doesn’t account for the nuance of individual circumstances. My problem is that the general ideal itself — that fathers are naturally providers and mothers are naturally nurterers — is totally devoid of meaning. There is literally nothing that a mother should do in the home that a father should not be doing as well. And vice versa. All that remains is what goes on outside of the home, and we could deal with that with a single sentence rather than devoting two weeks to pretending that there are some enormous, essential differences between mothers and fathers and between motherly and fatherly duties and responsibilities.

  49. Thomas Parkin says:

    #47

    SilverRain,

    That is so well said. ~

  50. Mark Brown says:

    m&m, # 43,

    IMO, I can’t help but think that one reason these teachings are sometimes misunderstood is that sometimes people think they describe what we should all be born with. But if that doesn’t apply for any other gospel ideal (minus those few situations where someone may truly have a gift they don’t have to work and pray and sweat to obtain), why should these ideals be any different?

    Within the past 10 years, Elders Faust, Packer, and Scott have stated directly and explicitly in general conference that women are naturally more nuturing than men, and that they are born that way. Do you include them on your list of people who misunderstand the line upon line concept? In addition, the proclamation states that our gender differences are an eternal part of our nature. I don’t think we can fault people for simply repeating what they hear in conference.

    For what it’s worth, I quite agree with you and Kathy. Divine attributes are aquired, not things we are born with. But let’s be clear — at least three apostles disagree with that view.

    Also, I’m going to take exception to your opening paragraph in comment # 43. I know you well enough to know that your intentions are good, and that you indeed did not intend to engage in man-bashing. But you might as well go up to every man you know and kick him in the groin — it would be less painful!

    Here’s a secret. Every man in the church, with the possible exceptions of those whose names are Romney or Marriott, feels a strong sense of anxiety and inadequacy when it comes to providing for his family. Regardless of how well a man is performing this task, there is always a need for more money. Many people making in excess of $150,000 still feel insecure. It is a game a man simply cannot win, but if he ever expresses the slightest doubt, or mentions that it would be nice to give up the second job, we brand him as lazy, worse than an infidel, and as a guy who doesn’t fulfill his priesthood responsibilities.

    I will emphasize again that I KNOW you didn’t intend for your comment to be taken in this way. But I will also state that I also know that there are many good and decent men in every ward in the church who are doing their level best, and who, when they hear rhetoric like yours, feel extra weight added to the heavy burden they are already carrying. We are piling on to the discouragement and inadequacy they already feel quite acutely. When we take potshots with a shotgun, we can’t control the pattern of the blast, and many of the things we hit will be hit unintentionally.

  51. Here’s another profound difference between men and women – women can teach youth classes solo. Men can not.

  52. Much of this discussion is hashed out in the land of privilege. I don’t mean that negatively; I mean it simply as a factual statement.

    Most of the men here discussing this are caring, loving fathers who take their familial responsibilities seriously. They do their best to provide for their families; they treat their wives respectfully and as an equal partner; they help nurture their children, and I would guess that most of them share household chore responsibilities, as well. Many of the women here (I don’t know enough to say “most”.) have such men in their lives.

    That isn’t so in MUCH of the world – and we are discussing a proclamation “to the world”. That gets lost totally when discussed from such a narrow land of privilege. Many of the women in the areas where I’ve spent most of the last 12 years of my professional life would praise God continually with tears streaming down their faces for His goodness and mercy if they had a husband who believed in the principles of this proclamation and honored them as equal partners. Frankly, they would rejoice simply to have a partner who lived with them and helped support their children – even if he was nowhere near a dedicated and loyal and loving husband.

    Why do we teach an ideal and use generalities that aren’t universal – especially for those who are mature enough to make enlightened and wise choices of individual adaptation for their own individual circumstances? Because, to be brutally direct, that maturity is not the natural default and (kick in the groin or not) most men in this world (and many in the Church) need to have this type of message couched in black and white terms – always with the caveat of ultimately allowing for agency and individual adaptation.

    I have no doubt that if most of the men and women in the world were acting maturely enough to not need “primary roles and responsibilities” taught, that the Proclamation would have been worded very differently – or not published at all. However, there are large swaths in this country and elsewhere where the family literally is disintegrating, and internalizing the core messages of the Proclamation would go a long way toward mending that situation – especially with the allowance for individual adaptation among the emotionally and inter-personally mature.

  53. Mark Brown says:

    All true enough, Ray. Do you anticipate anytime soon when it will be acceptable to say this:

    I know too many men, too, whose wives are not fulfilling those basic roles. IMO, every man deserves to have a wife at least be willing and prepared to do what she can to nurture the family. If individual circumstances vary from that ideal, then that’s between a couple and heaven. But if those standards don’t continue to be taught, I fear that more men will be forced to take on additional family responsibilities when they don’t want to, in addition to the providing roles. That’s beyond individual adaptation. That’s just plain wrong in my view. And it actually removes agency from the man, and perhaps could mean that incorrect principles are perpetuated for generations to come.

    That statement is just as true as the opening paragraph of # 43, but hell will freeze over before we will say it out loud. We mustn’t tamper with female superiority.

  54. Mark, I understand what you are saying. One of the problems with internet communication, however, is that it gives the appearance that each comment is in response to the one right before it – or, at least, to a comment in close proximity to it. I screwed up and didn’t reference the specific comment that prompted mine – which was way back in #27 (a question asked explicitly of my last comment), and the subsequent comments that made it sound like I meant it was ALL about individual adaptation.

    I believe ultimately it is about individual adaptation as the ideal, but I was addressing why we need an “intermediate ideal”, if you will – a general rule from which the ideal can be reached by adaptation.

  55. Natalie B. says:

    #30 – Our current “ideals” for family are possible, in my opinion, because of the advanced captialist society that many Mormons live in. In that sense, they are luxuries, even if morally good luxuries. However, within the United States there are many families living in poverty – in one community near me 20% of the citizens are in public housing. Outside the United States (and within it), there are other families who continue to work in family businesses where mothers, children, and fathers work side by side. I think we forget far too often that those of us who happen to be middle class in the United States – those of us who can afford to talk about hiring childcare – are uniquely privileged. With some of the low-income people I currently work with, the children come to work or are taken care of by community members.

    Now, I fully agree that many people would trade for what we have and appreciate the ability to live our family ideals. Certainly, many communities would have less poverty if they had better parenting. But, currently, that isn’t an option for everyone. And, sometimes, it is hard to judge people’s economic needs – maybe they really do need two jobs because they have healthcare needs or other dependents. So that’s what I mean by saying that it is a luxury (and blessing) to be able to talk about living this “ideal.”

    However, for me the ideal would be that both parents work part-time and stay home part-time. But, that isn’t an economic possibility at the moment in most professions.

    Also, no, I don’t believe that children should be are primary end. I think the community as a whole, of which are children and our families are parts, is the end.

  56. Silver Rain (#47):

    What is the “spiritual principle” behind this law regarding the delineation of fathers’ and mothers’ responsibilities in the home/family?

    Ray,

    I agree completely that we are living in the land of privilege to even be having this conversation. I’m not entirely persuaded by the argument that you clarified in #52(because I’m stubborn), but I get what you’re saying. I just wish we could leave it up to families to decide who does what.

  57. Guen said, “I get so tired of people in the church assuming stuff like this. Seriously, this is the kind of comment that makes my life sadder than it has to be. You don’t know us [working mothers]–you may know some of us, but simply put, you don’t know us. Don’t presume, or presume to know what motivates us.”

    Ouch! I’m truly sorry if I offended. I thought my post was meant to illicit answers to honest questions I have, given what working mothers I’ve known have told me. I haven’t surveyed any large samples or anything. And you’re right that I certainly don’t know the motivation of most (let alone individual) working mothers.

    I had previously assumed that most working mothers believed that they really needed to work outside the home in order to provide for the family. I’m just surprised that most working mothers I’ve worked with have NOT expressed a real financial need for them to work. That surprised me.

    Starfoxy said, “Kids don’t benefit from a stay at home mom if she is depressed, lonely, resentful of them, and short tempered. Whatever a mom does to keep herself in a place where she best love and appreciate her kids is worthwhile.”

    I agree, because that really is putting the kids first. I think it’s a very reasonable conclusion for a prayerful mother whose primary concern is, “How can I best serve my kids?” It may be by staying at home, but it may not. As long as that’s her honest criteria (which only she and God can know), then I’m confident she’ll come to the right decision.

    queuno said, “There hasn’t been a particularly vocal instruction from on high about strict SAHMness from the last couple of presidents of the church.”

    Actually, there has. And plenty of it.

    m&m said, “It *isn’t* all about individual circumstances. Those only come once we know the doctrine and teachings and ideals. If our leaders did was say, “do whatever you want,” we *would* lose sight of the ideal, the pattern.”

    Precisely. Frankly, a lot of people sound like they don’t believe in the ideal, and that mothers and fathers really are generally interchangeable. While that may be so in marginal cases, there is a solid foundation of doctrine that men and women are different, and that they are meant to be different. Gender roles are not sexist assumptions that the church will simply grow out of.

    m&m said, “IMO, I can’t help but think that one reason these teachings are sometimes misunderstood is that sometimes people think they describe what we should all be born with. But if that doesn’t apply for any other gospel ideal (minus those few situations where someone may truly have a gift they don’t have to work and pray and sweat to obtain), why should these ideals be any different?”

    Well said. Thank you.

    Brad said, “…rather than devoting two weeks to pretending that there are some enormous, essential differences between mothers and fathers and between motherly and fatherly duties and responsibilities.”

    One problem with that: there ARE enormous, essential differences between mothers and fathers and their duties.

    Ray said, “I have no doubt that if most of the men and women in the world were acting maturely enough to not need “primary roles and responsibilities” taught, that the Proclamation would have been worded very differently.”

    So, we should take the attitude that we are too enlightened for the doctrines in the Proclamation? We should consider them temporary necessities? Or for the less enlightened? No, thank you.

  58. drewmie (#57) – “So, we should take the attitude that we are too enlightened for the doctrines in the Proclamation? We should consider them temporary necessities? Or for the less enlightened? No, thank you.”

    I neither said nor implied that. What I said is that there are many people who are living the overall ideal articulated in the Proclamation (adapting the general rule to their own individual circumstances), while the general rule is a wonderful intermediate ideal for those who aren’t mature enough yet to adapt the general rule to their own individual circumstances. I also NEVER said that following the general rule is a bad or inferior thing – IF it fits one’s individual circumstances.

    Just so you understand the experiences from where I am coming when I say that:

    In the 21 1/2 years of our marriage, my wife has been both a SAHM and been employed – both full-time and part-time. I have been a full-time student and full-time employee simultaneously, a full-time employee, a part-time employee and unemployed. Each instance has been a result of our own circumstances that literally required us to make “individual adaptations” to what we both really wanted – for her to stay home while I worked full-time.

    What I’m saying is a DEFENSE of the Proclamation and the “doctrines” in it. I’m saying it is comprehensive enough to fit EVERY circumstance my wife and I have encountered in over 20 years of marriage (and those which every other couple in existence will experience). I am saying ALL of the assumed conflicts concerning this particular issue that drive so many members and non-members nuts disappear when the full meaning and implications of that paragraph are understood. It says, in essence:

    “Here is the general rule. Every couple must consider their own circumstances and determine if there is an individual adaptation that would create their own unique ideal.”

    How in the world can you interpret my comments here as anti-Proclamation? All I’ve really done, at the most fundamental level, is parse the actual Proclamation. I can understand disagreeing with my conclusions, but I don’t understand how you go from my actual comments to the paragraph I quoted at the beginning of this comment.

  59. This is the first time I have been back to this discussion.

    Many of the women in the areas where I’ve spent most of the last 12 years of my professional life would praise God continually with tears streaming down their faces for His goodness and mercy if they had a husband who believed in the principles of this proclamation and honored them as equal partners.

    Yup. Exactly.

    Mark (thanks for your comment on my blog, although fwiw, I didn’t see your comments here until just now, and wrote that post last nite),:

    FWIW, I was not talking about men who provide and care about it. I was talking about men who sit home or do very little and expect their wives to do it all…or close to that extreme, anyway. There is not partnership as it is designed to be if one person is doing all the work. You can’t both provide and nurture for the whole family as one person without putting strain on a family. As any single parent how hard it is to play both roles alone.

    I have also seen men who won’t take the spiritual leadership to pull the family together under that safe umbrella of gospel living and running the program, and that causes lots of problems. Women shouldn’t have to nag their covenant husbands to have family prayer, family scripture study, FHE, etc.

    In a true partnership, both want to do what’s best for the family, not pursue their own selfish goals at the expense of the good of the family.

    This is very different from conscientious couples who are honestly seeking to do what’s best, and may goof along the way here and there, as we all do in keeping balance in our homes and lives.

    Do you anticipate anytime soon when it will be acceptable to say this:
    I know too many men, too, whose wives are not fulfilling those basic roles. IMO, every man deserves to have a wife at least be willing and prepared to do what she can to nurture the family.

    I personally think this can be as much as concern as the other. If a couple has children and a woman neglects her role as nurturer and refuses to do her part in caring for the children, it can put burdens on a family and/or on the man, just as when a man doesn’t fulfill his roles.

    Again, partnership requires both to be invested in the family and its goals.

  60. Within the past 10 years, Elders Faust, Packer, and Scott have stated directly and explicitly in general conference that women are naturally more nuturing than men, and that they are born that way. Do you include them on your list of people who misunderstand the line upon line concept? In addition, the proclamation states that our gender differences are an eternal part of our nature. I don’t think we can fault people for simply repeating what they hear in conference.

    No, I don’t include them on the list of people who misunderstand the line by line concept. I understand what you are saying, and why that can seem to some to be confusing, but in the end, I don’t see it as much different from prophets teaching about the seeds of godliness that we are all born with. We all have divine nature in us. But just because we have those divine qualities in us doesn’t mean they will just manifest naturally, without effort, faith, sacrifice, and patience with the process of development.

  61. BTW, Mark, thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt. (And, btw, you are welcome on my blog…no worries about being intrusive. I didn’t intend for it to be a non-BCC discussion over there…I just felt strongly enough about what I wrote to want it on my blog.)

    I want to reiterate once more that my comments were not meant to be potshots at all. They were not directed to the many men who care deeply about providing and who probably put more stress and anxiety into it all than I can fully appreciate because I have never have had the burden of being the primary provider for our family. I KNOW it’s a heavy burden, and I want to reiterate that I am deeply aware of that.

    But do you not know of men who haven’t fulfilled their roles and their family has suffered or fallen apart? Those are the tragic situations about which I was talking. Even then, my intention is not to take potshots, but to acknowledge the truth in what we are taught. There is power in these principles and roles and truths.

    And it’s a process for all of us. Always. The ideals prick us all at some point or another, don’t they? They cause us to reflect and worry and pray and wonder if we are doing enough.

    But see? To me that is part of the purpose. It’s not all supposed to be perfectly delineated because we are supposed to get our specific direction from God, to learn to take the counsel and go to Him to figure out the details.

  62. And now you know why I thought it’d be better to pull my thoughts onto my blog. I have too many of them. Sorry for being so longwinded.

  63. Ray, I think your further explanation makes a lot of sense, and seems in keeping with the Proclamation. But I don’t yet understand how the Proclamation fits with your previous comment which seemed to say that its “primary roles and responsibilities” doctrines are needed only until people are mature enough. Do you think gender roles would be unnecessary if we were mature enough? Is there not eternal significance to them? Forgive me if I’ve completely misinterpreted your statement. I really would like to understand.

  64. Naismith says:

    Is it wrong for a woman to prefer to take care of her children instead of working?

    Now there’s an oxymoron.

    I resent very much that the term “working” has is frequently co-opted to mean only “working for pay.” There is already a word to describe that: employed.

    I have a graduate degree and professional job, but the hardest work I have ever done is the years at home with children.

  65. Naismith says:

    Here’s a secret. Every man in the church, with the possible exceptions of those whose names are Romney or Marriott, feels a strong sense of anxiety and inadequacy when it comes to providing for his family. Regardless of how well a man is performing this task, there is always a need for more money.

    Actually, I think it is more common than that. My husband has no idea how much money he makes. We were at a retirement planning seminar a few years ago, and had to calculate something based on his income, and he was off by more than $10,000.

    He has direct-deposit, and pays no attention to money whatsoever.

  66. You inspired me so I posted this.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,475 other followers