Among other ideas, The Family: A Proclamation to the World, emphasizes the importance or gender identity and roles. For the purpose of this post, I will focus on several sentences that relate to the responsibilities of parents within the family as they rear children.
Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. ‘Children are an heritage of the Lord’ (Psalms 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations…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…
In 1990 Relief Society General President Elaine L. Jack and her counselors Chieko N. Okazaki and Aileen H. Clyde met to decide their priorities for Relief Society. They outlined five points that would become the hallmarks of their presidency. The fourth read:
Strengthen families. Many types of families are part of the church today. All families need strengthening.
Women of Covenant. Page 402
In the subsequent years, Jack and her counselors travelled the globe meeting with focus groups, groups of Relief Society sisters with whom they talked to identify the needs and understand the circumstances of a worldwide sisterhood. One important circumstance that came to their attention through these meetings and with the help of Church statisticians was that globally, only one in ten sisters in the Church will not work outside the home at some point. Think it’s different in Utah? Think again.
Recently on Facebook , one woman’s choice to work outside the home was maligned by other members of the Church, or justified by well-meaning people ‘because her husband is in school’, with the logic that was the reason it was ok, assuming she would quit when he finished. Yet 90% of Mormon women will work outside the home.
Most often the Proclamation is read with the interpretation that working women outside the home are either the result of unforeseen tragedy, extreme financial necessity, or an unrighteous decision, abandoning the family on their part—in other words, a rarity.
Often gender roles within the home are taught in such a way that inadvertently invites judgment of one another amongst members. For instance, during Relief Society lessons sisters are sometimes warned that working outside the home may lead to wayward children, or a troubled marriage. It is easy to see how in gossip circles, and sometimes even in lesson discussions, this way of teaching often leads to an explanation of why some peoples’ children have turned out badly, to use as an indicator that some women are more righteous than others by virtue of not-working, to show that a man who isn’t providing enough is failing in his duty, or, most sadly, used as a weapon between spouses. Assuming the ideas in the Proclamation will continue to be part of doctrinal discourse within church settings, and assuming the reality that 9 in 10 Mormon women will work, is there a better way to teach these ideas, inviting members to support one another rather than judge one another, and encourage women to prepare for the workforce by obtaining an education?
In the Saturday morning session of General Conference, Elder Quentin Cook taught ideas from the Proclamation using a less-common approach.
“Marriage requires a full partnership, where wives and husbands work side by side to meet the needs of the family…These are very emotional, personal decisions; but there are two principles that we should always keep in mind. First, no woman should ever feel the need to apologize or to feel that her contribution is less significant because she is devoting her primary efforts to raising and nurturing children, nothing could be more significant in our Father in Heaven’s plan. Be careful not to be judgmental, or assume that sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home. We rarely understand or fully appreciate people’s circumstances. Husbands and wives should prayerfully counsel together, understanding they are accountable to God for their decisions…I would hope that Latter Day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents.”
His approach is more affirming of personal family choices, personal revelation and the real need for family-friendly workplaces for both men and women, both parents being important in the nurture of their children. Would taking this approach in our wards help curb judgment amongst members and help families better support one another? Will this approach allow families to feel they have more options on how to approach child rearing in their own homes?