Going to work, again

It may look and sound like polemic parody. But it’s not intended as such.

Thanks, Richard, for starting the discussion.

After several years of being a full-time provider, I didn’t think staying home two days a week would be a big deal. A year following the birth of our first child, my wife became pregnant again. She became seriously ill and her body wasn’t strong enough to nurture a new pregnancy as well as a toddler. We decided that, with the help of good management, I could oversee things two days a week.

I missed being at work at first, but I hadn’t counted on how much I would enjoy my new position. The two days a week soon grew to three and sometimes four. Changing diapers and looking for missing shoes became more rewarding than desk work. I wore pajamas all day and found time to pursue my own interests during the hours I was home.

Over time I found myself annoyed that after spending all day at home I still had a business to manage, so I often delegated to my assistant. When I walked in the office door, my coworkers clamored for my attention when all I wanted to do was unwind. In response to the perceived ingratitude of my staff, I became even more involved with my toddler, who wasn’t doing very well despite my attention.

One day while driving to work I found myself searching for any possible reason to delay my arrival. Was there one more errand I could run? Had I left anything undone at home? I realized with surprise that I didn’t want to be at the office. In fact, I wanted to be anywhere but the office. Matthew 6:21 reads, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” I no longer treasured being at work with my office staff—my heart was not in it.

I pulled into my parking spot and sat in my car for a few minutes. Even with the realization of how far from the path I had veered, my attitude didn’t instantly change. I was overwhelmed with guilt, sorrow, and embarrassment, yet I still didn’t want to go inside. Feeling a little panicked, I felt the prompting of the Spirit to do the only thing I could think of—I bowed my head over the steering wheel and prayed.

I asked for forgiveness for straying so far from my divine role, and then I made two pleas: first, that I could rekindle my desire to be at work; and second, that Heavenly Father would help me find a way to return to work full time. I felt confident that in time I could rediscover my joy of being at work with my staff, but I had no idea how the second request could be achieved. My kid was struggling, and my wife was barely able to get out of bed. I didn’t know what the solution would be, but I had faith that things would get better somehow. I went to bed that night with a heavy heart, but I was determined to do my part to make things better.

I repeated my prayer every day. I stopped pursuing personal business during home hours so I could be at work more often. I took pride in not delegating work to my assistant. My attitude didn’t change overnight and it was often frustrating to have to work so hard at changing it, but in time I learned to enjoy being at work again. However, aspects of family life weren’t coming together the way I had hoped. In fact, things were getting worse.

A few months after our second child was born, we reached a point where we were no longer able to take care of both children. Eventually we had no choice but to put the toddler up for adoption.

It was impossible not to take the failure personally. We had made so many sacrifices and worked so hard, but the family had failed despite our best efforts. We had never faced anything like this and found the entire experience overwhelming. And yet, there was one element that was impossible to ignore. Once we no longer had two children, I would be at work again.

I had prayed to return to work full time, and though I assumed it would be through the success of the family, not the failure, I received exactly what I had asked for. Matthew 6:20 reads, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” Through this experience I have come to realize just how important it was to the Lord that I be at the office providing for my family, regardless of the consequences. The power of prayer was also driven home as I realized just how well my Father in Heaven had listened to my pleas for help. He had first helped me to change my heart, and then He helped change my circumstances.

Being at work again isn’t all enjoyment. I still spend a lot of time on mind-numbing desk work, and at times I long for the respect and satisfaction I found at home. However, my heart is now back where it belongs, and I once again treasure my role as a father. I lost sight of my true riches for a time, but through the help of my Father in Heaven I was able to go to the office again and stay there.


  1. Latter-day Guy says:

    What. The. Hell?

  2. I might have bought the “not a parady” — maybe, with great difficulty — until you put the toddler up for adoption.

    I call baloney.

  3. Kathryn,
    Okay, now that I’ve read beyond the first paragraph, I can offer more than a proofread.
    Bummer losing the toddler and all, but I’m glad you’ve finally got your priorities straight.

  4. Latter-day Guy says:

    Deux-fer, it is definitely not a parady… it may not even be a parody. ;-)

  5. Julie M. Smith says:

    So a lot of people are going to be confused by this post since it clearly is a parody of the Ensign article to which you linked. I’m not sure why you said it wasn’t a parody. Did you mean the Ensign article wasn’t a parody?

  6. Droylsden says:

    Also when I read “full-time provider” originally I thought it was in the sense of full-time childcare provider, you know a stay-at-home-dad.

  7. Kathryn,
    I’m going to kindly disagree with Julie and suggest that you change nothing, clarify nothing.

  8. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    It’s not intended to mock or poke fun at the original article.

    Okay, maybe it is, just a wee bit.

    But its purpose here today is to build on the concepts Richard outlined. What does the switcheroo reveal about life priorities, gender roles, and personal fulfillment in LDS culture and beyond?

  9. Latter-day Guy says:

    As it happens, if the intent of this post is to examine the linked Ensign article from a new perpective, then it falls pretty flat for me. Selling a business is not equivalent to putting a child up for adoption — not in any universe I’m aware of. We seem to be tilting at windmills here.

  10. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    blt, I hear you. But previous experiments along those lines have failed.

    This experiment may fail, too, but I’m having fun already.

  11. >>What does the switcheroo reveal about life priorities, gender roles, and personal fulfillment in LDS culture and beyond?

    It reveals nothing about those ideas, because it’s artificial in every sense. If it reveals anything at all, it is that the female author unsuccessfully imagines a man’s interior life, and it crassly mocks Mormon ideals.

  12. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Selling a business is not equivalent to putting a child up for adoption.

    Gold star!

  13. Latter-Day Guy,
    I think you may want to read, or reread Richard’s post.

  14. “It reveals nothing about those ideas, because it’s artificial in every sense. If it reveals anything at all, it is that the female author unsuccessfully imagines a man’s interior life, and it crassly mocks Mormon ideals.”

    Thanks for setting the record straight on a man’s interior life.

  15. You’re extremely defensive about this post, blt — why is that?

  16. blt’s [negative attitude] aside, I say that the author unsuccessfully imagines a man’s interior life because that imagining is based point-for-point on the target article. Nothing in my experience suggests that men are utter mirror images of women — if they were, then the whole matter of juggling family and career loyalties would be moot.

    [Note: edited for oddly strong language — Admin]

  17. I’m just intrigued by it, that’s all. I hope you don’t mind my jab. I don’t think you should summarily dismiss it.

  18. Ardis, artificiality is a tricky thing — for all we know the Ensign article itself may be completely artificial.

    As a man (yes, true!), I don’t think this post is all that unsuccessful. And as a Mormon I don’t think it mocks my ideals, certainly not crassly so. While it might not be very realistic, I think the switch does do the classic trick of making us consider whether we are treating men and women equally on these issues. That’s not a bad thing, is it?

  19. Now, Ardis, I’ve seen you chide bloggers for much less. It was a joke–apparently a very bad one. Sorry.

  20. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    making us consider whether we are treating men and women equally on these issues

    And what equal means in this context.

    Nothing in my experience suggests that men are utter mirror images of women

    Nothing in mine, either.

  21. Ardis,
    Just to clarify, I meant I don’t think you should summarily dismiss Kathryn’s post. You can dismiss me and my lame jab at your leisure.

  22. I’m in the peculiar position of having had to be sole provider for myself, if no one else, for the past 34 years, without the compensatory rewards of family life. In this one regard I come far nearer to the role of a Mormon man than a Mormon woman. Under those circumstances I don’t see this as an examination of equal treatment of men and women, but a self-indulgent claim for the right to have the best of both worlds and the worst of neither. Throw in the implied jabs at the Church, and this tips the scale.

    My views are likely to be different from most regulars here, but then my life circumstances are, too.

  23. Now that I’ve read Ardis’ comment (Nothing in my experience suggests that men are utter mirror images of women) in conjunction with Richard’s post, I think I get what Kathryn was going at: Women are not mirror images of men. Am I right?!? Or is this all just sailing over my head?

  24. “going at”? Blah. I meant “going for”

  25. Ha ha. This is a great boundary-pushing post.

    How many men feel guilty when they get in the car and go to work? The divine role of providing financially for the family is infinitely easier for me (maybe not for everyone) than the day-to-day tasks caring for children. I love my children and being with them in general, but cleaning up the house and thinking about meals all day long can be painful. I might be dead inside but working for a salary for your family is much more rewarding than changing a diaper, doing laundry, dishes, and working my entire schedule around a nap so I can have a few minutes of rest to… do more work around the house.

    So while it was a bit extreme about putting the toddler up for adoption, I get it. I do have a job I love, so perhaps that makes the difference but I have always wondered if something is wrong with me in thinking employment is the easier life.

  26. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Stephanie, yes–that’s one thing I believe the revised article highlights.

    a self-indulgent claim for the right to have the best of both worlds and the worst of neither

    Ardis, if you could point out where I made this claim I’d be greatly obliged.

  27. I don’t think the post is meant to stand on its own. I think it is very much a response to a particular part of Richard Eyre’s post, which reads:

    “Success in only one of the four areas is flat and one dimensional. We have all seen the shallowness of wealth without health and without family or faith. Even success in two or three of the four dimensions can lack depth as in someone who seems to have everything going for himself, but no one to really share it with, or no belief in the fact that it can endure.

    “Public opinion studies show that most people believe that doing well in all four areas is the formula for happiness. Four dimensional success is the goal.”

    In my view, this post is an expression of the the frustration that a person might endure in struggling just to feel successful in one of the areas, not to mention the four.

  28. Lee Fleming, I love fathers like you who totally get it:

    working my entire schedule around a nap so I can have a few minutes of rest to… do more work around the house.

    So. True.

  29. I love fathers who get it too! Like my husband :)

  30. Yikes, Lee Flemming! I apologize! I made the assumption based on the first sentence of your paragraph. My bad. Please forgive me.

    For the record, my husband mostly gets it, but not totally.

  31. Sorry, Kathryn, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t expect us to read between the lines to find the lessons of the parody, and then demand a literal quotation that justifies the conclusion drawn.

    So I suppose I can add you to the list of BCC permas whom I have offended and who would prefer I not comment? That makes at least five. You’d think I could make a clean sweep, except that BCC adds permas faster than Obama adds to the national debt so I’ll never catch up.

    Sorry, Kathryn.

  32. Can we get some insight into what unforgiveable profanity Ardis used? We’re all adults here. Steve, use one of those codes where The first letter of each word in a phrase is used to spell the secret message.

  33. Ardis, I appreciate your efforts. Kathryn, I don’t think this post works, but I would defend to the death your right to write it and try out new things.

  34. Steve Evans says:

    Ardis, I love you too much. You’ve got fire in your belly and brains in your head.

  35. Ardis #22:

    It’s not Valentine’s Day, but this one goes out dedicated just to you. I feel you. Michael feels you.


  36. “So I suppose I can add you to the list of BCC permas whom I have offended and who would prefer I not comment?”

    Ardis, the second half of this does not follow from the first. Some of us actually value your perspective, even when (particularly when, even) you disagree with us.

  37. Latter-day Guy says:

    RE: 12,
    Actually, I find neither gold stars nor grey dots stick very well anymore, but thanks anyway.

    In any case, I must be particularly dense this morning, because I altogether fail to see the point of this story. Are we here highlighting the difference in importance between family responsibilities and work responsibilities? If so, as you pithily point out in comment 12, the message is painfully obvious, rendering the post completely meaningless. On the other hand, is the post lampooning the inequality of traditional gender roles within the church? If so, this is a straw man argument: you don’t sucessfully point out the silliness/inequality of the woman’s sacrificing a job she loved by turning the story on its head, because her husband would also be expected to make whatever sacrifice necessary to make things work at home. Are you suggesting that the husband should have considered quitting his job first and allowing his wife to continue at work? Given that the wife was only working part-time, that wouldn’t have made sense economically.

  38. No worries Stephanie, my husband and I had a good chuckle of our perceived role reversal even on-line. I hope you don’t mind I did a little post on it but it was perfect in the context of this post.

  39. Oh boy, now I am mortified. Oh well, won’t be the first time I’ve put my foot in my mouth online. Glad I could provide some amusement for you today. :)

  40. Interesting. Because there actually are men who don’t want to provide. They get laid off or something and then enjoy hanging around and then expect their wife to simply increase hours in order to feed the family.
    As much as some people idealize both parents working and balancing family life, I have to say that it is extremely effective sometimes to specialize. My husband can’t really be effective at work unless he knows I can handle all the stuff here at home and with the kids. And I can’t really concentrate on taking care of home and family if I can’t count on him to be at work and doing his best to provide for us.
    Is it hard for a man to find joy in his job? Sometimes yes. Some people aren’t lucky to have a career that they love. It is sometimes just as true that a man has to pray for strength to leave his sleeping wife and kids early every morning to commute to a job 5 days a week and to pray that he can do it and find satisfaction in it.
    Working too much or working too little can be a problem for anyone, either gender. It is good when they notice that things are out of whack and do what they can to change it.
    Thanks for the “parody.” Except for the toddler up for adoption, this really can happen (to some extent). Eventually they lose the house and move in with in-laws or something I guess if he doesn’t find a way to both provide and take care of things at home (or maybe the business functions just fine without him and generates enough income which means there is no problem and therefore he didn’t need to go back to work more).

  41. jks, thanks for making the very valid point, in my opinion, that there may be just as many men/fathers that are dissatisfied with providing as there are women/mothers that are dissatisfied with being a SAHM.

    I am fortunate to have been able to provide for my family for nearly 20 years now, but I can’t count the number of days I have enjoyed my work on one or two hands.

  42. sorry- that should be “can count”

  43. I appreciated the reminder that sometimes men really don’t want to go to work. And I thought the story was real, until giving up the child seemed so in contrast with the quoted scripture. Intriguing post.

    I also reread the Ensign article, and, well, I don’t think I would make the same choices that woman made. And I am furious with the idea that the only way women can fulfill their “divine roles” as mothers is by being unemployed.

  44. I am still getting used to the preponderance of Mormon angst, as in “I can’t bring myself to feel good about doing the right thing”. I always thought this was a Protestant indulgence.

    The Jews believe that intellectual struggle is needed to understand God’s law, not to follow it. They also believe that emotional commitment is helpful to obedience, but not required.

    Catholics are sloppy with the first, but strongly believe the second. Guilt and shame are woven into the very fabric of Catholic life, designed to be sufficient to do the right thing when courage fails, but not necessary when it does not.

    Our generation was raised on trophies. A child needs praise to do what is right, not an adult. Addiction to the Holy Spirit is a crutch, not a blessing. If the Spirit moves you with love of your family, you are lucky. If not, get up and change the diapers anyway, or seek treatment for your depression. Your child does not care whether the Spirit has moved you, and I imagine neither does the Holy Spirit. Character is about doing the right thing when no one is looking.

    The Book of Job teaches that it is not always about us. If the author of that Ensign article needs praise to do the right thing, then it is right to give her thanks and praise, and I am always happy to support the family overwhelmed with life’s struggles. But better if she just did it anyway without complaint, just because it is (for her) the right thing to do.

  45. Jim: sorry. that’s tough.

    I have a friend who works part time as a lawyer, and her husband works funny hours as a doctor in an emergency room, and their well-adjusted and much loved kids spend time with both parents and also really enjoy their preschool/daycare when they go. Seems like a good solution to me. Too bad many can’t work out that kind of a system.

    In the alternative, I would like to marry a fabulously rich but curiously lazy man who only wants to provide me with my every want and need while we travel the world together, stopping to rest occasionally in luxury resorts with competent masseuses. That also seems like a good solution to me.

  46. Wow. I went into Costco after comments 14 & 15 went up and just knew that I should have called gst to close this thread down.

  47. Too bad many can’t work out that kind of a system.

    As more careers become conducive to part-time and flexible hours, it will become more of a possibility.

  48. “This experiment may fail, too, but I’m having fun already.”

    Making fun or light of someone’s spiritual journey and struggles in life is never fun or funny. Next time, try a different experiment.

  49. Steve Evans says:

    Making fun of overdramatic commenters is, however, always fun and funny. Lighten up, Clayton.

  50. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Ardis, I am not at all offended, and I welcome your continued input.

    Of course you can’t provide a direct quote to support your inference, because the OP is benign. It does not signify anything about my views on gender roles, Mormon values, or anything else. Each reader provides his or her own meaning to the story, based on personal experience. My only claim is that the story provides a springboard for further discussion of the ideas introduced in Richard’s thread.

    Latter-day Guy, I was pleased that you pointed out that turning the tables in the story produces some ridiculous outcomes. It might be “painfully obvious” that work and family don’t hold equal value, but most if not all of us struggle to find the balance Richard described.

    I can understand how the OP could be construed as a SAHM whine-fest, although that’s not what I see in it. I see, among other things, a reminder that traditional primary roles for men and women are not interchangeable, a warning that it’s easy to overvalue work and undervalue family, and a vivid realization that men with families are in a real bind: how can you put family first when fulfilling one of your primary responsibilities toward that family requires you to put them at a distant second?

  51. Okay, I read this an hour ago, and didn’t get it. I’ve re-read it and the linked article, thought about it, and I still don’t get it. The adoption part of the post is so over the top that, for me at least, makes it far too clever to be taken seriously. And if it isn’t to be taken seriously, what’s the point? Am I that much cleverness-deprived?

  52. StillConfused says:

    The infant should be the one put up for adoption. The toddler is a few years farther along in the process of growing. Otherwise, the newborn will be a toddler in a few years.

    In addition, the man needs a vasectomy. He has no business getting this woman pregnant when she can’t handle it.

  53. Steve Evans says:

    I think it’s terrible to talk about putting the toddler up for adoption. It will be so hard for that little one to adjust. It’s just cruel.

  54. Kathryn,
    I love this post. It highlights the real question for me, “How can you put family first when fulfilling one of your primary responsibilities toward that family requires you to put them at a distant second?”

    It is quite the dilemma, especially in light of the fact that women are told that it is impossible to put your family first if you are working, therefore you must not work. How are men supposed to do it then? And if men can do it, then why can’t women?

  55. I value both Kathy’s posts and Ardis’s comments, and I don’t think that either one should be put up for adoption.

  56. The job/children comparison is a fun one.

    -Are men encouraged to take “all the jobs that God sends them”? (With turn-of-the-century apostles suggesting that they ought to have between ten and twelve!)
    -If a couple says, “we’re not going to have a job for a while (or maybe even ever!),” are they judged for that?
    -If a man is — err, inemployed? — will the couple be judged for that? Do they seek out artificial methods to induce employment if the man is physically incapable of having a job himself?
    -When a man gets a new job, should other men in the ward bring over — err, food? Money? Basketballs?

  57. It’s always an interesting thought-experiment to reverse our rhetorical polarities as a way of considering what’s at stake in our rhetoric of gender. (But I agree with others that it’s all but impossible not to read this as parody, once the toddler’s been auctioned off. Tangential question—if you didn’t want this read as parody, Kathryn, could you say more about how did you intend it to be read?)

    JKS raises a crucial point, I think: there are men for whom the OP basically holds. My sense is that since President Benson’s “To the Fathers in Zion” such men are rarely addressed in General Conference or in the Ensign. The implied audience of most work-family balance discourse aimed at men seems to be an overworked or workaholic middle-class professional struggling with enormous demands on his time from work, church, and family. Such a man is clearly the implied audience of Richard Eyre’s post, for instance.

    Are men who prefer home to work or who don’t want to work for whatever reason not addressed simply because they’re rare? Or because it’s so difficult for us to conceive of men who go against the norms of masculinity—much more difficult than it is to conceive of women who go against the norms of femininity in preferring work to home? (Are we implicitly accepting middle-class ideas about work being preferable to home in constantly have enjoining women to forgo work, but rarely if ever thinking to enjoin husbands and fathers to get out of the house and get a job?)

    For me the interesting question is always the question of refuge. Is the domestic the refuge from the marketplace, or is the marketplace the refuge from the domestic? It seems to depend on things like how many children one has, how young and close they are together, what kinds of domestic support are available, what kind of job one has, and what earning power, status, and control over one’s time the job provides.

    I find myself in my increasingly habitual position of being equally skeptical of both the usual Mormon take on the issue, and the usual feminist take on it. We need both a more feminist Mormonism, and a more class-conscious (in the good sense) feminism. (And, it should go without saying, a more class-conscious Mormon feminism.)

  58. Jay Hinton says:

    This is not a meaningless comment.

  59. About this bind between family and career, relatively few providers will ever have the luxury of lucrative, flexible employment that would allow as much family time as one might like. But, I don’t think we necessarily have to view these roles as mutually exclusive.

  60. I read this post as being about gender socialization, rather than mocking the church or complaining as a stay-at-home parent.

  61. Speaking as someone who has never worked outside the home since her first child was born, and has never particularly wanted to (although I loved my job before I became a mother and missed the rewards and satisfaction I had derived from it), I found “Staying Home…Again” (the Ensign article) really…annoying, in a way I couldn’t quite pinpoint at the time. I think the part that really got to me was when she asked for forgiveness for straying so far from her divine role. Now, I believe that men and women have different roles to fulfill in life (and perhaps for eternity), which I think should automatically disqualify me as one of those Cranky Feminists Who Mock Mormon Values. So why should that line have bothered me so much?

    I think I am just one of those Cranky Feminists Who Mock The Examples Mormon Magazines Give To Illustrate Perfectly Nice Values. Sometimes using extreme examples is helpful, and other times it’s not so helpful. I don’t find it helpful when the Friend tells a (perfectly sweet) story about a four-year-old who refuses to wear temporary tattoos because the prophet said not to get (real) tattoos, nor when the Friend tells a(nother perfectly sweet) story about a girl who decides to fast even though she was sick and didn’t have to. Likewise, I don’t find it helpful when the Ensign tells a (true and factually accurate) story about a woman who could only fulfill her divine role by losing hundreds of thousands of dollars and thus is *forced* to return home full-time. (I also love that the woman’s name is withheld–because working outside the home and enjoying it while female is too mortifying to admit publicly!)

    A full-time provider and a full-time caregiver each make sacrifices. The provider has to sacrifice time with his family, and the caregiver has to sacrifice some personal fulfillment and independence/autonomy. These are very different sacrifices, but in both cases, it’s hard to say how much sacrifice is too much. Theoretically we say that men shouldn’t work too many hours, but in real life, how many hours is too many hours? Only that family and God know. (Well, only God knows for sure, but best case scenario, He gives the family some guidance.) How much money does a man need to make to provide appropriately for his family? How much ambition should he have? Likewise, how much time does a woman need to spend at home in order to nurture her children? How many hours can she leave them in the care of others, how many take-out meals can she serve them without damaging their souls??? These aren’t simple questions.

  62. Kaimi, #55, you are awesome.

  63. Great comment Madhousewife. Good questions.

    I think the main disparity I sometimes see is that men are more encouraged to enjoy their work (outside of the home, as well as inside). Women are only give some leeway. It’s ok to work if you ‘have to’, but you better not enjoy it too much. You are expected to have a non-prestigious, non-influential kind of job. Something to just make ends meet. If it is anything beyond this, you’re focusing too much on things outside of the home. Dads are supposed to provide piano lessons, soccer leagues, family vacations as well as make ends meet. And hopefully, they go to work with joy each day, and come home with the same kind of joy.
    Women can work if they hate their job. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard women say how they dread working, and justify to everyone how they have to. We sure don’t expect men to tell us why they go to work, “I have this house payment, so I have to go to work and I really hate it, but what can I do?” Maybe we’re just lagging, because we allow housewives to complain about their work.

  64. Mark A. Clifford says:

    Okay, so I am getting ready to leave my family for 6 months to deploy to a theater of war. That is a Job-Related Thing That I Have to Do. This cannot in any way be concieved of as putting my family first, at least because I could needlessly die there.
    Hey! It could have been 15 months, so, count your blessings.
    I do not wish to go (except in some now largely theoretical way, back-in-the-causal-chain of the Army paying for medical school).
    We have 6 boys. The youngest is 1 month old. I leave them in less than 30 days.
    This post is messing with my brain and screwing up my heart. I know it was not written to be hurtful, and I respect the right of the author to experiment and try this out…
    Its just that I have never been anywere without wishing that I was at home instead.
    Some of us are still in a place where we see what we do as meeting Necessity, rather than getting over on our wives and babies.

  65. Stephanie says:

    God Bless You, Mark A. Clifford, and your family. We’ll pray for all of you.

  66. Stephanie says:

    StillConfused #51 – is your comment supposed to be a joke?

  67. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Mark, my very best hopes for you and your family.

  68. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    ZD Eve, I should qualify my claim that the OP isn’t parody.

    Saith Wiki: A parody (pronounced /ˈpærədiː/; also called send-up or spoof), in contemporary usage, is a work created to mock, comment on, or poke fun at an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation. As the literary theorist Linda Hutcheon (2000: 7) puts it, “parody … is imitation with a critical difference, not always at the expense of the parodied text.” Another critic, Simon Dentith (2000: 9), defines parody as “any cultural practice which provides a relatively polemical allusive imitation of another cultural production or practice.”

    As I said in an earlier comment (#8), the OP is not intended to mock or poke fun at the Ensign article. I do think there are some silly things about that article, which I’ll detail if anyone’s interested, but those are not what sparked the OP.

    But while the OP is not polemic, it obviously is “an imitation with a critical difference.” So by that definition, it’s parody. (I qualified the initial disclaimer accordingly.) I just wanted to emphasize that it’s not offered in a spirit of criticism of the article, the author, the publication, the church it represents, or the values of any or all of these entities. If anything, I intended to applaud those values (in an admittedly roundabout way) while highlighting and exploring their inherent complexities, which madhousewife, mmiles, and others have done so skillfully.

  69. #62, thank you for saying this. This has often been my experience, and it has always bothered me.
    Mark, my heart goes out to you and your family.

  70. Nice post and an interesting discussion, Kathryn. But I kind of think the whole thing would have worked even better if you’d forgone the not-a-parody-well-maybe-kind-of route, embraced your inner Jonathan Swift, and had the author decide to eat the toddler because the family was starving, rather than just putting it up for adoption. More punch, that way.

  71. I read this delightful (if mischievous) post as skewering exactly one idea: that a man’s divinely appointed place is away from the home.

  72. Maybe I grew up in a twisted home, but it was made very clear that employment was to be limited in such a way so that you could spend more time with your family.

    My father was a college professor, but home by 4:30 every day, and he was always home on Fridays.

    I think it bled off on me in the sense I won’t even interview if there’s no semblance of telecommuting policy (full or partial).

    I don’t wait breathlessly for the chance to go to work. But I really like hanging out with the cub scouts as the “tag-a-long” dad as often as the opportunity affords me.

    Anyway, I “got” the OP and liked it. I just wish it weren’t based on the false ideal that a man’s place is in the office.

  73. Anyway, I “got” the OP and liked it. I just wish it weren’t based on the false ideal that a man’s place is in the office.

    “false ideal” in the sense that no Church leader has ever encouraged a man to spend more time at the office and not be around the family. Yet, so many men I know seem to think the Church taught them that.

  74. queuno,

    But as I understand it, the Church does teach that, at least indirectly.
    Mormons are as a whole more risk-averse, because failure means not just accepting charity but the accompanying loss of agency.

    I would like to see more discussion of the actual theology underpinning risk aversion, and its effects on LDS vs. non-LDS economic choices.

  75. I had my first child near the end of my husband’s junior year in college. At the time I was the sole breadwinner, but I quit my job so I could be the full-time caregiver. For the next year and a half my husband worked two jobs in order to support our family and also continued to go to school. He left at 7 a.m. and usually didn’t get home until 10 p.m., Monday through Friday. He also worked a full day on Saturday. He often spent several hours in church-related meetings on Sundays, but that’s a little off topic. The point is that we hardly ever saw him, and our daughter’s first 18 months were just a blur to him. When he went to grad school, we saw much more of him, but as he became more anxious to be done with school (and get a “real” job and support our growing family, whose needs were rapidly outgrowing what his stipend could provide), he spent more and more time in the lab and less and less time at home. He was doing what he had to so that I could be at home with the kids and we could all eat and have health insurance and not go into excessive debt–and of course it was all temporary, in our case, but for some families it’s not. How much do providers need to provide?

    I also have a tale of two single mothers, one widowed and the other divorced. The widow and her children lived simply on their survivor benefits (some life insurance + Social Security), and the divorced mom worked three jobs at one point in order to make ends meet (her ex-husband was not reliable with child support). The widow’s family went without a lot of things because to her it was most important that she be at home for her kids. The divorced mom wasn’t able to provide luxuries for her family by any stretch, and she had to sacrifice time with her kids–but she also taught them the virtue of self-reliance and the value of hard work. Both mothers, incidentally, have wonderful relationships with their children, who have all turned out just fine.

    So it’s complicated. How much time at home is “enough”? How much time at the office (or the loading docks or the cocktail bar) is “enough”? We can speak of “too much” time at the office, but can there also be “too much” time at home (in the sense that there’s “not enough” time at work)? There’s no simple formula to follow.

  76. Latter-day Guy says:

    Thank you for 49, Kathryn. I certainly agree with this: “…traditional primary roles for men and women are not interchangeable, a warning that it’s easy to overvalue work and undervalue family…” And, yes, there is usually a gap between an ideal and being able to translate it into reality; within those kinds of “gaps” there is usually some suffering, but also –– I hope –– grace. A priest once told me that “God must persist in surprising us, or how else could we know it was Him.”

  77. I read this post, then read Richard Eyre’s post, then re-read this with all the comments. As one who right now is “doing personal business at work” by reading this, I have to comment.

    With our kids all grown, and only one left at home, my wife and I both work. She loves being a math teacher, and is amazingly good at it, and loves the fulfillment it gives. I’m fairly good at my job (computer marketing), but it is mostly a soulless pursuit that I can do fairly well without having to immerse myself into 70 hour work weeks, and make a fairly good living. And I don’t hate it, but I can think of any number of things that I think I might enjoy more, and many others that I considered that I am glad I didn’t pursue.

    When I read Richard Eyre’s post, and think about balance in all four aspects, I start feeling guilty, and hope I am doing well in two, and working on the third. If you were to ask my wife, she would probably say that she is doing well in two, and working on the other two. Our feelings about which areas we are both doing well in probably only matches in one area.

    A life that is balanced in all four areas? Are you kidding me? Something is going to have to go up for adoption. Anybody want to adopt my job for me, and pay me to stay home and get fully balanced in the other three? Then I could support my wife in at least one more area of balance, and we would match in at least two areas.

    Actually, what I am putting up for adoption is the guilt. I’m not very good at it anyway.

  78. All of which is really meant to say, after much reflection, I loved the post, KLS.

  79. “false ideal” in the sense that no Church leader has ever encouraged a man to spend more time at the office and not be around the family. Yet, so many men I know seem to think the Church taught them that.

    Queuno, er, what Dan Weston (73) said.

    The mandate to provide for your family–however you like to slice it–requires us to not get our butts canned at work. Sometimes, oftentimes, that requires spending lots of time in the office–far, far more than with family.

  80. Dan Weston (73),

    Mormons are as a whole more risk-averse, because failure means not just accepting charity but the accompanying loss of agency.

    This is probably true (okay, totally true) for me, but I don’t know if the same can be said for everyone else. However, this may be a good time to introduce you to the (formerly!) most epic thread in bloggernacle history.

  81. The post is wonderful in more ways than I can say! Thank you.

  82. I really did not particularly like the OP, especially with the strained claim not to be a parody.

    On the other hand, I really enjoyed the comments, though I did feel for Mark A. Clifford.

    Sometimes, perhaps, the ends may redeem the means?

  83. I like this thread.

    I am fortunate enough to be going to school and doing research that actually interests me. Once this culminates in additional initials to follow my name, I will be allowed to continue teaching and doing the research that I find rewarding. All of this is in fulfillment of the covenants I have made to support my wife and children, on top of the covenants I have made to bless my neighbors and materially sustain the advancement of the Lord’s work. (That my wife earns far more than I do doing work she enjoys and that will lead to the realization of her professional goals does not detract from my role, just as me throwing dinner in the crockpot and vacuuming the house takes nothing away from hers.)

    Even so, almost every morning I wish I could stay home a bit longer, help a bit more. I don’t like to feel like I’m abandoning my family, even if it’s for our collective good.

  84. I really enjoyed this, and I’d love to hear more discussion of the Ensign article. I’ve altogether given up reading the Ensign, especially now that conference talks are available online the same week, because so few of the personal accounts seem to have any relation to reality. Stephen Marsh told a great story that perfectly illustrates why I’ve started avoiding these anecdotes.

  85. The Right Trousers says:

    #82 Stephen M:

    I’m enjoying the comments because I always enjoy the fallout from a well-crafted Internet troll. Is that what you’re experiencing?

    For future reference for the OP: If you’re going to play the “get people to think by presenting them with a role reversal” game, you have three good options:

    1. Tell them up-front that you’re doing it and invite them to play along.

    2. Make it obvious enough that you don’t have to tell them. Make it clever enough that they’ll play along.

    3. Be sneaky. Credibly pass off the role reversal as reality.

    There’s also a… less effective… variant of #3:

    3 (inadvertent troll version). Try to be sneaky but come up with a story that sends everyone’s bullcrap-o-meters spinning up into the red zone.

    In every writing workshop I’ve been in, we’ve called the results of #3 (ITV) “kicking me out of the story” or a “roadblock”. I experienced it about four times here. The toddler adoption was the best (worst?) kicker.

    On the plus side, it’s generated a lot of lovely fallout. This thread is utterly bursting with Internet charm!

  86. I’m willing to bet a nickel that The Right Trousers did not click on the red “parody” in the original post.

  87. Eric Russell says:

    I don’t find this post unrealistic. I’ll put my kids up for adoption when they get too expensive. I’ll tell them so, too. I bet they back down from demands for the new Xbox if they learn there are strings attached.

  88. The original article did strike me wrong when I read it. I think the post does a great job of showing why. If men were patronized in the way we’ve come to take for granted that women often are, it would seem a lot more jarring to us. Sometimes we can’t see the obvious until we look at it from a different angle. It illuminates what’s being said much better that way.

    The Ensign article is the kind of item that just would never be published directed at men. Of the four facets of growth that Richard’s post describes, the Ensign article is telling women to content themselves with one or at most two. If we feel incomplete or unhappy with that, then it’s our problem. When women are successful it’s too often shown to be a bad thing, not good.

    As Simone de Bouvier famously said, “Man is defined as a human being and woman as a female – whenever she acts as a human being she’s said to imitate the male.” Women who reach out to all facets of human aspiration too often are told, subtly or not so subtly, that they’re overstepping their bounds.

  89. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Clayton (#48), I appreciate your concern.

    I’ll say it one more time: the fun has nothing to do with making fun or light of someone’s spiritual journey and struggles in life (i.e. the author of the Ensign article, or, I will add, anyone participating in this discussion).

    The experiment is seeing how different people react to the OP, as well as the “parodied” article. The texts are like mirrors reflecting each reader’s unique personal perspective regarding traditional gender roles, conundrums of setting priorities and seeking satisfaction, and/or attempts to discuss these things in unconventional ways. I, for one, find the dynamics both engaging and enlightening. And that’s how I spell F-U-N.

    Reading the thread, I’m glad to know I’m not alone.

  90. I can’t really say how deeply this affected me. My wife and I have been talking about it all night and we realize now that what we need to do is put all five of our children up for adoption. Sure the 25 year old will be hard to place, but we think this is what we are suppose to do. You have given us hope there is a way out of this parenting thing.

    (Nice post!)

  91. I can’t really say how deeply this affected me. My wife and I have been talking about it all night and we realize now that what we need to do is put all five of our children up for adoption. Sure the 25 year old will be hard to place, but we think this is what we are suppose to do. You have given us hope there is a way out of this parenting thing.

    (Nice post!)
    BTW I love your blog!

  92. Thomas Parkin says:


    Have you prayed and do you _feel good_ about it? ~

  93. Amen to your comment, Tatiana. I love it.

  94. The experiment is seeing how different people react to the OP, as well as the “parodied” article…..The texts are like mirrors reflecting each reader’s unique personal perspective regarding traditional gender roles, conundrums of setting priorities and seeking satisfaction, and/or attempts to discuss these things in unconventional ways.

    There’s something in this entire discussion that continues to make me uncomfortable. I have no problem with thought-experiments, or with parody–even with polemical parody. But I do think the OP is polemical parody; I can’t find any other way to read it. Maybe the distinction you’re making between polemical and other kinds could clarify these issues if you fleshed it out a bit.

    because the OP is benign. It does not signify anything about my views on gender roles, Mormon values, or anything else.

    Hmmm. Personally, I don’t think the OP is benign. (Which, in itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing–I wouldn’t describe scripture as “benign,” either.) Parody generally isn’t benign. And while there’s definitely something to the mirror metaphor, for me, anyway, texts aren’t simply mirrors of their readers. Words do carry meaning, and I think this text, like all others, says something and makes claims (although we might disagree about what precisely those claims are).

    I think I’d feel much more comfortable with the entire enterprise if you would either own the piece as expressive of your views or lay your views out in some form somewhere in the discussion. Otherwise, I think you risk giving the impression that you’re performing an experiment on your readers rather than participating in one with them.

  95. how many take-out meals can she serve them without damaging their souls???

    I’ll let you know.

  96. Thank you, ZD Eve. Bingo.

  97. oops, that was referencing madhousewife in comment 61

  98. Kathy, you already know how I felt about this, but I think ZD Eve captures a lot of why.

    Sometimes the game of having to guess what the writer is really thinking to me is distracting from really being able to discuss the important thoughts that I think you are seeking to pull out of people.

    But I suppose we all have different definitions of fun, right?

    To the underlying issues that I think are there, I will note that I think that our ‘equality’ minded society makes it very, very difficult for us in the Church to talk openly about the reality that men’s and women’s core roles differ, by divine design. We too often want to sweep those differences under the rug and insist that, as Kathy says she is interested in debunking, men’s and women’s roles are interchangeable. They aren’t.

    I spent hours of my week this week talking about this very issue and about how it is hurting our young women in the process of them getting their education. There are young women AFRAID of education because what they are seeing is a linear model of education —-> work/career.

    For men, education is a pretty easy deal, because there is a direct linear connection between education an their role as provider. For women, the importance of education is more fuzzy — not that we shouldn’t encourage women to prepare for careers, but because if we aren’t careful, such encouragement can drown out what so many of them feel about the most important goals they have. I think that because so many are so worried about appearing to be ‘equality’ minded, we don’t talk enough about how to mentor women through the tensions and complexities that are there, especially for women.

    I’m not saying that men don’t have their balance issues to deal with; they do, absolutely.

    Incidentally, to those who are frustrated with the original Ensign article should leave room for the fact that one person’s personal experience does not equate to The Only Truth and Way Prescribed For Everyone Else.

  99. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Eve, you’re so right!

    This morning, when I was writing #89, I had the following sentence at the end of the comment:

    Lest I be guilty of subjecting readers to an experiment I’m not willing to participate in myself, here are some of my thoughts regarding the OP and the Ensign article:

    And then I realized I’d better get off the computer if I was going to make it downtown in time to hear Michael Cunningham speak. So I deleted it. But yes, you’re right, if I’m not going to own the OP as representative of my views I’d better say what my views are instead.

    And as soon as I finish my Gospel Doctrine lesson for tomorrow, I will. :)

  100. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Once upon a time, KLS cracked open a brand-new Ensign and came upon an article titled Staying Home, Again. As a SAHM herself, she read the article with interest, hoping for a nice pick-me-up about the rewards of sacrificing personal ambitions in order to invest more time and energy in nurturing a young family. And in the end, that’s what she got.

    In the interim there were some definite eye-rolling moments. The Ensign routinely withholds an author’s name in stories which include accounts of serious sin (whether committed by the author herself or someone who could be identified by association). Thought KLS, surely nobody intended to suggest that mothers who find themselves disenchanted with and/or distracted from SAHMdom need the same protection as those recounting the trauma of abuse or a pregnancy out of wedlock. Unfortunately, the story was indeed framed as a confessional tale weighty enough to merit privacy. To wit: the author fell prey to worldly lures, strayed “far from her divine role,” and at last returned as a repentant prodigal to the bosom of her home.

    But despite the over-the-top presentation, which KLS promptly complained to her friends about, she knew the confessional element wasn’t entirely unwarranted. Every day she herself struggled to balance domestic and non-domestic pursuits, and while she wanted to believe she never strayed too far from her divine role, she knew she sometimes did, and that this guilt was the main reason why she was rolling her eyes.

    Weeks passed. An ongoing conversation with friends helped KLS to come to terms with elements of the article which continued to rankle her even after identifying the primary source of her unease. But after finding a sizable measure of peace, something about the article still made her squirm. In an attempt to pin that something down, she copied and pasted the article into a Word file, then revised the narrative from a male point of view.

    The turnaround flowed easily at first–wife easily became husband, home easily became office. But as the revision progressed and the parallels were drawn to their logical conclusions within the framework of the original article, they became utterly ridiculous (the adoption bit, in particular). And for KLS that provided, among many laughs, “a reminder that traditional primary roles for men and women are not interchangeable, a warning that it’s easy to overvalue work and undervalue family, and a vivid realization that men with families are in a real bind” (from comment #50). In fact, she was so intrigued by this new vantage point concerning her husband’s balance woes that she nearly entirely forgot her own.

    Delighted by the entertainment and educational value of the revised article, KLS shared it with two groups of friends and wondered aloud if it would make a good post. She received a wide variety of responses, from “hell, no” to “hell, yes” and everything in between. Some argued quite convincingly that confusion and misunderstanding regarding the switcheroo would preclude any positive outcome and might even cause lasting damage in the bloggernacle’s ongoing discussion about gender roles (not to mention KLS’s reputation as a loyal LDS). Others argued just as convincingly that turning the tables in the Ensign article provided opportunities for progress in this very discussion that couldn’t come via a more straightforward approach.

    KLS wavered. She certainly didn’t want anyone to think she was making a mockery of the church’s basic teachings regarding gender roles (as outlined in the proclamation), or of the Ensign article, or of its author. At the same time, she thought the potential benefits of the post outweighed the potential risks. She decided that with a disclaimer in place regarding her intent, she could move forward in good conscience. And when Richard Eyre posted his “Four Dimensions of Success,” it seemed the ideal opportunity had arrived: his post provided a needed straightforward foil to hers.

    So the experiment went forward, with some predictable and some unexpected results. The comments reflected the same variety of responses that KLS received from her beta groups. Ironically, the disclaimer itself, offered in an attempt at damage control, seemed to do the most damage. And KLS’s decision to reserve her own reactions and perspectives so that others could more freely offer theirs had the opposite result.

    Prompted by astute readers, KLS agreed to come clean regarding this controversial experiment. In a very long comment she shared the backstory regarding her reading of the Ensign article, the subsequent revision, and her intent in sharing it. She attempted to clarify the parody/non-parody confusion, but almost certainly failed. In the process of writing the comment, she realized that while the post failed to produce much enlightenment regarding gender roles and balancing acts (as her cautious friends had predicted), it did reveal much about the psychology of blogging. With this unanticipated result she is satisfied, and considers the experiment a messy yet worthwhile venture.

    At the end of the comment she offered an olive branch to any who where offended by the experiment (mea culpa!) and kudos to everyone who participated for being good sports (high fives all around). And she and her bloggernacle friends lived happily ever after.

    Or, hopefully, something reasonably close.

    The End.

  101. alter ego says:


  102. (bows humbly)

  103. There is a fine line between stupid and clever and I consider this to be squarely on the clever side of things

  104. Kathryn, I love you, I think you know that.

  105. Oh, and as a working mother, I’ll come right out and say I was downright APPALLED at the original Ensign article. Shaking with fury? Most assuredly. Perhaps I should withhold my name from this comment.

    The OP was just the sort of clever I needed to calm down.

  106. Very meta. I dig it.

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