Guardians of the Hearth

Visiting Teaching was something I found especially charming as a new convert. It was novel and sweet- having two women, friendly and attentive- drop by my house each month to share something thoughtful was a soothing balm. As a new mother, relocated a thousand miles from my old friends and support system, I really loved the kindness those women showed. In retrospect, I think they were even sincere. Mostly.

But then the shine wore off. The sisters I thought were genuinely interested, thought genuinely cared, were assigned to someone else. The visits stopped. It was the tiniest bit shocking to realize I had been an assignment. The warmth I felt at the charm of Visiting Teaching dulled just a bit. It was a surprise when I realized what life-long Mormons understand- Visiting Teachers change, and no matter how we spin it, it is, in fact, a duty. Is that bad? Perhaps not.

So what can we do about it?

The idea of Visiting Teaching is not bad- checking on one another, caring for each other’s needs, working together- all good ideas. I just fear how we carry it out is sadly lacking in our modern lives. We find ourselves giving the same photocopied message we receive, sometimes in the same day. The messages themselves are often warmed over versions of the same thing, over and over. Is that what we need? I don’t know, but it’s less than inspiring. We need to get some meat in these messages.

My subscription to the Ensign expired a few months ago, but I find I like the ease of clicking the articles I need online instead of piling up the magazines on my end tables. Today, I read the February Visiting Teaching message. The focus was on strengthening family and home. Again. Yes, I know this one inside out and upside down. I’m told I must “guard my hearth” against the evils of the big bad world. Sigh. Yes. I know. Sister Barbara Thompson speaks again of how my role is in the home and how I have a responsibility to strengthen families, regardless of how mine looks.

Deep breaths. I read on.

Bathsheba Smith, back row, second from the left. Deseret Hospital Board.

I appreciate the nod to history and hearing what Bathsheba W. Smith had to say 110 years ago about family, but it doesn’t escape my notice there is no mention of Sister Smith’s opinions outside of what I should be doing around my hearth. The quotes included in the bland message neglect something important- something that might be missing and leaving Visiting Teaching such a dry, dusty husk of what it could be…

There is no mention whatsoever that Bathsheba W. Smith was a leading suffragette in the west, fighting vocally for women to have the vote. She was on the board of directors for a major hospital and she was the matron of the Salt Lake Temple. Bathsheba Smith, in addition to being the General Relief Society president, was a diarist and an artist, and she drew the quite famous pencil portrait of Joseph Smith Jr. in profile. I daresay she was busy doing things besides simply watching her hearth. I like to think she might encourage me to do so as well.

That’s the kind of Visiting Teaching message I want to hear.

Maybe if women were encouraged to do something besides watch the babies, watch the hearth, watch the bad world out our window, maybe visiting each other would become less of a chore, and more of a way to connect and work with each other. Maybe not. But reading the messages would sure be a lot more interesting, and it would help me feel my church sees me as something besides and one-dimensional pot-watcher and baby-maker. My foremothers certainly did.


  1. Nice work Tracy.

  2. Oh, this is perfect! I’m going to print off your post along with the VT message and give a copy to every RS sister I see. I can’t think of a better way to illustrate the damage created by the correlated message being fed to us by old white guys in Salt Lake (and women who eagerly follow them). I believe the older generation running the church feels nostalgic about their June Cleaver mommies and wives. As they’ve witnessed women climbing the education, political influence and career ranks during their lifetime, they are desperate to hold on.

    A few months ago on the home page, there was a quote which went something like this — Mothers and daughters can help each other discover their infinite possibilities. They had a picture of a mother and daughter knitting together. Priceless.

  3. “Mothers and daughters play a critical role in helping each other explore their infinite possibilities,..” M. Russell Ballard, April 2010

  4. We touch on the messages when we VT but concentrate mostly on how the sisters are doing and what we can do to help them. I think the VT message should be the same one that the HTs use. Since most families are lucky to receive a visit from one, much less both, it probably wouldn’t be redundant. Even if we did hear it twice, I think the womens perspective would be somewhat different that the mens.

  5. Great job Tracy. We can and should encourage each other, both men and women, to constantly “guard the hearth” against any potential bad influences from outside the home without inadvertently implying that this act of guarding is the only thing with which we engage our faculties and talents. In other words, each of us, both men and women, should pursue all of our activities — in our careers and our families (and our relationships outside of both of those circles) — with the effort to “guard the hearth” constantly in mind. It is something we should simply always be attuned to, regardless of whatever else we are doing. This would have been communicated much more strongly if a fuller picture of Bathsheba Smith’s activities had been presented while at the same time lauding her efforts in guarding her hearth.

  6. Tracy,

    In spite of your “vision”, the best safety lies in fear. If you stop painting by numbers, what is going to stop your sisters from doing the same? No, no, no. There is work enough to do maintaining a smiling front to the world. I would rather hear messages from you that reaffirm that I should be and do exactly and only what I see from official sources, and put my shoulder to the wheel to make that facade really stand the test of time.

  7. Tracy, you can visit teach my family any time.

  8. Has anyone every know women to go home teaching or men to go visiting teaching?

  9. Terrific message. Thanks, Tracy, I didn’t know that background about her before. I’m using it!

  10. Excellent thoughts Tracy.

  11. I’m kind of torn by this. On the one hand, sure, the messages could be more deep and diverse, on the other hand, who on earth uses the messages? On the one hand, it’s be nice to have visiting teachers/home teachers who I felt cared about me. On the other hand, I wish I had home teachers at all…

  12. Henry, women can occasionally home teach, but I have never known a man to visit teach.

  13. Matt, every VT I’ve ever had uses these messages. Ditto my companions for my own teaching. I do live in a fairly Mormon-dense area, and I don’t know it that’s why- but there have been months where the “message” was read to me in the morning, then I and my companion delivered the very same later that day.

  14. I agree, Tracy, that tt is really good to know about the people who are quoted in the messages, as that knowledge can and should influence how we interpret their words that are quoted. Without the context of their lives (how they lived the quotes we read), the message we get can be vastly different than the message they intended.

    As to the messages themselves, I’ve always believed in treating them like the lesson manuals – and by that I mean using excerpts here and there to start a conversation that is real and meaningful to the people involved. That is even more true in cases like you describe where the people presenting the message also will be having the message presented to them. In those situations, reading the entire message is the height of ineffective “teaching”. In those situations, we might as well rename it “Visiting/Home Reading” – and the only reason to continue that format would be concern that some members might not read the message otherwise, thus punishing those who do for having done so. That’s stereotypical preaching to the choir – or worse.

    So, on a practical level, my only input is an old truism:

    Be the change you desire – and, in this case, talk about it with others.

    Iow, keep doing exactly what you’re doing.

  15. Excellent, excellent post.

  16. This should be published in the Ensign! Nicely done Tracy!

  17. Henry, currently our home teacher has not met his companion so his wife fills the void. I’m sure if he had a son then he would (but luckily they are college students expecting their first–a girl).

    I like Nora’s idea–why is it RS gets a different message if most don’t have regular home teachers? What is the harm in having us hear one message.

  18. Henry, My mom is my dad’s only home teaching companion. I also go with my husband from time to time. While in college I had a visiting teacher who’s companion was unwilling to come with her so she brought her husband with her to visit me.
    I guess I’m living the dream.

  19. christer1979 says:

    Henry, my husband has chronic health problems, so I’m his home teaching companion. Our first appointment with our neighbors (we’re in Utah for school, so lots of Mormons in our neighborhood!) fell on a day when my husband had another IBS attack, so I went by myself. No one can say that wife felt left out of the message! Hopefully her husband felt addressed as well… ;)

  20. This is great Tracy. My visiting teachers are lovely, skip the messages, and treat me like a friend. I appreciate it. I also know it isn’t necessarily the norm. The bottom line is, I think HT and VT are really part of a large social welfare network. Someone is keeping an eye out for everyone. If you don’t really know and trust the HT or VT, you’re not going to call on them, and the system breaks down. Maybe jettisoning the messages altogether would be the best way forward. Just be genuine friends…don’t worry about finding one more outlet for preaching. It’s okay to have real social experiences.

  21. Sharee Hughes says:

    I think of Visiting Teaching as a sacred calling rather than a “duty.” And I use the lessons in the Ensign as a guide for a meaningful conversation, but I certainly do not read them. My companion and I visit older, shut-in women who do not come to church (one has Alzheimers and is in a nursing home), who really don’t have a “hearth” to guard, so the messages must be tailored to meet their needs, which I think is the intention of the messages, anyway. I doubt the correlation committee that prepares the lessons thinks that “one size fits all.” The people called to lead this church could hardly be that stupid. We just need to use our common sense. The purpose of Home Teaching/Visiting Teaching is to serve. Period. And we must do that in the best way we can, by prayerfully using the materials given to us in whatever way we feel is right. Sometimes what is right is ignoring the message completely and just visiting. My visiting teachers have helped me wih yard work, as have my home teachers (yes, I’m lucky enough to have both), who have also helped move heavy boxes and other chores in lieu of a “lesson.”

  22. I’ve always pondered the concept of VT: Duty or Love? I’ll admit I’ve not been a very good VT over the years. Never had any of the heart-warming experiences portrayed in the ENSIGN etc. I’m 58, lifetime member, with lots of backstory. To my credit I have always done my duty and tried to be a “good” VT until I was asked to write to several sisters who asked for no contact. I dutifully did write to them for over three years, writing nice letters with copies of the VT message and other articles (lds and non-) I thought they might enjoy, even I only knew one of them. I am married to a nomo after a divorce from an abusive “righteous Mormon man” for 29 years. Because of that I am treated as a non-person in my ward ie; no HT ot VT, etc. So I was eager to prove myself with these “no contact” sisters. Until I realized that I had only heard from two of them after three years of faithfully writing to them. After much prayer, I decided to honor their wishes and no longer contact them. I wrote them nice letters, wishing them well, sent a copy to my RS Pres. and the Bishop. Heard form one of the sisters and we met for a smoothie at local coffee shop. Didn’t hear a word from RS Pres. or Bishop. No doubt these sisters have been reassigned to someone else. i figured after three years of trying to know them, show them I care, etc. it was time to respect their wishes. Such was my last experience as being a VT. As far as having a VT, none. I like Carol Lynn Pearson’s take on VT – make your own list and “VT” those sisters/people you feel impressed to serve. Makes a lot of sense to me; thinking outside of the box. In my heart tho, I do wish someone in my ward cared about me…..

  23. Amen, Tracy. My faithful visiting teacher came this week. She comes solo because her assigned companion is inactive. My VT is a twice-widowed career woman who, after leaving me, went home to help her grade-school-teacher daughter grade geography papers in time for parent teacher conferences. She said, “The lesson this month is on visiting teaching. So…here we are, visiting teaching! It’s good, right?” The rest of the visit we chatted about our spiritual goals for the year, how work was going, what kind of intellectually challenging projects we’ve got going, what we’ve learned in Relief Society recently. Then I asked her to leave me with a prayer and she invoked the Spirit of God to bless my home and me. That was a great visiting teaching visit.

    Also, she couldn’t care less that I have not dusted the front room since she came last month.

    And Bathsheba W. Smith rocks.

  24. I’ve always wondered what would happen if we took these lessons to a new depth in knowledge. It would be very exciting to me for a while to learn some reall great stuff, but like home/visit teaching, I wonder if that excitement would wear off too as I exhausted all the facts there is to learn about in past history, and I end up right back where I started: bored.

    I guess there’s new concepts like the one here to think about. And I really like these. But in the future, maybe I would just end up throwing all of this in the same pile I throw rated-R conversations in today.

  25. @Josh B. – You’re really worried about “exhaust[ing] all the facts there is to learn about in past history”???

  26. It’s more complicated that that- when the official line only presents one small part of who Bathsheba Smith was and what she did with herself, it keeps the constraints on what is expected of modern women very narrow. More narrow than it was on our sisters 100 years ago, as a matter of fact. Simply painting a slightly broader and more truthful picture of what Bathsheba Smith did with her time and energy opens the door for modern women to imagine a broader path for themselves, even within the gospel. It’s subtle, but incredibly important.

  27. I’ve found that veering very far from the assigned message and only what is contained therein has made most of my VT companions a bit nervous. They are always anxious to steer me back “on course.” But I keep doing it anyway. I’m not very good at sticking to preconceived conversations, and I get too bored parroting rather than engaging in real conversation. But then, I’ve consigned myself to the fact that a good portion of any ward/RS I am in will pin me as a crazy lady and a boundary pusher. Trust me, in most any other crowd I would be considered no such thing.

  28. Fantastic post. I’ve never loved Visiting Teaching because it doesn’t feel sincere, but I know that a big part of that is my own personality/dislike of contrived social situations. I love the history you gave of Bathsheba Smith, and I am totally with you in wishing more of the spirit of the early RS had made it down through the years! In some ways they were much farther along than we are, and I can’t help but think that they would be disappointed with much of what our RS is now.

  29. Anon this time says:

    I’m so weary of these guarding-the-hearth messages. Of the three women I currently VT, two are in obviously tense, sometimes abusive marriages. These two women are both killing themselves trying to do the best they can for their children and make up for their husbands’ absences and deficiencies. One is driving herself toward a nervous breakdown enabling her husband, running around like crazy trying to placate his every whim, and trying frantically to make her children appear perfectly under control and perfectly behaved at all times. Absolutely the last message either of these women needs is more of strengthening-the-home drivel. (I mean, come on, people. Do you know a single woman who’s actually out to _weaken_ her home and family??). It’s a good thing my companion and I jettisoned the messages long ago, because this is one I’d absolutely refuse to give to either of these women on the grounds that it’s downright destructive.

  30. I don’t even see a Bathsheba quote, just a Joseph F. Smith quote supporting her desire to instruct the women in motherhood and housekeeping.

    Reading this with my feminist eye, I found little to offend. It read to me that nurturing our family is still the most important job we have, without saying anywhere that we shouldn’t work or pursue our own goals.

    Knowing more about Bathsheba would be a great supplement to the lesson, but I am a weirdo who expects people to dig deeper on their own.

  31. I like the new format of the VT messages because I can just prayerfully consider them out of existence.

  32. My favorite Bathsheba story was about her crossing the plains. Once while fording a river, she was driving her very large wagon (custom built by her husband). When it splashed into the river she called, “Behold, Noah’s ark!” I read it in a book, but I don’t remember which one! If I can find my reference, I’ll post it.

  33. I mean, come on, people. Do you know a single woman who’s actually out to _weaken_ her home and family??


  34. Mommie Dearest says:

    My take on the Ensign VT messages is that they’re for those women who have little imagination/inspiration left to spend, or are otherwise phoning it in. On the rare times when I’ve used it, I have had to mine the whole page for one or two valuable ideas among the bland vanilla stuff they use to inspire us to be sweet and obedient. The women I visit need to be resourceful, creative, and strong enough to fight some pretty intense battles; that message usually doesn’t have much for me to help them with.

  35. I’m onboard with a lot of what’s being said here as long as we can really say we’re throwing the published message overboard in an effort to serve that individual sister and not in an effort to look wiser than everyone else. Entirely possible to do, but also can go wrong if your intentions and sensitivities are not very finely tuned. I have a VT who feels very strongly about rejecting the published VT message in favor of something meatier. The first month she and her companion showed up, she proclaimed that she never gave the assigned message, because it felt so fake. That she wanted to have a real friendship and conversation and spiritual discussion. I pointed out that it was possible to do both: have a meaningful conversation about the published message, modified to address our own experiences and needs, and then have a meaningful conversation about anything else we wanted in order to build our friendship. The sister who was her companion had come with the published message in hand and a very gentle spirit of service and a listening ear that I found appealing, but was cut off by this sister who begged our pardon to share another, better message, straight from the scriptures, which proved to be an unsubtle political homily with some scriptural proof-texting. She was proud of her better wisdom, but I had been ready to discuss with them some points from the published VT message that I had found interesting and frankly was a little annoyed at the political overtones of her chosen message and a lot annoyed with how rude she was to her sweet companion (who never came again with her–don’t know what happened there, but I have my suspicions). And she’s shown up alone ever since, always proudly proclaiming that she has not brought the published message because she has come to foster real friendship. Usually her alternate messages are unoffensive and doctrinally sound, but the whole thing feels much more like self-congratulation than that personalized service everyone’s touting here, and trying to foster a real friendship with her is consequently an effort. So the moral is: as with most things, it’s a fine line. Inspiration needs to be there for sure, but we should also accept the radical idea that the Spirit might actually say to a VT….”give her the published message.” :)

  36. And as for Carol Lynn Pearson’s vision of VT Utopia expressed in #22: sure, that would be ideal, if there were a sufficient number of such in-tune people in a given ward to cover all the struggling people. But when you’re a bishop trying to keep watch over everyone in the ward, how is that supposed to work, with people assigning and unassigning themselves as VTs and HTs at will? Human nature would lead most to gravitate toward the people they feel a natural connection to, which would leave gaps in coverage of the ward. How else but an assignment is a bishop supposed to ensure that minimal watch is being kept over everyone, especially those who keep to themselves when they are struggling?

  37. Where did I suggest throwing out the message and riding our own personal hobby-horses?

  38. Truly, the published messages have become quite elastic. There isn’t anything in this guardians-of-the-hearth message that can’t be (prayerfully) spun to meet an individual sister’s needs.

    How else but an assignment is a bishop supposed to ensure that minimal watch is being kept over everyone, especially those who keep to themselves when they are struggling?

    This is my sentiment exactly. Of course people are hurt when what they thought was a genuine friendship turns out to be nothing more than an assignment. But that is the failure of the person who got the assignment, not the assignment itself.

  39. Do you know a single woman who’s actually out to _weaken_ her home and family??

    There are probably fewer of those than there are women who are hell-bent on not studying their scriptures and not preparing themselves to receive temple blessings. We can take these messages as guilt trips, or we can see them for what they are: gospel ice breakers.

  40. Steve Evans says:

    “Reading this with my feminist eye, I found little to offend”

    I take it your feminist eye is not your stronger eye.

  41. Tracy: Most of my response was to comments, not to your original post, and no one did (or would) promote gospel hobby-horses as alternate VT messages.

    I should add that I’m a person who likes to sound like the smartest person in the room, so I have chosen to always use some part of the published VT message, even if it doesn’t speak to me, and then let the discussion flow from there. If I were better at confidently receiving inspiration for each of the sisters I teach, I might take a more free-form approach, but I’m not, so I don’t. The published messages generally work well for me as madhousewife describes them: gospel ice breakers, and I feel my companions and I have generally done well at fostering real friendships with those we’re assigned to. Do we make time to see them as often after we’re un-assigned? Nope. But we have real bonds of affection and they have one more person to hang out with at church.

  42. My impression is that visiting teachers get cycled around much much more than home teachers. In multiple wards this was the case for my wife. Why? Is it like that most places? Even those that actually go and do it end up getting reassigned pretty quickly.

    I would think the rationale is that this way the sisters get to know one another better and be knit together as a group since they all interact closely. I think that’s a good goal, but visiting teaching seems to be not the best way to fulfill that goal. Rather, activities can fulfill that goal. Visiting teaching, really is a superficial name, when you consider what Pres. Beck has to say about it, it’s clear she gets the deep spiritual possibilities that accompany personal ministrations after the pattern of the savior’s life. According to what I have seen, those who shuffle through assignments aren’t really “getting” what Pres. Beck is aiming for when she talks about the kind of visiting teaching that should be going on… visiting teaching describes what’s happening on a certain level … some visiting, some teaching, but ultimately I think deep spiritual connections, christ-like ministry and compassion, concern for individual needs, etc. goes so much farther. (Home teacher likewise is a pretty superficial name, but at least it doesn’t sound like it barely scraps the surface as a just a “visit”).

    So many of us long for friends who understand us, who can help us, who we can rely on, not to mention friends that we can play the reverse role for each of those traits. And just reassigning people to “make visits” doesn’t really seem to make the point. Well, when my wife mentioned this to the RSP in a nice way (not being critical, but just sharing her understanding of the aspirations of Pres. Beck) she got, back, “well, if they need help or if there is anything serious they should know they can come to us, that’s not what visiting teachers are for.” Seriously!

    I’ve rarely seen a home teacher, on the other hand, who doesn’t at least understand most of the serious-ness behind the potential of what home teaching can be about. But they (we) just tend to not do it inspite of understanding it… both are in pretty sad states:

    One group refuses to be open to revelation and new understanding about the possibilities of their sacred responsibilities, but just merrily (drearily?) goes about organizing and fulling superficial visits. (not saying this happens across the board!)

    While the other group receives the revelations, understands it, but lazily doesn’t act on it, except when they feel pretty compelled to do so. (and again not saying this happens across the board!)

    It’s like we’ve both learned and adopted the worst traits in both of us, but refused to learn from the good we have to offer.

  43. “I’ve rarely seen a home teacher, on the other hand, who doesn’t at least understand most of the serious-ness behind the potential of what home teaching can be about. But they (we) just tend to not do it inspite of understanding it… both are in pretty sad states:

    One group refuses to be open to revelation and new understanding about the possibilities of their sacred responsibilities, but just merrily (drearily?) goes about organizing and fulling superficial visits. (not saying this happens across the board!)

    While the other group receives the revelations, understands it, but lazily doesn’t act on it, except when they feel pretty compelled to do so. (and again not saying this happens across the board!)”

    This made me wonder, do Home Teachers take their injunction more seriously (or lazily reject it, I guess) than visiting teachers because it is a priesthood responsibility?

  44. I have never known a woman who purposely wanted to “weaken” her family, but I know a number of women who, due to poor choices and overly-busy schedules, end up weakening their family anyway.

  45. Ew, Steve Evans. Why are you trying to insult me? How is that helpful or respectful? It’s my eye of origin, as I was raised a non-member in NY by a father who wanted me to do high-paying, white collar work all my life and outsource care of my home and children.

    Tell me, please do TELL ME why I should be offended by the first message to come along in YEARS that doesn’t come right out and say the ONLY acceptable choice is stay-at-home-motherhood. With a sidebar about a inspiring, busy woman (which anyone can discover by using his/her intellectual curiosity) who still made sure her main focus was protecting the hearth.

    This uppity, NY feminist Mormon has a testimony of protecting the hearth. I was called to it loud and clear in 2009 by the circumstance of where the Spirit led us to live. I was told in no uncertain terms that if I had the courage to protect the hearth and take my children out of school and educate them at home, I would literally save my family. I. Me.

    You better believe I am not going to be offended by a reminder of one of the biggest, most challenging and rewarding trials of my life. You better believe I am going to be inspired by Bathsheba and grateful for Tracy’s research, especially as I had less time than usual this month to do it on my own.

    I will not say nothing when you mock my spiritual experiences. You don’t get to sit as judge of my feminist bonafides.

  46. Let me correct my error: you did not mock my spiritual experience, as I did not initially share one; just my feminism.

  47. #45 – Fwiw, I think there’s more than a bit of mutual misunderstanding happening here.

  48. Steve Evans says:

    Mrs. Bailey, being uppity and from New York has no bearing on your feminism, or lack thereof. I’m not mocking your spiritual experiences. I’m saying that the declaration which followed your statement “reading this with my feminist eye” was one of the most anti-feminist things I’ve read in a while. The irony was delicious unto me. Apart from that, I’m sure you’re awesome.

  49. Steve Evans says:

    P.S. Yankees suck. Let’s go Mets!

  50. “That’s the kind of Visiting Teaching message I want to hear.”

    Then let your VTs know what you want. After all, the instructions at the start of every message say, “Study this material and, as appropriate, discuss it with the sisters you visit.” VTs are under no obligation to present that lesson verbatim.

    “Maybe if women were encouraged to do something besides watch the babies, watch the hearth, watch the bad world out our window, maybe visiting each other would become less of a chore, and more of a way to connect and work with each other.”

    Is this for hyperbole, or does anyone believe it? At least in the 30 years that I’ve been a member, the church has been unfailing in their support of women to get an education. And have put their money where their mouth is–as a mother of young children, I got BYU distance learning scholarships that allowed me to finish college courses at the playground.

    And we’ve never been encouraged to “watch” babies, but rather to teach them.

    Plus there is so much for LDS women to after their child-rearing is over. Every conference there is a plea for many more missionary couples, and half of that couple is a woman. I spend part of every day learning a new language, which does not interfere with my visiting teaching.

    In my experience, I think that one reason for reassigning home or VTs is to expand a person’s circle of contacts. Years ago I VT’d a lady. We’ve kept in touch through the years, I’ve visited her once a year or so. She knows she can call me if she is in need. But now she knows other people as well.

    I wonder if we expect to much socially from church? For years, I brought grandkid toys to church in a shopping bag that said, “Sieglings, Vorbarr Sultana.” I was waiting, yearning for someone to come up and say, “That is so cool! Which is your favorite book?”

    Did not happen. But I have other friends outside the church with whom I can share that side of me.

  51. Naismith, I don’t even know where to start…

  52. Mark BrownBrown says:

    Mrs. Bailey Park,

    If it is OK, I’m going to push back a little. I hope you don’t see this as a personal attack, but I am going to use your own words as examples of what I think is wrong with the way we speak about women, men, and parenting in the church. I don’t mean to make you an offender for a word — I realize your words were just a blog comment and you didn’t expect them to be picked apart, and if you did, you might have added some qualifiers. But anyway, I hope it is OK with you if I use your words as a springboard.

    It astonishes me that you claim revelation came to you, and you alone, in connection with raising your children. And it astonishes me that you — you alone — are going to save them.

    Is the man in your life useful for anything besides loading the ATM machine? Does he have any say in the way these children are parented? Somehow we have picked up the idea that women have some kind of special insight into child-raising and that the father is along for the ride, but only as long as he defers to the she-boss. That mother’s heart is just so, so spay-shul. This attitude is infuriating, and it is rampant in LDS circles.

    I hope and actually expect that both you and the Mr. have made these decisions jointly and that he is fully involved. I also hope that you can see how your words could give the opposite impression.

  53. I agree, the Mets are overdue. I like them, too.

    I have been wanting meat in our messages and conference talks for years. I know how awesome I am, the GAs din’t need to tell me. This whole issue of the Ensign was milquetoast.

    But I still don’t see what is anti-feminist about reminding members to guard their families amongst their other duties and activities.

  54. Mark Brown says:

    Naismith, (50)

    You are correct that the church formally encourages women to gain education. But there is apparently more to it than just lip service, because the message clearly isn’t getting through.

    This is some pretty solid research indicating that there are factors at work in LDS culture that tend to limit female educational attainment. Whatever positive things the church is currently saying or doing, it clearly isn’t getting the job done, and we need to do better.

  55. Telling a woman to get her education, but also to be modest (but hottest), to not put off marriage, to not put off having children, to make her spouse a priority, to make her home a refuge from the world, to store up every needful thing, to be a teacher and guiding light to her children, to be frugal and attentive serve her family, her church, her community AND then tell her that no success in the world will compensate if she fails at these domestic duties… I don’t see any problems or double-binds there at all. Nope. Everything is great.

  56. In terms of irony, dissing Barbara Thompson about strengthening families no matter what yours looks like ranks pretty high, I’d say.

  57. No, H.Bob, I had that in mind when I wrote it. I wasn’t ‘dissing’ her.

  58. Anon this time says:

    Do you know a single woman who’s actually out to _weaken_ her home and family??

    There are probably fewer of those than there are women who are hell-bent on not studying their scriptures and not preparing themselves to receive temple blessings. We can take these messages as guilt trips, or we can see them for what they are: gospel ice breakers.

    Absolutely, these messages _intended_ as gospel ice breakers, and sometimes they even function that way. But “strengthen home and family” and “guard the hearth” are so vague, they’re meaningless in practical terms. From what I’ve seen, they have two possible outcomes: they drive the people who are already in overdrive to ever higher pitches of gospel hysteria, and they do nothing whatsoever for the vast lumpen masses of the rest of us but induce a vague, transient sense of guilt. I’m currently watching a woman I VT strengthen her home and family straight to hell. She’s trying _so hard_ to make everything just right that she’s exhausting herself and completely stressing her children out by yelling at them constantly about every little thing they do wrong–which she sees as her divinely mandated duty. So when I see these repeated messages, although I impute no ill will to their inventors, I feel exasperated. I want to cover her ears. (I’m also sorely tempted to burn every copy of Elder Anderson’s talk on having children from last conference, because this is a woman who can’t handle the kids she has, and yet, she is faithfully following the prophets and having another one. And because she’s in such a constant state of faithful perfectionism induced crisis, I guarantee that whatever ward she is in will end up doing a lot of her childcare for her.)

    All that said, I really do see that the people who invent these messages are in an impossible position, trying to come up with something that’s general enough to speak to all situations and yet has some specificity so it’s not completely meaningless. I don’t know what the answer is. I am grateful that there’s now at least a little wiggle room in terms of the imperative to deliver the official message. Really, in the end there’s nothing for it but getting to know our sisters well enough that we can tailor our formal and informal messages to their specific needs, and perhaps we just need to keep shifting official rhetoric further and further in that direction. But I just can’t see that “strengthen home and family” and “guard your hearth” meets anyone’s specific needs.

  59. re#36 reply to my comment. I think you missed my point. There is no one “looking after me and my family to report back to the bishop.” No one cares because we aren’t worth as much as a part-member family. YW pres. told my daughter they are concerned because she is in a part-member family. I say “crap” because they have no idea that my “out-of-the tidy-mormon-box” family is happier and more respectul that it ever was when i was married to Mr. Righteous Mormon man.” They assume and label. I WAS attentive for decades as a normal VT, RS presidency, Primary Pres, YW Pres, – I’ve served everywhere in my years. Just meant that I never once had an Ensign-like experience with VT. Because I have no callings I do have a circle of people I look out for, mostly nomo’s. They are my VTing. It’s a tough call to say that VT works the way it’s “suppposed to.” I would love to have VT who cared about me and I would love to be a sincere VT. The people in the church can too judgemental sometimes and not able to think outside the box to see what others really need.

  60. Sherry, I’m sorry for your experiences- I know the pain of people making remarks about non- and part- member families. I’ve been both. We all need to be more careful with one another.

  61. Sherry and Tracy, your comments reminded me of an old post Kristine wrote (July 2007) about the term “ward”. It floored me when I first read it, and I think it applies to this post and, especially, some of the comments. (I also think the idea ought to be one of those that is “always before our eyes”.)

    “Three Kinds of Wards” (

  62. I agree that the ‘right’ way to do VTing is to be as deep and personal as possible, both with messages and the watching over and caring. But I’m not sure why giving and receiving the message in the same day is used to point out how mindless VTing can be. Isn’t that just a coincidence?
    I’m always bothered when VTers get changed and the sister they visted is sad/offended/disillusioned because they don’t come anymore. I think it is important, as well as mature, to acknowledge that church callings come and go for various reasons, and appreciate whatever friendship I developed with the VTers that will continue on its own.

  63. Heather, think about the message it sends when people show up to visit, last about three or four months, then disappear and nobody shows up in their place – or, worse yet, when they visit someone who isn’t active, visit for a couple months or so, then disappear and nobody show up in their place. The revolving door of VT/HT isn’t the root issue in those cases; it’s the “I’m a project, and they only visit whenever they think about me and want to try to get me to come back to church” message such on-again/off-again visiting creates that is the core issue.

    I have no problem with the idea of HT/VT, and neither does Tracy. I think it’s a great idea, and so does Tracy. When approached properly, it really can be a marvelous work and a wonder. It’s the implementation that too often gets formulaic and ineffective – and giving people too many people to visit realistically and changing their visitees regularly only adds to the practical feeling that it’s a “program” rather than truly being “people centered”. So does reading and hearing the same “lesson” multiple times, especially on the same or consecutive days.

  64. Thanks, Ray- both for the link to Kristine’s exemplary post, and for the accurate response.

  65. The next to last time I had a visiting teaching visit, my VT brought me a half a muffaletta and some bread pudding with rum sauce. No message, just lunch. The last time I had a visiting teaching visit, she couldn’t stay for a visit either. She brought a collection of individual pastries from the bakery up the street. She hasn’t been back since. It’s a shame, because her messages were so delicious.

  66. Think about it . . . a sister who you usually don’t know very well, comes to your home, sits down and begins to visit.  There are sometimes awkward silences but they soon dissipate as life propels a discussion on potty training, tantrums, joys, heartaches, aging, surgeries, jobs, classes, illnesses, awards, missions, politics, weddings and on and on and on. Life piled upon life.  What are the chances of you and your VTing teachers getting together like that if it weren’t first an assignment?  The lesson each month is an icebreaker at best. But occasionally, comes in handy. A timely reminder of an “ideal”. No one thinks that these 1/2 page though/lessons complete a concept. The idea is to flesh them out together. To discuss, disagree, roll your eyes at, laugh, and come to a place where maybe the tiniest glimps of YOU can peak through.

    Love the post. Love honest, thoughtful discussion.

  67. lsth with love! says:

    I’m very late to the discussion, but hope I can offer something. Twenty years ago, Tracy M’s words were mine. I twisted and turned and tried to manage what I called the Mormon mentality. My peace now comes, not by giving up the vantage point each season provides me, but to understand a few basic concepts: In the interest of berevity, this is the path that has blessed me:

    #1 If the Book of Mormon is a divine instrument, and Joseph a divine Prophet, then we are in the right place. Start there. Put the promise to the test! Find out.
    #2 Learn to know the mind of God, via the full understanding of how the Holy Ghost speaks to “me.” Don’t go any further until you’ve embraced the amazing gift. “I” have the personal responsibility to learn through the Spirit whether “I” am being led correctly via VT lessons, GAs & prophets. Check Brigham Young’s quote on that. Why suffer angst if the issue is simply a matter of personality and leadership differences!?
    #3 Read Eve and the Choice Made in Eden by Beverly Campbell. There you will learn who WOMAN is! Doesn’t matter where destiny has placed her, if she’s the bread winner or if she’s married with children, etc.
    #4 We all serve one another in this amazing system called the LDS Church. We are all human, we all make mistakes, most of us do our best. What really matters is how “I” respond to all of the above in the system.
    #5 We determine who we are and who we will become in that magic moment between stimuli and response.
    #6 I don’t want to lead the church. I’m grateful to have it as a support system. It serves me and so does forgiveness of those who do it “poorly” or different than me!
    #7 The ability to INFLUENCE is the greatest opportunity of any soul — especially if she happens to be WOMAN! I happen to find the little ones are more open to my influence than anyone over age 20. Yes, give me the kids.
    #8 The above is written by a woman who left her nest in her mid thirties for a glorious career which still nurtures me today. My children are still my heart and my grand children my glory. I still influence all of them. I’ve done it all — and know today — the HEARTH is where all smart WOMEN AND MEN give their best! It’s unbelieveable anyone would argue that point. By the way, in my mind — the Hearth is the city, state, country, world where my children live!!!!
    #9 I fight for the children in the legislatures, city councils, via news paper columns, and town meetings — where ever I can make a difference, I know I bless the children by making their world better.
    #10 Who in the world can’t get that?? Think Abstract!!! Why wait until you’re 60 to finally figure it out! Instead, put your energy into a broken world which needs your gifts of Spirit and truth!

  68. Steve Evans says:


  69. CrazyPersonCreek says:

    I find myself in complete agreement with Steve.

  70. As do I.

  71. Steve is wise.

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