Monday, 4 August 2008

Teaching the Ideal

My sister recently pointed me in the direction of a question and answer session at the BYU law school with Sister Julie Beck on March 7, 2008. As a fair warning, the video is pretty long (maybe 40min to an hour), and apparently you can't pause it, so I would make sure you actually have time to sit and watch it. Also, the sound is pretty bad, but if you keep with it until Sister Beck starts talking, you can get used to it; besides, her comments really are worth hearing.

In this session, Julie Beck addresses women in the law school at BYU. So, it should come as no surprise that many of the questions they posed to her had to do with working outside the home, careers, the conflict in some Relief Societies between mothers who have chosen to stay at home and mothers who are working or furthering their education, and the conflict some women feel as they strive to follow personal revelation and come up against judgment and criticism in and out of the home and workplace, whether they choose to stay at home or not.

There was also, perhaps not surprisingly, mention of the talk Sister Beck gave at General Conference in October of 2007, "Mothers Who Know", to which a number of Latter-Day Saint women (and men) reacted defensively. Despite any grumblings some might have initially experienced from that talk, I know in my heart that those words came from the Lord and that any problem I might have with some of those principles is in trying to reconcile the imperfect state of my life with an ideal model. Of course, the problem with this is that no one is perfect, everyone has different circumstances in their lives, and everyone can receive their own personal revelation about these matters from the Lord. Julie Beck knows this - she is not presenting a cookie cutter model as my sister points out, along with several other valid points, in her blog post on the subject. Sister Beck addressed this with the law students as well. In the church, we teach the ideal as something to strive for, to remind us of the things in our lives that are most important and then we let the exceptions follow, because there are many exceptions. Life happens. I have a dear friend who strives continually to be at home with her young son, but the current situations of her life prevent her from doing so. In fact, this is the case pretty much anywhere else in the world. Outside of the US, women work. That is part of life. That doesn't mean that those women no longer have the same responsibility to nurture and raise children in Christ. One of the points about this that Sister Beck brings up and is absolutely true is that no one can fulfill the role to have, raise and nurture our own children except for us. We cannot delegate it to someone else.

Sister Beck has mentioned this before in an address to young single adults:

"Some of you women are deciding now whether you should marry and have a family or choose a career. You are bright and qualified, and you have opportunities your grandmothers never dreamed of. The possibilities for earning credentials and making a mark for yourselves on the world stage have never been greater. But I hope you are making your decisions with the blessings of Abraham in mind. Latter-day Saint women should understand that no matter how many other people they enlist to help them with their home and children, they cannot delegate their role as the primary nurturer and teacher of their families. Righteous motherhood will always stretch every reserve they have to meet the needs of their families. As a daughter of God who has made covenants with Him, each of you carries the vital and indispensable female half of the responsibility for fulfilling the Lord’s plan. Each of you has the agency to prayerfully and humbly choose how to approach your career opportunities. Every choice has a consequence. You cannot have everything and do everything. You must choose with eternal priorities in mind. I would hope that you will understand that there are no glamorous careers. Every form of employment has its own innate challenges. Many choices available in the world today compete with eternal goals and responsibilities. Many choices could persuade you to delay or limit the number of children you invite into your family. Many choices could rob you of critical time and energy necessary to adequately care for your spouse, your children, and your responsibilities in the Lord’s kingdom. These decisions are between you and the Lord. He knows the desires of your heart and your unique situation."

So, we teach the ideal. This is very apparent if you think about the other principles we are taught in the church. Take for example, reading your scriptures daily. Now, in a perfect world we would all study intently every day from our scriptures without interruptions in a nice, quiet area of the house where we could pray and ponder on the deep doctrines therein. We would have family scripture study where all the little children sit and listen and participate in heartfelt, spiritual discussion (no matter their age) and everyone feels the spirit and testifies to each other about how wonderful the scriptures are. Well, this is just not reality most of the time! Most children will not thank their parents for continuing to persevere with scripture study until they are much older - when they are young, they just don't generally express those kinds of feelings. "Ah, mom, do we have to? Can't we skip it just for today?" might be closer to a typical response. I have a 17 month old son and the only way I get my scripture study in every day is to do it in the morning (because if I wait I get busy and then I get tired and then I fall asleep in the middle of the second verse I read). Well, my husband leaves for work early and so my scripture study usually consists of reading over breakfast while my little one throws his food on the floor, whines for my attention, or crawls all over me. I would have to say, that I absolutely love when he tries to imitate me by marking my scriptures for me. What a doll! If you have any fantasies about family scripture study, I would invite you to watch this video (this entire collection of documentaries from Fit for the Kingdom is wonderful because it brings the reality of everyday life as a member of the church to the fore while building testimony - none of us are alone in our struggles, even if we feel like we are). So does the reality of scripture study mean we shouldn't strive for the ideal, or the better part? Of course not! We consistently strive for the Spirit to be there in our scripture study because we are taught the ideal and we know of its importance, but that does not negate or belittle the actual experiences we have while studying the scriptures on a regular basis while we have kids running and screaming through the house, or are constantly interrupted.

Okay, so perhaps that seems a little off topic, but the truth of the matter is that we teach the ideal to strengthen us in remembering the things in this life that are of the most worth, that are truly important in the eternal scheme of things. I know that I am doing what the Lord wants me to do by pursuing my PhD. Do I completely understand why? Not really. Do I sometime feel guilty for enjoying myself at school? Sometimes, perhaps, but that is my own weakness, and I get to have faith that the Lord will make a way for me to go to school and to fulfill my responsibilities as a wife and mother. I often realize that it is okay to enjoy myself in my scholarly endeavors. In fact, it makes me better at them! At the same time, I know without a doubt that the absolutely most important thing in my life is my family and I am constantly on guard against the things in my life that pull me away from my husband, child and home. Is my house always clean and optimally inviting to the Spirit of the Lord? Hmm... no, no it is not. But does that mean that I should worry about justifying why my house is not "perfect", cease to consistently strive to make my home a place where the Spirit can dwell, and cease to do the best I can to create a spiritual haven for my family? Of course not. Why is it that we women consistently put down the work that we do in our homes that brings the Spirit, feeds and clothes our children, and makes our homes a place where we can truly and lovingly teach the gospel of Jesus Christ by example to those who are most dear to us?

So we get to the heart of the matter. Whether or not we work outside of our homes, the most important things we do are within those walls (take, for example, the little angel above). Sister Beck is absolutely right when she says that no matter what your choices, there is never enough woman to go around. And she has been there! She is an educated, professional woman too! She has stayed at home and she has worked outside of it. As have many of the women on the General Relief Society Board. Where did I, or anyone else for that matter (perhaps it is just me), ever get the idea that women in the General Presidencies are the perfect homemakers who never work, keep their homes tidy at all times, serve in every possible capacity, are always immediately there for their children, husbands, parents, neighbors, friends, strangers? Where did I get the idea that they are perfect? Hello! None of us are. There is the ideal in the principles we are taught, and then there is how we live our lives to the best of our ability in the face of the experiences that naturally are a part of this mortal existence. As Sister Beck mentioned at the law school, we should take each opportunity into account as it comes along into our lives, prayerfully consider our choices, and choose day to day with our eternal perspective in mind.

Okay, so there is so much more I could say, but I am going to stop there.

**As a side note, I have recently discovered that humming the theme song to Indiana Jones really does make cleaning the bathroom way more fun - don't believe me? You try it and see how long you can go without feeling incredibly adventurous or laughing hysterically! Never underestimate the power of music. :) "Dun da dun dunnnn, dun da dunnnnnn, dun da dun dunnnnnnnnn, dun da dun dun dun! Dun da dun dunnnnnn, dun da dunnnnnnnn, dun da daaaa da da daaaaa da da daaaa da da daaaaaaa dun da dunnnnn."


Courtney said...

I'll have to wait until my baby is at a nap to watch the video, but I had some initial thoughts to the post. This is something I have been thinking a lot about: why is it so hard to be a stay-at-home mom? Why I do I feel the need to justify my decision to not work? I think one difference is that men can choose any career they want (within reason). They choose college majors and career paths that play up their skills and allow them to grow and develop in ways they choose (all to a degree, of course). Whereas motherhood doesn't have different "fields." While a woman can use her personality and interests to enhance her parenting style, being a mom is being a mom. So for me, a woman who likes to be an individual and choose her own path, it's difficult sometimes to feel like my new life role is so generic. I'm not sure if that makes sense. I guess I am saying that there isn't (or doesn't seem to be) as much choice in motherhood as there is in choosing a career. So, it's all about defining what motherhood means to you-- how you can make it your own, how you can make it individual, how you can make it work for you.

The other thing is that I had a professor who said once "women want to have it all. And they can have it all-- just not all at once." So that is something I am trying to remember. I have my whole life ahead of me to go back to school, work, etc. But I only have this time right now where I have a baby and can teach and nurture her.

OK, I'll watch the video later and then comment on it. Ha, I just reread my comment and I'm not sure it applies at all to the original post. Oh well.

Monica said...

Courtney, even if your comment isn't exactly what the post was about, it is relevant, especially for you in your new situation!

What's really interesting to me about some of the things you raised is that it seems like no matter what choice a woman makes, she often feels judged or the need to justify it, whether she works, goes back to school, or stays at home. Why is that exactly?

And why is it that "being a mom is being a mom?" What exactly does that mean? I think it is important to remember that raising our children is the most important thing we do whether we work or not, and that the value judgments we place on our own choices almost always comes more forcefully from our own perception than from anything else we run into. In fact, I know that I am more often than not trying to justify my choices to myself rather than to anyone else.

As an aside: should we put everybody's email under the comment notification, so that they know we're bringing our blog back from the dead? Maybe we'll get more participation from our lovely blogmates. :)

Courtney said...

Good idea on the comment notification.

I agree that we are our harshest critics. I don't look around at other women and think "wow. she's not a working mom? why?" So why do I think others think that about me? It's like that book (that I haven't read) by Ann Crittenden: "The Price of Motherhood. Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued." Motherhood is not glamorous at all, but it is the absolute most important thing I could do with my life.
Maybe it comes back to that thing I have heard so many times comparing motherhood to a career: when you are in a career, you get constant feedback. When you accomplish something (get a promotion, publish something, etc.) you get all sorts of praise from your colleagues and peers. As a mom, no one praises you for a diaper well-changed or for keeping your cool through your child's tantrum. Obviously our self-worth shouldn't be based on receiving praise, but it's sure nice to have your hard work noticed some times.

Monica said...

So I recently had some other thoughts on this topic. One, which was pointed out to me last night while I was attending the J. Reuben Clark Law School Founder's Dinner with my sister who is in her first year of law school (with five kids no less), was that Sister Beck mentions how women who are not married and don't have children should just go for it and go all out on their dreams. I thought this was really neat because often I see women who are just waiting to get married, who hold off on certain opportunities because that special guy might just come along. How better, I think, to do what you love and then, when you meet the person you want to marry, he will see you at your best, shining in what you love to do. There are no surprises in store - he sees you doing what you love and loves you for it, and he sees how that has made you into the person you are.

The second thing that was brought to my attention is how really tragic it is that our society focuses so much on competition, which results in many of us (even when we believe we are not competing) constantly comparing ourselves to others, no matter what sphere we are in. My sister was talking with a woman who has children and is going to school as well, who immediately began to be apologetic and explain herself to my sister after telling her what she was doing. My sister interjected and said she knew exactly how she felt and that she was starting law school with five kids in tow. The woman immediately felt relieved that my sister knew where she was coming from. How sad that this woman initially felt so apologetic, and seemed to expect a lack of understanding, or even worse, a rebuke for her choices. Alexandra has often gotten quite upset at how some of her friends are likewise apologetic for their choices to pursue an education or work outside the home (and I am definitely not excluding myself from that category). My sister pointed out how this experience really bothered her, and that our response to someone struggling as this woman was should immediately be "how can I help?" rather than the judgmental reaction many women expect. The same goes for women staying at home who, I believe, deserve even more support from those around them. Why is it that we spend so much of our time comparing, judging (others and especially ourselves), apologizing, explaining, and defending rather than offering our love and support to each other. Neither choice is more valiant than the other, and I can guarantee from personal experience that all of us are unique, that Heavenly Father loves us all and guides us personally in what we should do in our lives, and that this is something that can lead different people down very different paths. It doesn't make them better or worse people, or make their sacrifices or accomplishments more or less profound or important - it is just different. How much more peace we might find in our lives if we strove to support, love and uplift one another despite our differences, our individual talents, or our unique situations. How much peace we would feel in knowing that when we follow the revelation that Heavenly Father gives to us personally, then we are doing what He would have us do at that time, and no matter where it is that we find ourselves, we know we are doing the Lord's work.

Courtney said...

That is so true Monica-- I am one to always justify my decisions and choices even though I wish I didn't. I am trying to be better at that and being happy with the choices I make, regardless of what it looks like to other people. It would also help to give others the benefit of the doubt and not assume that they are being judgmental.
I, for one, am so impressed with your sister! I can't imagine going to law school while mothering five children. What an awesome example for those kids.