In the past, I've answered reader questions here and here with the help of several trusted friends. This question answered this week was sent in by a listener during a KUER Radio West program in the fall in which I, along with several other women, discussed why Utah was ranked by one publication as the "worst" state for women. How would you answer this woman's question? If you or someone you know has a question you'd like to pose to me and a panel of other trusted women, please email me or message me on Facebook.
"As a 44-yr-old stay-at-home mom, I am sorely tempted to blame my LDS culture for significantly narrowing my life choices. My youngest of five children entered first grade two months ago. I'm home today using craft paint to fix the dings in my Fall-themed pottery and planning my lavish Christmas decorations on Pinterest. I'm mad. How did I get here? I guess I have to own my choices and stop playing victim. Yes, I was strongly socialized to choose the path that I did. Yet,I have friends and you have women on your panel today who managed to pursue a professional course that I now envy. One of them mentioned the powerful female role models they had at home. I think my biggest regret is not being that role model now for my four daughters. I'm anxiously trying to connect my daughters with these type of exemplary, empowered women."
It's been a few months since I received this question, and I had sort of forgotten about it over the holidays, but it came to the forefront of my mind after my post last week about a recent New Era article directed at young women. Although many people agreed with my assessment that the article's advice to girls is too narrow, several people in unpublished comments here and directly through Facebook expressed dismay that I would be critical of a church magazine's efforts to remind girls of their priorities and eternal responsibilities. This question posed above is the best retort I could have conjured for those who think I was making a big deal out of nothing. This question demonstrates the inner turmoil that a too-narrow narrative can create when not tempered or broadened with additional messages or encouragements. This is the kind of crisis of identity that I seek to lessen when I encourage us as a people to abandon the either/or rhetoric. How can a woman who has mothered five children in the gospel be "mad"? Because she resents not being more fully encouraged to be both a mother and her own person. She is figuring out for herself at 44 that life's path doesn't have to be an either/or proposition and that the too-narrow narrative can lead to crippling regret.
The women here asks how she got to this point in her life, and she's prepared to take responsibility for the choices she's made thus far. But what I hear her really asking is why there were few women in her own younger life who perhaps showed her that both/and model, and how she can provide those models for her daughters. I've spoken in the past about the importance of role models as ways that we spiritually create various paths for ourselves before we actually physically create them, like flight simulators where we can try out a life from the comfort of our chairs before launching into it ourselves. I think this mom is doing a heroic work for her daughters by seeking out those types of models for them, even if she feels she herself isn't that role model. That's exactly what projects like the Mormon Women Project are for: to offer alternative narratives of faithful women developing the whole person. We can do better offering those models to our next generation.
Click here for this awesome series of photos of little girls transformed into their role models.
Differing "brands" of Mormon culture, which are not necessarily doctrinally based, are a sure culprit in discouraging women from realizing their full potentials as human beings within the Church. While Christ taught that we should be diligent in developing our talents and letting our lights shine, Mormon culture, as influenced by Western, 1st-world, 50's era mindsets, has enshrined women, almost like fertility goddesses, as Mothers above all, to the point of discouraging women to pursue careers before having children or discouraging women from serving full-time missions. These messages are fading from the pulpit as the reality of another economic depression hits and as the world becomes more full of members from third-world countries where women have to work and mother full-time simultaneously.
Some parts of Utah, due to cultural quirks, have taken these potential stifling views even further, condemning women who have visible talents and successful careers, as well as looking down on those who choose to serve missions. These outlooks couldn't be further from scriptural truth, but have had and continue to have an affect on and act as vestiges of psychological corrosion on the souls of Mormon women, especially those who have grown up solely in Utah.
I spent the majority of my youth outside of Utah and was raised by parents who encouraged the development of all of my talents, so I was lucky enough to never have been discouraged from pursuing my dreams and professional aspirations - I never perceived my career aspirations as being at odds with my aspirations to marry and bear children because the Spirit led me down both paths simultaneously in very obvious ways. The Mormon doctrine of continuing personal revelation and the importance of heeding such has been paramount to all the personal and professional decisions I have made.
I have, however, experienced judgment from other members about my professional and personal choices and often feel conflicted myself about home and work balance. I consider it my civic duty to pass my knowledge on to those in my community who have talents I was born to help cultivate - that is very clear to me. But it is also equally as clear to me that I have an even more urgent and time consuming civic duty to raise happy, productive children, who can contribute positively to the world. I often feel guilty about NOT being more crafty and NOT decorating my home more lavishly around the holidays for the sake of my children, who yearn for rich and fun-filled home lives. I often yearn not to have been given any professional success so I could be a more fun mom and a mom with less outside distractions. I struggle with the very real worry that I will regret having been so professionally involved. But I try to be inspired on a daily basis, and I have learned that I can take my kids along for the ride and teach them valuable and fun life lessons in my profession as well.
I have found that balance is the key, and you are never too old to pursue your dreams. Following the scriptures and your "inner voice", a.k.a., the Holy Ghost, can help you sort out this balance and the pursuit of further education and professional goals that will enrich your family in the long-run. It is possible to have it all - just not all at the same time.