The pictures accompanying this month’s cover story entitled “Strengthening Future Mothers” make my heart hurt.
First, let me say that this is an excellent and important article by Sister Tanner. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the fact that for all of our rhetoric about mothers being in the home for their young children, we don’t talk as much as we need to about what exactly it is they can and should do to be better mothers once they are there. So I thank Sister Tanner for her reflections on the topic. But it is the importance of the topic that makes the photos accompanying it all the more unfortunate.
Note that Sister Tanner presents five main ideas that “we as parents and leaders must do for our young women.” Exactly one half of one idea (or, one tenth of her topic) concerns the physical acts of caring for a home. This is as it should be: while the Church should provide some basic level of instruction in these areas, let’s remember that if a woman needs basic domestic skills, there are plenty of secular resources out there (try here and here to start).
So why, then, do five out of six of the pictures portray young women and their mothers being domestic divas? Sister Tanner begins her article by decrying the fact that even within the Church there is sometimes the sentiment that motherhood is not a worthwhile goal for a young woman. I am firmly convinced that this sentiment is sometimes the result of the false perception that full-time motherhood is a euphemism for unpaid maid. This is not a career choice that will appeal to many. Most of our young women do not have their hearts set on putting their best efforts into preparing pot roasts, floral arrangements, ironing, reading grocery labels, or sewing (all of which are pictured here. I didn’t include the cover picture in my count: there, a young woman is sewing a button on a shirt). And who can blame them? I have no beef with women who enjoy these things, but they are not prerequisites for enjoying motherhood any more than the defining characteristic of a stockbroker is one who really digs spending two hours per day on the train. There is one picture in this article that isn’t objectionable (except that it is almost too small to see): a young woman is reading her Book of Mormon. Scripture study prepares a woman to be a mother.
For most women, the physical acts of housekeeping are the price to be paid (as a doctor perhaps would consider the keeping of charts or a young lawyer doing document review) for the perks of the profession. The very next piece in this Ensign is a wonderful depiction of those perks: this sweet story tells of a two-year-old asking her mommy to ‘play Church’ and teach her.
Now, that’s the kind of teaching that the Church should be doing because Martha Stewart can’t. Real preparation for motherhood, as Sister Tanner clearly teaches (but the graphics undermine) involves someone who shapes souls, not meatloaves. We prepare young women to be mothers by teaching them that motherhood is so much more than keeping house. I think of housework as something to get out of the way so that I can teach my children, play with my baby, and persue my personal interests. (I also see it as a teaching opportunity for my kids.) But it doesn’t define me.
The overemphasis on physical housekeeping as the defining elements of motherhood is demeaning to women and destructive. It suggests that these skills are the pinnacle of a woman’s attainment. But the mother on the cover can teach her daughter to sew on a button in ten minutes. But she’ll spend countless hours modeling Christlike traits for that girl, and encouraging her to act according to her knowledge of the truth. Which is more important?
How I wish you could have focused on the examples from Sister Tanner’s talk and shown the young woman who lived in such a way that she was worthy to receive inspiration to pick her brother up from a party and have a heart-to-heart talk with him or the young woman from the part-member family trying to strike the delicate balance between observing the Sabbath and strengthening her relationship with her parents. But instead, the young woman casually glancing through this month’s Ensign will walk away with the (false) impression that being a mom means taking care of things, not people.