A Transparent Hypothetical

Despite Russell’s recent paean to “slackerdom,” I have the sense that many of you who post and comment here care a great deal about your work, and that you enjoy it. If President Hinckley stood up at the next Priesthood Session and told you that you should all quit your jobs to stay home with your children, what would you do? How would you feel about it? (For the sake of simplifying the discussion, leave out for the moment the financial implications of such a course–I just want to know how you would feel about giving up your career to be a stay-at-home parent).

Here’s why I ask. Lately I’ve been trying really hard to pinpoint what it is about conservative and Mormon rhetoric about motherhood that makes me crazy–I want to know at exactly what point it is that I start to want to run out of the room screaming. I’ve narrowed it down to two major objections (though there are other minor annoyances):

1) I hate it when “a mother’s love” is described as a slightly diluted kind of romantic love. My feelings for my children are fierce; they bear little resemblance to the treacly Hallmark-card sort of kiss-on-the-skinned-knee picture that gets painted all the time. There’s nothing soft-focus about how I feel about my children. Mother’s love is intense and gritty and hardworking. It’s utterly other than the come-home-from-work-kiss-the-little-darlings-and-read-them-a-bedtime-story sentimentality that seems to cloak descriptions of parental relations offered in the Ensign and in General Conference.

2) I’m troubled by descriptions of parental roles that focus overmuch on the differences between the sexes, describing women as “naturally” more nurturing. It may be that women are biologically programmed to be more intensely involved with their babies than men (breastfeeding would be the obvious reason for this), but it’s virtually impossible to tease out the social conditioning girls and women receive in our society to teach them that they should care for others from whatever effects biology has. I think it’s therefore unwarranted to make generalizations which suggest that all women are so constituted that they will innately gravitate towards childcare as a profession. By insisting so strongly that God made women in such a way that they *want* to sacrifice for their children, we discount the value of that sacrifice. It is true that there are occasional, intensely satisfying rewards in mothering. But it is equally true, and nowhere near as often acknowledged, that there are hours and days and sometimes weeks of drudgery and mind-numbing boredom between those Kodak moments. And, as near as I can tell, women don’t really *like* being bored and exhausted any more than men do, no matter how much they love their children.

66 comments for “A Transparent Hypothetical

  1. Adam Greenwood
    February 11, 2004 at 11:11 pm

    I’ve no comment on your complaints. You’re beyond me in many ways.

    I do have a response to your hypothetical: I would respond so quickly people’s heads would spin. Work is drudgery, like homemaking, but with less payoff. Full disclosure, though, I think I’d be more distant and less solicitous a parent than my wife were I the one at home. For whatever reason, our experience shows that I’m more rough-and-ready as a parent than she. Maybe that explains your frustration, Kristine (so I guess I do have a comment). Maybe you feel like women are being blackmailed into homemaking, like men are taking advantage of women’s devotion to their children, a devotion the men SHOULD share, to push the unpleasant jobs off onto them.

  2. February 11, 2004 at 11:26 pm

    I’d do it in a second. It isn’t as if staying at home would keep me from performing or enriching myself. Indeed sometimes a break from the monotony of work would be welcome. I could take them of field trips. Take them for trips in the country. Spend more time with them. Heavens, I’d consider it a blessing were it not for that dreaded financial issue.

  3. February 11, 2004 at 11:42 pm

    Even though the post is addressed to men, who would attend Priesthood Session, I’ll answer anyway. I liked my job (in a big law firm on Wall Street) at times. I didn’t like my job at times. I like being a mother at times. I don’t like being a mother at times. I take care of our daughter better than my husband would, who would most likely sit watching the news for hours at a time while my daughter ran rampant about the house, dirty, stinky, and ignored. While I may feel obligated to be the mother at home because of church counsel, I don’t realize I do because it’s just a choice that makes sense.

    I also feel that the job is often without acknowledgment — from society mostly. I was just surprised to see you agree – you seem to be above the expected and often tiresome whines of mothers and their workload.

    I wonder, though, what to do about it. Fight for legislation promoting motherhood? Join campaigns that acknowledge the sacrifice mothers make? Go on strike? (You probably didn’t see the movie about this – I couldn’t stand it, and don’t know how it ended). Preach about it with those we meet? Talk about it in Sunday School? Refuse to submit and get a job? Or just go along, be the best mother you can, find opportunities to increase your talents, and look forward to the day when they go to college, and hope that they know that I appreciate them.

  4. February 11, 2004 at 11:45 pm

    Clark, you don’t have a realistic grasp on the day-to-day activities and limitations of raising children. You may have just made Kristine’s point.

  5. February 12, 2004 at 12:34 am

    Michelle (All), your comment toward Clark made me laugh. I don’t even have any kids, but I have to admit, my first thoughts were similar to Clark’s. I think the problem is the way we men think about Kristine’s hypothetical situation; we assume everything else is constant. Meaning, if I were to stay at home, my wife would still do the brunt of the nitty-gritty work because she was already doing it anyway. I’d be the one to have all the “fun” time with our kids.

    Now, before all the men here send me hate mail… I have to say, of course, this is NOT how it would be. We’d want to help out (and take over for) our wives considerably more. But what’s the thought that first pops into our head about staying at home? More diaper changing? Or more frolicking in green fields?

    For me, it was the frolicking in green fields. I won’t speak for anyone else.

  6. February 12, 2004 at 12:56 am

    I have a group of male friends whom I e-mail regularly, and we discuss everything under the sun. This is one of the things we’ve talked about on occasion: what are our wives’ roles in our families, do we understand those roles, and would we take them on? Answering such questions have always been very difficult for me, for one simple reason: I love my vocation. Not job, vocation: being a teacher and a scholar–a consumer and producer of ideas–isn’t something I do to make money (as anyone who has seen my paycheck would quickly realize), but because that’s who I am. Of course, I’m many other things too, one of which is a parent. And I love parenting; I love being silly with the kids, can handle their tantrums (sometimes better than Melissa, actually–I dealt with noisy younger siblings all while growing up), and don’t mind the work. (Being a neat freak has its advantages when it comes to washing dishes or regularly picking up around the house.) I think I could run a pretty decent household, if it came down to it. (I probably “run” about 20-30% of it at present.) But I find a profound fulfillment in my work; it both satisfies and pleases me, and I would loathe to give it up. Melissa worked part or full-time for the first seven years of our marriage, and she never had a job she enjoyed. She has not, in short, discovered her vocation; consequently, when I started teaching full-time, she bailed on the working world entirely, has never expressed any real interest in returning, and when I’ve pressed her about the future, says there’s no good reason to change things at this point: I’m keeping the family afloat while pursuing my bliss, and as she hasn’t landed upon a comparable bliss that calls to her, there’s no why reason my preferences shouldn’t come first. (She’s actually put it in pretty nearly exactly those words.)

    And so I have (being liberal, of course) an uncomfortable sense of guilt whenever discussions move in this direction, because I know that our present arrangement (me, breadwinner; Melissa, homemaker) is one which PLEASES me. Does it please her? She doesn’t mind it too much, but it doesn’t fill her with delight. She likes the work of homemaking (cleaning, cooking, crafts, children’s play) at least as much as me (and in some ways more; she finds decorating and especially cooking theraputic, whereas they’re just neutral activities to me). And she certainly likes her work as a mother more than any of the other jobs she has had…but not, I think, a great deal more. Simply put, this is not her vocation either; being a mother is not how she primarily understands herself. (Unlike, for instance, my mother, who had nine children, lives and dies for us all, and has always made it pretty clear–if implicit–that the kids come before everything for her, including her husband.) Our arrangement works: the kids are being raised, the family is happy, there is food on the table. But only one of us is really fully, broadly engaged in life. I want desperately for Melissa to find something, some self-understanding that will direct her in this life, and if I thought I could help her find by landing another teaching job elsewhere, or only teaching part-time, or making some other similar adjustment, I’d do everything in my power to do so. But abandon part of who I am ENTIRELY? That is a much tougher hypothetical.

    Still, I suppose things could have gone differently, if I’d turned away from my vocation before I knew how much it would mean to me. She could have had immediate aims post-college, we could have put my Ph.D. plans on hold and followed her bliss first, and we might have ended up with me occupying the home territory (and enjoying myself, somewhat) without having really ever experienced academia, and thus not really knowing what I had missed out on, while Melissa brought home the bacon and set out daily to conquer her own chosen world(s). It would have scandalized my parents and siblings to no end (her’s less so), but I know I haven’t got nearly enough type-A characteristics anywhere in my psychological make-up to have resisted the flow of things if we’d happened to have started out on a different foot. Indeed, two of my oldest friends, part of that aforementioned group, are full-time homemakers, whose wives took the lead in breadwinning because they had something they were determined to do. (One is a professor of music–viola–at BYU, the other is soon to be made a partner at PriceWaterhouseCoopers.) In the former case, I think perhaps her husband really DOES find his bliss at home; taking care of their two kids and their garden means the world to him (making him an extreme oddball in their Provo ward). In the latter case however, it was more like Melissa in our family: one partner had a real vision of what she wanted to do, the other didn’t, but was more than happy to take care of the homefront in the meantime. (He eventually finished his law degree at Yale, taking night classes for years, but he’s never going to do a thing with it, as he himself will admit. He makes a killer pasta though.)

    Wow, that was even longer than usual. Sorry.

  7. Adam Greenwood
    February 12, 2004 at 12:57 am

    Green fields. I think most marriages benefit from those times when the homemaker is gone for awhile and the other spouse has to take over. It’s a way of walking a mile in the maternal shoes, opens eyes as such, and gives one a special feeling for one’s children.

  8. Matt Evans
    February 12, 2004 at 1:11 am

    For the past year I have been home with our kids three to four days a week. Lori works two to three of those days. Because I’m working on our business (or supposed to be) Lori still does the bulk of the laundry and cleaning. I do about equal amounts of cooking, shopping, dishes and diapering.

    My situation is significantly different from the a typical stay-at-home mom, but I’ve loved being with my kids more. I always invite them on errands, too.

    One thing I’m awful at is helping the kids learn in structured, formal ways. I don’t have the patience for the pace my children learn. It makes me feel guilty that I don’t do it more, so I try to make up for it with extra casual-learning, like explaining how things work while we cook or drive together.

  9. Mardell
    February 12, 2004 at 1:13 am

    I agree with Michelle. I am a stay at home mom full time. It is a lot of work. I have mornings that all I do is play ref. I break up so many fights you would think I was reffing hockey. And in between my reffing duties I am, getting kids off to school, cleaning up messes, doing dishes, washing clothes, and basically trying to keep my house in order (it often fells like I am trying to shovel the walk during a blizzard). And that is just in the morning. When my kids come home from school is when the real work begins. They need to do homework, eat dinner, talk about their days, and not kill each other. I have to get homework going, cook dinner, keep the younger ones busy, so not to interupt homework, answer and million questions, and try to stay sane. I have learned how to do about 5-10 things at one time. Then there in bath time, pajama time, storytime, and bedtime (my favorite time of the day). But by that time of the day I am usually so tired all I want to do is veg in front of the TV or computer. All my hobbies and things I use to do, never get done, and I love to read but where is the time when my brain still works? My life is kids from sun up to sun down.
    I agree that being a mom is rewarding, but it is a lot of work. I sometimes find myself speaking like a 6 year old to my husband or having lengthy conversations with tele-marketers, because I am so desparate to have an adult conversation. I sometimes I feel I have no social life but them.
    And then in General Conference you get the picture that being a mom is all peachy, nice, and full of rewards. That moms have all of this extra time on their hands to do what they want, and they get to play with their kids all day. Being a mom is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. The kodak moments are few and far between. And even though I do lots of feild trips with my kids, we go the park alot and are always walking around New York discovering new things. Those are just the fun things we do. How about going grocery shopping, to he doctor, or dentist. This is torture for both the kids and the mom. I know that most men think that staying home would be great, but think again. One week in my job and they would beg for their job back. Theirs is about 40 hours and week my is 24/7 and I am on call all night.

  10. February 12, 2004 at 1:31 am


    You seem to acknowledge that women are more nurturing than men, and you attribute that to “social conditioning” (perhaps with a dash of biology). The actual teaching on which your transparent hypothetical is based is aligned — albeit not perfectly — with that conditioning. Your hypothetical, on the other hand, has the Prophet announcing a new policy that runs directly counter to the social conditioning of males. If the Prophet made such an announcement, I suspect that most male members would feel betrayed. We would feel that the “deal” had been changed. Some women feel put upon, but I don’t believe they have the sense that the deal has been changed; more that the deal should be renegotiated.

    But I am being too literal about the hypothetical. You were making other points about motherhood. My reaction to those is much like Russel’s, and very unlike Clark’s or Adam’s. For Sue and me, the traditional arrangement seems to work pretty well, though we sometimes get out of balance in the predictable way (too much work for me, not enough independent time for her).

  11. February 12, 2004 at 3:45 am


    It’s odd that LDS leaders are quite willing to recognize and compliment the achievements of LDS women in various fields, yet the standard Church rhetoric rarely (never?) depicts a woman’s career as anything more than a compromise at best.

    DW and I have also remarked how it is that LDS women can lose no matter how they choose on career versus motherhood. Stay-at-home moms often feel they are missing a career, while working moms generally feel they are shorting their children, and each camp is quietly and covertly critical of the other. Funny, guys never feel they are shortchanging the family by working outside the home. I think this unfortunate “Mom is always half wrong” situation reflects society’s devaluing parenthood and motherhood, while LDS culture devalues a woman’s career achievements outside the home.

    Even to discuss this issue risks offending. None intended should anyone be so inclined.

  12. Matt J
    February 12, 2004 at 4:11 am

    If we can really ignore the financial implications, does that mean my wife can stay home too? I’m all for that!

    Assuming my wife has to go get a job, I would be willing to make the switch. I actually think it would be harder for her to leave the kids — she is the type that has always looked forward to being a mom, and she is a very good mom. The hardest part for me would not be the ‘domestic’ duties but rather the ability to engage and direct our children’s (and their friends’) activities. I would need much more energy than I currently have, or else my kids would certainly feel short-changed in the swap.

    We have 5 and 3 year old daughters and infant twin sons. I’ve been able to manage the few times my wife is gone overnight or for the weekend. It seems like I use her as an excuse to be lazy when she is around, but if she’s not there I can rise to the occassion — even getting to church on time which we never do when we’re together. I fear that boost of motivation would soon wear out if I were permanently at home.

    Are there stay-at-home moms out there that are able to fulfill their vocation urge with a limited part-time job? My wife’s main vocation is teaching children’s dance and we look forward to the time when she can work a few afternoons a week. We’ve known some women, lawyers for example, who find it difficult to get a meaningful job that is not full-time.

    Kristine, eliminating the financial concerns makes it easier for us men to consider your hypothetical. However, there are some couples out there where the wife has the greater earning power. I wonder how much more difficult that would be for them to decide that she should stay home. Do some women intentionally choose less lucrative careers to eliminate that dilemma? Do they try to marry a man who will earn more than they can?

  13. Matt J
    February 12, 2004 at 4:39 am

    Dave wrote: “Funny, guys never feel they are shortchanging the family by working outside the home.”

    It breaks my heart to leave for work hearing my children beg me to stay home. One of the most important features that I look for in an employer is the expected work load. My elders’ quorum president is an accountant who works out of his home and has an intentionally light client list so he can be with his kids more. My home teaching companion chose what I guess is a flex-time job (at reduced wages) because he decided time spent with his wife and their six children was more important than a greater income. My brother is a doctor who at age 36 took a year off from work before starting his current schedule of 6 work days a month.

    I’m sure there are many more like me who do feel they are shortchanging their families and others like the examples mentioned above that are actually doing something about it. I hope to develop the courage to make a similar financial sacrifice before it is too late.

    I’ve also heard the occassional talk in church about choosing careers that don’t require a lot of travel or demand heavy work hours (but I doubt that this is official church policy.)

  14. February 12, 2004 at 9:03 am


    “My reaction to those is much like Russell’s, and very unlike Clark’s or Adam’s. For Sue and me, the traditional arrangement seems to work pretty well, though we sometimes get out of balance in the predictable way (too much work for me, not enough independent time for her).”

    I should emphasize that I’m not sure how much my post was actually a defense of the “deal,” as you put it, and how much it was simply an acknowledgement that, for any number of reasons both reasonable and arbitrary, our arrangements matches the dominant traditional pattern. For various moral and political reasons that I won’t bore you all with, I’m fairly distrustful of that “deal”–the post-industrial revolution, gender-based division of productivity into a “domestic” sphere and an “economic” one–which, as you note, the institutional church has (I think quite unfortunately) embraced in (most of) its rhetoric about the family and motherhood. The mass entrance of women into the marketplace over the past decades should have undermined that deal, but too often contemporary feminists have simply insisted that the deal extend to them (we want to be economically productive too!), which has led to a rear-guard action on the part of many conservatives and conservative institutions (like our church) to prop it up and defend it, rather than attempt to re-write the whole thing.

    Does the deal work? Yes, in some ways. Is it based on “reality”? Well, as you note Gordon, at the very least it conforms with a “socially conditioned” reality. But who is to say that, with different social conditioning, Melissa might not have had a much greater likelihood of discovering a vocation that would have filled her life with joy and drive? So my guilt is not merely that our arrangement makes me (in some ways) happier than it makes my wife, it is also that our world (including, but not limited to, the church) did more to encourage me to seek out such vocational happiness, whereas her bliss (i.e., the supposedly uniquely feminine joys of homemaking) was more or less implicitly assigned to her.

    She has talents and passions that manifest themselves in the context of full-time mothering, to be sure. I just hope and pray that someday I (or we) can find a way to provide her with the “space,” either within or without the home, to truly explore those talents and passions. And, though intellectually I don’t care for the deal which made it possible in the first place, I selfishly hope that a prerequisite for the emergence of such a space won’t be my abandonment of my life outside the home–because darn it, I really love the ivory tower.

  15. Adam Greenwood
    February 12, 2004 at 9:37 am

    I’m pleased that you enjoy your life so much. I’m guessing I and others would be willing to make the switch because we see work as unpleasant drudgery. I like the law, I like it a lot, but its playing mudpies when compared to eternal things. My real life is home and church. Like work, both are unpleasant drudgery. Unlike work, they matter directly. I wish I had more real life.

  16. February 12, 2004 at 10:30 am

    “And then in General Conference you get the picture that being a mom is all peachy, nice, and full of rewards. That moms have all of this extra time on their hands to do what they want, and they get to play with their kids all day.”

    This seems to be something of a theme in some of the posts, that the brethren’s messages about motherhood don’t recognize the difficulty of motherhood. I am not sure that is the case. As an example see Jeffrey R. Holland, “Because She Is a Mother,” Ensign, May 1997, 35. He paints a picture that mothers have a difficult, perhaps the most difficult, job on earth, and thus he issues a tribute to them.

    If the prophet said to stay at home, I would do it, but I will not say that it would not be difficult. The experience would be immensely rewarding, but it would also be full of challenges, from days full of cooking, cleaning, wiping dirty faces, breaking up fights, assisting with homework, wiping away tears, lack of contact with adults, lack of intellectual challenge, etc. My wife called me at work the other day. She called back a short while later. She said that she was bored and just wanted an adult to talk to. I recognize the difficulty that faces stay-at-home mothers. My wife reminds me often about the difficulties, but I think there is something about mothers that helps them do it. Maybe that is what the brethren are talking about when discussing the God given attributes of women. It isn’t that God has given them a desire or that they want to sacrifice, but it’s that they do it even when they don’t want to, whereas men are more prone to (and sadly some do) abandon their families if times are hard. Caring for one’s own children is not a profession that all women naturally gravitate to, although many do seem to thoroughly enjoy it. Instead it is a hardworking, fierce and gritty job that gets done and all of us are the better for it.

  17. Sci
    February 12, 2004 at 11:04 am

    I appreciated Adam’s last comment. I think there can be serious misunderstanding of the amount of work involved on both sides–both in taking care of children and home, and the less glamourous work in the office. I don’t think myself incapable of doing dishes and housework; I routinely do many mind-numbing and very similar tasks in the lab everyday. I would say the work load comparison is pretty much a wash.

    I’m think the reward structures and psychology play a huge role. I agree with Adam that, given a certain amount of work, I would prefer to do it at home with my two daughters, since building those relationships is something far more REAL to me than “pushing back the frontiers of science.”

    However, when confronted recently with the option of staying home with the kids for two years and sending my wife to graduate school, I balked. Far more than I would like to admit, it seems that I need to accomplish some task, I need to meet some goal, I need to see linear progress in what I do everyday. Sadly I see much of my self-worth in getting things done and being thought competent by others. I would expect that having the same cyclic routine and having the rewards be far in the future, if I were to stay home, would absolutely drive me crazy (probably through depression). Perhaps I would adapt but it would be very difficult. I am continually amazed at women (or men) who find meaning in the everyday sacrifices and put into practice daily the ideals and values that I agree are more real in the long-term.

  18. Nate Oman
    February 12, 2004 at 12:11 pm

    Russell: “And so I have (being liberal, of course) an uncomfortable sense of guilt…”

    Russell, you are NOT a liberal.

  19. February 12, 2004 at 12:20 pm

    “Russell, you are NOT a liberal.”

    In what sense? The classical, John Locke, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, negative liberty sense? Then you’re correct. But in contemporary American psychological and political parlance, I can pass for one, or at least semi-ironically accept the label when Kristine offers it up.

  20. Kaimi
    February 12, 2004 at 12:26 pm

    I love to spend time with my children, and would love to spend time with them much more regularly than my beloved job currently lets me do.

    That said, I am (and others, I think, such as Russell, may be as well) a person who likes to see concrete results from efforts, who likes to interact intellectually with people, and who would not feel those benefits if I stayed at home all day. In my observation, most (all?) of the rewards of staying at home are much more incrementally than the rewards of a career. I could reconcile myself to that reality, I think. And I would certainly find it more rewarding in many ways. But in some areas, I don’t know if I would find it as rewarding.

  21. lyle
    February 12, 2004 at 12:43 pm

    One of my nick-names is “Captain Domestic.”
    I would greatly enjoy the opportunity to devote my time to my children. Note however, I would keep my now “feminist” viewpoint, and turn it into a “malist” viewpoint, that the primary caretaker needs to develop their talents outside of the home for at least 10 hours per week; and needs time w/o other parents, etc. where they get more than baby talk.

    In all reality, I was once faced with this decision. The woman I was involved with wanted a full-time military career and I seriously considered being Mr. Mom…at least for the first 5 years or so. Ultimately, I prayed and felt that, at least for me, it wouldn’t be right to withhold the blessings of a mother to my future children. However, if Father/Pres. Hinckley wants to change this…I’m all for it.

  22. Mary
    February 12, 2004 at 12:46 pm

    “That said, I am (and others, I think, such as Russell, may be as well) a person who likes to see concrete results from efforts, who likes to interact intellectually with people, and who would not feel those benefits if I stayed at home all day.”

    Don’t you think a lot of women want that too? As a woman who is without children, but is married, find it hard that there is this assumption that I’ll be the one to raise the children.

    And what about a woman who feels the exact same way about her job that Russell feels about his? That it is her calling, her special, fulfilling thing? My sister is one of those women. She is a full-time lawyer with two small childern. We talk about why she chooses to work, she kind of says that she can’t not work, it means that much to her. She worries that her children aren’t getting enough of her time, but she is doing something that fulfills her, along with being their mother. She takes great comfort in the talk that Pres. Faust gave about how you can be great at everything you do, (often) just not at the same time.

    I’m fairly young and fairly untied down. I feel like I can do just about anything. So it is hard to feel that once I have children, that freedom stops. I feel like I’ve found (or at least am working towards) my calling, my intellectual pursuit. But I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. “Get an education prepare your mind and develop abilities to help you succeed.” Then, stop, stay home, raise a family. It is a hard choice to make at this stage of my life.

  23. February 12, 2004 at 1:07 pm

    “We talk about why she chooses to work, she kind of says that she can’t not work, it means that much to her. She worries that her children aren’t getting enough of her time, but she is doing something that fulfills her, along with being their mother. ”

    Guess what? Her children aren’t getting enough of her time. We live in a very selfish society where what we want and what is important to us takes precedence over what others might need from us. It makes me sad when I read and see children who don’t get the fulfilment they need because their parents are to busy seeking their own fulfilment. Parenthood is an important responsibility and warrants sacrifice from both mothers and fathers. Fathers have the duty and responsibility to provide for the family’s financial needs. Mothers are responsible for the nurturing. Parenthood isn’t just another way in which we seek personal fulfilment. It is an important part of our Father in Heaven’s plan and comes with important obligations and requires selflessness as our ultimate concern must be our children. That’s just the way it is.

  24. Nate Oman
    February 12, 2004 at 1:15 pm

    “In what sense? The classical, John Locke, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, negative liberty sense? Then you’re correct. But in contemporary American psychological and political parlance, I can pass for one, or at least semi-ironically accept the label when Kristine offers it up.”

    I don’t think that you pass muster as a liberal even under the egaletarian, positive-liberty Rawls/Dworkin variety. You may pass muster according to the journalistic use of the term, but even that seems supect given your vigorous defense of school prayer and the like…

    Don’t get me wrong. Some the nicest, smartest people I know aren’t liberals…

  25. February 12, 2004 at 1:29 pm

    Just to relate to the original post. What’s this about me not knowing what my wife does around the house? Heavens that’s kind of a patronizing attitude towards men.

    Of course I realized what it entails. (Heavens right now in my wife’s pregnancy I’m doing my job, taking care of her as she is bed ridden with morning sickness, and doing all the housework, not to mention wasting time here)

  26. February 12, 2004 at 1:35 pm

    Brent, I’m not sure all five sentences in this passage (“Parenthood is an important responsibility and warrants sacrifice from both mothers and fathers. Fathers have the duty and responsibility to provide for the family’s financial needs. Mothers are responsible for the nurturing. Parenthood isn’t just another way in which we seek personal fulfilment. It is an important part of our Father in Heaven’s plan and comes with important obligations and requires selflessness as our ultimate concern must be our children.”) hold together, or logically entail one another. The first, fourth and fifth do. The second and third, while certainly not incompatible with the overall message, are not, I think, necessary to it. The man and the woman could, arguably, switch places, and it is not clear to me that the conditions you emphasize, and with which I strongly agree, wouldn’t still be met. I have known families (two of which I’ve mentioned before) where they are.

    I never could have chosen a high-powered, time-consuming career, and frankly (to let my prejudices show), I’m rather suspicious of those who do. If you don’t really care for working outside the home, do less of it. If you really love your work outside the home, transpose that love into a less institutionally demanding form (i.e., be a family doctor, not a brain surgeon struggling to hold on to the pinnacle of one’s profession). I do love my vocation, and it allows me a large amount of time to contribute to my family, and would hope some semblance of that balance could be maintained no matter how or if or in what way Melissa stretches and discovers herself beyond the home. But I acknowledge that desire of mine is perhaps a selfish one. The fact that, with significant qualifications, Melissa and I have ended up with a more or less “traditional” family arrangement does not, in itself, seem to me to be inherently “correct” in some natural or divine sense. It could have been otherwise–and if I had been a better man, perhaps I would have done more to make it possible that it would have been.

  27. February 12, 2004 at 1:38 pm

    Nate, along the positive liberty scale, I’m actually somewhat sympathetic to certain Dworkian, ex ante, liberal egalitarian arrangements, though I think he wrongly makes a fetish out of neutrality. But Rawls, no, you’re right, I don’t care much for the man.

  28. February 12, 2004 at 1:46 pm

    Russell, I understand your point, and if a husband and wife want to flip the hunting or harvesting/nurturing roles, then I don’t really see a problem with that. Experience suggests that by and large this doesn’t happen. We all could cite a few examples but by and large, husbands/fathers take the role of provider and wives/mothers take the role of nurturer. This may be the “natural” or “normal” way of things and certainly scriptural admonitions for both men and women seem to prescribe or at least recommend the gender roles I have suggested.
    See also the Proclamation on the Family. Again, so long as one parent is taking the role of nurturer, then it may not be a big deal. My point was, however, that in a situation where two parents find fulfilment in their professions, one of them should be willing to sacrifice for their children, or they shouldn’t have children.

  29. February 12, 2004 at 2:04 pm

    Brent, you’re right, of course, that it’s not as though roles can or should just be flipped willy-nilly; between nature and/or social conditioning and/or history and/or scriptural and prophetic counsel, there are some pretty deep grooves in place, and fighting madly to get out of them, especially when children are already on the scene, may be a terrible waste of time and sympathy to say the least.

    I think your word choice (“hunting or harvesting/nurturing roles”) is actually quite revealing of the real problem here. In a more “backwards” socio-economic environment (Hugh Nibley’s agricultural/communitarian model, perhaps?), the “productive” roles of men and women were more intimately connected; everything still revolved around the home. But in complex, economically “advanced” environments, the “hunting” which takes place outside the home draws upon social worlds and aspirations entirely disconnected from child-rearing, thus making the homemaker (somewhat) alienated from the life of the bread-winner. I may be (mostly) happy with the particular path I’ve chosen, and the level of domestic connection it allows me to maintain, but it’s still a compromise with the fundamental inequality which the demands of family present to the modern world.

  30. February 12, 2004 at 2:14 pm

    Russell, I’m not sure that is correct. For instance Brigham Young’s “utopia” clearly consisted of agrarian small communities. I suspect in part that was why he wanted to keep mining out of the region. (I think this naive considering the march of technology, but admittedly that is the power of hindsight)

    Anyway Brigham is widely known to have thought men ought to stay in the fields and women run the businesses. There are some great quotes on this. Also we must remember that in the 19th century the dynamics of polygamy also significantly affected womens roles. (Women tended to have fewer children and were more independent in certain ways — far less in others)

    I definitely don’t want to make Nibley’s or Young’s agrarian utopias the ideal. I’d have hated to live in them. I do think though that the history of the church suggests that while there may be gender roles, they were much more open and fluid than they appear today.

  31. Nate Oman
    February 12, 2004 at 2:43 pm

    I have always thought that if you scratched very deeply below the surface of Nibley’s agrarian utopianism what you really found was a graduate fellowship, i.e. the exogenous satisfaction of minimal material wants coupled with continuous study and learning.

  32. February 12, 2004 at 3:15 pm

    One of the problems in dealing with gender distinctions is that the definitions of the roles have changed so greatly over time. What used to be a “feminine” or “masculine” no longer matches up with our current definitions of the words. A woman’s role, as Russell noted, no longer means what it used to mean. It’s not that the boundaries have simply become more blurry over time, but the boundaries keep moving.

    Take for instance the suffrage issue (a topic I have some familiarity with). In the 1880’s many conservative Christians cringed at the idea of letting their wives and mothers go to the ballot box to vote because to do so would seriously violate their assumptions about the existential or natural differences between men and women. To allow woman suffrage would tear apart the family structure (this was an actual argument made by many Christians at the time).

    Of course, women now vote and no such has happened. Instead, the boundary has shifted more to the role of mother and her duties within the home. That is, some conservative Christians are more likely to say that women are not naturally inclined to working in a men’s world and that to take them from the home (where they belong) will destroy the workplace and the home simultaneously. Of course, this doesn’t really match up with history given that women have done rigorous work outside the home for much of history. The only women who didn’t work in 19th Century were those who had enough wealth to be able to afford servants (I’m thinking of Jane Austen here). What seems to hold constant is that women’s reproductive capabilities necessitate more closeness to the breast-feeding child.

  33. Kristine
    February 12, 2004 at 3:22 pm

    Thanks, all, for a great discussion. My question was not so much about the division of family labor as about the rhetoric used in the church to defend the currently preferred (it’s NOT really *traditional* in any longterm or widespread sense) pattern. Brent has nicely reproduced some of that rhetoric here, and it’s interesting that he mentioned Elder Holland’s talk. I think that’s the one that got me thinking about this (yeah, I’m a little slow; it takes me 7 years to formulate a thought). I remember sitting in the semi-dark chapel listening to it, holding my 2-month-old son. I remember thinking that I should have felt honored and respected, but what I felt was utterly misunderstood and unappreciated.

    Elder Holland did acknowledge, in a refreshingly honest way, that what mothers of young children do is not peachy, happy, or Hallmark-worthy most of the time. But then he tells a story about a hungry woman giving her last crust of bread to her child, “because she is a mother,” as if being a mother is some mystical condition which would make such sacrifice less burdensome.

    Many of you have spoken of how fathers are less attentive or patient parents than mothers, as though that is a condition that comes on the Y chromosome, and I want to insist that IT’S A CHOICE. I would rather watch the news (or blog) all day than pay attention to my children, too, but I don’t. Every day I *choose* to pay attention to them, to plan some activities, to clean and dress them. There’s nothing natural or God-given about it; I feel resentful when I have to put down my book or forego a shower or clean the baby food off the floor for the 5th time in an hour because my 15-month-old has a strong developmental need to learn about gravity. To suggest that my resentment, my discomfort, my annoyance is less than my husband’s would be, merely because I am female, trivializes the difficulty of my acting contrary to my desires. It seems deeply sexist to me, in that it posits that I am so different from my husband that our common humanity can’t explain both of our responses to the sacrifices required by children.

    To then use this supposedly “natural” virtue of constant and willing self-sacrifice to insist that I should also forego whatever external ambitions I have for the sake of my children, while lauding my husband’s similar ambition to achieve in the wider world and provide for his family–well, it just irks me.

    Although, like Russell, I’m deeply skeptical of what he calls “the deal,” and I think that the Church will, like everyone else, ultimately abandon it as the ideal of family life, I’m not especially unhappy with the path my husband and I have chosen for our family–for now, it works reasonably well for us. What I wish is that the rhetoric about families were more thoroughly based on the needs of children, which are immense, and called for sacrifice from both fathers and mothers. It would be OK with me to hear Pres. Faust say to the sisters “you can have everything, just not all at once,” if he said the same thing to the young men, and encouraged them to choose jobs that will allow them flexibility and time to share the responsibilities of raising children as fully as possible. Instead, we prescribe a single career for all mothers, while allowing men a much greater scope to choose work that is interesting and fulfilling to them.

  34. Kristine
    February 12, 2004 at 3:30 pm

    Michelle, I don’t want to be mistaken for not valuing the work mothers do, or as somehow thinking myself “above” it. I am convinced that it’s the most important work in the world, and should be highly valued by society (don’t even get me started on what we pay preschool teachers!). All I’m saying is that I don’t particularly like doing it, at least not full time, and I’m not good at it just by virtue of being female. In fact, I’m not good at it at all–I’m an indifferent (to put it as charitably as possible) housekeeper, only a fair cook, a complete failure at most crafts I’ve tried, and a thoroughly impatient and incompetent teacher of toddlers. At least I’m learning to be humble!!

  35. February 12, 2004 at 3:35 pm

    Bayden, I think your comments can be explained by contrasting the ideal with the practical realities of life. The problem is that the Victorian ideals only worked for those lucky enough to be in the priviledged class. Further I think even in the 19th century that a lot of people felt the industrial revolution had significantly disrupted the family ideal. (And, looking back I tend to agree).

    Kristine, I understand you are more focused on rhetoric. The problem with such focuses is that they all too often reduce true heartfelt intents to analysis of the “worst case phrase interpretation.”

    The issue is that we have responsibilities. I don’t see why saying “because she is a mother” is particularly more troublesome than equivalent statements about other responsibilities. (i.e. the captain being the last on the lifeboats)

    “…if he said the same thing to the young men, and encouraged them to choose jobs that will allow them flexibility and time to share the responsibilities of raising children as fully as possible.”

    Except this has been rather frequently said. Indeed men get hit over the head with it – especially since the “no success can compensate for failure at home.” There is a rather uniquitious expectation that men will give up good jobs to be able to spend time with their families. I actually brought this point up over in the thread about why there are no Mormon Shakespeares. Mormons (men or women) aren’t willing to give up the flexibility and time needed to raise their children. i.e. children trump all.

  36. February 12, 2004 at 3:44 pm


    I still want an autobio from you… but on the subject at hand, when you say, “…the Church will, like everyone else, ultimately abandon it as the ideal of family life.” Wow, that’s an incredibly bold thing to say. I think the Church is still working against you on this one, Kristine, with their women-working-instead-of-being-mothers-is-bad shpeal. If you say it the other way around it’s ok, of course: women-being-mothers-instead-of-career-is-very-good. Not to mention my wife and I continually being questioned as to why we’re waiting to have kids. Don’t we know how the Plan works?

    It’s ironic that Faust says “you can have everything, just not all at once”. Translation: be a mother first and hopefully you’ll forget whatever it was you were complaining about because now you’re a mother, which is the most honorable thing for a woman to be.

    Not to be silly, but it’s almost as if this problem will never go away as long as the baby keeps coming out of the mother.

    If the Church does miraculously change, I’d say it’s not going to be any time soon, probably at least four generations out.

  37. February 12, 2004 at 3:58 pm

    Kristine, it seems that there are issues of interpretation. I interpreted Elder Holland’s talk and his story about the mother as saying something along the lines of what your comments suggest. Is being the one to stay at home with the children particularly easy? No. Do you enjoy doing it? In some ways you have suggested no, you don’t. But, in the end, you do it? Why because you are a mother. There is nothing mystical about it. The same story could be told by substituting a man for the woman, and the phrase “Because he is a father”. I think Elder Holland was praising what mothers go through because in this day and age, and in this nation, mothers by and large do stay at home and do the nurturing. I don’t see how applauding what women do somehow demeans them. I think what you interpret as rhetoric is nothing more than deeply held beliefs of Church leaders based on years of experience observing and counseling families.

    I also have to agree with Clark that there are plenty of messages from general and local leaders about making family life the key focus of men’s lives as well. I have never heard a contrary message. I am curious why you think the church will abandon the current ideal?

  38. Kristine
    February 12, 2004 at 4:13 pm

    Bob, I think one or two more generations–economic reality is going to overtake families in the US, and the church is growing rapidly in places where having one parent at home has never been an option.

    I think I like having you think that my autobiography would be fascinating. At this point, I’d hate to disappoint you with the dull reality!

  39. February 12, 2004 at 4:17 pm

    What’s more, whose ideal are we talking about anyway? Are we dealing with President Hinckley’s novel ideas about family structure, or maybe the church’s views are just a relic of President Benson’s tenure in office? I have to ask, what is the purpose of this life and bearing children anyway? Isn’t it to provide spirit bodies for Our Father in Heaven’s spirit children. Isn’t it to provide an environment wherein such children can learn and grow in truth and light. We all have to fight off the natural man, both men and women, and yield to the enticing of the Spirit to get this done. But we have to remember that our job as parents is to put our children properly on the path toward exaltation. As individuals it is also to work out our salvation in this life. The question of what general principles apply so that our Father’s plan can be accomplished has been answered. How we respond individually is up to us.

  40. Kristine
    February 12, 2004 at 4:20 pm

    Brent, I should have said above that part of what was so distressing to me was my sense that Elder Holland’s intentions were deeply kind and magnanimous, but that his appreciation didn’t connect with what was the real sacrifice for me.

    And I don’t think you’d hear quite the same talk about fathers (though we certainly have some pretty silly sentimental rhetoric about dads, too).

    Just a statistical quibble, in this nation, by and large, mothers DON’T stay at home and do the nurturing–I haven’t seen a stat for a long while that suggests that even half of American mothers are staying at home. (In fact, except for the 15 years or so immediately following WWII, I don’t think more than 50% of mothers of preschool-age children have ever been home full-time–Brayden?? help me out here)

  41. February 12, 2004 at 4:27 pm


    “How we respond individually is up to us”.

    Yes, this is true but it would be nice if others (like bishops or stake presidents) could accept our decisions.

    A couple years ago, when my wife and I were first being interviewed for our marriage, our stake president was rather puzzled that we were going to wait to have kids. Was there no other way? Now, I don’t think he made up this concern. It probably comes from pressure a little higher up.

    Your last comment was nice and general trying to pretend that Kristine’s issue was a fabrication of her own mind. But I happen to think it’s a very real problem.

  42. February 12, 2004 at 4:29 pm

    Quoting from Arlie Russell Hochshild’s _The Commercialization of Intimate Life_, “In 1969, 38 percent of married mothers work for pay; in 1996, 68 percent did so. In the 1950s and 1960s, relatively few mothers worked. Now 74 percent of mothers with children six to seventeen are in paid work, 59 percent of mothers of children six and under, and 55 percent of mothers with children one and under” (pg. 106).

    Hocschild, Arlie Russell. 2003. _The Commercialization of Intimate Life._ Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

  43. February 12, 2004 at 4:33 pm


    “At this point, I’d hate to disappoint you with the dull reality!”

    Come now, from what I’ve heard there is no such dull reality. No really, a timeline would suffice. Whenever I hear of examples of women going against the Mormon norm but still having kids, I like to point them out to my wife to encourage her in her goals.

    If it’s something you don’t feel others would appreciate, you could just email me.

  44. February 12, 2004 at 4:36 pm

    Kristine, I guess I meant within the church they stay at home. I think you are right nationally. In fact, it is my opinion that many of the problems confronting us as a nation are because parents are neglecting their children. Selfishness has a huge negative impact on our nation. Whether in two parent households where both parents seek fulfillment in their personal lives and careers or in the creation of single parent households because of divorce or unwillingness to abstain from sex outside of marriage, selfish desires marr the lives of children.

    I have to say something about “economic reality”. The economic reality is that we are the wealthiest nation on the earth. Even the poor here live better than the upper middle class in many other nations. Both parents work outside the home, generally, not because they have to, but because they want more stuff. Even some single parents do more than they really “need” to so that they can have more leisure goods. We live in (and I will admit to being part of) a pretty greedy society where consumerism is almost a disease.

  45. February 12, 2004 at 4:44 pm

    “It probably comes from pressure a little higher up.” How high up are we talking? Just because we have the freedom to choose doesn’t mean we can’t be called out for making choices that are inconsistent with the plan. Wouldn’t you expect a priesthood leader to question your choice to delay children when the prophets have counseled against this. Just because not everyone wants to or is prepared to follow such counsel doesn’t mean that we should sweep it under the rug and pretend the counsel was never given. Also, the stake president and bishop surely accepted your decision, even if they disagreed with it. Again, just because we can make choices doesn’t require that no one ever comment or question such choices.

  46. February 12, 2004 at 4:56 pm

    I wouldn’t expect a bishop to question a personal decision to delay having children. There are many reasons a couple would do this that do not seem to go against church doctrine. If a couple has prayed about the timing of having children and they feel they should wait for a year or so, I see no problem with it. Perhaps the mother would like to finish her education first (a noble goal) or perhaps they would like to get out of debt before bringing a new child into the world (also reasonable) or perhaps they don’t have insurance and they want to wait until they get it (also reasonable given the high costs of child birth).

    99.9% of Mormon couples want to have children. If they wait it is usually for a good reason and chances are they have felt their decision confirmed by the Spirit. Most bishops, I think, would respect that kind of responsibility and accountability.

  47. February 12, 2004 at 5:01 pm


    You have some good points here. But if I may share yet another comment:

    I don’t think the choices my wife and I have made are “inconsistent with the plan”.

    I’d appreciate it if my priesthood leaders would assume I’m a good person, and then ask me questions to determine if there assumption was correct. But what happens? Exactly the opposite. I feel like the minute I say “we’re having kids in a few years” I’m going to hell unless I can prove otherwise. I hate going into interviews to justify a decision my family has already made with the Lord. And you’d hate it too.

    “because not everyone wants to or is prepared to follow such counsel doesn’t mean that we should sweep it under the rug and pretend the counsel was never given.”

    You’re right. But doesn’t the opposite also hold true? Just because “counsel” has been given doesn’t mean there’s a new Church policy and we have to stop thinking about our own plans because the Church has already decided what kind of life we are to live.

    You and I sometimes think differently on certain issues. I don’t think either of us is wrong, we just tend to promote the side we live by the most.

  48. February 12, 2004 at 5:03 pm

    Thank you, brayden.

  49. Greg Call
    February 12, 2004 at 5:11 pm

    The most recent issue of Dialogue had a survey of the Church’s positions and statements over the years on having children. The prologue of the article was the lyric to a Janeen Brady song that was played often in my childhood home:

    “When I grow up, I want to be a mother and have a family:
    one little, two little, three little babies of my own.
    Of all the jobs for me, I’ll choose no other.
    I’ll have a family: four little, five little, six little babies of my own.”

  50. Kristine
    February 12, 2004 at 5:35 pm

    Greg, don’t stop there! Melissa also quotes Elder Rudger Clawson, who wrote “woman is so constituted that, ordinarily, she is capable of bearing, during the years of her greatest strength and physical vigor, from eight to ten children, and in exceptional cases a larger number than that. She should exercise the sacred power of procreation to the utmost limit.” [Note that at the time he said this, maternal death in childbirth was still close to 25%, so that the “utmost limit” likely meant until the mother died]

  51. February 12, 2004 at 5:43 pm

    Just one bit of caution. Let’s not draw sweeping generalizations from encountes with a couple of people. I have some horror stories too relative to some silly things said. In one case the guy probably shouldn’t have been Bishop. (Some sins I’ll not go into) In the other he was new and was learning the ropes. In the last he was simply stressed about some other matters. But in all cases they were the exception and not the rule.

  52. February 12, 2004 at 5:43 pm

    Bob, I understand where you are coming from. I think your complaint then may have been directed at the way your particular priesthood leaders handled the situation. I just wanted to make a general point that I do not believe there is any problem with a bishop or stake president counseling with a member or a couple on this matter. Hopefully, however, if they choose to do so, they would do it in a loving manner. I shudder to think that a leader would suggest or give off a feeling that a couple was “going to hell” simply because they were waiting, for whatever reason good or bad, to have children. We sometimes forget, however, that our church leaders are human, and prone to the same passions, lack of understanding, unkindness, pride, etc. that we all are subject to. If we take the time to try and see where they may be coming from, especially where it is well intentioned, there won’t be much that offends us.

  53. Adam Greenwood
    February 12, 2004 at 5:47 pm

    I think Brent and I object not to your specific decision but to your assumption that the choice is morally neutral. Having and rearing children should be the central case, the presumption, of the Mormon life, with other options being disfavored though permissible in individual circumstances such that no general rule can be laid down from Salt Lake City. There is a role for the tireless devotee to work, education, and so forth. I wonder if that role could be largely met in a functioning LDS society by men with homosexual feelings, childless couples, and sisters who are victims of the quantities of men and women in the church.

  54. February 12, 2004 at 5:52 pm

    My comment was intended to address Bob’s specific case. I am not generalizing about a larger problem within the Church. I don’t think one exists. I think most bishops are very sensitive to the individuals and couples in their ward and follow the Spirit in counseling them.

    My comment was also meant to address what I thought was a rather condescending response by Brent who seemed to imply, whether he meant to or not, that Bob was not following the counsel of the general authorities. I’m sure Brent didn’t mean to accuse Bob of anything but it appeared to me that he was. Sorry if I came across as overly-cranky. I’ll stop talking now.

    *going back to my corner*

  55. Greg Call
    February 12, 2004 at 6:03 pm

    Not to usurp Kristine’s role as the handbook guru, but the handbook now says: “The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter.”
    Not that anyone was doing that :)

    In any event, I find it interesting that only a few years ago, the counsel was “live together naturally and let the children come.” Church counsel and culture has shifted quite rapidly on this front.

  56. February 12, 2004 at 6:18 pm

    I think the church has definitely opened up on birth control. Especially when you consider the rhetoric from the beginning of the last century. I think this makes sense given the stronger demands of education and the greater expenses. When Brent says is true – but one must also consider the sacrifices of having too many children while trying to get a job. Many people now are in college for 8 years, not including internships and the time looking for a stable job.

  57. Julie in Austin
    February 12, 2004 at 8:36 pm

    Someone way back there asked about women who were happy with 1/2 time work.

    That would be me. Via a combination of Byzantine babysitting swapping with another LDS working Mom (an RS Pres., no less) and a very self-sacrificing husband, I wrote a book last year while managing a house, homschooling one kid, and not strangling a toddler. I consider my personal situation bliss and wouldn’t exchange any part of it (writing, homeschooling, house, kids, etc.) for the world.

    My guilt comes not in thinking about kids and work but about all of those people who can’t swing what I do–inflexible hours, lack of appropriate ‘kid swap’ options, etc.

    Also, I am inevitably disappointed in discussions about women’s work/life issues that automatically equate work with fulfillment, as if the vast majority of working women didn’t work at Wal-Mart or the equivalent. I always wonder how both the feminist case *and* the mothers-stay-home rhetoric plays for women with scut jobs. I don’t pretend to imagine.

    Also, Kristine, you began this discussion with a focus on rhetoric. I, too, have trouble with the ‘women are naturally X, Y, and Z’ line of reasoning because it seems unscriptural to me on the basis of Jesus’ example (mother hen, moneychangers and the whip, etc.) of non-gender-specific behavior. So, my question for you is: What would your General Conference address on this issue look like?

  58. February 12, 2004 at 8:41 pm


    Sorry if I offended you – it sounds as if you do know what it takes to raise children on the day-to-day level. Your comment just sounded like you didn’t.


    I know you value mothers’ work, and the simple fact of your education does more for your children than a spotless house. Few people like housework and related tasks of motherhood, I was just surprised to see you talk about it. I guess I was hoping that you had some enlightened, personal solution to the emotional roller-coaster that mothers find themselves on — “this is the best job job on earth, the most meaningful, I’m doing good, she’s so sweet, look at that smile, she picked up a crayon and didn’t eat it . . . if she cries one more time I’m going to lose it, noodles again, and again, to only end up on the floor, I can’t believe I’m doing this all day long, why did I bother with school, I love how that insurance guy ignored me and spoke only to him . . .” and up and down.

    I guess my question is when do we get over it? When the “ideal” has changed? That hardly seems like the solution. I’m with you on the crafts and housework and patient teaching of little ones — I’m convinced that I have no idea how to teach my daughter the things she should be learning right now, especially since the Socratic method doesn’t work too great at 15 months. I never felt any kind of affinity towards children, and in fact I often am a little repulsed by my daughters’ playmates. Can I say that?

    Even though the counsel to women about staying at home has remained the same, I think that the norms have changed. Our husbands are much more likely to help around the house and with the kids, which we’ve talked about on other threads. We’re encouraged to be educated, and to remain involved in our communities. This education promotes more reading, more appreciation of music and art, more conversation among family members. As women have changed, so has our mothering. I guess it helps me ignore the condescension.

  59. February 12, 2004 at 9:04 pm

    I wasn’t offended. I just think that sometimes (frequently?) these questions are thrown around with the assumption that any guy who would want to do it doesn’t know what is entailed. i.e. it is a loaded question. As I mentioned, I also think that sometime there is the implicit assumption that people don’t believe what they say.

    Certainly there are lots of naive people out there: both male and female. And I definitely do get tired of hearing the broad overgeneralizations by one sex of the other. (Usually most pronounced by those in rough marriages who want to think all women are like their wife, or all men are like their husband) I have a few friends who are like that so perhaps I’m just a tad snappy on it. Men aren’t all ignorant about housework and lazy. Women aren’t all ignorant about finances or repairs and lazy.

    Sorry, rant off. I wonder though what determines *how* we listen to other people’s rhetoric. What we bring to the text seems to determine what connotations we latch onto – whether intended or not by the speaker.

  60. Kristine
    February 12, 2004 at 10:35 pm

    Clark, my husband was going to stay home with our kids while I finished my Ph.D. and found a job. That arrangement lasted about 6 weeks. So it’s not that I don’t believe you, it’s just that real, live babies tend to reveal things to their parents “which thing[s] [they] had never before supposed!”

    Michelle, I wish I had some enlightened personal solution, too. It’s definitely helped by kids getting older–3,5, and 7 is light years away from 1,3, and 5. Though I probably made it impossible to tell in my original post, I am mostly “over it” for myself, and able to approach it more as an intellectual puzzle. I think the solution must lie in something like the solution Julie has worked out, as well as societal change towards flextime, telecommuting, jobsharing, and all of those other aspects of nirvana that have been just around the corner for, what, a decade now? Someday soon, American corporations will have to realize that they can’t keep wringing more productivity out of their employees without making some concessions to family life (I think more enlightened corporations already have realized this and are providing on-site daycare, more flexible hours, generous family leaves, etc. –see Arlie Hochschild on the “feminization” of the workplace. OK, I can’t resist a side-rant: BYU provides NO maternity leave, NONE!!!).

    Nancy Chowdury published a big study a few years ago–cross-cultural anthropological survey and concluded that societies which arranged themselves in such a way that mothers worked outside the home and away from their children for 20-25 hours a week tended to have the most stable families, strongest mother-child bonds, and most contented mothers. It’s hard for me to imagine that there wouldn’t be HUGE methodological problems with such a project, but her conclusion seems intuitively about right to me. After my kids were done nursing (or at least nursing less), around 9-10 months old, 5 hours a day or a couple of days a week would have been a great fit. Of course there’s hardly any such thing as meaningful part-time work in the U.S. (though lots of Relief Society and Young Women’s presidents work about that much…)

    (Oh, and can I say that not only *can* you say that you sometimes find your daughters’ playmates repulsive, but the fact that you said it makes you my hero for the day! )

    Julie, you’re spot on about the work/contentment equation. There are a couple of studies which suggest that women are less prone to depression when they have more roles, even if their jobs are less than fulfilling. But there’s certainly a huge class element to the debate, which makes my privileged whining pretty nauseating. Part of the reason I’ve stayed home is that it has never felt right, and certainly not “feminist,” to pay some other woman minimum wage to take care of my kids and my house.

    And, yeah, scriptural precedents–Brent (I think?) mentioned that the mom-at-home-with-kids model is scripturally founded, and that has always seemed a stretch to me. I do actually have an ideal sermon in mind–it was preached by the Reverend Canon Susan Harriss at St. John’s in NYC–I’ll see if I can find a link.

  61. Adam Greenwood
    February 12, 2004 at 11:14 pm

    I don’t want to derail the discussion here, but I wonder how rejecting statements like ‘X, Y, and Z are natural to [women] [men]’ is compatible with the Proclamation’s, uh, proclamation of an important and eternal gender identity. That eternal gender difference must imply some difference in characteristics and roles, yes? I though that was what you were getting at, Kristine, when you talked a bit ago about the need for female role models for females.

    Note: I am not taking a position on the actual roles we’re discussing here. I’m talking about the basic question: are there either inborn different characteristics or proclivities to a role in the sexes, or else different ideal roles to which the sexes should aspire?

    I’ve been kicking around a post for awhile that touches on this question.

  62. Kristine
    February 12, 2004 at 11:51 pm

    Adam, that was Melissa who talked about the need for role models. Now we’re even :)

    As you’ve no doubt noticed, I have some real problems with the Proclamation on the Family. I think for people who generally accept conservative (for want of a better term) ideas and ways of talking about families and gender roles, it seems completely self-evident; for those of us who question the received wisdom residing in right-of-center (again, for want of better terms) notions of family, the Proclamation is confusing and deeply problematic. So post away, but I think we’re going to have linguistic differences, at the very least.

    And you’re gonna use C.S. Lewis on masculine and feminine, right? From _Perelandra_? (Or maybe it’s in _Silent Planet_; I haven’t read them in a long time)

  63. Adam Greenwood
    February 13, 2004 at 12:11 am

    Perelandra, and again in That Hideous Strength.

    But no, because sex roles only come up tangentially in my post.

    Also, we’re not even, because I knew it was Melissa. I wanted you to respond, though, so I mentioned your name and didn’t clearly sort out different people in my post. So I still owe you name confusion and now you owe me a careless post.

  64. Julie in Austin
    February 13, 2004 at 1:46 am


    I’m going to vote ‘no’ on the characteristics and ‘yes, but . . .’ on the roles. Here’s why:

    (1) you cannot tell me that women, as they strive for perfection should be more (insert virtue here) than men and that men, as they strive for perfection, should be sure that they don’t overdo it on the (insert virtue here). Do you imagine a perfected man to be any more kind, or patient, or whatever, than a perfected woman–or vice versa? I don’t think that this type of characteristic can be considered an eternal part of gender identity.

    (2) roles. this one is tougher for me and I’d like to hear from others. Traditional roles here seem so bound to biology (pregnancy, breastfeeding) and temporal concerns (bringing home the filthy lucre) that it becomes very difficult for me to extrapolate to the eternities. If God had to fill out a census form, wouldn’t the appropriate box to check be ‘stay-at-home parent’?

    This doesn’t leave me clear on which aspects of gender are eternal, although I wouldn’t say that I necessarily have an issue with that part of the Proclamation. Can someone help me out here?

  65. Sci
    February 13, 2004 at 11:24 am

    Regarding ‘essences’ of gender: I recently read a short paper by Ernst Mayr, an evolutionary biologist, in which he emphasizes the role of “population thinking” in modern biology. With Darwin and the invention of statistics and probability, we see a shift in focus from essentialist thinking to a broader more pluralistic manner of thinking.

    Prior to Darwin, most biology involved studying individuals and species, trying to discover the “essence” of that species, or what all the individuals have in common. This is a project largely started by Aristotle. Since Darwin, biologists look at the mean or average of a population and then describe statistically the variation from that mean; the emphasis is on the variation and the population as a whole.

    In an essentialist view, the essence or Form (a la Plato) is real and the variation is illusory and unimportant, in some sense ‘not real.’ In this new view, the variation is real, and the whole population, and the average or mean is merely a theoretical construct.

    It seems that the Proclamation in question and specifically the idea that gender has some kind of eternal characteristics relies on the older essentialist viewpoint. It tends to reduce the sexes to fixed points / stereotypes, and ignore diversity. I think that typological thinking does have a place–for example the essence of gold is that it has an atomic number of 79. All gold has this in common and it explains a great number of the properties of gold. This does seem to reflect some kind of natural kind, some real essential characteristic of matter. There are good reasons to suspect that there are biological and sociobiological essences to gender. Not only are the sexes biologically different (obviously) but they have been selected (or designed if you prefer) to exhibit different behaviors.

    On the other hand, we need to recognize that there is quite a large variability from the mean, and that the overlap is great. For any given characteristic, say height, though women may be essentially shorter, the tallest woman is much taller than the shortest man. This suggests to me that this is a much weaker sort of essence or natural kind than is something more distinct like chemical elements. This should keep us from emphasizing too much the essences and should help us keep in mind a pluralist recognition for each individual and their differences.

  66. Evan
    February 13, 2004 at 3:21 pm

    As your historically-minded brother, I thought I’d take a crack at answering your query about mothers at home full time (something about WWII and after for 15 years). There are several broad themes, at least in western cultures, that determine this. The first is that the upper classes have always been sharply different from middle and lower class family structures (this hasn’t changed much, has it?). Paid/slave caretakers of children, etc.

    With industrialization–mid-1700s and on (in Europe & N. America)–however, this began to spread down the economic scale. Previously, labor roles in agrarian societies were assigned within families, with everyone–children, women, men–participating and contributing significantly.

    The change to urban trading centers, manufacturing, etc. began to shift work away from both home (in terms of location) and family. The option of unemployed (in the technical sense of employment for wages) mothers began to filter down to the developing middle class. As wages for merchants and craftsmen rose, being a *stay-at-home* mother suddenly became a form of social capital, signifying that the family was well-off enough that the mother (and children) did not have to work.

    Post-Civil War, this began to shift as well. The spreading “Cult of Motherhood,” represented by the temperance and suffrage movements (as well as the growth in women’s education opportunities at colleges such as Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Mt. Holyoke, Hollins, etc.), aggregated the roles of biological mothers with that of societal matrons. This “Cult of Motherhood” was seen as the moral backbone and driving force of progressive reform, keeping the carnal excesses of men at bay–both in the home and in society.

    WWII was actually the nadir for this “cult of motherhood,” not its zenith (which had been reached 20 years before with women’s suffrage and Prohibition).

    I hope that provides some insight. And, in proper scholarly form, I need to give credit where credit is due. Dr. Betty Farrell’s excellent book, Family: The Making of an Idea, an Institution, and a Controversy in American Culture (1999). If you want more info, let me know. I have all my notes, etc. from her class. She was at Pitzer before Chicago and was the architect of Pitzer’s widely-acclaimed (at least in academic circles) family leave policies. Her dissertation at Harvard was titled, Kinship and Class in Nineteenth-Century Boston, which you might find interesting.

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