There are a number of issues created by culture and policy. Rather than write about what “should” be done about the issues created by those, I’d like to ask for feedback on what could be done.
“Should” implies a moral obligation. “Could” is a matter of possibilities.
For the first issue, there is a continuing problem that arises. A woman marries young. Has a number of children early. Her only education or training is in something like “family and early childhood development” for which there is no career path or employment.
Then, about the time her children are grown, she is either widowed or discarded in a divorce. At this point, she needs at least three to four years of education/training and support in order to be self-supporting in anything but dire poverty.
My question is, what could we as a church do for people who followed the advice to marry early, forgo a career or useful education/training and have many children while young and then are suddenly outside of a family’s support, either because of death or divorce?
What do our readers think we could do, other than provide a Christmas basket once a year?
What other issues do you think might be interesting to discuss in the future?
Excellent topic for discussion. So much of the time, we (as a people/church/community) do not completely think through the implications and possible results or outcomes of what seem to be “good” moral teachings.
I would add that prior to the death or divorce, most of these women are working to help financially support their families but only in low hourly wage jobs, often part time, so little benefit to career development. Obviously we need to stop giving messages that limit women in this way but for those who are already at this point, financial support for more education/training would be great.
What do our readers think we could do, other than provide a Christmas basket once a year?
For starters the Church should tell them they don’t need to pay tithing due to their desperate financial circumstances. In conference talks the poor always pay tithing despite the situation and it works out, but in real life, bishops have limits put on them for how much they can help, and financial miracles don’t come that often, so very honorable people feel guilty and unworthy when they choose to feed their kids instead of paying the church.
Change the messaging and the culture.
Encourage getting a degree before having children. Recognize that women can also have professional and intellectual lives that do not *necessarily* threaten the prospect of raising healthy children. Acknowledge the value, particularly to daughters, of seeing a role model with ambition, intelligence, confidence, and the ability to both raise a healthy family and pursue personal growth. Recognize that for some women, the expectation of spending decades in the service of child-rearing with too little intellectual stimulus feels like a prison sentence. Speak to the economic reality, not the imagined ideal, of living in 21st century America, where childcare, healthcare, housing, education, and retirement are very expensive and demand the inclusion of mothers in the workforce.
While we’re at it, message to men that sharing equally in maintaining the home and raising the children is the adult, responsible, and, yes, masculine approach to family life. Banish for eternity the idea that young women create a temptation they are responsible to manage; the suggestion has removed responsibility from young men for far too long and has contributed to a culture of priesthood wielding man-children who think they deserve things and a certain role in the home.
Put women in legitimate leadership positions with decision-making authority. Stop engaging in the condescending ritual of “elevating” the status of women by treating them as fragile vessels worthy of reverence but not legitimate respect.
Recognize that poverty is not a crime and not necessarily the result of a moral failing. Stop laying institutional guilt on individuals when they find themselves in dire straits after following the counsel your organization gave them with assurance that it would work.
Maybe fund low-cost or subsidized childcare centers.
Is this a list of shoulds or coulds? If one can dream it, one can achieve it.
Want to increase the chances of divorce for your daughter? Want your grandkids raised in poverty? Want to decrease your grandchildren’s religiosity and educational development? Just discourage your daughter’s education and host of demons emerge.
One possibility that I quite like is simply to change the narrative around what the average LDS woman’s life path “should” look like. I seem to remember that Gordon B Hinckley, way back in the early 00s, was talking about how women should get all the education they can. Golly, I miss his practicality.
Even without the husband dying or leaving, it’s hard enough to get by these days without a dual income. Women’s opportunities to work and provide are just as important as men’s opportunities to nurture and bond with their kids. One more example of how equality benefits everyone.
The church could remove the Family Proclamation from the CFM curriculum, stop talking about it, just let it go the way of Adam-God doctrine. That document is like an albatross keeping us in the previous century.
In my earlier life I was a piano instructor and saw first hand this very scenario play out in a LDS family where the mother had married early and bore several children. Her husband was rarely present and was hard pressed to support his family. The family was living in poverty and I could not in good conciuos charge for piano lessons.
On one ocassion the mother asked me what I thought her options were as she had no marketable skills and needed a job in order to provide some opporttunities for her children. Having some contacts with professional educators I referred her to an influational person who worked with similar cases.
I don’t know what ultimately happened to this family and can only hope this fine mother was able to obtain education opportunities and find meaningful employment. This terrible situation seems to be a common problem in our society.
In terms of helping the people who are already in the position you described, the local church could organize workshops to help with employment – help with resumes, interviews, various job skills. I’ve never find to one myself but my stake has organized them a couple times in the past.
Yes, it’s important to help young women going forward so they don’t feel pressured to follow the same life trajectory. My grandma was an example of this – she married at 18 and spent almost her entire adult life raising children and grandchildren. Growing up, she always, always told me to get an education and spend some time getting to know myself before getting married. But we can’t time travel and change the narrative for the women who are already in that boat, so we need ways to support them where they’re at now.
Two aphorisms come to mind: 1) An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 2) A jack of all trades but master of none.
Those present to me as important preliminary considerations because, we “could” do a lot as a church. But we all know that much of the help and assistance provided by the church comes with strings attached. And often, the church doesn’t have the best methods or resources for people anyway. That’s where the “jack of all trades and master of none” thought came to me. I have seen numerous Church programs, pilot initiatives, subsidiary entities of the Church, attempt to fill these needs, but usually do so with under-qualified individuals or protocols that are or designed for what’s best for the Church and not the individual. Do we want our Church to sponsor and head-up numerous specific programs? Or maybe we would rather the Church simply hand over money to other groups that can run the show in a better way without the strings attached? Fat chance of that ever happening.
Thus, the second idea “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Rather than try to focus on curing problems, I think the Church should change its past patriarchal rhetoric and explicitly encourage women (and men) to seek education, careers, suggesting family size be considered by more than just what premortal spirit is desperate to come to earth in their family, etc. It will make a world of difference for families and children.
Well, first off the church could admit to itself that in the 21 century, it is stupid for a woman to marry and have babies fresh out of high school. It was stupid when I did it in 1970 and is even stupider now. But the general authorities started their families back when it was workable and even normal because divorce was uncommon and a family could live on one income. And when divorce did happen, there was alimony and child support. The world has changed, but our top leaders refuse to admit that. So they pass out horrible advice as “following God’s will.” They have to accept that they are causing serious problems, not preaching God’s will.
Second after admitting that they are causing serious problems and stopping with outdated advice is to become the solution instead of the problem. The church could make sure that young widows and divorcees are given enough financial help to both support their children and improve their ability to support themselves. But their is a tendency to blame the divorced woman for the divorce and feel she therefore doesn’t deserve help.
And last, the church could stop believing the prosperity gospel that God blesses the righteous with material blessings, therefore the poor don’t need financial help but need to repent.
But what the church could do and what it will do are two very different things. The church tends to blame people for their situation, whether it is doubting what the church teaches or being poor. So, because women’s own lack of righteousness causes divorce and then poverty, the church doesn’t need to do anything about what is the individual woman’s responsibility to change by repenting.
I was just diagnosed with cancer (a man between 45 and 55 who has always been the sole breadwinner for his family of 6). In so many ways, the OP expresses my biggest concern as I (kind of) face my own mortality. To be clear, my doctors are very optimistic (online pages for this conditions suggest 85% or better chance of cure), so I have a lot of reason to be optimistic. But, when I allow myself to think of the small chance of the worst case scenario, the concerns in the OP are at the forefront. What happens if I can no longer provide for my family? Can my wife pick up that slack after having been out of the workforce for decades? In the US, where health insurance is so closely tied to employment, who will pay for treatment if I lose my job (I don’t think it is any secret that medical care is a significant cause of bankruptcy)?
As I look at the strengths and weaknesses of our social safety nets, I don’t know what I think the Church could do to help those safety nets. As others have noted, the Church is able/willing to help some, but it seems more stopgap. Part of me wonders if the Church could get involved in some of these “healthcare co-op” type things I occasionally hear about. Months before this new thing, we talked about whether or not we would go back and do the sole provider/stay at home mom thing differently and, at that time, we didn’t feel like we would do it differently. This new uncertainty maybe changes that, but I don’t know what role the Church ought to play in telling people how to arrange their roles in family and marriage (in spite of the Proclamation trying to specify who ought to fill what role).
I don’t know if my ramblings help with the question. I just wanted to say that, as I consider the possibility that I may no longer be able to be sole provider for my family, I wonder if the Church could do something (or do something different) as part of providing those safety nets when fathers become disabled or pass on.
She should become the priority for the Stake Employment Specialist (and the primary job of SES should be helping in these type of situations as part of the Stake Welfare). Get the SES to work the church network, help her find someone in the church willing to give her a chance, work with her schedule, find a position that could lead to growth. Or conversely get her into a skills program that only takes a year or so to complete that has lots of job openings for graduates.
Use church welfare to support her while the SES is helping her. Use church welfare to help her get a work wardrobe.
Emphasizing in lessons and talks and GC practical ways we can care for our neighbors in distressing situations. There is SO much wealth in the membership of the church. Urge those at the high end of the wealth gap to use their company resources to train those and need (and hopefully gain great employees).
The challenge is that some geographical areas will have a lot more church members who own businesses, are in positions to hire, etc. and other areas will have a lot more church members in need of help.
This all requires that the woman be non-flaky, have decent office manners, a work ethic, etc.
While the question has a straightforward solution, operationalizing it within our current church culture seems nearly impossible. The church has painted itself into a corner so completely I can’t imagine how it could work out a more modern path for its women. Here are a few thoughts on how the church could approach the question presented in the OP:
-The institutional church could start by elevating women even more than it has in administrative and ecclesiastical roles. Why not have a woman be the commissioner of church education? Why can’t a woman be president of BYU? Why not make a woman co-chair of Deseret Trust? Examples like Chieko N. Okazaki who served in the RS presidency during Hinkley’s administration were a powerful example of the possibilities of professional woman in the church. (I thought we had turned a corner. Then there seemed to be a total regression under Monson’s administration.) Hinkley’s emphasis on education seems to have died with him. There are beautiful examples in history of what Mormon women accomplished educationally and professionally. For example, the first members Brigham Young sent out-of-state to receive higher education were women dispatched to medical schools in Philadelphia and later at the University of Michigan. These women were prized and promoted publicly as examples of women’s empowerment that advanced women’s suffrage. I think most members would be shocked to learn the stories about these amazing female church figures in history. Why not loudly honor women in our history like Romania Pratt, MD?
-Explicitly advocate education for women and encourage educational parity between men and women. Today, most families can’t exist (even in Utah with housing costs exploding) unless both parents work. Why not acknowledge these realities? It’s unfortunate that Elder Renlund’s wife was ridiculed in some women’s forums when he was called to the serve in the quorum of twelve. She should have been publicly celebrated by the church for her accomplishments as one of the best lawyers in Utah. While Elder Renlund has been praised as a heart surgeon, his wife’s accomplishments are at parity with his. We should be talking more about her. I have daughters with impressive higher ed achievements. They were never recognized like their male counterparts were. This is simply wrong. Instead of my daughters being held as examples to young women in their wards, they are seen with some suspicion by other women as well as male leaders, most of whom they lap in professional and intellectual ability. (In Utah, we could also worship athletes a little less and draw more attention to scholastic champions, both women and men.)
-In my little patch of garden within the Wasatch Front Mormon world (which is shockingly conservative and orthodox even by Utah standards), I am stunned at member attitudes toward education even for men but especially for women. In one of the first priesthood meetings I attended after moving here a few years ago, I heard one brother say something like this, “My wife works, and I know it is wrong and we are trying to change that…” I was stunned! After that another brother praised how his wife dropped out of college when they got married and how he knew her faith was strong when she put family over education. Is there a real dichotomy here? Did women who got married and stayed in college to finish their degrees like my wife and a daughter did show they are not faithful? Bullocks! This bad thinking will only change when the prophet speaks explicitly about how all paths women choose find favor with God. And past precedents need to be publicly repudiated. Pres Oaks’ talk on this subject needs to be more practically applied to repudiate Ezra Taft Benson’s rhetoric about the roll of women, as one example.
These actions could help, but I am skeptical the church will ever take this kind of explicit action to change the mindsets of members. It’s just too hard to reconcile the deeply rooted belief that women should stay at home, that education is a okay but not necessary for women. This despite the very real risks women face from divorce or death of a spouse.
Lots of good comments here and I agree that prevention is the best prophylactic. For those already in the situation, I don’t know what else to do except be way more generous with church welfare understanding that these women are in this situation because they did what church leaders told them to …
Anna mentioned prosperity gospel and I would take it a step further – it’s not just that we demonize the poor, but I see a lot of young people who I think are optimistic to the point of recklessness. They think that if they are doing what they believe they are “supposed” to be doing – marrying young and starting families right away,l – everything will “just work out.” I was in a ward for several years with a lot of young married students who married right after missions and had kids shortly thereafter and lived in absolute squalor, and had YEARS of school ahead of them. I can’t imagine starting a family that far behind. And while I wouldn’t judge any individual choices, hearing them talk I feel like they went into those decisions really uninformed about the reality because no one would give them accurate information about the reality. And they just felt like everything would all work out. But honestly, it just doesn’t for everyone. And by the way – I would have done the same thing too and almost did make some insane financial and professional decisions in an effort to follow what the fam proc said my family was supposed to look like. Thank goodness that wasn’t even an option for me. We are so much better off financially (and in a lot of other ways) because it wasn’t. I dodged a bullet and feel really lucky and know so many women with regrets.
I don’t disagree with anything I’ve read, but I’m going to speak from personal experience and say that a fair number of couples have infertility problems. Women are acutely aware of the biological limitations, and some are afraid to put off childbearing by even five years. They’re worried about running out of time or not have the enormous amount of money needed to treat infertility. They’ve seen the disappointment of couples they’re close to.
I don’t know exactly what I’m suggesting by bringing this up, but just thought I should.
What if the church created or contracted the creation of high quality affordable and even subsidized child care centers in its ward, branch, and institute buildings. If the space were provided free or at very low cost the child care centers could also pay the carers a living wage. Something as simple as this could go a long way in helping parents to obtain career training and work knowing their children are well cared for.
As a start, the church could begin by joining other colleges and universities and build child care centers on its college and university campuses. Students bring their babies to class at BYU Provo when their child care falls through. A child care center on campus would go a long way both practically and symbolically. (Putting Zoom options permanently in place could also help)
How about a child care center in the church office building?
High quality (possibly subsidized) child care can bridge the gap so that young couples don’t have to face an either/or decision about having children and building careers.
Getting the Church to act may take a long time. So this places an even greater responsibility on the parents and grandparents. To not only mentor their children and grandchildren, but also counteract the influence of the Church and culture. I encourage my 7 granddaughters to go to college or trade school. And, if possible, to delay marriage a few years. My mother pays the tuition of her great grandchildren. That helps a great deal.
When my oldest granddaughter got off her mission, her MP encouraged her to get married. That was unfortunate. But she had her own ideas. Even though she recently married, she will graduate from university this spring. I hope my other granddaughters are able to do something similar.
My father had a strong believe in education. That is his legacy. One I hope I’m passing down to my grandchildren. And anyone else who will listen.
Education is great, but education alone will not make any real difference in your earning prospects. On the job experience is much more important, and if she is to succeed, she needs a whole lot more of that than this Mormon-myth for motherhood has given her. I see two possible solutions: 1) Mati W is right–just provide free child care for anyone in the Church who needs it, including OBVIOUSLY anyone working for the Church (or its universities), but extend this to our ward buildings, paying those who run it a thriving wage. Where could we find the funding for this? Hmmm, let me see. 2) You could literally just pay these women a thriving wage NOT to work if that’s really how it has to be because as a Church we can’t conceive of women as financially independent. That’s not my first choice, though. My first choice is to quit telling women to give up on paid careers, and to quit giving men a pass on “nurturing.” These harmful binary gender roles do not lead to good outcomes, certainly not now, if they ever did.
I recently watched a church training video… a discussion of welfare principles.. in which an experience is described by, I think Elder Ballard. A woman is in that very situation. Bishop is to encourage her to contact her family. She says she hasn’t any. Bishop pushed further. She says she has a brother she hasn’t seen for a long time. Bishop locates and contacts brother. It turns out he’s very successful. Comes along and rescues his sister, pays off her mortgage etc.. says he will look after her..and I’m thinking… the woman is still dependent.. sure the church isn’t having to pay to look after her, but how is this welfare principles in action? Gah. Seemed like so long as they weren’t the ones footing the bill the church were quite happy to wash their hands of self-reliance. I also don’t think most of those requiring welfare assistance have wealthy brothers hidden away on the opposite side of the country..
The church doesn’t even cover contraception for it’s employees and their dependents. I’m LOLing on the idea of subsidizing child care. It’s a bitter LOL.
Hedgehog nothing illustrates the attitude of the church toward women better than your anecdote. Self sufficiency is important for all people. To the church, women are not truly people. So it’s fine for her to be dependent as long as it’s to a man and not the church.
To take the conversation in a slightly different direction, the fact is there are some (a lot?) of Mormon women who’ve done well in the corporate world (I’m married to one) and I think some regular commenters here at W&T enjoy successful careers.
I’m in a senior level position in the federal government and responded to several requests for help from Mormon men working to bring our missionaries home at the outset of the Pandemic. Seems the Pandemic caught the missionary department by complete surprise and the Church enlisted help from male businessmen to get US government help with the airlift of missionaries around the world. Surprisingly, the emails that hit my box were not from GAs or church employees but members acting on behalf of the church (I have their emails to show, e.g. Joseph.email@example.com.). Less surprising, however, not a single person acting for the Church I dealt with arranging flights and possible exemptions from flight restrictions (all denied, btw) was a woman. They were all men.
As I step back and think about all the scrambling the Church did in March/April of 2020, I am not aware of any executive function or role played by women during that chaotic time. The Church had a super capable cadre of women in the business world with contacts, skills and abilities to help during that time and they were all, to my knowledge, simply left on the sidelines. Actually, they weren’t even on the bench. There was a lot they could have done to help during that time. I’m obviously an east coast Mormon and that was my experience here at my stake level and the coordinating council level. No women necessary, it was all man’s work. It was also a tragically missed opportunity for Church leaders who pretend to value women to actually value women.
Not all Mormon women get married right out of HS, start having babies, do not finish their education and drop out of the work force (though some who follow that path make valuable contributions outside of their homes for the Church, whether responding to a pandemic or not, just as some who go the professional route are a disaster at Church assignments.) The women who have as much or more professional/executive experience than men are simply ignored, or were when the Church needed more help than the GAs and Church bureaucracy could handle adapting to the Pandemic.
Angela is right, even getting your education is not enough anymore. I got married young – much to the chagrin of my parents – and started having children before I finished my university degree. Unlike many others, I did finish my schooling , taking one or two courses a semester. Eight years and 2 kids later I finally graduated, but it was important to me to get it and I naively believed church leaders’ counsel that having my education was enough.
Fast forward 2 decades when my husband loses his job, and I discover that schooling as “backup” really doesn’t mean much anymore if you haven’t worked in the interim. On my harder days it was difficult not to feel bitter about the lack of “seer-ness” in the counsel I had so trustingly followed. Not to mention that unemployment is never mentioned, it’s always death and divorce. (Check out the comments in this thread, it’s still the death and divorce drum.)
After a little MORE schooling I’m now working, and a further nail in the coffin of follow-the-prophets was discovering that the long bouts of post-partum depression I struggled with was heavily influenced by my own intellectual boredom. I love my kids, but it felt like coming alive again to really challenge my mind. I’m wistful contemplating that I would probably have been a much better mother if I’d worked a couple days a week during those years.
In october 1969 there were conference talks on the requirement that missionaries get marries ASAP after returning home. That neither education, or employment should stand in the way. The Lord will reward obedience. There were also talks on the evils of birth control.
1970 was a big year for me. I came home from my mission, I got married, and my wife had our first child. We had 2 more daughters in 4 years, and lived in poverty.
My wife was more educated than I was but she was pregnant.
A lot of returned missionaries outside America became sales reps as I did.
Neither of these ideas is taught anymore.
3 of our daughters have degrees. 2 are using those degrees to increase their family income.
In our SS lesson last week I had a disagreement with the teacher who insisted the family proc was revelation and as good as a declaration. But he believes anything the prophet says is revelation, and ended the lesso by writing across the blackboard follow the prophet.
I doubt the church will change it’s expectation of women, but young people might just ignore them as my daughters did.
What could be done? Women could be ordained to the priesthood and genuinely treated as equal to men. Merry Christmas
Agree with @Angela that education with no work experience isn’t much of a backup plan, and with @rb that professional women’s professional experience is completely ignored by the church, having experienced that myself.
From insider experiences, here are some thoughts:
-it oughtn’t be tied to “allowable” exceptions, such as death, disability, divorce, and unemployment. When such happens, the added stress on the family makes amending options particularly difficult, and less effective than if a foundation for the wife’s financial contribution had been lain and maintained sooner. Comments from @anonymous (sorry) & @Margot illustrated this poignantly. [Best to both of you – I am sorry for what you are each facing.][and @anonymous (sorry), those odds do provide reason for real hope, 15% is sobering.]
-when a young woman expects her contribution to family welfare will be limited to nurturing her children, she self-limits her education/career options. “A man is not a financial plan.” -an Utah school counselor.
-going to school, studying for tests, committing information to a knowledge base you know you will need, while you have a handful of kids infant-to-jr-high adds a tangible level of stress to those kids’ lives (besides your own). One of my kids bought their own elementary school yearbook when my schooling made finances tight. We pulled one kid out of a gifted program that needed much parental support.
-owning a degree, even an employment-limited degree, *IS* better than no degree. Even though I chose a field completely different than my degree, there were some pre-reqs I had already knocked out of the way. I had a level of confidence that I COULD do it. Additionally, some graduate programs were options I could have pursued.
-utilize college counselors. Meet with several – some apply their skills in more meaningful ways than others do. (Again, seek out a professional, most ward employment specialists are untrained.)
-working, even minimal hours, yields rewards: social security benefits, seniority, work experience, being current in an evolving field, etc., etc., etc.
-church-taught expectations may make it hard for the husband (possibly feelings of inadequacy, even when circumstances are greater than normal, and no one’s “fault”), and evolving roles and expectations.
-the church-prescribed route has unacknowledged downsides. There is a lot of pressure in the role of sole-provider to a family, paying tithing, supporting missionary kids, etc. Some find fields with higher pay, but less fulfillment, icky internal politics, etc. Too often, even compromised ethics.
-prioritize your family’s needs over church expectations. Sometimes I worked fewer hours when my husband had a high-demand calling. I returned to school because we needed that income. It’s okay to say no to callings. (And yes, a few people will be snots to you)
-it’s all right to recognize your own needs. I worked nights. There is a body of research on night shift work. It can be (is) personally damaging, with ripple effects to others. It’s hard to be nice when you’re sleep deprived. If nights are necessary, jealously guard your sleep, plan your schedule when the other spouse can be present (even if it means weekends and you miss church).
-expect your spouse to support you. It’s a team effort.
-it needn’t be a college degree. So many jobs make up the fabric of society. Some trades are quite well compensated.
Ruth’s comment, where she didn’t exactly know what she was trying to say was my experience. I suspected that I could not put off having children, so we had then as soon as they came with no delaying with birth control, then at three children and four miscarriages, I needed a hysterectomy. I was 25 when my youngest was born and could not have more. So, if we had delayed children, we would have ended up childless, and with a military career and all the moving adoption would have been impossible as we were not in one place long enough for all the paperwork and home inspections and waiting. I needed to have my children as soon as possible, but I am a rare exception and not all women should have children as soon as possible, and there are even women who should not have children because they have few mothering skills or desire.
But what is wrong with how the church does things is their one size fits all attitude that *all* women should have their children as soon as physically possible, and as many as physically possible, and that a woman’s only value is incubating children. The men in charge don’t seem to see women as people, but as baby making boxes, and then baby raising machines.
So, what could happen is that the church leaders could start to see women as human instead of just the role of wife and mother. Yes, I am a wife and mother, but I have value way beyond just that. I have skills beyond nurturing children, and needs beyond just having a family. Yet that seems to be the only value the church sees in me.
One of my kids received Once I was Engaged from Santa (we still believe 🙂
It finishes on a note which empowers women.
Good on them!