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Mormon Women: Working Outside the Home


Mitt Romney's presidential run has brought a tremendous amount of attention to Mormon women, by women not of our faith, wanting to know, among other things, about Mormon women who work outside of the home. I see as the pertinent questions they are asking: How Mormonism, in general, looks upon women who choose to work outside of the home: Is this a positive? I assume these inquiries are a concern because of how Romney's personal faith might determine his policies about working women in America -- making it a legitimate probe.

For Romney, I see this interest as a good thing and not necessarily, as some liberal pundits would have us believe, a mark against him. In actuality, this interest likely signals a leaning toward Romney and not the contrary.

Women in America, all of us, are genuinely interested and concerned about first, the well-being of our families, and second, the necessity that many women have to work outside of the home – and for our purposes today, how this potential president would support these important facets of our lives.

The general premise which directs all counsel concerning the choice for LDS women to work outside of the home, or not, is that Mormonism places marriage and family as the highest priority in the lives of adult members -- male and female. Not just that we marry and have children, but in taking seriously these Biblical commands we consider ourselves under covenant with God to fulfill our sacred responsibilities to home and family, first. With that said, there is great compassion extended to women who through no fault of their own are unable to find a suitable spouse, or find themselves unable to have children.

The teachings of the Mormon faith do not lend themselves to one single solution, applicable to every situation. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a global church, with over half of its members living outside of the United States -- making it impossible and unreasonable that there would be a one-size fits all, right answer for every woman.

However, well over a decade ago LDS Church leaders, through inspiration, drafted what is known as The Family: A Proclamation to the World -- that clearly defines eternal principles and doctrines that govern the family, as ordained by God -- and that we believe to be the basis of successful marriage and family life – regardless of residence. Here is a portion of the document:

HUSBAND AND WIFE have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

THE FAMILY is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.

From an LDS perspective, the decision for a woman to work outside of the home, when there are children to be nurtured in the home, requires a great deal of prayerful consideration -- not to be taken lightly. The challenge to nurture our children, as our highest priority is magnified when a mother finds herself divorced, widowed, or for whatever personal circumstance the primary income earner for her family.

Because the decision for LDS women to either work outside of the home or be a SAHM is so personal and diverse, and desiring to give as best a representation of what actual Mormon women think and feel about this topic, I decided to reach out to some of my readers, faithful Mormon women, who have reconciled this decision for themselves – having applied the teachings of Mormonism. (Please note, originally I did not intend to post their feedback here, but because it was so compelling, and inspiring, I decided to do so. Meaning, that none of these women shared their thoughts with this intent, either, and therefore did not worry about editing. I have left their comments as is.)

~ Julie

"Some mothers do not have a choice! I am an ex-military wife and there were times when money was so tight that I had to work. It was not a matter of paying for an elaborate lifestyle. Just putting food on the table."

~ Joyce

"My first thought was be prepared to work outside of the home no matter what, you never know what your life will be like. That said, my mom did both. She felt very strongly that she needed to be at home when we were little. I am very grateful for that because I know there were dangers that she protected us from. When my youngest brother was in junior high she had to go back to work to make ends meet, and I am very thankful she was prepared to go and do that. It was hard, but she did enjoy teaching once her own kids were older, because she still got to interact and be with young children. She is amazing at teaching kids how to read.

My grandmother was a widow and she had to work out of necessity to keep her family alive. I know I have several cousins who work outside the home because they make more money than their husbands in their chosen careers. It works for their families. I think in the end, it has to be a choice that a husband and wife make as a team. We've made the choice for me to stay home and be with our kids. It's still work and it leaves me open to help in our ward and with our neighbors as well. I was an older single and I reached a point as well, when I really thought marriage was not going to happen for me. I was glad I finished college and had a degree and could support myself. I know if I had to go back to work I could as well."

~ Collette

"I worked part-time outside of the home because we needed the extra income. When it became no longer necessary for the income, I chose to work. I worked part-time, mornings from 8-12:30. It seemed to help give me something good mentally, and some individuality. My kids noticed that I was a happier person when I worked. They were very afraid when I was unhappy with my job, and I quit work. I then did a few semesters of college, even took some classes with my kids. I think it is a personal decision, and a very difficult one to make. I felt I had the best of both worlds, because I was able to be home when my kids got home from school, and able to attend their activities."

~ Merilee

"We are taught that the priorities should be family first, church second, school / work third. As a couple, the husband and wife need to determine what is most important to them, and then determine how to obtain it. Some families choose to do with less in order to be able to have a SAHM. Some families need both parents to work outside the home to be able to provide the bare basics for their family. 

My situation is different from the true nuclear situation you presented, I'm the step-mom to my husband's 4 children (currently living with us full-time, but will revert back to 50/50 shared time). We basically live off my salary; as a large portion of his salary goes to child support. Without me working, we wouldn't be able to have the kids 50/50. With me working, we're not only able to share in quality and quantity time with the kids; but, we're also able to provide them with extras -- like soccer, piano, etc. But, having watched my SAHM sisters enjoying the simplicity of a nuclear family, I know that they are greatly blessed because of the skills and education they have. When their families needed it, they were able to return to the workforce to help make ends meet. 

Being a SAHM is one of the most wonderful blessings and hardest trials a women can face. It's one I'd love to be one day; but, that's pretty impractical until we win the lottery (but that's another post entirely)."

~ Jane

"A recent post has brought it to my attention that many liberals believe that Mitt Romney's (and I suppose, Mormons in general) biggest desire for women is to Keep Us In Our Place (I didn't watch the debate last night, something about a binder?). I am a Mormon woman. NO ONE has ever required me to stay at home with my kids, cook dinner or clean the house. No one has ever prevented me from having an education or a career. In fact, our Church encourages an education for women, and in fact, the majority of the LDS women I know are college graduates. 

I have an education and am trying to develop a career as an author. I am not a stupid sheep, though I think that people who seem to believe everything they hear may fall nicely into that category. I have a strong personality, I am smart, I am opinionated and I am sure that I am often annoying. I also don't believe in painting all of a group of people with the same brush. Hopefully not all liberals do that-but I looked at this other post (about the binder) and saw hundreds of comments from snide Know-It-Alls who were making stupid uninformed comments about women who are Just Like Me. 

Having said that, I will now say this. There is something that Mormons believe that many liberals seem to have a problem with. That the woman is the heart of the home. That taking care of our OWN children is the most important job on the planet. I am fully aware that there are many people out there who are unable to stay at home with their kids, and I respect that, I don't criticize them. 

I have one little autistic son and one little son with Asperger's, and one of the happiest things in my existence is that I AM THE LIGHT OF BOTH OF THEIR LIVES. I am always able to be there for either of them whenever they need me, and I am more grateful for that than for anything else in my life. 

Don't get me wrong-when my husband comes home from work in the afternoon, I do not greet him at the door wearing an apron and heels with a perfect roast coming out of the oven, right on time. "My Place" is wherever I say it is, and every Mormon woman I know is the same way. I wonder how many of these judgemental liberal women come home from work every afternoon and then cook dinner too? If you liberals really believe the tripe someone is feeding you about people like me, then you don't really know any of us. You certainly don't know me. So get over yourselves. End of rant-until next time." 

~ Laurie

"I was a stay at home mom for many years while my husband worked two (and sometimes three) jobs to support us. At that time, I worked 2-3 NIGHTS a week in law offices for a little extra cash, but mostly to keep my skills current. When my first two daughters were in high school, my son was nine years old, and my youngest daughter was 3 1/2, I went back to work full-time, and my husband cut down to one job. I would rather have stayed at home at least one more year until my youngest was in kindergarten, but we were struggling financially with two kids looking toward college. So #1 and #2 really got a SAHM, #3 got both worlds, and #4 mostly had a working mom -- however, my husband retired when she was in junior high school, so she had a SAHD for a few years, which was pretty great for them.

Now that they are all grown and I'm looking backwards, I think we did the best we could to give each of our children what they needed. They are all good people -- no matter what my working status was when they were growing up. When Dad was working multiple jobs, the kids would go with him to help him on his weekend jobs -- which gave them time together and taught the kids how to work.

When Dad retired, he spent extra time with the one who had mostly a working mom. The key for me was working part-time a couple nights a week when the kids were young to keep my skills current. Had I not done that, I would not have had near as many opportunities later when I went back to work full-time. (I thank my first boss for that! When my first child was born he wouldn't let me quit -- he sent the bookkeeping home with me, and when I needed to be in the office, he told me to bring the play pen. Looking back, I realize he did that for ME; not for HIM."

~ Janalee

"I am a SAHM, who works inside the home, and I homeschool my 4 young kids! Yes I am one busy person and wouldn't change it for the world! We need two incomes and i decided a long time ago i wanted to be the one who raised my kids. This is very personal to me and it as been a decision my husband and I made together with The Lord at the helm! I know without a doubt I am doing exactly what the Lord wants me to do personally for my children and he is with me always guiding me every step of the way.

When I'm feeling low or stressed the spirit Is where I turn and I am always given the strength to do what I need to do. I firmly believe we don't all fit in the same mold and that The Lord has a divine purpose for each one of us. As long as we tune into that purpose we will find the greatest happiness in whatever endeavor we attempt. D&C 84:88 ........for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up. I love being a mom and I truly believe it is a calling and a gift!"

~ Lisa

"I have been a single mother of small children and I have had the blessings of being a stay at home mom. My youngest is now almost five and is in a full time prek and I have been looking for work to help support our family because my husband is at the only job he could find in this economy. We both decided that if I could find just a part time in the morning job that would help ease the pressure off of my husband. I love being home with my daughter in the after noons and I love being able to be there for my kids whenever they need me. But my husband needs me working to ease his stress plus, it would give me marketable skills if Heaven forbid something happens to my husband. "

~ Lee

"I work outside the home because I feel a deep personal and spiritual mission tied to my work. Not all Mormon women feel like the only purpose of working is to earn income, but we are definitely in the minority. My husband has been going to school and home with the kids most of our married lives so we haven't had a lot of daycare. No one at church, no church leader, no youth leader has ever commented to us or our children that we are doing it wrong. When people ask, we respond with "we prayed about it and this is what we feel God wants for our family right now" and among Mormons, that answer trumps almost everything political or judgmental (I mean, as long as it is within the law)."

~ Elizabeth

"When discussing this topic with women outside of our faith, I think it's important to start with The Family Proclamation and how Motherhood is a Divine calling. Without that basic foundation, the questions of "Why not the man?" and "Why is it a big deal to work/SAH?" can't ever be fully addressed.

Also, I have recently discovered "The Latter-day Saint Woman" Handbooks, and believe it is a wealth of knowledge on the importance of our roles as wives and mothers. While there is general direction from the Prophets that women do their greatest work in the home, and families should do what they can to allow the mother to be home to nurture her children, there is also the understanding and explanation that every family must assess their personal needs and find the path that is right for them, through prayer and fasting. It is clear that not every mother can stay home, and that is okay.

As for personal experience: I started college unmarried, but by the time I was finished I was married and a mother. I worked as a mother, and now I am a SAHM. Each time my family has come to a crossroads of whether to work or stay home, we've revisited the decision in prayer and fasting.

When my husband and I first married, we agreed it was financially beneficial to wait to have children until we had finished our college education. But less than a year after our wedding, I felt a very strong desire to have a child. My husband was less enthusiastic, but we prayed asking if it was time to start our family, or if waiting was acceptable. The answer came to us in the Sunday Morning Session of General Conference October 2007. Sister Beck's talk, "Mother's Who Know" contained this statement:

President Ezra Taft Benson taught that young couples should not postpone having children and that “in the eternal perspective, children—not possessions, not position, not prestige—are our greatest jewels.”

This was probably one of the most direct answers of personal revelation I have ever received. Frankly, I slept through the majority of that session of conference, and awoke only briefly to hear perhaps two or three sentences more than what I just quoted, and then fell back to sleep. When I shared this with my husband, we were both overwhelmed with understanding that it was time for us to have a child, despite the fact that we both had at least 2 more years of college ahead of us.

Interestingly enough, I never considered stopping my college education when my daughter was born. My education benefits my children - a mother's education is a significant indicator in what level of education her children will progress to - and getting my degree was important to me and my husband. We did our best to alternate our class schedules to avoid babysitting as much as possible, and eventually got a babysitter when that no longer worked. I consider it a great blessing that our schedules worked out so that I was never away from my daughter for more than 4 hours at a time her entire first year of life, and if I was gone, she was safe in my husband's arms.

Since then, life hasn't been easy, but I have never regretted proceeding with both my family and my education and career. Money has certainly been tight, and we did use government programs to help our situation when we felt it was necessary. But we have never gone wanting for necessities, and still manage to enjoy small comforts by budgeting our money carefully."

~ Amy

"One of my grandmothers was a teacher with two master's degrees. She took my grandpa out of the mines with her focus on education. He later went to college also and became a teacher and a principal. He died in his late forties and my grandma was able to pay off her house, put her three boys thru missions and college, have a nice retirement and even help some of her grandkids with college because she had a stable career. 

My other grandma was a SAHM and had to find work when my other grandpa died early also, with two grown kids and two minor kids. She didn't have an education so she got a job in a hospital cafeteria. She was wise with her money, retired early, paid off her house, and has helped her children and grandchildren throughout her life. 

My mom dropped out of BYU when she married my dad. My dad often worked two and three jobs to support us. My mom worked for about a decade during my jr high/high school yrs. They have always struggled financially and currently live with me. 

I decided to educate myself and have a career. When I was in LDSSA and Lambda Delta Sigma we had a conference where the Presidency of Lambda Delta Sigma (on the general RS board) had 10 of us stand up. She then went one by one having us sit down for various reasons. She told us that 9/10 women will be required to work whether they want to or not, the biggest reasons being death, disability and divorce. I decided that it would be better to be prepared than not. 

After marriage, we decided to start our family after I had my BA and that I would be a substitute teacher to help until my husband finished his degree. I only needed to work 4 days a month to meet our needs. It was perfect. One year after my husband received his degree he filed for divorce. If I had not had the means to provide for my family, I would have lost all custody of my children except for visitations. I did need to return to school for a different credential in order to provide more stability, and I have now had the same high school teaching job for 8 yrs. I chose to be educated so I could be responsible and it has given me the chance to not only support my children but also my parents and two of my siblings who have needed to live with me at times. I am now looking at post grad studies to increase my income so i can help my children in college (in two and four years) and, eventually, retirement salary. 

Some ladies work because they need structure in their lives and find that even if it's a part time job it helps them get up and going in the morning. Others need purpose outside of the home and feel that it helps them focus when they are at home. Not all of us are Suzy Homemakers. I know I prefer making money and hiring others to doing things myself because I'm just not a good homemaker. Also, the Virtuous Woman in Proverbs 31 was clearly a well respected professional and homemaker who was admired by her husband for all the good she did: financially and managerially (if that's a word)."

~ Janeen

"I work for a company owned by the church and I have two young children at home. The circumstances surrounding my employment were such that it had the handwriting of my Heavenly Father all over it. He practically gift wrapped it for me. After praying about it, there was no doubt in my mind that working outside the home was what I should be doing. My husband stays home with the kids. Somedays he envies me, somedays I envy him.

What I would tell people outside our faith is that we weigh what is best for our families and then partner with our Heavenly Father in making these decisions. Then we don't judge others for making the choice differently. No woman deserves to feel like she is a lousy mother or inferior woman, especially while she doing what is best for her family."


Video: I'm a Mormon, Former Journalist, and Dedicated Mother


Jane Clayson Johnson once interviewed the U.S. President and anchored Good Morning America. Then this Mormon woman put her plans on hold to fulfill another lifelong dream: become a mother. See more at www.mormon.org/jane


If you came upon my blog hoping to find out about Mormon women working outside the home, we have given you some important insights into our faith, and the strong emphasis that we place on family -- and why that understanding is at the very heart of the decisions Mormon women make for their families. 

If Mitt Romney's Mormon faith has any affect on how he might potentially govern, as POTUS, in regard to working women -- I suspect he would be inclined to support their challenges to put family first -- and honor the wonderful diversity of every Daughter of God.


Video: Daughters of God - I Am A Mormon Woman



tDMg

9 comments :

  1. Replies
    1. Yeah, I get by with a little help from my friends. Thanks! ; )

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    2. Though I have a political take on this on my blog, you blog here was the inspiration for this blog posting that I did: http://symbolic-mirage.blogspot.com/2012/10/is-mother-dirty-word.html

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    3. I love it! Well done yerself! ; )

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  2. I am a working Mormon Mom. I knew from a very young age that I would have a career. I struggled with the idea then, even as a girl, as I heard the encouragement to stay home. Sometimes, when I dated boys in the Church, I tried to convince myself that I could be that woman, that stay-at-home mom. They didn't buy it. Good thing, too!

    Heavenly Father sent me a husband who loves the fact that I work. He sent me a husband who loves me for who I am, and supports me in my earthly calling. I am an aerospace engineer with two degrees, and I work for a defense contractor. I am passionate about my career, about defending the nation via my brain power & leadership skills, and I am good at it. My profession and the accompanying paycheck have enabled us to spend thousands of dollars to adopt our children, it has enabled my husband to switch professions to something he loves (which also improved our mutual stress level), and it has kept our heads above water in this Obama-economy. And my career has taught me a lot about how to serve in the Church better, and be a better Mom.

    I didn't know how handy my career would be, when I was a teenager imagining/worrying about my future. Crazy, isn't it, how the Lord knows the end from the beginning!

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  3. Love it as always Kathryn :)
    Not growing up a member of the church (joined at 20)...It was common place no matter your religion for moms to be SAHMs...My grandma and my mom were both SAHMs. I loved having my mom there for me all the time...she didn't start working until we were older because my parents got divorced.
    I always wanted to be a mom and if possible, stay home with my children. I was never against working outside the home but knew how much I look back at my mom always being there for me. And I appreciated that and loved her so much for that.
    I went to college and got my education...because I knew at least I could use that to get a job if I needed to...I think what has helped me is that no matter what...when times were tough...I didn't mind working to help my family...Something that has helped me though was that when I was home with the kids...I continued to grow and learn and improve on my skills...keeping up on the new in my chosen profession.
    As my children have become older, I've allowed myself to work more because I choose to...and I love it...and I am now able to work for myself and make my own hours...still taking them time to be there for my kids because no matter how old your kids are, they still need you.
    I know we are being blessed because as we look forward to our first boy headed out on a mission, my work alone can support him in that...not taking away from the family income that my husband provides. Makes my heart so full knowing that I can support my child and be there for him even when he is away doing the Lord's work...
    thanks for your amazing article...love reading your blog
    terina

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  4. thanks Kathryn -- great post. I appreciated all the women who contributed.

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