In her opening remarks of that infamous Conference talk, Julie B. Beck quotes 2000 stripling warriors as saying, "Our mothers knew it." To find out what it was that the mothers knew, we must go back to the story in Alma 56, which concludes in verses 47 and 48:
Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.
And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.
Here we discover that which the mothers knew:
if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.
Sister Beck then states that more than at any time in the history of the world, we need mothers who know. "When mothers know who they are and who God is and have made covenants with Him, they will have great power and influence for good on their children," she says. I believe that the talk which followed Sister Beck's initial statement was one expression of what a mother is. She spoke of the following aspects of motherhood:
- The desire to bear children and to place the value of motherhood above that of power, position or prestige.
- Honoring sacred ordinances and covenants.
- Nurturing, which she equated with homemaking, particularly housecleaning and keeping an orderly home.
- Leading and planning within the home.
- Teaching in the home and never being off duty.
- Choosing carefully to focus more on family activities.
- Being the very best in the world at upholding, nurturing, and protecting families.
The introduction to Sister Beck's talk was pregnant with meaning, and full of promise. How does a woman become a "mother who knows?" How does she develop a firm faith in God's deliverance? However, Beck follows this introduction by continually stating that "mothers who know" are women who follow one model of motherhood. After reading, pondering, and praying over this talk many times over the past couple of weeks, I have come to feel that Julie Beck's model of motherhood is indeed one way that a woman can come to develop the type of faith exemplified in the mothers of the stripling warriors. It strikes a chord with many women of the Church, and it tends to justify women who have chosen to have many children, stay at home with them, and put much effort into creating a welcoming and organized home life. These women do not have much support in their choices. Indeed, the world does look down upon them for what they have selected to value.
I believe that where I have taken offense with this talk is that I mistakenly took her remarks to imply that women whose paths might vary from those described here are not mothers, or even women, who "know." This, of course, is not true. The testimonies of several bloggers witness to the alternate choices of women who were able to develop an abiding faith and raise righteous and productive families.
Matt Evans wrote that he "grew up in a rather unkempt and cluttered home. We did chores, but there was one mom and seven kids and Mom didn’t enjoy or appreciate housework anyway...But the spirit was there and we enjoyed and loved each other. As I look back on my experience growing up, I don’t look back wishing Mom had spent more time worrying about the house. I’m almost certain that’s not something she would change, either." Jana Remy wrote of her mother, a Stake RS President and mother of 5 who "kept her teaching credential active in each state where we lived, often taking night classes or taking re-certification exams. By the time her youngest child was in the upper-grades of elementary school, she worked full-time as a teacher and was earning her master's degree." After her husband died of cancer, this remarkable woman was able to
support the family with a good professional career and salary. "I guess the upshot is, if Mom had stayed home and had only been a remarkable homemaker, well I don't know that things would've turned out quite so well for her or for us," Jana concluded. Amelia wrote "am i to understand that mothering is the most important work i do, when easily 90% of my time is spent completely apart from children? what does that mean about the rest of my time? is it really all that much to ask that the value of my work and life be acknowledged without trying to shove it through a mother-shaped hole? ...please have enough decency to honor all the work women do, not just the work they do as mothers. don't tell me i am a mother in some misguided effort to make me feel better about the fact that i'm unmarried and childless. instead, look me in the eye and see me for who and what i am: a woman of god who is using the gifts she's been given to make as much beauty and goodness as she can."
Obviously, women in many diverse situations can develop great faith in the delivering power of the Lord, receive inspiration, employ spiritual gifts and attain the status of women who "know."
Although I spent many years pursuing the chimeral image of the woman that Julie Beck describes, I wonder now if my path was the most conducive to my spiritual and emotional health or even that of my family. I wonder what would have happened had I sought the Lord's counsel upon my path, rather than simply to follow the party line of having as many children as possible and staying at home and placing all of my energies there.
Now Julie M. Smith has begun a series of posts at T&S supporting the specific counsel President Beck gave and how to apply it. The first post deals with Homemaking. I'm glad that she has taken up this challenge. Apparently it will become quite popular around the Bloggernacle. But just as I have noted above, the appeal is limited to only a segment of LDS women. I do not read the "Mommy Blogs," and I find no amusement in discussions of childrens' poop. Neither does a detailed analysis of housekeeping skills interest me. I realize that for some, home organization may lead to a fuller spiritual life, but there are others whose testimonies might better be strengthened by a rousing disputation over the theology of St. Augustine.
Julie Smith has prefaced her post as follows: "If you feel the need to vent your dislike of [Julie Beck's] talk, I imagine that you might possibly be able to find a thread somewhere in the Bloggernacle where you can do just that. But you can’t do it here. The point of this series is to discuss the specific counsel that she gave and how best to apply it. All other comments will be deleted." I'd like to provide this space for women who know, women who don't know, and women who wish they knew.