Friday, October 26, 2007

Mothers Who Know...What? A Response to Julie M. Smith

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.


Tanya Sue said...

I am not a mother, but I would have taken the remarks better had they been addressed to parents that knew instead of mothers than knew. That is a big difference. I think parents who “know” realize that they need to rely on their relationship with God first and foremost when it comes to raising their children. They hear/read talks in GC and then go to God for guidance on how to apply them to their own lives. I think all people who know strive to do what God would have them do. A bishop and I were once laughing because you can answer all the temple recommend question correctly and still be a selfish jerk. Yet, those of us who “know” recognize that God wants us to be kind, good people. For us to serve all of our brothers and sisters, not just those who are our flesh and blood.

I think many mothers heard the talk and felt they were being told they were not good enough, and some of the women who are not mothers wondered if the head of the women’s organization recognized they were part of the church. I would have loved a talk by Sister Beck that talked about building your relationship with God and letting that guide all areas of your life-including that of raising your children.

I am not a mother. I don’t have a desire to be for more reasons that I can list here. I don’t think it is the right decision for me. Does that make me less worthy? Does that mean I don’t know? Maybe. I just know that God is pleased with the person I am and the way I am leading my life. And that is all that matters.

Bored in Vernal said...

I'm just going back and forth on this talk like crazy. I really admire all the people who have tried to have a good attitude and take Sister Beck's suggestions seriously. On the other hand, she really was addressing a small part of her audience. When you are given an opportunity to speak in GC, you must realize you are speaking to the world. I don't care if you are the RS pres or the Primary or YW pres, your audience consists of men, women, and children in all stages of life. And in the grand eternal scheme of things, do you really want to place that much importance on housecleaning? If it is a message God wants us to hear, ok. I will listen and obey. (Personally, I don't have that much trouble keeping a clean and organized home at this stage of life.) I've passed the childbearing stage, so that didn't apply, either (unless I should have a 9th child at the age of 47?? Yikes.) Like you, Tanya, I longed to hear something from our RS Pres that would help build my relationship with God. I'm trying to pull this out of her talk, just takes such a stretch.

Tanya Sue said...

This talk had some bad effects on me. I have taken a break from church while I sorted some things out-the biggest being women’s role. I was actually ready to attempt going to church again and this talk reminded why it was too painful for me to go to church. I have such a different view on life, and others I know do as well. This talk just reminded me that I don’t think there is a place in the church (not the gospel) for someone like me. A strong, single, opinionated woman. A woman that is content with being single and not having kids. And my house is pretty clean mot of the time as I am the only here to make a mess of things.

A friend once pointed out that when it comes to programs in the church they all have good intents. Some are wonderfully successful and some fail miserably. For me, this talk is in the second category. She wanted to do her best but for me, this talk wasn’t inspired. For me stepping away from this talk is the only way I may gain some of the peace back regarding the church. And I miss Cheiko Okazaki! She was my favorite ever because she seemed to understand how hard women work and that life is so diverse.

Bored in Vernal said...

Tanya, We're not all the same, and not everyone fits in the narrow little place in which we sometimes categorize "Mormons." That's why Chieko was so wonderful--she reminded us that there was a place in the gospel for all of us. (I'm so glad you made the distinction of church and gospel.) Anyway, one of my biggest regrets is when people step out of the Church because they feel they don't fit in. This Church is for all of us, and if the odd ducks stick around, it makes it better for all of us who feel we don't fit into the mold. Hang in there! I'm hoping that Sister Beck will learn a few things about the women who make up this Church as she gets around.

Tanya Sue said...

biv, I am trying to find a way of staying without totally sacraficing self or causing personal harm. I am finding it difficult to do so.

The problem is that the culture of the church has such a specific place for women that I don't agree with. I don't think God views women the way the church does and there lies my struggle.

Jo said...

Hey Sweetie, thought I would mention you and your current blog post was a topic of conversation among the FMH who got together for lunch after the peace march. Miss you!

Bored in Vernal said...

yeah, tanya--I get it. You can't stay if it's killing you. I just wish we didn't have talks like this which reinforce the notion that there is only one way to be an LDS woman. !!!

It sucks.

Bored in Vernal said...

jo!! I would have given anything to be there. I'm so glad I was there in spirit! Do tell what was said about me.

Tanya Sue said...

biv-thanks for understanding! All I hold onto is that time is a great thing. For me to calm down and for things to change in the church. With time I think people will start to accept all different types of people. As we become more of a global church that will have to happen.

Laura said...

I found your blog on a link to the Exponent blog. I appreciate the classy way you addressed this issue and get so sick of the way some people bad mouth church leaders in the bloggernacle. After reading many blog posts on Sister Beck's talk, I still don't understand why people think that a single person in General Conference must address everyone. I personally enjoy more specific talks. I appreciated one comment on another blog that mentioned that in priesthood session, men often hear talks on porn, gambling, and abuse, even though every man doesn't struggle with those issues. Why then, can't the Relief Society handle a talk that addresses a specific population and talks about house cleaning? I was so happy to see a single woman and a latin woman called into the General RS presidency. In choosing them as her counselors, it is obvious that Sister Beck is attempting to reach out to a broader population. I personally wouldn't have defined "a women who knows" in the way Sister Beck did, but I think we should give her a break.

Bored in Vernal said...

to Laura or Andy--
Well, one of the problems with this talk is not only that it addressed simply one segment of the population. The use of the phrase "mothers who know" gave the impression that if you are a woman who doesn't desire 12 children or if you hire out your housecleaning or even if you simply prefer spending your time painting instead of doing laundry, you somehow lack faith. I hope this is not the message Sister Beck meant to send, but it is what I heard when I was listening to her talk in Conference, and later when I read it through.

J G-W said...

I distilled two things out of this talk, two take home points:

Do less.

Consume less.

The idea being to focus more on the simple things in life that really give us pleasure: the loving relationships in our lives.

Maybe I'm naive, but I figured I would just take that and run with it.

Mel said...

I personally found that her comments about childbearing and nurturing (homemaking) did not actually consume most of her talk. She spent quite a lot of time talking about other pursuits - perhaps you may have missed those other things, which, while they did mention being mothers, could very easily apply to other situations outside of motherhood. I think a person should take their situation (which may not "fit" in with the "norm") and take what they think applies to them. Just a thought...

Bart said...

From what I understand, General Conference is meant to give general guidance to the church body as a whole. The guidance is meant to assist us in prioritizing and balancing our lives according to gospel standards so we may grow closer to Christ and find peace and happiness. It is not meant to be divisive, and it certainly leaves room for exceptional circumstances.

We have always been encouraged to have children, nurture them, prioritize our lives around their development, and teach them in a clean and organized home to live "in the world without being of the world." Did President Beck's talk really address anything new or surprising? Did it ever say or even imply that working women are poor mothers, or that women with no children are sinners? I don't think so. I think working women can still be very capable of nurturing and raising righteous, hard-working children (that's how my mom was). And women without children can find ways to be nurturers as well, looking forward to when they might be mothers, and always taking advantage of opportunities to play whatever roles they find are consistent with God's will for them. This talk was addressed to everyone, and I feel just as responsible as my wife does to make sure our home is a clean, nurturing environment with everyone doing his part.

I've been married for two years and we don't have kids yet. But when we do (the timing of which will have been a prayerfully considered, individual decision for our family), I imagine we'll need to consult all kinds of resources including (but not limited to) talks like this that give helpful advice about how to prioritize our lives and our approach to parenting.

Hmm, I'm finding I have a lot to say about this. Maybe I'll have to post something on my own blog since this comment is getting rather lengthy . . .

Laura said...

I agree with Mel that Sister Beck's comments on childbearing didn't consume her talk. She talked about so many other things that define a "women who knows." No, I don't think nurturing can be equated with homemaking, as Sister Beck over simplified, but homemaking is definitely an integral part of nurturing and can be defined in so many ways. While there is good for all of us to hear in all conference talks, I still think some talks are and should be directed at specific populations, and I'm perfectly content with that. I think it's much better to take the good from talks, then to fixate on what bothered us...Part of what makes the LDS church so beautiful is because we are made up of imperfect people with the common goal to do our best and be more Christlike. So why be so bothered by our leader's imperfections?

Bored in Vernal said...

Bart and Andy (or is it Laura?)--
Thank you for your comments. I really appreciate people who are able to look at the positive side of things. And I agree with you that we should take the good from Conference talks, and not fixate on what bothers us. But my blog is all about grappling with all the things that bother me. So it may get a bit uncomfortable here at times for the optimists.

And I find that I still have more venting to do about this topic...

Anonymous said...

I think you are one of those people that is looking for an excuse to be mad and to be offended. A truly humble person can not be offended. Go join the Catholic church. Because the Prophet of this church agrees with Julie B Beck, so if you don't agree with her you don't agree with the Prophet. Maybe it is time for you to find an easier religion!

michael said...

Dear Friends:

I thank you for your comments. I was raised by a working mother, who drilled into my brain "get your degree before you get married." I followed her advice and I have benefited from it all my married life. I never had to work as "we" were raising our children. I appreciate the choice I had to stay home and educate and nurture them.
Being happily married for 32 years and raising five incredible, active children has been the joy of my life. Nothing I have done, no honior I have received, degrees, or promotion compares to the good accomplished in my own home. Our own five wonderful children, who are all contributing members of our society, with families of their own, have been the thrill of my life. They have made my life. The perspective, the sacrafice, the work, has made my life--and made me the woman I am. I am so very grateful to belong to the LDS faith. I am grateful to be part of a religion which honors marriage for the sacred institution which it is. It is truly the basis of all civilization. Sister Beck, I thank you for your timely comments. Sincerely, Michael

Petra said...

1. I was excited to see a woman giving a smackdown talk to women. Men get harshly chastising talks all the time, and women get gushy, singsong positive reinforcement talks. Not that I have a problem with positive reinforcement, just that I think the women of the church, like the men, aren't perfect and sometimes deserve to be called to repentance.

2. I think motherhood and family are incredibly important, and, as Michael said, can be worth every sacrifice. I sincerely hope that one day I will get the opportunity to be a mother.

3. All that said, I was disappointed that the only women who spoke in GC addressed only the topic of family. I'm fine with a talk addressed to a specific portion of the audience, but it's tricky when those are the only talks by women, talks to which I would ordinarily look for specific counsel applying to me. I feel like the message sent by having the two women speak only on the importance of motherhood and family is that only motherhood and family can be important to women, or that the only women who matter are those who are raising a family, or even that women are only qualified to speak about motherhood and family. I can't speak for the feelings of a woman who is a mother about this talk, but I can say that it left me feeling like my life and service to the Church weren't valuable because I'm not a mother, and that the only way I can contribute something valuable to the world is through raising and nurturing children. All other issues with the talk aside--and I had lots of them--I felt very invisible throughout President Beck's talk--invisible to President Beck, invisible to the Church, and invisible to God.

On the plus side of all this, when all the other troubling (to me) points of the talk are brought up, I get to shrug my shoulders and say, "Whatever! It doesn't apply to me!" :)

Linda said...

When one considers that we are members of a world-wide church and that in many societies marriage and bearing children are now under-valued, in many places health and cleanliness are major issues not only because of poverty but also because of lack of knowledge, and among many women materialism is a driving force, it is not hard to understand why Sister Beck felt it important to remind women of important mothering standards. Much counsel has been given to the men of the Church over the years, especially in Priesthood sessions, on being better fathers. Why would it not be appropriate for Sister Beck to speak about mothering in the stressful and conflicted world in which we live?
When considering this talk as a companion to her talk in the General Relief Society meeting, "What Latter-day Saint Women Do Best: Stand Strong and Immovable,"
to me it is clear that Sister Beck is encouraging all women of the Church, regardless of their personal circumstances, to "stand strong and immovable for that which is correct and proper under the plan of the Lord."
She does not say women should do all the work at home. She says, "working beside children [not just daughters] in homemaking tasks creates opportunities to teach and model qualities children should emulate." Her only comment regarding educational attainment is :"...all the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make a home that creates a climate for spiritual growth." This does not devalue education; it just puts it in perspective with our responsibility to develop spirituality in our families. In fact, she says "nurturing mothers are knowledgeable." We have heard counsel from many prophets that our homes are to be orderly and modeled after the temple. This is not just Sister Beck's personal philosophy.
Sister Beck also reinforces the principle that women are to be equal partners with their husbands
in preparing a "rising generation of children who will take the gospel of Jesus Christ into the entire world." I believe Sister Beck has an inspired world-wide view of the strengths and weaknesses of the women of the Church and has received counsel and guidance from President Hinckley and the Lord in her remarks.
Is she saying that some of us are "not good enough" or is she encouraging us to value mothering, raising the bar just as it has been raised for our youth and for missionaries, asking us to step up our efforts where we need to and set our priorities where they ought to be?

Kirsten said...

To anonymous,
Did you really think it was funny to tell somebody to join another church? Perhaps you feel you are to the point and that you know exactly how it is for that person. Perhaps you don't think she should sit the fence on this one. But have you ever "sat the fence" on a life issue? Of course you have. We all have. Well everybody has their struggles to deal with in this life. Just because they go through something they are trying to work out, doesn't give you license to pass a judgement and tell them to go join a different church that is "easier". You speak of truly humble people. Sounds like you could use a lesson or two from one of them. Your tone is so callous so as to lead me to believe you might not have had any sort of struggle. If nothing else, I know this:
If one of my children whom I love, told one of my other children whom I also love, to leave my home because they weren't good enough, and that child became discouraged and did, my heart would be full to overflowing to the child who left, and full of hurt and disappointment toward the other. Think on that.

Kirsten said...

To Anonymous,
Are you joking? Did you think it was funny to tell somebody to go join an easier religion? If one of my children told another one of my children to go live somewhere else, and that child did, well I wouldn't be very happy at all. I would feel great hurt. Can you imagine how the Lord must feel if you are telling somebody to go join an easier religion? It sounds, well, not very "humble" at all.

Diana Simpson said...

I think that all of you people who have taken offense to any of the remarks that were made by Sister Beck or any of the people who support her need to return to the October, 2006 General Conference Ensign and read Elder Bednar's talk. It should be enlightening.

Diana Simpson said...

Sister Beck is a leader of the church who has been called of God. We have sustained her during General Conference and during Ward and Stake conferences. General Conference is a time for GOD to send His messages down to his children through His appointed leaders.

Maybe you should start thinking about the changes you need to make in your life to follow the council of GOD and to make ready for His kingdom instead of your own comfort and pride.

Anonymous said...

I am a stay at home mom that chose to give up my career to raise my kids. When it comes to Sister Becks talk I can understand why some people are upset. But I don't think it is realistic for every talk to be able to address everyones needs or status. And I do think there are people that needed her talk. I believe that not all can or should quit working. Not all can or should have babies. I believe the formula for what is successful for one person or family is not the same for all and everyones priorities differ. However there are many kids (siblings and my stepkids) that I have seen suffer because their moms(working and not working) have chosen their own self fullfillment, self gratification, or selfish desires over actively raising, nurturing, and caring for their children. To me this is one group that the talk is aimed at. We all need to be a little selfish and put ourselves first at times so we can be happy and for those of us with kids a happy mom makes a happy home. However, what irks me is when I see moms that gave birth and then forgot they actually had to take care of their kids. My step kids mom prides herself on her education yet she seems unintelligent to me...she is self absorbed and really neglects her children's needs. She doesn't get that being a mother is something wonderful (despite the daily horrors)and that she could take pride in it. She does not value investing her time, attention, and care in her children. She does not value motherhood (perhaps it came too easily for her...for some like myself it did not)and for that I feel sorry for her.

Diana said...

I'll be honest with you, I'm not quite sure what the uproar is all about. First off, I have two young children (which made it quite difficult to catch this talk while it was broadcast, and I plan to revisit it soon in the Ensign)and stay at home with them while my hubby works. Supposedly it's an LDS mother's dream but there are days and lots of them that are a test of faith and diligence to following the path that I am ment to follow. Not every person is ment to follow the same path-- you counsel with the Lord and do His will for you. Bottom line. That's it. Sister Beck's counsel to us doesn't override your personal revelation as to what you are supposed to do for your own family, unless it's the way the Lord was trying to give you new revelation. I will say that Sister Beck's message came straight from the Lord, they weren't her words. They were His and if you are upset about it, the first step is to figure out why you are really upset. Maybe the Lord was trying to give you a new sort of personal revelation and maybe you aren't ready for it. There are quite a few reasons why you might be upset but that feeling is usually the emotion felt by someone who is not willing or ready for the counsel of the prophet or another messenger--see the Book of Mormon for so many more examples of this.

Trying My Hardest said...

I am so surprised. If we consider the whole evening's talks rather than looking just at Sister Beck's, we can see that the Lord addressed all of His daughters that night, in all of their myriad of circumstances.
Each talk was part of a whole evening of instruction -- don't miss the forest for the trees!