Sunday, September 27, 2009

Feeling Safe

I was thinking today about my decision to stay home with my children instead of working while hubby was in grad school. We have some friends who made a different decision, and that decision worked out really well for them financially. I can’t complain because we are doing fine financially as well—and even if we weren’t, I wouldn’t regret my decision. Still, it makes me wonder . . . did they experience any bad effects from that choice? Do I wish that they did?

My musings on this subject led me to another subject, which is really what I want to talk about here. Here it is: I feel reluctant sometimes to discuss my feelings about things like this because I am so conservative and I don’t want to offend people. But it is strange to me that this is so. Has Relief Society become so accepting of differences and so open to exceptions that we no longer feel safe in discussing (or advocating) conservative choices?

I feel so blessed that I grew up in a more liberal church. By “more liberal,” I mean a church that encourages acceptance and even the embracing of differences. A church that has, during my lifetime, switched to encouraging men to put their families first, help out at home once in a while, be sensitive to the physical and emotional needs and limits of their wives. Most of my adult life has been spent in a post-Chieko Okazaki Relief Society, in which we make sure we bend over backwards not to offend the woman sitting next to us who might have chosen, as Okazaki did, to work outside of the home while others cared for her children.

I LIKE this change.

And yet . . . and yet I remain the kind of woman who chose to stay home with my children, even though it was hard, because the prophet suggested I do so. I am glad I did, and I got many blessings by doing so, but the biggest reason I did was because of that. But I don’t feel that I could say that, just that way, in Relief Society, or even on some on-line forums that pride themselves on being “safe places.” The thing is, we’ve made everything so safe for people who are not strict in their following of church guidelines, or people who wonder, or people who don’t fit into the traditional LDS woman types. But have we made these places less safe for people who are strict with themselves and traditional? Do we give as much respect to the “hardliners” for strictness as we do to the women who have made other choices? Do we try as hard to make sure these more conservative women feel like they won’t be attacked or ostracized for sharing their feelings and opinions as we do the others? (I’m not talking here about tolerating intolerance. I’m just talking about making sure people feel safe and respected.)

What do you think? Have there been times when you have hesitated to share a more conservative opinion or feeling because you feel like you won’t be respected or you might be attacked?


Stefan said...

oh, this could spark an awesome discussion on Segullah.

I too, stayed home because the Prophet said so-- but I rarely phrase it that way...I usually make excuses for myself. And now that my kids are getting older I feel a lot of pressure to me MORE. When I know I am already doing too much.

Kristi Stevens said...

Yes. I am very careful with my true opinions for fear of offending.

In response to your question about whether there are ill effects of being raised by two full time working parents I can honestly say that there are. They may not be noticeable but I still suffer the ill effects of it.

Both of my parents worked outside the home. My mother logged in 60+hours a week. So I basically raised my siblings. I went to several babysitters houses over the years and it left a deep need to come HOME. It is NOT the same going to some place else after school. No matter how great the child care provider. This also exposed me to all sorts of evil influences that I never would have had if my mother was in the home.

When I was in high school my siblings and I were latch key kids. Parents can placate themselves all they want but I promise you if there is no one in the home after school and kids are unsupervised they are likely to make bad choices and are more likely to develop bad habits.

Though I do teach a night class after my husband gets home from work, I committed to never place my children in daycare long before I became a parent. I want my children to always be able come home to a mother.

I wish I could say that I stay home because the prophet said so but I stay home because I experienced the alternative and no amount of financial security is worth the trade off.

How's that for an opinion?

Anonymous said...

I often hold back my conservative opinions. Sometimes it's because I value a relationship that's not based on politics, sometimes it's what I believe to be good manners, or other times I'll avoid a discussion when I doubt I'll change someone's mind or the chance of volatility and contention seems high. Sometimes I do fantasize about starting a separate blog just to have a place to talk about my opinions on issues that I don't want to define me entirely, but yet are part of who I am.

I remember one time in Berkeley overhearing a conversation between a couple of friends in the ward, who were talking about how working women in the church didn't have a voice, and they were talking particularly about their mothers' experiences with unkind judgments when they had worked. I remember thinking that I doubted these young women (who weren't yet moms themselves) had experienced how far the pendulum had swung back, to where in many instances a mom who chooses to be home full-time is looked down on, diminished, or disapproved of, even occasionally by other women in the Church. Of course it's true that mothers with a necessity (or at least a strong reason) for being in the workplace do sometimes get judged unkindly by others in the Church. But so has Julie Beck been, when she's been so tactless or politically incorrect as to suggest that LDS women ought to be good homemakers.

Rarely, but occasionally, I'll start thinking that I'm not doing enough to distinguish myself nor develop my talents--and it's not because I've mastered my domestic responsibilities and need more pursuits to fill my time. In fact, I think it's because I *haven't* mastered homemaking and child rearing, and am beginning to doubt that I ever will master them, so I crave some other arena where I can shine. (An alternate arena that's likely in some ways to be less demanding.) Again, I haven't felt that way terribly often, but I've been feeling it somewhat lately. Maybe it's because recently I've encountered some amazing and very talented people whose accomplishments I envy, or, again, maybe it's because it's hard for me to see my successes on the home front. I also, just occasionally, feel that I'm somehow spoiled or decadent to stay home with my kids, as that "privilege" becomes rarer in the world. But then I remind myself not just that doing this job involves real and great sacrifices, but also that I absolutely believe that having a present and engaged mother is by far the best circumstance for kids, whenever it's possible. I even probably enjoy being stuck at home with my kids more than many women do, but I still really would love for it to be the kind of a job I felt like I could master. (I do also believe that all parents need some creative outlet other than parenting and homemaking, but often the demands of parenthood can mean keeping those interests at a simmer rather than a rolling boil, during the most crucial child-rearing years.)

I do think in the world in general, the role of stay-home-mom is under a heavy barrage of attack, and I'm extremely grateful for the encouragement and support I get from the Church in reminding me that this thing that I wanted for myself and for my kids really is possible, valuable, and worthwhile.

(I think I might also put this comment up at my blog. I don't know why I typically write essays in other people's comment boxes instead of at my own blog--although the first paragraph of this comment might partly explain that tendency of mine.)

Darlene Young said...

That's a good point, Zina, about the longing for something in your life that you can feel mastery over. That's the hardest thing about parenting for me--the lack of any way to measure success. I know I could always be doing more, and always be doing less. How do I decide if I'm doing enough? Especially of the things I don't enjoy much?

Laura said...

I definitely keep these opinions to myself. After all, I know only one other SAHM who doesn't work part time and have her own independent income. I stayed home because the prophet said so. I don't watch R rated movies, because the prophet said so. There are a lot of things I do because the prophet said so. . . but I don't say it out loud.

This is especially true for discussions involving Mormon arts and culture. I have caught a lot of flak over at AMV for being more conservative in my artistic choices.

I think it's hard because for so long Mormons conflated righteousness with outward appearances. As a culture we're getting better . . . but maybe the pendulum has to swing a bit far the other direction so that we can settle somewhere in the middle.

Anonymous said...

I generally keep my conservative opinions to myself, but I am getting more confident in sharing them, especially in Church. I do feel the pendulum has swung too far to the left, and many sisters are looked upon as inferior because they choose to follow prophetic counsel that goes against society's standards. I wish I would have had more opportunity to attend Relief Society in MA and express my opinions (backed by prophets' counsel), as the women there are generally liberal, and generally employed full-time. Even the YW leaders were encouraging the girls to pursue careers rather than prepare for marriage & family.

There are always rationalizations for working, such as "I'm helping provide for our family." "I'm a better Mom because I work." "I'm teaching my daughters that you can be anything you want to be." (What about teaching them that it's OK to be a mother first & foremost?) "Raising children is not my thing." "Why are we counseled by the prophets to get an education if we aren't going to use it?"

I stayed home to raise my children partly because the prophets said I should, but mostly because I don't understand why any woman would want someone else raising her children. (Confession: I did work about 10 hours outside the home each week when my 1st was little. It gave both him & me a much needed break from each other, and smoothed my transition from full-time caseworker to full-time Mom. Perhaps that makes me a hypocrit.)

While in MA, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. The primary children were the most unruly bunch I have ever seen, and I've served in primary in various capacities for the better part of 20 years. However, the children who actually behaved appropriately all came from homes with SAHMs who actually cared for their own children (as opposed to the ones with SAHMs who had a nanny or full-time babysitter). There is something about knowing your parent--especially mother--is around and available to help that is vital to a child's emotional and behavioral well-being.

That is my opinion, and I hope I have the courage to share it when appropriate. I have made sacrifices to stay home, but they have been worth it.

(Another confession: Now that my children are all in school full-time, I would like to pursue some kind of employment for various reasons. BUT, BUT, it must not interfere with before & after school time! I will be there for my children. Again, maybe I'm being hypocritical...)

I wonder what would happen if this topic was discussed in RS worldwide. Would it make a difference?


Laura@livingabigstory said...

Looking through your archive today and am really enjoying it. So often I have remained silent -- whether because I'm worried my opinion will be too conservative or too liberal. Yeah, I know it's hard to believe that it's even *possible* that I hold my tongue sometimes because I already talk so much -- imagine what it would be like if I *didn't* hold my tongue sometimes??