Growing up Mormon I was taught frequently about the role of woman. Mormon doctrine teaches that men and women are inherently different and therefore have different roles. One of the most common lesson examples on this subject I remember is PPP=N. If you were/are Mormon you probably know exactly what I am referring to. The lesson would start out with a discussion on how men and women are inherently different and then the teacher might ask, “So is one sex better than the other?” And everyone would chuckle and the teacher would proceed to write the following on the board:
Fathers=preside, provide, and protect. Mothers=nurture.
This lesson example comes from The Family: A Proclamation to the World; a document released by the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1995.
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.
The assumption is made that men and women will have children, but the interesting thing is that a father’s role can be done in the absence of children. It does state that this is a father’s role, but presiding, providing and protecting can be done for a man’s family even if the family only consists of himself and his spouse. But what about the women’s divine role? It doesn’t say she is primarily responsible for the nurturing of her family it says she is primarily responsible for the nurturing of her children.
So what does the role of mother have to do with the role of women? Everything. That is because Mormon theology also teaches that a woman’s divine role is motherhood.
“No matter what you read or hear, no matter what the differences of circumstances you observe in the lives of women about you, it is important for you Latter-day Saint women to understand that the Lord holds motherhood and mothers sacred and in the highest esteem. He has entrusted to his daughters the great responsibility of bearing and nurturing children.
“This is the great, irreplaceable work of women. Life cannot go on if women cease to bear children. Mortal life is a privilege and a necessary step in eternal progression. Mother Eve understood that. You must also understand it…
(“Privileges and Responsibilities of Sisters,” Ensign, Nov. 1978, pp. 105–6)
Found in Young Women Manual 2: Lesson 5
Woman has filled a wonderful part in the march of progress, but most important of all the duties that have been laid upon the gentler sex, is the duty of bringing into the world and rearing, the children of our Heavenly Father.”
(Sharing the Gospel with Others, 139)
I wanted this. I never considered having a career. The greatest, and most irreplaceable role of women was motherhood and that is what I was going to do. I loved going to school and learning and I attended college at the Mormon owned private school, Brigham Young University. I had been encouraged to choose a major that would allow me a career that would be convenient with children, as a mother. I chose Elementary Education and for two years worked towards applying for and being accepted to the program. I was accepted and on my first day in the program…well, I changed my major the next day. I despised it. I switched to psychology because that truly interested me but I never considered a career. I would get my degree and become a mother. The end.
I started struggling with my Mormon faith during the first year of my marriage, but I persisted and decided that I had to be better. I felt too young to be having children but as that was my divine role as a woman, I decided I should stop being selfish¹ and go for it. I thought I would probably be happier with my religion and myself if I did what God wanted me to do.²
Turns out I am “infertile.”³ For some reason my body doesn’t want to get pregnant and if it does, my body can’t carry the baby.
When I had a miscarriage is 2011, my world fell apart. After the initial heartache, I realized that many women had gone through the same thing or had it even worse (could never get pregnant, lost many children, had stillborns), but my issue now was with my identity. This was my divine role. This was what God wanted me to do. And I had failed. Was I truly a woman if I couldn’t get pregnant? Was I truly a woman when I did get pregnant but couldn’t carry the baby? If priesthood is equal to motherhood…where was I? In the hierarchy of the church, was I below a twelve year old boy?⁴
It took me a long time, and much change, to discover who I was and what made me E. Maybe it was society or my religion that caused me to have this discovery so late, or maybe it was my interpretation of the things I heard. Whatever the reason, I don’t think I am the only one who has had this experience. There is one quote I remember hearing in church that says a woman’s role is to be a mother, but a man must seek his role.⁵ I had never thought to seek out my role; my role was handed to me and advice on how to succeed in my role was constantly given.
Simone de Beauvoir said in her book The Second Sex,
If I want to define myself, I first have to say, “I am a woman”; all other assertions will arise from this truth.
Perhaps these other assertions arise because society, culture and religions have already defined what a woman is and what she should be doing. Instead of defining girls and women, why don’t we encourage personal discovery? Why don’t we let them seek?⁶
1. Individuals who put off having children, choose not to have children, or choose to limit the amount of children they have are often viewed as selfish.
“Those who are physically able have the blessing, joy, and obligation to bear children and to raise a family. This blessing should not be postponed for selfish reasons.” Topics: Birth Control
2. “God has a plan for the happiness of all who live on the earth, and the birth of children in loving families is central to His plan. The first commandment He gave to Adam and Eve was to ‘be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth’ (Genesis 1:28). Topics: Birth Control
3. Have been trying for multiple years and fertility drugs, while causing exhaustion, moodiness, and weight gain, have not caused pregnancy.
4. Mormonism’s Odd Couple: The Motherhood-Priesthood Concept by Sonja Farnsworth
5. “It is divinely ordained what a woman should do, but a man must seek out his work. The divine work of women involves companionship, homemaking, and motherhood.” (“In His Steps,” 64)
6. It is freeing to finally seek. I know I want to be a mother, but not for the same reasons as before. I can honestly say, finally, that I am choosing this.
*I do not mean to pick on the Mormon church, it is just what I have the most experience with. I concede completely that other religions and societies/cultures have had the same influence.
**I also realize men experience pressure to be a certain way, even in the Mormon church. Many boys and men are looked down upon when they want to be nurturers or when they choose a career that is not very lucrative.
***I know many women have defied the traditional role of women and are very content in their relationship with the Mormon church. You are awesome and I hope you are Young Women‘s leaders!