I really appreciate Naomi asking this question because I think it is such an important question for women to be thinking about and discussing. Personally I feel like I have a constant debate going on in my head about how involved to be in things outside of my home. I know I could use some more guidance. Yet before everyone else shares their thoughts I just want to share with you two stories of early Mormon women that have given me a lot of guidance as I've prayed and pondered about where God wants me to be spending my time, energy, and talents.I am currently a working mother of two little ones, 3 and 4. And as such I often struggle with the concept that "fathers are ... responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families ... [and] mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children." The family proclamation also says that "...other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation" which is at the moment the case in my situation. But what if a woman chooses to be a mother AND have a career, not out of necessity? If the woman is not supposed "to provide the necessities of life" but rather to nurture her children, how does a woman reconcile desires for a higher education and a career? Or should she be discouraged to obtain higher education and a career?
As I am considering obtaining a master's degree with two small children at home/day care, while also being a working mother, I am not sure if maybe I am being a bit selfish by wanting to go for more education, or whether it would be a good example for my children to see that their mother values education? What is a woman to do? What are your thoughts? I'd be interested to know.
The first story is the story of Susa Gates Young who was a daughter of Brigham Young and is considered to be one of the most influential Mormon women in history. Carolyn W. D. Pearson wrote this about her in the book "Mormon Sisters":
"During her lifetime of seventy-seven years, she was a prolific writer, musician, genealogist, teacher, organizer, administrator, home economist, public speaker, researcher, traveler, suffragist, and Church worker as well as a wife and the mother of thirteen children... She corresponded with Tolstoy and took tea with Queen Victoria. Susan B. Anthony once offered her the post of secretary in the National Council of Women if she would give up her militant Mormonism; Susa declined....Married at sixteen, she was divorced at twenty-one. Only five of her thirteen children survived to adulthood. Despite a lifelong commitment to the Church she underwent a spiritual crisis in middle age... as an old woman she personally catalogued over 16,000 Young family names... she could no more be called a "typical Mormon woman" than her father could be called an "average Latter-day Saint."
This woman really did it all and left an incredible legacy. Yet despite all she accomplished she often quoted something her father, Brigham Young, had once told her:
"Daughter, use all your gifts to build up righteousness in the earth. Never use them to acquire name or fame. Never rob your home, nor your children. If you were to become the greatest woman in this world, and your name should be known in every land and clime, and you would fail in your duty as wife and mother, you would wake up on the morning of the first resurrection and find you had failed in everything; but anything you can do after you have satisfied the claims of husband and family will redound to your own honor and to the glory of God."This counsel became the creed by which she lived her life. She knew that when she stood before God he wouldn't ask her about the societies she organized, the vote she helped secure for women, or the articles she had written-- he would ask her about the precious souls he had entrusted to her care and how she had fulfilled her duty to them. Even during the time in her life when she was a single mother and had to work to support herself she strove to do the work of the Lord, no matter where it took her, all while testifying that she considered "Mother" to be her most important title and home to be her most important responsibility.
****The second story is of Dr. Ellis Shipp who was the second woman doctor in Utah. When she was in her late 20's, and the mother of three little boys under the age of 5, she was asked by Brigham Young if she would leave her family for 5+ years and go East to study to become a doctor. Her autobiography reveals a woman who was torn between wanting to fulfill her responsibility as a mother but who felt a burning calling from God to gain knowledge and skills that were desperately needed among the Later-day Saints. It is heartbreaking to read how she said goodbye to her three little sons, the youngest one was not even a year old yet, how she cried the whole long train trip to Philadelphia, and how for the next several years she longed to be with her children and her family more than anything else. Yet she knew that she was doing what the Lord wanted her to do and her story is filled with miracle after miracle about how the Lord provided a way for her to accomplish what he had sent her to do.
When she returned home after her years at school her youngest son didn't even recognize her. It took her several years to re-establish the relationships she once had with her children. Yet in the end Dr. Shipp's training was a huge blessing to the Mormon community; she trained hundreds of women in the skills of nursing and midwifery and saved thousands of lives. Her life wasn't easy but she always thanked God for the opportunities she had been given to serve her fellow men. Like Nephi in the Book of Mormon she had gone and done the things the Lord had commanded and in return God had prepared a way for her to be both a mother and a doctor.
***The examples of these early Mormon women have really influenced and strengthened me the last few months. Lately I've had a raging debating going on in my heart and soul about going back to school to get an advanced degree. I've been pondering about it and praying about it but every time I ask God I always get the answer, "Not yet, I need you here with your children." I think perhaps the time will be right, some day, but I know for right now I need to stay where I am. In addition this quote from a talk Julie Beck gave last year also seems to play constantly through my head, she said:
"We see evidence all around us that the family is... becoming less important in all societies. We know that because marriage rates are declining, the age of marriage is rising, divorce rates are rising, and more than a fourth of all births are out of wedlock. We see lower birth rates, and they’re dropping every year worldwide... Many times a career is gaining importance over the family. We know, from our studies here at Church headquarters... that our youth are increasingly less confident in the institution of families. They're less confident in their ability to form a successful eternal family. Because they are less confident in families, they're placing more and more value on education and less and less importance on forming an eternal family."I realize that for me-- it will be different for every woman-- being at home with my children is where the Lord needs me right now. This is a huge sacrifice for me but I feel that the Lord knows this and has blessed me, beyond my wildest dreams, for doing what he told me to do. For example, not long after my first child was born I felt prompted... no, commanded... to start this blog and it has proven to be such a blessing in my life. Through it he has opened up possibilities for me that I never even dreamed of. I can testify that when we we obey the Lord's commandments for us, whether it is staying at home like me or continuing your education and having a career like Dr. Ellis Shipp, he opens up the way and blesses us and our families.
So Naomi, I think what I am trying to say is that we need to pray about EVERY decision, no matter how small it seems, that takes us away from our children and our homes. For like Neal A. Maxwell said,
"The act of deserting home in order to shape society is like thoughtlessly removing crucial fingers from an imperiled dike in order to teach people to swim. "If we are going to do something as critical as take our finger out of the dike, so to speak, then we need to know that the Lord had told us to do it and that He is watching over our "dike" while we do his work. We don't want to take our finger out for selfish reasons and then one day, as Brigham Young said, "...find you had failed in everything."
I want to bear my testimony that God has a different plan for every woman, every family, and every situation and if we ask God he will give us direct and powerful revelation. He knows the deepest desires of our heart and I promise that He will provide ways for us to do them... we just need to have the faith to listen and obey.
Now it is your turn... what are your thoughts and what has been your experience?