The Privilege of Being a Mormon Woman

This post is mistitled. It should read The Privilege of Being a Middle Class (American-Mormon) Married Woman. I admit that up front.

We marry. We have a baby. We breastfeed them and change diapers. We potty train them and squish play dough. Then we walk them to school, and drive them to lessons. We usually have more than one baby. And the routine is more or less the same. Soon the last baby is no longer potty training or squishing play dough. And we walk him or her to school. And then we have, time.  It’s like air at the top of an hourglass, gradually increasing, letting us breath deeper and deeper as time runs out with our children. The time creeping up on us, the time that is ours.

 It’s not that I feel entitled, exactly. I have grand goals. I want to pay for college educations, support my aging parents, take care of myself in old age, assist those around me, and serve missions with my husband. I want to pick up my kids at the close of their missions. I want to be the grandma always available to help my daughter and daughter-in-laws when they have babies.  When my husband goes somewhere, I want to go with him. I want to go to conferences that interest me on a whim.  I want to go see my sisters, and my children and their children. I want to traipse around the English countryside and explore parrish records where my ancestors were christened, married and buried. And I don’t want the hour glass overturned again, sand taking up my air.

We live a privileged life. We have a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, food on our table. Our tanks are full of gas. I pay for things like swim lessons in the summer and piano lessons in the fall.  My family goes skiing every winter. But while I don’t need to work, given my goals I do feel the need to eventually add to our income. However, I’ve come to the realization that I don’t want to work full time, to have to be on a clock constantly, always building a schedule around my job. I realize this is selfish, that my goals too, ultimately are selfish.

 “Motherhood is being the queen bee! The Queen! You get to sit home and run the show, shielded and protected by the worker bee,” are the words my young women leader engraved into the moral judgment center of my brain. So that’s what I expected. It’s what I planned for. It’s what I got. I felt entitled as a woman to not have to work, at least not for money. Women have claim on their husbands for their maintenance, after all.  

Ultimately it’s up to my husband and me to find the balance in our lives.  Crossroads are like that, finding the road that is best for you be it paved highway or country road, or blazing a new one.

The time creeps up on you. As a mother, how do you plan to spend your time when the children are older? Do you have any plans? Is it fair to plan to not work? Even if your own pursuits won’t incur additional expenses, should you feel obligated to supplement the family income?

98 thoughts on “The Privilege of Being a Mormon Woman

  1. I have plans, grand plans. Involving school and eventually a job. However, my “job” would be a selfish job. One that I have wanted forever. It would hardly be for an added income. More for mental and emotional balance. One that would be helpful to my family, adding to the talents and tributes I already possess as our homemaker. I don’t think we (Mothers) ought to feel obligated to supplement the family income. Unless it is a necessity for homemaking to even be possible. I do think we need to do our part to keep our family’s healthy, happy, and full of love. I don’t think being a homemaker ends when the kids no longer need you to wipe their noses for them. It is a lifelong task. Something that always should come first. We ought not sit and be idle.

  2. I don’t feel obligated to earn money because we can manage as we are. We are not well off, in fact after a spell of unemployment and then a change of career we are worse off than we have been for years. We have a mortgage, drive old cars and buy everything in the sales. Holidays are rare. However, we can manage to feed and clothe ourselves and pay our bills. Extra money would mean more treats, a bigger house so the children all had their own space, and security. Is it worth it though? To some people that would be a yes, to me it is a very loud no. Even though my children are all at school they still need me. I get to attend all their school assemblies and presentations, I am here when they are sick, I am around when they are home from school. If I worked even part time we would have no child cover for illness, out of school hours and school holidays. We have no relatives nearby to help, and I don’t believe in having children and then paying someones else to look after them. They still need an adult around when they are home. My role as their mother did not stop or lessen when they started school. I want to be here for them. There are many women who are happy to work, be it for money or self fullfillment, and that is their individual choice in their own circumstances. Our lives as mothers may look similar on the surface but we each make own decisions for our personal paths. It is up to us to find out what is right for us and stick with it no matter what others think.

  3. I had grand designs to go back to teaching full time — tenure! My very own office! Full time rather than adjunct status! And then I covered for a full-time professor whose father passed away, and I realized I didn’t really want to teach full time once my kids were old enough for me to be gone during the day. I was exhausted and spent by the end of the day from teaching, explaining, encouraging, and interacting with the students. I accomplished nothing else in the day besides teaching a lecture and two labs. I loved it, don’t get me wrong, but I realized that as long as my kids are young and still in school, I want to have some energy left for them by the end of the day.

    But we’ll see…that may change in a few years.

  4. You wrote: “Motherhood is being the queen bee! The Queen! You get to sit home and run the show, shielded and protected by the worker bee,”

    I totally disagree. You do not stay at home, you work at home to create a home. You do not run the show, you work with your husband to educate and nurture your children and enrich each other’s lives. Yes, your husband works to protect you. And you in turn work to create a haven for him.

    The life of a mother at home, even at its most difficult and exhausting stages of early childhood, is, if you make it so, one of creative problem solving and personal expression. Sure some of just do the “middle class American mormon routine”, do what we see other mothers do around us, and anticipate a queen bee status as our children become more independent, but there is so much more creatively possible than that in every stage of motherhood.

    I found my time at home when my children were older to be rich and full of mothering as well as freer, allowing me more time to volunteer doing the outside work I loved. Being a volunteer allowed me the flexibility to put my family’s needs first and choose to be there when I needed or wanted to be there for them.

    Now my children are grown. I still volunteer in the field I love but do not work for pay. In my large extended family there is often the need for an extra pair of motherly or sisterly hands in a time of need or crisis. My work outside my home is enjoyable and fulfilling, but not as satisfying as being able to be those extra set of needed hands.

    I am not a queen bee. I hope I never am. My work, as a co-equal with my husband, both in my family and outside of it makes for, right now, a wonderfully satisfying (though still tiring) creative life; the kind of life I watched my mother live and that I wish for all my sisters.

    I am grateful that we are able to live on my husband’s salary. I plan to work by his side, nurturing the family ties in this life as long as the Lord allows that time together.

  5. my mother stayed home.

    i stay home.

    my married girls and daughters-i-love stay home.

    and we work, play, pray, while we full-time mother.

    with six married children, one still at home, and one who has challenges…15 grandchildren…well, i have enjoyed being available.
    i think it would be fun to work on Tuesdays. maybe arranging flowers. i do plan to take a class this fall. this life is very sweet, and i get to hang out with my retired sweetie.

  6. After many decades of full-time work, those who have planned adequately are able to retire and spend their time as they choose. Sometimes this involves and income, sometimes it doesn’t.

    As a mother, you’ve been working 24/7 for x number of years, and while you’ll never give up the title of “mother,” you also deserve a type of retirement, which may or may not involve an income.

    I just started reading Anne Crittenden’s book, The Price of Motherhood, and it’s really opening my eyes to the many ways in which the value of motherhood is overlooked in our society. I don’t know that motherhood should be thought of in exactly the same terms as other types of work, but I think a bit of a mental shift would definitely be an improvement.

  7. Mary B,
    I don’t like that characterization either. But in our culture sometimes that is how it is portrayed–and sometimes that is how we act.

  8. I feel blessed that my husband and I agree that the most important thing I can be doing right now is mostly being home. And that he knows it makes me a little crazy, so I also am adjunct at the college.
    The future? I get wild and crazy ideas. I would like to bring in more money, the money of a cushion. A little less worry.

  9. This is exactly where I am at right now as well.
    When I was in my twenties, waste deep in babies and diapers I knew exactly what I would be doing when I had time to myself again: Start an engaging career.
    Now that I am here, I am not so sure. My teen-agers need me in the evenings, but not so much during the day. I would like to be busy taking care of grandchildren – but neither of my married children have children yet. Also, it looks like they will not live nearby when they eventually do have children.
    What if you create a lifestyle to be available to your family and they simply do not need you?
    I feel enormous guilt having free time while my husband works full time. For some reason, I am also craving the validation that comes with a paycheck.
    I feel like I had lots of guidance from church leaders and family members when I started my family – stay home, be a dedicated mother, etc. But now at this stage, when my opportunities to mother are not as consuming I can’t seem to find role models and guidance that feels right to me.

  10. My husband, who is an educator, told me once, “I have the most undervalued profession. I have loads of education, experience, and training, yet someone with none of these things wants to tell me how to do my job.”

    I replied, “That might be true, but the difference between your job and mine is you get paid!”

    The way I see it, this IS my life’s career. It isn’t something I am doing until something more glamorous comes along. I don’t believe that my children will need me less when they are teenagers grappling with big decisions and big problems, than they do now when they need someone to help them wipe their noses.

    My life is a journey I can’t foresee. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? I can’t waste today daydreaming about what I’ll have tomorrow, or telling myself when these kids are “all in school” or “all out of the house” or “all married” or “all anything” then I will finally be able to do what I always dreamed about. In the end will it matter to me if I got to tour Europe if no one comes to visit me in my nursing home?

    My grandmother, who was struggling with the choices one of her sons was making, told me this: “You have a few years to do it and a lifetime to regret it. You want to be able to tell yourself you did everything you could for you kids.”

    If someone else has to work; they have to work, I don’t, so I won’t. It is as simple as that to me.

  11. I really love Mary B’s emphasis on WORKING at home. I could never bring myself to call it “staying at home.” But the fact is that in today’s economy, I don’t see how anyone can think about NOT having a paid job after the kids are grown. Only a minority of employees have traditional defined benefit plans.

    I do prefer part-time employment, for some of the reasons mentioned. I love being home with my kids after school.

    But in the US anyway, there are limits on how much a single earner can put aside for retirement. Taxwise, it is much better to have two earners.

    Admittedly, one of my jobs, I was maxing retirement deductions so that I only got $100 per paycheck.

    But living longer means longer in retirement, and I don’t want to be a burden to our children. I have always done the best thing for them, whether it was being home with them when they were little or being employed to put them through college without debts and being self-sufficient when we age.

  12. “After many decades of full-time work, those who have planned adequately are able to retire and spend their time as they choose”
    Unless they lost it all in the stock market, or had unforseen death or disability, or….

    Niasmith,
    I don’t know how anyone can plan not to work either. But it appears lots of people can.

    All,
    I’m not talking about abandoning your children to career whims–or dreaming about some future instead of living the moment with your kids.

    Kids do grow up. More time appears. In my own life I want to contribute in meaninful way to society. One way is to make money. But perhaps selfishly I want a less lucrative career and more free time. My husband loves his job. But what if he didn’t? Would it be fair of me to expect him to keep working a rigorous schedule so I could have the career of my choice?

  13. My children are 2.5 & 6 months, so I’m in the thick of it. Recently, though, I’ve been seriously thinking about homeschooling our children, at least for elementary school, in effect hiring myself to be full time child care provider and teacher for many years to come. :)

    I don’t feel like I owe it to my husband to work. When we were first married I worked while he went to school full time. Now he works while I mother full time. And, at least for right now, we both think I work a lot harder than he does, so I don’t feel guilty in the least. If there ever is a time where I am sitting around for hours reading books and watching TV instead of contributing to the care and maintenance of our household then I will probably seek out some kind of employment. However, I can think of a dozen projects I would like to work on if I had time (making a quilt, organizing our food storage, growing a bigger garden), so I don’t know if there ever will be a time where I will feel like I need to seek out employment to be evenly balanced with my husband in terms of contributing to the care and maintenance of our home.

    Have you ever read The Millionaire Next Door? Reading that book helped me realize that budgeting and being wise with our finances is probably a greater contribution to our household financial situation for us right now than going out and getting a job. (Not that that is true for everyone – but for us, right now, I think that is the case.)

  14. I second what Naismith wrote! It’s lovely that working or not is an option for some women, but for me it won’t be once my children are in school all day.
    We’ve done – and still do – all the right things. We are well educated; my husband has a good job. We purchased a cheap house, drive old cars, shop clearance racks, only vacation where we can mooch off relatives, and cook from scratch.
    We’re not saving enough for retirement, though, and we won’t be able to help our five daughters with college at all unless we have a larger income. The prospect of paying for five weddings scares the dickens out of me. (Even though I know how to do that on the cheap, too.)
    Did I mention that we’re squished into our house like sardines?
    I have four years until my youngest starts kindergarten. I am desperately wracking my brains trying to come up with a way to supplement the family income so my poor husband doesn’t have to work until he’s 85, yet still allow me to be home when my kids get home, attend school assemblies, and keep them from killing each other during summer vacation.
    We know we’re blessed to have good health, enough money to pay the bills, and five fantastic kids. I feel very fortunate to have stayed home with my kids as long as I have. Change is coming though, it has to.

  15. Kristine,
    You wrote: “Also, it looks like they will not live nearby when they eventually do have children.
    What if you create a lifestyle to be available to your family and they simply do not need you?”

    My adult children live in three different states. My aging parents live thousands of miles away. My and my husband’s siblings live all over. The distance does not eliminate the need to be of assistance. Over the years I have traveled quite a bit to assist with medical emergencies and personal crises as well as to help with happier family needs. We set up a “family relationships” category in our budget and save specifically so that I or my husband can travel to be there when needed.

    Unless you are a very hard to deal with, angry sort of person, I don’t believe there is such a thing as having a family that will not need your help. Distance does not change that.

  16. “Unless you are a very hard to deal with, angry sort of person, I don’t believe there is such a thing as having a family that will not need your help.”

    How quick we are to blame the mom!

    Two of my adult children went through phases where they were embarrassed by me and did NOT want my help. Their attitude changed over time, although I did not.

    I don’t think it is always the mother’s fault if people don’t want our help.

    And I think there are times of children’s lives when they have less need. All of our children waited some years before having children, and they really did not need help during that time (although we did still visit). And our parents our mostly dead, and don’t need our help (temple work is all done).

  17. The time when all my children will be in school all day seems like a dream to me. Thus far, I have five kids ages 10 to 6 months, two with special needs. It is busy. I can’t wait to have time to choose what I want to do and not have all my time demands pretty much decided by those around me. I don’t think of it as selfish. As has already been said, During the early years you are on duty 365 days a year 24/7. I see it as another season of our lives to develop some of the talents and gifts we can.

  18. “It should read The Privilege of Being a Middle Class (American-Mormon) Married Woman.”
    “I’ve come to the realization that I don’t want to work full time, to have to be on a clock constantly, always building a schedule around my job. I realize this is selfish, that my goals too, ultimately are selfish.”

    I really cannot call myself a Middle Class american mormon woman. I felt a little put off by this post, but had to remind myself that you very clearly stated what was selfish about it. I wish I had the choice not to work and to put my kids in extra activities, and to vacation even if its on a dime. But we aren’t even surviving right now. And I don’t think we will ever have some of the priveledges that you talked about. It’s just not a reality for our family. I wish there were ways we could cut for me to stay home more, but we’ve already done that.
    If things were different for us, I think planning to not work is completely acceptable if your situation allows. Just remember while you do it how incredibly lucky you are to have that priveledge when the majority of people, even those in the mormon US world, can’t do that.

  19. Not blaming the mom, Naismith. Just recognizing that there are some people who are not helpful. I don’t expect that you are one of them. Nor do I expect that not being needed at a particular time is an indication that there is a problem with the one who is not needed.

    I must have touched a tender point. I apologize.

  20. I am entrenched in children; seven, five, two, and expecting a baby next month.
    We have chosen to homeschool which alters the timing of all things in my future. Certainly the day will come when I have closed the door on the daily needs of rearing and educating, but it is a distant future.
    My husband and I speak often of the prospect of me going back to school to complete my Bachelor’s degree when he finishes his PhD. It used to be a thing I longed for – even felt sometimes jaded by the opportunity seeming so distant. It doesn’t plague me so much anymore. I derive a good deal of satisfaction in giving myself to the season I have chosen.

    Some day I expect I will work outside the home to contribute to our income and my sense of well being. That season of my life will likely not last as long as the one where my kids are here, depending on me.

    I’m ok with that.

    Then missions – for each of us, when the time comes.

  21. Thank you for giving voice to hard questions with such honesty. We all have to reconcile our expectations and hopes with our constantly changing realities.

    There are countless ways to be an extraordinary wife, mother, grandmother. Our lives are not designed to be assembly-line affairs that produce cookie-cutter copies of the “ideal” woman or the “perfect” family. Even in a culture where we share essential values, our journeys are unique to each of us.

    It moves me that we find our individual paths and walk forward or at seasons stumble along or drag ourselves inch by inch or just lie face down in the way and pant for awhile. We keep moving. The landscape changes. One path peters out, others open. Choosing a way is profoundly personal work–not a matter decided by popluar vote. We each figure it out day by day.

    We needn’t compare paths or privileges–we don’t see well enough to even begin.God comprehends the singular offering that each of us brings to the altar. My sacrifice is acceptable to Him without reference to what my neighbor or sister lays at His feet. Thank heaven.

  22. However, I’ve come to the realization that I don’t want to work full time, to have to be on a clock constantly, always building a schedule around my job. I realize this is selfish, that my goals too, ultimately are selfish.

    I’m curious about a couple of things. One is why why you jump to this conclusion — that it’s selfish not to work full-time.

    I guess I’m a bit surprised to hear this. I think very often, such a decision can be based much in unselfishness, a desire to be flexible and available enough to be available for the many types of needs and opportunities that can grace and challenge a woman’s life and continued progress as life progresses. Some of this may reflect the age-old question — how much self-development is too much for a “nurturer”?

    On the flip side, the decision to work for pay will not always be rooted in unselfishness, either.

    So I think that even on this continuum, we can’t make absolute statements about what is or isn’t a “selfish” choice. Nor, of course, can we impose motives on others’ choices, because so much really goes into making them.

    I’m also curious as to why you label this a Mormon phenomenon. Is it because of the emphasis on gender roles (which I think has some validity – I tell young women I mentor that it’s a blessing to have a husband who can provide, because it facilitates choice for a woman, first to be able to stay home if they choose and then later in life to have a variety of options (this is one reason, btw, why I have never understood the frustration about men as providers, because I see that as a blessing for women who value choice).

    Still, though, isn’t this post also just a reflection of the kinds of questions that many women (at least those in situations where basic survival is not the focus of daily life) face at some stage or another, Mormon or not?

  23. Michelle,
    I think my own reasons might be selfish. They also might just be practical. (I’m no making a commentary on anyone else’s decisions.)They don’t necessarily arise from a desire to be a nurturer per se, but simply to enjoy life on my own terms. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing–but I am inclined to look at the big picture of what I really want, and that requires hard work in the end (but not necessarily for money or full time).

    I think this might be more a question for Mormon women than other women because, as the quote per my yw leader, we are taught from a young age a sense of entitlement to not work by virtue of being female. I’m sure we aren’t ever entitled to that. For some like me, circumstances permit. For others, not so much. As for nurturing, I can think of nothing more nurturing than a mother working hard to put food on the table for her family, or a wife sacrificing some free time to work so her husband is happy and they find a a good balance that works for them in their marriage and family.

  24. Some of this may reflect the age-old question — how much self-development is too much for a “nurturer”?

    I’m not sure what this even means,or that I’ve ever heard it before–

  25. I don’t get this post at all. How is this a universal priveledge among MORMON women? The assumption that working outside the home for a paycheck is a “given” in Mormonism is not only false, but it puts pressure on men and women inside the church to fulfill those roles (whether they want to or not). And, for those who don’t, many feel like outsiders. I am a Mormon woman and have never not worked. I have two young children. At one point, I was a single mom and am so grateful that I had the financial means to divorce my ex husband and provide (quite nicely) for my kids even though I received $0 child support for two years. It was empowering to walk out of our home, buy a cute condo, and still be able to buy plane tickets to Kaui and the Bahamas and London for our vacations. So I’m not buying into the assumption that staying home is necessarily a priviledge. I hope to teach my daughters independence and self reliance– to always be able to provide for herself and children should that be necessary. I can’t imagine having to stay with my ex husband out of financial necessity or becoming a burden to family/friends/church/government to help me out when we did leave. Not only that, how is this a MORMON priviledge and not just a “priviledge”? And how much pressure does this “priviledge” put on our men when they walk into a marriage with the given assumption that all financial providing is on their heads? While it’s a nice ideal for some, I can’t imagine how tough it must be on men, and how frustrating at times (and maybe even impossible and overly difficult). I am remarried and it is a “priviledge” and “empowering” and an “honor” to feel like a full partner in this marriage, to bring home almost equal to my husband, and to look at all we have and know that if it weren’t for me, it just wouldn’t be possible. I know this is not the only right way to live but prescribed gender roles in the church are, in my opinion, damaging. Let couples marry and decide how life should be for them and not go into it with a prescribed assumption.

  26. “I think this might be more a question for Mormon women than other women because, as the quote per my yw leader, we are taught from a young age a sense of entitlement to not work by virtue of being female.”

    I didn’t go through YW, but in the 30 years I’ve been a member, I never heard that we were entitled by virtue of being female. As MOTHERS of young children of course, and I also cherished my time at home when they were little. And I definitely was a full partner, contributing in a different but very important way.

    But it never occurred to me that if we were infertile or when the kids were gone that I would be entitled to be supported merely because of my chromosomes.

    As far as not working fulltime, I strongly recommend Linda Kelley’s book, TWO INCOMES AND STILL BROKE?? IT’S NOT HOW MUCH YOU MAKE IT’S HOW MUCH YOU KEEP. She makes a compelling argument that it is often better financially to have one person part-time so they can use their time to save money. This is overwhelmingly true if child care is involved, but may even be true when there are no children in the home. Part-time employment can give one the tax-advantaged retirement savings and social security credits, while still having time to shop sales, sew things, and all those other money-savers that homemakers do.

  27. Naismith-

    I disagree. While the underlying reason might be motherhood, lessons and talks are geared toward motherhood and contributing in ways that are not defined as work and career. There is an assumption that women post motherhood won’t work. Women are encouraged to develop themselves and get an education for its own sake or “come what may,” but not flat out prepare for a career. Whereas the YM recite a theme that states they will seek education and career. That is completely absent in the YW theme.

    Anon–
    I admit it is by economic privilege I stay home, and second by choice, but never by entitlement.The first paragraph clearly spells out this is not universal.

  28. Some of this may reflect the age-old question — how much self-development is too much for a “nurturer”?

    I’m not sure what this even means,or that I’ve ever heard it before–

    I was going to say the same thing. As a single woman who has been coming to terms over the course of my 30s (just turned 36) that I may never marry, I still am a woman with innate “nurturing” abilities, but I’m not going to stop “self-development” because first and foremost, I AM A DAUGHTER OF GOD.

    That means a LOT to me. It means that I can be like him. And that means developing EVERY talent he’s blessed me with, no matter whether I have the privilege of being chosen a man to be his wife (which, as I said, becomes more and more unlikely the older I get). And it’s not my “self-development” that’s at fault if a man finds it intimidating that I want to develop those talents.

    Sure, I’d love to be doing so as a wife and mom. But I haven’t ever been given that chance, and it’s not something I can, y’know, go out and get for myself.

    No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, I think the most important thing is to do what’s right for us, whether it feels like it might be a little selfish to outside observers or not. I know plenty of people might look at me and assume that I’ve been too picky (um, yeah, because those guys are just lining up at my door, or because with a master’s degree and a strong career (in children’s literature, so I’m still working to bless children) that I’m too intimidating or overeducated or whatever. But those who would say that from the outside wouldn’t know the anguish I’ve felt at being dumped yet again, or the pain I’ve gone through at yet another relationship that never came to be.

    So perhaps others might see staying at home as selfish, but if living life on your own terms means you’re able to do things that bring you closer to God–and by that I mean developing whatever talents you feel are important to you, whether job/career or children or gardening or volunteering or whatever–then you’re doing pretty well.

  29. Seems like everyone is making mmiles feel like she used the wrong words with “priviledge” and “mormon woman”. I have never had the “opportunity” to not work, but understand it is everyone’s “priviledge” to decide how best to take care of their families (small or grown children). It is part of our free agency that we all have been given. While some understand how others use their agency and others don’t, we should all be supporting each other as we strive to do the best we can (period.)

  30. I think the discussion has been fair.

    The ability to work, to live where I do and have that chance, that too is a privilege. If I use that privilege well, I can help others who don’t have that privilege.

  31. I think mmiles’s right that Mormon women (in general) are more likely to feel like it’s their privilege to continue to stay home once all their kids are in school. When I moved to MN I had two small children, and I was surprised to see so many other moms of small children who stayed home in my neighborhood. (As a Utah Mormon, I suppose I expected very few people out there in “the world” to choose to stay home with their young kids–but, in fact, the vast majority of the moms in my neighborhood did just that.)

    The biggest cultural difference I saw was what happened once the kids were in school. Almost all the moms went back to work, at least part time. The overall feeling was that it was unfair to ask a man to shoulder the entire burden of providing economically for the rest of his life. Now, most of these families had two or three children. The fact that Mormon families are larger means that Mormon women generally spend more time with young children at home. And most of these women were married later than your average Mormon woman, so they’d spent a portion of their twenties or even into their thirties working and establishing some kind of career. This establishment made it easier for them to transition back into the workplace. The truth is, if a woman is married at 20, has her first child at 22, and continues to have babies into her mid-thirties, then it’s a lot more difficult to jump back into the workforce than if a woman has her first child at 28 and her last child at 33.

    I, for one, have been working part time even with young kids at home and will probably continue to do so, simply because I enjoy it. I also realize that circumstances might change and I might need to work full time, or that my children might need me home completely as adolescents (or as adults) for reasons I don’t now know. But the fact that I have the option to be flexible in these choices is a complete privilege, and one that most women in the world don’t enjoy.

  32. As a mom raising five girls who will need to re-enter the workplace in a few years, I have really appreciated this post and discussion.

    I have to disagree, though, that education leading to a career isn’t taught by Church leadership. It’s not in the YW theme, but I’ve noticed it being increasingly emphasized in the YW General Meeting every year in particular.

    I know it’s a big deal in our family. I hope my daughters marry great guys who earn fabulous incomes and who don’t get hit by a bus or anything else unfortunate. However, divorce, death, disability, unemployment and underemployment can happen to the most faithful families. They might not get married at all.

    One of my friends several years ago felt impressed to have another baby AND go back to work. At the same time. Less than two years later her husband was dead from a brain tumor.

    Therefore, I am teaching my girls to first, get an education with the full expectation that they will need to support themselves and possibly their whole family. I tell (beg, plead, implore) them to do something they both enjoy and that will earn a good living.

    Second, I tell them, to learn to listen for the promptings of the Spirit and seek personal revelation.

    It’s very likely those five daughters will have five different life paths. If they do those two things, though, they’ll all be okay.

  33. Oh, and I also tell them that I really love being home with them.
    And that, ya, I do think it’s kind of a privilege and I really appreciate my husband for providing for us.

    I’ll shut up now.

  34. Angela,
    Thanks for pointing out the realities. It would be naive to think one can leave the workforce at 21 and return decades later without having to do some major catch up.

  35. “Some of this may reflect the age-old question — how much self-development is too much for a “nurturer”?

    I’m not sure what this even means,or that I’ve ever heard it before–”

    “I was going to say the same thing. As a single woman who has been coming to terms over the course of my 30s (just turned 36) that I may never marry, I still am a woman with innate “nurturing” abilities, but I’m not going to stop “self-development” because first and foremost, I AM A DAUGHTER OF GOD. “

    Sorry I didn’t make it more clear — but what you said above was sort of my point. While we are encouraged to nurture, we aren’t told to forgo all personal development. It’s part of the process of decision-making and personal revelation to figure out how much to be “unselfish” and how much to be “selfish” in this regard of developing self vs. caring for/ serving others. This balance can vary from year to year, sometimes from month to month. . And sometimes the two can be combined.

    I still think there is more nuance to the notion of not jumping back into the workforce than just “privilege” or “entitlement” (which to me sounds sort of like women who choose not to work are acting like spoiled children who are taking advantage of their husbands. Many women stay home because they feel impressed to do so, even after children are in school. I think we ought not imply that somehow it’s less selfish or more noble to work, which is some of what I felt the OP was implying. I could have read that wrong, though.

    For me, the impression not to pick up my pre-mom career surprised me a bit, actually, since I loved my work and thought I’d probably pick up again. I’ve also had professional opportunities that I would have loved to take. But other opportunities that have come that don’t bring in pay are also meaningful, keep my résumé active (working for pay is not the only way to keep a current résumé) and keep me available for my kids in ways that working might not (not that there aren’t work options that are flexible, too). And I feel I contribute to our financial situation on the ‘saving’ end of things.

    I have to disagree, though, that education leading to a career isn’t taught by Church leadership.

    I agree with Stephanie. I think our leaders are very aware of the need for women to be prepared for whatever may come, and education is key to that preparation, and they talk about it a lot. There is more nuance there, too, than I think is often acknowledged.

  36. Just so you know… For MOST professions (not all), a college degree with little experience to go along with it, or an extended break from employment, is an EXTREMELY tough sell, especially in today’s challenging job economy where competition is fierce. It took a college degree + 10 years of climbing the corporate ladder before I truly made enough money to support me and my daughters without help. That’s right– 10+ years in the professional work place of proving myself, improving my skills, and amassing enough experience before I hit the $100K+ annual income. If you think a simple degree, years of mommyhood, and then a jump into making a high income is in store for you, I think you’ll be sorely, sorely disappionted.

  37. I agree with the comment from anon above. In reality, what good does education do when trying to support a family in this economy if you don’t have current practical experience?

    I have felt extremely conflicted as I’ve tried to navigate decisions regarding my own education and having a family. Of course I value education for it’s own sake and think it is worthy to pursue whether or not one has a career in mind to follow a degree. It also seems wise to pursue an education and have a back up plan to support a family should the need arise. My question is how in reality can I bear children and stay home to raise them and also be “market ready”? I’ve been confused by the counsel of current church leaders that seems so contradictory:

    “We do live in turbulent times. Often the future is unknown; therefore, it behooves us to prepare for uncertainties. Statistics reveal that at some time, for a variety of reasons, you may find yourself in the role of financial provider. I urge you to pursue your education and learn marketable skills so that, should such a situation arise, you are prepared to provide.” Thomas S. Monson, “If Ye Are Prepared Ye Shall Not Fear,” Ensign, Nov 2004, 113

    and then this counsel:

    “Nurturing mothers are knowledgeable, but 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.” Julie B. Beck, “Mothers Who Know,” Liahona, Nov 2007, 76–78

    My problem is that I just can’t do it all and do it well. I can’t bear children and stay home to nurture and teach homemaking skills, while simultaneously being market ready should the need arise. I recognize that my feelings aren’t unique among women in this world, but I feel surprised that I feel so conflicted within the gospel.

  38. And that’s my biggest issue in the church– be a SAHM yet be ready to step in and provide for the family if you must. I don’t know about all of you, but my first year out of college I made the equivalent of about $24k per year by today’s standards. And in order to support JUST ME, I had to take a second job as a waitress and rely heavily on credit cards to pick up the shortfall. And, yes, I had roommates to make life more affordable. It doesn’t work that way. So how are you supposed to be self sufficient, while being dependent– all at the same time? I had to chose one of the options and my independence won out (thank goodness!). I decided when I was about 7 years old that I was going to have a career- period. All the YW lessons and conference talks never dissuaded me. I’ll never forget hearing my aunt ask my uncle if they had enough money for her to buy a dress. The horror! That would be the day I would ever ask my husband for $50 for a dress. All I can say is that I married who I thought was a good man but thank goodness I didn’t bank on him for my future and my children’s future. When it turned out that after 9 years life was impossible with this man and it was time to bolt, not once did I wonder how I was going to afford it. Without batting an eye, we moved out and into a very nice home. I provided for us well and with ZERO support from anyone– not my parents, the church, my ex husband, the government– NO ONE. If that’s not nurturing my kids, I don’t know what is. I know I’m on a soapbox here but I’m a Mormon woman, I often feel totally left out of the “in” crowd because I have a career and can’t do mommy play dates, I hate the gender roles and dependency it teaches us women from pretty much the cradle. I don’t want my girls when they are older to assume that that’s their choice because it’s been taught to them. I want them to look at all they myriad of choices and pick the best one. I hope they will never be totally dependent on their husbands (how stressful and fair is that to a husband anyway?), and I hope that they never “assume” anything.

  39. My problem is that I just can’t do it all and do it well. I can’t bear children and stay home to nurture and teach homemaking skills, while simultaneously being market ready should the need arise.

    I think this is a common tension that a lot of women struggle with. But it’s not impossible. Some of this really depends on the field you chose. And sometimes we have to be pretty darn creative about ways to consider marketability. I have always been a SAHM and feel very confident that I could find a job were the need to arise. I know other women who have done the same.

    It isn’t easy because we don’t talk about this enough, but it IS possible. Keep praying and asking the questions and talking to people. And don’t expect that all the answers will come all at once…take each step as you feel impressed and things can unfold. I’ve been amazed at how differently my life has unfolded from what I had thought or planned — even with regard to where my résumé has gone vs. where it was when I first left school.

    Also, sometimes your answer will be somewhere not in the middle. Maybe you’ll feel impressed to just focus on family for a while. Maybe you’ll be like the woman above and feel impressed to push through school and/or work. Trust the answers you get. The counsel of necessity has to include both elements of what is important to consider, but simply cannot prescribe all the specifics. I think this is an example of why Sis. Beck’s counsel about personal revelation is so relevant and critical.

  40. I hate the gender roles and dependency it teaches

    But that’s the point — they aren’t just sitting around telling us to be passively dependent. Hear what they are saying, not what it feels like people say they are saying.

    We have to be willing to hear that message and embrace the tension it produces when considered with the gender roles teaching. The tension is where we can find revelation.

  41. Thank you Michelle. I especially appreciate your last sentence, “The tension is where we can find revelation.” I will keep that in mind as I forge ahead. I wish we could speak more often and more respectfully about these kinds of issues as women. It is really encouraging when it happens.

  42. “There is an assumption that women post motherhood won’t work.”

    Of course I don’t doubt you had those lessons and were taught that, but it certainly wasn’t churchwide, at least not in the last 30 years.

    At the YW meeting in May 200, Pres. Hinckley said, “I became acquainted with my very cheerful and expert nurse. She is the kind of woman of whom you girls could dream. When she was young she decided she wished to be a nurse. She received the necessary education to qualify for the highest rank in the field. She worked at her vocation and became expert at it. She decided she wanted to serve a mission and did so. She married. She has three children. She works now as little or as much as she wishes. There is such a demand for people with her skills that she can do almost anything she pleases. She serves in the Church. She has a good marriage. She has a good life. She is the kind of woman of whom you might dream as you look to the future.”

    So he wants young women to dream of having a meaningful career? And that is consistent with what I was taught at BYU and many women’s conferences, to have a life plan.

    Also, the role models around me have always been women who were employed after motherhood. Paula Hawkins ran for the US Senate back when I was a young mom. Currently the ward and branch RS presidents are post-motherhood employed, as are the wives of the stake presidency (one just retired but was) as well as the wife of a former stake president who became an AA70. So that’s what I thought of as normal and expected.

    I would never have been a project coordinator without the skills I learned as a mom at home. It wasn’t time spent “not working,” it was working in a different field. With today’s economy and lots of occupations dying and people moving around more, it isn’t really that much of a disadvantage.

  43. However, I’ve come to the realization that I don’t want to work full time, to have to be on a clock constantly, always building a schedule around my job. I realize this is selfish, that my goals too, ultimately are selfish.

    I, too, am another one who is bothered by the underlying assumption that choosing not to work for money is selfish. You reiterate that again here:

    But perhaps selfishly I want a less lucrative career and more free time.

    In my last 10 years of being in two family wards, I’ve noticed something. Few women are available to help give service as needs arise. Most women are either working for pay or home with small children. When needs for service arise in the ward (like someone is in the hospital), it is usually young stay at home mothers who meet them. And young mothers who serve each other. This puts a lot of strain on young mothers. I guess I kind of laugh when I hear stories in the RS general meeting about older, more experienced women helping young mothers. Yeah, right. In my experience, they are all too busy being fulfilled in their own lives. Both my mother and MIL work full-time (one by choice, one by necessity). When I broke my leg and was in a cast with three small children, my MIL called and said, “Wow, I sure wish I could come help you, but I can’t take any time off”. Thanks – that wishing sure helps me take care of my kids while I crawl around the house because the pain of my knees getting shredded on the carpet is less than my aching armpits from the crutches. Those 6 weeks were some of the hardest of my life.

    Anyways . . . one thing I do feel that we as women have lost from so many of us entering the workforce is our support network for each other. I have friends from other countries (India and Zimbabwe) who told me that in their countries, the women all serve each other when they have babies. The other women care for the babies and care for the mothers. My friend from Zimbabwe (a nurse) said she didn’t even hear of PPD until she came to the U.S. In the church, we take each other meals, but that’s about it. We don’t really have that supportive community of women. I think I long for that.

    I guess this is my way of saying that I don’t plan to work for money if I don’t have to. I want to be the person who people call when someone is in need. I suspect that means I’ll spend a lot of time doing stuff I don’t even like doing now (watching other people’s kids, cleaning house, making meals), but I just feel that we need more people like that – people you can call on the spot to come help.

    And it makes me a little sad that others would perceive that as selfishness. I am not sure why working for pay has been elevated to such a preeminent virtue.

  44. Stephanie2,
    I think of the women who helped me through a hard time when my health stuff started. I was fortunate — most of them were older women who had chosen not to work (and I realize not everyone has that choice, but they did). I called them my stay-at-home sisters. They made a HUGE difference in my life.

  45. “So women should not work in case people they know break their legs?”

    That’s not what she said at all.

    But I ask why shouldn’t the needs of your RS sisterhood or neighborhood or community, etc. be something to have on the table (with all the other variables) when making decisions about how to best use your time and talents? Seems to me our covenants invite such consideration, at least at some level.

  46. As a general rule, I blog about ideas. My life may be a spring board for ideas that illustrate a point or ask a question. I’m not commenting on anyone’s life, or about what my neighbor (or you) should or shouldn’t do.

    I find great satisfaction in being at home with my family, and am sure I could do much good later in life at home, or in the workforce. It all comes down to my goals–just like for everyone else, it is a personal decision.

    Anon,
    “I recognize that my feelings aren’t unique among women in this world, but I feel surprised that I feel so conflicted within the gospel.”
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment and honesty. I think we all are surprised from time to time about conflicts within the gospel.

    Stephanie (and all),
    I never, ever said women who don’t work are selfish. Nor do I in anyway believe that. I believe our motives to stay home could be selfish, or not. Our motives to work could be selfish, or not. This post was to explore just that, our motives–after examining my own. I found some of my own motives to be suspect.

    I’m not deciding who is or isn’t selfish in their own choices(as regards to your MIL and others in your ward). Truly, I recognize all the good women do without paid work. But I recognize all the good women do for money. I’m not placing more value on one or the other. That entirely depends on circumstances.

    Michelle #42,
    It is fair to recognize this is a valid concern for lots of women without assuming they don’t get the gospel or fail to hear the message of church leaders and fail to embrace it.

    Naismith,
    I like the growing trend.

  47. Michelle,
    It’s on the table. Working also does not preclude taking that off the table. Caring for others could be the reason to work.

  48. Reading your other comment makes your position more clear. It did seem like you were suggesting that not working was more a selfish choice. I agree that any choice could be selfish or unselfish. Just depends.

    It is fair to recognize this is a valid concern for lots of women without assuming they don’t get the gospel or fail to hear the message of church leaders and fail to embrace it.

    If you read my earlier comment, you’ll see that I acknowledged the reality of the concern. We’ve *all* felt that tension, I think. It’s real. It’s hard. I struggle with it all the time. I didn’t mean to imply that women who struggle with this don’t get the gospel. In fact, it’s usually we who hear and care about the counsel who struggle mightily with that tension, because it does sometimes seem to conflict, and in some real ways, it does. We really *can’t* stay home full time and be absolute cutting-edge in our chosen field. But we *can* find out what is right for us now considering all the variables in our lives and the counsel we as a church have been given (which isn’t to be helpless dependents or entitled queen bees).

    I *do* think we sometimes shy away from the tension that exists when we hear all the counsel, though. And that isn’t that we aren’t good, faithful women, but that we are human. I find strength and comfort from considering that “tension” like this is part of the plan. We are, after all, daughters of Eve, are we not? ;) She had to make a choice between conflicting commandments. To do our best to make decisions in the face of similar tensions is, I think, part of what it means to exercise agency and trust in the Atonement and to learn by experience.

  49. I know I am commenting much here. This just happens to be a topic I’m really passionate about. I think the more we can help each other both acknowledge the tension AND learn to embrace it, the more empowered (I don’t like that word, but it’s late and it’s all I’ve got) we’ll feel to face it with faith and even some enthusiasm. It’s can be an adventure to engage with life and see how it will unfold with all these dynamics and surprises that can come into play.

  50. After I graduated from college almost 20 years ago, I had a toddler and I also took a job teaching school part-time. I became a virtual pariah in my family. It was (and still is) a painful reminder of the judgements that can come to women in the church when they choose (for whatever reason) to work. It is sad that people can’t make their own decision without judgements being rained down upon them – you aren’t available to give enough service, you should be doing more to save money in your household instead of earning it, you should be at home even if your kids are in school, they still need you, you are being selfish, and worst of all, you are not being a good mother, etc., etc. I think the underlying sentiment should be that we should respect the decisions that others make. We don’t have to agree with each other, or use the same reasoning when we make our decisions. At the end of the day it is an issue that is between us, our spouse and children, and Heavenly Father, as those are who we ultimately answer to.

  51. Charise,
    It’s a strange sort of sexism that we expect women to not work so that “they are available to give service,” while men would never be expected to not work on those grounds. It also is not at all compassionate towards people in the work place.

  52. When we were making the tough decision to have two more children, 10 years after the third one and a year out of my grad school, I went over all the worries about not finding paid employment again, and my husband wisely observed, “So it sounds like you want to be at home, but you are afraid of the consequences. Do you want to live your life in fear?” That really stuck with me, and when I would worry, I would ask that question, and took comfort that I was living by faith, not fear.

    I appreciate that it may sound simplistic, coming from someone who is already on the other side of the hurdle of finding that first job post-mommy.

    A book that explores some of these issues is “Off-ramps and On-ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success” by Sylvia Ann Hewlett. Yes, I quote too many books, but hopefully the public library will have it.

    I appreciated the comments about women being able to serve. It’s a tough one for all of us, irregardless of employment status. We will have five grandchildren before our youngest leaves home, so I feel very pulled between the generations; employment isn’t the only barrier to service. Despite my paid job, I did take more than a week off when my eldest daughter had her first child, and visited after the second, and went out and helped during her dissertation. Employers differ in the amount of leave they offer and whether sick leave can be used for a grandchild’s birth; my employer is very generous.

    But also, my health center badge gets me into places, when someone shows up sick from out of town, or needs surgery. I can’t even count how many people that I visit during lunch or taking an hour of leave from my job. I show newcomers how to use the cafeteria, and so on. And that doesn’t count the 121 days my grandson was inpatient for leukemia–I came over at lunch and spelled off my daughter-in-law; she had friends visit and they would walk for an hour or something.

    But preparing for retirement is something that is very important, and much more challenging than in previous generations. My dad had a simple retirement plan provided by his company, and mom had great survivor benefits and kept her health insurance until she died. Nowadays, we have investment plans we need to make decisions on ourselves, and may not have survivor benefits. I don’t think young moms should worry about this; you have so many other important things that should be the focus of your attention in that season. But for older women, it is a concern. I am not worried about who will visit me in the nursing home, I am worried about how to pay for the nursing home:)

  53. It’s a strange sort of sexism that we expect women to not work so that “they are available to give service,” while men would never be expected to not work on those grounds. It also is not at all compassionate towards people in the work place.

    Sign. What I am saying is that service needs are real, and we need people to meet those needs. It would be nice to assume that we could all work full-time and also meet those needs, but in reality it just doesn’t happen because needs don’t only occur only after 5 p.m., and people typically only have enough PTO to meet their own family’s needs.

    Also in reality, I might have my degree, but after 20 years of me staying at home and DH working to build his career, it wouldn’t make much sense for him to quit and me to go back to work. I’d love to just swap places, but as has been pointed out, it’s not that easy.

    I’m not saying that “women shouldn’t work” – just lamenting a side effect I see from essentially everyone entering the workforce and few being left to provide emergency service.

    And I’m also answering your question of what I plan to do after my kids are older and why. I’ve got a few other ideas (one of my main interests is actually workplace re-entry to help women who have been out of work 20 years make the transition), but I feel strongly that I want to have a flexible schedule to be available as needed.

  54. Another of my interests is flexible work arrangments. As more men have flexible work schedules, this frees up more women to work flexible work schedules. If DH could work 4 10-hour days, and I could work 1, that would be ideal for us. But, really, I feel like I am defending myself against charges of sexism that are unwarranted.

  55. Sorry, one last comment. You said this is on The Privilege of Being a Middle Class (American-Mormon) Married Woman. I guess my privilege is being available to give service. I know that privilege is not available to everyone (and likely may not be available to me my whole life. Both my mom and grandma went from SAHMs with a bunch of kids to working for minimum wage after death/divorce of spouse). But, while it is, I feel responsible to use it for service. As Naismith pointed out, service takes many different forms. For me, it takes the form of being the grunt person to call when needs arise. And I don’t feel that this is a selfish or unworthy way to use my privilege.

  56. “But also, my health center badge gets me into places, when someone shows up sick from out of town, or needs surgery. I can’t even count how many people that I visit during lunch or taking an hour of leave from my job. I show newcomers how to use the cafeteria, and so on.”

    Naismith,
    Thanks for highlighting the service you are able to do because of your job.

  57. In rereading the OP, I see two different issues related to selfishness. You said:

    I realize this is selfish, that my goals too, ultimately are selfish.

    I don’t feel that many of your goals are selfish. I think that support[ing] my aging parents, tak[ing] care of myself in old age, assist[ing] those around me, and serv[ing] missions with my husband, be[ing] the grandma always available to help my daughter and daughter-in-laws when they have babies are really, really useful services, and that there is a need for those types of services. I think that our society discounts a lot of that service, and that is what I was reacting to. I don’t feel that it is selfish to want to spend our time in service.

    On the other hand, you are raising another issue: is it selfish to assume that your husband has to earn all the money to make your goals happen? Is it fair to put additional burden on him while you get to “do what you want”?

    I think this is an excellent point. You have brought up two different discussions, IMO. One is your first question:

    As a mother, how do you plan to spend your time when the children are older?

    The other is your second:

    Even if your own pursuits won’t incur additional expenses, should you feel obligated to supplement the family income?

    I agree that if it places an undue burden on my husband for me to pursue my own pursuits (including giving service) then it is selfish of me in my marriage, and that it is up to DH and I together to decide how we will spend our time after the kids are raised.

  58. Stephanie,
    On the surface my goals don’t seem selfish. But they are. They are all about me, all about what I want to do. They presuppose that I get to step in and help everyone, that that would be best for everyone else. Is there any attitude more obnoxious than that?

    They aren’t necessarily what is best for our family, best use of the talents that God gave me, best use of the opportunities presented to me. They ignore major facets of my patriarchal blessing. They aren’t even the bare bones of what I really want. Not laying a foundation now and planning for a career in the future would make my foundational goals impossible. And not doing that so I have time, would be extremely selfish.

  59. mmiles, okay then, I think we are talking about two different things. Your set of goals is your life and your business. I wouldn’t presume to form any opinions about your life.

    In abstract terms, I don’t think that the choice of a person (either woman or man), who is financially able to do so (either through their own saved income or the income of a spouse) to plan to spend their time in whatever services are needed at the time is a selfish choice. That is all I am saying.

  60. I think it was brave to bring up this topic, which is really very important. So often when we talk about motherhood, all the focus is on young motherhood, with little appreciation that we may have decades of possible employment after the kids leave home.

    As for being able to afford this or that, a lot of it may be delusional…statistics show that most USAmericans do NOT have enough saved for retirement. See for example
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/retirement/need/

    And a huge percentage of older Americans do not have provisions for long-term care. In my state, more than half of the Medicaid budget goes to pay for nursing home care for elders. I would rather die than steal from my grandchildren like that.

    These are the kind of expenses that are not obvious from the outside, and are not a pressing need. But they really do matter at some point in time.

  61. As a girl who has recently become a SAHM with my degree and some work before marrying/having kids, I have to say that I like it.

    I know that you will not be happy as a SAHM unless you have a personal testimony of what you are doing or why you are doing it. I defiantly think about my career and the possibilities it had – but because I trust in the plan Christ has laid out for me it’s not a problem. Yea, I struggle with remembering that testimony sometimes; I also struggle with remembering that I don’t need to be skinny, or have lots of money, or have perfectly behaved kids, in order to be happy.

    Personally, I’m not sure yet if I will join the workforce when my kids are all in school. I do know this: once they are gone I’m using all the vacation and sick time I’ve been saving up! That’s my “insurance” (or maybe I should say “assurance”) for not feeling guilty for choosing not to contribute a second income.

    Great article – interesting discussion.

  62. I enjoyed your post (and the discussion it stirred up)! The thing that keeps coming back to me is the importance for us as Mormon women to stay in-tune with the spirit; as I struggle with finding the ideal balance between mothering and personal interests (which include some adjunct teaching at the local university and occasional freelance work), I find it reassuring to remember that the God who knows each of us individually no doubt also knows which of many paths is the one that is right for us and our family–and that these paths are very individual. I think that as women (and particularly women in the church) we need to be more understanding (and supportive) of women whose choices may not parallel ours. I loved Neylan’s recent article in the Washington Post on the future of Mormon motherhood (http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/patheos/2010/08/the_future_of_mormon_motherhood.html). I particularly liked her idea that Mormon motherhood in the future will have a greater emphasis on what such motherhood should feel like, and less on what motherhood should look like. I think that’s something that all of us (regardless of how we feel individually about working or not working as a mother) can get behind.

  63. wow this was great.
    its pretty much all been said, but something i would like to add are questions that ive ALWAYS wondered about…
    #1 how is that as women of the church we are directed in procreating, establishing a home, mothering, etc, etc…
    and #2 for instance, told to be self-reliant…

    here comes my point! but it seems the majority; get married young, drop out of college, pop out a baby and jump right into government assitance programs….
    so we are fulfilling the “family” part, but how does the SELF-RELIANCE part get so QUICKLY overlooked. i would say about 90% of the LDS couples we went to medical school with, were on government assitance, food stamps, etc…but living in the nicest apartments, driving nice cars…but the mom’s were staying home! NO WAY would they work! and yeah, yeah we all have been talking about degrees (i agree with all those above, it should be discussed more in the YW program & everyone really should get one…even if you have been out of the workforce for 20 years, its still gonna help ya on your resume :)
    but even if you don’t have a degree, how about watching another child in your home – to bring in grocery money, or when your husband gets home from work, you might have to “high-five” and head to the local grovery store and be a checker, what about teaching piano lessons, the list goes on and on (i knew a lady in grand junction, co who did a paper route for the entire 9 months of her pregnancy to pay for her hospital stay!). BUT whenever i bring this up, people look at me like im crazy because “how could any mom, ever leave her home” or “take time away from the kids”…i mean really, how would the kids survive???

    One last point…we recently had an awesome RS about food storage, budgeting, etc…you’ve all probably been to one similar. We had two sisters speak on education and going back to finish your degree after having your kids, needing to add to the income once the kids have grown up, etc. BUT once again, i always wonder…why is there no one saying “Don’t let your kids drop out of collge” or “yeah if your sweet 19 year old daughter gets pregnant…encourage her to take on-line BYU or local college classes THEN!!! don’t let her be YOU and wake-up when she is 30 or 40 or 25 and has to get a job tand there she will be… saying “crap! i wish i would have done that!” i think it would be way easier to finish a degree when your in your 20s with a couple small kids at home than in your 40s. and its easy to do, you can take online courses at your own pace, etc.
    i agree with STEPHANIE…teach our children!

    me, im a mom. im a registered labor and delivery nurse. ive worked full-time, part-time, as needed. i pray weekly, thanking my heavenly father, for the opportunities given to me for my education.

  64. I hope it’s OK to offer a male perspective here.

    I think I would quibble with the distinction you try to make between privilege and entitlement. I absolutely think that many LDS women think they are entitled to a ride on the gravy train until the day they die, simply because they are female. I once had a calling as a priesthood leader and the RS grapevine was overheating with the news that one of the men in the ward was exercising unrighteous dominion over his wife by “making her get a job”. I finally got a chance to speak with the couple and get to the bottom of the story. The facts were as follows: Both of their children were in high school so the SAHM decided she would do some of the things she wanted — become a docent at the museum, volunteer with the school and the hospital and give time to the girl scouts. The mister expressed frustration by saying that if she was going to be gone all the time anyway, she might as well do something to bring in cash. The Mrs. became offended at that suggestion and said that providing was the man’s job. She figured that once the kids were in high school she was entitled to several decades of happy retirement, and it didn’t matter to her that her husband was working 60 hrs/week to sustain her. That it how it spread through the ward that he was a big jerk.

    We have a weird dynamic going on. We praise a woman who does a lot of volunteer work outside the home or who work in community affairs for 20 – 30 hours per week. But we frown upon a woman who spends that amount of time earning money. It seems to me that the effect on the home is the same either way, that is, she is gone just as much.

    And please forgive me for playing my broken record yet again, but the way we speak about roles is a direct devaluation of the service men can give and of women’s abilities. We are careful to not overburden a woman who has a job with a demanding church calling because we assume she can’t work outside the home and be a good parent and serve in the church, all simultaneously. We do the opposite with a man. Your bishop is likely to have a demanding job which routinely requires more than 40 hours per week. We also expect him to serve in his calling for another 20-30 hours/week, in addition to being a good dad. I think it is all pretty wacky.

  65. Mark,
    You are dead on. While I don’t personally feel entitled (except when I do–I think I could have ended up that woman, thinking, “Oh look at all this time I have! now I want to volunteer here, or here, this might be fun…”), it is a wacky cultural thing we have going. I think as women, it is important that we very carefully examine our motivations, and be considerate of the other half of the marriage, at the very least.

    Camille,
    It’s not as hard as you might think going to school older, just sayin’.

  66. Rosalyn (#66) says,

    “I think that as women (and particularly women in the church) we need to be more understanding (and supportive) of women whose choices may not parallel ours.”

    I agree whole-heartedly!

    I recognize that others lives differ from my own (in amazing and wonderful ways!), that individuals are entitled to personal revelation and that I will never come close to understanding an individual (or their choices) perfectly, the way that our Savior does.

    That said, I still struggle with my own personal choices regarding how I mother without regard to anyone else. In my own personal struggle, I can’t help but respond to Neylan McBaine’s article cited by Rosalyn (#66) above. It seems that McBaine is arguing that I can deal effectively with my own personal struggles and tensions regarding being employed outside of my home by understanding that no matter what path I or those around me have chosen, at least we know, “What motherhood should feel like”. This just makes it worse for me. I would like to know how motherhood should feel. Why have input from the general leadership of the LDS church on the subject of motherhood if in the future we will just have this joint sense that we are all getting our own impressions about what motherhood should feel like? Doesn’t this seem relativistic? Are we really moving in that direction?

    McBaine’s ideas seem like such a collectively tidy and progressive way to think about motherhood, but I’m not sure I can get behind them.

  67. Anon,

    I’ve had some of the same thoughts and concerns. On one hand, I really have come to understand how different each of our paths can be and how important it is to respect that and not judge. On the other hand, I think that it’s possible to focus too much on individual choices without the context of the general counsel and doctrine, and that could (doesn’t always, but could) end up feeling like an anything goes game (as you say, relativistic). Clearly the counsel matters and clearly we need it (e.g., this last general conference. Wow.) but clearly life is complex and it’s impossible for every specific situation to be addressed across the pulpit. Hard to figure out how to balance it all, and to talk about it in ways that can really cut to the chase.

    p.s. I’d be really interested in chatting with you more offline about this (I helped with a conference this last spring where we tried to address all of this, and it’s possible that I could help again on another in the future). I would be interested in your input. If you feel so inclined, please email me at hotmail, username mulling_and_musing.

  68. We have a weird dynamic going on. We praise a woman who does a lot of volunteer work outside the home or who work in community affairs for 20 – 30 hours per week. But we frown upon a woman who spends that amount of time earning money.

    I think this depends on the ‘we.’ There is a ‘we’ that champions working for pay more than service. We also have a ‘we’ that champions other things more more than working. Depends on the perspective and experience and standards or beliefs of the ‘we’s in question, imo. I think we have both subsets in the Church and outside of it as well. Too easy to think in binary terms, imo.

    And as to the # of hours spent on whatever, I think it’s worth noting that there is regular concern expressed about spending too much time away from home on *anything*, be it working or volunteering or having too many extracurriculars for all the family members, esp the kids, or even church service. (And this can go for men and women.)

    If we are going to talk about general church counsel, it’s more about priorities in general. e.g., Sister Beck (since the OP is about women) didn’t warn about working women in her last talk, she warned about women justifying being out of the home too much, period – - about making sure we are making our decisions of good, better, best carefully and prayerfully.

    I think whenever there are discussions about Church culture, it’s easy to make generalizations that really don’t capture the complexity and nuance and varying perspectives that are there. I think if there is anything to glean from this discussion, it’s that there are a lot of viewpoints about what the ‘shoulds’ are and about what is actually happening in the culture. It’s part of what makes it hard to talk about, imo.

  69. Someday all my children will be in school and I’d have about 5 hours a day, for school days only.
    I would take a job only if the job worked out for my schedule and I could still do all the mothering I want.
    Motherhood for 4 children is HARD. I’d be on duty the other hours of the day except for those 5 hours. Do I want to have the time and patience and energy for my kids during those other hours?

  70. Michelle, you are correct to observe that there is a range of acceptable options available to us, and I appreciate that. I will nonetheless maintain that, generally speaking it is the paycheck and not the time spent away from home that determines whether we consider a woman to be a SAHM. A RS president could easily spend 15-20 hours each week on her calling, away from her home and we still think of her as a stay at home mom. A woman who works for pay 15 – 20 hours/week? No way.

  71. jks, your comment reminds me of Julie Beck’s talk from this last BYU Women’s conference (available via byutv) when she talked about picking the time of day that you need to be the most “there” for your family and working the rest of your schedule around that.

  72. jks, that is a good point. It’s all too easy to fill up any ‘extra time’ in ways that deplete us.

    Mark, sure, if you are talking about the *definition* of a SAHM, you are right. But what ‘we’ put ‘more value’ on or, on the other hand, ‘look down’ on depends on the ‘we’ — which is what I thought you were talking about. Sometimes it’s the SAHMs who feel less valued for their work, and other times, it’s the working moms who feel somehow they are ‘not enough.’

  73. Michelle,
    But that’s kind of the point of this discussion. For some reason sometimes we Mormons feel like SAHM is the only selfless thing to do, that we are entitled to it, and that if you get a paycheck–you aren’t putting your family first.

  74. Mark, I totally agree with your last comment. I had a friend growing up whose mother was a very proud and vocal “SAHM” of a large family. However, this mom, in reality, was gone many, many hours volunteering with various political causes, and it had a very detrimental effect on my friend and her siblings. My friend really resented it. I don’t think her mother would have even remotely considered the idea that she really was NOT a SAHM, though she wore the badge proudly and would have looked down on anyone who worked for pay.

  75. Opps! I didnt mean to come across that it is harder to get your degree when you get older :0 the sisters at my RS meeting gave EXCELLENT information and examples and they were inspiring and i greatly love and admire them.

    BUT to clarify, i guess i meant WHY dont we try to encourage this rising generation of women, to get it while they are younger, instead of getting pregnant and jumping on government assistance. Did no one want to address that? Because once again, its something ALOT of people do…and no one wants to address it because women are doing the right thing by starting their families…but at who’s expense?
    and it is something i am not against if it is needed, but utah has one of the highest government assistance use rates.

    but no one walks to talk about it.

  76. Camille,

    I totally agree with your point. I graduated from law school in 2009, and in my ward there were 12 couples where the husband was in my law school class. There were a couple of the wives who did not have children, and they worked, but all of the ones with kids stayed at home and were all on welfare, be it medicaid, wic, foodstamps, and even section 8 housing. There were several I learned about that even had their parents help them hide their student loan money so they could qualify for more government assistance. It made me furious. My mom worked while my parents had 4 kids and my dad was in medical school, which was not easy, but it was possible.

  77. While I don’t personally feel entitled (except when I do–I think I could have ended up that woman, thinking, “Oh look at all this time I have! now I want to volunteer here, or here, this might be fun…”), it is a wacky cultural thing we have going.

    I think I know where this comes from. In “Fascinating Womanhood” by Helen Andelin (I wrote a series of posts on fMh about it. I consider it a pretty good look at the 1950′s housewife culture), she emphasizes that women are only to work in the domestic sphere and men only work outside of that. From this perspective, men are not expected to do anything in the home or with the children. After the children are raised, that is when women get to do what they want. So, she says not to complain when you do everything to raise the children as a woman (and your husband comes home and puts his feet up and reads the newspaper) because your time for relaxation is coming, wheras men have a steady workload throughout life, so they are entitled to relaxation every day.

    I really can’t think of anyone in our generation who believes that today. Even among families with a stay-at-home parent, there is a much more equitable view of the shared workload. Anyways, just wanted to share where I think that mindset comes from that you are referring to.

  78. Stephanie,
    I’m not sure you meant Andelin created that view or not, but she’s not widely read and only has a small following. I don’t think she really influences anyone who doesn’t already think the way she does. (that was a great series you did, BTW)

    Camille,
    You really want to go there? Be my guest.

  79. No, mmiles, not that Andelin led the movement, but that her book is a reflection of a larger (outdated) culture. She basically summed up the culture in an easy-to-read (scary as hell) book. Reading that book helped me to understand the remnants of that culture I see around me. When you say, “it is a wacky cultural thing we have going” that women feel entitled to do whatever they want after kids are grown, I recognize that it is a cultural thing – it’s part of that whole mindset of an older generation.

  80. Looking back at all the comments, including my own, I am troubled that women working for pay was in the end justified as ok if it was “service”. I hope that is not the only way we find it ok for women to work for a paycheck.

  81. Yeah, maybe I don’t want to go there…that was intense…and I honestly don’t have time for it. I got my answer, from a letter I wrote to the First Presidency back in 2002 & still refer to frequently.
    *camille

  82. I think we should worry less about what society, in general, thinks of our decision, and worry more about making the correct decisions ourselves. The church is a huge and varied body, and each of us will encounter different attitudes and beliefs in our various locations. You will ALWAYS be able to find a group of people who belong to the church who thinks you are doing the wrong thing. If you are praying, and following the Spirit, and doing what you know is right for you then who cares what anybody thinks! If someone else is doing something you think is wrong, then too bad for them! You are not going to be able to change their choices by getting upset about it, so why not just be their friend and accept them for who they are?

  83. If someone else is doing something you think is wrong, then too bad for them! You are not going to be able to change their choices by getting upset about it, so why not just be their friend and accept them for who they are?

    I would restate this: If someone else is doing something you think is wrong, then too bad for you! You have no right to change their choices, so why not just be their friend and accept them for who they are?

  84. Re the situation that Mark Brown presented…while I do feel that as a post-mothering woman I should contribute financially to the family, I also think that volunteer work for some months or years can provide a valuable bridge to paid employment. Studies show that while most women with college degrees can eventually find a job, one should allow 18 months for the process of re-entry. The volunteer work can help with current references, acquisition of new skills, etc.

    And it can help one develop a new routine for dealing with the household management. I had to figure out a new routine for doing laundry, which of the Knorr rice/pasta mixes are decent for a fast dinner, and get my wardrobe into shape for a professional position(I needed a half-dozen suits, but decided that I would only buy machine-washable to keep costs down). There is also a grief process as you realize that you can no longer do things you enjoyed (not ever again cooking stuffed crepes for a weeknight dinner made me very sad for some bizarre reason).

    So while I think it is reasonable for husbands to expect wives to return to paid work, I hope they appreciate the wrenching transition that is necessary, and allow some time for the process to take place.

  85. @ Camille: We had two “free” babies during my husband’s dental school. I did work during that time. Although we qualified for WIC, housing assistance and food stamps, we didn’t feel right about using them and did not. However, most couples in our situation did and it was difficult to not feel resentful of their decisions.

    What was also difficult was one woman in particular who was quite smug about her decision to work FT in order to provide the health insurance for her family (most student families were on Medicaid). She happened to be an RN who happened to land a great job. Many of us “dental wives” could not get a job like she had. We did the best we could to get by. When we tried to pay for part of our children’s birhts at the Medicaid office, we were send away and told it was not possible to do so. It was horrible to accept the handout and I wished the system were designed differently. We wanted to pay what we could.

    Having said all that, do I regret having two babies when we couldn’t afford it? No. We went on to have two more, followed by four miscarriages. I cannot have any more children biologically.

    I guess my point is, Camille (and others in the doctorate/dental/law programs),to please not judge so harshly. You don’t know the prayers and heart ache of others around you. There is no way that you can. So if you and your husband or your wife have made “the responsible decision” to postpone children during the schooling years, wonderful for you. That doesn’t mean that that is the best choice for all who are in that situation.

    A letter to the First Presidency about the topic sounds quite smugish, as well. I believe we are entitiled to personal revealation from God and that the matters of family planning are between the couple and their Maker. I think it’s wonderful that we belong to a Church that values children and that we sometimes get to have some control about how many to have and when to have them. I am so grateful for our four children. Had we postponed things with my latest health problems, who knows if we would have been able to have them at all.

    And I’ve said too much. The end. :)

  86. yikes runnermom…i didnt know that i could come over as harshly judging and quite smugish over a simple question and asking the thoughts of others on the topic. i realize it is a touchy subject, but my point was…why don’t we talk about it more? what can we do to prepare the next generation to possibly avoid maybe the frustration people feel when they can’t get the medical care they need or extra income they need. i never said that i did it the responsible way or that my way was the right way and the only way…and as a mother, nurse, and human being i do feel like i always try to take a step back and realize i don’t know everything about a certain situation. i am sorry for the circumstances you described because obviously they upset you deeply and still sting when this topic is brought up. my whole point in bringing it up was, again
    1. How can we put a little more emphasis on obtaining education to our young women or encouraging them to help bring in extra money, ie babysitting, piano lessons, etc.
    2. Why is that when women work, they get looked at like “leaving their kids” but women who stay at home are doing the “right thing”.

    i am new to this site, over the past couple of weeks, and i have really enjoyed the post and comments. although this has left quite a bitter taste because i simply was trying to reach out and see what others thought…i feel like it is pretty harsh to call someone smugish when all i was saying…is that as a 22 year old girl at the time, who was really struggling, i did write a letter to the first presidency and the answer i received was really comforting to me at that time. i never said that you need to write a letter or that i dont seek my own personal revelation, i simply said i got the answer i was looking for…to have kids, to not have kids, to work, not to work…

    i have many friends and family members who have used the government and i feel like i have never belitttled or looked down upon them, just because we don’t agree on something, doesnt mean we have to tear each other down.

    i am sorry for your losses…but like you said, you never know what other people are going through…because really over comments, you have no idea who i am or what i have been through.

  87. I find this discussion so intriguing, and yet perplexing, too. I live in Orem, Utah — surely one of most Mormon-dense spots on Earth — and I don’t know a single woman for whom this issue is so heated as it seems to be for a number of these commenters. I’ve had many conversations with many friends over the years about the roles of women, and to a person the end result has been “Whatever decision a woman makes that works for her, her family and her God is a good decision.” After so many years of struggling socially with women’s rights and roles, are we as women not yet to the point where we can just be supportive of each other, understanding that none of us walk in anyone else’s shoes, and knowing that even the most “privileged” lives are complicated? Where’s the solidarity? Where’s the sense that we’d like our own choices to be validated, and can therefore extend the same courtesy to another? We’re not talking about Hooker Moms or Dope Fiend Moms or some other similarly Geraldo Rivera kind of topic — we’re talking about a woman’s personal choice of how and where to spend her time and energy, based on her own circumstances. Maybe we should all get offline and go pay better attention to our own priorities, whatever we claim them to be. Others’ lives aren’t our business, so kindness is the answer.

  88. Camille, Why do we not discuss it more? Our back-and-forth is the answer to that question. It is a touchy, touchy subject. If we want girls to be prepared for life by learning to work, that teaching must be done in our own homes while our girls are growing up. It’s not really a topic to bring up to young mothers during a relief society lesson, for example. You bring up a very good point that women do need to finish school, work, etc. I believe that, too. But, again, every situation is unique. It is so easy to judge.

    Having said that, I am sorry for mis-judging you. I am sure that if we were to meet face to face we would probably get along quite well. Truly, I do not mean to offend.

    You are right that this is a sore topic for me. I thought I had gotten over the harsh words of a well-meaning woman years ago. That said, the tone of your post did seem a bit condesending toward those who have used government help to have children while simultaneously pursuing higher education. I am sure you did not mean to sound that way. And, you are right, only you know your own history and your struggles, etc. Like the above comment says, “others lives aren’t our business, so kindness is the answer.” This is true. I’m sorry and now I will try to be kind.

  89. jks wrote, “Do I want to have the time and patience and energy for my kids during those other hours?”

    I have thinking about this all week, and it is very profound. One of the criteria that might be considered when making a decision about outside commitments, be they paid work or volunteer possibilities, is certainly how they impact our parenting. Do they make us tired when we get back home, or do they energize us?

    A friend once said that a fulltime parent can only be as happy as their happiest child. I am not sure that is exactly accurate, but there is some truth to it. Getting away for a few hours from my snotty drama-queen teenagers can give me a fresh outlook, make me more patient when I return to them.

    It’s a real biological phenomenon: stress can constrict your blood vessels, increase your heart rate etc. And getting away from the stress by escaping into work you love can counter that effect.

    For someone else who is only working for money and/or has a stressful paid job, the hours away from children may not have the same effect.

  90. This has been a very interesting post and discussion, but it is very understandable why it is such a touchy subject. How many of us who have worked and had small children have ever heard, “How can you leave your kids, I could just never do it!” etc,? We are in a unique postion as members of the church in that we get what on the face of it seems contradictory advice: marry young, don’t delay the starting of your family, mothers should stay home, fathers should be the sole provider, we should be self-sufficient, etc. All these dictums make it a hard decision no matter what your age or status. It is in the non-Mormon community of friends where I have enjoyed much less judgemental-ness (is that a word?)on this issue. If moms work and put their kids in daycare, big deal. So what, it’s their lives. If moms stay home when the kids are little (or big) so what, it’s their choice. It’s too bad tht we can’t be more like this in our culture of Mormon women.

  91. Lots of strong debate here! Interesting stuff.

    My own take is that none of us needs to defend our decisions in regard to working/not working or volunteering/not volunteering. There is no right or wrong answer, in my opinion. It’s all between the husband, the wife, and the Lord.

    As my children were growing up, I was a SAHM and happy to be one. Later, once my youngest started first grade, I got stir crazy and went back to school for my masters. Afterward, I worked out of the home for about a year when my oldest was a teenager, until circumstances made it clear that I needed to be home at that time just as much as I had needed to be home when he was little. (As it happens, a couple of my teens were “edge-walkers,” so I needed to be home and *have them know someone was home* all the time.) In response to that need, I stayed home again, and our family equilibrium was re-established.

    My husband and I were just responding to our particular life circumstances at any given time, and whether any one of the various decisions I made about working or not working was “right” or “wrong” was (or should have been) of no consequence to anyone but myself. (I should say that I never felt any sense of being judged by women in my ward in any of my phases.)

    When my youngest child left for college, I decided to get a job because I wanted to ease my empty nest adjustment/loneliness and bring in some money to help offset college expenses. It was a bit frustrating. I did have a college degree, and I was able to get a job, but it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. I was initially offered $15 an hour for a law office admin job. True, by the time I quit 7 years later (about 3 years ago), I had more than doubled my salary, but that didn’t come close to what my husband was able to make as a professional who’s been working all along. My decision to be a SAHM for so many years definitely affected my wage-earning potential.

    I left mostly for health reasons; and frankly, I was a little bored with paralegal work. My salary had been mostly used for extras, so it wasn’t missed much. And I have been rather selfishly writing and blogging ever since. The mothering and grandmothering I still do is considerably less selfish!

    Still, for the first time in our married life, I feel like my husband and I are unequally yoked. His work life is stressful, and he has a demanding calling at church. I worry about him and am urging him to retire, but he feels like he wants to put in a couple more years for financial security and to guard against inflation, additional economic downturn, etc. These days, I try to contribute by doing what I can to support and nurture him. But I still have a lot more free time than he does, and technically, it isn’t fair. It is what it is, though, and both of us are cool with it.

    One last thing. When my son was in graduate school, he and his wife got cheese and milk from the government. I didn’t judge them then and i don’t judge them now. They are both in service professions (counselor and teacher), and their budget will always be very tight because neither of these positions is paid as it should be, especially considering all of the education (and for my son, internship hours) required for licensing. I think they have more than compensated the government and society by now for what little they received.

    Having said that, no couple should misrepresent their financial situation in order to get government assistance. That’s just not honest, which is a whole different issue, right?

    =)

  92. But I still have a lot more free time than he does, and technically, it isn’t fair. It is what it is, though, and both of us are cool with it.

    So here’s a question — is having things be ‘fair’ the same as being ‘equally yoked’? Maybe your weight right now is supporting him and being there for kids and grandkids in ways that perhaps he can’t. You are both ‘cool’ with it, so it sounds like this is your balance right now…just another different season, maybe?

    One of the things I think about a lot is how I think sometimes we define ‘equality’ too narrowly, measured in workplace or financial efforts or straight-across comparisons of who does what. I’m not sure that is really an accurate way to capture what partnership really is all about. If anything, I see it as often very ‘unequal’ because life can be crazy and it takes each doing a lot of different things to keep all the balls in the air.

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