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A Natural Woman

By Angela Hallstrom

I’m glad I’m a woman. I’m glad I’m a wife. I’m glad I’m a mother. I’m glad I’m a Mormon. In fact, my Mormon-woman-wife-and-motherness is the core of my personal identity, and I recognize it as the source of my greatest blessings and opportunities for growth in this life. I am not, however, a perfect Mormon-wife-and-mother (gasp!). And any Mormon-wives-and-mothers out there reading this post? Neither are you (double gasp!).

Seriously, we’ve got issues, don’t we? We’re lazy and whiny and angry and lustful and controlling and jealous and aggressive and mean and petty and occasionally even faithless. We yell at our kids. We choose going to the movies over going to the temple. We give our husbands the silent treatment. We walk out of the grocery store in the rain with three kinds clinging to the cart, and when we realize that we forgot to have the cashier scan the 12-pack of Diet Coke, we don’t go back inside and pay for it.

And these examples are just the small things.

I don’t mention all this because I want to revel in our faults or air our dirty laundry. I’m saying it because it’s true, and as the old saying goes, the truth will set you free.

As Mormon women, we’re all familiar with the lady I like to call the Angel Mother Straight from Heaven (HT Coventry Patmore and Virginia Woolf). When I was a younger mom, the mythology of the Angel Mother filled me with a kind of numb despair. Mormon women are “naturally” inclined to want to stay home and nurture their children (so who’s this mother of two children under two sitting at the window sobbing jealous tears as her husband goes off to grad school?). Mormon women are “naturally” patient (so who’s this lady rampaging through the house when her son can’t find his soccer shoes?). Mormon women are “naturally” spiritual (so who’s this woman lying in bed reading Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale while her husband reads his scriptures?).

Thankfully, as time has passed, this mythology has held less and less sway over the way I see myself, for the simple reason that I’ve lived long enough now, and known enough Mormon women, to realize that none of us is the Angel Mother. Sure, some of us are closer than others, but each and every one of us will be stumbling along on the path to perfection until the day we die. No woman is immune.

Still, the paradigm of female perfection still troubles me. One reason is because it can lead to feelings of guilt and inferiority that remain problematic for so many among us. Many women have convinced themselves that they are alone in their struggles and transgressions. Some even see themselves as affront to the idea of womanhood. And while it’s one thing to be a sinner, it’s another thing entirely to be a sinner and an aberration. Sometimes, in fact, I think it would be helpful if we could turn to a scripture like Mosiah 3:19 and read: “For the natural woman is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Eve, and will be, forever and ever, unless she yields to the enticing of the Holy Spirit . . .” At least then we’d know we have company.

“Wait a sec,” some might say. “You think it would be helpful to call women sinners? Doesn’t it make women happy when we laud them for their better natures?” Well, maybe it makes some Mormon women happy, but for me and many women I know, this idealization has resulted in more harm than good. I realize that many people who tell tales of the Angel Mother think they’re simply complimenting and appreciating the women in their lives. I’m not one who believes that those (both male and female) who perpetuate this stereotype have some kind of nefarious, sexist purpose in mind. Well, maybe a handful do, but I honestly believe most don’t.

I’m also not saying that women and men are no different from one another. We all know that men are more likely to commit violent crime and less likely to go to church than women, for example. But just because something is true across the board doesn’t mean it applies to each of us as individuals. And we live our lives as individuals. In my individual life, as a matter of fact, I can think of couple after couple where the husband is just as likely—or even more likely—to be the one driving certain church-centered behaviors like scripture reading (see above) or temple attendance, and not just out of a grim sense of patriarchal duty. It’s because he’s created a real desire within himself to grow closer to the spirit. But while our rhetoric might lead us to see these religious behaviors in a woman as natural, we’re more likely to see these behaviors in a man as the product of his good choices, of mastery of his fallen self, of hard work and discipline exercised in the direction of righteousness.

Which brings me to another reason I believe the myth of the naturally righteous woman or naturally nurturing mother is problematic: it strips women of the power that comes when individual agency triumphs over weakness or sin. If we’re naturally inclined to do good, to serve, to sacrifice, to eschew transgression, to nurture children, then we’re not really choosing these behaviors after all. We’re simply acting in the way we’re programmed to act. And where’s the power or hard-won wisdom in that?

As an illustration, a little switcheroo. What if a woman stood up in front of a group of men and said, “I’m so grateful that it’s in a man’s nature to want to work long hours [filing tax returns, framing houses, teaching 10th graders European history, etc etc] in order to provide for his family.” I’m guessing the statement might make some men feel a little squirmy, because most men I know don’t necessarily want to spend the bulk of their waking hours toiling away for a paycheck. They do it, even though it’s hard, because it’s their responsibility.

I like the wording of the Proclamation on the Family in this respect. For both men and women, the respective roles as provider and nurturer are their divine responsibilities. I love my kids fiercely, and I’m very grateful that I have the option to choose to stay home and parent them. But my staying home was a mindful decision on my part, a fulfilling of what I saw as my responsibility. There were times, especially when my children were younger, that my decision to give up my career and stay home with colicky babies and demanding toddlers felt like the most unnatural thing I’d ever done in my life.

I do recognize that, as a woman, I am endowed with certain qualities specific to my female-ness. Much of what makes me me is tied up in the eternal nature of my gender. But I’m also an individual spirit who’s had specific pre-mortal and mortal experiences. I’m the proud possessor of a human body, with its attendant proclivities, weaknesses, and gifts, as well. In other words, what might come naturally to one woman might not come naturally to me. This pronouncement seems supremely obvious as I type it out on the page, but I remember a time when I didn’t fully understand it, and that misunderstanding led to unnecessary suffering and self-condemnation.

I’m also (strangely?) grateful that I’m capable of sin. This is the capacity Eve knew we must be possessed of, and struggle against, in order to progress. This is the capacity that enables me to stand side-by-side with my husband as an equal, as we help each other understand the pain that comes from transgression and the life-changing power of the atonement. This is the capacity that allows me the empathy necessary to lift up the hands which hang down and strengthen the feeble knees of my fellow brothers and sisters. And, finally, this is the capacity that will fill me with gratitude when I someday stand before my Savior, certain in the knowledge that he suffered and died for me.

I am a natural woman. And for this, I’m glad.

About Angela Hallstrom

(Advisory Board) grew up in Utah, then moved to Minnesota, then came back to Utah, then packed up her husband and four kids and moved to Minnesota--again!-- in the summer of 2010. Although she loves the Land of 10,000 Lakes, she dearly misses Slurpees, Sunday dinners at her Mom's house, and eating a whole entire Cafe Rio pork salad while lunching with her Utah-based Segullah sisters. And yes, she finds it telling that everything she misses about her hometown is somehow related to food. She has an BA in English from BYU, an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and has taught writing to high school and college students.

72 thoughts on “A Natural Woman”

  1. Good post.
    I used to think about this idea of a "perfect" Mormon woman and some sort of standard to live up to. However, I think it is something that newer moms stress over and usually outgrow once they gain some life experience.
    Like you, I have outgrown it.
    Is it because I have a supportive husband? A nice non-cookie cutter ward? Is it because I understand the gospel and the atonement better? Is it because no one really bakes bread or sews anymore unless they happen to love it?
    These days, it seems like LDS women are quite willing to open about their imperfections….like the rest of society. In today's society where there seems to be some serious lack of morals (honesty, fidelity, etc.) it worries me. Are we headed too far in the wrong direction in accepting our natural state and thinking she's fine just the way she is?

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  2. I really enjoyed this post. I'm a new mom and have had a hard time putting into words what the transition has been like for me, and you voiced some of what I've been feeling… pointing out that men and women are given responsibilities and that carrying out those responsibilities doesn't necessarily come "naturally" to us, but we are given certain qualities to help us.

    Also, whenever I hear a General Authority talk about their wives and say that they've never heard them complain about all the time they've spent in church service, etc, I wish I could be like that and have felt guilty that I'm not… but that is not me. I've complained when my husband has to go to church meetings and still do once in a while. So when I bite my tongue and am supportive, I am so proud of myself and feel like I'm "making progress."

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  3. Good point, jks. I hope it was clear from my post, however, that it was never my intention that women simply accept their natural, sinful state. Instead, the gratitude I feel is for my own opportunity to struggle against and strive to overcome my many weaknesses. To humble myself and realize the atonement is supposed to apply to me.

    And although you're probably right that many women eventually outgrow the Angel Mother expectation, it can still cause a great deal of damage while it's occurring, and some of us never really get over it.

    It's true that we can go too far and wind up reveling in our sins instead of striving to overcome them and using our experience to help others. But from my perspective, I just don't see this happening much among LDS women. And I still believe that an honest depiction of our struggles is more illuminating and ultimately helpful than holding up an idealized standard that doesn't represent the truth of most real women's lives. But there is a tightrope one must walk, I agree.

    And thank you, R, for your comment. I'm making progress in the not complaining area, too. The situation you describe was a LOT tougher on me when all my kids were young.

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  4. What a great post! As a recovering perfectionist, I still have trouble sometimes not being happy with less than 100%. I have to stop and remind myself that the only living person who achieved 100% was the Savior. Less than 100% is part of being alive, and while I'm definitely still trying to do my best, it is good to be reminded sometimes 60% or 70% is really quite good. It's about working to improve, not about getting everything perfectly right.

    Having children has actually been a huge help to me in defeating perfectionist thoughts. When my daughter falls down a dozen times in a row as she learns to walk, I don't dissaprove and think she is some kind of failure. On the contrary, I am very proud of her for continuing to try despite her failures and I know that falling down is just part of learning to walk. We are children of our Heavenly Father, and I think he looks at our "failures" the same way – as long as we continue to get up he is happy and wants to help us to be like him.

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  5. Bravo! This post sums up in a nutshell my view of "liberating" Mormon Women so we can be free to love ourselves and others from a truly sincere and very real place. I have found consistent happiness with myself and others and I have "cast off" the traditional Mormon Woman stereotype. Who is that woman, anyway? The one who is never lazy, grumpy, impatient, or frumpy and who always is super-spiritual and rises above it all.

    While I desire the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost and want to worthy of all the Lord's blessings, I have to recognize that I am very human having a very mortal existence. I will mess up, a lot. I will have humdrum days–many of them in fact.

    A friend was telling me how she was trying so hard to plug into the spirit but every time she got down on her knees to pray she was interrupted by a child crying or crawling all over her. This amazing woman couldn't even see that she was already "plugged in" living a life of dedicated service to others.

    I know that the Lord doesn't want us to seek to be "that woman" (you know, that Angel Mother). He want us to our best self, who he made us to be. My favorite mother story a General Authority tells is President Monson's story about how his mother would send him with a plate-full of food to a widower in their neighborhood. The neighbor wanted to give him a tip, but young President Monson refused, knowing that his mother would tan his hide (or something along those lines) if she ever found out. LOVE IT!

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  6. Angela, bravo.

    jks, like any issue, this one has two sides, and the question you ask is an important one. But I don't believe Angela's points here are givens. I think, before we can ask whether we've gone too far in accepting women as fallen/natural beings, equal to men in their potential for good as well as their potential for evil, we first need to show that in our religious tradition we've accepted women as such beings in the first place. I don't see much evidence for that. In fact, there's been a notable abundance of "angel mother" rhetoric as of late. And while I, like Angela, refuse to view this rhetoric as anything less than well-intentioned, it is nonetheless problematic.

    Angela has skillfully and sensitively pointed out two of these potential problems:

    It strips women of the power that comes when individual agency triumphs over weakness or sin.

    When our book _The Mother in Me_ was released, we received some complaints about the title. "Motherhood comes naturally to women," we were reminded. "We don't have to grow into it, because we're born to be mothers. It's our divine nature."

    I don't necessarily doubt that it is. But just like men, women's default nature in mortality is fallen. There's a thick, unwieldy layer of ungodliness that often blocks us from freely accessing the godly qualities we've inherited from our spiritual parents. This "natural woman" is just as difficult to subdue and overcome as any "natural man," and when we suggest otherwise (which we most certainly do–clearly and often), we actually make it harder for women to progress toward divinity, because we start with the assumption that she's already pretty much there–while her brothers in the gospel are lagging far behind.

    While it’s one thing to be a sinner, it’s another thing entirely to be a sinner and an aberration.

    Indeed. The more we insist that women are "naturally" this or that, the more we marginalize women who are naturally not. Who needs more support in LDS culture–the woman who is inclined to find satisfaction in caring for a crew of preschoolers, or the woman who would rather do just about anything else?

    Sometimes the words that are designed to lift and inspire do the exact opposite. We are each responsible for how we interpret and apply the words of our leaders. Still, given the strong cultural currents in which we swim, some women will find it nearly impossible to receive the angel mother message in an affirming way.

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  7. Good post, good observations, good questions, good comments.

    Just adding this: ["Who needs more support in LDS culture–the woman who is inclined to find satisfaction in caring for a crew of preschoolers, or the woman who would rather do just about anything else?"]

    BOTH.

    please say both.

    Because, that's what I see as one of the biggest downfalls of our humaness: deciding who *deserves* more support. I think we all do. Each in our own way, we are all just fighting the good fight.

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  8. Really well-written, Angela. This is such a difficult insight to explain, and you did it just right. This especially helped me understand your point (when I didn't before):

    "But while our rhetoric might lead us to see these religious behaviors in a woman as natural, we’re more likely to see these behaviors in a man as the product of his good choices, of mastery of his fallen self, of hard work and discipline exercised in the direction of righteousness."

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  9. what i love most about this angela, is that it holds us accountable for our weaknesses without saying that the weaknesses are sin. and i am with you: i'm grateful that i have the capacity to sin, it gives every choice to do good so much power.

    any insecurity i've felt over mothering i feel are my own issue– i've never really thought to blame some ideal. although, i do get REALLY annoyed when some people perpetuate the dumb, perfect ideal because it almost seems they're trying to make others feel bad. other times (maybe it's my mood), i'm definitely just able to see it as a call to action. which i appreciate.

    on the other hand, it drives me bonkers when women tout their non-angel mother-ness as a source of pride or bragging, and then expect other women to validate their behavior.

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  10. I'm glad I had the time to read this all the way through 🙂 There's a lot of good meaty material here and I think you highlighted the specific issues just right. I especially liked the last paragraph. Gratitude for the capacity to sin is an interesting thought and certainly puts our choices in a new light, as does the realization that even though motherhood may be a choice (and a blessing), it is also a responsibility, with all the burdens that responsibility weighs on us. I'll be thinking on this one today…

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  11. I am in LOVE with this post! I was just having this conversation with a friend a few days after conference. After hearing over and over about my natural ability to nurture I was feeling more and more like maybe I am a spiritual androgyne. Nurturing, in many respects, is the least natural thing in the world for me.

    I think you (and Kathryn) have hit the proverbial nail on it's head: Are good qualities are not natural, WE are natural, meaning fallen, prone to wander, struggling against the pull of our mortal natures in order to claim what would be our spiritual natures.

    I think I'd like to change the language to "endowed". We (all of us, male and female) are endowed with seeds of godly characteristics, qualities which, when nurtured and developed, will lead us to God and to become like him. We are also blessed with a weedy flesh that would choke out those good seeds. The work of life is to do the hard of work of weeding out the selfishness of the flesh and the careful work of tending the seeds of godhood within us.

    So for me, I don't say it is natural to nurture. Far from it. But I am endowed with the ability to develop that characteristic, just like any other God-like characteristic. God is a nurturer. The Savior is a nurturer. My husband and I are both endowed with the beginnings of this quality and all others. The quality itself is genderless in my book. What applies to earth life is the division of roles, a chore chart designed to get the work done. As I will not develop all the characteristics of godliness in this life, it likely behooves me to focus my efforts on those that will be most useful in the tasks assigned to me. As a mother, I can say that possessing a nurturing spirit (which doesn't happen as often as I simply feel annoyed at what is asked of me) makes my days easier. It is less exhausting to love than to resent. Developing the characteristic of nurturing will not only bless my children, but it will ease the burden placed on my back.

    The same applies to my husband. While he is a nurturing and tender father, there are other qualities that, if developed, will help him in the tasks to which he has been assigned in this life. It behooves him to focus his efforts on those characteristics.

    Are women natural nurturers? No. We are natural sinners. But we are endowed with the power to become all that God is and the ability to nurture, to desire to give and serve and bless and to find joy in so doing, is within all of us. Instead of a disheartening reminder of all that we are not, nurturing can become a means through which we invoke the very nature of God in the responsibilities He has given us. Instead of feeling like a life sentence of drudgery, it becomes a tender mercy, a gift given that allows us to find the joy in giving all that we have, as He has done for us.

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  12. Angela, I'm going to star this or highlight it or something. Or maybe I won't need to, because this is EXACTLY WHAT I THINK only expressed so much better, and I hope I remember it forever so I can point people to it and say "this is what I mean when I say I'm not a natural mother." I agree that the emphasis on natural mothering is not intended badly. But it always leaves me feeling like an aberration. And, as you say, it de-emphasizes the work that goes into mothering when people assume that it just comes naturally.

    One more thing I have realized this week, after struggling and pondering this issue: all the trappings of modern motherhood don't feel natural. But I wonder if what they mean when they say "natural mother" is something more deep and fundamental than fresh cookies and ironed shirts. I think it's the way that we are connected to our children, the way we are bound to them whether or not we keep the house clean or never yell.

    I have to go, so I can't exactly articulate what I mean. But I think that the way I take "natural mother"–someone who is the perfect mom who loves every minute with her kids–and what that phrase really means–the deep and permanent bond that exists between parent and child–are two different things, and I think i confuse them too often.

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  13. What an exceptionally written piece. This distilled so many of the things I've been feeling since general conference. I struggle greatly with talks and LDS rhetoric telling me what I innately am and should be good at. As a woman, I'm not terribly nurturing. I've killed every plant I've ever owned and I think if children were like hamsters (largely independent and requiring occasional food), I could perhaps procreate.

    I think motherhood is beautiful and I think kids are great. I often feel inadequate, however, because my womanly breast should be swelling with the righteous desire to have seven kids and to knit them matching sweaters out of the recycled mulch from my perfect garden, right? I think it's much more true to our natures and to the nature of the Atonement to acknowledge our fallen states, that we are all beggars before God, and that we need grace just as much as men. We don't naturally need Jesus Christ any less than men!

    Great, though-provoking post!

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  14. What a wonderful post, and what great comments!

    The only thing I'm not sure I totally agree with is saying that having a natural inclination to nurturing diminishes our agency. I really appreciate Kathryn's comments on this, too.

    We have natural inclinations to act as a natural woman, but does that make our choices to do so any less wrong? We are all born with the light of Christ (and if we're Mormon-mothers-wives-women, we've received the gift of the Holy Ghost), so does that make our choices to act on those impulses any less right?

    I believe that women are (for the most part) naturally endowed with a capacity for nurturing, just like we're born with a capacity for good and evil. We still have to choose to follow those promptings—will we get up with the baby cries an hour earlier than normal, or will we put a pillow over our ears?

    And as with our choices for good, the sum of our choices can increase or diminish our capacity for feeling those promptings.

    Having the capacity for nurturing gives us the opportunity to exercise our agency, rather than depriving us of it.

    (Well . . . phrasing it that way, and especially with the example of my husband as a Mormon-husband-father-man, men are certainly endowed with a capacity for nurturing, too.)

    For me, having a natural inclination to nurturing doesn't make it any easier to find fulfillment in mothering. (Like I said, I have a natural tendency to sin, too, and that doesn't make me feel good, either 😉 I still have to make these choices, and sometimes I actually feel worse when I do what I know is the "right," loving thing to do for my children.

    I think the Angel Mother myth is prevalent in the world, too (though not quite as much as within the church). Whenever I blog about how soul-wrenchingly hard I find motherhood, about half the time, I feel like people think I'm saying I don't love my children. As if loving your children and loving the unending work (&c.—it's more than just the cleaning and refereeing) that they create are necessarily the same thing.

    (And then those people usually tell me I'd be better off at work instead of at home. Right, so I could feel even guiltier about failing as a mother? And PS—I doubt I would find work outside the home any more fulfilling.)

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  15. This is a wonderful post Angela. Thank you for articulating so well the things that I feel and struggle with. I'm sure this post has helped many women today.

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  16. The myth as articulated of the Angel Mother/Wife comes in large part Helen Andelin's Fascinating Womanhood. From her chapter "Masculine and Feminine Roles," she wrote:

    "She she is biologically created to bear children, her role as a mother is unquestioned. Her homemaking role is assumed: She must nurture her young and run the household to free her husband to function as the provider. [. . .]

    "If children are to develop their sexual nature, they need a strong masculine and feminine image to pattern from. The mother demonstrates this feminine image when she functions in her feminine role. As she moves about the house in feminine clothes, tending to her domestic work, tenderly caring for her children and nursing her baby, she provides this image."

    From the chapter "Inner Happiness":

    "If you are to be happy, the most basic area where you must succeed is in the home, serving as the understanding wife, devoted mother, and homemaker. Success in this area bring you in harmony with eternal laws which inevitably results in happiness. [. . .] Of course, it takes a wholehearted effort to earn happiness in homemaking. You have to go the second mile, doing more than required. If you merely do enough to get by, you can't expect any great rewards.

    "If you were to fail in the home, you would reap unhappiness. When you break eternal laws, you must suffer the consequences. For a woman, a failure in the home is a failure in life. Even though you fail in only one area, such as homemaking, you are somewhat of a failure. You must succeed in all three duties—wife, mother, and homemaker—to gain the reward."

    Chapter 17 is devoted to the "Domestic Goddess." What is a Domestic Goddess, you ask? She is:

    "a good homemaker. She keeps a clean, orderly home, has well-behaved children, cooks delicious meals, and is successful in her overall career in the home."

    The Domestic Goddess' uniform:

    "A housedress is a cute cotton dress, made comfortable enough to work in, usually worn with an apron. Wear it to function in your career as a Domestic Goddess. It is more or less your uniform or identification mark. When you wear a feminine, domestic-looking housedress and apron, there will be no doubt in the minds of your family about who you are—the queen of the household."

    You may have never thought of this, but did you know that "keeping the house clean, preparing meals, and managing the household is a matter of character?"

    I can go on and on, but woe until those who perpetuate the Angel Mother/Wife myth. She doesn't exist.

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  17. I apologize for a number of typos. I was typing from my copy of Fascinating Womanhood I used to write a paper for my feminist legal theory paper in law school. I think everybody should have to read it, as it really does highlight many of the attitudes that our church can perpetuate.

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  18. So many great comments. Thank you to all of you!

    Jenny, yes, all of us do need support, each of us in our own way. Those of us who aren't as naturally inclined to fit the mold of the typical Mormon mother are more the focus of this post, but I also realize that many women whose talents and passions are more domestic in nature feel undervalued or misunderstood in other conversations (about careers, or "outside interests," or any such thing). You're right–we're all fighting the good fight.

    Sunny, I love this: "We (all of us, male and female) are endowed with seeds of godly characteristics, qualities which, when nurtured and developed, will lead us to God and to become like him. We are also blessed with a weedy flesh that would choke out those good seeds. The work of life is to do the hard of work of weeding out the selfishness of the flesh and the careful work of tending the seeds of godhood within us." Such an excellent articulation of the way I feel on the subject.

    And Emily, I like the the point you make about how the woman with the spotless house and homemade bread as a problematic paradigm. It's what some of us conjure up in our minds as an example of a "natural mother"–but instead, if we can think of our deep and abiding desire to connect with and love our children as the spiritual gift we should be nurturing I think we're much more likely to *rejoice* in our motherhood.

    Kristin, I hope this conversation might allow you to believe that you CAN be a mother, in your own way. And the good thing about kids is that they're a lot more interesting than hamsters, and when they get older, will occasionally load the dishwasher. And they only bite you for about a year and a half. Usually. 🙂

    Finally, Jordan, the point I've been trying to make about agency in relation to our "natures" is a really tricky one. Just because a person is given a talent (for music, say) doesn't mean it's "easy" to improve upon and magnify that talent. So I agree with you 100%–just because a woman might be endowed with the ability to nurture doesn't mean it's easy. However, when women are described with generalizations about our nature, occasionally those generalizations DO make it seem as if it ought to be easy (e.g. "natural") to be righteous or raise children.

    In the example I used about men and responsibilities, I tried to tease this idea out. Men are probably endowed with certain protective instincts, and when those instincts are nurtured, men shoulder the responsibility of providing for their families with a sense of duty. However, the rhetoric surrounding men and their responsibility to provide often emphasizes on the importance of them CHOOSING to take on this responsibility and nurture this inclination, even though it can be hard. For women, the rhetoric seems different to me, with the emphasis more often on our natures and less on our choices.

    Thanks again to all of you for your great comments. You've got me thinking.

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  19. Angela—I think I understand your point (and got it when I read the article, too). I don't want to minimize your point by phrasing it this way, but I think the difference appears semantic—but that difference can definitely have an impact on our perceptions and reality. (Or perhaps your term rhetorical is better.) So, if I understand you correctly, it's not the underlying message that women have a natural capacity for nurturing that's diminishing our agency, but the way we talk about it that makes it seem like it's less of a choice (or not a choice at all).

    Kristen—fascinating! (LOL.) I've actually heard that research indicates that children learn gender roles not from their mother's wardrobe (and if that were true—oy) but from their fathers—both genders of children and parents. If I remember correctly, it's from how the father behaves, and how he treats women, esp. their mother.

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  20. Very insightful post! One concern I have is that some speakers in the Church give women (and men) a laundry list of things that we should/must/ought to be doing, but don't teach us how to prioritize, put ourselves on the list, or learn how to do them.

    I tried to be very obedient to all of my leaders' (bishop/stake president/GA) requests, demands, and teachings when I was raising my children, and I become exhausted, short-tempered, and worn out. I wish more was said about loving ourselves so that we can better love others, seeking after peace, and centering our lives on the Savior rathan than other people's sometimes flawed dictates.

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  21. Jordan, yes, you're exactly right.

    And Carol, my wise fried Darlene (who commented above) once told me, "I keep my house clean enough to give me joy." I love that way of looking at it. First of all, it doesn't give me an excuse to abdicate my responsibility to keep a relatively clean house. If I'm surrounded by chaos and clutter, my ability to function and the ability of my family to function is impeded. BUT . . . if I also decide that my house must be just as clean as so-and-so [the woman in the neighborhood who truly delights in polished floors and impeccably arranged glassware in the cabinets], I'd drive myself over the edge.

    So I try to use Darlene's advice in lots of areas. I do enough [whatever good advice I've been given] to bring me joy. It's the best measuring stick I've found yet.

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  22. Jenny (#8), yes. The answer is BOTH, in the sense that women in both categories (which I refer to only for ease in discussion–human beings don't fit in tidy boxes) are equally valuable, equally divine, and equally deserving of support. What I meant was that the messages we typically hear over the pulpit validate one group but not the other.

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  23. Love this post, Angela. You articulated some thoughts I've been having but didn't know how to express. Like Emily, I'll just point people to your post when I'm trying to explain myself. =)

    Kathryn and Sunny, loved your insights, as well.

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  24. This is such an interesting discussion. I want to recommend this book:
    MotherStyles: Using Personality Type to Discover Your Parenting Strengths (Paperback)
    ~ Janet Penley (Author), Diane Eble (Author)
    It is a book that really helped me understand myself as a mother, but also understand all those other mothers that I didn't understand and either judged them as "less" or envied them as "perfect" (sometimes at the same time!).

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  25. So true, none of us are perfect. I am not a perfect wife or mother. I shout at my kids sometimes, although I always feel bad afterwards. My house is not immaculate, clean and tidy though most of the time.

    Also I am not perfect in my calling. I work hard at what I do, but please don't expect miracles. I have often found, but this may be only me seeing it this way, while we can be seen to be ordinary in our normal lives people expect miracles at church from everyday, run of the mill people. My husband is a Bishop, honestly, he is just a human being like everyone else. Yes, he has been set apart for his calling but he is a still human doing his earthly best. That is true of all us.

    We do need to accept that we are not perfect angel mothers or wives. I feel we should also give everyone else a break at the same time. I am trying, well, most days, to improve. Please only notice the good about me and I will do the same for you.

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  26. What a good discussion. I loved Jordan's comment that loving your children and loving the endless work they generate are two separate things.

    I loved Emily M's pointing out that the "trappings of modern motherhood" are keeping us from seeing or appreciating or using that part that may be within our natures.

    I love that we can talk about it from the perspective of having giving motherhood our all, finding it hard, and needing the Savior to change our natures.

    I wish that just once in conference we could hear a story about a woman who goes down in the depths of humility to access the grace of Jesus Christ to help her overcome her weakness in mothering. Because that's most of us. Does anyone know a conference story like that?

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  27. Kay,

    I don't know… sometimes there is so much comfort in being with others who not only see the good in us, but know all too well the less than desirable parts of us and love us all the more not even in spite of, but maybe even more because of, our faults. I think this post was somewhat about allowing that nakedness between souls so that we might understand that we are all still journeying and we might use what strengths we have to lift one another in our weaknesses.

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  28. Great Post and Great Comments! Lots of ideas to think about and ponder over.
    The idea of grateful for being a sinner – sure, otherwise I would never need the Savior and be never blessed with Atonement. "Natural"? – maybe breathing is natural, everything else we work at – daily! Somedays easier than others.

    So glad to hear the Angel Mother idea being squashed. The 1st Relief Society craft social I went to, when we were eating a snack, i will never forget the woman who came up to me and said it would be very hard for me to convert. Because Mormon dressed better. They always looked like they were going to church and didn't look like they were gardening, even when they were. No one ever came to their house and saw them in tshirts or sweatshirts or saw their houses messy. And they did not engage in worldly activities of sports or tv and movies, outside of what was Mormon. They were happy content and never complaining. I remember thinking – Well, good luck with that.

    I knew that this was not true since I had students and friends that were Mormon. They were actually human. But what I noticed more as the day went on – this "perfect Mormon woman" was never happy. The children were not taught right, some of the desserts were bought, the world was against them.
    "If you're happy and you know it then your face should surely show it…."

    Great Post!
    Glad to be human.

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  29. Wonderful, wonderful post! I am going to have my daughters read it tonight, especially the one that struggles with the stereotypical idealized womanhood concept, she doesn't easily fit into any typical mold but she is full up to the top with so many wonderful gifts. Just last night she was agonizing to me about conversation that went on during the walk home from Y.W. How she really cares about all of these girls she grew up with, but at the same time they drive her crazy sometimes. How with her personality and interests it might have been socially easier if she had been born a boy, though she love being a girl, it sometimes is so hard for her. She has always been very analytical and science minded and would rather talk about sociology or theoretical physics than Prom any day of the week.

    I wonder if the tendency to laud and glory the image of 'Angel Mother' is in some sense an over correction. An over enthusiastic part of restoration of all things.

    For much of history woman was considered, less than, weaker in mind, body and spirit, more inclined to sin, etc. than man. I find the 'Angel Mother' rhetoric much less troublesome than the former rhetoric. I am far from ideal in many ways (o.k. most ways). It is in my nature, among many other things, to nurture and specifically to nurture children. I am not always wonderful at it, there are some days when it is the last thing that I 'naturally' want to do, but when I choose to follow those inclinations, it expressed is my highest and holiest fulfillment, and not just children but the call to nurture generally. The nurture nature is not the end of all my good gifts but seems to be most prominent, for some women other gifts may take prominence.

    I have four daughters and two sons and some of them come to nurturing naturally like I do and some of them come to their other good gifts more readily. None of us Peterson girls or boys are free of an inclination towards sin and those things that are NOT high and holy, but there are some parts of our natures that are, or that can be.

    I guess as a woman I like to think that I brought with me some unnamed powers from the other side that are very much tied up in my being a woman and the roles that I play here in mortality. I am a Daughter of Eve, part of that exclusive essential half of humanity, that is significant to me. Much like mortal men have the opportunity to qualify for the power of God here on earth that they will ultimately take with them back to the other side. Not that this is official doctrine, and may be the exact opposite, but it helps my feminist self make peace with some of the inequities that my mortal eye perceives between (or misperceives) between mankind and womankind here on earth. When I hear the exultation of the feminine nature I guess I hear it as a little bit of a affirmation (wrongly or rightly) of this idea.

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  30. Thank you so much, Angela, for articulating the problem so well. To be told that my natural inclination is toward the Angel Mother paradigm takes away from the very REAL sacrifice that I have made and choose to continue to make in order to parent my children.

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  31. (Thank you, Kathryn. I was afraid I would offend you and it was not my intent. You got my point perfectly, and I agree about the pulpit support.)
    🙂

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  32. traci, the experience you recount makes me wonder if the Mormon woman you talked to knew any other actual Mormons! I suppose that's the reason the idealized picture of LDS women can trouble me, because anybody with any kind of interaction w/ real Mormon women knows that we come in all different shapes and sizes (literally and figuratively). It was once I started focusing on the real women I knew, rather than the idealized women that people were talking about but whom I'd never actually met, that I was able to set aside some of my unnecessary worries and concentrate instead on how I could use the specific gifts (and flaws) God gave me to learn and grow.

    And Dovie, what a beautiful comment. I'd actually written a section about how women have also suffered under a different kind of sweeping generalization: that we're inherently MORE evil than men. But the post was too long already and I had to do some cutting. So thank you for bringing it up. I agree that some of the rhetoric that praises women has its roots in the desire to correct some of these terrible notions of the past and to encourage us to be proud of our gender instead of ashamed. This is a noble goal. But I agree with you that at times, our culture has overcorrected in this respect.

    Overcorrection is easy to do, even with the best of intentions. That's why writing this post was so difficult–I wanted to nudge the wheels toward the center line without veering into oncoming traffic!

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  33. What an interesting post and subsequent discussion! Bear with me, if you will, because I want to go exploring on this one…

    I tend to look at the whole mothering thing as a spiritual gift that women have been given. In my experience, spiritual gifts don't come fully developed; we have to do the work to bring the seeds of them to fruition. (And I agree that we are and should be empowered by taking personal ownership of whatever good mothering we succeed in putting out there. It's a crazily hard job and a lifetime undertaking!)

    Having said that, thinking of women as "special" (certainly not "angel mothers" at this point, lol) in regard to their roles as co-creators and nurturers of life is something that actually sits well with me. Though I am a mediocre, disorganized cook who keeps a hygienic but lamentably cluttered house (no domestic goddess here!), I almost never feel "less than" or "put down" by various assertions or suggestions from speakers or general authorities that reinforce the notion of women being uniquely qualified to fill the role of mother. In fact, that concept has resonated with and encouraged me to believe that I could use whatever strengths I did have to somehow be there for my family in the best way possible.

    When a standard is raised (in regard to a behavior or trait) that I am not even close to meeting, I remind myself of the areas where I am completely in line with or even exceeding my goals. In other words, I do well when I gently and consciously use my awareness of a woman's spiritual gift for nurturing to lift myself up rather than beat myself over the head. For me, the trick has been focusing on the ways I can and do succeed rather than berating myself for those mothering-related areas where I may feel less accomplished. (And there are plenty of these, by the way.)

    So I guess it isn't so much the way a woman's role is held up as a celestial wonder or waved as a potentially burdensome banner in LDS culture by men, leaders, or even other women that bothers me personally. I like reaching for the stars (even when they are beyond my grasp, for now). Instead, I am worried by the thought that so many of us, as women, seem to perceive a desirable goal that is not attainable in this life ("angel" motherhood) as a necessarily threatening arena and almost unavoidable breeding ground for self-condemnation and perfectionism.

    What I find myself wanting to address in Mormon culture as it pertains to women are these: the self-defeating, painful, and often paralyzing perfectionism; the withholding of honest, positive self-regard, and the real need for unconditional love and acceptance, directed inwardly. Yep. I'd like to see that kind of acceptance aimed where it isn't pointed frequently enough…at ourselves.

    In the society at large, it seems like most any lofty standard or expectation for motherhood is quickly brought down a peg or two these days. (Is that as it should be for the sake of equality? Or is the adversary doing his twisting truth schtick again…calling good evil and trading light for darkness? Are we sacrificing eternal truth to political correctness?) I can't help wondering.

    And what about us, as members of the Church? High ideals are desirable when they have to do with faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, integrity, and virtue…but apply these in the context of motherhood (for what else would "angelic" motherhood be made of?) and they may well be deemed uncomfortable and agency-limiting. Of course mothers are sinners, we all are. But should we lead with that? Or should we lead with the possibilities?

    With any luck and a lot of dedication, one day we will be "angel mothers" in the celestial kingdom. Let's face it, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of becoming a goddess either…I've heard people express concern that they "aren't cut out for" a celestial life, but should our insecurities in regard to ownership of the divine nature that makes exaltation possible cause us to alter the perception, examination, or even call to a fuller expression of our divine potential in order to alleviate our anxieties? I don't think so.

    Instead of changing the labels or caveats or expectations, perhaps we should just change the way we look at them. Maybe we should go ahead and fly those banners.,,Hold up those standards!…Reach for those unreachable stars!! But we should also remember to look up and remind ourselves Who has made all things possible–and attainable–reflecting upon how patient, accepting, and unconditionally loving He is with us. (We might even try to emulate that!)

    Every single person is a work in progress. And that's okay, because we don't have to become "good mothers," "angel mothers," or even "celestial women" by ourselves. All we have to do is give it a valiant try (and mother love helps that one along quite a bit). The rest, we can leave up to Him. Thanks heaven.

    Just my opinion, of course, and it's in flux. I'm sort of thinking with my fingers here and haven't even come to any solid conclusions. But wow, isn't it interesting?

    Thanks for a terrific post, Angela!

    =)

    PS. I am so sorry for the length of this thing. Thanks to anyone who bothered to read the whole thing. I really got drawn in by the topic!

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  34. Sue, I read the whole thing. (After all, you read my whole thing!) You make some excellent and very wise observations. Thank you so much for sharing them. I also think your attitude represents a mature and evolved viewpoint in relation to matters like this one, and it's a viewpoint I'm sure a number of other LDS women share. But as I've said, I know many other women who've had a difficult time achieving your level of acceptance, who, in your words, suffer from "the self-defeating, painful, and often paralyzing perfectionism [and] the withholding of honest, positive self-regard." These women have a more difficult time separating how they see themselves from the idealized female, and many of us have at least passed through painful phases in our lives related to the Angel Mother paradigm.

    Actually, I think we're both on the same page, we're just coming at it from slightly different angles. And the page we're on is the same page Eliza R. Snow was once on, and the page Julie Beck was on when she quoted Sister Snow in our last conference:

    "Women should be women and not babies that need petting and correction all the time. I know we like to be appreciated but if we do not get all the appreciation which we think is our due, what matters? We know the Lord has laid high responsibility upon us, and there is not a wish or desire that the Lord has implanted in our hearts in righteousness but will be realized, and the greatest good we can do to ourselves and each other is to refine and cultivate ourselves in everything that is good and ennobling to qualify us for those responsibilities."

    I'd thought about going back and rereading Beck's talk as I was writing this post but never did. I just popped over to check this quote and thought, Bingo! Don't you love Eliza R. Snow? I'm grateful, too, to Sister Beck for quoting her. We don't need more appreciation (lauding, glorification, etc.). What we need to do is "cultivate ourselves" in such a way that we can "qualify for our responsibilities."

    Thanks again for your great comments.

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  35. What an interesting discussion. I think my feelings on the subject are most in line with what Sue says so beautifully (#40).

    And I also think it's a little funny to divide ourselves into those whose mothering gifts come naturally and those whose don't. I don't think mothering is easy for anyone, and there are so many components to being a good mother and homemaker that everyone is lacking in some of them.

    I also think the idea of having things come "naturally" is interesting and our culture's use of the word is partly at fault. To say we are by nature divine is as true as to say that we are by nature fallen and sinful. One of my sons is by nature a cheerful, friendly boy who lifts others by his presence. He also is inclined to be a huge whiner. I like to focus and reinforce the cheerful part of his nature while (not always) patiently enduring and correcting his whining. Both are part of his character, but one is divine, the other, well, ANNOYING! I think it's always good to focus on the best parts of our nature and potential and not so much on what's not good. Like others have mentioned, I see a modern tendency to confession-as-a-badge-of-honor I see sometimes, particularly in personal blogs. While the perky, "life is always perfect for me" blogs are annoying, I find the ones that try to hard to mention all the person's and family's faults in order to prove their "realness" just as disturbing.

    We have within us the potential to become so much more than we are and I love that part of myself that comes out when I'm doing what God wants with my life instead of kicking against the pricks. I guess that's where I find the ideal woman an inspiration. I live in a ward with many, many wonderful older sisters with a variety of talents and abilities. Some of them simply glow with goodness and when I think of what I want to become, I hope I have within me the potential to become like them. Do I consider them Angel Mothers? Certainly, though I'm sure that back when they were at my stage of life, they struggled as much as I do.

    The dichotomy we're discussing here also reminds me of Moses after his great vision of God's creations in Moses 1. His first reaction is "Now I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed," but just a few paragraphs later, when faced with the temptations of Satan, he is able to say, "Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten."

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  36. And eek, I just re-read what I wrote and please forgive my spelling and grammer mistakes! I probably shouldn't try to write and supervise four little girls at the same time.

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  37. Whenever I hear a General Authority claim his wife doesn't complain, I picture her rolling her eyes and sighing and praying the camera isn't pointed at her right then. They look sweet on television when it's conference time but who knows what REALLY goes on? Ha!

    I'm certainly not "naturally nurturing". I have to work at that. I am however, naturally guilt-ridden. I couldn't walk away from the store knowing the clerk forgot that 12 pack of soda under the cart. That would eat me alive until I paid for it. 🙂

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  38. Angela-

    True, I did read your "whole thing"…but it was a POST…a personal essay of appropriate length, while mine was probably the loooongest COMMENT ever rambled! Seriously!!

    And I do thank you for reading it.

    I also thank you, again, for your intelligent and thought-provoking words. I agree that we are on the same page in many respects, and you're definitely right in saying that we come at this topic from different angles. (I come from the old fogey angle!…At 57, with all of my children grown, it's much easier to wax philosophical on motherhood than it used to be when I was still in the trenches…)

    And I must observe in all candor that a quiet, peaceful house and complete freedom from childcare responsibilities are probably great boosts to my "mature and evolved viewpoint" on motherhood.

    heehee

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  39. Sue I don't know you but I like your blog and I always look forward to your comments on here. But that last line took the cake. So true, and hilarious. And going off the topic a little bit, I love it when women 20 years older than me are willing to befriend and be interested in me. I hope I'm cool like that when I'm 57.

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  40. Sue, I'm in the thick of motherhood and I agree with your comments. I very much liked this: "I like reaching for the stars (even when they are beyond my grasp, for now). Instead, I am worried by the thought that so many of us, as women, seem to perceive a desirable goal that is not attainable in this life (“angel” motherhood) as a necessarily threatening arena and almost unavoidable breeding ground for self-condemnation and perfectionism."

    In my early years of mothering I did have a difficult time, especially with the initial change from working woman to stay at home mom. At that time if I had not heard specific prophetic counsel about women's role to nurture and be a mother I would have chosen work. Because of the words of the prophet I chose to stay at home and mother and because of that I have developed as a woman and daughter of God in ways I wouldn't have otherwise. For me personally, following that counsel has improved my life, allowed me to find happiness and build a family life that at one time seemed impossible to reach.

    Yes, it was heart-wrenching to know I wasn't an angel mother (I don't agonize over it now), but I was oh, so grateful for the atonement and the knowledge that through God's grace and mercy I can be one day. Not that I want to be an angel mother to meet anyone's expectations, I want to be an angel mother so I can do what is right and best for my children because I love them. (Then again what's right and best for them is probably the plan God has going on right now.)

    We need high ideals so we can stretch. The guilt and perfectionism, I feel, come from misunderstandings about other doctrinal issues such as the atonement, what constitutes a sin, mercy, grace, etc. Once I grew in my understanding of these things and leaned on their reality, my mental anguish over being a naturally fallen mother eased – 'swallowed up in the joy of Christ'.

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  41. I really liked this post and discussion. I've wished for some time that lessons and talks were more a balance of the ideal and the real. For instance, I appreciated the amazing, sweet, patient mother who I admired told me that no, it did not come naturally; that she remembered a day when she herself threw a tantrum–and she had five kids, and so maybe she should have had it figured out by then. She not only told me about how she consciously, carefully worked on being patient, but she also gave me copies of the articles that she read over and over to remind herself of her goal.

    That is real, without detracting from the ideal. It is natural to be impatient, and it is natural to want to be more patient.

    And I have so many more thoughts that I've typed and erased and typed and erased. Good material for VT or something, right?

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  42. I enjoyed this post quite a bit, but I would take it a step further. We need to get rid of the "mother" part as well as the "angel".

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  43. Ooh, lots to think about here. I'm with Sue and Jendoop, but don't have time to write much. I did have one thought, though, about the categories of women who find motherhood something that comes naturally and those who don't. For me, the LOVE of motherhood came easy. The skills of motherhood not so. There really are too many variations to split us into categories.

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  44. Just quickly, before I head to bed, I think it's important to emphasize that I never intended for this post to put women in two camps: those who are "naturals" at mothering and those who aren't. There are too many variations in human experience for these kinds of divisions. In fact, my point was that we're all individuals with specific struggles and talents and that none of us can be described in tidy stereotypes.

    I know, too, that some of my post focused on the "mothering" aspect of the way Mormon women are portrayed (especially since is the dominant paradigm in our culture), but mothering was only one aspect of what I hoped would be a bigger discussion about women's essential natures as fallen mortals striving to connect to the divine within themselves. In other words, this isn't simply a discussion about who enjoys domestic activities and who doesn't. (And those categories are incredibly unwieldy anyway. Can any of us fit in those boxes neatly?)

    And Wendy, I'm sure each mother participating in this discussion loves her children with a power that's primal, ferocious, and all-encompassing. I know I do. That love is a gift from God, I'm sure, and has never been in question.

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  45. Interesting discussion. My thoughts are along the line of Sue and jendoop. I think that one of the things that is front and center to learning by our experience is to learn to turn to God to know how to manage that very real and ever-present (and sometimes agonizing) gap between the ideal and the real.

    As a recovering perfectionist, I have been simply astounded to start to realize how different God's voice is from that awful nagging, despair-inducing voice that has yelled at me in my head pretty much all my life (and that I thought was coming from 'out there' — in the culture, over the pulpit, etc.) The reality is that there is so much of hope and the atonement that I didn't really hear. I think it's taken me a long time to be ready to hear it. (I think it's such a process, and some of us take longer than others!)

    Look at this last conference…I think most women heard all there was regarding ideals about womanhood and motherhood…but did we hear all that taught of the Atonement, hope, personal revelation available to us, etc? It's so blasted easy to hear through our fears and insecurities, rather than to process with faith, ya know?

    Truth be told, I think we need the ideal — not only to point us ahead, but also to help us realize constantly how much we need the Savior. And only personal revelation and line upon line personal experience, imo, can fully sink that reality in a positive way into our hearts.

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  46. I wish that just once in conference we could hear a story about a woman who goes down in the depths of humility to access the grace of Jesus Christ to help her overcome her weakness in mothering.

    This talk is one of my all-time favorites, and includes something along those lines.

    And something simple from Conference that stuc out to me was this from Sister Lant:

    "We may feel as though we are failing at times, but we can keep on trying. With the Lord and through Him, we can be strengthened to be who we need to be. We can do what we need to do."

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  47. Angela, I didn't mean to suggest women don't love their children. Maybe I can't find the right words. This is close: I LOVE being a stay at home Mom, others don't and struggle with it more. But I still don't feel like the skills of being a parent (discipline, setting up routines, etc.) come easy to me at all.

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  48. Well said. I think Mormon women are too hard on themselves. We expect perfection and are so gravely disappointed when we can't measure up to "so and so down the road whose house is immaculate". I haven't read all of the responses, but I love the honesty in this article. I love the image of the woman leaving the grocery store with kids hanging on the cart and not going back to pay for the Diet coke! I love it because it's real and it's human. There is nothing wrong with seeking to become better women, mothers and wives, but there is something wrong in expecting perfection from ourselves every moment of every day.

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  49. And to Lee (#32), who said: I wish that just once in conference we could hear a story about a woman who goes down in the depths of humility to access the grace of Jesus Christ to help her overcome her weakness in mothering. Because that’s most of us. Does anyone know a conference story like that?

    I really like this talk by President Hinckley where he tells the story of the overwhelmed mother.
    http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=37330d034ceae010VgnVCM100000176f620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

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  50. Perfect reference from Pres. Hinckley's talk, Steph. I just checked it out using your link and hope you won't mind if I go ahead and copy it right here, because I don't want anyone to miss it by virtue of not wanting to take the time to click over there…

    "Some years ago in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Elder Marion D. Hanks conducted a panel discussion. Included in that panel was an attractive and able young woman, divorced, the mother of seven children then ranging in ages from 7 to 16. She said that one evening she went across the street to deliver something to a neighbor. Listen to her words, as I recall them:

    'As I turned around to walk back home, I could see my house lighted up. I could hear echoes of my children as I had walked out of the door a few minutes earlier. They were saying: ‘Mom, what are we going to have for dinner?’ ‘Can you take me to the library?’ ‘I have to get some poster paper tonight.’ Tired and weary, I looked at that house and saw the light on in each of the rooms. I thought of all of those children who were home waiting for me to come and meet their needs. My burdens felt heavier than I could bear.

    'I remember looking through tears toward the sky, and I said, ‘Dear Father, I just can’t do it tonight. I’m too tired. I can’t face it. I can’t go home and take care of all those children alone. Could I just come to You and stay with You for just one night? I’ll come back in the morning.’

    'I didn’t really hear the words of reply, but I heard them in my mind. The answer was: ‘No, little one, you can’t come to me now. You would never wish to come back. But I can come to you.’”

    "There are so very many like this young mother, who found herself in loneliness and desperation but was fortunate enough to have faith in the Lord, who could love her and help her."

    Such a great anecdote and really pertinent to our discussion, too.

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  51. Sue, yes, this is a great quote. Thank you for sharing it.

    I think what President Hinckley does here is an extremely effective way to communicate with women. Acknowledging that women can be overwhelmed ("there are so many like this young mother . . . in loneliness and desperation . . .") can do so much to help women understand that it's *normal* to struggle. For me, understanding that the struggle—choosing to bear our burdens and overcome our weaknesses—is the *point* of this whole earthly endeavor gives me much more incentive to try to overcome my weaknesses and (as some of you have said) "reach for the stars," because this woman's experience is one I can understand and relate to. Stories like this make the act of choosing goodness seem within the realm of the possible.

    Stories lauding Angel Women, however, make me feel the same way about my soul as airbrushed models on the cover of a popular magazine make me feel about my body: a little ashamed of myself in comparison, and a lot certain that I'll never be able to achieve the perfection that's depicted.

    For me, real stories about real women with real struggles to overcome—stories that acknowledge women's humanity as well as the Light of Christ within them—make me want to stretch myself, because such stories emphasize a woman's *choosing* righteously in the face of challenging situations, rather than simply *being* righteous because she was born that way.

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  52. I definitely think we should avoid thinking that there are natural and non-natural mothers. I love being a mother and enjoy it, but I want credit for working extremely hard to become the mother I am. We don't assume lawyers or doctors were just born….we let them study for years to learn how to do their job. And on the first day of the job, we expect them to still be kind of clueless.
    Why on earth should a mother think she should know it all the first year of her job?

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  53. "Stories lauding Angel Women, however, make me feel the same way about my soul as airbrushed models on the cover of a popular magazine make me feel about my body: a little ashamed of myself in comparison, and a lot certain that I’ll never be able to achieve the perfection that’s depicted."

    Angela, this was so good that I thought it deserved to appear twice. 🙂

    I love this post, and I love all the comments. Thank you!

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  54. rather than simply *being* righteous because she was born that way.

    I guess I see this sort of like patriarchal blessings. We are told about gifts we have, but, if anything, having them mentioned can make us want to work *harder* to develop them. I see the notion of women and nurturing as being similar. I hear it as an invitation to make deliberate choices and to exercise agency so as to claim the divine birthright we have, not to sit back because it's all just 'natural' anyway.

    This viewpoint is not something I always had, though…I used to only feel like I was falling short because I wasn't good enough at all of the nurturing stuff. Now I can see how God is helping me become better in that way, a very little bit at a time, as I try to embrace that 'mother of all living' part of my birthright and responsibility.

    But I do appreciate 'real' stories, too. It helps to have the difficulty of the journey acknowledged sometimes.

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  55. The differences in the stories told over the pulpit about mothers could be because of the differences in women. Some women may be motivated by angel mother stories and some by real struggle type stories. It takes some strength and wisdom to realize that some stories are not relateable for us personally.

    This discussion brings to mind the story told recently in GC about the mother who struggled during WW II, eventually digging a grave for her child with a spoon. When I heard that story I felt so depressed.

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  56. Angela, thank you for your thoughts here. What you have said makes a lot of sense.

    I'm a bit uncertain as to how participate in this forum, so please bear with me. I have just a couple of questions.

    1. Several commenters have mentioned "a woman's special gift for nurturing". Can someone please fill in some detail for me? What does that gift look like? How does it manifest itself? Can a man also have a gift for nurturing? If so, does it look different that the gift that (apparently all) women have?

    2. In this thread, we have used _mother_ as a verb, e.g., women mother their children. I assume this means that women love their children, take care of them, and so on. My question is this: If a man does those same activities, is it mothering? For example, when my wife was at choir practice two nights a week, I would get dinner for the children, clean the kitchen, load the dishwasher, bathe them, dress them in their pjs, help them brush their teeth and say their prayers, read to them and tuck them in. I guess we would call that fathering, right? So my question is, is what I did qualitatively different from what my wife did with the kids? To what extent are the words mothering, fathering, and parenting synonyms?

    I hope these questions are not offensive.

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  57. Mark, I'm so glad you commented. I was hoping we'd receive some comments from men.

    I can only answer your questions from my personal experience, so perhaps other women whose experiences differ from mine will chime in. But here's my shot at it:

    1. I, personally, don't think all women have a "special gift" for nurturing, at least if that "special gift" means that they're necessarily more nurturing than any given man. Taken as a whole, are women more likely to be interested in nurturing-specific behaviors? Probably, in much the same way as, taken as a whole, men are more likely to get PhDs in math. But this doesn't mean that all men are better at math than women (of course it doesn't). There are plenty of men I know who are much more nurturing individuals than some of the women I know, which is why I think that sweeping generalizations along the lines of "Women are ____" and "Men are ______" always seem to break down.

    2. I usually use the verb "parent," myself. Perhaps it's because my own husband is so great with my kids that it seems a bit ridiculous to co-opt that phrase for myself. My husband and I differ a bit in the way that we parent, (I'm better at staying on top of things like my kids' homework, throwing birthday parties, and making sure they're not dressed like street urchins, etc., while my husband is good at patience and hanging out with two-year-olds) but I attribute these difference more to our personalities than our genders. After all, shouldn't the patience and the love of toddlers be a "female" trait and the attention to detail at homework time be a "male" one? (Okay, so the ability to pull together a snappy first day of school outfit is a female trait, I guess. Seriously, my husband would let them go to 7th grade in their pajamas, with a terrifying case of bed head).

    This exact distinction is one of the reasons that the idea of what a "natural mother" even is has always interested me so much. My husband is a natural with kids, a natural in the kitchen, a natural outside in the garden. Heck, right now as I type this, he's walking by with some laundry in a basket (no kidding). But he's a good provider, too, and a total guy in all sorts of areas. He's comfortable in his masculinity and really good at domestic stuff simultaneously. I've often said that he'd probably make a better homemaker than I do.

    My husband works full-time and helps out around the house & with the kids part-time. I take care of the house and kids full-time and work (writing & teaching) part-time. At this stage of our life and with our personal talents and inclinations, the setup we have makes both of us pretty happy. Rearranging our lives along more traditional gender lines would probably leave both of us dissatisfied. This isn't true for all couples, of course, but it's what works best for us.

    And I apologize for the length of this comment. Lucky for you I've got to stop and head upstairs–my turn to put the 3 year old to bed.

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  58. Your comments are so refreshing. My biggest problem in all of this is finally accepting who I am and what I can do, but, having others around me still expect perfection on their terms. I constantly find priesthood leaders, other sisters in the ward, family members and those at work who are my superiors that think it is there specific job to determine my perfection and how I should think, feel, and act. Not that anything I have done is wrong but that they feel it is their privilege to determine my faults, and how I have to change to their way of thinking.

    Maybe someday I'll figure out how to creatively tell them to bug off.

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  59. I love some of the insights you included here. I have been thinking lately about how we, Mormon women, perceive ourselves differently because of our unusual perspective of Eve and the fall. Does anyone have any insights to share?

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  60. It's interesting, Amy, that much of the negative rhetoric surrounding women over the centuries (women are inherently evil, women aren't nearly as righteous as men, etc.) can be traced to an interpretation of the creation story that casts Eve (and, by extension, womankind) in a very poor light. Our understanding of the fall makes Eve an example of one being willing to make hard choices, and we rightly celebrate her for it.

    I am a little suspicious of the notion, though, that Eve was 100% sure that she was making the right choice and was bravely marching along her predestined path without a doubt or regret in the world. (And not every Mormon believes this, of course, but I've certainly heard some espouse this view of Eve's state of mind as she took a bite of that fruit.) I think Eve was more like a lot of us: pretty darn sure that this choice she was making would wind up being worth the sacrifice, but scared and worried and even ashamed of herself when God called her on the carpet for making it.

    I'm not a huge fan of the paradigm shift among some Mormons that makes Eve the all-knowing, wise woman and Adam the dunderheaded man who wouldn't listen so Eve had to step in and set him straight. Sometimes I wonder if this is an over-correction (done with good intentions, of course) akin to the Angel Mother over-correction meant to make up for centuries of calling women inherently evil.

    Anyway, it seems to me that both Adam and Eve were unsure what to do in the face of contradictory commandments. Both Adam and Eve were worried they'd made a big mistake when God pointed out what they'd done (and tried to pass the blame on to somebody else). Both Adam and Eve were behaving as human men and women do: trying their best but occasionally coming up short, in need of God's understanding and mercy, capable of making big mistakes. In the end, we all know Eve made the right choice, but I don't think being righteous was easy or even "natural" for Eve, in the same way it isn't always easy or natural for us. At least that's the way I see it . . .

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  61. I always enjoy your insights, Angela. I think you nailed it with your interpretation of the Adam and Eve story—both of them were a bit clueless and unsure, but well-intentioned and trying to do what's right. I especially love this: "Both Adam and Eve were behaving as human men and women do: trying their best but occasionally coming up short, in need of God’s understanding and mercy, capable of making big mistakes." Doesn't that aptly describe all of us, male and female?

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  62. I am a man–perhaps the only one to post here. I have a fantastic wife and three wonderful adult daughters, who are mothers. The comments posted here are very thought-provoking and poignant and have given me much to think about in terms of how the women I know may be feeling about their lives, roles, responsibilities and personal progress. I am humbled by all the self-introspecting comments. Unfortunately it is unlikely for men (including LDS males) to have this type of exchange of thoughts and revelations about how they mentally/spiritually process their struggles and inadequacies. It would no doubt benefit us greatly if we were to do that. Thanks for your example sisters. I continue to think that nurturing is more natural to you. However, it's a healthy realization for me to know you struggle with some of these things too as you strive to attain your individualized divine potential during earth-life. Fortunately we get to continue to sharpen our thinking and knowledge beyond the veil.

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