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Slipping Through the Cracks

By Brooke Benton

As I listened to my ward’s seminary graduates speak in sacrament meeting a couple of weeks ago, I found my throat swollen with emotion and an unexpected love fill my heart for all the sudden girl/women who bore testimony boldly (or nonchalantly or emotionally or monotone) and who thanked their parents and teachers with an intensity so sweet and earnest. They were my old babysitters, my friends’ children, neighborhood girls who once traipsed around in cut-off jeans and now zoom by me in their cars with cute smiles under big sunglasses, waving as the day whisks them away.

I wonder what is in store for them on those occasions when blown out hair and glossy lips are necessary; but even more, I wonder what is in store for them now—now that they are graduates and truly on the cusp of adulthood and change and adventure.

 

What will happen to these lovely girls? The world is their oyster, their destinations ripe for the picking. Will they head south to school, will they travel the globe, will they serve missions? Will they be early brides and early mothers? Will they learn a trade or have a career? Will they live with their parents, or will they move out? But most importantly, will they keep going with those testimonies? And will those testimonies grow to more than a gratitude for parents, and a willingness to look at their mothers’ eyes, and then beyond, when they attempt to say what they believe? Or will they lose those budding testimonies—or will they flounder, or will they stay the same?

 

I worry about this. I worry about that transition to womanhood—the proverbial transition from Young Women to Relief Society. When I hear about how many women my age who dislike Relief Society, then I worry about how the entire enriching experience of it—the sisterhood and the shared experience and the strengthening testimony of those further along the journey—might seem to the really young women highfalutin and irrelevant. (Because if those Gospel truths don’t appeal to them, then certainly the emphasis on emergency preparedness stuff won’t either—that has pure parenthood/responsibility written all over it.) Or I wonder if there are just certain girls who come primed for Relief Society with a willingness to learn and serve, and others who will disdain it just ‘cause.

 

What has been your experience in this area? What are the things you have done to help the girls in your life transition into service in the Relief Society—or even, into enjoyment in the Relief Society—and into adulthood as well? Because as women, we stand few paces ahead, waiting for our younger counterparts, poised to learn from them and love them, and hopefully pass a little something back in return. I want to welcome these sweet girls with open arms, and I am willing, but is it really that simple? What happens next?

About Brooke Benton

(Blog Team) is attempting inner om with this writing stuff. Proud to claim four loud children, a patient husband and a fat black cat as family, she feels blessed to be their mommy-- their giver of kisses and baker of cookies. She is ever seeking a good novel and wishing for the sand between her toes, palm trees, the ocean.

25 thoughts on “Slipping Through the Cracks”

  1. I love how the stories behind the picture you posted beautifully augment your post.

    The two biggest things that helped me in my transition from YW to RS (far over a decade ago) was: friends and purpose.

    What helped me best transition into my "mother's Relief Society" even if I only ever visit it during the holidays is how the sisters of that ward took an interest in me and took me under their wing. They weren't foreigners to me when I started attending the grown-up women's group, they were friends. That friendship, I believe, had been started back when I was only 16. I had just moved into the ward when a woman learned I was interested in scrapbooking, so she invited me into her scrapbooking circle which met monthly.

    Most of my college ward experience were unedifying and didn't give me any opportunity to contribute or share. Eventually I got the idea that I simply couldn't wait for a calling to aid me in participation – I had to start splashing water on my own. I also learned that I couldn't wait for someone else to do anything – I had to get up and do it myself. Relief Society, if not college wards in general, became more meaningful once I took the mantra, "I'm not here for myself, I'm here for everyone else."

    The "friends and purpose" does sound a bit like the mantra "fellowship, calling, and good word of God." My experience has shown that the actual implementation of fellowship and callings tend to be lacking in meaning.

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  2. When I first made the transition to Relief Society, my ward leaders (in an attempt to make use feel useful) put two of my friends and I in charge of a musical production/play for the Stake Relief Society meeting. It was kind of a baptism by fire–and maybe not the best way to introduce us to Relief Society! For me, going to a single adult ward was probably the best way for me to make that transition–I was able to see that Relief Society actually was relevant to my daily life and I had some poignant experiences with visiting teachers in college that helped me appreciate the vision of visiting teaching. For a more traditional ward, I think they key is to remember young sisters in the lessons (and single sisters in general) and make sure that the lessons are relevant to everyone–not just parents.

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  3. The problem is that our society hates age. Ageism makes it hard for younger people to look up to or want to socialize with older people. They don't look to us for wisdom…..because we don't look to our own elders for wisdom.
    Every time we tell someone they look younger than their age, every time we refuse to own our age, every time we criticize our aging body we send the message to the younger generation that age is not something they should respect.

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  4. We have our Laurels attend RS once a month, but I wish that the womens program in the church wasn't bifurcated into YW/RS so it felt like such a divide. The men (starting at age 12) all meet together for priesthood opening exercises and priesthood broadcasts. I think the women should do that too, and then the RS transition would be more natural.

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  5. Many wards I have been in have the tendency to only look to the younger women for callings in Primary and Young Womens, leaving Relief Society mostly populated with older women. I think that trying to add more diversity into the Relief Society starts with making sure that there is diversity in the leadership of all the organizations (and, actually, my current ward does have a variety of people serving in all callings).

    I also think that some of the other things people mentioned here are relevant as well. We also need to stop seeing younger sisters as 'younger' and 'single' and 'new' and therefore not as relevant. Everyone 'counts' and should be included. Give them opportunities to be visiting teaching companions with older, more experienced sisters. Ask them to help with lessons on Sunday or to teach classes for other meetings (whatever you want to call Enrichment now)

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  6. As far as my own transition goes, I think it actually helped that I moved out and went to college at BYU shortly after turning 18. For me, the singles ward experience was good because I spent three years in a ward where Relief Society was run and populated by women my own age. At the same time, I've known other people who had the same experience with the opposite effect.

    I think that any Relief Society that I've been in that has felt most comfortable to me has been one in which lessons and activities are presented in a way that feels inclusive. Lessons that focus on general gospel principles rather than assuming that everyone has the same life experience (i.e. assuming everyone is a mother).

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  7. I'll add to what several others have said: going away to college and attending a singles' ward RS was what made my transition easy as pie. I loved RS there, and it was so much fun!

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  8. For me a BYU ward was the greatest thing. I started living in the dorms a month after I turned 18, and the freshman ward was even better because we were all new to Relief Society and adjusting together with some really great Bishopric wives to train us. We even had two Relief Societies in our ward (one per dorm floor), which opened up twice as many callings and leadership positions. My early callings in Relief Society helped me gain a strong testimony of it.

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  9. For the family ward RS transition, being given a responsibility in the RS made me feel like I had some ownership in it and taught me that what I get out of RS is completely dependent on what I put in. Giving new graduates real responsibilities for planning activities or teaching lessons is the most effective tool I've seen over the years for easing the transition.

    The worst was attending opening exercises and/or lessons as a laurel. There was no interaction between the teens and women, no effort to draw the YW out in discussions, and although my teenage self exaggerated the amount of time actually spent on it, I felt like they spent the whole time talking about how difficult their stoner teens (who I was friends with) made their lives. I felt like RS was a place old women got together and whined. I think their attending could be done really well, but it wasn't done thoughtfully in my situation. But I know lots of people that it seemed to help a lot, so I'm guessing most wards do it better than mine did.

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  10. I have almost always loved RS, because it has always been a place full of my peers. First in a student ward, then a young married ward, then a young military family ward, then finally after 3 kids and turning 30, I made into a traditional ward where I fit right in to the standard relief society.
    Funny though, when I go to visit my old ward where I grew up, I still feel like it is my mom's relief society full of old ladies and that I have nothing to contribute to these women who have known me since I was a baby.
    I have noticed that during the times where I didn't feel like I belonged in RS, it was because the presidency was too homogenous- all grandmothers, all working professionals, all stay at home young moms, etc. When there was a real effort to get someone from every walk of life, there was a lot fewer people who felt excluded.

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  11. Ok, this is a little off topic, but in our ward last Sunday one of the graduating seniors got up and said how much he "didn't like seminary" and never wanted to go" and "I have no idea how I got here and am actually graduating from seminary" and I thought, oh his poor mother. Because now that I have a teenage daughter (13), I understand how tiresome it can be always trying to make church stuff fun and positive when the child doesn't have the best attitude. So, in advance, I'm reading all these tips to help me make my daughter learn to love YW and, eventually, transition well in RS. 🙂 thanks

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  12. From what I've seen the YW's mother's activity has the largest impact on the YW's transition. So much so that in one RS presidency I was in our transition plan was to focus on the YWs' mothers. What the mom says at home about lessons, how excited she gets (or doesn't) to attend activities, if she does her VT and if the YW sees her moms visiting teachers in their home.

    I remember my mom cleaning the house for her Visiting Teachers to come over, so I thought that it must be something important to her. She complained about missing Relief Society while holding many Primary callings, so I knew there must be something good going on in there that my mom preferred it over Primary. She helped with many homemaking meetings and enlisted my help, so I got experience early on about what homemaking meetings were and how to carry one out.

    Then my YW leader's participation in RS made a difference for me. If they attended the activities then I still got to interact with them at church functions. My BYU ward definitely helped too.

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  13. I'm in the minority here–I had no difficulty transitioning from YW to RS in my family ward. That was mainly because I had come to HATE Young Women's because (a) I didn't have anyone my age to relate to and (b) the girls who were close to my age were airheads. My YW president was very supportive of my decision to start attending Relief Society as soon as I graduated from high school. She was happy actually, because that's what she wanted for the rest of the girls as well.

    The Relief Society president also made a great effort to make sure I felt included. She used to be one of my leaders, so she already knew me.

    I'm just weird 🙂

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  14. I had a huge problem transitioning to RS. The RS president didn't even know I had graduated from high school. It wasn't until I was at an appointment to talk with my bishop about going to a student ward that she knew. My mom had an appointment right after me and they were talking in the hall while they were waiting for me. The next week she came to visit me and give me a manual etc but the next Sunday I was off to college and a student ward. The message I got was she didn't know me and didn't care to until she was obligated to. I didn't really attend a real RS until my mission 3 years later. (I loved my student ward RS in the meantime.) I could choose to continue in YW until I went to college. Why would I choose otherwise?

    Thankfully times have changed! I make it a point to get to know all the Young Women in the ward I'm in. It makes for great baby sitters but when they start coming to RS they know someone and hopefully they don't think I'm too weird. My current RS president makes it a point to know the youth. She has really been an example for me.

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  15. Haven't read the other comments, wanted to quickly share my two cents on the YW program. In our ward, and in many wards, the YW leaders go crazy with creating enriching activities. THe girls show up on activity nights and are treated to amazing feats of YW leader activity execution spendor. (Disclaimer, I'm not in the YW organization, my children are not in YW, just a RS proponent.) The YW in my ward, at least, are treated like princesses who get pampered regularly. Not exactly a testimony builder, if you ask me. If they YW program was a little less high maintenance, perhaps the YW wouldn't be in such total shock about their transition into RS. RS is a horse of a different color for sure, but I don't know that RS is to blame.

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  16. Jendoop and bth hit it on the bullseye in my opinion. Ive been in YW, as President, for six
    Months and have felt the pressures of creating huge party type activities every Tuesday. I love these YW but we really are missing the boat and I've had to make some major shifts to get us back into the "real" world and more importantly the purpose of YW (coming closer to Christ, fellowship, service).

    As far as mother's attitude and their daughters immulating it, I would say 99% of the time, I've found this to be true.

    Really, whether we are in YW or RS or serving else where in the church, we really should take more of a responsibility on our transition and experience. I've moved 6 times in the past ten years (outside and finally into Utah) and some of my wards have been weaker than others but I've learned my attitude plays a major factor in my participation with church programs.

    I do agree, when the YW are in RS, the teacher really should push for more involvement with the girls…but then again, the teacher should try to be aware of the whole class (as has been mentioned).

    Okay I'll stop here. 🙂

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  17. I appreciate your heart for the youth making the transition to adulthood. The future can bring so many exciting changes for them and also sad disappointments.

    I guess I am fortunate that I liked Relief Society from the beginning when I joined the Church at 19. I did a little frumpy compared to other women as I wore mainly the clothes that my mom picked out and didn't have much money to buy nice clothes then. I was so painfully shy. And yet, I volunteered to be a Visiting Teacher very soon after becoming a member. This was from someone who avoided joining a lot of organizations in high school including speech team for which I was very strongly recruited as I was the shy type who came alive on stage. But one one one was tortue and I was a former loner. I do feel that the Holy Spirit created that change of heart making me want to serve. Also, my first visiting teacher was the Relief Society President and very down to earth. She was just reading the lesson from the Ensign with no special insight as far as I recall. I thought that I could do that.

    I think as people realize that Relief Society is there to support us, I think they may be more receptive. If people are into making cute crafts to hand out for lessons or magnets, that is fine with me. I like those touches. But it should never be a competition.

    What's not to love about an organization that is all about love?

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  18. Ageism works both ways. If I don't feel that the older women in RS are going to take my comments seriously or respect my life experience, I'm not going to participate. (And if I feel this way in my 30s, the 18-year-olds don't stand a chance of being listened to.)

    Also, as FoxyJ pointed out, most of the women my age or younger are in Primary or Young Women's, which leaves RS lacking in diversity of age.

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  19. I also went straight to BYU and a student ward, so it was a fairly easy transition. However, I did spend two summers back in my home ward Relief Society. From that experience, as well as discussing the transition with my mother (currently the RS president in her ward), I think Visiting Teaching is one of the most important factors. Give the new RS members a solid visiting teaching companion and her own solid visiting teachers and she will make friends within the RS, regardless of age. It is also an excellent way to learn that visiting teaching isn't just an assignment or even just a calling, it is a way to become more united as sisters in the gospel. And that is an incredible thing.

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  20. I'm with Anita, FoxyJ and bth.
    I came from another country 24 years ago. I'm married and have a just graduated boy and a pre-yw girl.
    I'm also weird like Laura, because I transitioned without a hitch. I don't think it's cultural, I saw my friends growing up having a hard time transitioning. I believe it's about your upbringing. If you see your mother always thinking of others, and doing service to others, you get the point.
    I've been in YW here, two different presidencies, and I agree that some of the activities were over the top. I was thought of as the 'out of touch' leader for trying to do things that were about service. I didn't mind, I thought every experience was interesting. What I see is that girls are a lot more insecure than boys. Does that come from their mothers?

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  21. I think the attitude of mothers is important, but also the attitude of the women in Relief Society. I hear Sister Beck inviting us to really capture the spirit and vision of Relief Society. The fact that she talks about that so much suggests to me that we aren't there yet. It's ultimately the Spirit's job to help us all make Relief Society what it needs to be.

    Sister Beck's Women's Conference talk was amazing. Also, the notes from a meeting she held in Idaho suggest that "We depend on…the rising generation of women, to breathe new life into Relief Society.”

    I also think the more RS presidencies and teachers can foster communication and interaction between generations, the better. While older women should reach out and listen, it must go both ways. Younger generations should also be anxious and willing to listen to those who have walked the path before. I don't think we do that enough.

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  22. Re: #15

    That is very strange to me because if you read the YW Handbook, the girls are supposed to be planning most of the activities. It doesn't sound like those leaders are administering the program the right way if they are doing everything.

    I have been very impressed with how my new ward does it. The RS sisters make quilts for the graduating Laurels and present them at a special combined RS/YW event at the end of the school year. They spotlight those girls, play fun games and munch on treats. It shows the YW that RS can be fun too.

    They also have the YW come into RS once a month for opening exercises.

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  23. Fascinating post Brooke. I love the way our new ward blends RS with YW. We all meet together for opening exercises. We all stand and repeat the YW's theme (even our 80 year old lovelies who have now memorized the words). And once a month the Laurels stay in RS for the lesson. Around graduation time the RS Sisters gather for a celebration of the YW who are graduating from HS. The girls are given a quilt and a stack of notes written to them by RS sisters, wishing them well, expressing love. I remember feeling a little jolted by my first visits to RS. But hopefully, these YW have relationships and experiences that will make the transition smooth and meaningful for them.

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  24. I have to admit, I was one who had a hard time transitioning into RS in my parents ward. The problem is that in the ward I grew up in, if you weren't going to be moving away for school as soon as you graduated the ward inevitably put you in primary and nursery callings. So it was just me and one other gal who went to BYU in with a whole lot of much older women. Because I was only ever there for the summer I never got visiting teachers in that ward. The shift to having enrichment night only once every 3 months meant that I never got a chance to actually really socialize with anyone in the RS. Is it any wonder I felt out of place there? Like many others, my singles ward and then later married student ward really saved the RS experience for me… I felt loved and needed.

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