Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Success as a Woman

I've recently been inundated with articles and comments as I scroll through my newsfeed that have opened my eyes to the way we're viewing the role of women. The topic has been consuming my thoughts. You should see the comments of horror when Susan Paton's article about marrying young (i.e. before 30) is posted. Or the feisty comments from both extremes on an article in which one writer criticized the fact we celebrate things like weddings and births, saying, "If women can do anything, why are we still content with applauding them for doing nothing? I want to have a shower for a woman when she backpacks on her own through Asia, gets a promotion, or lands a dream job--not when she stays inside the box and does the house and kids thing which is the path of least resistance." Because producing and sustaining life is less miraculous than backpacking Asia...and is doing "nothing?" (As Matt Walsh says, "Whatever moms are doing, they ARE doing something, and our civilization DEPENDS on them doing it well. Who else can say such a thing? What other job carries with it such consequences?")

I haven't backpacked through Asia or attained my dream job yet, but I've studied in Israel, done orphanage projects in Guatemala, escaped an Egyptian riot, scaled Macchu Picchu, survived a near-shipwreck in the Indian Ocean, taught health classes in Africa, run many a long-distance race, defended my beliefs at a UN Conference in New York, become fluent in a foreign language and testified of what I know to be true on many a hot day in Paraguay. I've had a top-notch education, held leadership positions, and seen some of the most beautiful sites life has to offer.  Granted, none of that would have been as possible if I had married young and was "stuck" at home raising kids. Maybe, when I'm a stay-at-home mom in the future with more than a few rambunctious children testing my patience, I'll sigh and I'll look back at this time and miss the calmness, the occasional solitude, the ability to do what I want without having to organize babysitters or pack a diaper bag. 

But I'm actually pretty sure that I will never look back on this period of being single and think....."Wow, those were the days." I'm pretty sure I'll never think that. In fact, I think the best moments are yet to come, when I'm devoted to my own little home. Yes, I'm sure I won't be as appreciated as I wish, it won't be as "fun" as the humanitarian projects and tours, but it will be the best of all. Call it being naive, but I call it having your priorities straight. These years of opportunity and adventure have been important, life-changing, educational, perspective-broadening, testimony-building---yes. But I was created to serve. And the ultimate service is in a family. I didn't come to earth to just build a resume, check off a bucket list, and have adventure. I came here to find true happiness, which is found in the family. I didn't come to earth to see how far I could climb up the corporate ladder, but to see how close I could get to becoming like my Ultimate Example, and I can't imagine a better way to become like the Best Parent than being a parent myself. I didn't come to earth to prepare for an amazing career. I came here to prepare for eternal life, and family life prepares us for eternal life. 

Of course, while I hope to have a family and make them my first priority, I don't think a woman's influence is limited to her household. Oh no. Before and during and after the child-raising years, there is much more to be done than sit and wait and assume our only chance to do good is in the home. Yes, it's the most influential and most important place to do good, but it is not the only place. I still plan to be involved in my community, in politics, in public health, in development work of impoverished areas, in local events wherever I may live, and much more. And I believe that if I put my family first, God will bless me with opportunities to serve in many capacities and even develop myself. Marathons, learning to ballroom dance, having my own catering business. There is a time for everything. But if not, there is time for the most important things, which is why I'll put them first.

But as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I don't measure my success by how impressive my life looks from a resume stand-point (click here for a great Ted Talk about how to really measure your life). I measure the importance of my priorities by the words of one of our prophets, David O. McKay, who said, "No success can compensate for failure in the home." 

Without the gospel of Jesus Christ in my life, I wouldn't understand this whole perspective of "the greatest good a woman can do is in the walls of her own home." Without the gospel, I'd probably be planning my next adventure and applying to grad schools--the idea of settling down to get married and have kids would not even be in my peripheral vision. But I have felt and truly believe in the importance of the family. I believe what the prophet has said that, "the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children." God has so wisely mapped out the best plan for our happiness, and if the family is central to it, who am I to disagree? Who am I to say, "Well, God, I think I'll be happiest if I put my first priority on my personal promotions and plaudits and popularity. Maybe the family thing makes some people feel fulfilled, but it's not for me."  

Which is why it makes me so sad to hear Latter-Day Saint young women my age say just that. To hear them want to be like men and focus their priorities on their careers, to hear them look down on stay-at-home moms and consider that old-fashioned.  Where is their faith? 

I feel like I perfectly understand their point of view. When opportunities for foreign internships or exciting, but long-term-commitment, jobs come along, it's hard to not embark on them. It might not seem that rocking the cradle is the best way to rock the world when exciting new ideas on poverty termination come knocking on your door, pry into your humanitarian heart and tempt your sense of altruism and adventure.  At times, being a world-traveling National Geographic photographer seems a lot more impressive and influential than sitting down with the kids to look at the pictures when the National Geographic comes in the mail. But if I took advantage of every golden opportunity that came my way, I'd never be in the same place long enough to be in a relationship and eventually have a family.

If it weren't for the gospel in my life, I could go on for years on my own and think I was taking the "path of resistance" and doing the noblest and most meaningful thing. But if I were to live my life like that, and never put my efforts into building a happy family, I'm afraid I would die with an impressive photo album and many material comforts, but no posterity of my own, and no one to be with in heaven. With the gospel in my life, I feel like I haven't had to learn the lesson that so many learn the hard way, when they get old and think, "I should have spent more time with my family." 

It's the eternal perspective that keeps me focused on the truly important things that will bring the truest joys in life. As Alma 39:17 so wisely says in the Book of Mormon, "Seek not after riches nor the vain things of this world; for behold, you cannot carry them with you." 

The most important things in life are the spiritual things. The most meaningful things in life really aren't things. They're people. Living life according to that knowledge is success. 

"Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
 This is the first and great commandment.
 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Matthew 22:36-39


  1. Thank you for putting this so beautifully. I've felt pretty overwhelmed by all the feminism going around. I definitely don't think that women should be "subject" to men, but I also think it's wrong to condemn women who CHOOSE to get married and make the marriage work, and to mock those who decide to put family first. Since when are those negative qualities?

  2. You are a powerful communicator, Faith -- quite unwavering in your stance. Very Bruce R. McConkie-esque :-)

    Before I got married and had a baby, I thought I would struggle putting my family first. Like some of the women you mentioned, I once considered if family life wasn't for me. It seemed trendy to believe such things. Pre-marriage, I was excited to pursue a career and achieve ambitions on my to-do list. When the opportunity to get married presented itself, I admit I hesitated; but with all the faith I could muster I chose to jump in with both feet, praying and hoping that it really was a good idea. Since getting married and having a child, I can say without a doubt that making my family top priority has brought me the greatest happiness, peace and satisfaction I’ve felt yet. Watching my baby smile for the first time is much more exciting than seeing ad campaigns I created on TV; learning how to communicate with my husband is more fulfilling than finding the answer to a budget issue at work; and having a healthy meal prepared for my family each day at six is surprisingly fun (not all the time, but a lot of the time). In fact, it's much more enjoyable than any fancy restaurant I've sat in -- and I really like fancy dining! Suffice it to say, I've done the traveling, I've gotten the promotions, I've received some of the praise that's out there, and while all of it is nice and good, it's really quite fleeting. It's all affirmation that just doesn't last.

    However, in saying this I don't want to discount the value of these kinds of experiences. I myself have benefited from them, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without some of them. It is certainly true that there is much to appreciate and learn from in this world. After all, did God not command us to seek after good things? Not to beat a dead horse, but I believe God uses all types of experiences and methods to teach us eternal principles. In fact, I believe any experience we have before beginning our families can be a preparatory experience for our future families. But I think it must be made clear that those experiences should never replace the ultimate goal of having a family. My thoughts in this comment are directed to the woman who fears having a family will be disappointing, unfulfilling and even uninteresting compared to the alternatives. She may feel this fear is validated from experiences in her childhood. Maybe she translates a mother's venting to mean regret. Perhaps the articles buzzing around social media stating traditional family values are unrealistic have finally taking their toll. Whatever the trigger may be, when all the cards are laid out, I think she, and we, will all realize that God's plan of happiness was right all along.

    Faith, I appreciate when you said women must have faith in the family process. This is absolutely true. Women and men must believe there is joy in the hard, sometimes mundane work of family life. This is true of any worthwhile goal. Life was not designed to be a consistent high exempt from low days or mediocre moments. This doesn't mean you have to fall in love with changing dirty diapers or pretend that you really like waking up at three in the morning to feed a hungry baby. It also doesn't mean you have to value the false traditions that plague many families. But you can find purpose, and thus joy, in realizing that every dirty diaper changed, early morning feeding completed or all false tradition corrected are all threads being weaved into a tapestry that will one day unite generations.

  3. That all sounds a bit lofty, though, when you’re in the trenches of every-day life. A few weeks ago I was sitting at my kitchen table feeling a bit disgruntled. I was bored from my regular routine of laundry, house cleaning, dish washing and diaper changing. In spite of all that (which is already a lot) I wished I had more to do. I felt I was longing for the rush of full-time work and the hype of an overactive social life. Like Carly, I was feeling overwhelmed with all the flashy promises of extreme feminism. Was any of it true? How much information should I be inhaling and/or filtering? I started comparing myself to women who had made different choices than me concerning the timing of marriage, childbirth, etc. I have other ambitions in addition to motherhood, but is it wrong that I’m not currently pursuing them? I wondered if I had in fact chosen the path of least resistance. And if I had, did that make me less valuable? I stewed for several hours before an insight finally hit me: God’s opinion is the only one that matters. I felt strongly that I needed take pride in my decisions. I had chosen to give up my job and stay home full time because I wanted to, I had the privilege to do so, AND – above all else – I felt it was the right thing to do. Why then, was I not embracing my choice? Faith, you said it best: where was my faith? I thought about how it didn’t matter what was best for other women. What mattered was that I commit to what I believe. I realized the contention I was feeling was a result of me worrying more about the opinions of men than that of God's. I felt empowered by this insight. As a young mother I could see an opportunity to reinvent myself and become ever more refined and closer to the person God and I intend me to be. I am not limited in my choice to raise a family. I am instead unleashed! Faith, you gave excellent examples of how women can continue to grow in their various rolls as they pursue, in wisdom, the meaningful desires they carry in their hearts. The truth is, I wasn't really longing to go back to work, and I definitely didn’t need the hype of being a social butterfly. The real issue was that I was doubting two things: 1) that the Lord knew all the desires of my heart and 2) that He, in his omniscience and love, will bless me with the opportunities to fulfill my desires according to His will. Currently, He, in his love and mercy, has blessed me with the opportunity of motherhood. Oh, the joy! It's interesting to consider that once I stop doubting God's love, I suddenly don't feel disgruntled about tending to my home because I know that creating a Christ-centered atmosphere is a skill I want to develop (yes, btw, I'm one of those people who believes an empty sink results in a greater measure of peace in the home!! ;-)). Remembering God’s love also dissolves any feelings of discontent about grappling with my current phase of young motherhood because I know it is an experience I want to be having. At the end of the day, my desires are being granted. Suddenly I’m not concerned about whether or not I’m on the path of lease resistance according to my peers’ standards. I see that I am on God’s path – the one He’s mapped for me.

    And just in case I haven’t promoted motherhood enough, let me put it on the record that it is wonderful! Challenging, yes. Draining, true. But only some of the time. Motherhood is also rejuvenating, splendid and fun! If anyone doesn’t believe me, go hold a baby. It’s innocence and delicate features will have you melting in no time. I think a lot of our generation fails to understand that family is a long-term investment. It doesn’t usually yield big signs of instant gratification. Relationships require time, sacrifice, love and then some. You have to be in it for the long haul. No backsies, trades or calling it quits. Sometimes, that haul feels really arduous; but we’ve been promised that those who stick with it win.

  4. Like you, Faith, I am grateful for the perspective the gospel brings to my life. With it, I am blessed with vision to see the purpose in challenges, both inside and outside of family. Because of it, I know I don't have to be swayed by the fluctuating opinions of my generation. I know that in living true principles I will be blessed with what I need to become the woman God has intended me to be, which definitely includes being a mother.

    Faith, thank you for facilitating this forum. I can’t wait to continue learning from you when the time comes for you to be a mother. You will be remarkable (after all, you already are).

  5. Couldn't have said it better myself! And since I'm a mom, I don't really have time to try anyway. Haha. :-)


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