I attended my stake's Relief Society birthday celebration this week.
Dinner was served, and then one of the ward Relief Society presidents gave a great presentation about some of the things she has learned by studying early women of the church.
She was somewhat surprised to discover how varied the life experiences of these women were, and how much their struggles corresponded to those of women today:
death of children
death of a spouse
multiple marriages and blended families
frustration over not having time to devote to passions or self-development
frustration with the day-to-day difficulties of raising children and taking care of a home
Some were highly educated. Some became doctors. Some developed musical talents. Some were teachers. Some were political activists. Some were writers. Some devoted their efforts to raising children. All struggled to find the right balance.
In short, then, as now, there was no one right way to be a woman in the church. It brought to mind these quotes by Chieko Okazaki:
"...cookie cutters are for cookies, not for human beings, and we should not try to live someone else's life."
"All of us women have an image of the ideal family—a marriage in the temple to an active priesthood holder, and children who are obedient and faithful. But President Ezra Taft Benson has pointed out that only 14 percent of American households in 1980 match the traditional image of a family—working husband, full-time mother with children still in the home. 2 Reliable statistics indicate that only one out of five LDS families in the United States have a husband and wife married in the temple with children in their home. As Elder M. Russell Ballard has already reminded us, there is great diversity in LDS homes. But all of these homes can be righteous homes where individuals love each other, love the Lord, and strengthen each other.
Let me give you an example. Here are two quilts. Both are handmade, beautiful, and delightful to snuggle down in or wrap around a grandchild. Now look at this quilt. It’s a Hawaiian quilt with a strong, predictable pattern. We can look at half of the quilt and predict what the other half looks like. Sometimes our lives seem patterned, predictable in happy ways, in order.
Now look at this second quilt. This style is called a crazy quilt. Some pieces are the same color, but no two pieces are the same size. They’re odd shapes. They come together at odd angles. This is an unpredictable quilt. Sometimes our lives are unpredictable, unpatterned, not neat or well-ordered. Well, there’s not one right way to be a quilt as long as the pieces are stitched together firmly. Both of these quilts will keep us warm and cozy. Both are beautiful and made with love.
There’s not just one right way to be a Mormon woman, either, as long as we are firmly grounded in faith in the Savior, make and keep covenants, live the commandments, and work together in charity." (Chieko Okazaki, “Strength in the Savior” General Conference October 1993)
I came home from the meeting and told Marc about it. I told him how much I enjoyed the presentation, how well-done it was, etc. But as we continued talking, he pointed out that the way I was talking actually made it seem like I was more discouraged than uplifted by the meeting. I was surprised, but realized that he was right. I was comparing myself to all of these women with great accomplishments, and came away wondering, "What have I done? Am I enough?"
Obviously, this is the opposite reaction of what was intended. I found it interesting that it was even the opposite of what I thought I had received.
As a stay-at-home mother by choice, who volunteers at the schools, enjoys cooking and baking, sewing and decorating, knitting and reading, I would seem to fit that cookie-cutter mold as well as anyone.
I find it difficult not to compare myself to other women and wonder if I am doing enough. Am I a good role model for my daughter? What do my sons learn about womanhood from me? Should I be doing more?
As Marc and I talked, he reminded me that I can do whatever I want. I can go back to BYU and take classes, for free! I can study and learn, he said he could envision me striking out on a business venture at some point. The thing is, I know I can do those things. I just don't want to do them. At least not right now. I have chosen my current life, and Marc has fully supported me, which is a wonderful feeling. I have no idea what I will want in the future.
“Only you know your circumstances, your energy level, the needs of your children, and the emotional demands of your other obligations. Be wise during intensive seasons of your life. Cherish your agency, and don’t give it away casually. Don’t compare yourself to others — nearly always this will make you despondent. Don’t accept somebody else’s interpretation of how you should be spending your time. Make the best decision you can and then evaluate it to see how it works. Practice saying, ‘I feel good about my decision to . . .’ and then fill in the blank with whatever you decided. If you find yourself saying, ‘I should feel good about this decision, but . . .’ then perhaps you need to reevaluate that decision.”
– Lighten Up! , “Seeking the Light of Christ,” Chapter 14
I think I may need to re-read this quote every day.
I would love to hear others' feedback on this issue!