An Open Kitchen

Thoughts on the Church and Gender Roles

“…fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.”

The Family: A Proclamation to the World (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

Growing up, I was taught that, as a woman, I would only find joy and fulfillment if I embraced the roles of wife and mother above all else. I learned that an education would be important “in case something happened to my husband,” but that no time spent improving my skills would be wasted as I could teach what I learned to my children.

While still in Young Women’s, I nodded and agreed with the leaders I trusted and loved, but something didn’t seem right about this. I spent years of my young life developing my musical and writing talents; why couldn’t I go out into the world and share them with others, actually using them to help and uplift? Why were they shelved to be passed on to the next generation, only to be wielded by my sons or be cycled again for my daughters to teach to their children?

I wanted children, but I also felt an ambition to share these God-given gifts in whatever way I chose. I wanted the freedom of a family and a career.

But, in the Church, that idea is often demonized as an anti-family sentiment; I have heard multiple times from multiple people that women who want and prioritize careers are a sign that the devil himself has gotten his hands around the neck of the family unit and Christianity as a whole, that he’s led foolish women into ways of selfishness and filicide.

All that because I want to have a job?

I want to talk about careers and motherhood in a way that allows for reflection, not immediate shame. There isn’t one “right” way to live, and “The Family: A Proclamation” doesn’t advocate for that. Mothers can nurture from outside of the home. Fathers can provide and protect from within it.

God wants us to act as agents, spreading good in however we individually are meant to in this world. If we dictate how people have to do so—how they can or can’t be good wives, mothers, and builders of the kingdom of God—we effectively strip them of their agency and free will. Our understanding of how a woman “should” be is narrower than how reality actually requires them to be.

Motherhood and wifehood are invaluable, and we often look at them with the biased sunglasses of our cultural upbringing. Lets take a closer look, glasses off:

Stay-At-Home Moms Have a Full-time Job

To start, I want to redefine how we think about stay-at-home (SAH) moms, the backbones of many households throughout time. Ask any full-time mommy and she’ll tell you how difficult her job is: demanding little bosses, a seemingly endless workload, unpaid overtime shifts. SAH moms work incredibly hard to maintain their household’s order.

And they get paid in hugs, kisses, and memories. I have to say, if my 9-5 job—that is way less demanding than motherhood, by the way—offered me a macaroni sculpture in place of a paycheck, I would not come in the next morning.

But the thing is, a small team of people could get paid significant wages for performing the many tasks associated with motherhood: a nanny to make sure no children die unsupervised (average annual salary of $33,000 in my state), a cook to feed the masses on schedule and palatably ($36,000), a chauffeur to drop off everyone at after-school activities ($33,500), a life coach to help with the complexities of growing up ($70,000), a teacher to assist with ever-complicating homework assignments ($45,000), and on and on.

A small team of people could get paid significant wages for performing the tasks associated with motherhood.

Mothers, however, get paid nothing for the work they put in because our culture doesn’t put value in what mothers do. They assume that the woman will stay home and perform these tasks but throw fire when women dare say they don’t want to. Their value is in conformity, in performing without thanks, not in the work that gets done every day.

Some women find fulfillment and satisfaction in being at home with their families; some women find fulfillment and satisfaction in other things; some women find fulfillment and satisfaction in both.

And that’s okay.

Women should be free to determine what is right for them. SAH motherhood shouldn’t be the default because it’s a hard, messy job that not everyone is cut out for. For the sake of the children, let people do soul searching and determine for themselves if they would be able to fill that role. When someone says they’re not cut out to do that, there’s probably a reason. They likely know themselves a bit better than you know them.

Men Can Fill Traditionally Feminine Roles

My husband and I often (lightheartedly) debate who is better at cooking. He is an excellent baker, but I know my way around a spice rack. Since we’re both decent cooks who enjoy being in the kitchen, we take turns cooking based on who gets home from work first.

The image shows a couple cooking in a kitchen.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

He thinks doing dishes is calming. I have a knack for getting stains out of almost anything. He organizes everything from cupboards to furniture. I keep guest-trafficked areas neat. He makes straight lines while vacuuming. I find the walk to the dumpster when taking out the trash absolutely delightful. He’ll mow our lawn and grill our burgers when we eventually get a house because he enjoys it. I’m the sweeper, he’s the dustpan holder. We take turns starting laundry loads and fold the clothes together.

I make more than my husband at my current in-office job; when we have kids, we’ve discussed the possibility of having him work from home so he can be there as a SAH dad, and I believe he would do a phenomenal job if that’s the path we take.

Our marriage is happy and successful because we share the burdens inherent to domesticity. It’s not a question for us about what’s a “man’s job” or “woman’s job,” it’s only a question of who has the skill, time, and willingness to do it.

And that works for us.

It might not work for other people. If they want to split responsibilities down the traditional line of division, they have every right to do so. However, my husband and I have every right to split our responsibilities in the way that best suits us.

Further, not all households even have a woman present to fill the traditional woman’s role. Some families consist of single fathers. Some families (yes, even member families) consist of two fathers. Some families consist of a member who does not fit their assignment of “woman,” living their life outside of feminine expectations (and doing so happily). If the responsibility to care for children or maintain the home only falls on a woman, it would never get done in these cases.

In contrast, not all households have a man present to fill the traditional man’s role. Single mothers and dual-mother households have to feed their children, too. That’s not always possible to do from home.

The most important thing to remember here is that building a healthy household environment for marriage and children to thrive is something for couples to work toward as “equal partners.”

It’s Really Not Your Business

Once I hit adulthood, I was met with a reality of being a woman (or even an adult in general) in this world: far, far too often, people will try to make your business their business. The best way I’ve found to counter this is to not let them. I’m no longer afraid to shut people down before they begin their unsolicited lectures.

“When are you getting married?”

When people stop asking me about it.

“When are you having kids?”

None of your business, that’s when.

“When will you quit your job to stay home and start a family?”

Maybe never. But that’s not your decision, is it?

“Why are you so selfish?”

Gee, I didn’t realize I was the one trying to control someone else’s life so I would be comfortable existing in the same space with them.

Sass aside, this is a serious problem I’ve experienced, usually from members in the church with good enough intentions. My life’s path is something personal to me, something that is guided by much discussion with God and with my internal compass. The only ones who have any authority to talk about this with me are my husband, God, and, in some cases, my priesthood leaders.

Well-meaning members who try to force course correction, no matter their intentions, do significantly more harm than good. No matter what you know, you don’t know what you don’t know. (Yes, that is a quote from Dr. Phil. Don’t judge me.)

“No matter what you know, you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Dr. Phillip McGraw

You don’t know if that sister you’re pestering to have kids is infertile or recently miscarried. She shouldn’t have to tell you that because it’s not your business.

You don’t know if that sister you’re shaming for not staying home with her children is one insensitive comment away from not returning to church. She shouldn’t have to tell you that because it’s not your business.

You don’t know if that sister you’re teasing for being a spinster or not getting married young is gay and just trying to do her best to follow God. She shouldn’t have to tell you that because it’s not your business.

Trust me, whatever you plan to say to her about what she’s not doing right, she’s probably heard it before. She likely beats herself up over it all on her own. If you truly believe she’s horribly in the wrong, bring it up with humble kindness. Don’t let unrighteous judgement enter in, and heed her wishes if she asks you to stop. Or, better yet, let her loving Heavenly parents give her correction. They know her and the whole situation. They know how best to deliver the news, if it even needs to be delivered at all.

Believe it or not, people can grow in directions you disagree with. Women can live in ways you wouldn’t want to live without being in the wrong. It’s okay to disagree, and you don’t have to cause harm to her mental state for the sake of being right.

Conclusion

Being a woman, wife, and mother is complicated business. As followers of Christ, I implore you to treat all you meet with respect and compassion. Your words have an effect. Sure, if you share your opinions, they have a choice about what to do in response. But, how much better would it be to start with kindness? It doesn’t take much to not bring up your judgments to someone. It takes no effort, actually.

It takes no effort to keep your judgments to yourself.

Remember, Christ had disagreements with both the most the devout, letter-of-the-law followers of the established religion and the lost sinners alike. He still treated everyone respectfully. He lifted them up and helped them reach their potential. Not once during his ministry did He comment on how women were raising their children or cleaning their house.

In the New Testament, Christ talks about His love and compassion for both Mary and Martha. Martha is often described as serving and taking care of household affairs, while Mary followed Christ outside of the home. (Luke 10:38–42John 11:1–4612:2)

Both performed the roles they needed to fill.

Both were loved equally by God.

Where is a woman’s place? Wherever it very well needs to be.

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