“Do I have to give up my dreams to be a mommy, dad?”
A Lesson on Incredible Women
This was the question posed by a 9 year-old to her father, and “Dad” was telling us the story in Sunday School. We were going over the General Conference talk “LDS Women Are Incredible”, given by Elder Quentin L. Cook last April, and had come to the point of the talk about the importance of motherhood in God’s plan, according to the LDS Church.
And when I say “LDS Church,” I really mean “restored gospel of Jesus Christ.” Just thought I’d clear that up, seeing as how this can be a controversial subject, even among Latter-day Saints.
Anyway, we reach the portion of the lesson where Elder Cook discusses the role of motherhood, and this father raises his hand. He’s a university professor, and his wife also works as an adjunct professor. According to him, she seeks validation outside the home. Conversation’s about Ben-10 and successfully pooping on the toilet can get old after a while, he says, and so his wife has chosen to expend some effort in ventures outside the home. He thinks this is great, and was torn up inside when his 9 year-old came to him, heartbroken that she might have to give up her dream of saving animals in the African safari to be a mother. Of course, his comforting answer was “no”, and that was his testimony to each of us.
Give Up Our Dreams?
I was very troubled by this. It may seem innocent on the surface, but perhaps a few more examples will clarify why I was disturbed.
The Football Player
Let’s say I have a son one day who is an incredible football player (for some of you who know me, this may seem a bit far-fetched, but bare with me). He has a dream of going on to play college ball, and eventually of starting in the NFL. There’s just one problem. He’s almost 19, the age young LDS men are asked to go on a mission. This mission, for the sake of this thought-experiment, will effectually end his football career.
This son of mine comes to me in a huff and asks, “Does God expect me to give up my dream to serve a mission?”
And do you know what my answer would be? “Hell yeah.” Serving a mission is far more important that any short-lived sports career, no matter how fantastic.
The Perfect Career
Let’s say that I’m an adult (another far-fetched adage), approaching the pivotal decision of choosing a career. Let’s say that this dream career – perhaps for me it would be as an organizational consultant on people and change – will mean that I cannot fulfill my family responsibilities like I should. I would be traveling and away from home far too often. Yet this is what I’ve wanted to do my whole life. I’m good at it, and I can make a difference doing it!
I go to God in a huff and ask, “Do you expect me to give up my dream to change diapers and read storybooks?”
And while I can’t speak for God, I imagine his answer could be paraphrased as “Hell yes.” It doesn’t matter if I wanted to be a museum curator, a marine biologist, or a musical genius; if my dream career took me too far from my wife and children, I would be expected to give it up.
Hugh B. Brown
Let’s say that there was a man named Hugh B. Brown, a member of the Canadian Army and a commander of a cavalry unit. He rose fairly quickly through the ranks, and had the opportunity to become a general. This certainly would fulfill a dream of his. And yet, when meeting with the officer deciding his promotion, he was told this:
“I’m sorry I cannot make the appointment. You are entitled to it. You have passed all the examinations. You have the seniority. You’ve been a good officer, but I can’t make the appointment. You are to return to Canada and become a training officer and a transport officer. Someone else will be made a general.”
Let’s say that the senior officer left the room, and this Hugh B. Brown sees on his file the words, in all caps, “THIS MAN IS A MORMON.” That for which he had been hoping for and praying for, for 10 years, suddenly slipped out of his fingers, and because of his religious affiliation.
Hugh B. Brown goes to God in a huff and says,
“How could you do this to me, God? I have done everything I could do to measure up. There is nothing that I could have done — that I should have done — that I haven’t done. How could you do this to me?”
In reply, he hears,
“I am the gardener here. I know what I want you to do.”
In effect, Hugh B. Brown asked, “Do you expect me to give up my dream to be an active follower of Jesus Christ?”
And in effect, again God says, “Yes. That is what I expect.”
What is the principle here?
When our dreams are in conflict with living the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are expected to give those dreams up, regardless of what they are. We are expected to be obedient.
But the good news? Invariably, God rewards that sacrifice with something much better than we would have gotten had we decided to go our own way. In the story of Hugh B. Brown, God is the Gardener, and we are the currant bush. In the words of Isaiah, God is the Potter, and we are the clay. Either way, He knows what He’s doing.
Keeping the above principle in mind, let’s take a quick look at what prophets have taught regarding the importance of motherhood.
David O. McKay said,
“No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”
Elder Cook, in the talk referenced above, said,
“No woman should ever feel the need to apologize or feel that her contribution is less significant because she is devoting her primary efforts to raising and nurturing children. Nothing could be more significant in our Father in Heaven’s plan“ (emphasis added).
And The Family: A Proclamation to the World says,
“By divine design… mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.”
What is the commandment? The commandment is that women can accomplish nothing of greater importance or worth than what they can accomplish in the lives of their own families, as wives and mothers. Because of this, modern prophets have counseled that, whenever possible, women should primarily focus on fulfilling this role.
What if they have dreams that conflict with this? We return to the question first posed by that 9 year-old. Does God expect them to give up their dreams just to be a mom?
Clearly, the answer is indeed “yes”.
If we only recognize a few patterns in the gospel as a whole, one of those few should be that extremes are avoided. In the vast collection of “Thou Shalt”s and “Thou Shalt Not”s, there are very few cases where God does not allow for exceptions or individual adaptations. The admonitions above are anything but direction for women to be barefoot and pregnant all of their lives.
I’ll leave finding exceptions to you for the most part, but in this case, let’s take a look at what the Lord’s servants have told us.
In The Family, we’re told,
“Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.”
God isn’t interested in so strictly defining “other circumstances” for us. In fact, those other circumstances may very well include “the need to seek outside validation” by accepting a position as an adjunct professor. That’s not my position to judge. Elder Cook offers, “We should all be careful not to be judgmental or assume that sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home. We rarely understand or fully appreciate people’s circumstances.”
In other words, I’m not this man’s home teacher, bishop, or stake president, and it’s not my place to judge his decision. And really, it doesn’t matter to me whether or not he and his wife have chosen to make an exception to the commandment stated above. My problem was how he made the exception the commandment.
Still, we’re not just left with a “loophole”. We can’t just scream “Other circumstance!” and be okay.
Elder Cook cautions,
“Husbands and wives should prayerfully counsel together, understanding they are accountable to God for their decisions.”
In The Family, we’re told,
“Individuals who… fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God.”
We may decide that something like “the need for outside validation” justifies us to violate the counsel of multiple prophets. And we may be right! But we will be called to stand one day before God, and will have to defend that exception to Him. Do we consider the seriousness of that when we go against prophetic counsel? I would wager that, sometimes, we do not.
And so while I couldn’t care less about what this man and his wife decide to do with their lives, I care when he brings his exception into a Sunday School setting and preaches it like Church doctrine. I care when he infers that it’s okay to break commandments when our dreams are at stake.
That is just not the case.