Thursday, April 19, 2012

Episode 38: Childless by Choice Part I

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Because motherhood and having children are such an intrinsic part of the way women are defined in the church, trying to have a conversation among those who have chosen not to have children ... it can be difficult. In some ways, child-free women can feel marginalized and/or invisible in the church because they aren't "fulfilling their purpose" as a mother.

In this panel discussion, Sybil is joined by guest panelists Amy and Shelby to talk about their experiences as women who have currently chosen not to have children. They also discuss how they remain childless, their fears and thoughts about motherhood, and more.

* By having this conversation, we are in no way saying that motherhood or children are wrong or undesirable. We are only expressing our own experiences.

The panelists will be watching the comments to respond to ideas and issues brought up in this discussion. 

Resources

References
"One of our family members recently overheard a young couple on an airline flight explaining that they chose to have a dog instead of children. 'Dogs are less trouble,' they declared. 'Dogs don’t talk back, and we never have to ground them.' We rejoice that so many Latter-day Saint couples are among that unselfish group who are willing to surrender their personal priorities and serve the Lord by bearing and rearing the children our Heavenly Father sends to their care. (from "Unselfish Service" by Dallin Oaks)

"How can mothers justify their abandonment of home when they are needed so much by their offspring? Rationalization must take over as they justify themselves in leaving home and children." (from Faith Precedes the Miracle by Spencer W. Kimball, pages 116-17.)

63 comments:

  1. I'm not finished with this podcast, but I love it. I'm not active and probably never will be again, but live in Utah, so the family-focused culture is still very pervasive. I don't know if I want kids or not, but I'm so sick of people asking!

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    1. The asking gets old fast, doesn't it?

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    2. I too wish that people wouldn't ask. It seems very rude now, but I must admit that before I was in this position I'm sure I would ask people. It seems so natural to people inside and outside of the church. I try to be patient with people, but I do lose my patients.

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  2. Thank you so much for this episode. It was really interesting for me to listen to this because I had many of these same feelings but did eventually decide to have a child. Three specific thoughts I had:

    1-I felt a strong aversion to having children for a long time because of the strong pressure that I had growing up. But sometimes I wondered if I was choosing not to have kids because that is what I really wanted, or if I was pushing back against social pressure that I didn't like. So, given the cultural pressure, I wondered if one could really make an unbiased choice in this case (whether you decide to have kids or not to have kids). I tried to make the most objective choice I could, but I don't know if we can ever erase our social upbringing.

    2-A lot of my aversion was toward what it means to be a Mormon mom. I didn't want that role so I was pushing back against the role as much as I was pushing back against having children at all. I wonder what would change if the role of a Mormon mom was less narrowly defined. Would some people who currently have children decide not to have children? Would some people who have decided to not have children, decide to have children?

    3-My husband and I have decided to only have one child. Although my social experiences are different then when we had no children, I do still feel some of the same pressure and face some of the same awkward questions that I did before we had a child. For example, we often get asked when we are going to have another child. But instead of getting pressure to have kids in the first place we sometimes get the pressure that we need to have at least two children because our child needs to have a sibling. Like having just one child is a very unacceptable decision, but having two children is more socially sanctioned. Personally, I find this a unsatisfying reason to bring someone into this world. Could you imagine telling a child that the reason why the were born was because mommy and daddy thought the oldest child needed a sibling? Maybe I am just sensitive about this because I am a second child :).

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    1. These are all great points, Beatrice! I have also worried that I am just being a "rebel". I've come to the conclusion that any rebelling I have been doing is against the particular style of motherhood prescribed by the church/LDS culture - doing it young, having multiple/many kids, and being a stay at home mom - not against motherhood in general. I still wouldn't have children at this point in my life if Mormonism didn't define motherhood narrowly because I wasn't going to do it young. But, I guess a MUCH broader definition of motherhood would mean I wouldn't have a need to rebel. And since we haven't definitively decided against ever having children, I can't say I am rebelling against being a mother more generally. However, I still feel that I am rebelling against having that choice (and any choice) dictated to me.

      You say that you feel the pressure to have more children. That doesn't surprise me at all. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the pressure to have the second is greater than the pressure to have the first, since you've already become a mother. What's one more, right? ;-) Do you have any sense of that? Also, I am curious how soon after the first was born did you start feeling pressure to have a second? Now, I'm starting to see that it never really ends, even if you accept the prescribed narrow style of motherhood the church leadership and culture push! There could always be pressure to have more children and pressure/judgement about how you space them or to try for the girl/boy if you've already got multiple of only one gender. I'm sure the list goes on. Sheesh!

      It's funny that you asked because I actually sort of was told that I was born because my older brother wanted a little sister. :-) His playmate next door got a baby sister and he started telling my parents he wanted one. It doesn't really bother me though. I am fairly confident that my parents were planning to have more children. Perhaps my brother's request was just the impetus for the timing. (We're about 9 years apart.) To be honest, I'm not sure it matters to me one way or the other. I love that my brother wanted me and that just might be enough! I'm certainly not telling you this because I think you should have another or that giving your child a sibling is a good reason to do so. It's only a charming little story because my brother asked for me. It would lose all charm if it was phrased that my parents thought he needed a sibling.

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    2. I agree with Amy. It really doesn't surprise me that people are on you about your family planning even with one child already. I heard from my sister-in-laws that they were asked right away after they had their first. I think it just comes from the very strongly outlined history of doctrine encouraged large families and what all that means. Mormon Expression just did a podcast on the preexistence and it kinda goes with that. There are children in heaven just hoping and wishing to come down to a good Mormon family. ; ) Even if you are a believer I don't think that is a good reason. You should feel right and confident about such a life changing event that will effect several lives. You are absolutely right you shouldn't bring someone into the world just to make other people happy or to yield to pressure. That's how I feel about it anyway. I can see people thinking it's not a big deal to ask because you already have one child. That must be hard.

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  3. When I said "I wonder what would change if the role of a Mormon mom was less narrowly defined" I meant that I wonder what would change if the role of a Mormon woman was less narrowly defined.

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  4. Yes Amy, I think a big part of me was feeling like I didn't want choices made for me. It took me a long time to get past that to even think about what I really wanted.

    I would say that most questions and pressure started happening when our son was between 1.5-2. I think many Mormon families space their kids about that far apart, so there is an expectation that you should be getting pregnant again soon.

    However, we did have questions since the day our son was born. People within and outside of the church would ask us how many kids we were planning on having total. Like it was o.k. to ask us that question because we already had one.

    That is a sweet story about your brother. I guess it depends on how the story is framed and how the individual feels about it. For me personally if I did have a second child I would want it to be about wanting to have that child and not about wanting to have a sibling for our first child.

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  5. Thanks so much for this podcast. I find it very isolating to be in my late twenties with increasing pressure to start having kids, and I just don't feel like it would make me happy at this point in my life. I keep thinking that eventually I will be ready and desire to have a kid, but who knows if that will happen. And I think it's insane to start having children for any reason other than that you really, honestly want to. I find it so odd that you got advice to just jump into parenthood without thinking, Sybil. That's using your agency wisely! ;)

    My husband and I bought a house recently, and as my family was visiting I had my mom mentioning how our stairway is unsafe for children, and I responded bluntly, "I don't have children, mom." And one of my in-laws said, "Oh, you could have two kids in this room, and two in this room." Wait, suddenly there was mention of four kids when we don't have any? My husband comes from a family of 13 kids, all from the same parents, so I feel more pressure from his side of the family. Someone in the family is always pregnant, and soon it "should" be my "turn."

    Plus I can completely relate to having a difficult time talking to women who are moms, as their kids seem to be the only topic of conversation. I try to get involved by making comments about child development, because I find that interesting, but it's tough not feeling a part of the world of your peers.

    Anyway, I appreciate that you touched on this subject, and that you were very respectful about not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings. There should be a space to safely discuss this topic without judgement. Thanks for making one!

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    1. "I keep thinking that eventually I will be ready and desire to have a kid, but who knows if that will happen." Very well put, Heather.

      People have a tendency to say "well, you're never ready, that's why you shouldn't wait." But I disagree. When I married my husband, I was in my late twenties. I still felt young and unprepared in many ways, but I knew I was ready to commit my life to him. I assume there's a similar feeling of being ready to commit to having a child. And, like you, I haven't felt that yet.

      And ... wow. Amazing how your family was dissecting your home for how many children it would hold and which parts were potentially unsafe. That kind of pressure feels so invalidating.

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    2. Heather, I can really relate to your story about buying a house. My husband and I bought a condo with just 2 rooms. My husband was given the advice not to buy it because, "We have to have kids sometime" and they thought it was too small of a place to start a family and live long term. The person giving the advice was renting a 3 bedroom apartment with a small child. Perhaps, there was some jealousy that we were in a position to buy a home, I don't know. I wasn't present for the conversation, but I wanted to scream "No, We don't!" The audacity to tell us that we had to start a family sooner or later and we should think of that. Buying a condo made sense for us, and we weren't planning on having children while we lived here. I guess it's just really hard for LDS people to comprehend that some couples wait years to have children or plan things out. I think that there is a real stigma to buying a house before you have kids for some reason in Mormonism. It's because of all the general conference talks telling not to wait to have kids and to not make any plans. It's really counter intuitive, and I really feel like people think you have your priorities wrong when you get to the point where you can buy a house,but don't have a child. I just don't understand this advice at all, and it's hard for me to not suspect ulterior motives. My cynical self, thinks it is to fosters a dependency on the church. Whereas, having your life stable, together, and ready for children is generally seen as responsible and met with praised by the outside world (not always; it depends on the culture.)Well, now it's been 4 years in our home, and we are moving soon. It's been perfect for just the two of us and our small dog. It's just funny the unsolicited advice people give you sometimes.

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    3. Some of his family assumed that a house announcement was basically a baby announcement as well. Ugh. Honestly, I thought that having a smaller house would be a clear indicator that I don't envision a big family. I was lucky enough not to get any pressure to date or get married sooner rather than later from family, but the baby comments are really getting to me. Mother's Day was pretty awkward.

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    4. I'm 27 and childfree by choice. I have two nephews and a niece. I am also a nanny and married for 4 years. My husband and I are not planning on children. We just bought a home and are so excited I get my large garden and craft room and he gets his shop/garage and man cave. We are fulfilled in our lives and don't feel the need to cave to the masses. We make our own decisions not the church.

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  6. I think Beatrice makes an interesting point; it seems that no matter what choice you make, someone is going to think you should do something else. If you don't have kids, you should. If you have one; have more. If you're working; stay home. You're never going to make everyone happy with your choice, which is fine since they don't have to live with those decisions, whereas you do.

    Thank you so much for doing this episode. I've been married for 3 years and at this point we don't think we'll be having kids. There's a variety of reasons for that, the first being neither of us feel like it's the right thing. We both have things that we feel really passionate about and want to accomplish, so we're choosing the things that feel right to us. I've been called selfish for that, but I actually feel that choosing not to have kids is the unselfish thing to do right now because I would be a bad parent. I would resent kids if I had the now, and that's unfair. I choose not to put a child in the position of being unwanted and resented, which is putting a child's welfare first. Also, I agree with what was said on the podcast; why does someone who doesn't exist take presidence over a person who does? I really don't get that... I also struggle with the idea of the number of children in the world who are not in stable situations, which makes the decision to have my own kids feel wrong to me. I realize that might make others angry, but that's how I feel about my life. Obviously having one's own kids means a lot to many, but I don't feel that way.

    I haven't had too much flack about not having kids, although I'm not sure how excited my mother-in-law is about granddogs. My parents seem to think it's a phase. But it does leave me hanging as far as the church goes.. The only path offered to me is one I'm not interested in taking. So I'm left feeling that there is no point in being involved in church because they can't offer me anything. I'm only given one option as a married women, and if I don't choose it I'm a sinner and selfish. Why would I bother attending a church that doesn't respect my revelation and relationship with God and feel okay calling me a sinner because I'm not doing what they told me to?

    It's taken a long time to be okay with not having kids. I never wanted kids growing up, and was pretty sure being a parent would make me miserable. But I assumed I'd have kids anyway because that's what people do. I didn't occur to me until recently that I could choose not to have kids. But I feel comfortable with it for the time being. I'm 25 and have time to change my mind. But it's such a big decisions that it seems wrong to have kids unless I know that's what I want. If I have one and decide I hate it and am bad at it, there's nothing to be done. And there are so many kids in unstable situations that I don't want to add to that number by having kids when I'm not sure abou tit.

    This is long; thanks for doing this podcast. It means a lot to me to feel represented.

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    1. "it seems that no matter what choice you make, someone is going to think you should do something else. If you don't have kids, you should. If you have one; have more. If you're working; stay home. You're never going to make everyone happy with your choice, which is fine since they don't have to live with those decisions, whereas you do."

      This is so true, DefyGravity! I think it points so clearly toward *why* having children to satisfy a culture is such a bad idea. And, really, what would happen if everyone followed what they felt to do? I think that those who have children would value them more (because they would have actively chosen them) and there would be people doing amazing things that fulfilled their passionate drive.

      "I've been married for 3 years and at this point we don't think we'll be having kids. There's a variety of reasons for that, the first being neither of us feel like it's the right thing."

      I like how you say "there's a variety of reasons." I often feel like those who pressure childless couples to have children assume that there is only one reason: selfishness. But actually, I think it's generally a complicated question with many reasons. And selfishness doesn't seem to be on the list, really. Integrity, instead.

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    2. Other reasons kids aren't really in our plans include the fact that I can't in good conscience bring more kids into the world when there are so many who already exist who don't have stable homes or who are in terrible situations. We've talked about becoming foster parents when we're in a more stable situation (ie out of school with jobs) to try to help the population of existing children who don't have what they need. Both of us are trained to work with teenagers, and work better with older kids and teens rather then babies and toddlers. I'm super uncomfortable around little kids and babies, which may change if I had my own, but I have no way of knowing. So until I feel more comfortable with the idea, I don't want to have kids hoping I'll be okay with it.

      There are some family mental health issues like depression and anxiety that I and most of my immediate family struggle with, as well as a strong history of diabetes, neither of which seems right to pass on if I don't have to. My history of depression puts me at high risk for postpartum depression.

      I also believe I would make a bad parent at this point because I don't want to be one, so I won't put a child in the position of being resented. I feel called to do other things with my life, things that I feel are important for me and the people around me, and things that would be difficult to do with children. So I'm putting my efforts into what I feel is important for my life, rather then what other people think is important.

      Sorry, that was a little rambling, but everything is interconnected!

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    3. I really, really like what you say about doing foster care for teens and older kids. There is so much need in the existing child population. So much need.

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    4. DefyGravity, I think it is great that you are so self aware. It's not a bad thing to realize that parenting may not be good for you or your health--spiritual, mental, physical, etc. This is something that is never talked about. In Mormonism we are just supposed to endure even if we know ahead of time it's a bad idea for us. People don't accept that you know yourself well enough to make a good choice for your life and your own wellness. I've often thought about depression, and that if having a child is not something I am fully committed to or want I am at a huge risk for debilitating depression. And who want to do that to a child? You want to be healthy and happy when you bring a life into the world, not remorseful and conflicted? And that is how I would feel if I did it for anyone but me and my husband. Also, I loved what you said about foster care. Coming out of the system myself, I wish more people felt this way! Insensitive things said about adopted kids can be a whole other topic altogether. There are children already alive that need loving homes! I think this is often forgotten when we(Mormons)are so obsessed with convincing everyone we have the picture perfect families and there is a stigma about raising "other" people's kids.

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  7. Very interesting podcast. I am not Mormon and the thought of having children because the "church culture" has that expectation is totally appalling to me. I have four children, love them with my life but parenting is a hard job and if a couple is unsure or does not want to have children it is their choice and only their choice. It is hard for children to make it into adulthood under the best of circumstances why make it any harder.
    I hope you ladies stick to your standards and if you have children it is only because you and your husband choose to have children.

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    1. Eileen, I agree that having children to satisfy a cultural pressure is appalling. It's amazing how many things people do throughout their lives simply to respond to cultural pressure, though. I think I speak for all the panelists on this discussion when I say that we will surely follow our hearts in this matter. Thanks for coming by to comment.

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    2. It's more than just cultural pressure in a lot of ways. It's an obligation to God. It's your destiny and your calling; It's what women are for. If you don't don't accept your role you are defying God's wishes. As much as we'd like to deny this fact; it's really quite clear and explicit. So, on some level to be childless by choice and Mormon you either have to redefine it as a cultural value that has been wrongly emphasized or reject it as a doctrine outright. That's really hard. I'm sure some people can reconcile their decisions to not have children with the church, but for me I reject it. And I'm really okay with that.

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  8. I just got married a few months ago. I'm 28 and he's 31. We dated for a long time before marriage and we both want to have children. However, we don't want kids now.

    Officially in my mind I don't want children until I'm out of graduate school and he's done with some school and we are somewhat established. Clearly we are both late bloomers :) At the moment, we are definitely enjoying our marriage. It's relaxing. We do whatever we want whenever we want.

    But part of me deep inside is worried that if I put it off too long, getting pregnant will be difficult and that I should get pregnant soon when I'm in my 20's and my body is "ready." Have any of you experienced this thought? I may be reacting to growing up in the Mormon culture that pushes us to have children very young. Am I reacting too much by feeling the "biological clock?"

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    1. "I should get pregnant soon when I'm in my 20's and my body is "ready." Have any of you experienced this thought?"

      Yes, I've had that thought before, and wondered if at some point I'll be ready for children but the biological clock will already have tolled. However, when I actually stop and think "do I want to be pregnant right now?" or "do I want a child right now?" the answer is clear. All I can say is follow your heart, not your anxiety.

      I'd be interested to hear what the other panelists have to say on this topic.

      I'm so happy to hear that you're enjoying your marriage! I enjoy my marriage, too (we're also "late bloomers").

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    2. I can relate to that feeling, but at the same time it's not very important to me to have biological children. So, for me it is what it is. I'm not going to worry about it. I plan on adopting or fostering regardless, because of my own experiences. However, I do tell people that I will more than likely try to have a child before I'm 30, because it's been drilled into me that 20-30 is the best child bearing years. I probably should have learned by now not to say anything, because I've already been called out for not having kids in the time fame I first guessed as a newly wed clueless child bride. It's to the point now that if it's wrong for me, and I don't want to have kids as each year progresses I'm getting more and more okay with not having biological kids or having them later in life. I'm also starting to care less about what LDS people think about me, so I sometimes can even say "If I have kids" instead of "When I have kids." I always felt like I couldn't say "if" because it was just too taboo to admit you may not want them. I think Sybil gave great advice. Just live in the present and do what feels right. I don't want to minimize the anxiety though. For those that having a biological child is very important I can imagine it would be a horrible feeling to feel like you missed your chance. You've still got lots of time and I'm sure you will figure it out. I guess at the end of the day whatever happens it's important to just own it and say this is my life and made the best choices I could based on the information I had.

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    3. I get moments of worrying that I'll change my mind and then have trouble because of my age (which is dumb because I'm 25.) And my mom was 33 when she had us (I'm a triplet so she got all three in one go) so I just remind myself of that.

      I dated a guy who was 6 years older than me who really, really wanted kids. To the point that I felt like if we got married I would just be a means to an end. He was desperate to have kids before he got too old to play with them, which for him meant 30. So sometimes I feel guilty on behalf of my husband because he's older than me (not that he wants kids either.) It's strange the things you pick up from other people's feelings.

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    4. We talked about feeling guilty about holding our husbands back. I guess that is were communication comes in. I wish you luck! Life can be very confusing.

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  9. In my experience, I have done what I have felt to be right. My husband and I will be celebrating our 8 year anniversary this summer. We are both 31. I do want to have children someday, but I still don't feel ready. My husband and I bought a house 4 years ago this summer, and we will have it completely paid off next year (after owning it for 5 years). My husband and I refinanced so that our payments would be less, and we thought maybe the next step would be to start trying to get pregnant. I had the most uneasy feeling, and it felt like it wasn't the right time. My husband and I discussed it and decided we needed to pay off our home first and prayed about it. It felt right, and I had the most peaceful feeling. I knew I was doing the right thing and still know that I am doing the right thing by waiting. It's been an interesting process because I think the experiences that we've had will make us better parents. I have seen too many parents who had children because "everyone else is doing it" constantly complain about their children. They have a choice to wait. They make comments to us saying they wish they could do this or this, but they can't because of little So & So. The funny thing is, they could include the children. They make it sound like it's their kids' fault that they can't do certain activites. What I often wonder is why do they make comments that we need to be having children when they don't even enjoy being a parent? It's not a very good sell to me.

    Another interesting thing in our experience, my husband and I were Primary teachers. My husband never taught Primary before nor did he interact with children like that. He didn't realize that children were people and want to be heard just like adults. I know having that experience helped him because he now interacts with our neice and nephews, which are his sisters' children. I think if we would have had children earlier in our marriage, I would have been a "single" mother in the sense that it would have been me raising the children. I really don't think he would have been a good father..

    I have had a lady from church tell me that since I'm in my 30s, I better start having children now because I may not have energy as I get older. I actually exercise and eat healthy, so I feel that I have just as much energy as I did in my 20s. I don't see my choice to be healthy changing. Another reason she told me to start having children now is because I may not be able to later. My husband and I talked about this, and if that happens, we are both ok with it. I would like to adopt, but my husband is scared to do that. If it is just the two of us (and our pets) in this life, I am ok with that.

    One issue I would like people in the church to realize is that when a couple is married, they become a family. Are our parents suddenly not a family when their children move out of the house? It is down to two just the way it started. That's the way it's supposed to be.

    I enjoyed this podcast. I have so many other insights/comments on this topic. Thank you for letting me share the little bit in this space.

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    1. Barrie Jo, excellent insights. I nodded as I read this bit: "What I often wonder is why do they make comments that we need to be having children when they don't even enjoy being a parent? It's not a very good sell to me."

      It's so true. Not a good sell at all.

      I was also really struck by your comments about realizing that you would have been a "single" mother had you had children early in your marriage. There is so much that goes into being a parent, and being partners as parents. Fascinating to see how your husband learned to see children differently.

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    2. That is a great point about ward members and family members seeing couples as legitimate families. It's so true. We feel like a real family even if they don't see us as one.

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  10. This quote seems to be applicable to this discussion:

    “I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.”
    ― Gloria Steinem

    Wish it wasn't so culturally complicated for women to do the same thing men do all the time.

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    1. Great quote, Becky. It is interesting (and frustrating) how much cultural gender roles complicate things for women. It makes the question of children so different than it is for men.

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    2. I've always found that quote perplexing. Why don't men ask this? The obvious answer is that culturally, they haven't been expected to ask it and they haven't been expected to make sacrifices to their careers in order to be married or have children. The (too often unspoken) assumption is that the woman will stop working or work less to raise children. I think in my parent's generation, that assumption pretty much worked out. I wonder though, when I think about my husband and our very egalitarian marriage, if he doesn't ask this question because he doesn't have the same guilt about parenting that I have. I think he realizes that if we have children we will both be compromising and working as a team to juggle family life and two careers, just as we've juggled married life and two educations. I think he must think about how that will work and what compromises will be required. But, I suspect that he doesn't agonize about it because he's not culturally expected to put home and family ahead of his career. I think that if we have kids, any sacrifices I make in my career will be seen (by our family and maybe even society at large) as expected and therefore not praiseworthy but if he is making the same sacrifices, he'll be seen as some exemplary parent and noble. I also think the fact that he will have to make sacrifices will make me look bad because people will have the expectation that I will give up my career before expecting him to make any sacrifice. Somehow society still sees parenting as primarily the mother's gig so sacrificing other ambitions is a given for mothers but is the whipped cream on the brownie sundae which is being an even remotely involved father these days. I realize that sounds cynical and I don't think my husband actually thinks that he'll get a ton of praise if he is an equal partner in parenting but I also don't think he worries about how he'll be judged by outsiders. I think the cultural norm means that mother's end up feeling a greatly disproportionate amount of guilt about parenting responsibilities and falling short. I also don't think my husband worries that I'll pressure him to make a disproportionate amount of sacrifice in the way that I worry that even though it might be unspoken, I will feel pressure to sacrifice disproportionately.

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    3. I remember hearing something similar to this that went something like, "Where is a man's place? Anywhere he wants to be." A man has the freedom to presume almost anything in the world with little to no pressure. A woman has a very specifically defined role. Why is it that we feel we can answer the question where is a woman's place, and why isn't the answer anywhere she wants to be? It goes back to the whole thing I was saying about parents just giving lips service to their daughters about being able to grow up to do anything they put their minds too. I don't believe them. They don't mean it. We all know the correct choice for women, and it's always the same. Ugh. I don't understand how the church can insist that men and women are equal in the church, but in the very same breath define what a woman's role is and state that the man presides over the home. It's plain double speak in my opinion. I liked what Margaret Toscano said in a Sunstone podcast. She said something like the partner to priesthood isn't motherhood. The counterpart to motherhood is fatherhood, and the counterpart to priest is priestess. But somehow the church has just redefined it to suit them. I don't understand how you can say we are equal and then strictly define what equal means. It doesn't make sense to me.

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  11. Such a wonderful conversation and it just caused a flood of thoughts and memories and I hope I won't get too long winded in this comment.

    First up, just to declare and disclose - I am a guy and an ex-mormon who no longer attends or finds any truth value in the claims of the church but someone who is fascinated by all things Mormon given the orthodox approach of my wife and four daughters.

    My mother was married at 19 and I was born in her 20th year. She went on to have 6 more kids and laments to this day that she did not have more. As the oldest, I spent much of my own youth tending and helping to raise my siblings in a traditional home with a father that assumed a very old-school traditional role and rarely changed a diaper. I spent many nights awake with my mom, trading off walking the floor with a newborn that would not sleep so my mom could grab at least an hour or two of rest between her busy days and I made more than one trip to the doctor with a toddler at my side to have an ear infection diagnosed or picking up a sister from dance or taking a brother to soccer practice. since my mom could not find enough time in the day between the other kids, church, teaching piano, (required to meet ends meet in a home of 9 persons). I do not regret ONE BIT the experience of being that kind if kid, I learned much and gained a lot of responsibility in that role and I love children - I really do. But the problems in this scenario are obvious.

    My mother had zero post-high school education, had children before my parents were financially ready and likely before they were emotionally ready. Her entire life was and is defined by her children. Her regrets in life are topped by the the fact she did not have child 8 and 9... and later in life when my dad was "out of the home" for a couple years, (a story for another day), her lack of education and financial safety net became a crisis, losing the house and having to live near poverty with a few children still in the home without any training that she could use to support herself. Everything was defined in the children.

    My mom was and is a voracious reader -we use to have boxes and boxes of books stored in every closet and every corner of the basement but as a teen I discovered that my mom could also write. And she wrote a lot. Dozens and dozens of three ring binders filled with ruled paper contained stories that my mom would write in the scant free time she had - written by hand and not casually. I have my own take on what these stories represented and what they meant to my mom - I can guess as to the release and escape they offered her from a life that was first and foremost driven by religion and her children, but it's significant that these binders were prolific, secret, and never shared with anyone. When she discovered that we had found them, they were put into hiding and to this day I don't know what became of them and I doubt they even exist but I am filled with a sense of tragic loss that they might be gone forever and moreover consumed by a sense of sympathy for my mom who gave everything, even her own self identity, to her children. I find it remarkable, admirable, but tragic all at once. She and others might argue with me on this point, but I believe she has lived a prescribed life that demanded much of her, but allowed little for herself and I think her dreams and needs were suppressed and ignored - for the most part. She amazes me, and her strength through much trial and hardship has been amazing, more than I could muster, but I wonder what might have been, what potentials in her life where shelved.
    (to be continued)

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    1. Lifelongguy, I'm haunted by the image of your mother filling these countless binders with her writing and then hiding them away a second time once they were discovered. It feels like a terrifying glimpse in the archetype of the Mormon Mother. That her true passion and soul were only fit for the shadows.

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  12. (sorry...I knew this would be too long - google cut my comments off at 4000 characters)
    (.... continued)

    My point in all of this is that children for her was seemingly not a choice. The timing was not her choice, the idea of having children was not her choice, the number of children was not her choice. No other priority could be put in front of having children. Not education, not financial preparation... nothing. And while my existence is predicated on her decisions, I can't say they were the best/wisest things for her. It was not a personal choice for her - indoctrinated was the path she walked. IMHO, this was NOT right.

    I have four daughters of my own - which is part of the reason I am so fascinated by this podcast and why I give it so much attention. I am supremely concerned for my daughters as they are raised in a home that defers to mormonism despite the fact that I am out of the church entirely. Four daughters! I had them early, (I was 25, my wife 23), and we both really wanted them so I can't say I have made all the same mistakes I feel my parents made, but now in my mid-forties there certainly have been lessons learned. Nothing puts pressure on a marriage like children. Pregnancy is very hard on a marriage. Newborns will test you in ways you can't imagine. Teen girls... ??!! enough said! :) And I have always said I married my wife because I love HER and chose HER and wanted to be with HER! She was not a means to an end, a way to have children - our kids ( and I could not love them more than I do) are not the reason for our marriage and as they are finishing high school now and the prospect of our home just being the two of us again is looming, the reality of why we married each other is back in front of us. I have zero regrets about having children, but given the trial and stress and energy and money and everything else - there is NO way I can advocate to my own daughters the same church-think of "have kids, have many, have them fast!" It makes no sense, it is irresponsible, and it does NOT offer the children you may parent the best opportunities in life. Lessons learned.

    But circling back to my mother - just recently on a Sunday afternoon we sat at her house, several of her children with our kids, and we talked about families and my mom made a statement that just floored and offended several of us. She simply said "my kids have been so selfish in having so few children." I have 4, my mom has 22 grandchildren total... I didn't know how to respond to her politely so I didn't. This... this is a major problem and it's tragic.

    Anyway, thanks again for a great discussion. I love that the Mormon Expression folks did a couple recent podcasts on Children in the Church and the Pre-existence which are perfect in consideration of this discussion as well and help add color to the entire topic. The timing could not have been better.

    -james

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    1. Oh, my heart aches reading this moment from your mother, James. I'm guessing she was judging herself in the same breath, that she hadn't had more children as well, and hoping somehow, that since she had MORE children than her own children, that maybe she wasn't a complete failure after all. But then at the same time, maybe she was also worrying that somehow she hadn't given you enough of herself, hadn't taught you to be as selfless as she was. And that maybe the Church/God was somehow going to hold her accountable for her children's lack of children. It's such a dividing thing to say. And, as you say, tragic. Very tragic. This mindset is so damaging, because it discounts any family that isn't overwhelmingly large (I'm thinking thirteen or so kids ...).

      I love your succinct description of the church's stance on children: "have kids, have many, have them fast!" This is exactly the message I received in so many ways as I grew up. And I always felt guilty that I did not want to follow this counsel. And I agree with you fully: "It makes no sense, it is irresponsible, and it does NOT offer the children you may parent the best opportunities in life."

      Thank you for taking the time to share this part of your story. It gives such a fascinating-beautiful-tragic counterbalance to our discussion.

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    2. In response to lifelongguy:

      "She was not a means to an end, a way to have children..."

      Amen! Love and bonding between partners, first and for-most!

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  13. That is a very hurtful thing to say, and I'm sure I would have reacted very badly if I was in your situation. I don't have really good advice on that one. It's too real for me.

    You want to try and put yourself in their position and realize your mother and people like her have a different value system and world view. They really believe what they say. And they think they are in the right. I'm sure she didn't mean any harm. Maybe, it was her way of encouraging her children to do what she thought was right. Maybe, your choice to have fewer kids reflects on her life choice and it makes her uncomfortable. However, knowing all that doesn't make it any less hurtful. I'm not sure what I would do in that situation. It would hurt me even knowing I don't believe what she believes, and It has no bearing on my life. Family dynamics are tough.

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  14. Thank you for this podcast. As a married, childless-by-choice, Mormon woman in my mid-30s, I can't tell you what it means to me to finally find a space where this is discussed meaningfully. I found my head nodding or my heart bursting as you brought up each new point. (Sybil, I swear we are twins on this subject!)

    Sometimes I feel at peace with my childlessness--and then there will be a talk delivered in General Conference that sparks intense fear that I am jeopardizing my eternal salvation, regardless of what my reasons for childlessness might be. (And I'm not even an orthodox Mormon. That fear is deep!) Does anyone else have these intense fears on occasion? If so, how do you deal with them?

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    1. LilyTiger, I get what you're saying about that deep, deep fear. It has been fed to us so steadily, especially while we were growing up; it's no wonder it has such a strong hold on us. I used to have these waves of "am I damning myself?" It was horrible. I'm going to try to address how I dealt with them, but it was a process, so if it doesn't make sense, let me know.

      The thing that helped me change my perspective was to step back from the immediacy of the church's messages and tune into God and my relationship with the Divine. Interestingly, during this time, I came to have a very different and much fuller personal view of the Godhead ... sort of a double trinity, with three females and three males in balance. Things opened up for me during this time in a way that made me realize that the purpose of our lives is to live them according to the fine-tuned glory of our personal souls. No amount of generalized church instruction could ever capture the essence of what I should "do" with my life. The only way I would know what to "do" would be to find myself.

      As I've continued on this process, I've come to see God/the Divine/etc. as much, much, much less focused on our fulfilling certain tasks or milestones or carrying out a plan (i.e., get baptized, get married, have kids) than the church made it out to be. This kind of view was so limited, so constrained. And the Divine was infinite and unbounded, not solely concerned with offspring and eternal child-bearing. It was like realizing there was a whole huge amazing world out there just waiting for me to find it. And that by trying to fulfill the dictates of the church out of a sense of duty I would be turning my back on my own soul. (Hm. I'm having a hard time explaining this ...)

      You are You. Whether you have children or not does not mean you are more or less yourself. You are your own self, your own being. You are not in a state of lack because you don't have children. You are in a state of being. And what you choose to do with your being is the path of your life, and not to be decided by others.

      As I owned my responsibility for my own soul, that deep fear dissolved. I may get an occasional pang from time to time, but I can see it now as a culturally conditioned response and let it go.

      Does any of this help?

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  15. I am stuck commenting anonymously again because my positions are not well known by my friends and family, and this wouldn't be a popular opinion.

    I don't know that I would have remained childless always, but I am a late blooming almost-agnostic raised in Mormonism and now I am... stuck. I have my child, a child which I of course love, but it's hard for me sometimes not to think about all of the things I could have done with my twenties if I hadn't been indoctrinated to think that my only worth as a person was in my ability to create more persons.

    I of course have no intention of lording this over my children, or making them feel like they "ruined my life". Because they didn't. They didn't ask to be born, I made that choice.

    But now that we've started on this path, we have no choice but to move forward. We don't want large space between our children so we'll keep having more until we are done, which means devoting at least the next decade of my life to small children unable to do all but the most basic things for themselves.

    I made this journey away from True Blue Mormonism a few years too late.

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    1. Anonymous, thank you so much for this comment. I think this is something that is felt by many women, though very seldom voiced because it would label you as "a bad mother."

      I have known other Mormon women who have expressed to me their wish that they hadn't leaped so quickly and so young into being a mother. That they had taken time to find themselves and enjoy their marriage before bringing children into the picture. This wish is usually spoken in careful, side-long methods, because now that they have children, they don't want anyone to think they aren't a good mother.

      Thank you, again, for bringing this perspective to this conversation. It is so very needed.

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  16. Anonymous, I feel for you. It's okay to feel what you feel whatever that may be. That is what I have decided for myself. I have no doubt you love your child and are a great mom. I wish that as woman whatever our choice may be we could avoid feeling shame. Life is confusing no matter what we choose. I'm hoping that since you have moved away from being TBM you will be able to feel less shame and perhaps still pursue whatever you like as a mother where possible. Best Wishes!

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  17. I'm a mom of four and love your podcast! I *MUST* address the issue of being an introvert parent. My husband and I are both extremely introverted. I am particularly negatively affected by noise and chaos and am a stay at home parent.

    We had four kids in the span of 6 years, our house must have been nuts, right? WRONG! We carefully and lovingly taught our children from toddlerhood about "inside voices" and how we behave in the home. Because kids need to practice running and yelling and climbing, we had.. a backyard! Go figure. ;) When the energy level gets too high, the kids go outside to play. It's not optional and yes, even in the winter. If they want to stay in, they have to find quiet activities. Our house is full of books, endless paper and colored pencils, legos, etc.

    They have also been taught to pick up their own messes (although I give them a lot of free reign in their own bedrooms, but family areas need to be kept relatively neat), don't run in the house, don't slam doors, don't climb on furniture, don't have free access to the kitchen/fridge/pantry, etc.

    We're not "mean" or "strict" but we are very, very, consistent with the family rules, and since this is the only way the kids have ever known, they easily and happily exist in this framework. We always get complimented on how "mellow" are kids are (at least indoors.. hah) by our friends that have the more traditionally crazy loud families. And their teachers always tell us how well behaved our children are in the classroom.

    I also have an extreme need to be "in my head" a lot, so my kids know it's not my job to entertain them. I need time each day to read, or create something, work in my garden, or whatever. You're bored? Again, welcome to the great big world right outside your door. Go catch bugs or chalk on the sidewalk. :) Of course I do play with them too, but I think I'm raising more creative and independent children by allowing them large blocks of time every day to exercise their brains and find their own bliss rather then constantly shuffling them from soccer practice, to playdates, to the pool, and back again.

    Anyway, this is getting rambly, but my point is that if you decide to parent someday, realize that YOU GET TO MAKE THE RULES and your kids will be shaped by the home you create. Chaotic, loud, out of control kids come from homes where that is acceptable. Some families thrive in that world and of course to each his own. But if Mom and Dad can't be effective parents that can enjoy their kids in chaos and noise, create a different environment!

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    1. Stephanie, thanks so much for giving this perspective. I'm rather an introvert myself, so it's great to hear how you've set up your household and helped your children to contribute to keeping a place where you can "keep your sanity." Consistency is a good thing. Your kids will gain a lot from learning how to be aware of their environment.

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    2. "realize that YOU GET TO MAKE THE RULES and your kids will be shaped by the home you create. Chaotic, loud, out of control kids come from homes where that is acceptable. "

      I'm sorry, but I think this is a pretty ridiculous thing to say. I'm a parent and I know full well that my parenting affects the way my children behave to some degree, HOWEVER, I would hate for anyone without children to think that this is an accurate statement. Please do not assume that if you simply "train them right" they will be quiet and nice and not cause chaos for you in your home.

      I have three children, two of whom follow the rules and our house is calm when it is only the two of them around. My second child must not have received the memo about our rules and us being in charge of his behavior, because he makes his choices and they aren't peaceful in ANY way. Kudos to you for having four children who are mild and well behaved, but please don't fall into the trap of assuming that parents who have "wild" children have done something wrong. Sometimes this is the case, and sometimes it is flat out wrong.

      If anyone chooses to have children, they must be prepared to love and cherish the child even if they disrupt their peaceful life and hope for the best.

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    3. Anonymous, both you and Stephanie have valid experiences, and I'm glad you've shared them. As you share yours, please respond respectfully.

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    4. I've been feeling bad about my hasty and emotional reply... just a really touchy subject for me right now. Sorry Stephanie : )

      I should have said that Stephanie's experience has not been mine. I am certainly glad that she has had a positive experience with children that are not chaotic, but it is hurtful when others imply or even state directly that if the children misbehave there must be a problem with the parenting.

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    5. Thanks for coming back, Anonymous. And thank you for this heartfelt reply. I really understand how certain issues can be touchy and trigger a lot of hurt. That we are able to engage in dialogue here and actually talk about the different ways we hurt and think and understand ... I think this is so valuable. Hearing your experience and the experiences of others enriches me and helps me to connect with women from the Mormon culture in ways that don't happen very often. So, thank you.

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  18. If a friend doesn't want to have children I wholly support their decision. The one thing I would tell them is that having children doesn't become the definition of you. You can be a mom and be so many other things as well. In this life I want to have all the experiences and I think, though I did consider not having children, that in the end I am glad I decided to go for it. Our son has given us so much. We aren't going to have more children, but I'm glad I have my one. We get asked when we're having a second ALL the time. I'd think after five and a half years folks would have given up.

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    1. It seems like they would give up ... but I remember someone telling a mother with nine children that she really ought to make it an even ten. Or was it a dozen? And the person was being serious. I'm glad your son has brought so much into your life.

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  19. I wanted to post before reading the other comments, so forgive me if this is repetitive.

    Thank you so much for opening up and sharing your stories. I was fascinated and appreciated how you all spoke so candidly and could relate on many levels. Having said that, this was a bit painful to listen to. I'm on the other side of the coin I suppose, having doubts about my life and whether or not 25 was too young to start a family for me.

    Some thoughts... You all mentioned not being part of the "mom club" at church. Obviously I've never been in your ward (and thankfully none of my wards have seemed as severe) and that the ladies don't seem interested. Shortly after (or before??) you all were discussing how all the women ever talk about is their kids and that doesn't interest you. Right or wrong, many women do give up their lives outside the home for their kids/family and may not feel they have anything else to talk about. Have you ever considered that they aren't friendly simply because they know you probably have no interest in hearing about their kids and home life? I know I've felt this way.

    You all also mentioned fearing no sympathy if you try to have kids later and are unable to do so. I have had experiences where friends who are childless by choice act completely unsympathetic to my struggles with motherhood because I "chose to have them and should deal with the consequences without whining". Seems like a similar lack of empathy to me and I think that neither of these should be acceptable.

    I always thought I would be single, but always hoped to marry and have children even though I hated babysitting and had no interest in the children of others. Still don't really. I always thought I'd work so that I didn't become one of those stay-at-home moms who has nothing else to talk about and is unfulfilled. Unfortunately, I've become that lady in some ways. There might be more of us who are slightly envious of your decisions than you realize : ) I really think the church needs to lay off the one size fits all approach so that we can all feel ok about such personal decisions.

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    1. "women do give up their lives outside the home for their kids/family and may not feel they have anything else to talk about. Have you ever considered that they aren't friendly simply because they know you probably have no interest in hearing about their kids and home life?"

      This is a great point, Anonymous. I have considered this before, and actually, I think it's one of the things that bothers me most about the Mormon approach to motherhood. That women should give up their selfhood for their children. There has been so much counsel to this very effect and the cultural attitude has followed it. When I have spoken to mothers who have jobs outside the home, I find that we can talk *some* before I get this vibe of "you're not in the club" and they're ready to talk with women who have children (and I often get the feeling that there is some envy of my being child-free mixed with their own feelings of "but I followed the prophet" -- hard to compete with that).

      I wish, so much, that women wouldn't have all these cultural divisions set on them to keep us from each other. That we would realize that no one is the "other," so we could talk and share freely with each other of our whole selves, rather than roles of ourselves (if that makes sense).

      For what it's worth, I am very sympathetic to the struggles of motherhood. Just because you choose something doesn't mean it isn't going to be difficult. I agree that we should have open hearts to each other, as I was saying above. That we should get away from defining ourselves by our roles. I completely agree that the church's one size fits all approach does not work.

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  20. Thank you for this podcast. Something I found myself reflecting on while listening is how much each of you apologized for feeling the way you did. I believe this a barrier in Mormonism is that women can't really not want children, it's "unnatural" and whatever other words are used. I used to believe that and now I feel horrible for those awful thoughts and how I used to judge people.

    What many of you said resonates so much with me. While I am a SAHM of 2.5 kids (one due in Aug.), I have recently come to terms with feeling very frustrated by the path I took in having kids so soon and before I could enter graduate school and/or the workforce. While I love my children, I feel like had I waited until I was finished with school and in a career it would have been so much better for me emotionally. I don't have regrets because I did things that I felt were right at the time, but I do want to teach my own daughter a different perspective as she grows older.

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    1. Thank you for this perspective, Amber. As I read your comment, I thought about how much Mormon women need permission not only to choose not to have children, but also to choose to have them. The pressure to bear children soon after marriage is intense. If the choice of children were more open and personal instead of cultural, I think those who are mothers would feel differently as well. (I hope that came out right.)

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  21. Hi Sybil and panelists--I love the work that you're doing on Daughters of Mormonism and have been really grateful for the voices that you're added to discourse around women in the church. I haven't ever commented on the blog, but after listening to this episode, I felt like I wanted to add my voice. Just a little background on me--I am 40, have a PhD, have been married 13 years, have three kids, and am working full time. My husband and I are co-partners in everything we do. We are also "active" Mormons, but have some issues with church rhetoric. Especially around women's roles.

    I love the way that your podcast constantly strives to focus on women as agents, shaping their own lives and choices, choosing to act. I feel it is vital that women are seen by others and themselves as individuals, not just by the way they are defined in relationship to other people (as a wife or mother, etc).

    I feel like part of the discussion on the podcast seemed to suggest that being a mother was an either-or proposition. That motherhood in and of itself would by definition lead to certain circumstances such as:

    Woman as mother disappears
    Husband and wife relationship worsens
    Children don't get enough attention
    Mother has to put children's needs above her own
    Woman as mother has only one role--to nurture
    Children will be obsessed with electronic devices and nothing can be done about that, etc.
    Mother won't be able to pursue interests outside of domestic life

    What I think was missing was the acknowledgement that when a husband and wife team become parents, they can actively and purposefully shape the life of their family. By choosing where to live, schools, other adult caregivers, mom and dad responsibilities and roles, and family activities and interests, a family culture is created that supersedes church culture. While some families end up with the above things happening, these are not a given. There are so many ways to make a family all yours. I have found family life with kids to be extremely rewarding, even though it's hard at times. We are all individuals with our own unique talents and gifts, but we're also a family. And while individual vs family does conflict at times (sibling squabbles, trying to figure out work-life balance, etc), it can be wonderful. For us, it's an evolving process that we are constantly reassessing to make sure it's working for everyone.

    I loved the example of the lawyer couple who shared parenting responsibilities. We need more stories like theirs so that they don't seem like some kind of weird anomaly. If they want to lay claim to it, they have just as much right to be part of the church as a more traditional Mormon couple with a lot of kids does.

    In the end, though, it does come down to finding a personal path for yourself--in whatever form that may take and owning it, hopefully with the input of the Spirit. Whether that's children or not, now or later.

    Thanks again! I hope this doesn't sound critical, because I really love the work that you're doing, and I wish we could sit down together and talk about these issues together and in person.

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    1. Michelle, thank you so much for this comment. I really appreciate the perspective you give here. You definitely picked up on our collective fear of having our self-hood be "sacrificed on the altar of motherhood."

      You wrote: "I loved the example of the lawyer couple who shared parenting responsibilities. We need more stories like theirs so that they don't seem like some kind of weird anomaly."

      I love that example, too. They were such an amazing family to know. The thing is, though, for me they ARE an anomaly. I haven't met very many families that I would say fit into this category you are describing. No doubt, I would really enjoy getting to know you and your family! I agree with you that we need many more stories about families who have created a different system where everyone is on equal footing.

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  22. I really liked Michelle's comments as well. As I tried to find a place as both a mother and a professional woman, I had to look outside the church for my role-models. However, I wonder if women who balance family and career in LDS settings are not as much as an anomaly as we think. Maybe it is that we don't know of these women because they are less likely to talk about "work-life balance". I think there would be great value in bringing their stories forward if we could find them. Hopefully, by bringing more stories forward from a wider variety of women we could get away from the idea that there is only one right way to be a Mormon mother.

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  23. Just now coming back to read this--I think Beatrice is right. There are more Mormon professional women/mothers than we think. I know that I don't talk about my job with Mormon women very often. I'm not hiding or anything, but it is also hard to talk about when no one seems much interested and where church culture is not supportive of women working. I try to mention it on a regular basis, kind of like dropping a code word, so that other women who are inclined toward professional life might see in me an ally. For many years, I didn't work, and by all outward appearances might have seemed just like any orthodox Mormon mom. So, I would like to believe that they're out there, maybe just not readily apparent. The role models I've found have come as much from online discussions, though that doesn't help when you're sitting in Relief Society on Sunday.

    Ok, and I'm just going to put this out there. I live in Minnesota. If any of you amazing women who run this podcast live anywhere near me, I'd love to get together for a snacker.

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    1. Drop that code word as much as you can! I agree with you that there must be more of all of us out there, we're just keeping our heads down (and for good reasons). Wouldn't it be cool if there were a meet-up board for Mormon women?

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  24. I never expected to be amoung one of the childess LDS women, it not what I wanted. Don't get me wrong I don't have any problem with women who make that decision with their spouses.... it is between them and Heavenly Father. I feel like my husband and I are social outcasts....and when we are invited to social events with friends, it is soooo difficult the talk it all about kids. I love kids but we won't be having any, I had hysterectomy after fertility problems and my husband had male infertility. Adoption is no cake walk even in the church...be honest about your life.... get grilled. If we change our minds next time learned to lie... and act happy Molly Mormon. Molly Mormon would say this has been a spirtual strengtening in every way and we have had no challeges.So we have decided to not adopt and be happy with ourselves. My husband is doing well with the decision.... but I am not. My soul and heart are torn.... Church is unbearable and I can't almost go there. Makes me want to almost quit but I still have testimony. The church in the infertility article only seem to focus on have faith and you have a baby... read them and it seems to always end that way. I want to hear articles about couples who don't get their miracle buddle of joy. I want some peace and happiness, and a way to stay in the church, and keep my covenants. Right know going inactive sounds like the best obtion for awhile until I can get beyond this depression.

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    1. Anonymous, I hope you are able to find some peace on this matter. For myself, I know that when I feel further injured by the common answers given by the church over the pulpit and in publications that getting some distance can help very much. Good luck on your journey. I hope your heart can mend.

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