Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Episode 20: "I have found my violin" — Motherhood vs. Education & Career, Part II

Right click to download the mp3.

Motherhood by Ann Gardner
This is the second half of the interview with Beatrice where she discusses her life after having her child and how she found balance between motherhood and her passion for research and teaching.

What have been your experiences in finding a balance between motherhood and your own dreams and passions?

Beatrice will be watching the comments to answer questions or discuss issues raised in her interview.

For resources and references,
see Part I of this interview.


  1. Wow. What an amazing story. Here's a question for you, Beatrice. How do I find out what my violin is? I mean, I know that I have passion in life, but it always seems like I'm so good at being busy and doing all the "right things" that I can never really find my own dreams.

  2. Beatrice, thanks for sharing your story. With enough pioneers like you, and other LDS women, willing to show that every path is different and every path is valid, the message will get across!

    I find it so sad that some of our own worst critics are...other LDS women. We should all be empowering each other to find our own bliss.

    Wow! Has it been 20 podcasts already? Way to go, Sybil!

  3. Tara,

    Thanks for the kind comment. For me, it is about trying a lot of things (whether traditional for your gender or outside of it) and seeing what I was passionate about. Also, it is about allowing yourself to really develop those passions and interests. As I mentioned in the interview, I often felt like I was selfish for going after my dream. Another thing, I really think it is a lifelong process of discovery and rediscovery. It took me a while to decide what to do for graduate school. While I was there, I was happy with my choice, but then I graduated and had to again find something that worked for me. Things in life are constantly changing, so you need some flexibility in seeking out opportunities. For example, I currently teach at a community college. I never thought I would do that, but I really love it. Best of luck in pursuing your dreams and finding what you are passionate about.


    I completely agree. One of my friends from BYU faced a lot of negative feedback from her in-laws and her ward about her desire to go to graduate school. She has since left the church.

  4. Beatrice, as I listened to your interview, I felt like I was listening to myself ten years from now--especially when you said that you love statistics! And, when you talked about the psych ward as an "opportunity" to study a psych ward in-depth--love it! I'm starting my third year as a grad student in a MA/PhD program, and I really appreciate hearing the stories of other academic type LDS women. So much of what you said about careers and motherhood really resonated with me.
    Btw, I thought I heard a little bit of an accent in your speech? Where are you from?

  5. Whitney,

    Best of luck in your graduate studies. I think it is really important for us to have models of people who went before us and made things work. One of the challenges with current LDS culture is that although there are women who work and have children, they don't talk very much about their experiences and how they make things work. Thus, younger women don't have good models of how to do it.

    I am from Utah, so maybe the accent you heard was a Utah accent :).

  6. My heart just sang during this whole interview. Thank you thank you for sharing your experiences. I identified so much with all that you said. I am starting my graduate program in structural engineering next month and I've had a lot of the same thoughts about motherhood vs. career. Also, I struggle with anxiety and depression. I understand completely the difficulty of having to deal with that and the stigmas that go with it.

    Again, thank you so much. It's such a relief to hear someone come out and say that I don't have to give up my dreams.

  7. Hobbes,

    I am so glad that the interview was helpful for you. Best of luck with graduate school. It is hard to face the cultural feedback and our own personal fear with regards to balancing education and motherhood, but I am so glad that I made the choices that I did. I hope that we can validate women who choose this path and that it will become a more acceptable path for Mormon women in the future.

  8. Great episode, Sybil and Beatrice. A lot of it rang true with my experience as a Mormon woman pursuing graduate education.

    Perhaps I should be making this comment on the other episode, but I'll put it here anyway. I really like what President Hinckley had to say encouraging young women in the church to pursue opportunities for education. However, I felt like that encouragement was still so deeply embedded in a culture in which women only work if they need to for economic reasons or as a stop gap until they get married, that I thought of education too much as a nice thing to do rather than as a part of a career path. In other words, in spite of shifting attitudes in the church I just don't think that we take women's education as seriously as we take men's education insofar as it's part of a larger life arc.

    I took my education very seriously. I studied in two top-twenty graduate programs. I fully intended to work, even if I got married and had children (at this point, in my mid-30s, I've neither married nor had children, though I have worked). Even with the seriousness with which I pursued my education and intended to work, I still found myself struggling to know how to treat that educational experience as a step in the direction of a career. The mentality of education being a Good Thing for a woman Just in Case or because it would help her be a Good Mom was so deeply ingrained in me that I really struggled with the professionalization aspect of my graduate education. I got better at it over time. But it was always hard. I really admired your efforts at professionalization, Beatrice, even with the hard work of moving, adapting to being a new mother, etc.

    Your comments about how ward members or new people you met at church would ask your husband what he did, but not you, also reverberated for me though in slightly different context. As I said, I'm not married so I didn't have to endure conversations in which my husband was queried about his pursuits while I was treated like I had none. But I did see marked differences in attitudes towards my graduate work and the graduate work of my male colleagues. My guy friends in my program often had to deal with questions about their future professional lives. Since there aren't great prospects for people pursuing English PhDs, these conversations were often tinged with criticism for them not setting themselves up for material success. My conversations with people about my graduate work were often tinged with a kind of "isn't that cute" mentality--like it was endearing that I was pursuing a PhD--and a failure to grasp just how serious a professional endeavor it is to pursue any PhD. We have bizarre double standards for men and women in our culture and neither women nor men are treated well by them.

  9. Yes, I totally agree with all of your points Amelia, especially the point about how the double standard effects men and women.

    At a recent family wedding, one of my extended family members who works in the engineering dept. at BYU, was asking me about ways to encourage more women to enroll in their program. I gave him an earful as I have read some research about why women are less likely to pursue math and science. After that conversation I was reflecting on how there is a mentality that men should pursue a degree that they can support a family with, and women should pursue a degree in something that they enjoy. However, if it is really a back-up plan for women, it seems like they should pursue something a lot more marketable. Women who get undergrad degrees in English or the Humanities are probably not going to have many career opportunities if their husband dies 10 years after they have been married (for example).

    I really think that there is value in thinking outside of the box when we approach college/career options. Both men and women should look for things that they enjoy and consider the practical/economic side of what they are doing.

    As I mentioned in the interview, I also struggled with the idea of working toward a career. For many Mormon women "career" is such a loaded word. Now I embrace that word and try to approach things practically as I pursuing my passion.

  10. I agree that if education really is supposed to be a money-making back-up plan for women who find themselves without a provider for whatever reason, then women should be even more encouraged to think strategically about the practical applications their education may have in addition to what they're interested in. Unfortunately, I really think that we're still occupying a space as a culture in which we pay lip service to the need for women to be prepared for these eventualities while somewhere inside still believing that if we're living good, right lives it won't be necessary. In some ways, the encouragement of women to get education is more window dressing than practical because there's still this incredibly loaded rhetoric about what it means to be a woman (i.e., wife and mother) and which patterns of behavior and pursuits are appropriate for a woman (i.e., not career building, even if a woman has to have a job). Even in situations where we acknowledge the necessity of a woman working, I don't think we often do so in terms of building a career. Women's work is usually seen as secondary, something that should not be where she puts her passion and certainly not something that would require the kind of dedication building a career does. And heaven forbid that a man be required to move or make sacrifices to support his wife's career (but of course no sacrifice is too much to ask of a wife to support a husband's career).

    I know I'm exaggerating a little bit but the essence of what I've said is true. And so long as that's true, so long as the church is committed to dictating certain roles as more better for women and more better for men, I really don't know how we can get away from the double standard for both men and women.

  11. You know, I half-way don't dare say this, but what if I would rather have a career than children? I feel like this makes me a really awful person, a BAD woman. Married women should want children, right? But what if I don't? I feel like my family and my husband's family are ... well, losing patience with me a little. And they see me as someone who doesn't have the "right" focus. I just want to go find my violin and play it. (Great analogy, by the way, Beatrice.)

  12. Finally was able to listen to this. Great interview. I also loved the violin analogy. I was just having a conversation with a new neighbor about the topic of career/education and motherhood. This neighbor is not LDS and also struggles with this topic a lot. She is a physician and has recently quit working as she awaits the birth of her second child. She feels a ton of guilt over this decision even though she feels its right for her family. But she said there is so little support for women doctors who have small children. This attempt to balance work/education/other interests and motherhood is big and not going away any time soon.

    I wish that both our church culture and our culture at large would be more supportive of women as both mothers and people. It is difficult to know as a 20 year old what your life will look like in 10 or 15 years and to choose your education and career accordingly. I got a degree in Broadcast Journalism because it seemed like the more practical choice instead of going the humanities route. And although there was a job at the end of it, it was not a job I can do easily while having small children. If I could go back, I would probably choose something else. I am passionate about so many different things now than I was 10 years ago as I entered college.

    Fortunately, I have found my violin in photography and birth/breastfeeding advocacy. I know I would feel much less fulfilled as a woman and mother if I had not discovered these passions when I did. And yes I acknowledge that these fit very nicely within the Mormon mother framework.

  13. Anonymous,

    Thanks for sharing your feelings. I really believe that deciding to have children should come from a personal desire to do so, not from social pressure. While raising children is a great contribution to our world, there are many many things that are also great contributions. So, no, I don't believe that not wanting to have children makes you a bad woman.

    One thing you mention is that you "rather have a career than children." For many, many years I also felt like I would rather have a career than children because I couldn't see myself giving up what I loved and I didn't think I could do both. However, I think it is important for us not to view these options as being mutually exclusive. So I believe that it is possible to be a great woman with a career and children, a great woman with children, or a great woman with a career.

  14. Anonymous,

    I feel for you. I think women in the church who can't have children, are pitied, but women who don't WANT children are seen as abnormal. If you are a married, healthy woman in the church, you better be wanting kids, or something must be seriously wrong with you, right?? The way I understand the church's counsel is that any such woman (or man for that matter) goes directly against God's will.

    This puts so much pressure and guilt on people like you, and I personally am heartbroken over this rhetoric. For what it's worth, I don't think you're defective for not wanting kids, and I don't think a childless life is inferior to life as a mother. I also think that God loves you the same, whether or not you become a mother. Certainly people who don't want kids should not be pressured by anyone, or any church, to have kids. That would be bad for the kids and the parents.
    Sorry for the rant, it's a topic close to my heart. I'm sending you a hug, and hope you will be able to figure this out with your husband!

  15. Beatrice,
    loved this second part, too!! I especially could relate to what you said about the "I'm a Mormon" campaign. My feelings about it are very similar to yours, and I've felt cheated to say the least when I saw those clips. I thought, well, either this is a bait and switch tactic to present the church as much more progressive and open than it really is to attract new members, or this is true, and then I have sacrificed my education and career for nothing. I have always wanted to stay at home with my kids while they were young, but I would have liked ideally to have both, finish my BA at least, and work part time or something like that. Luckily, I realized recently that I want and need to finish my degree and have a fulfilling career, no matter what the church says. But yeah, watching some of those clips is kind of a slap in the face.

    Thank you also for being so open about your post partum depression. I had many of the same feelings, but didn't tell anyone, because I was afraid they'd put me in the psych ward and never let me out again. I'm glad you talked about what happened, so that maybe others will not be as afraid to ask for help as I was.

  16. Juliane,

    Thanks for the kind remarks, and best of luck with finishing your degree and later work. Since the particular direction that the church gives changes over the years (for example, birth control), I have come to rely more and more heavily on personal revelation.

    Yes, post partum depression is a scary thing, and there is still a lot of misconceptions about it. I have had very positive experiences with counselors so I try to encourage others to seek out help when needed. I also think it is really important to know that you are not alone, and that experiencing those feelings and reactions does not make you a horrible person. Talking about these issues and helping others is a way to make something positive out of something negative.

  17. This reminded me of an account I read of Sister Beck's recent talk at Women's Conference.

    It reads:
    Sister Beck also said that women often ask her questions about whether to work outside the home. In many places, she pointed out, if women don’t work, they don’t eat. So that question may be the wrong one. A more appropriate question, she said, is this: “Am I aligned with the Lord’s vision of me and what He needs me to become?”

    Now, it does make it sound like women should only work to prevent starvation, but I think the sentences “So that question may be the wrong one” and “Am I aligned with the Lord’s vision of me and what He needs me to become?” are major in redefining women's roles in these areas.

    I am in a singles’ ward right now and I once heard two young married women talking in the hallway. One said, “Now that we have our husbands to support us, don’t you wish we had studied what we really wanted to in college? I think I would have studied piano performance.”

    This comment really bothered me and I’ve been trying to figure out why. On the one hand, if this woman really loves piano performance I would want her to pursue that.

    On the other hand, I was bothered by the way she seemed to throw all responsibility on to her husband—like “Whew! I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about that anymore now that I have a husband to support me!”

    She didn’t seem to consider that one day she may need to make a living even WITH a husband. And why do women with husbands get to study the things they love (even if impractical), while the men have to always be more concerned about making a living and perhaps giving up what they love?

  18. Esme, I like the restructured question Beck advances. However, the context makes it clear that women's work is still only an as-needed thing which inherently discourages women from pursuing more involved careers. Until we change that context, the rhetoric about women working and what it means to be a woman will continue to limit and confine women in destructive ways.

    And I couldn't agree more with you that it's really problematic for women to assume they can ride on their husbands provider coattails. It's one very bad side effect of the nurturer/provider gender dichotomy the church as promoted so strenuously. It hurts everyone involved--men, women, and their children.

  19. You're right, amelia, that sister Beck's question is still within the same traditional context, but I see it as squeaking the door open a little bit.

    Any woman who's struggling with education/career issues can feel more comfortable with her choices by asking the "Am I aligned with the Lord's vision of me?" question.

    Of course, any woman should ALWAYS be able to ask this question, but the rhetoric has been so heavy that many women don't feel comfortable getting any kind of personal revelation that seems to contradict the rhetoric.

    This at least seems to shift things a little more to the personal revelation side. A woman could receive revelation that the Lord wants her to become someone who is pursuing education/a career and then feel comfortable relying on that revelation.

  20. Beatrice,

    Thank you so much for sharing your postpartum issues. It really opened my eyes. I felt many of the same things but I adopted so I couldn't imagine that it was postpartum anything. Since listening to your podcast I have done some research and found that adoptive mothers can experience very similar feelings. Thank you very much.

  21. Michelle,

    I am glad that the interview was helpful for you. I was less aware about postpartum issues with regards to adoption, but that makes perfect sense to me. Hopefully we can keep spreading the word so we can help other women in similar situations.

  22. This psychological article about mother's having thoughts of harming their newborns just came out.

    Unfortunately you can only read the abstract online right now. However, the abstract basically says that how we conceptualize these experiences can have an affect on mothers. For example, we can either think of these thoughts as being "not-normal" and indicative of some kind of psychological problem. Or we can view these thoughts as being somewhat common and an extension of the hyper-vigilance and desire to care for a newborn that many mothers experience. This makes a lot of sense to me and offers a lot offers me a lot of comfort.

  23. You pretty much summed up my life. It's so nice to heat echoed what I've struggle with in my personal life. I love you for your story and hope I'm as successful as you.

  24. The discussion you and Sybil had of the Mormon Messages is very enlightening and right in touch with my personal views.

  25. (I know it has taken me months to get to listening to this one...but I finally did!)

    Following each of my miscarriages, and also during each of my pregnancies, I experienced a lot of depression (obviously with the miscarriages there was grief in there with the hormones). I was very concerned about postpartum depression, but didn't experience it... However I DID experience a lot of fears of hurting my baby. I would be dressing him, pushing his little arms through the sleeves, and be thinking things like "what if I break his arm." I never said anything to anyone...I wasn't scared of something happening to him per se, but I did feel like I was hyper aware of the ways that he could get hurt... it was the same with my second baby. I had never known I could put a name to that, I thought it was just that because I had lost babies before, I was extra protective of the ones I got to keep...

    I did have a question for you Beatrice, if you're still following the comments here: As a developmental and child psychologist, can you weigh in on mother/parents working outside the home particularly during the first few years of life? I'm thinking particularly in terms of developing healthy, secure attachment patterns and so on. In my opinion (based on being a masters student in psych) kids are much healthier if they are home with a parent (rather than with babysitter/daycare) during the first few years. I certainly respect loving your field! But do you think it's fair to say something like "if you choose to have a child, you should postpone/adapt your work in order to be home with your child for the first three years"?
    It seems to me that you demonstrated great adaption with writing and researching and finding ways to stay active in your field while being home with your child.
    I am a big believer in seasons of life--that there is time for everything, just maybe not all at once. Personally, I wanted to stay home with my kids, so it was not hard choice, but like I said, I also think the research shows that developmentally it's best for little kids to have a parent at home. Speaking as a professional, what do you think about that? Speaking as a mother what do you think about that?

  26. What a great question Jenni! While I did learn a lot about attachment theory etc, I am not as well versed in that literature as some of the other people in my department were. However, based on what I do know there are a lot of factors that can impact the long-term outcomes of children when it comes to childcare situations. So factors like how much time the child stays in childcare per week, the quality of the childcare, the type of parenting that the child gets at home etc. can all have an impact. Overall, I would say that it is important to assess the needs of all of the family members and try to balance things so that you are finding the best solution for all. So, for example, if a mother feels obligated to stay home full-time but is frustrated or depressed in that role, it will probably not be the best for her or her family. However, if both parents have very demanding careers, are stressed and work long hours, they are probably not going to be there for their kids physically and emotionally as they should be.

    With regards to the seasons of life idea, I think there are some positive aspects of that framework. One is that you need to reassess and adapt situations as the family members grow and needs change. However, I do see some weaknesses to how the seasons of life idea as they are framed by Pres. Packer in his BYU talk. For example, he says:

    You cannot be a 100 percent wife, a 100 percent mother, a 100 percent church worker, a 100 percent career person, and a 100 percent public service person at the same time. How can all of these roles be coordinated? Says Sarah Davidson:

    The only answer I come up with is that you can have it sequentially. At one stage you may emphasize career, and at another, marriage and nurturing young children, and at any point you will be aware of what is missing. If you are lucky, you will be able to fit everything in. ["Having It All," p. 60]

    Sequentially is a big word meaning to do things one at a time at different times. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, it says: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

    The problem I see with this is that the sequential approach often is not practical. (If women’s comments on Mormon blogs are any indication.) It appears that many LDS women think that they will stay home full-time with their kids when they are young and then get back into their fields when they are older. However, many of these women find that many, many doors are closed to them when they try to go back. Thus, I advocate a model of both parents staying involved in their field to some degree to keep themselves marketable regardless of which parent is earning most of the income. So perhaps “sequential” is not the best word as it emphasizes only doing one thing at a time.

  27. Following along with your comments at this time, I found that I am actually the fresh force in my field as I bring new ideas from recently graduating and the seasoning of life experience raising four children, which I am still doing (17,11,8,4). So, I have to agree that you may never become a leader in your field when you come late to the work, you can also be highly regarded for your ability to present yourself from your well simmered experience (if you are active in studying what is happening and staying connected with other "like minds".

    The other thing with attachment theory is the emphasis on the first four months of life being critical for the safe bonding that give the brain development optimal conditions with stress hormones lower so that they develop into more emotionally intelligent children over the long haul. I did not know this information when I was having my children, probably because the technology is now available to better study this. However, emotionally I felt very strongly that I needed to be really focused on that baby. I had my children spaced well enough that I could do that a little better. The hardest one was the 2nd child who came into a very stressful time in our lives. He has been the one who has needed more direct help with most everything - emotionally, physically, and school wise. Looking at myself, I wonder if I would have had less problems had my mother not gotten pregnant with my brother six weeks after I was born and had such a difficult pregnancy and my brother hadn't had so many physical problems so that I could have had the time to attach at that crucial time.

    Even so, I get to help people heal all of that now and more effectively so because of my experience raising four very different children and learning myself in the process combined with the scholarly information.

    The youngest loves her day care and even woke up a little upset at me this Saturday morning because she thought I had let her sleep too long and she was going to be late for school!

    Intermingled with active support from both parents and attentiveness to life as it presents itself is the most ideal option in my opinion. Traditional doesn't work as well for both partners because it isn't as important for the mom to be the "one" in kids lives as much as it is important that the parent is really there for them. The world is now giving dads a chance to really be dads if they can share the burden of provider and mom can share the burden of the child rearing there is more joy possible.

  28. Beatrice,

    I know this is an old post, and you might not be watching for comments anymore. But I wanted to let you know that your kind, non-judgmental telling of your story was the impetus I needed to reconsider my views and let go of my views that Mormon would should stay at home. I had held on for so long because I thought it was divinely inspired (though I will say to anyone outside the church that I don't think the prophet is infallible I was certainly acting that way in regards to this topic).

    Spending time listening to your story though, I realized I agree with you, and that in a lot of ways I am like you. I too, feel like I have a greater purpose than entertaining children all day long. Thank you sharing your story and for helping me get to that place.

    I once wrote a blog post about mothers working outside the home, and defended my position (that they should not) very passionately. I am now proud to say my horizons have expanded, and I'm ready to write another blog post saying I feel differently now.

    Now I am excitedly considering new possibilities for my own path in life!

  29. Jenna,

    Reading your comment makes me feel so happy. I am glad that the interview made a difference for you. Your comment reminds me of a woman I knew in one of my wards. I took a marriage and family class from her and her husband and she was very adamant about women staying at home throughout any circumstances. Later, when the class is over, she ended up going to work and her husband stayed at home with their children. I was amazed by how much her comments in RS changed through this process. She talked a lot about how she used to judge people who made choices like the one she made, but how she now understood their perspective so much better.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.