As an addict involved in the LDS Addiction Recovery Program, I had to dig deep to find and embrace my inner Mormon. What follows is my journal from this point forward.

Monday, March 28, 2011

My Journey Into the Thoughts of a Mormon Woman - Part 2: Immeasurable Motherhood.

 
 

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. - 1 Corinthians 15:19

Latter-Day Saints are cautioned against using the standards of the world as the measurement of ourselves. The standards of excellence in our day are so low and the standards are based on worldly acquisitions and desires of the flesh. They disregard Eternal principles as a source of measurement.

Additionally we are warned against measuring ourselves against others as this can lead to pride and arrogance on one end of the spectrum or self-loathing and shame on the other. This is much more easily said than done.

Even if we should be cautious in our tools of measurement, the act of measuring is definitely something found in much of our church functions. We keep rolls for attendance, record payments of tithes and offerings, we measure vital factors in the progress and performance of missionary work. The culture of measured performance can be found in many areas. My personal favorite comes from BYU Devotionals when they invariably read a curriculum vitae of the speaker and extol their accomplishments.

We cannot escape some worldly yardsticks as a measure of a man. Upon entering the workforce, men face performance reviews and will strive to achieve what is sought after by his superiors. There is hope in every man that they will perform at a level that will merit continued employment and, hopefully, increased wages.

In our difficult economy, I have known many who have lost their jobs and I have seen how it devastates them.  It's not just the economic stress they feel, it's their loss of self worth that really kills them. Providing for the family is what they are supposed to do; it defines them. The loss of that ability cuts to the core of how they define themselves. I know one devout Mormon who, after losing his job decided to stop going to the temple. He went nearly every week prior to losing his job. He simply felt unworthy to attend having now been rendered unable to provide for his family for many months.

It seems silly to me as I state it, but would I feel any different upon the loss of my job, especially with a verse like 1 Timothy 5:8 hovering over me? It is a struggle because the principal tool by which men measure themselves has been taken away. They can’t even be counted worthy of measure.

It's easy to say at we need to be cautious of this; but so long as we value measurements, we will seek them and many will come from worldly standards.

There is no doubt that the working woman is equally interested in success in these same areas. And uses the same form of measurement and if it lost would feel the same sense of despair. So if both men and women rely on this, what happens to the person whose work does not come with the capacity for measurement.

There is a common belief that the benefits of motherhood are immeasurable. This means that what motherhood does for the child, the father, the family, and all of society is beyond anything that we can comprehend. We can't begin to measure it's greatness. I fully agree with this. But in this greatness a challenge exists. If a woman chooses a life of full time motherhood, how can she measure her own worth? How should she measure it? What tools of measurement are to be found?

Is it in the choices of the children? This is difficult where free agency is a factor. Is it in the clean home or the home-cooked meal? What is the measure of a woman dedicated to serving her family?

This is the first question I found in the letter from my reader friend. After she details her achievements prior to motherhood, which were many, she details her life as a mother, cooking, cleaning, nurturing and so on. The challenge presented is not the disbelief that these are the right thing to do, but in the disbelief that there is any measurable achievement in for these.

Next, she compares her life to my life as a working professional. I could go into my Priesthood meeting and say to myself "I am the best in my profession of all in this room" and likely be right. Can she do the same? Can she walk into a room of full time mothers at Relief Society and say, "I am the best mom in this group" and be equally confident? Perhaps she shouldn't even do so. But then what is the unit of measurement?

Is it any wonder that it is common for the women of the church to try to hide their flawed selves as they see the other seemingly perfect women of the ward, who are also hiding their flawed selves, and fear they will not measure up?

And what role do I play as a man in helping to foster this problem?

The comparison of her work and mine above may not seem fair. If I examine my worth as a professional and the woman examines her worth as a mother, wouldn't it be better to compare my worth as a father? Perhaps, but how many of us fathers truly separate our worth as professionals from our worth as fathers?

This was made clear to me a number of years back when after going through some depression and seeking counseling. After several visits, he brought to my attention two things, one I repeatedly stated that my family was greatest thing I valued, but all my evidences of my worth as a person came from professional achievements outside of the family. How could I value one so much but seek only to achieve so significantly in the other and not feel internally conflicted.

I would like to say I immediately realigned my priorities. But it has taken years and more counseling and group meetings to begin to realign my thoughts and actions. I, like the man who lost his job, behave as though my ability as a working professional is my spiritual contribution as a father. When I state this, I see the whole fallacy the belief, but I continue to act in this manner.

There are probably a number of different reasons for this, but I am beginning to see that a major reason is that I can see immediate measurable results of my work. It arrives in my account no less than twice a month. This excludes praises from superiors, peers, and clients. It doesn't factor in awards, evaluations, bonuses, and promotions. When you add the whole package together, you can see why a man loses himself in his job even though he has a family. Yes there is the stress of a providing for them, but there are many awards beyond this. A look around will show you rather clearly that such immediacy of return in work is simply not there in the caring for a home.

If I do not examine fatherhood outside the realm of my profession, I may be creating a culture in my own home that makes it all the more difficult to feel any sense of accomplishment in motherhood. For I will think that if I can find accomplishment in my work, then so can she. This is most unfair. First of all, I have a much, much wider set of options. I chose my career and my education path for it. I even chose a new path when I felt unfulfilled in my former path. I have even sought employment that provides many different activities and options to avoid the repetition of daily duties.

Full time motherhood provides very few opportunities for variety and no opportunities for change apart from the abdicating of it's duties. My attitude  may be creating a loss of self-worth without doing any overtly demeaning. Even if I am not criticizing, or complaining about the home, which I do not do (I think), just treating my wife's daily life as though it operates under the same paradigms as mine is enough to create unhappiness.

As a father and husband I see that it is also critical that I provide a source of measurable achievement. I will need to ask her about the day, get the details and make sure the achievements are pointed out. It might be helpful to provide an occasional reward; a special night out from her imagination, not mine. As a father and husband it is critical I not only acknowledge such things, it is critical that I believe they are of worth.

As a father and husband it becomes critical that I involve myself more deeply in helping out in the home. Not only for the easing of burdens, but also for the appreciation of the effort expended. My wife is a genius at the dishes; we have no dishwasher. I do them on occasion when my wife gets behind in her work. It takes me two hours. She does them in under 30 minutes. In this world I am an incompetent apprentice, she is the master craftsman. It may not sound like much, and in fact it may not feel like much to her, but my inability recognize her personal genius is only increasing dissatisfaction exponentially.

I am sure the are many other things I can do as a husband and father. I hope to ponder these things and become better at making the experience worthwhile.

One thing is clear above all others as I consider this subject. I have heard over and over again that motherhood is as close as a person gets touching God. I have always considered this to be because of the work done in raising and training a child to be righteous and faithful is working part of God's own plan. I still believe that. But I now see that the very act of choosing motherhood is perhaps the greatest leap of faith that can be made. Continuing to serve in this capacity is to continue to step out on faith every day. To perform tasks dutifully that provide little extra in the way of temporal rewards for the sake of bringing up a family to the Lord may be one of the greatest demonstrations of faith.

My reader friend continues devoted to her work. Her rant does not reflect a continual attitude about being a mom. It encompasses what makes the calling so challenging at times. But in spite of these moments, her devotion to the Lord and to her family continues without wavering. I am grateful that she could be so candid and yet so hopefully devoted.

For the moment, I can recognize what immeasurable motherhood means, both in terms of it's challenges and blessings. Then I need to do what I can to help add some joy to it.

I am, however, convinced now more than ever that those who undertake to be full time mothers are the most beloved and faithful of all of God's children for what they do, they do with the hope of a return that may not be fully realized till the eternities are theirs for an inheritance.  As a Father I should step out more into this great faith.

I hope that in the near future I may find many ways to make this, the greatest of callings, more enjoyable in in this life. The suggestion box remains open.

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