I am My Own Plan A

by Hadley Duncan Howard

My mother is a feminist. She’s a mid-century, never-employed, stay-at-home… feminist. Her own mother had a career, but Mom stayed at home because she chose to, because that interested her, because she felt called to be there. She always taught me that I could do anything I wanted to do, including (but not limited to) motherhood. During my formative years, she told me many times that she didn’t need my father – that she wanted and chose him, but that she didn’t need him. This in no way lessened my respect for my dad; rather, it increased my respect for my mother. I saw her choices as deliberate and, therefore, valid. True feminism, she instructed, isn’t anti-men, but pro-people – and women are people, too.

In the middle of my eighth grade year, it was time for New Beginnings – that always heartfelt, sometimes corny Sunday evening event that ushers in another year in the Young Women program. Young Women had begun painfully for me two years previously, and would end painfully four years later – I didn’t fit in. I never did exactly identify the problem, but I think it had something to do with my desire to avoid cheerleaders and druggies alike, those, unfortunately, being the two prominent demographics in my Mutual group. I had my sights set on something else, something as yet undefined but not at all indistinct. I had few local role models in the generation preceding me, but I clung to them emotionally with all I had; I was wholly determined to never slot into anyone else’s preconceived notions.

So, at New Beginnings, it came as no surprise that the Stake Young Women president spoke about who we young women could become. I listened eagerly, fully expecting to receive an inspiring message about our limitless divine potential. But that wasn’t the message she wanted us to hear. She told us that we should “get an education” – which she defined as graduating from high school – and this was, she assured us, because life can be challenging, what with husbands dying unexpectedly and all. I was disappointed with the low-level banality of this message but, thinking it absurd as 14 year-olds are wont to do, didn’t internalize it.

What I did internalize is this: the victorious addendum. I could feel my mother squirming in her seat. She fidgeted and fiddled for what seemed like a long while, and then: she stood up. In the middle of the meeting. Without being asked. And this is what she said: “I think we should encourage our daughters to get an education – a real one, one that will enable them to make a life for themselves – not because their husbands might die, as if their own potential is a back-up plan, but because their Heavenly Father gave them brains, and He expects them to use them.” And then she sat down.

I truly have no recollection of what was said or done in New Beginnings after that. I was (being fourteen) embarrassed that my mother had spoken out of turn – at church, no less. But I was proud, too, that my mom had the courage to break with tradition for the greater good of leading her daughter – all the daughters there that night – into herself, not the culturally pre-defined self, but the true self, whoever she was, that God intended her to be.

Mom and I do not always agree; our relationship hasn’t always been easy. But one thing I know with certainty is that my mother, a woman whose career path may seem stunted and unfulfilling to some, is as courageous and forward-thinking as anyone who marched on Washington. She didn’t need battles fought for her, but she was willing to fight them for her daughter. Due in part to her example, I’m a working mother. I fulfill both roles with joy, making my own life on my own terms. Life without one or the other kind of work – at home or at the office – is unimaginable to me. And primary in both pursuits is my faith that God has given me a brain and expects me to use it.

I hope my daughters are watching.


Art credit: Mother and Child Taking a Walk | Victor Vignon, unknown date

13 Comments on “I am My Own Plan A

  1. Well said. Hooray for your mother and her courage. I believe what she said is right.

  2. Your mother is awesome, I wish I had just a little bit of that kind of encouragement from my own family/church group/etc. Fantastic post.


  3. I really appreciate your perspective on your mother. Society is too quick to judge the mother who works within the walls of her own home and assume they are shortchanging themselves or living in submission. “a woman whose career path may seem stunted and unfulfilling to some, is as courageous and forward-thinking as anyone who marched on Washington”, this is beautiful and I couldn’t agree more.

  4. I love that story. It gets me riled up in the best way–like I want to put her on my shoulders and chant. Next month in Young Women’s we’re talking about the roles of women and men in marriage and family. I can’t wait to share this gem.

  5. I love when truth makes a stand against culture! Yes, our daughters should be taught all options so they can make deliberate choices based on their own revelation and desire. Shout out to your mom for saying her peace….

  6. I love courageous, thinking , broad minded people, and in particular when they speak up to represent my gender.
    I like her definition of true feminism – PRO PEOPLE!
    We should all be such feminists …. Including the men!
    I am reminded of a boyfriend I had who was serving his mission and when he heard I was thinking of attending UNI said ” it was a good thing to do to fill in my time while I waited for him”.
    That comment marked the demise of that relationship.
    I love learning …. For the sake of learning …. And if that learning serves another purpose ie raises a family, teaches a family, provides an opportunity to develop talent, or provide employment, then it’s a blessing and a bonus !
    Ps love your work Hadley

  7. Love this post and your mother! My mother is similar–she was a SAHM to 9 children (although we all worked together on the family farm). When I was a freshman in high school, we had too many kids in the good math teacher’s class, and so one of the staff drew names out of a hat to determine who had to be moved to the bad math teacher’s class. My name was drawn. When my mom heard about it that evening, she wouldn’t stand for it. I begged her to not intervene, as that would be social suicide, but she marched down to the school and said “This is NOT acceptable. Send one of the senior boys in the class to the bad math teacher, since he’s obviously not going to do anything with math since he waited so long to take Algebra I. My daughter has a future!” and the school staff said “Too bad…the drawing was fair and square.”
    So my mom read through the rules and regulations of the school and found #25: “Class assignment changes will be made by mutual consent of the parents and staff”. She went back to the school, went over the staff’s head, and pointed out rule #25 to the principal, who moved the good math teacher’s class to a larger room, so all the students who got bumped could join it again.
    And the last 20 years I’ve spent working as a software developer never would have been possible without my sweet, stay-at-home mother being willing to rise up and fight for a daughter’s right to receive a good education.

    • I seriously loved this post. Your mom is awesome. I teach math. Yes, some teachers are better than others 🙂

  8. I so love this. Kudos to your mom for standing up like she did! I firmly believe that women should have an education–as you say, because they are people. And I’m grateful for parents who always believed I could do anything I wanted (my mom has a master’s degree, my dad has a PhD, which may have something to do with their attitude). I hope I can pass on the same legacy to my own daughter–and to my sons.

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