If I attempted to describe my family experience and roles over the last decade I end up swimming in alphabet soup: WAHM, SAHM, working mom. I’ve tried them all. I worked full time until my first child was a year old. Since then, I have worked part-time from home, part-time out of the home, a combination of both, and there have been periods where I wasn’t employed at all. (Certainly I was still working during that time, but without any regulated breaks or protections afforded many modern workers.) I have asked myself at what point was I enjoying “the ideal”? In which situation was I making the most righteous choice? At what point was I most in line with the guidance of the Church? In the end, all I can ensure anyone is that in every situation, at every time, I was simply doing my best to live up to the mandates of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” In this document we are told, “Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.” And I felt like I was doing just this even though the specifics of my family and work situations changed.
Mormon doctrine, especially as it relates to marriage and children, perpetuates a certain amount of social culture and pressure. Much good can come from the right amounts of pressure applied at the right time and right places. But when the balance of pressure gets distorted, we end up risking the destruction of what is often a diamond in the rough. I wonder if this is what happens to some young couples and young families who rush to live up to doctrinal, social and cultural pressures regarding marriage and procreation.
The question I keep having lately on a personal level is this: IF the family unit is so important and sacred, IF success at the level of the family unit is crucial to the strength of society, IF the success of family units is really the whole point of the Gospel and the Church, then WHY aren’t we counseled more to invest in preparing for solid, strong marriages and family units by instructing our young people to be educated and stable (personally and economically) prior to marrying and especially prior to taking on parenthood? Why do we keep making marriage and family sound like an obligatory duty that we must be obedient to for the sake of righteousness instead of what is really is? It is a serious commitment and responsibility. It is the kind of sacred commitment and responsibility, bordering on a privilege, which should require preparation and the laying of a strong foundation of maturing, learning and planning to create the highest chances of success. We teach these things, yet we encourage young people not to delay marriage and not to delay childbearing. Can we have it both ways? Or are we creating pressure on our young people to begin families prior to having foundations of education, economic preparation and even time for personal emotional preparation and maturation?
Does anyone encourage the starting of a business without careful planning and consideration of the capital requirements to do so? Why do we think a family should be started with any less careful consideration? A few years ago the Church rolled out a program to raise the bar for missionaries that wanted to apply for service. I suggest that it might be time to raise the bar in our rhetoric of what needs to be in place if we want to start a family unit. I’m not sure if there has even been a time in history where the odds were in favor of a couple succeeding at the business of family life. Even in the Garden of Eden, there was a failure of communication and coordination that resulted in the Fall. Eve was making an insightful and bold decision. But she made it alone, even though her divine personal mandate was to be a help meet (Genesis 2:18). Adam could have made the same choice, the same way, and for the same reasons and it still would have had the same problem and result. So if Adam and Eve, in a paradise, couldn’t launch their relationship and family without some significant bumps, then what should the rest of us expect?
Certainly the sacredness of the family, from its very beginning, demanded an approach of thoughtful preparation, communication and planning. Is it any different now? Shouldn’t every young person be encouraged to plan for how they are going to contribute to hedge against life’s risks and uncertainties as part of a family unit? The encouragement of these plans needs to embrace the reality that both partners need to be adequately prepared for, capable of, and willing to work in a variety of capacities inside and outside of the home.
In “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” we read, “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners” (emphasis added). Fathers need to be available to provide the necessities of life that fall in the category of affection and quality time as much as those necessities that fall within the category of financial resources. If fathers are constantly out of the home to earn the financial necessities of life then they can’t participate as an equal partner in nurturing their children. And when I think of nurturing children, the most basic level of nurturing requires provision of the necessities of life relating to shelter, food, affection and education. If future mothers aren’t careful and conscientious about their decisions regarding education, they may find that they aren’t armed with marketable skills and will not be equipped to participate as an equal partner in “provid[ing] the necessities of life and protect[ing] their families.” A lack of economic stability certainly complicates and reduces a mother’s ability to nurture children, and therefore, women should be concerned with how they will contribute as an equal partner in “provid[ing] the necessities of life and protect[ing] their families.”
As we seek to promote the building of families, I hope we will discuss how men and women can prepare to help one another as equal partners. Both men and women need to be encouraged to complete quality educations, gain work experience and understand career development. Both men and women need to acquire basic homemaking skills and have knowledge relating to human and family development. And prospective couples need to be cautioned to take time to plan how they are going to meet the demands of parenthood on an economic and emotional level before taking on what is the challenge and adventure of not just a lifetime, but an eternity. I hope we will think about and discuss why it is not good that either partner be alone to execute these responsibilities independently. I hope as this occurs, more of our diamonds in the rough, our young and hopeful families will be started with proper safety nets and attitudes in place to safeguard them from being destroyed by the myriad of pressures and challenges that are bound to come their way.
Emily Martineau started her college studies as an English major. Mid-way through college she volunteered in Ecuador with Orphanage Support Services Organization. The experience had a tremendous impact on her views regarding family and economics. From there she thought she’d go to BYU to finish her education and find a spouse but was strongly redirected to serve a mission. She was called to serve in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Following her mission for the Church, she completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance at Arizona State University. While completing that portion of her studies, she met her spouse and they are parents to four children. In the near future, Emily hopes to return to work in a role with a behavioral health non-profit or to pursue graduate studies for a behavioral health license.