Today more than two-thirds of mothers in the U.S. are in the labor force, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. For many the choice to have a career is financially based. Within the LDS Church, where we emphasize the divine role of mothers to nurture their children, a woman’s decision about whether to work or stay home is often more challenging.
Society expects much of mothers, who should engage in busy, satisfying careers while simultaneously raising active children and running households. Stay-at-home moms are denigrated — implying they are lazy or fail to contribute meaningfully to society.
LDS women face these expectations in addition to the false — but clearly painted — picture of a happy stay-at-home mom, whose home is immaculate, whose children are well-mannered and sweet and whose time is spent baking bread for neighbors and sewing pillow covers.
Of course, the busy career mom and the enthusiastic stay-at-home mom are extremes, but LDS women can feel those are the only two options.
How can we find balance in the midst of such daunting expectations?
For each woman, the path will be unique and, fortunately, illuminated by personal revelation. After having two children, I felt it was important for me to finish my undergraduate degree at BYU. It seemed like terrible timing — my daughter was still an infant, and my husband was overwhelmed with law school. But I was convinced that going back to school was the best thing to do.
At first, anything resembling balance was sorely lacking from my life as I adjusted to being a full-time student and mother.
What helped restore my sanity was the increased equality in my marriage. My husband watched our kids while I was in class; we began sharing chores more frequently and became more flexible about our schedules.
Parenthood requires constant adjustment to the situation, and that first semester back at school helped me learn to be a better parent.
Since then, I have settled into a routine that leaves almost enough time for me to get everything done. I try not to worry about homework while my kids are up, instead reserving that mental energy for when they nap. I have a lot more late nights writing papers and studying for tests. The dishes frequently go unwashed, dinner is rarely gourmet, and I have showed up to class more than once without having finished the assigned reading.
I gave up my demand for self-perfection. And I am still finding my balance.
Yet, as graduation waits happily ahead, I find myself hesitant to give up the hectic pace of college. For now, the best path for me is to stay home with my children at least until they begin school. For your family, it may be otherwise.
Will I eventually have a career outside the home? I feel conflicted, as I think most mothers would. If I do, it will require me to ignore the expectations thrust upon me — both by society and by LDS culture — and to find my own balance again.
Mika Hillery is a sociology major from Fairfield, Calif. This viewpoint represents her opinion and not necessarily those of BYU, its administration or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.