In one of many recent conversations we’ve had about raising children, my mother recalled attending mother education classes once a month as part of the old weekday Relief Society curriculum (which existed before the block schedule was implemented in 1980). She said there were always two choices: a mother education class and an alternative, for those who weren’t currently raising children–and, I suppose, for anyone who simply didn’t want to be educated in motherhood that week, for whatever reason. Of course a mother education curriculum can be beyond awkward in many contexts. One of my first church callings was as the mother education instructor in my singles’ ward. Broad adaptation was required.
Lately I’ve been longing, ambivalently, for a mother or parent education class.* I live in a ward simply swarming with young children, and various playgroups have kindly taken me in, even though I’m more than a decade older than any of the other first-time mothers. There’s much consolation, encouragement, and practical knowledge to be found in sharing experiences and ideas with others in the trenches. But excellent as playgroups are, both for mothers and for children, they necessarily lack the perspective of experienced mothers whose children are teenagers or adults, and of course their informal nature precludes any sort of focussed discussion. Useful as they are, there are kinds of reflection and exchanges of ideas to which playgroups just aren’t amenable. How nice it would be, I keep thinking, to attend a church class on parenting–a good church class, of course, taught by experienced and thoughtful parents.
At the same time, I see a lot of drawbacks to mother or parent education. The biggest is that the church is already so focussed on families that those without spouses or children are constantly sidelined as it is. Marriage and children can create vast social gulfs, too rarely traversed, and while too many talks and lessons implicitly assume that everyone present is married and has children, separating mothers from non-mothers would only deepen those gulfs. Given the immense and increasing variety of circumstances in which Mormon women and men live, there’s much to be said for focussing on general, basic gospel principles that apply to all of us.
Another problem would be what curriculum to use. There are few issues more contentious among Mormon mothers than parenting philosophies, and it would definitely take a skilled teacher to navigate those potentially treacherous waters. My mother recalls with amusement that one month the lesson manual advocated one approach, while that month’s Ensign advocated precisely the opposite approach. It wouldn’t be easy to come up with a curriculum that was broad enough and principle-based enough to speak to a range of parenting styles without being so general and vague as to be meaningless.
So while an excellent parent- or mother-education class would meet my particular needs, I realize there are very good reasons for not implementing such a thing. Since my recent late-in-life transformation into an SAHM, I’ve been stunned at how much better the church now meets my social needs, supports my undertakings, and speaks to my particular situation. When I was the childless full-time grad-student spouse of an inactive atheist, I was always on the fringes, an exception to nearly every talk and lesson. Nothing was oriented to me; no one knew quite how to place me, what to do with me, even how to talk to me. Now that I fit the norm a little better, the church fits me better. There’s a very good argument to be made that instead of expanding parent education for those who are already comfortably ensconced at the center, the church needs to figure out how to reach those on the edges. We’re losing single women and men in droves, for example, and the divorced and single parents are also frequently sidelined. There’s also an excellent argument to be made that I should seek parent education in the community; clearly the church can’t and shouldn’t meet all of my needs, and we Mormons are often rightly accused of being insular and caring only for our own. Getting involved in community parenting classes and children’s activities would arguably be a better choice in terms of reaching beyond the Mormon world and engaging other social networks.
So what do you all think? Mother (or parent) education–yay or nay?
Are there other church classes you’d like to see implemented–or canceled?
*I realize there is the Marriage and Family Relations Sunday school class, and although the manual’s pretty bad, the underlying principle of instruction in and discussion about marriage and chilrearing is sound, and with the right instructor the class can be excellent. But the childrearing section of the class lasts only twelve weeks. Personally I’d like something a little more ongoing that would encourage me to think about my parenting throughout the years and decades of my childrearing.