Not Ophelia put up the text of President Benson’s 1987 talk about women not working outside the home over at FMH today. I had some thoughts after reading it, and I decided they were long and involved enough (and a little off-topic enough) that it would be better to put them up here as their own post. But they’re a reaction to the talk, so go read (or at least skim) it first.
While I always knew about this talk, I don’t recall ever being taught it much (though it’s possible I simply blew it off if/when it was taught and that’s why I don’t remember it), luckily. And I’m very grateful that my mother (who is very faithful, orthodox, conservative, and was always a SAHM mom) not only didn’t teach it, but didn’t listen to it. Or rather, that she didn’t let it keep her from making the choices that she thought were best for herself and her family.
I was always aware that both my parents went to college and graduated at the same time, and that my mother worked as an accountant full-time to put my dad through business school (even when they had my oldest sister — she had a babysitter in the morning and my dad took care of her in the afternoons while he studied). Even though she didn’t work most of the time I was at home, and even though she spent an inordinate amount of time taking care of kids and the house, I always knew she was interested in other things and that she was simply sacrificing some of those things for a time because she loved us and was putting the family first. She also never taught that women need to curtail their own interests to put their family first — it was simply something she did (for a time) because that was her personal choice.
I remember when my youngest brother went to school (in 1994, so only 7 years after this talk) and my mom went back to school and then work part-time as an interpreter for the deaf, because it was something she was interested in and wanted to learn and do. Even when I went home to an empty house (I went home from school sick a lot in high school, and the nurse called one of our neighbors who’d give me permission to leave and then I’d drive myself home), I was never resentful. I was happy that my mom, after having sacrificed so much, was finally getting to do some things that she wanted to do for herself. I was aware of how much she’d sacrificed when her kids were little, and I appreciated it, but it filled me with joy to see her doing things for herself, that were important to her. I was even excited when she started collecting Beanie Babies — I knew she’d spent so many years spending all of our meager family funds getting stuff for the kids, and I was happy to see that she finally felt we had enough that she could spend money on something she wanted, simply because she wanted it.
I share all of this not to negate anyone’s experiences — I don’t even know what my mother felt in regards to this talk and if it made her life and her decisions harder. I share this because she did ignore a good portion of it, and I’m extremely grateful for it. Because of that I never felt burdened by its expectations. Whenever I despair of raising my kids in a church that (at least sometimes) teaches these things, I remember that I grew up knowing and thinking I could be anything and do anything because that’s what my mother taught me.