We were asked this question by Leah:
Presently, I work with a very young, first time mother-to-be colleague, who is due in April. My question to you is, do first time mother-to-be Mormon women return to work after their maternity leave or not?
Answer by Brenda**
The simple answer is it varies. Especially in this economic environment. Our Mormon faith encourages lifelong learning, self-reliance and an emphasis on hard work, thus our women are talented, credentialed, and exhibit leadership qualities which make for fantastic professionals in a variety of fields. Each woman’s life and situations will vary, so choices vary as well.
Here are some great examples of LDS women that show some of the variety in our lives.
Sally Anne, owner of a mental health clinic and mother to three adult children.
Nadja, a mother of seven and freelance translator living in France.
Yvette, a middle school Mathematics teacher and recipient of the Presidential Award in Teaching for Mathematics and Science in 2009. In her profile, Yvette speaks candidly about wanting to be a mother, but is making the most of her single years.
Kelly, a dentist who spends her summers running a free dental clinic in Honduras.
Jane Clayson, a journalist who gave up her career “for a season” to become a mother.
Here is what one Apostle, M. Russell Ballard says on the subject of motherhood:
“There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children. The choice is different and unique for each mother and each family. Many are able to be “full-time moms,” at least during the most formative years of their children’s lives, and many others would like to be. Some may have to work part-or full-time; some may work at home; some may divide their lives into periods of home and family and work. What matters is that a mother loves her children deeply and, in keeping with the devotion she has for God and her husband, prioritizes them above all else.” (“Daughters of God,” Ensign, May 2008, 108–10.)
But many Mormon women do choose to stay home with their children. Why?
Some of the answer to that is summed up in that quote by Elder Ballard. We believe family to be of utmost importance. Many women who are in a financial position to stay home choose to do so because they believe their sacrifice will greatly impact the lives of their children. David O. McKay, a former LDS prophet, clearly framed the responsibilities of parenthood when he stated, “No other success in life can compensate for failure in the home.”
In my own life I knew I wanted to stay at home with my kids before they were born. My mom had stayed home with us when I was little and I enjoyed the peace of knowing she would be there when I came home from school or social functions. I wanted to provide that same peace to my children if possible. I graduated from college with a finance degree and went right to work. I made a significant amount of money for a single woman and was able to start a savings. It was at this point that I started dating my husband. He had YEARS of school left and a ho-hum part-time job. When things started becoming serious between us he sought a higher paying full-time job and continued his college courses in preparation to starting a family. We discussed our shared desires for me to stay at home with our children during our engagement. After marriage, we practiced living on one income for one and a half years before our first child was born. We had to sacrifice some material goods those first few years, and still do, but have found frugality to be a common bond between us and parenting much more satisfying than we had anticipated. I try to keep my skills relevant so I am ready and willing to work outside of the home when and if the need arises while my kids are still young. I anticipate returning to academics and working again later in life, but I will continue to keep God’s will for me and my family at the forefront of my decision making processes.
Other LDS women find themselves in more difficult circumstances than I did. They may have school, credit card, or health debts to pay. They may be single mothers. They may have to care for their spouse or extended family members. Circumstances vary. Seeking God’s will in our lives is crucial in making life’s big decisions. A critical tenet of our faith is agency, or the right to choose. Families are encouraged to prayerfully ponder the counsel of our leaders about the eternal importance of family and then seek the guidance of God, who knows the specifics of each family’s situation. That guidance may encourage one woman to work to help support herself and her family and another to stay home. But every person in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is encouraged to make decisions for their family within the context of doctrine. Here are some quotes that I think illustrate our church’s views on women, family, and motherhood.
1. Motherhood is noble and aids God in His plan for His children.
“During my professional career as a doctor of medicine, I was occasionally asked why I chose to do that difficult work. I responded with my opinion that the highest and noblest work in this life is that of a mother. Since that option was not available to me, I thought that caring for the sick might come close. I tried to care for my patients as compassionately and competently as Mother cared for me.
“Many years ago the First Presidency issued a statement that has had a profound and lasting influence upon me. ‘Motherhood,’ they wrote, ‘is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to the angels.’
“Because mothers are essential to God’s great plan of happiness, their sacred work is opposed by Satan, who would destroy the family and demean the worth of women.” Russell M. Nelson, “Our Sacred Duty to Honor Women”
2. Having children is a source of eternal joy. The commandment to multiply and replenish the earth is still in effect.
“To the first man and woman on earth, the Lord said, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply’ (Moses 2:28 ; Genesis 1:28 ; see also Abraham 4:28). This commandment was first in sequence and first in importance. It was essential that God’s spirit children have mortal birth and an opportunity to progress toward eternal life. Consequently, all things related to procreation are prime targets for the adversary’s efforts to thwart the plan of God. . . .
“Knowledge of the great plan of happiness also gives Latter-day Saints a distinctive attitude toward the bearing and nurturing of children.
“In some times and places, children have been regarded as no more than laborers in a family economic enterprise or as insurers of support for their parents. Though repelled by these repressions, some persons in our day have no compunctions against similar attitudes that subordinate the welfare of a spirit child of God to the comfort or convenience of parents.
“The Savior taught that we should not lay up treasures on earth but should lay up treasures in heaven (see Matthew 6:19–21 ). In light of the ultimate purpose of the great plan of happiness, I believe that the ultimate treasures on earth and in heaven are our children and our posterity” (emphasis added). (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “The Great Plan of Happiness“)
“There is a passage in our Scriptures which the Latter-day Saints accept as divine: ‘This is the glory of God—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man’ [see Moses 1:39 ]. Likewise we could say that this is the glory of men and women—to bring to pass the mortality of the sons and daughters of God, to give earth-life to the waiting children of our Father. . . . The greatest mission of woman is to give life, earth-life, through honorable marriage, to the waiting spirits, our Father’s spirit children who anxiously desire to come to dwell here in this mortal state. All the honor and glory that can come to men or women by the development of their talents, the homage and the praise they may receive from an applauding world, worshiping at their shrine of genius, is but a dim thing whose luster shall fade in comparison to the high honor, the eternal glory, the ever-enduring happiness that shall come to the woman who fulfills the first great duty and mission that devolves upon her to become the mother of the sons and daughters of God.” (Elder Melvin J. Ballard, Sermons and Missionary Services, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1949, pp. 203–4, quoted in “Celestial Marriages and Eternal Families“)
3. Women are different from but equal to men.
“All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
“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. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed” (emphasis added).
And another from Gordon B. Hinckley:
“Woman is God’s supreme creation. Only after the earth had been formed, after the day had been separated from the night, after the waters had been divided from the land, after vegetation and animal life had been created, and after man had been placed on the earth, was woman created; and only then was the work pronounced complete and good.
“Of all the creations of the Almighty, there is none more beautiful, none more inspiring than a lovely daughter of God who walks in virtue with an understanding of why she should do so, who honors and respects her body as a thing sacred and divine, who cultivates her mind and constantly enlarges the horizon of her understanding, who nurtures her spirit with everlasting truth.” (From “Our Responsibility to Our Young Women“)
4. God will help Mothers fulfill their sacred duties.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on motherhood:
“When you have come to the Lord in meekness and lowliness of heart and, as one mother said, ‘pounded on the doors of heaven to ask for, to plead for, to demand guidance and wisdom and help for this wondrous task,’ that door is thrown open to provide you the influence and the help of all eternity. Claim the promises of the Savior of the world. Ask for the healing balm of the Atonement for whatever may be troubling you or your children. Know that in faith things will be made right in spite of you, or more correctly, because of you.
“You can’t possibly do this alone, but you do have help. The Master of Heaven and Earth is there to bless you—He who resolutely goes after the lost sheep, sweeps thoroughly to find the lost coin, waits everlastingly for the return of the prodigal son. Yours is the work of salvation, and therefore you will be magnified, compensated, made more than you are and better than you have ever been as you try to make honest effort, however feeble you may sometimes feel that to be.” (From the talk “Because She is a Mother“)
In summary, Mormons believe motherhood is a divine and worthwhile pursuit. I cannot tell you whether or not your co-worker will quit work after having a baby. Each family is different. It is the combination of doctrine, circumstance, individual choice, and personal guidance from God that leads to a woman’s decision to stay at home or not.
Great question, thanks for asking it!
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**Please note: The answers in “Ask a Mormon Woman” reflect the thoughts, perspectives, and experiences of individuals. Although here at Mormon Women: Who We Are, we strive to have our content consistent with the Church’s doctrine and teachings, we do not speak officially for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For official information about or from the Church, please visit www.mormon.org/faith or www.lds.org.
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