Monday, October 6, 2008

A Year Later, Looking Back at My Issues

During the October 2007 General Conference, Sister Beck's talk "Mothers Who Know" blindsided me. Sweet Sister Beck. I love her. I felt like a good friend had walked into my home and told me that everything I'd ever done was worthless. I flipped out. Flipped out.

That afternoon I went to a cub scout planning meeting and mentioned how upset I felt. My sweet beautiful friends looked at me as if I'd just spoken in Russian. They wanted to be there for me, but they couldn't. They didn't understand what I found so heartbreaking. They'd loved the talk. A lot.

So a year ago, the Monday after conference, I went searching online for women who understood. I found Kristine Haglund's very comforting post at By Common Consent. I found the Bloggernacle where smart and faithful LDS people discuss ideas that range from the petty to the profound.

Here is my first (extremely long) blog comment:

Thanks for a couple of laughs on the subject. I needed them. It sure beat the two cries I’d had on the subject. Although "Our Refined Heavenly Home" wins the most uninspiring depressing talk of the decade, this one came close.

This is a hard subject for me. Six kids, small house, homeschooling. We’re all here, all the time. And I’m trying. I really am. But if a clean house and neat children are required for exaltation, I’m out. Even trying my hardest, it’s a disaster around here.

IF I could fulfill the ideal she taught, my family and I would be happier. I like clean. I like organized. I like neat, reverent children. I like peace. I dream of these things. I despair of these things.

So Sunday, I’d stayed home, listening to conference, hoping to hear “the pleasing word of God, yea the word which healeth the wounded soul.”

Sabbath-breaker that I am, I needed to clean the “playroom.” So housework was exactly what I was doing when Sister Beck was talking. I stopped cleaning. I couldn't
decide if I wanted to send in my motherhood resignation, burn the house down, or ask to have my name removed from the records of the church. Love, civil duty and a testimony prevented me from following any of those knee-jerk reactions. Instead I just cried because one more fellow mom was judging her fellow moms one more time. I don’t know–maybe that’s the in the job description for GRS Presidents.

The points that stabbed most deeply:

(My memory of) Her definition of nurture. By “nurture” we mean housework, the physical upkeep of the family. (My dictionary says “Nurturing: 1. To nourish, feed. 2. To educate, train 3. To help grow or develop; cultivate.”)

And did she really say that it didn’t really matter how much education you have if you can’t keep your home properly? I must have misheard.

I’ve pondered “the wicked taketh the truth to be hard." Am I wicked? ‘Cause that seemed pretty hard.

Well, enough killing time. I need to go clean something, cook something and cancel some of my children’s outside activities.

I live to serve. Jami
Bitter? Me? OK, maybe a little. I'm better now. This year has been one of the most difficult of my life, spiritually and intellectually. Exciting. Invigorating. But hard. A good portion of my angst has come from my exploration of LDS issues, profound and petty, from participating in the Bloggernacle.

In spite of these growing pains, I celebrate this anniversary and my freedom to think and to write about those things which interest and concern me. I celebrate my pain because it has led to increased knowledge, to increased faith and to healing. Thank you, Kristine, for the post that started it all. As it turns out, I mostly like Sister Beck's talk too. That, however, is a subject for a different post.


The Crash Test Dummy said...

AMEN, girl! Awesome honest post. Thanks for your honesty. It gave me chicken skin. I'll be blogging about Mormon truth and deception soooooon. This week probably.

I hear you so loud and clear. I feel exactly the same way almost every time that lady opens her mouth. Aren't we s'pose to feel the spirit while we're cleaning or playrooms?

You go, sista!!

Jami said...

The talks from when she was in the GYW presidency were fab! And pretty inspiring. She is a woman I have liked very much. Half my pain was shock that someone so nice could say something so...inflexible.

Annette Lyon said...

Here's the irony--I have a friend who used that talk as a huge motivator to raise her own bar. More power to her.

But then I know three older women who thought the talk was just wonderful and couldn't understand why anyone would get upset over it.

Totally different reactions.

While I didn't have quite as visceral reaction to it as you did, I totally got what the broohaha was about.

I tried to explain to these ladies that moms of young kids are trying their best, that Sis B's talk could come across as saying that if your kids aren't spit-polished and you didn't manage to iron your daughter's dress right, then you apparently don't have a testimony and are a crappy mom.

Their eyes went wide--they hadn't thought of the talk that way. But they are also grandmothers, with the baby years well into their past. They just don't remember what it's like to drag a bunch of little kids to church, knowing you're not going to get anything worshipful out of the service but that you're there because it's the right thing to do--and darn it, you're hoping for some blessings as a result. Then to have someone tell you that your effort--that you gave while hanging onto sanity by your fingernails--isn't enough? Ouch.

I think I understand how Sister Beck *meant* the talk. I don't think she intended to hurt feelings or to be nearly as judgmental as she came across. I think it was meant the way my other friend took it--as motivation to do better and be better all the time.

But yeah, I hear ya. Oh, boy, do I hear ya. The vast majority of moms are trying our dardest already. Elder Ballard's talk last spring did my heart good. I wanted to give him a huge hug and tell him thank you so much for "getting" us.

Wow. Long comment. Sorry 'bout that . . .

Jami said...

Ditto, Annette. I have a great friend who is a marvelous housekeeper, but has a hard time with the lovey-dovey aspects of nurturing. To her, that talk was a balm, telling her that what she had to offer was not worthless. It is all in how you look at it.

I do have a future post a-brewin' that is about the up side of both of the talks I reference in this post.

The Crash Test Dummy said...

Hi, it's me again. I've been thinking about you and your post all day. First because it's always so frightening to make yourself vulnerable by sharing your real thoughts, which could be misconstrued as murmurings. So I wanted to validate you one more time for being real. Even if you're thoughts/position changes and evolves (as they have) I applaud your courage to be honest.

And second because you speak of your last year of struggle. All that you spoke of that you've been going through . . . I've been there, done that. Nice to know I'm not alone.

Thanks for sharing.

And maybe I should use that purple sock for my next give-away. (If I really had one. Sorry. That was just my wistful imagination. I went away empty handed from the Osmond Studios opening.)

Jami said...

Thanks, CTD. I appreciate your kind thoughts. FWIW, I rarely murmur. If I've got something to say I generally say it loud and clear. If I repent, I tend to do that as loudly as I rebelled. I'm little Peter Simon-ish that way.

Regarding Mr. Osmond, he was the love of my life until the sixth grade when some other dude took over the position.

Alison Wonderland said...

I don't know if I missed her talk the first time around or if I just didn't take anything away from it (good or bad) but I had no memory of it and then I heard that there was bruhaha about it so I went back and looked it up. And I still got nothing out of it. Maybe I'm too far gone to even be bothered by being judged?

Jo said...

I HATED Sister Beck's talk last year. My reason was that every LDS woman I know already feels like she is running a million miles a day and by the day's end, still feels like she falls short in too many ways.
I also found her talk racist, and haven't even begun to address why the heck that particular part of her talk totally slipped by.
Good for you, questins bring pain, but they also bring healing and growth.

6k9s said...

Ahh, quit being such a whiner, and just get organized and clean the place up. If you just stopped goofing off, you'd be able to do it all. Right? What are you doing? Sleeping? Reading? Blogging? Obviously you are falling short of the mark. The talk (which I checked out) gave me this awful feeling of deja vu. Go back and read the general media crapola from the late 50s about what a "real" woman was to do. (a la change your clothes, fix your hair, have a drink ready for Daddy when he shows up, be lovely and compliant, ensure a quiet and peaceful atmosphere with a short guest appearance by the perfectly groomed children, etc.) Eerily identical. Read Germaine Greer, etc. for an analysis. Let's just say that Valium, etc. became our foremothers escape. Can you say Prozac? And its sometimes hard for me to explain what I dislike about Mormon doctrine and most other mainline religions. This is an example. You are right though, we all read/hear talks through a filter of our own personal demons. I'm sure for some, the talk was a real spirit lifter. Affirmation that all that work was heaven blessed. Good for you for speaking out, at risk, about how that kind of judgement can hurt rather than heal. Women pushing self hatred on other women isn't a new problem. On the plus side, neither is women supporting women new. I'm just happy that you have found a supportive group of women to help you put it in perspective. Hmmmm. Longest response ever to a post...hit a nerve did we?

Jami said...

Jo, I think the online, liberal response to Sister Beck's talk (the name of which is escaping me right now) certainly caught the racist aspects. Every LDS woman I know also feels like they fall short in some way.

Perhaps it's a personality difference. One woman hears "shape up you slacker" and shapes up, thankful for the encouragement. Another woman hears, "Shape up you slacker," gives up, and cries for a while. The speaker meant to be inspirational, but not everybody felt inspired.

Jami said...

Ah, Mom, it's good to know that I've done my missionary work today.

By the way, I'm not whining. I'm emoting, a much more dignified response.

There certainly was a flashback feel to the original talk. I am looking forward to finishing my post on the up side of her concepts. Hopefully, I can get it done by Thursday. I know this is going to come as a shock but I'm beginning to think that there is a lot more ambiguity in the world than I had previously suspected.

6k9s said...

whoa! Shades of grey? Who knew?

Heidi Ashworth said...

Whew! Jami! what a subject! I vaguely remember her talk but if it was really how you said, I am not surprised I promptly forgot it. I just ditch the stuff that makes me feel bad about myself simply because the Big Guy can't cope with a guilty-feeling mom, or an overabundance of any emotion whatsoever. So, that's nice. All I can say is that if it really came across that way (cause sometimes we can hear something truly different from what someone else says--I can't believe how often someone walks away from a conversation with a totally different perspective than myself)(of course, that's probably mostly me)(getting it wrong as per the usual) then I am willing to bet donuts for dollars that she HEARD about it from her mother, her sister, her daughter, her cousin and her BFF. She won't say that kind of thing again. People are human, even the ones who speak in conference. Of course, you have probably already heard all of this. The point of their giving us direction is simply for us to stay on course--we try our best and we keep trying and the Savior, who died for the simple reason that we will never in this life be perfect, will make up the difference. Even for housework! Really! Look at it this way, when your kids have all left home, keeping it clean will be a breeze! And then, you'll be in!!! (Not that I think you won't be in just cause you can't keep up with six kids whom you are also home-schooling--Not even!)

Thora said...

How funny - I really loved her talk. All I remember from it (besides what I remember from when I went back and read it later, when I heard people had problems with it) was that Mothers who know have children.

I had just moved the week before to a country (England) wherein everyone gave me kind of weird looks when I said that I was a stay at home mom. A country where two kids is usually it - to the point when a friend of mine there went to the doctor for her first baby appointment (she was pregnant with her third baby) the doctor casually asked when she wanted to schedule an abortion.

In a place like this, feeling confirmed for choosing to have children meant a lot to me.

I think I'm like the friend who tends to feel motivated when people tell me to raise the bar, instead of discouraged. I think most women are probably the other way. Avram and I joke because at Relief Society broadcast they always (well, usually) tell women they're doing a great job, and to not be so hard on themselves, and then at Priesthood they tell the men, "Stop lookin' at PORN!!!" or "Don't Gamble" "Be Nice to your Wives!!!" We think it's not because Men in the church are less righteous than Women, but rather because we tend to need different ways of encouragement.

All I know is I would hate to have to prepare a talk for General Conference. I wouldn't know whether I was being too soft, or too preachy, or not addressing the real challenges women (or people) have. If I were Julie Beck, and read on the Internet the general response, I think I would go to my room and cry, and then resign from the position. Good thing she probably doesn't get on the Internet and look herself up like I do, huh? And that she got up this year and talked again.

Anyway, I had heard some young adults making fun of the talk last winter and didn't understand their problem with it, so I'm glad that you explained here why it was so hard for you, because I could understand and empathize with what you said. I'm glad that your issues leading you to the Internet LDS world didn't cause you to be disenchanted with the church, because as I'm sure you know there are a lot of dissenting websites.

Jami said...

Heidi, I think that may be why big guy came to you and not me. An overabundance of emotion? C'est moi! That and a good healthy chunk of obsession. I got her words swirling around my head. (doesn't matter. doesn't matter. doesn't matter.) It's like a really bad movie. So anyway, give me a year and I shake it right off!

Jami said...

Thora, there was much I liked about her talk. The parts that knocked me for a loop had purpose as well.

I have loved the Bloggernacle; even the dissenting sites have been helpful in my growth.

Oh by the way my blog comment that I quoted is from 2007. My day after reaction. I probably had tears running down my cheeks when I typed it. I am a weeper after all.

Heidi Ashworth said...

Believe me Jami, an overabundance of emotion is my forte! I have really had to learn. Like I always tell people, the Big Guy made me who I am, I wasn't ready for the Big Guy when I got him. It's kind of like going out to the barn the day a calf is born and picking it up--then going out every day and picking it up until pretty soon, you are picking up a cow. And that is why the Big Guy means so much to me. Now I can lift cows. It's something I have always wanted to do. : )

Papa D said...

Here's my response to some of what was felt by women with whom I've talked. It hung in my house growing up, with a mother who left the cleaning and cooking to her husband and spent almost all her time with her books and her kids:

"Cleaning and scrubbing can wait til tomorrow,
'Cause babies grow up we've learned to our sorrow.
So, quiet down cobwebs; dust go to sleep.
I'm rocking my baby, and babies don't keep."

Also, my wife's new favorite:

"A clean house is a sign of a broken computer."