The Future of Mormon Motherhood

But in the same breath we discuss the increasing power of Mormon mothers to offer a model of fulfilled and balanced womanhood, we must also discuss the role Mormon mothers will play in fortifying the importance of dedicated and self-sacrificing raising of children. Motherhood will always be the cultural and doctrinal focus of our gender role. It is not impossible to imagine a time in the near future when bearing children becomes a life path fewer and fewer women choose for themselves. With children no longer economically valuable as they were before the urbanization of our society, having a child is now simply a checkbox on a culturally established list of accomplishments that lead to a happy and successful life. The Princeton sociologist Viviana Zelizer describes this transformation of a child's value: "Economically worthless but emotionally priceless."

The problem is that more and more people are seeing that the emperor has no clothes: children do not necessarily make one "happier." A recent article in New York Magazine reflected deeply on this idea that children contribute to our sense of well-being:

Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. This finding is surprisingly consistent, showing up across a range of disciplines.

Instead of contributing to the family farm or business, children are now viewed in our broader culture as our bosses, requiring at their parents' great expense the grooming, instructing, enlightening, and educating needed to get ahead. And when the emotional payback parents expect from all this work doesn't come, either when the child is small and loud and exhausting or when the child is older and rebellious and rude, the question arises, "Why have children at all?"

It will be the responsibility of Mormon mothers to answer that question with resounding faith and dedication to our doctrine. It will be Mormon mothers who continue to value their children's worth above rubies or any other measure of economic value. It will be Mormon mothers who continue to value their children in spite of the fact that they might not make our daily lives "happier." Mormon mothers will declare through words and actions that children are the heritage of the Lord, valuable for the overarching sense of purpose, joy, and fulfillment they bring to dedicated parents who offer the gift of a physical body to a pre-earthly spirit.

The conflict between our bodies' role and our right to exercise free agency will not be resolved by the future mothers of the Church because the solutions are as varied as the mothers who tackle them. But I believe the confident, self-assured women raising our children today will offer a more balanced, individually-determined approach to the conundrum. Each prayerful and self-possessed Mormon mother will come to the conclusion that there might not be a right answer for our people overall, but there is a right answer for her.

Neylan McBaine has been published inNewsweek, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Segullah, Meridian Magazine, She is the author of a collection of personal essays -- How to Be a Twenty-First Century Pioneer Woman (2008) -- and the founder and editor-in-chief of The Mormon Women Project. She blogs at

8/9/2010 4:00:00 AM
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