Mixed Messages at Church

Yesterday after we came home from church, S-Boogie asked me about something she had heard in a talk. "Mom, why would that girl say you can't be a missionary and a mom?" We had a lovely youth speaker who generally did a great job with her talk. I don't know her well, but her family is one that I admire a lot for many reasons. Her talk was on missionary work, and as part of it she mentioned the fact that her mother had really wanted to serve a mission but chose to get married instead. This confused S-Boogie, since I served a mission before getting married and having children, and so did four of her aunts.

I have sometimes heard this dilemma presented in this way before: the woman who sacrifices going on a mission in order to get married and have children. This frustrates me because, as is proved thousands of times each year, it is entirely possible to do both. There is not a dichotomy and girls shouldn't feel like their only two choices at 21 are to get married or to go on a mission. Or, even worse, that going on a mission means they won't get married. I actually found that going on a mission made me more confident when I got back, and for some mysterious reason it made me more attractive to many guys. I also get frustrated when I hear people present this sort of dichotomy for women with regards to education and work. Yes, there are some full-time careers that aren't very compatible with parenting. But most women I know who have kids still get some kind of education and do some kind of work; pitting these two things against each other limits girls in thinking about their options for their future and makes it much harder to see how complex reality is.

To be fair to our youth speaker, she is young. I know that I'm still "young" too, but I think I'm getting old enough to see how much more rigid my thinking was as a youth. I also recognize that many women have good opportunities to marry early and that going on a mission is not the right decision for everyone, whether or not there is another obvious choice available at the time. I wouldn't want S-Boogie to assume that she is required to serve a mission before she gets married. What I really want for her is to have the skills she needs to study out her choices, weigh her options, and prayerfully decide what the best way to live her life is. I am glad that S-Boogie feels confident to ask me questions when she gets confused about the different messages she gets from the world around her, and I hope she keeps asking them.


Momza said…
As a convert to the Church, I noticed quickly the mixed messages for the young adults who are "missionary age"--the young men can little excuse to NOT serve, while the young women who went on missions did so with the stigma of "she couldn't find a husband so she went on a mission" kinda thinking. It makes no sense to me. My oldest daughter planned serving a mission her whole young life and had a fantastic experience! So did my oldest son. They wouldn't trade their times at missionaries for anything! I have an almost-21 year old daughter whose preparing for the Temple and if she hasn't met her Mr. Wonderful by the time she's old enough to fill out her mission papers, she's going! It's all in the attitude of the family, I think, more than the culture. Preparing for the Temple is good either way.
Kristi said…
Smart girl (S-boogie, that is).

I hate the "she went on a mission because she couldn't get married" stigma that a lot of people think about sister missionaries. I can't believe it still persists, even though there are so many RM sisters.

My ward's full of women who served missions. But a couple years ago for the primary program they had all of the boys stand up and sing some missionary song while they had all the girls sit down and not sing. Silly, but it drove me crazy. Why don't we train all kids to expect to serve?
Earth Sign Mama said…
You know, I'm surprised to hear that the "couldn't get married..." myth is still circulating! That was the olden days. When we started having missionaries over for dinner when our kids were little, I was struck by what fantastic and high-achieving people the sister missionaries were. I figured that old canard was over with 20 years ago. I know so many women who planned their life to serve a mission and it didn't have a thing to do with whether or not there was a boyfriend around. I knew some sister missionaries whose boyfriend "waited" for the her.

But---really the best part of this story is: S-Boogie talks to her Mom when she feels conflicted about things. YES! That's an effective family.
Katya said…
For most of my youth, I would go to church every week, then come home and talk to my mom about what people had said that had bugged me or that I had questions about. Her answers usually ranged from "No, that's a cultural belief, but it's not doctrine" to "Yes, that's technically true, but here's my take on it."

Consequently, I learned to employ critical thinking when listening to what people said at church. (Possibly to a fault, since I'm not big on blind obedience.)

Likewise, if you talk openly with your daughter in sitautions like this and encourage her to come to you when she has questions about what she hears at church, I think she'll be OK (or at least innoculated against some of the stupider stuff Mormons tend to say).
Recession Cone said…
I've watched people suffer greatly because of these mixed messages. A dear friend of mine fell in love with a woman right as she was working on her missionary paperwork. This woman had planned her whole life to go on a mission and was really excited to serve. However, her stake president refused to sign her mission papers, since she "had a chance" of being married instead. This forced a choice: either break things off irrevocably (against church leaders' counsel,) or abandon cherished plans and get married instead. She chose to get married, and since the choice had been made, why wait? They got married very quickly.

Marriage was utterly miserable for both of them from the beginning. They stuck it out for maybe 5 years or so, thankfully childless, before they finally divorced. I think the temple divorce has just come through for them. This experience was a significant obstacle for both the woman as well as my friend - neither could develop personally or professionally while trapped in a horribly dysfunctional relationship. They both lost almost a decade of their lives because of this.

I can't help but wonder how things would have been different if her stake president had encouraged her to follow her dreams instead of pushing her into marriage. My friend likely would have waited for her to return, and after she had fulfilled her childhood dream of serving a mission, they could conceivably have had a much more functional and loving relationship. She would have had more interpersonal skills, which might have alerted her to impassible personality conflicts before they got married, or just helped her deal with the stress of being partnered. And she wouldn't have been so bitter - I can't imagine starting a marriage angry and feeling trapped.

I'm frustrated that the idea continues to circulate that marriage is better than a mission for women - I don't believe that's true. This has also made me wish mission terms were equal between men and women - both the length as well as the start date. I think it would help reduce tragedies like my friend went through. It would make the church much stronger to have more sister missionaries. Most importantly, I think a mission is a priceless opportunity that should not be denied to women. My wife served a mission, and we are raising both our daughters as future missionaries, just as we do our son.
Desmama said…
I, too, love that S-Boogie came to you with her questions. So many times we as adults may not see the paradoxes, conflicting messages, and outright wrong ideas kids can get at church. But you were able to help her navigate those nuances, and will continue to do so. I love that.
Amen. Amen. Amen.

As for your last experience--being a missionary or a convert matures you in ways that take 10 years of mothering and 20 years of Church service to equalize.

We MUST teach our youth about personal revelation. It is the only way that all of those wonderful choices can be made in a way that best suits each individual. S-Boogie has a great head start.
Becca said…
Thank you!
JD said…
Crud one or the other huh? Shoot I knew I should have listened better in church! I better tell all my comps and sisters i served with they are all married and most with children. Pretty sure we all missed the memo :)
skyeJ said…
Aw, I love that kid. You've got a sharp one there. Keep up the good work!! :)
rantipoler said…
Yes, yes, yes to this post. I know people can be good wives/mothers/etc. without having gone on a mission, but I really think they're missing out. I feel like I have something my sisters-in-law will never be able to comprehend. As a side note, when I told my grandmother I was going on a mission, she said, "but I thought that was for ugly girls." No joke.

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