I will be giving birth to my second child in a matter of days. Along with the overwhelming joy I feel at having another little person to love and, of course, finally not being pregnant, I have to admit that I feel some ambivalence about the birth of this child.
Early in my pregnancy, I instinctively knew that the life inside me would be a daughter. I knew that this little girl was to be named after my grandmother, a woman I have had a unique connection to and whose presence I often feel watching and guiding me. I feel that powerful and complex connection with this daughter as well. Perhaps it is for this reason that I fear for her in ways that I do not for my son.
I fear bringing my daughter into a world where women are oppressed, abused and neglected. Where women are most of the poor, most of the uneducated and most of the rejected of the world. I fear a world where one in three women will be raped. A world that will pay her less due to her gender. I fear the world that would mutilate little girls in the name of tradition and family honor. I fear the world that cares more about my daughter’s appearance than her intelligence or the quality of her character. I know, however, that I can protect, or at least prepare her for most of these injustices. What I fear the most are the ideas and culture I choose for her.
There are many reasons why I choose to stay in a religion I often find painful and damaging to my soul. Foremost among those reasons is the desire to be eternally bound to the husband and children I love more than life itself. I am comfortable with the choice I have made. I choose my choice as the saying goes. But I cannot be blind to the repercussions of this choice on my daughter.
By choosing to stay, I am knowingly exposing my daughter to a church that proclaims equality but does nothing to demonstrate it in its structure. Because of my choice, my daughter may come to know the pain of discovering that despite all the declarations of equality, the rhetoric and a good part of the theology does not support the notion that women are full participants in a spiritual life. By staying, I am left with the very real possibility of having to answer questions I have no answers for myself.
How do I explain to my daughter that at the age of twelve her brother will receive the power of God but a year and half later, all she will get is another year older? How do I let my daughter know that her brother and his friends have no control over their thoughts so she must cover her body so as not to inspire lust in the other gender? How do I explain polygamay to her? What can I tell her about D&C 132 or the endowment ceremony…that they don’t really mean what they say? How do I let her know that she has a Mother in Heaven who loves her just as much as her Father in Heaven but that She doesn’t want to talk to my daughter? How do I inform my precious girl that despite his healing women and declaring his mission and resurrection to a woman, it appears Jesus only wants her for half a disciple?
I pray and hope that I never have to explain these things to her, that somehow she will be born with the peace and understanding that I have never been able to find. Because I choose to stay, I will take her to church every week. I will teach her how to be reverent and how to feel the spirit. I will teach her that Jesus loves her. I will tell her about the temple and that eternal families are a blessing. My daughter will be taught that her body is sacred and a gift from her loving earthly and heavenly parents. I will teach her what it means to participate in a community of Christ and that it can make her a better person. I will teach my daughter these things because these are the good things I have learned. I am so happy that my husband and I can provide this little girl with a loving home that will teach her all the best that our faith has to offer. We will teach her the good and leave the rest for her own spiritual journey.
I only hope that I have not sacrificed my daughter on the altar of my choice.
Author’s Note: I am aware that many, if not most do not struggle with what I struggle with. I respect this and am happy for those people. Please know that my concerns are genuine and come from a faithful place. I am just a mother who is trying to do the best for her children. I ask you to respect this. Thank you.
mraynes, thanks for this thoughtful post.
I’ve had those same questions about what to teach my kids. I think what I tell my son will be the same as what I would tell a daughter (if I have one:
That I think it’s sad and wrong that women don’t have the same opportunities within the church. That we should hope and pray for things to change. That while we can’t change church structure, we can live our own lives in ways that reflect our beliefs on gender equity. That one should remember Heavenly Mother in our prayers. That we should be voices of inclusion and progression in our church calings. That the church has a lot of good qualities, but that it’s not perfect and we must follow our consciences on matters of justice and equity.
Of course, this is all theoretical for me, since my kid is 2 at the moment. I would love to hear how other women deal with this.
The questions you ask are significant. I asked myself many of the same questions twenty-six years ago this month as I approached the birth of my fourth child/third daughter. At that same time, the United States was in the midst of the Iran hostage crisis, and every day I watched on my television screen as angry men, in a much more repressive culture than ours, shouted explatives at Americans. Just two months earlier, the ERA had breathed it’s last gasps as the deadline for its ratification passed, three states short. I remember one night in particular, when I felt so overwhelmed with all the horror in the world and the conflicts I had with my own religious culture, that I wondered about the wisdom of bringing another child, especially a female child, into the world. I seriously questioned the spiritual promptings that had lead me to do just that. But it was too late. She WAS coming, and I would have to do the best I could for her and her siblings.
Your comments may seem theoretical to you now, but they describe what I did with my daughters. And yes, I taught my son the same things. All four of my children have chosen to stay in the Church, but I would love them just as much even if they had not. I wouldn’t say they fit the mold of “traditional Latter-day Saints” however. Each of my daughters has chosen a different professional path, and each has asked similar questions raised here. They are not carbon copies of their mother. They all have more faith and determination than I’ve ever had. And that youngest daughter, the one I despaired over the most, graduated from BYU three years ago with a MESA degree (Middle Eastern Studies/Arabic language), with a minor in Spanish. I was with her two months ago in Virginia when she gave birth to her first child (a boy). Her husband is in law school, and between them, they plan to change the world. I have no doubt that they will. I perish the thought that I ever questioned whether or not I should have brought her into the world.
The world and the Church need mothers like you, mraynes and caroline. Trust your instincts and listen to the spiritual voice that guides you. I’m convinced that some of us were just born to question. That doesn’t make life easy for us, but it’s not such a bad thing for the world.
From what I can tell from your thoughts, your daughter will do well having an insightful mother like you. What you can teach her through your example and faith is more important than how imperfect the world is.
Oh thank you for this truly sincere post. I feel like I could have written it myself- word for word, though I only wish I could be as eloquent.
I’ll be 29 this month and my husband and I are beginning to think that we will start our family soon. All the concerns you’ve shared echo through my mind as I contemplate bringing a little life into our world. How can I be a mother and try to tell my daughter what to think and believe in terms of the Gospel, when I myself am still figuring things out? I also know that most do not struggle with these thoughts- but how nice it is to hear that someone else does. Hopefully my daughter will have teachers in her church like you, and all the other like-minded wonderful women I meet and continue to meet. Teachers who truly care about young women, and who are aware of these issues, and yet who stay in our church. I need women like you, and our daughters need women like you- so again, thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Back again with another thought…
I can’t help but add my concerns about having my daughter “confess” to Bishop. Perhaps people feel that so long as a girl doesn’t do anything sexually “promiscuous” she won’t get herself into this situation- and therefore if she does, she deserves it.
I can’t help but feel that there is something very abusive about a young woman having to confess sexual acts to an older male. Different bishops will always react differently, and the problem is that there is no real ‘standard’.
Years ago, when I went in to confess my transgressions, I was asked by a Bishop to confess my sexual in detail. When I look back on that I remember how ashamed and humiliated I felt. I later learnt that most Bishops do not ask for specific details as that one had…but how would a young girl know that? Obviously, I made it through it, but I never want my daughter to have to go through this.
To be fair, I have also had some wonderful Bishops, and I try to hope that my daughter will also have good men as Bishops. I’m sure people will say, just teach your daughter right, and she won’t have to repent for sexual sins…nevertheless…young men are confessing likewise to a male-who has BEEN a young man and experienced (hopefully) those same hormones. I just wish young women also were allowed to confess to a female.
Has anyone else had this concern? Obviously this is something I’ve never brought up in relief society….
I love this post. I have been recently thinking about the some of same things as I have two daughters, a four year old and a 6 month old. I just hope I can counteract what my daughters hear at church and prepare myself to answer their questions as best I can. Some I know I won’t be able to like the priesthood male only deal, but I can at least tell them that I think someday that it will change and share with them some of the early history of the church when women did give blessings. And like you said the whole polygamy thing is going to be hard especially since her grandparents are in that kind of relationship (grandpa’s first wife died and he is sealed to her and to his second living wife). Then again they might not be like their mother and question everything, but somehow I doubt it. In some ways I can negotiate the inequality of the world outside of church then within because this is supposed to be the one true church, so therefore everything must be true… right? Or if you had enough faith it wouldn’t be an issue. I find it much easier to question inequality in say a classroom, a court case or a history book, then at church where obedience is so highly valued.
I also like to change up the lyrics to songs from primary for my four-year-old and it has led to some interesting discussions. Especially when we sing the Wise Woman Built her House Upon the Rock, which is one of her nightly bedtime songs for going on three months . . .sigh… I wish she would pick a different one, but such is the mind of a 4 year old. If they like it they want it over and over again. Anyway she really wanted to know if a girl could build a house, just didn’t make sense to her because the song says man. I assured her they really could, never mind that the song really has nothing to do with building a house, but for a four old the symbolism thing might be a bit beyond her reach. I also told her that a girl can do just about anything a boy can, aside from obvious biological differences (men can’t birth babies), but in the back of my mind I was thinking what I am I going to about the priesthood thing. It made me kind of sad, but for now she happily sings the wise woman.
Violet, that’s wonderful! I’m going to sing that to my three-year-old tomorrow night at bedtime.
Your worries and concerns touched me tonight as I read them.I was never that insightful nor as thoughtful as a young mother. And given my situation right now, I would gladly take on your concerns. You see, my oldest daughter has recently left the Church for reasons I do not still entirely understand. While she has always been encouraged to make her own choices, this is one choice that hurts and its impact is still being felt just as Gustav’s impact makes its impression on the coast of Florida. Her choice requires some adjustments and changing on my part. It stretches my understanding and practice of unconditional love. All those lessons of eternal families and temple marriages now are being revisited and needing adaptation. It is not a painless process. It is her spiritual journey undoubtedly yet it does affect me and her siblings and father. So Mraynes, like you who have mothered and nurtured for many more years and a few more children, I am still struggling just like you are.
Kli, You’re not alone in your concern about having a vulnerable girl confess sexual sins to an older male stranger.
I would tell my daughter that she NEVER has to be alone with the bishop. She should feel free to invite a trusted friend or mentor or parent to accompany her as she talks to him. Also, if this ever comes up somehow, you can tell her that if she ever has to confess something to the bishop, she should not have to go in to any grimey little details. That’s none of his business, and if he presses her for them, he’s abusing his position.
I am very worried about these one on one youth interviews. I am particularly worried about the bish asking my son if he masturbates. I think that’s an extremely intrusive question. When the time comes, I’ll probably call the bishop before any interviews and ask him exactly what he’ll be asking my son. And I’ll inform him that my child has been instructed to not reply to any intrusive questions.
Caroline- Thanks for sharing. I think that’s good advice, and I think the key is to discuss this all with my daughter when the time comes. Also love the idea that she would never have to go in alone.
I am not able to respond to all your comments at the moment but I just wanted to thank everybody for their kind words, it means so much.
Thank you for so eloquently expressing some of the same things I struggle with. I have all sons, but I hope to teach them the same things.
Thanks for this. I just gave birth to my first child (a girl) this spring, and I admit that I have some questions and concerns about what and how to teach her as she is growing up. Whenever I imagine teaching her about some aspects of the gospel/church, I find a little part of myself asking ‘really?’.
My greatest dread is the possibility of one day having to teach a future son that he HAS TO serve a mission…
Mraynes: As I was reading your post, tears were streaming down my face. My three-year-old daughter came in and asked me what was wrong. “Why are you crying mommy?” I had no words to offer and no explanation.
My journey seems so parallel to yours, even down to the great-grandmother’s naming of my only daughter. It is amazing to me and so comforting to know there are women out there with the same beliefs and struggles. Sometimes I feel so alone in my surroundings.
“I pray and hope that I never have to explain these things to her, that somehow she will be born with the peace and understanding that I have never been able to find.”
You do not know how many times I have wished to be this woman. I am not. But, it seems like my daughter may be. While I was pregnant, I wanted her to be aggressive, strong, to rise up, and not allow herself to be taken advantage. My daughter is quiet, shy, and extremely gentle and nurturing. How did I have a daughter like this? I do not know.
I do know that she has been so healing for me as a woman and as a mother. I have come to recognize the import of these traits in this world. I understand and appreciate that the world needs girls like her and the world needs girls like me. I believe both are essential in this world.
The birth of my daughter has helped me realize the great power women can hold. How important it is that we support each other, understand each other, and encourage each other to let our unique paths unfold.
I am so excited for you to have a daughter. I hope she will be as healing for you as my daughter was for me. I know that she is very lucky to have you as a mother.
Caroline: I LOVE your thoughts on the bishop confessional. I have never thought about going in with them or calling the bishop beforehand. I guess a lot would depend on the bishop serving at the time and on my child’s personality. I love our bishop right now and would trust him, but there are some I would not.
In general, I question everything that is said. I am that person. I also teach my kids it is okay if they disagree. They do not need to agree with everything spoken in church. They have the right and the responsibility to pray over their beliefs. When truth is spoken, the spirit will testify. Period. The church position held does not give anyone the right to remove free agency or personal revelation.
Bonnie: I appreciate your comments as well. Sometimes it is hard being a questioning woman in this church. Years ago, I was very angry with my mother. I felt that she did not understand me and would never be understood and I disowned her.
Five years later, our relationship is stronger than ever. I have great respect and love for her. I know that she has respect and love for me. Even though she still does not understand my intense reactions to things, she knows that my intentions are good. I realize now it was just as difficult for my mother to have a daughter like me. We have now found great joy in what the other offers.
Although all relationships are different, if I could offer one piece of advice it would be to just listen. Don’t try to fix. Don’t try to minimize or explain away what she is feeling. Many times we have heard all the pat arguments and they do nothing to salve the hurt and confusion that we feel. I have found there are NO good answers to some of my questions. Just try to understand. Good luck to you and your daughter.
fear not, ladies.
living up to our greatest gal potential means we have been born to bust open the ceiling after it’s been cracked in about 18 million places.
then, we kick ass.
teach your daugthers this.
have fun doing it.
recently i have been faced with the same questions, on the opposite end–i have a 7 month old son, and a husband who has chosen to…”leave”….parts, i guess, of the church. i have never wondered these things until he brought them up.
how do you continue to go, having the questions that you have? feeling the hurt that you do? i have found myself almost hiding from church, from my bishop (who isn’t really looking for me anyway).
thank you for posting your heartfelt feelings. it makes me feel so much less alone in this. it seems to me that there are so many more women like us, who have questions, who have been hurt and pushed aside by doctrine.
Thanks for your post, mraynes. I share your concerns, although for me they’re less real since (so far) my wife and I just have boys. I’ve thought, though, that girls would be much more difficult to raise well. Boys don’t have to face the 1000 (conflicting) voices telling them that they’re inadequate if they don’t believe this or submit to that or look like the other.
Good luck with your daughter. Like many other of the commenters, I believe you and your husband will be wonderful parents to your daughter. If any parents can help a girl navigate the minefield of Mormonism, you all can.
Regarding answering kids’ questions about things you may not have answers for, I remember a commenter named Obi-Wan once making a suggestion I really liked during a discussion at FMH. (Sorry, I don’t recall when it was or I would link to it.) He suggested bringing up different perspectives by telling kids “Some people think…” I know that sounds trivially simple, but I’ve done that a lot with my kids. They ask about something that’s potentially difficult and I’ll tell them “some people think X” and “some people think Y.” Inevitably, they’ll ask what I think, and I don’t shy away from telling them, even when it’s a church topic and what I believe is totally unorthodox. At least I’ve also made sure to tell them that other people in church believe something different. Anyway, just a thought.
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This breaks my heart. I have had all of the same questions, concerns, fears, and experiences. I don’t want children of my own, but back when I was going to have them anyways… I was so afraid I might have a daughter… I was so afraid I would be expected to send her to church when church hurt me so much.
Thank you for writing this.
[…] Twelve days before your birth I wondered if I would be sacrificing you on the altar of my desire to be Mormon. I knew that remaining Mormon would mean that you would be confronted with the pain of being a woman in this church, even if you do not feel it as acutely as I do. Over the almost six years since I wrote that post I have documented the little “paper cuts” that you have experienced. Each one has broken my heart but you have met them with strength, determination and thoughtfulness. You are an amazing little girl. […]