Erica Palmer and Quint Randle, Department of Communications
The week after I graduated with my bachelor’s degree I gave birth to my first child. The idea of being a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) appealed to me, but I wasn’t ready to give up my professional goals and aspirations to be a SAHM just because that is the typical path of the LDS woman. Amid the rise in feminism and push for women to break away from traditional roles and achieve more in the workplace, and the LDS Church’s increased emphasis on the divinity of the family and motherhood, I knew I couldn’t be the only young LDS woman seeking to balance professional goals and aspirations with the sacred role of mother and nurturer. My project was an investigation into the lifestyle, motives, and difficulties of the LDS working mother that I put together into a website for my capstone project for the BYU journalism program.
As my sources I used a mixture of actors (those directly involved in the issue), experts, and data.
For the actors, I pulled from a pool of over 1,000 women on a Facebook discussion group for Aspiring Mormon Women (AMW), a non-profit that supports LDS women seeking professional success. Because I wanted to focus on the anomaly, my sources were all women who worked outside the home, but they came from a variety of places and situations. Some had kids and some didn’t; some worked because they wanted to and others for necessity.
For the experts, I went to a family therapist and life coach with experience working with women and a counselor at BYU. I also looked at BYU data on how women view their degrees, data on LDS women, and national data on working women and the effect it has on their children.
I wrote a main article on how these LDS women balanced their professional lives with home life. I learned that each of them had experienced some sort of discrimination or criticism for their decision to work outside the home, whether from church leaders, neighbors, or men they dated, but it was never
insurmountable. Many of them said their decision to work outside the home also made them a better mother.
My original article was published on the front page of the Women’s Edition of BYU’s newspaper The Universe, which ran during the week of Women’s Conference, April 26—May 2, 2016.
I also came across another unique situation: some women grow up planning on and preparing for the “Mormon dream” of getting married young and being a SAHM, but then never get those opportunities. This is very difficult for these women, who are left feeling worthless when they cannot be mothers. I explored this issue in a followup article.
I am still in the process of finalizing a website which includes my two articles along with several multimedia components, including video interviews, quotes from millennial mothers and a timeline of notable mothers throughout history. Once this website is completed and the domain name registered, I plan to publish it through various avenues including Aspiring Mormon Women, my personal blog and social
media accounts, the database of BYU communications students’ capstone projects, and perhaps other news outlets. Since working on this project, AMW also invited me to speak at a panel discussing aspirational shame and profiled me as their student spotlight, which has given me further opportunity to increase the reach of my project.
The article running front page in The Universe during Women’s Conference was particularly eventful because the participants of Women’s Conference often have a more traditional view of women and their place in society, as many of them come from older generations. I learned that there were a couple
complaints lodged against the paper that week that the article was a little too progressive. I took that as a sign of success that I had produced something that would cause people to ask questions about the traditional views of LDS women and decide for themselves if there was room for some shift in perspective.
I interviewed two prominent women in the Utah LDS sphere of influence, (Jeanette Bennett, owner/editor of Utah Valley Magazine and Julie de Azavedo Hanks, author and life coach), and when they shared the article on Facebook its influence was extended to many women all over the country.
The feedback I received from Naomi Watkins, founder of Aspiring Mormon Women, was positive as well. I hope to be able to influence and enlighten more younger women who are going through this difficult decision process after I officially publish the website.
My hope for this project is that it will help LDS women all over who value motherhood as a divine calling realize that there are options when it comes to the work-life balance. I hope to shed some light on the often looked-down upon decision of some LDS women to work outside the home. But rather than trying to promote one decision over the other, I hope my project helps people see that whatever decision a woman makes, it is the right decision for her if she makes it for the right reasons. I’ve learned that whether I choose to work part time while I raise kids, work full time, or be a stay-at-home mom, the most important thing for me to know is that there are more ways than one to be a good, righteous mother.