The religious dynamic of the Romneys’ Leave It To Beaver lifestyle has been largely lost on the partisans making hay out of the latest flare-up in the mommy wars, which was sparked by a Democratic strategist charging that Ann “has never actually worked a day in her life.” But while much of the debate has centered on class — with liberals casting full-time motherhood as a luxury for the rich, and conservatives hoping working-class women will identify with her — the fact is that even if Mitt were a middle-class schoolteacher, there’s a good chance Ann still would have foregone a career.
That’s because for many Latter-day Saint women, staying at home to raise children is less a lifestyle choice than religious one — a divinely-appreciated sacrifice that brings with it blessings, empowerment, and spiritual prestige.
These doctrinally-defined gender roles aren’t entirely unique — they’ve been preached by various sects for centuries — but Mormons have proven uniquely unwilling to bend them to fit modern times. The Church took heat in the ’70s for waging a high-profile campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment; and even today, Mormon women remain twice as likely to be homemakers as non-Mormons, regardless of income levels. [Emphasis mine — RD]
Here’s what the late Mormon prophet Ezra Taft Benson once said:
Do not use the reasoning of the world, such as, “We’ll wait until we can better afford having children, until we are more secure, until John has completed his education, until he has a better paying job, until we have a larger home, until we’ve obtained a few of the material conveniences,” and on and on.
This is the reasoning of the world and is not pleasing in the sight of God… Do not curtail the number of your children for personal or selfish reasons. Material possessions, social convenience, and so-called professional advantages are nothing compared to a righteous posterity. In the eternal perspective, children–not possessions, not position, not prestige–are our greatest jewels.
Here is the most important point from the Buzzfeed article:
Haglund said this determined focus on motherhood has built within Mormonism a mom-friendly infrastructure that allows families without the Romneys’ car-elevator-level wealth to manage to survive on a single income.
“In many places, very few women are at home during the day and even fewer women in their 20s have kids, so the Mormon ward becomes the hub of playgroups, babysitting co-ops, and other kinds of social interaction for young mothers,” said Haglund. “The shared sense that what they are doing is righteous, as well as unpopular, gives meaning to long and tedious days with infants and toddlers, and provides company in what can be an excruciatingly lonely endeavor.”
Benedict Option stuff, for sure. I saw the same dynamic play out in our homeschooling co-op circle in Philadelphia. Some families were better able to afford to have mom at home teaching the kids than others, but there were some families in our schooling program who were making a huge financial sacrifice to have mom at home. I know too that the open scorn these women, including my wife, sometimes got from other women was a real burden to carry. It was always so strange to me to hear or read of non-homeschooling, working moms assuming that stay-at-home moms, whether homeschooling or not, were judging them. I never once heard a negative comment from any stay-at-home mom about working moms; in fact, the only time I heard the subject came up is when one of the stay-at-homes had to deal with a nasty comment from another woman (often a member of the extended family) about the choices they had made, or a comment about how difficult it is to be countercultural in this way. Being a stay-at-home mom committed to the home education of one’s children is such a demanding job that there’s just no time to sit around judging women who don’t follow that path. Again, men don’t really have to deal with this, at least not in my experience. The nastiness with which some women treat other women on this subject is something else.
I know it used to be otherwise. My great-grandmother told me about being one of the first women in our town to work outside the home, back during the Great Depression. She had to, to feed her family, but other women made snippy comments about that. Now, it’s the other way around.
Anyway, good on Mormon women and their husbands for walking the countercultural walk. My wife and I have never had to make a critical financial sacrifice to live out our professed values in this way, but I hope that if we are ever in that position, we will have the courage to do what the Mormons do.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention the thing I started this whole post to write about! Namely, how interesting it is that many people who would otherwise praise the privileging of anti-materialistic values — that is, sacrificing material well-being for a higher, humanistic goal — would never, ever give Mormon women and their families the benefit of the doubt here.