Mormon Motherhood: Spiritual Buzzkill

I’ve been thinking lately about how interesting it is that Mormon church leaders place such high priority on getting married and having children.  I mean, if you’re a Mormon girl, you know from a very young age that your primary mission in life is to get married, become a mom, and LOVE IT!  (P.S. If you have time, be a good person, too!)

This advice feels off to me because of the effect my children have had on my spiritual life.  Things started going downhill right after Kennedy was born and got exponentially worse with the birth of each subsequent child.  No longer could I sit in church and actually LISTEN to anything anyone was saying.  Instead, I had to do one or more of the following: nurse the baby (in the smelly “mother’s lounge,” where too many moms sit and gossip), take the baby/toddler out to change his/her diaper, take the squawking baby or the noisy/wiggly toddler out because he/she was being disruptive, referee fights, dole out Goldfish or Cheerios, hand out “quiet books,” you get the picture.  [Note: Mormons don’t believe in “cry rooms” and the nursery is not open during the main church service, so it’s all kids, all the time.]

Occasionally, Brent would say, “That was a really good talk” and I would look at him, totally befuddled, because I had not heard a single word anyone had said (how could I? how did he?).

And those were the few times Brent was actually there with us during the Sunday services.

Most of the time he was off gallivanting about, doing what Mormon men do on Sundays—giving talks in other congregations, attending meetings, etc.—while the womenfolk take care of the babes.  The low point (or pinnacle, depending upon how snarky I’m feeling) of this ridiculous situation occurred on the first Sunday of a new year when our kids were approximately 10 months, 4, and 7.  Brent was serving on the high council (which is a group of 12 men who are in charge of a stake).  He got an email inviting (and by “inviting,” I really mean “telling”) him to attend a special testimony meeting—just for the high councilmen—that would take place at the same time as the regular meeting that the rest of us would be attending with our children.

I did not receive this piece of news very well.  Brent agreed that it was ridiculous, but like so many other things, we just swallowed it.  So I sat in the regular family testimony meeting and tussled with our three kids who intermittently fought, tussled, cried, yelled, and/or needed to be fed and diaper-changed and shushed repeatedly.  All the while, I was imagining Brent sitting quietly around a rectangular board room table with 12-15 of his buddies, alternating back and forth between peaceful contemplation and quiet discussion of their faith.

By the time the meeting was over, I was exasperated.  When he emerged from his meeting unscathed, he laughed (because he knew it was cringe-worthy-bad) and said, “Actually, it was a really nice meeting.”  I didn’t laugh (because I knew it was cringe-worthy-bad) and said, “Umm, yeah, I guess it would be nice to sit in a room for 70 minutes with no kids and quietly think about religious stuff.”

And that’s when I realized that Mormon moms (due to both biology and the all-male lay clergy that runs our church)—are essentially forced to check out of participation in our main church services (during which we partake of the sacrament, a ritual we consider sacred) for years while our children are young.  I wince as I watch moms take crying infants out of the chapel with their older children (often stairstepped by just a year or maybe two) following along behind while her husband (if he’s a lay leader of the congregation) sits up at the front of the chapel and watches—oddly disconnected from his wife’s struggles.  And rare is the Mormon woman who demands that her husband come down from his special seat and actually participate in parenting.  It’s like so many other things:  it’s just not done.

I’m kind of a Mormon slacker because I only had three children, but my kids pretty much took me out of meaningful participation in our sacrament meeting services for a good ten years.  Even now, more than 15 years into the whole parenting thing, the kids still fight and need to be shushed and just generally disrupt my thinking throughout the service.

So yeah, it makes no sense for our church leaders to encourage women to get married and have children quickly—not in terms of nurturing our spiritual lives, at least.

But someone’s gotta take care of those babies . . . right?