“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
In my Mormon ward in Northern Utah, there was only one correct answer to this question: “A mom!”
Whether you also wanted to be a doctor or writer or president of the United States was of secondary importance. We all knew that first came motherhood, and, if we could squeeze it in, then came a career.
I can’t count the number of Young Women’s lessons I sat through that treated marriage and childbearing as the end-all, be-all for Mormon women. Those of us who spoke about wanted to delay having children — or skip motherhood entirely — were at best condescendingly entertained because we’d “change our minds one day,” and at worst ridiculed and shamed for daring to think about what we wanted for our own lives rather than what the church wanted.
There are myriad quotes from church leaders backing up that sentiment, from George Albert Smith’s comment that the “most important of all the duties that have been laid upon the gentler sex, is the duty of bringing into the world and rearing, the children of our Heavenly Father” to the Proclamation’s assertion that “mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” And lest you be fooled by modern church leaders gaslighting people into believing we have always been at war with Eastasia, you can find a plethora of evidence in the current Institute manual for eternal marriage.
Here’s the thing: I think motherhood is beautiful. I’m in awe of all of the wonderful mothers out there who sacrifice so much for their families, and I respect every woman’s right to choose to have a family. What I don’t respect is the Mormon church’s attitude that motherhood is the only important thing a woman can choose to do with her life.
What about all the women who would love to have children, but can’t (which is a topic unto itself)? And what about all the women, myself included, to whom motherhood has never appealed?
I don’t remember every wanting kids. As a young child, I made my younger sister play school with me instead of house. (One thing I have always known about myself is that I’m a gigantic nerd.) As a young woman, I rolled my eyes at the church lessons about finding a worthy man to marry and bearing children. I really couldn’t have cared less, but I figured maybe that desire would kick in at some point.
It wasn’t until I received my patriarchal blessing as a 17-year-old incoming college freshman that I knew for sure it wouldn’t. Here’s the relevant part, which came right after I was told I’d find a “noble son of God” to marry:
To this union will come children. It will be your opportunity to raise a family, there to be a teacher.
My heart broke when I heard that line. I knew for a certainty what I think I had always known deep down, but have never put into words: I never, ever wanted kids. Not then, not after college, not after I got settled into my career. I had spent a good chunk of my teenage years helping with my brother, who was 11 years younger than I and whom I love with all my heart, so it’s not like I didn’t have a (tiny) inkling of what it would mean. I just knew it wasn’t for me.
Twelve years later, it’s still not for me. The only thing that has changed is that I no longer face the judgment and shame that comes with making a deeply personal choice against the judgment of church leadership. I feel so free.
If there’s one thing I wish I could tell every mom, would-be mom and never-wants-to-be-a-mom, it’s this: the decision to bring children into the world is something everyone deserves to make for themselves, and your decision is equally valid whether you decide to put motherhood before your career or the other way around, to work and raise children at the same time or to do one before the other. The beautiful thing about this life is that we’re all on a unique path. There’s more than one kind of beauty.
So, to all the girls and boys and non-binary peeps who didn’t want to parent: You are perfect just the way you are, and you don’t have to change for anyone but yourself. Write it on a Post-It note. Get it tattooed on your wrist. You shape your life into whatever you want it to be, and don’t look back.