Beauty, Health, and Weight Loss

7 May

I try to stay out of the debate about women’s bodies.  I think that the amount of time people spend talking about women’s bodies is damaging in and of itself.  But I decided to post on this topic because in the past few weeks I have seen two things that I think actually have the potential to be valuable to the discussion, if you can call it that.  I say “potential” because I don’t think that the images I’ve seen have necessarily been interpreted correctly.

There seem to be a majority of people (regardless of what they look like) who think that beauty is being skinny.  Period.  Skinny is a prerequisite for beauty.  There are men who call women fat and ugly on comment boards online if they dare post a picture that does not conform to a twig-like figure.  There are women who beat themselves up for being fat no matter what size they are.  And I’m going to guess that 99% of women, or maybe even more, walk around ranking themselves against other women when it comes to size.  I know I’ve done it, and I’ve heard women make specific comments about weight to other women.  For example, I was pregnant with a few other women at the same time.  We were all due within a month of each other.  I absolutely did not look good during my pregnancy.  I knew it.  I was swollen from head to toe and looked like Two-Face because I had Bell’s Palsy.  At one of the many baby showers, one friend shared with the group that our friend who was two weeks further along than I looked like she had swallowed a basketball and she only knew one other woman who looked like that when pregnant.  (FYI… that other woman wasn’t me.)   That “compliment” borne out of insecurity about her own body shape cut me.  People could tell me I “looked great!” all they wanted, but rest assured, the woman who has to go buy a new pair of shoes because her feet are so swollen knows that she doesn’t “look great,” especially when it only takes a teeny step of logic to understand she’s being told she does not look like she swallowed a basketball.

In contrast to the majority who believe that skinny = beautiful, there’s a substantial minority that push the idea that everyone looks, “amazing.”  You could be 300 pounds and these people want to tell you that you look amazing.  You can walk out of the house in sweats you’ve been wearing for three days and greasy skin, and they will tell you that you look amazing.  Let’s get real: people on their way to the Met Gala are more attractive than those of us in pajama pants and no make-up at Wal-Mart.  It’s just a fact.  Don’t mess with reality.   When people lie and say you look amazing when you know you don’t, it hurts almost as much as when people say you look fat or ugly.

Both the majority view that skinny = beautiful, and the substantial minority view that everyone looks “UH-MAZING” are damaging.  In fact, this whole focus on unrealistic ideals of beauty is damaging.  The focus should be health.  Research shows that health and weight are not perfectly correlated.  But the fact that health and weight are not perfectly correlated does not mean we should entirely avoid the scale.  Or that we should not have goals to fit back into our pre-pregnancy jeans.  Or whatever.  Make goals.  Look good.  Be confident.  But in all of this, remember that realistic expectations build confidence.  Remember Maria Kang and her “What’s Your Excuse” bit?  Stories and pictures like that send a warped view of reality.  Not everyone has the same type of body, and the absence of stretch marks and saggy skin does not make you beautiful nor healthy.  Which is why two pictures that have been posted recently have brought me great comfort.

A woman named Kari posted a picture of her post-baby belly on Beauty Redefined.  The caption says she’s a runner, and if she had her shirt down, I don’t think you’d ever know her belly looked the way it does.  This picture did a lot for my confidence because it proved that there’s at least one other person out there who is running and working out who still carries the scars of childbirth.  This picture made me feel like it’s okay to focus on how far and fast I can run and how much I can lift and bend instead of what my stomach looks like.  Isn’t that the real goal?  For me, it is.

The second picture has gone viral on Brooke, Not on a Diet.  This woman has lost something like 170 pounds and she posted a picture of herself in a bikini.  Comments ranged from “eww… gross” (and more insulting versions of that sentiment) to “you look amazing in a bikini!”  I think we will come to better terms with the concept of beauty when we can say that objectively, oodles of excess skin are not beautiful in and of themselves (that person probably shouldn’t wear a bikini to the beach), but the weight loss that caused the excess skin was a good good move.  And a person who has a flabby stomach can be beautiful (sometimes more beautiful than the person with a six pack).

My parents always told us we were beautiful.  Always.  And we were.  Even when we were chubby teenagers, we were beautiful (and looking back at old pictures, I realize I wasn’t nearly as chubby as I felt then).  My parents have also encouraged us in every physical endeavor.  I hope that my husband and I are creating an environment in our home that places value on what our bodies can accomplish rather than whether or not they meet the physical ideals thrown at us from every direction.  We can shower daily, brush our hair, eat right, exercise, and still not meet the world’s definition of beauty, but we need to meet our own definition of beauty.  I think that can only happen when we understand reality.  Reality is stretchmarks.  Reality is meat on your bones.  Reality is choosing between make-up and eating lunch some days.  And I’m trying to be good with that.

To Be a Servant Leader

15 Apr

On Saturday, I celebrated the culmination of eight months of hard work.  After hundreds of hours of preparation, show time came for the “Law and Leadership” conference of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society.  The conference took place in Crystal City, Virginia, my old neighborhood that is spitting distance from Washington D.C.  As I sat in traffic on I-95 North on Sunday, trying to make my way out of Maryland, I reflected that the weekend had been one that changed me.  So much had happened during and immediately before the conference that on Thursday, April 10th I had been a different Megan than I was sitting in my car on Sunday, April 13th.

 

I learned a lot at the conference.  Not ethereal, hardly applicable theories regarding leadership, but instead concrete, chart-my-course, do-this-next sorts of things.  I have planned events before—big events ranging from C-SPAN-covered panel discussions to dinners for fifty-plus people.  But planning a six-hour conference 240 miles from home with over seventy attendees, twenty-five speakers, and two meals was a new thing for me.  Doing it while starting my own business and being the full-time caregiver for my infant, now-toddler, son added yet another layer of challenge.

 

Make no mistake, I had endless amounts of help.  My sister flew from California to watch my son and a solid team of more than ten committee members and their friends contacted speakers, set-up chairs and tables, purchased speaker gifts, and took the initiative to complete a multitude of other tasks that needed to be done.  I already knew that any event requires a great deal of effort from a large number of people, and I wasn’t surprised to have that lesson reinforced throughout the planning and execution of this conference.

 

I was surprised, however, that so many things went wrong at the last minute.  There wasn’t time for anything to go wrong.  Every minute was necessary to make final preparations.  So, I found myself negotiating multiple catering contracts, delegating things I thought I would be able to handle on my own, and thinking of creative solutions for last-minute problems.  I learned that the most important outcome in a negotiation is to get the job done right so others don’t realize there was a problem in the first place.  I learned not to settle for a refund when what I really needed was dessert for 75 people before noon.  Money is not the solution to all problems, especially when you are working under an unbudging deadline.

 

As I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning to meet those unbudging deadlines, I learned that it wasn’t the hours I resented when I worked at a law firm.  Staying up especially late to get the job done doesn’t actually bother me.  Our keynote speaker quoted The Life of Bees, saying, “You are best at doing the things you love most.”  I love writing, speaking, and perhaps most importantly, having ownership of my work.  In many ways it was easy to stay up until 2:00 a.m. writing opening remarks on the topic of leadership.

 

At the conference, I learned why I cared about putting it together in the first place.  We had a panel about Leadership in Religious Liberty with three excellent speakers and a powerful moderator.   The speakers emphasized the importance of civil communication.  One of them stated, “empathy is the beginning of dialogue.”  I had the opportunity to connect with one of the speakers and set up the possibility of working together again in the future.  That possibility has helped to answer my “what now?” question now that the conference is over and I have some free time again.

 

At the end of the conference, after the tables and chair were put away and the carpet vacuumed, I realized I didn’t feel a huge need to rush home to my baby.  I learned that wanting to spend time with my child, at home, was only part of why I didn’t want to continue work as a litigation associate.  The more salient reason was that I couldn’t justify being apart from my child to do something for which I lacked passion.  If I am going to be away “at work,” I need that work to be rejuvenating for me, and the law firm lacked that.  When I am doing something I love, being on the road, away from my husband, and leaving my son for 10 hours doesn’t feel so heart-wrenching.  That said, I couldn’t do it every day or even every month.  There were some days leading up to the conference when I felt like I wasn’t playing or reading with my son enough.  It helped to know that it would only be temporary.  My mom reminded me that sometimes in life “you just have to bring it.”  Busy times come and go, but the busy times will always be busy.  I like the balance I’ve found in my current situation and appreciate the people who have made it possible (including my husband, my parents, my sister, and our regular sitter).

 

The final lesson I will share (there are many many more) is about being a servant leader.  As I prepared for my opening remarks, my dad and I talked about what I should emphasize.  He brought up the parable of the talents from the New Testament and suggested I focus on how each of us has a responsibility to use and magnify the talents we have been given.  His words were inspiring to me personally and encouraged me throughout the planning process.  The most important use of our talents is to serve others.  Christ was the epitome of a servant leader.  He exemplified Chinua Achebe’s description: “When I have talked about the need for a servant leader, I have emphasized an individual that is well prepared—educationally, morally and otherwise—who wants to serve (in the deepest definition of the word); someone who sees the ascendancy to leadership as an anointment by the people and holds the work to be highly important, if not sacred.”

 

About an hour before I got in my car to head home, I witnessed a beautiful act of servant leadership.  In church, as the sacramental bread was being blessed, nine men stood at the sacrament table waiting to pass the bread to the congregation.  Usually there are only three or six, but I figured that this was a large congregation, so maybe they needed more.  As the bread was passed though, I watched three teenage triplets slowly make their way around the chapel.  Their eyes were half-open, irises rolled back.  Behind each of them was a man in his early thirties, gently walking behind and holding the young man’s shoulder.

 

The effect was profound.  Leadership is about compassion.  A leader is not the person who stands in front of everyone proclaiming that they have the best set of physical, mental, and emotional skills to complete the job as quickly and correctly as possible.  Leadership is about being a servant leader—someone who acts on the capacity to help others rise to the occasion, whether that is fighting for a noble cause or sharing the gift of Christ’s Atonement with a group of church-goers.

Protesting Computerized Scoring of Written Examinations

2 Apr

Every day I receive 3 or more e-mails from ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) and affiliates with updates about developments in education.  In my research and study of the different aspects of Common Core and other changes happening in our current education system, I have to say that I’m actually happy to hear that certain math concepts are being taught in multiple ways to reach students with various learning styles.  In speaking with current teachers, it sounds like many students need someone to reach out to them with a different approach because old ways of teaching were leaving many students behind.  Math is just one area where too many students are left behind.  Writing is another.

For ten years, I have been significantly involved in assisting students with their writing in various capacities.  At both Brigham Young University and the Georgetown University Law Center, I worked as a Senior Writing Fellow, took classes in writing pedagogy (the study of how we teach writing), and participated in continuing education seminars both as an instructor and a student.  I’ve been an editor for three academic journals, and have been published multiple times.  As a lawyer, I took writing classes from legal writing guru, Bryan Garner.  And most recently, I’ve started my own business essentially as a writing tutor, in the context of helping students craft cogent and interesting personal essays for graduate school and college admissions.  In ten years of professional writing and tutoring, I have personally witnessed a writing crisis throughout our nation.

Despite years of education, many people don’t know how to write.  And the way we teach writing needs to be improved.  So, it scares me when I read articles titled, “Why Computer-Scored Essays Could Eliminate the Need for Writing Tests.”  I am making the assumption that the reasons we give any type of examination are to 1) provide feedback that 2) informs and 3) improves the learning process.  I realize that the people may disagree with this assumption, but if you agree, read on.  A computer-scored essay can provide a score, but when it comes to writing, a score in and of itself is ineffective feedback for a student.  A number or a letter does not tell a student what needs to be improved, and more importantly does not tell a student how to improve.  Teaching writing must include a substantial human element.

I unabashedly love and advocate the use of patterns and algorithms, if you will, as a component of teaching people how to write well.  The five paragraph essay, thesis statement generators, and the IRAC model are all excellent tools along a journey to clear writing.  A computer may be able to detect how well a student employs these tools.  But truly good writing goes far beyond these models.  Good writing is about nuance.  Writing is much more an art than a science (and that’s coming from someone who has an engineering degree).  Computers can likely be programmed to recognize the difference between Malcolm Gladwell and Peggy Noonan, but only a discerning human being can sit down with a student and point out why both are good writers, what is worth emulating, how they employ methods of good writing, and where the student can take liberties and develop their own style.

The ability to write is the ability to communicate, to resonate with the mind and soul of other humans.  It is also the ability to think clearly and rationally.  Indeed, the ability to write is one of those critical pieces of our humanity.  We cannot afford to automate the writing process.  Students should never receive a piece of their written work with a mere score written at the top or bottom.  That type of “feedback” does not facilitate the learning process.  If we want to help students communicate more effectively and improve their style, we need to communicate more effectively with them.  In writing, in person, and with a great deal of un-automated contemplation.

LDS Women and the Priesthood

14 Mar

After a few months, I’m back on my blog.  No guarantees on how frequently I will write, or if I will even keep it public. I’m perpetually conflicted at the thought of sharing anything personal on the internet, but recently the need to write, and write for at least a hypothetical audience outweighs the concerns of sharing a piece of me.

The Semi-Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is coming up in a couple weeks, and as usual, major media outlets have found something they can portray as controversial to report on, bringing attention to the Church.  The New York Times reported on March 6, 2014 that Church leaders are receiving a “flood of requests” from LDS women, specifically regarding the ordination of women to the priesthood.  The New York Times has interviewed exclusively a small minority of women in the Church who are asking for their religious role to change.  Indeed, the 1300 or so signatures obtained by the Ordain Women movement is a mere trickle when compared to the overwhelming faith and strength of millions of LDS women across the globe.  While some bloggers have offered humorous and/or mocking responses to the article, I want to say in all seriousness that as a faithful Mormon woman, I am generally happy with my role in the Church, and I am grateful for the abundance of blessings and modes of service my Heavenly Father has given me.  A recent Pew poll shows I am not alone.  In fact, 90 percent of LDS females in the United States do not seek female ordination.

Why would a woman with a law degree from a top-14 school who made her way through the male-dominated Chemical Engineering program at BYU ever be satisfied without the priesthood?  Why would a woman who has worked at the world’s largest energy company and one of the top ten law firms in the nation feel comfortable in a supposedly “male-dominated” church?  Because I see the wealth of opportunities I have for service and personal and intellectual development that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides for me in ways that the other programs and organizations do not.

Trust me, I’m not blind.  I look at the “stand” during General Conference and other church meetings and see more men than women.  But I also have a personal conviction that the leaders of the Church, both male and female, are God’s servants.  How can you have any sort of meaningful discussion about Church doctrine if you don’t start with the premise that this is God’s church and the leaders of the Church actually implement God’s will?  The voice of a prophet is the same as the voice of God–I believe prophets are the mouthpiece for our Heavenly Father on the Earth.  And I know from personal experience that I fare better when I listen to what my Heavenly Father has to say and do what He asks.  That’s true whether it’s personal revelation directed specifically toward me or revelation He has revealed for the whole Church and the entire world.  So, if the God of the universe has asked me to do something other than hold the priesthood, I know I need to take a hard look at what that other thing is and get to work on it.

Elder M. Russell Ballard asked in an address last August at Brigham Young University, “Why are men ordained to priesthood offices and not women?  President Gordon B. Hinckley explained that it was the Lord, not man, ‘who designated that men in His Church should hold the priesthood’ and that it was also the Lord who endowed women with ‘capabilities to round out this great and marvelous organization, which is the Church and kingdom of God.’ When all is said and done, the Lord has not revealed why He has organized His Church as He has.” (internal citations omitted)

What are these capabilities women have described by President Hinckley?  Without a doubt, one of them is the ability to be mothers.  A common counterargument I’ve heard is that “motherhood is not equivalent to the priesthood, it’s equivalent to fatherhood.”  It’s important to note that even in quotes and talks where it is suggested that the female corollary of the priesthood is motherhood, there are many other examples of female capabilities that complement the priesthood.  I additionally want to point out that trying to make a one-to-one correlation between any two roles in the Church is impossible, and it is particularly impossible with motherhood and fatherhood.  Put simply, the two are not equivalent.

Mothers, whether they work outside the home or not, almost universally spend a far greater amount of time child-rearing than fathers.  Why doesn’t it bother me that I wasn’t able to participate in the actual blessing of my son last year?  Because already I have spent thousands more hours nurturing and teaching him than his father has.  It would be impossible for my husband to catch up.  When I think of truly legitimate hurt resulting from differing gender responsibilities, it’s when my husband expresses his sadness that he doesn’t get to spend more time with our son because he works full-time to provide for our family, and I work only part-time in addition to my full-time parenting and household responsibilities.  I am not bothered that my husband, father, father-in-law, brother, and brother-in-law were able to participate in a beautiful ceremony, and on this rare occasion I  had the privilege of watching.  My husband gave my son his name.  I get to teach my son what his name means.  Motherhood and fatherhood are vastly different.

But motherhood is not the only responsibility given to women in the Church.  Women may not be given the priesthood, but they are given endless opportunities to preach during Church meetings, teach all ages of members from 18-months to adults, and serve constantly.  I worry that people who read the New York Times and don’t take the time to discuss what they read with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will likely fail to realize that Mormon women are an active presence that permeates the entire Church.  As a member of the Relief Society (the oldest and largest women’s organization in the world), I regularly get requests to help others, both people in my local congregation and people in the community.

When the tragic shooting occurred about an hour from us at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown just before Christmas is 2012, it was the Relief Society that pulled together to collect angel Christmas tree ornaments to send to the families there.  When Hurricane Sandy struck in October 2012, the Relief Society worked with the local priesthood leaders to support clean-up efforts.  When a new baby is born, a woman called to be the Compassionate Service Leader in our congregation sends an e-mail to all members of the Relief Society and asks who can help bring a meal.  When a woman in my congregation had major eye surgery, two women assigned to be her “visiting teachers” organized a schedule of rides, in-home visits, and meals.  Women from the Relief Society went to this woman’s home every day to talk to her as she laid face-down on a massage table for weeks while her eye healed.  Yes, all of these people in need were able to receive priesthood blessings, but the women of the Relief Society were equally, if not more so, critical in providing support, comfort, and relief.  It’s in our name; it’s what we do.

I could go on with examples, but I’m afraid you’ll stop reading.  So I invite my readers to leave a comment and share how they have been able to serve in unique ways as women in the Church, or how they have been served as women in the Church.  As an intelligent, accomplished, Mormon woman, I want to say that I do not feel oppressed.  The Church is not perfect, and I’ve worked with some imperfect people in it.  I’ve been one of those imperfect people.  But I do have a testimony that God leads this Church.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the restored gospel of Christ on the Earth, and I have faith in its teachings.

Lumping

12 Dec

Tuesday will mark one year since the morning I woke up unable to brush my teeth.  Toothpaste and saliva dribbled out of my mouth as my cheek refused to budge into proper spitting formation.  I had never before heard of anyone going to bed with a fully functioning face and waking up with increasing paralysis.  I turned to Google, which led me to WebMD and the Mayo Clinic.  What is Bell’s Palsy?  No one really knows.  But as far as risk factors go, I only had one: I was pregnant.  Yep, that natural, often-glorified, human condition called pregnancy.

How ironic that today, during the month in which I am reminded of the Christmas treats I couldn’t eat (because pregnancy also naturally made me diabetic), the doctor’s offices I couldn’t drive to (because pregnancy naturally made my eye not blink enough to see the road clearly), and the food I had to eat but couldn’t chew (because of the combination of the aforementioned symptoms of pregnancy), I received a brochure from my local hospital advertising their midwife practice.  The brochure states: “Although you may be worried about receiving prenatal care from a [certified nurse-midwife], it’s important to remember that pregnancy is not a disease but a normal human process.”  A year later this label still makes me cringe.

Yes, pregnancy is a normal human process.  For some women it is normal the way daffodils and tulips blooming every spring is normal.  But for others, pregnancy is normal the way the bubonic plague was normal in the Middle Ages.  Everyone knew somebody with the bubonic plague, just like everyone knows someone who is pregnant.  However “normal” pregnancy is, it is certainly different for different people.  And so I plead, can we please stop lumping “pregnancy” into one big category?

I’m going to call out some offenders.  I have never heard of epidural advocacy groups or websites devoted to promoting Cesarean births.  But there does seem to be a full-force movement promoting home births, midwifery, and un-medicated births.  Advocates for these groups often tout that c-sections are primarily the result of “unnecessary” medical intervention and the greed of doctors who are paid extra for surgery. These people love to paint a picture of the “horrors” of c-sections, being sure to note that c-sections are unnatural (as are epidurals, which “often” lead to “emergency” c-sections).   The “Laugh and Learn About Childbirth” video class I watched (a relatively neutral video, I might add) did such a good job of convincing me that c-sections were rare, most often unnecessary, and generally to be avoided that I didn’t watch the c-section segment of the class.

And then it was too late.  I couldn’t see a T.V. screen anyway, and all that really mattered was that they get the baby out of me.  It’s been that way for some of my friends too–women whose blood pressure gets so high their lives are at risk for the sole reason that they are pregnant, women who break out in hives because they are pregnant, and many other reasons.  To cure these maladies, doctors induce labor, or in certain situations, plan a c-section.  Women benefit from being truly informed and knowing that pregnancy causes our bodies to do weird things (this is universal), and that some of these weird things are threatening to the life of the mother or baby (these are not universal).  Because you can’t know going into pregnancy or even going into your third trimester what weird things pregnancy will do to your body, it is important to be informed and to be flexible (assuming you want everyone to be alive after the birth).

People choose different ways of dealing with illness and pain.  When people get headaches, some take medicine for it, others do not.  When women labor, some get epidurals, others do not.  There is no way to measure how a person feels the pain they are experiencing, so let’s let each woman make those choices for herself, and let’s give her the benefit of having a medical practitioner (doctor or midwife or someone else with equivalent knowledge) provide their expertise to assist in making those decisions.  Each woman’s experience is different even when the pregnancy symptoms sound the same.  So it’s a logical fallacy to say pregnancy is “normal” therefore you categorically don’t need to see a doctor.

Sweet Dreams

20 Nov

January 12, 2013 n 1

Most nights it is hard to believe that this little boy ever fell asleep in our arms.  In fact, for the first two and half months, he would only fall asleep in our arms.  I spent several nights on the couch after hours of crying (both his and mine) because putting him down was too risky.  Better to get a little uncomfortable sleep holding my baby on the couch than none at all.  Those ten weeks were the longest of my life.  I had record breakdowns in both frequency and magnitude.  When he started falling asleep on his own, I welcomed my freedom.

These days we follow a relatively rigid sleep schedule, dictated predominantly by our little guy.  At about ten weeks we decided to go to dinner at the California Pizza Kitchen a few blocks from our apartment.  We walked there thinking we would have plenty of time to get back before the nightly ordeal ensued.  But at around 9pm, on our walk home, Baby M fell asleep.  We were shocked.  This was supposed to be the beginning of four hours of screaming, not anything peaceful.  Within a couple weeks he begged for a 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. bedtime in his carseat without the comfort of my arms, and thus ended our nightly lengthy cuddles.

Almost to my disappointment, the words of our pediatrician came true too soon: “Even if you hold him while he falls asleep now, it’s not like he will still be falling asleep in your lap when he’s going off to college.”  Now, only rarely do I get the chance to hold my little boy while he falls asleep.  It’s funny how quickly the months started to pass as soon as we all got sleep at night.  He is only eleven months old, but the little baby who once fit in the crook of my elbow now sprawls across my lap, hanging off both the arm of the chair and my legs.  He nuzzles my armpit, trying to get comfortable.  And he still makes the same faces he did as a sleepy newborn–solemn breathing punctuated with sighs and smiles and then almost laughter.

Nothing could convince me to relive this year’s January and February, but when we have the occasional bad night at our house, I relish the opportunity to cuddle with my boy and watch his expressions in the darkness.  Not only will he not need to fall asleep in my lap when he goes to college, I can hardly get him to sit still in my lap for 60 seconds as a toddler.  I love the sweet exceptions.

Real Mormon Housewife

12 Nov

Last week Seth Adam Smith was published on Huffington Post with his piece, “Marriage Isn’t For You.”  Being Mormon, my Facebook newsfeed beat the Huffington Post.  I had seen Smith’s blog linked no less than 10 times before it went truly viral, and it bothered me.  It didn’t take long for people to start responding to the blatant flaws with Smith’s  reasoning and the detriment his ideology poses when applied without qualification to women in particular.  A lot of these responses were well thought-out and raised important points, but some people also looked at Smith’s post and said, “Well there you have it–everything that’s wrong with the Mormon Church and the subjugation of women for the past thousands of years.”  That bothered me too.

I’m going to come out and say it.  I’m a real Mormon housewife.  I gave up a fast-track career in Manhattan to stay home with my son.  I make sacrifices to support my husband in his career, including working part-time on top of my full-time mom job in order for our family to have the money to pay for his career development.  I go longer than I want to without meals because feeding my son is more important.  I listen to babbling about “buhs” (books) and babbling about finance.  My idea of a “break” is going to the grocery store or getting a flu shot by myself.  But this is what I want the world to know: I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

I never thought for a second that getting married was about making my husband happy or that getting married was for him.  Not for a second.  I love him.  I want him to be happy, but I realize his happiness is mainly in his control.  I got married for me.  I got married because I looked down the road fifty years (or really even five) and realized that marriage and motherhood was the path that would lead me to happiness and fulfillment in the long run.  Sure, I sacrifice the ease of going to the bathroom by myself or showering before Baby M’s first nap.  And yes, I’ve lived in the New York metropolitan area far longer than I would have chosen to on my own because my husband’s job is here.  But primarily, I’m in this for me, and because I’m in this for me I’m able to be in this for my husband and child.

I get something out of marriage even if it may not always seem like much.  Marriage is an investment–you have to put in if you want to take something out, and like saving money, you often need to put in for a long time before you can ever make a withdrawal. We get that.  One spouse can’t deplete the resources of the marriage, whether those are financial or emotional resources.  Being selfish and overdrawing on the marriage will make it fizzle.  But sustaining yourself is not being selfish.

That’s what I hate about the idea that “Marriage Isn’t For You.”  For a marriage to work there has to be room for two individuals in the marriage.  Yes.  You become one.  But that has never meant giving up your individuality.  Individuality is not selfishness.  Needing food, sleep, rest, personal fulfillment, and rejuvenation is not selfishness.  Marriage is balancing the sometimes competing needs of two or more individuals.  It requires give and take to work in the long run.

I want to dispel the notion that Mormon women are told they need to be constant givers, that they need to be submissive to their husbands, that they need to be followers.  The majority of real Mormon housewives that I know are powerful, strong women.  They support their husbands and their families, but they also stand up for themselves.  Before we got married, I told my husband that I would be the “Queen of All Things Domestic.”  I choose what everyone in the family eats, I assign chores when he gets home from work, and I am the gatekeeper of the schedules (not to mention that I also get to veto him painting the walls bright orange in our apartment).  It works for us.  Other things will work for other families, but nothing in Mormon doctrine says that women should be instructed what to do in every trivial or important matter.

I am a real Mormon housewife who gets it that life is not just about her, but I also get it that life, marriage, and family has to be about me enough for me to stay invested.  There has to be space in my marriage for me to be who I’ve been forever.  Thankfully, my husband has never tried to change me or dictate who I should be and what I should do.  (When he does suggest I do something I don’t want to do, he sure hears about it.)  And hopefully my husband feels similarly.  I try to support him in his dreams on all levels.  I’m his cheerleader and counselor, just like he is mine.

To say that marriage isn’t for you is such a narrow view that excludes any semblance of balance, perspective, and rationale.  But to categorically dismiss the necessity that marriage be a partnership devoid of selfishness is an equally narrow perspective.  Reality is more complicated and takes some trial and error, which is why we need to be patient with each other and realize that our spouses are imperfect like we are but deserve to be treated like treasures.

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