Pairing Off: Insight into education, careers and womanhood

Published: Thursday, Jan. 13 2011 7:30 a.m. MST

We read in The Family: A Proclamation to the World that mothers are "primarily responsible for the nurture of their children." From the time we're 12, young women weekly recite a theme encouraging them to acquire virtues that will "strengthen home and family."

Despite the emphasis The LDS Church places on motherhood and family, I frequently hear complaints from men that it's hard to find a woman to date who isn't career-focused to the detriment of her desire to be a mother.

To be honest, I'm always a bit stunned when this comes up because most of my fingers on one hand would be unnecessary to count the number of Latter-day Saint women I've met who wouldn't drop or rearrange everything if a viable marriage prospect came along.

This complaint is almost always backed up by the same misconception: Women cannot possibly plan to make family their chief priority while still enjoying secular academics, being driven to succeed in school and their careers, taking pleasure in their occupation or desiring to serve the community in any way that would take them outside the home.

There is some ground for the fear that women's careers are becoming more significant than ever before. I recently caught wind of Hanna Rosin's TED speech and Atlantic article in which she pointed out that women today comprise a larger proportion of college graduates than men. As we've shifted toward a service economy, women have gradually begun to dominate the overall workforce, management positions and 13 of the coming decade's 15 fastest-growing professions (aside from janitor and computer programmer), according to one source.

Some would point to these trends as a cause for the widespread delay and decline of marriage among young people in the United States. But statistical evidence suggests otherwise: For the first time ever, young adults who have earned a bachelor's degree are significantly more likely to marry by 40 than their less-educated counterparts. Add the fact that women with a college degree are less than half as likely to get a divorce within the first 10 years of marriage than those who stopped at high school, and we have strong evidence that women's education is actually a boon to the institution of marriage.

Instead of alarming, I found this national data encouraging and in harmony with modern LDS revelation. It makes sense to me that women who follow President Gordon B. Hinckley's counsel to "get all the education [they] can" would be more likely to succeed in all areas of life, including marriage.

But if women choose to pursue an education, wouldn't it be most prudent for them to choose a field that directly applies to marriage and child-rearing?

There are two ways I can answer that. First, I am always surprised at the gospel and day-to-day applications present in every academic subject. Consider the experiences of our current apostles: President Dieter F. Uchtdorf teaches the gospel in terms of airplanes, Elder Russell M. Nelson in terms of heart surgery and President Thomas S. Monson in terms of courier pigeons. If they can apply these fields to our lives, we shouldn't be surprised that women are able to apply their field of study to nurturing and teaching children.

Second, modern prophets have encouraged women to develop their unique gifts and talents both to provide for themselves, if need be, and to apply our gifts and talents in the service of others. Just because a woman enjoys and prospers at providing for herself does not mean she would not be willing to start a new career as a wife and mother if the opportunity came up.

Additionally, I have not yet met a career-focused Latter-day Saint woman who would not be willing to follow President James E. Faust's counsel to postpone or alter plans for a career in favor of raising a family.

I am constantly grateful to live in the 21st century where people are freer than ever before to work and serve from within the home.

Back in the "I Love Lucy" era, a homemaker's service was often limited to baking, painting, cross-stitching and making quilts. But, with the advent of modern technology, the Internet and other newfangled gadgets, such is not the case today! We women each enjoy and excel at different things, and that's not only OK — it's what God intended

I have been impressed with the ways my Relief Society sisters plan to apply their academic fields within their homes. I've heard women explain their plans to serve their families and communities using such diverse fields as medicine, business, computer programming, human development, teaching, economics, biology, broadcast media and, yes, baking. Each of these women was conscious that she was capable of doing great things but that the greatest of all would be within the walls of her own home.

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