Several years ago my husband and I asked our children what they liked about the recent general conference. Our then-16-year-old daughter was elated. She said, "I loved it! I loved hearing inspired, intelligent prophets and leaders affirm motherhood." Then she told us that this was one of the disturbing anxieties in her life: "I just don't hear it from anyone--not at seminary, not in Young Women, and definitely not at school; nowhere except at home."
I don't know if her experience is similar to that of other young women, but I suspect it is. I know that for some time it has not been vogue for women to extol the virtues of motherhood or for young women to express the desires of their hearts to be mothers.
I particularly noticed this some time ago when I talked with a group of about 20 Laurels whom I had never met before. I asked them what their goals were. The first few mentioned educational goals such as getting a PhD; some said they would like to go on a mission--all worthy goals. Finally one girl timidly expressed the desire to be a mother. Then a few more girls talked about other goals. After one more girl mentioned motherhood, the rest of them joined in. But it was quite courageous for those first two girls to admit they wanted to be mothers. And this was in a very safe setting.
Besides the fact that admitting this goal may set a girl up for ridicule, it may also set her up for feeling like a failure. She knows she doesn't have complete control over achieving this goal, which may make her feel vulnerable in stating it. It is also a goal that requires great unselfishness; it may require setting aside other more glamorous goals. I am sensitive to the many issues facing our young women, but I still feel that I must teach eternal principles.
I would like to affirm motherhood, to talk about the newest phrase in our Young Women theme: "be prepared to strengthen home and family." I will address five things we as parents and leaders must do for our young women.
1. We must teach young women how to strengthen their current homes and families.
All families, from the best to the most troubled, are in need of strengthening. Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, "If we think other families don't have any difficulties or any problems, we just don't know them well enough." We need to encourage girls to turn to their mothers and fathers not only to receive help but to give help.
Several of our general board members grew up in homes with parents who were less active in the Church. One of them had a wise Young Women leader who counseled her to be with her family when they did recreational things on Sunday but to maintain her personal standards. So if they went to a swimming club, she would go with them to visit with them, but she herself would not go swimming. She was able to build a tender relationship with her family.
I know a young woman who ruefully saw her brother associating with the wrong group of friends. After praying fervently for him one night, she followed an impression to pick him up from the party he was attending. She drove around with him for some time just talking to him about who he was as a member of their family and who he was as a member of Heavenly Father's family and of his responsibility to honor those identities. He was able to turn things around in his life, partially because of the love of his sister.
Youth often feel lonely or isolated either socially or spiritually. Friendships and close ties with their brothers and sisters are the best antidote. One teenager was rejected by a group of girls at her school. Her brothers and sisters eased her sorrow by including her in their activities and giving her extra doses of love.
All these are examples of young women who strengthened their homes and families. Serving families is a way of covenant keeping, and covenant keeping reaps the promised blessing of having the Spirit in our lives. We must help our young women begin where they are, in whatever kind of family they are in, to strengthen their homes and families.
2. We must prepare young women with skills, both temporal and spiritual, that will bless their future homes.
I believe that one way we can arm our girls spiritually is to help them develop temporal skills or talents. We know that to the Lord all things are spiritual (see D&C 29:34).
Homemaking skills are becoming a lost art. I worry about this. When we lose the homemakers in a society, we create an emotional homelessness much like street homelessness, with similar problems of despair, drugs, immorality, and lack of self-worth. In a publication called The Family in America, Bryce Christensen writes that the number of homeless people on the street "does not begin to reveal the scope of homelessness in America. For since when did the word home signify merely physical shelter, or homelessness merely the lack of such shelter? ... Home [signifies] not only shelter, but also emotional commitment, security, and belonging. Home has connoted not just a necessary roof and warm radiator, but a place sanctified by the abiding ties of wedlock, parenthood, and family obligation; a place demanding sacrifice and devotion, but promising loving care and warm acceptance."
So we must teach homemaking skills, including practical ones such as cooking, sewing, budgeting, and beautifying. We must let young women know that homemaking skills are honorable and can help them spiritually as well as temporally. Making a home appealing physically will encourage loved ones to want to be there and will help create the kind of atmosphere that is conducive to the Spirit.
Sunday lessons, Mutual, and Personal Progress are all programs that provide times and ways to teach these necessary lessons. I think of my own experience as a Laurel adviser. The young women in my stewardship had one year until they would be out in the world on their own. I asked them what they needed to know to be ready for that independence. From their list of needs--balancing a checkbook, applying for colleges and jobs, cooking something besides cookies, and so forth--we planned our Mutual activities. I no longer had any problems with attendance, because we were preparing skills the young women needed to fulfill their important future roles. I could see that in the process of learning temporal skills, some spiritual skills were developing simultaneously. There was more genuine friendship and concern for one another. Mothers told me that the spiritual tenor of their homes improved as the young women shared some of their newfound skills.
This is what we as parents and leaders must do. We must help young women develop practical and spiritual skills that will bless their future homes.
3. We must inspire young women to want to be wonderful wives, mothers, and homemakers.
The two most powerful tools we have to inspire our young women are our examples and our sincere words.
I've seen many inspirational Young Women leaders who exemplify living their roles with nobility and joy. I remember the powerful example of my Laurel adviser, who was faithful in rearing her children in the Church even though her husband was less active. I know a young woman whose parents weren't active in the Church. She was impressionable and teachable and learned well from the examples of her leaders. She learned how to fast and how to hold family home evening by participating with her teachers in these activities.
My best and most consistent example in learning the joys of homemaking and mothering was my own mother. She told me many times every day how much she treasured being a mother and homemaker, and then she lived those words in every action. She sang as she folded laundry; she exulted over the clean smell in a freshly scrubbed bathroom; she taught me how to read and write, sew and cook, love and serve. Because she emanated the Spirit and the fruits of love, joy, peace, meekness, long-suffering, and temperance, I felt it, and I knew I wanted the same things in my life (see Gal. 5:22-23). Her example continues to teach me daily.
I want all of you to know the great joy I feel in being a mother, wife, and homemaker. We should express our joy often through our words, actions, and countenances.
4. We must help young women have the courage to face a world that is desecrating families and family values.
It has been alarming recently to feel the full fury of Satan's attack on families. Alternative lifestyles, abortion, cohabitation, divorce, immorality, and violence are issues that are screaming in our faces at every turn.
Even though I feel alarm, I do not feel fear. Fear is the opposite of faith. Paul told Timothy that "God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7).
I feel faith in Jesus Christ and in His restored gospel upon the earth. I feel empowered by the truths of the gospel succinctly stated in the proclamation on the family. It takes a stand on each of the issues I just mentioned, as well as others. For example:
Alternative lifestyles: "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. ...
"... We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife."
Abortion: "We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God's eternal plan."
Cohabitation: "Marriage between man and woman is essential to [God's] eternal plan."
Divorce: "Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children."
Immorality: "We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity ... will one day stand accountable before God."
Violence: "We warn that individuals who ... abuse spouse or offspring ... will one day stand accountable before God."
Not only do I feel strengthened by these truths, I feel loved by a wise and all- knowing Father in Heaven, who has blessed us with prophets and apostles to guide this Church. If our young women can know of His love, if they can have the truths of the gospel embedded in their hearts, they will not fear. With strong testimonies of the gospel and a firm knowledge of eternal doctrines, our young women will have the courage to face a world that is desecrating families.
5. We must emphasize to young women the eternal responsibility and privilege of motherhood and help them understand that each of them will make a home and influence children, whether or not they have the opportunity to have children in this life.
President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) talked about the influence of strong women of God upon the world: "Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different--in happy ways--from the women of the world."
We are distinct and different in happy ways because we know who we are eternally. We are all divinely appointed to these womanly roles of mothering and nurturing.
My cousin Carrie was a sterling example of a single sister who was a happy, generous, loving woman, blessing all with whom she associated. She was killed in an automobile accident when she was in her late 30s, but her final act of goodness prior to her untimely death was finishing scrapbooks for each of her nieces and nephews. She was fulfilling her mission to the degree that she could within her opportunities.
Now a word to you wonderful Young Women leaders. I hope the Spirit will help you know how to simplify--by that I mean to spend your valuable time on the important things. Teach principles and doctrines. Give love. Be examples. Make your teaching appealing and as simple as possible.
While what we as leaders are doing with young women now is crucial to saving this world, what we are doing with our eternal callings is of even greater importance. We also carry a mantle for our callings as wives, mothers, and homemakers. We need to call upon the Lord for His Spirit to be with us in these eternal roles. Our homes may be our last and only place of refuge, as our prophets are prophesying. I am pleading with you to be exemplary leaders but not to neglect your home responsibilities.
How significant are our roles as parents! How crucial are our roles as leaders! How imperative that we properly train the future righteous women of God! I know this work we are engaged in is His work, and I am grateful for the wonderful privilege we all have to be His instruments.