Mormon Women and Perfectionism

Hey this is Bonnie, finally making another post.  I have felt the need to share the woman’s perspective on the pressures we get from the Mormon faith to be perfect.  Just to be fair, this is my own personal experience, though I can assure you that many mormon women will easily relate.

As a teenager growing up, I had all the same temptations most kids have.  As a Mormon kid, I was a lot harder on myself for even thinking about breaking any of the rules.  I will admit here that it’s common that a lot of teenagers pull off a good double life between their church life and school/social life.  I was one of those kids.  My father was a disciplinarian that used the “You do it because I said so” quote all the time!  It drove all of us crazy!  What kid wouldn’t want to rebel against that!  So I tried just about everything: going out on dates alone with a guy before I turned 16 years old, kissing, sneaking out to hang with friends, going to parties, drinking, smoking, making out with boys, marijuana, giving up my virginity to my first love.  I really did love the guy, we were friends and dated over the course of 3 years.  My parents didn’t like how long we had been together, but I kept my good girl face up, so they didn’t suspect anything, I think.

Eventually, I felt so guilty for breaking such a serious commandment in the face of God; I broke my parent’s trust, my sunday school teachers trust, my bishops trust… I finally made the decision to come clean and confess my sins.  I wasn’t allowed to take sacrament or communion for a period of time.  I was so ashamed that I didn’t even feel worthy to pray or even go to church.  It was kind of embarrassing for me and for my parents too.  I don’t know if my situation was part of the rumor mill among the women in the ward, we were in a small ward (congregation).  I truly felt that I repented of my sin completely, but I still always felt a bit of shame for my sin.  In the mormon world, we are supposed to save ourselves till marriage.  I was being interviewed for my mission that I was choosing to go on where I had to bring up all my past serious sins to make sure I truly repented of them.  I was in a room with a “worthy Priesthood holder” talking about all these private things that had happened years ago.  Crazy, right???

As I got older I found out that Mormon guys of marrying age look down on women who have already lost their virginity. There was one guy I dated from Provo, Utah that couldn’t get over my past.  He even felt he was receiving revelation for me.   Apparently the problem was one of two things: I didn’t respect my future husband enough to save myself for him or I was damaged goods.  I remember when Barry and I were dating and it was getting serious I knew I needed to tell him my moral indiscretion as a teenager to see if he still wanted to date me.  Thankfully, he didn’t judge me for it and it didn’t sway his decision to continue dating me.

We blissfully got married in the Mormon Houston Temple, with or without those who were worthy enough to come inside the temple with us.  It’s hard to look back now and see how self righteous we were.  Anyway, early on in our marriage, we realized that I had depression.  I didn’t even work at that time, why the hell was I feeling depressed.  Oh well, that’s part of life these days.  Thankfully, Barry didn’t tell me to just suck it up like some husbands I’ve seen do to their wives.  Instead he was a very understanding husband and we agreed that I needed to get some help.

As I got better, I wanted us to be a great Mormon couple who studied their scriptures together every day and prayed together every night.  Serve as much as we could in our ward.  The scripture study and praying together wasn’t easy; however, we did serve in our ward a lot and “magnified our callings.”  We were always a little less uptight about the strictness of the Mormon rules which was more noticeable when we would hangout with other young married mormon couples.  Things like watching rated-R movies, cussing and such.

Every Sunday in church we would be taught how important it was to do these things and conform to the Mormon way of doing things in order to have a good marriage.  I started to get upset with Barry for not trying harder to be a better spiritual leader in our home, which is the man’s role in mormon culture.

Then onto motherhood.  Holy hell, I had no idea how much more would be expected of me.  It didn’t help matters that I struggled from depression still, at times.  In my last post, I mentioned a little about how ashamed I felt for not loving being pregnant, bringing new life into the world.  Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be a mother, I just didn’t know it would be this hard for me.  I also mentioned in the previous post about when I became bipolar and thought I was sick because I wasn’t faithful enough.  Other women in my ward made it look so easy and wonderful.  Which, come to find out, the fake smiles and perfect life is a cover most mormon women use.  When ever I did open up about my kids driving me crazy, I would get sympathy and humorous validation, but I realized I was one of those moms who talked more about how hard parenting was while the other moms talked about how much they love it.

Being able to raise, teach and nurture a child born into the Lords kingdom on earth is a great honor. As mothers in the church, we are expected and urged to stay home because our single most important role in this life is to raise faithful, obedient members who will serve and continue to build up the Kingdom of God here on earth.  If our children turn out rebellious and unfaithful, we are shamed as mothers for not fulfilling our purpose in life.  The way we accomplish this great task is by showing unconditional love, speaking softly to our children, reading the scriptures and praying over everything, everyday with them. Having family home evening every Monday night, as a family, to teach the kids more about the gospel and church.  This list can go on but since I couldn’t even do those first few things, I’m not gonna keep going.  I always felt I wasn’t doing good enough, that my own lack of faith was the reason I wasn’t doing the mother thing well.  I would get so discouraged with myself and feel so guilty for not fulfilling my duties to their fullest that the Lord wasn’t going to help me until I was worthy enough. At times I didn’t even feel worthy to pray, especially since praying wasn’t working for me anyway. We are taught that the Lord will help us if we pray in true faith and only after we have done ALL that we can.

My mother was a working mom and got judged for it.  She always told me that she hopes that I can have the life she couldn’t and stay home with my kids.  To make matters worse for her, all four of us kids rebelled, two didn’t return to the church and now I have left the church also.   In the LDS Church, we are taught that if a child turns away from “The Church,” the parents are responsible to be faithful enough to bring them back.  I can’t imagine the guilt my mom has fought all her life, as a parent, to let go of the fact that she is not fully responsible for the fact that her kids made their own decisions that weren’t the right ones according to the church.  I love my mom so much!  She stood up to the judgmental comments and looks she would get.  She is an amazing woman.

Now having left the church, its still been hard to change my frame of mind and accept that I’m a good mother who makes mistakes just like everyone else.  I’m not going to beat myself up over it anymore.  I actually feel more motivated to be a good mom because my children deserve it, not because my religion demands it.  I still believe in God and am grateful for the blessings in my life.  I’m also not going to cut myself short of the credit I should get for trying to raise my kids to the best of MY ABILITY!  The LDS church says things like, “Just do the best you can and God will help the rest of the way,” or, “A family that prays together, stays together,” or “We don’t expect perfectionism;” yet they still expect your children to come out great and wonderful members of the church.  I can’t express the freedom I now feel having let go of the religious expectations put on me as to how my children are supposed to be.  I’m so happy to know that Barry and I have prevented Samantha from growing up feeling like she has only one purpose in life and that she won’t ever be a good enough mother and prevented Jordan from becoming a man who expects his wife to stay home and raise his children the right way.  I’m all for stay at home mom’s, but only if it’s by choice.  We are all better off making our own family values and morals when we are not pressured to meet a religion’s unreachable goal of perfectionism and Godhood.

I am grateful for my past, I wouldn’t be who I am today with out it.  Just as my parents did for me, I am trying to give my kids a better life than I had.  I respect everyone’s choice to find happiness in their own way, this is mine.

It’s in the imperfections that we find compassion, fulfilling relationships, and a more interesting life.

Love you all,

Bonnie

I’ve attached a link to an interesting article of a study done on LDS (Mormon) Women and Depression – UVU Professor’s Study on LDS Women and Depression.

14 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing, Bonnie! Although we’ve never met, I can totally relate and understand the pressure that is put upon people of faith in any organized religion. I’ve never been Morman, but I did spend most of my childhood in a very deeply religious church–Protestant Reformed. We had our own set of unbreakable rules that I broke over and over, ashamed that my parents were noticeably ostricized for failing to “control my sinful behavior.” I do believe in God, I just don’t believe in any certain organized religion as being the absolute “right” church. I applaud you and Barry for exposing some of the very real truths women experience when trying to be that “perfect” parishioner. You sound like an incredibly awesome mom, whose children are lucky to have you! God bless you and Barry, and keep up the great posts! 🙂

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    1. Thanks Kelly!!! I just read your comment to Bonnie and she loved it. It’s great that people like you, who were not even Mormon, can relate. Organized religion can be a good thing but it can also cause great harm. It’s important for people to recognize it and not follow blindly; choosing their own path, whatever that may be. Thank you for the support.

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  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Bonnie. I think more and more women need to speak up, if for no other reason than so all the other women who are struggling can realize they’re not alone! I can totally relate to what you said about not feeling worthy enough to pray. That was something I struggled with a lot. I felt like I wasn’t even good enough to deserve to talk to god. It’s nice being free of the perfectionism of the church. I’m so glad you’re free too, and that it’s making your life easier and happier.

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  3. Thank you, Miss Bonnie! I definitely can relate. I recently left the Mormon church with ny husband and children. I always felt like a second class citizen because I did not fit the mold. I always wanted to go to college and accomplish things as an adult. If marriage and children came along, fine, but it was never my ultimate goal. I was never socially accepted because I am a strong independent woman who did not need a man. I was old and ancient when I finally married (30). I am now a working mom. I love my babies but I know I would not be truly happy if I was a stay at home mom. I am so glad to be out of the church and not be judged for the choices I made in my life. In fact, outside Mormonism, my life is quite normal!

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  4. Bonnie- YES! Totally agree. I felt SO MUCH pressure in Mormonism to be perfect and have perfect children. I still am recovering from that and get anxiety at times from not being as stellar a parent as I’d like to be or “Should” be. I try to remember there is no “should”. I just gotta do my best with what I got.

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  5. Bonnie, your experience is very much like my own. Thank you for sharing it. There are so many deep facets to our stories that would take a novel to explain, but you really highlighted some important ones well!

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  6. God bless your journey! Thank you for sharing, having also come out of Mormonism I enjoyed your bold honesty. Jesus heals what religion and guilt destroys.

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  7. Just to give a different viewpoint than the other comments…I am a strong, independent, educated, opinionated, business owning Mormon woman (I too, hate being pregnant) and I have never felt like the LDS Church was demanding perfection from me. In fact, I have felt quite the opposite. My understanding from the things I’ve been taught is that we try our best, not that we be perfect. The Atonement steps in where I falter. I take great comfort in that. I think that some of the cultural aspects (i.e. some people) might tend to be over the top when it comes to motherhood (perfectly decorated birthday parties with coordinating goodie baskets for each kid, FHE lessons that take 4 hours of prep, cutting, and gluing, homes that rival a Pottery Barn catalog), but that has nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, merely the skewed priorities of imperfect people. And you can find people who put on a great facade in any walk of life, religious or not (look at politicians!!). After years as an educator, watching students whose mothers did and did not stay at home, I made the conscious choice to stay at home and raise my children. During that time, I have also started two successful businesses and work from home part time. Also because I choose to. I have never felt judged for my decisions and am sorry for those that have.

    I think it’s poignant to note that the very first family you meet in the Book of Mormon was not the “ideal family”. Lehi was a prophet, yet he had sons that did not follow his example and made poor choices. Never once did I read anything about Heavenly Father berating Lehi for his parenting skills. Rather, he followed the counsel to give advice to his children and continue to love them. It never says that they came back to righteousness or reformed their ways, nor do the scriptures say that if only Lehi would have been a little more faithful, they would have. He was not responsible for Laman and Lemuel exercising their agency. He taught them what was right (what we have been asked to do) and then they made choices. As a parent and watching my in laws deal with similar issues, I am grateful for the examples that are set out all over the scriptures of parents that had to deal with difficult and/or rebellious children. None of them were perfect and I imagine that Mosiah, Lehi, Isaac, and so many others yelled at their kids every so often, but also prayed for them.

    Just my two cents. Please don’t attack me. 🙂

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    1. There won’t be any attacking. No worries. We welcome all points of view, especially when those opinions are expressed in the wonderful manner you did, Beth. The “Perfectionism” culture and doctrine hits every person differently. It can particularly hurt those with mental illness. It’s great that you have had a wonderful experience in the LDS Church and have found peace and happiness. We wish you well and hope you’ll continue to visit and read our story.

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    2. I too want to say that I am Mormon and have been through a lot of difficulties in my life. I have been through two divorces from Mormon men who abused and cheated on me, I have been judged by people in my ward, shunned when I was single, and had bishops who were totally out of line and said cruel things to me that they had no business saying. But I never felt like it was the Lord who was doing this to me. The quote that “The Lord’s church is perfect, not the people in it” is so true and I had to remind myself of that. I am a strong, independent woman. I think for myself. I don’t live the religion to the letter of the law. I don’t do everything perfectly. I strive to. I would like to, but nobody does. People can pretend like they do, but they’re the ones “Living in fear of the religion.” They’ve created this impossible standard that they can’t even live up to, but they feel like they have to make it look like they do at whatever cost. I feel very comfortable speaking out about how I live my life even though it’s FAR from perfect. I do the best I can.

      I had a friend over for lunch the other day and when the topic turned to religion she slumped in her seat and said, “It’s impossible to do everything perfect, so I just don’t try at all.” That’s when I shared something with her – a revelation I received at my dear sweet friend’s funeral a couple of months ago. Her cousin spoke and in his talk he said, “Vickie wasn’t perfect, but she was on the right path. That’s all the Lord cares about. When you leave this earth, are you at least trying?” That’s when it hit me – the answer is so simple. Just have a desire in your heart to stay close to the Lord and do his will – not that of the Mormon religion – the Lord. Try every day in baby, baby steps to do what pleases Him. So many people say “It’s about pleasing yourself.” That’s the world’s way. I’ve tried that way twice in my life. If I’m being completely honest, I wasn’t happy. Not at all. I thought I was for a time. Anyway, I told my friend that I don’t go to church every Sunday, I don’t read my scriptures every day, I don’t hold Family Home Evening every Monday night, I don’t attend the temple regularly, and I don’t regularly keep the Sabbath day holy. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to. It means I haven’t made it a habit yet. But I want to make it a habit. And so I choose one thing a month and I make sure I do that one thing every day- no matter what. Sometimes I fail in that, but I just say, “Well, I’m gonna do it tomorrow!” It’s like dieting – you fall off the wagon, but you get back on. Doing one thing right a day is awesome! It feels good. I feel at peace. And I can honestly say that if I died today and met the Lord face to face, I would feel good about myself and my accomplishments because in spite of everything that’s happened to me and believe me, there’s a lot of bad stuff that’s happened to me besides what I mentioned above, I still love the Lord and I want to do His will and I’m fighting against all of the evil and distraction and doing the best that I personally can – even if it’s just one thing a day. My goal is to make each one of those things my habits. It’s going to take a lot of time and I may not achieve it in this lifetime, but I’m trying every single day and THAT is what matters.

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  8. Wonderfully put Beth and Kristin. I want to share these things with the utmost love and compassion without judgement. I am Mormon and I have questions and doubts, but my faith is stronger. I choose not to dwell on the minor and inconsequential things that do not pertain to my current growth and salvation. When I am ready The Lord will make them known unto me. During a time when I was inactive I was blessed to have the opportunity to hear President Gordon B Hinkley speak in Virginia (and I had periods of inactivity after also). The Spirit that I felt the moment he stepped into the room is a feeling I can not nor will EVER deny. With that being said I am not perfect nor do I expect perfection of anyone. My husband is not a member nor does he even believe in God or gods. That does not stop me from loving and appreciating him or him from loving me. As a former member of the military I have learned firsthand that the church is the same no matter where you go, but the people are different. Come to the Potsdam NY branch and feel the spirit of love and acceptance for who you ARE and not the “mistakes” you have made. I know this is The Lord’s church just made up of imperfect men and women learning how (and sometimes failing) to be more like Jesus Christ.

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  9. I totally hear you Bonnie. I was as faithful as a Mormon as you could get, but the pressure from the church, from family, LDS friends was far too much for me. I served a mission, came home, held 40 hour plus per week callings and still because I was single, I was never good enough for them. I was disgusted that the mainstream Mormon church in Utah and Idaho was nothing like the church I was supposedly selling overseas. If I would have known how far they’d go in bullying and controlling, I never would have attempted to recruit anyone into the church to begin with.

    Finally in 1994, I could not take it anymore and collapsed. I physically could not take the pressure from family/friends/church to be someone I was not. I was grown woman with her own mind and I was not interested in making my mother or her mother look good for attempting to control and brainwash me. My choices were to make myself happy and fulfilled, not grow a corporation. It was then that I started my investigation of the church. It was then I found out about all the fraud, JS’s many, many wives and his young, young wives. I discovered it all…even that “The Church of Jesus Christ” is merely a trademark. I thought…”no way, I was a member of a trademark?” So, when I took back my own power, my body was fine again. To this day I applaud my body and mind for waking me up. No one should have a child with the express intention to control it and force it to follow your religion. You are just asking for heartbreak if you do. I’m well into my 40’s now and have no relationship with my mother or her mother. They have told me they only want “Mormon’s” and don’t want me around the younger kids. Can’t have a gay, financially independent woman around kids who are supposed to be married and subservient to men.

    Thanks for this post.

    Lori

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  10. Hi Bonnie,
    Thank you for the post. I just broke up with my boyfriend who is a Mormon and he holds a prestigious role in his church. I’m a non-mormon. The first day I met my ex boyfriend I could sense that he doesn’t have respect for women and that he has this attitude that he’s perfect. But to my surprise he did everything that we “the gentiles” (as they call us) do. He smokes drinks heavily and has sex before marriage. Our relationship didn’t last long cause every time I made a mistake he would be judgmental and start labelling me calling me names. I said to him one day “we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,and that’s the reason why Jesus came to die for us. So that all our mistakes, blunders and shortcomings can be forgiven”. I could see that he doesnt understand what I was talking about.
    All in all what you have just shared I could identify with my ex boyfriend; treating me like I’m not good enough for him. And my spirit told me that the guy doesn’t see me as wife material for him because I already have two kids from previous relationships. But funny enough he has many kids from previous relationships. And I could tell that I’m just someone he’s having to pass time until he finds a perfect woman (Mormon woman) to marry. So I left him.

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