Mormon Women and Perfectionism

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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.