All of this, which is commonly known about Mormons, might lead to misconceptions about how a Mormon woman really lives and how she feels about her life. In reality, the structure of the church and of the Mormon family gives Mormon women extraordinary opportunities to grow and develop.
It’s important to understand that motherhood is treated with great honor within the church. A woman putting aside a career to raise a family is treated with respect, and this alone makes it different than it is for women outside the church, who, while making this same noble choice, is looked down on.
Mormon women know it’s considered honorable to be paid to teach or care for the children of others. How is it, then, less honorable to care for your own, the children God specifically gave you to care for?
Good parenting and the effective running of a home require tremendous skills. It requires organization, planning, managerial, and technical skills. It requires an understanding of child development, child psychology, education, and management. While Mormon women may not major in parenting (although they are very strongly urged to obtain a college degree), they learn to study on their own. In addition, the church offers classes in parenting and home management, and a strong support system for those who need mentoring. On any Sunday, you might find an older woman advising a younger mother who is puzzled about an aspect of her job.
While baking cookies may be part of the job, good Mormon mothers also teach their children the gospel, and also teach practical skills needed for survival and academic skills needed for school. They are full-time teachers, not merely child-minders.
Gordon B. Hinckley, a previous church president, said, “[The] ability and willingness properly to rear children, the gift to love, and eagerness … to express it in soul development, make motherhood the noblest office or calling in the world. She who can paint a masterpiece or write a book that will influence millions deserves the admiration and the plaudits of mankind; but she who rears successfully a family of healthy, beautiful sons and daughters, whose influence will be felt through generations to come, … deserves the highest honor that man can give, and the choicest blessings of God” (Gospel Ideals , 453-54).
Because Mormons teach that families can last forever, the responsibility to create a loving home has far-reaching consequences, and this is what makes it an extraordinary responsibility. Mormon families have an eternal significance.
However, women are also given, within the church, opportunities to learn skills beyond those learned in the home. Unlike many conservative churches, women hold high level leadership positions, and may also speak, pray, and teach within the church.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is the real name of the church, is a lay church. This means there is no paid ministry. Even though certain jobs are reserved only for men, other jobs are reserved only for women, and since there is no pay, no one is being deprived of a career, only unpaid volunteer work.
The bishop, who is like a minister, is always a man. However, he serves as a volunteer, doing his church work while maintaining a career and a family. In all honesty, most women really have no desire or time to take on this high level of volunteer work! Despite this, there is an organization in the church called Relief Society. This is an auxiliary organization just for the women. Women run it, and the president works closely with the bishop to meet the needs of the women of the church. While she reports to a bishop, she has a high degree of autonomy. The Relief Society also oversees some programs which serve men, as well as women. For instance, the literacy program is run by the Relief Society. Both men and women can learn to read through this program, and both men and women can teach in the program, but it must be overseen by a woman. Only women run the Primary children’s organization, although men can teach in it, and the organization for the teenage girls. Many other programs are run by either men or women. Women in the church have many leadership opportunities and even lead men in some of them. The organizations which can be run by women are run by them even at the international level, giving the General President of the Relief Society responsibility for more people than the president of the largest corporation.
Because the bishop is a volunteer, he does not give the sermon each week. Any member of the church over the age of twelve might be asked to speak, and each meeting usually has four speakers. Women and girls give the sermons as often as men do, and also lead the congregation in prayer, as do the men.
The wide variety of church volunteer positions give women opportunities to develop skills that translate well in the career world. Women are encouraged to get a college degree and to be prepared for a career should one be needed. This degree, coupled with the training and experience gained in church and community work, makes a Mormon woman a force to be reckoned with in any society.