The Affordability Crisis Hits LDS Homes

Natalie Brown recently completed a dissertation in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University that examines the relationship between homesickness and economic instability in nineteenth-century literature. She is currently guest editing an issue on the role of homes and houses in LDS culture for Irreantum, the literary journal of the Association for Mormon Letters. She encourages anyone interested in this topic to read the issue-specific guidelines and submit.

My life before the pandemic feels indistinguishable sometimes from the quarantine that followed. The pandemic exposed more than it created the preexisting cracks in my support network. I was already lonely and inadequately supported as an LDS mother of young children living in Colorado. Like many other families, we’d followed a job and found opportunity. That opportunity, however, came with the costs of living away from extended family and expensive housing that guaranteed my parents and siblings would not follow us.

Living away from family was not a wholly new situation to me. I’m a product of the Midwest, and my own parents raised me hundreds of miles from their families. My current situation, however, feels different from the one in which I grew up. While it’s easy to let nostalgia gloss the past, my parents had a ward with many families they could draw on for support and who actively mentored younger members. My parents could eventually afford luxuries like babysitters, lessons, and gym memberships that allowed them breaks from caretaking that today seem out of reach on any regular basis. In contrast, I find myself struggling with isolation as I stay home with children, as LDS women have long been encouraged to do. I’ve lost most of my local friends with young children in the last five years as families move in and out in search of cheaper housing and struggle to pay for things like preschool. The thing is, we are educated, middle-aged, and far from poor. Housing and childcare, however, are expensive. Which is another way of saying that affording a family today is tough.

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There and Back Again: A Blogger’s Tale

Four years ago, I sat in a cramped Manhattan apartment and set up my first blog, “Mormon Rhetoric.”  I started this blog in a moment of frustration.  I had recently married in the temple.  But what should have been a key spiritual moment instead led to a spiritual crisis. Unable to reconcile how I perceived the temple’s message about women with my personal beliefs, I wanted my questions to be heard.  The blog was short-lived.

I was soon invited to join By Common Consent.  I had never heard of the Bloggernaccle, and I initially didn’t understand the social nature of the blog.  I didn’t realize that community, not ideas, was what made the Bloggernaccle thrive.  But I learned.  Now, four years later, I’m retiring from the ranks of BCC permablogger so that new voices can be heard.  Before I go, I want to reflect on the key thing I’ve learned through the people here: I can’t make intellectual peace with Mormonism, but I can make emotional peace with Mormons. [Read more…]

Can a bishop be judge, counselor, and administrator?

Mormon bishops wear different hats: They are administrators of ward functions, personal counselors to their members, and judges in ecclesiastical issues.  The question for this post is whether it is possible for bishops to simultaneously fulfill each of these roles well. [Read more…]

Let Me Try that Again: Grandparents Take II

Yesterday, I wrote a bad post.  My apologies: It was my fault for framing a post in terms of “why don’t more Mormons adopt X model?”  I want to keep the comments closed because I think the post I wrote tends to narrow the conversation to debating the pros and cons of a certain model. I don’t want to repeat an Amy Chua Asian parent debate here! But since it isn’t really fair to dangle an intriguing topic and then close comments, I want to reframe part of the issue here:

Few of us live near extended family anymore.  What ways have you found to preserve those relationships?

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Stay-at-home grandparents

My Indian neighbors had a good life: Both were top executives at major corporations who frequently travelled to Europe, lived in an awesome house, AND had a wonderful child. Their secret? “Stay-at-home” grandparents.

Like many other Indian couples in the area, their parents had pushed them to achieve educational and career success. As they grew older, their parents helped them achieve these goals by caring for their children some days a week* so that both could continue to work. The relationship appeared to help everyone: The grandparents enjoyed being with family as they hit retirement; their children provided for them as they got older; grandchildren grew up  with extended family.  The parents did not abdicate their parenting: They set the house rules, managed homework, hired others to clean the house, etc..* [Read more…]

Are Mormon naming conventions useful?

As a graduate student, I could not figure out how to address my professors. Poised somewhere between the formal address used in college and the first-name basis of the working world, I resorted to simply not using their names. But it wasn’t until I became confident enough to use first names that I felt productive and began to take myself seriously. [Read more…]

Should tithing subsidize BYU?

Malcolm Gladwell recently ranked America’s best law schools when taking into account value for the dollar. Perhaps unsurprisingly, under this new rubric BYU ranked number two.  In the past, I’ve often noted BYU’s value with a sense of pride and admiration.  But this time, perhaps because I’m currently paying for another school, I began asking why: “Why is the tithing I pay subsidizing the costs of education for a small subset of Mormons?” [Read more…]

Do you believe in miracles…

In Mormon circles, people typically express the views that faith precedes miracles and that the truly righteous do not need miracles to develop their faith.  I want to argue  that this view overlooks the importance that miracles do and should play in our decisions to follow Christ.   [Read more…]

The apostasy that never was

Central to Mormonism is the story that truth was slowly lost after Christ came to earth.  An apostasy occurred, necessitating that the true church be restored by Joseph Smith in the last days.  This account, however, rests on the assumption that there ever was a moment when people understood the “truth.” [Read more…]

Turning Inward, Turning Away

In a recent post, I presented excerpts from a text that showed how the RS has evolved from an autonomous, economic organization to a correlated organization focused on inward spirituality and family.  A surprising consensus emerged in the comments–this transition was probably inevitable, not based on sexism. [Read more…]

Your Grandmother’s Relief Society

A few weeks ago, J. Stapley reported that the church was digitizing parts of its collection.  This post is the first in what I hope will be a series that presents excerpts of documents from this archive that I’ve enjoyed.

Around 1893, the Board of Lady Managers of the Columbia Exposition sent a call across the country seeking information about women’s charitable societies.  The National Women’s Relief Society responded by presenting the book “Charities and Philanthropies: Women’s Work in Utah” edited by Emmeline B. Wells. [Read more…]

Stumbling over my Morals

A speaker at school today argued that because it is hard to change people’s political ideas, it is better to discourage people who you disagree with from voting.  My initial thought: Very clever, and very wrong. [Read more…]

The conservative trump card

I want to discuss a phenomenon in church culture that I’m going to term the “conservative trump card.”  By this term, I’m referring to our tendency to acquiesce to the views of the most religiously “conservative” person in the room.  Since conservative is hard to define, I’ll give some examples I have come across in the last few weeks:

  • If one person is uncomfortable doing visiting teaching one month over lunch instead of at the home, it must be done at home.
  • If one person is uncomfortable having ward parties on the weekend of a fast Sunday, they can’t happen that weekend.
  • If one person is uncomfortable talking about feminist issues at church, they can’t be discussed.
  • If one person is uncomfortable with caffeinated soda, it can’t be served.
  • If one person disapproves of the Simpsons in class, no one else can feel comfortable admitting they’ve seen every episode. [Read more…]

Searching for the “priesthood line”

In General Conference, Dallin Oaks spoke of two-lines of communication, the personal line and the priesthood line, that find primary expression, respectively, in the home and the church.  For Oaks, the personal line is of “paramount importance in personal decisions and in the governance of the family.”  The priesthood line controls “those cooperative activities that are essential to accomplishing the Lord’s work,” or, in other words, the tasks essential to running of the Church.

To be sure, Oaks’ talk focuses on the need for both lines.  But what interests me most is his association of the personal with the home and the priesthood with the church.  At the same time that this association de-emphasizes the role of priesthood leadership in the home, it reaffirms the church as a space to be run by priesthood leaders.  While there is a certain logic to this formulation, the drawing of these different spheres also, I will suggest, points to why women need more education about the priesthood to fully participate in the church sphere. [Read more…]

Halloween on Sundays

With fall comes Halloween and, this year, the dilemma of whether to participate when it falls on a Sunday.

Growing up, my parents would graciously decline the birthday party invitations that we received when they were scheduled for a Sunday.  Many of these parties involved going to places, such a pizza parlors, that most Mormons would eschew on Sundays. But others were merely gatherings at homes.  Still, they got the same treatment.  I also remember Halloweens that fell on a Sunday.  Some members would not let their children participate and sponsored special Saturday Trick-or-Treats.  But my parents, it turns out, didn’t have an objection to trick-or-treating on Sunday.  More recently, I’ve been to wards where church activities were not allowed to be held on the Friday and Saturday before fast Sunday.  In other wards, this seems fine. [Read more…]

Keeping manuals up to date

Beginnings new recently discussed possible revisions to the Young Women’s manual and what commenters think should be included.  Some people suggested updating the lessons to deal with issues that current young women face, such as saturation with electronic media.  The prospect of updating these sorely out of date manuals is exciting and much needed.  But the problem, I think, is that unless we continue to update these manuals constantly, any new issues and anecdotes will also inevitably become dated.  [Note: I noticed after writing this post that commenters on the Beginnings new thread already made the same point! ] [Read more…]

Why placing the computer in the living room doesn’t work

When Mormon women are asked how they can protect their families from pornography, a common reply is that the computer should be placed in the center of the room.  The strategy is essentially that of Foucault’s panopticon.  The assumption seems to be that the best way to protect families from pornography is to live in a bubble.  But while placing a computer in the center of a room might have prevented children from going to certain websites ten years ago, we now live in the age of handheld devices. [Read more…]

Utah’s trendy baby names

My favorite site on the web is The Baby Name Wizard.  By Common Consent is number two.  Recently, they added a new feature that maps popular names in each state over the course of several decades.  The surprising result: Utah is often the state where baby name trends are incubated.  Check out Natalie, Madison, Jacob, and Jayden on the map. [Read more…]

Opportunity wards

When I think of cities, I think of places where people of various backgrounds and classes mix, thereby opening up opportunities for social and economic mobility.  But two studies that I heard about today cut against this vision.

The first suggested that women who live in urban areas are more likely than their rural counterparts to emphasize a man’s earning potential and educational attainment when looking for a mate. Rather than producing economic and social mobility, cities seem to produce more couples who look for people of the same education and class background.  These factors have displaced the previously dominant criteria of place of origin and ethnicity, reflecting new ideas of what is needed for successful marriage.

The second study looked at the relative happiness of urban and rural women.  The correlation between a women’s happiness and her attractiveness was far more pronounced in urban than rural areas.  Cities allow for more kinds of people, but perhaps also for more stratification of people. [Read more…]

Do famous people make bad speakers?

This summer, I have gotten to hear from a number of very well known people.  I have almost always found them disappointing as speakers when they give public addresses.  I generally feel this way when GA’s speak, too:  I eagerly await what they have to say, and then feel let down when their talks are rarely more insightful than average.  So, I have begun to think about why it is that I usually find less famous speakers more interesting. [Read more…]

Signs, appearances, and blogging

Although our distant Mormon past encompasses fascinating tales of Mormons manipulating their appearances to protect their community, contemporary Mormons often look (perhaps too much) at external appearances to measure others’ degrees of compliance with mainstream Mormon standards.  It is by no means uncommon to check if fellow Mormons wear garments, to measure each other by the color of our shirts or the length of our skirts, or even to guess if the family in the picture is Mormon.  In short, we care a lot about being able to measure people’s reactions to us or their ideas based on outward signs and appearances that let us know if they are Mormon. [Read more…]

Relocating: Why we should build chapels with access to public transit

My stake recently opened a new building in which my ward happens to meet.  It is an undeniably beautiful, modern building.  It is also located thirty-minutes outside of the city where many of the ward members actually live and is accessible only by car.

While I don’t know the political context which led to the decision to build in such a distant spot, and I suspect that in this case there were good reasons for the decision, the noticeable drawbacks of having the chapel so remotely located makes me think it is worth discussing why we should strive when possible to plan chapels that are more accessible via public transit. [Read more…]

Missionary car mileage

Elder X (a recently returned missionary) was riding his bike in the mission field without a helmet when he was hit by a car.  He sailed 25 feet, landed in a bush, and was miraculously free of serious injury.  The thing is that he wouldn’t have been riding without a helmet had it not been for the strange limits placed on missionary car mileage.   [Read more…]

Driving home: reflections on cars, domesticity, and the environment

Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI displays trains, planes, and automobiles that reveal the history of their technical evolution.  On display are early vehicles—including steam and electric powered cars—some made by the many auto companies that died out early on.  Walking through the exhibits one can see the many false starts, detours, and economic pressures behind the current automobile industry, but the genius of the museum is that it also presents a history of how the automobile was incorporated into society as people found new uses for it. [Read more…]

Placing animals within our religious tradition

The association between religion and opposition to modern evolutionary theory can make it seem that religion sees man as standing apart from nature and its processes.  This narrow debate obscures, therefore, the extent to which understanding nature, a term that encompasses everything from the planets to animals, can be read as a complementary and essential part of our theological stories.  Although there are more posts to be written on how nature and ecological change form a backdrop to our stories of faith–from Old Testament famines to Utah’s crickets–in this post I want to focus on only one aspect of the link between nature and Christianity: the role of animals in parables and religious stories. [Read more…]

What is your ward doing about swine flu?

Mormons are often reluctant, whether through zeal or sense of duty, to miss Sunday services.  And yet this commendable trait can turn into a public health problem when people attend church with colds or flues in tow.  Picture if you will sacrament trays being passed through hands of sick, coughing people, nurseries where children mingle, and meetings where binders are passed through rows of people holding Kleenex to elderly members. How can we change our culture to encourage people to stay home when their health poses threats to others? [Read more…]

Goodbye Women’s Research Institute

Had I not been raised Mormon, I suspect that I would not have majored in English literature.  I like nonfiction more than novels, but literary criticism offered me women’s studies and a vocabulary through which I could think critically about how my Mormon culture prescribed gender roles that I found constricting.  Being able to grasp a historical perspective on the evolution of gender was liberating to me, because this understanding gave me an expanded psychological capacity to choose how I would live my life.  I appreciated that I found a place that was willing to take women’s experiences as serious objects of study, thus making significant experiences that were often under-valued.   [Read more…]

What does it mean to have a testimony of JS?

In my Relief Society class today, women recounted how although they had a testimony that they should belong to the LDS church and of The Book of Mormon, they often struggled to have a testimony of Joseph Smith.  This begs the question, what do we mean when we claim to have a testimony of Joseph Smith? [Read more…]

The benefits of being closed-minded

Whatever choice you make, a teacher told me, is bound to be disappointing.  Even if you get precisely what you want, your satisfaction with that choice will never be as exciting as the possibility of having options to choose from.  He was right of course.  And consequently I struggle with decision-making, because each necessary decision forecloses as many opportunities as it opens up. [Read more…]

Cry baby

Wandering through our new ward building today as I took my shift on the cleaning crew, I found it hard not be impressed by how well the new building caters to the needs of families.  The cutest part of the building is in the nursery–there is a tot-sized bathroom, filled with a miniature toilet and sink.   There are diaper changing tables in both the men’s and women’s bathrooms (a change, my husband tells me, from the old days), a beautiful mother’s room, storage areas for toys, and a slew of energy saving devices.  In many ways, this building gives physical expression to the desirability of incorporating family life into our public interactions. [Read more…]