Just a comment- this post is mainly for my LDS friends but feel free to read on either way!
So I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of nurturing. In the Mormon church nurturing is frequently the top verb used to describe women. The Family: A Proclamation to the World even says “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.”
Despite the frequency of this verbage and its clear importance, the actual meaning of the word is a little fuzzy. I bet if you asked 100 Mormon women you would get 100 close, but sometimes strikingly different answers. Recently released General Relief Society President Julie Beck created great controversy in 2007 when she said:
“Nurturing mothers are knowledgeable, but all the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make a home that creates a climate for spiritual growth. Growth happens best in a “house of order,”
and, “Mothers who know…bring daughters in clean and ironed dresses with hair brushed to perfection; their sons wear white shirts and ties and have missionary haircuts.”
So, according to Sister Beck learning to nurture is more important than any other kind of education, and yet still what is it exactly? Surely, it is more than learning to iron and brush hair to perfection! Sister Beck goes on to say “Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and keeping an orderly home.” (Also, couldn’t homemaking be a home of one?)
Well, this confuses me even more because is not the standard of an orderly home completely subjective? I know people that even at our cleanest would find my parents home very cluttered and those that would see the reverse. And even if this is the definition is that something to build an eternal life and purpose around? Some of the most righteous homes I’ve been in were dirty, cluttered and even chaotic.To give Sister Beck more credit I am sure she would agree. As all general authorities she is required to teach an ideal and let us govern ourselves.
However, it still doesn’t answer the question about nurturing. What is it and how is it best expressed? Oftentimes I feel when it gets defined as homemaking it limits the scope of the word to those who are what I call ‘ooey goey’. Meaning they see a baby and coo. They want nothing more than to have a home with tons of kids and husband who provides for them. I loved reading Stephanie Nielsen’s book but she is totally that way, which is great. I’m not down-grading this in any way. In fact, I quite envy it but its just not me right now.
In fact, I’ve never been like that. I’m much more of a realist when it comes to family life and have never had a huge innate desire to have my own children. There are a lot of reasons for this but there it is. I’m open minded and willing to do whatever Heavenly Father asks but I don’t crave it like some girls.
For some single girls I know not having children is the great sorrow of their lives, and I just don’t feel that way. I don’t have a great sorrow. I’m happy with my life. This contentment sometimes feels wrong, like I should be desiring for these things more, but what good would that do me? I’m not avoiding them…Hmmm?
This makes me wonder- do I lack this essential trait of nurturing that is supposed to be so natural to women? Sister Beck seems to answer yes, saying quite bluntly:
“Mothers who know desire to bear children”. and again “Faithful daughters of God desire children.” That doesn’t make me feel very faithful…Hmmm?
There has to be more to it than that…
I honestly don’t know the complete answer and I wonder what Sister Beck would tell me to do? I’m sure she would be sweet and lovely but I wonder what advice she would give?
I always felt a connection with Martha in the Mary and Martha story in the New Testament. Am I a Martha who is focused on the more practical, instead of the intangibles like Mary? What can I do about that? Hmmm (Also, couldn’t the Mary/Martha story refute some of the perfectly ironed and brushed mothers Sister Beck describes above?)
The fact is we don’t know why some of us are given certain personalities, natures, desires and others aren’t? We don’t know why some are given certain opportunities and others are not, but isn’t it a comfort to know that God knows?
Even though I occasionally feel guilty and more than a little unfeminine for my personality, I know that God accepts me and see’s my efforts to be obedient. 99% of the time I am comfortable with who I am and what my role is in God’s plan. When those 1% moments happen He is there showing me my worth.
That said, I still don’t know 100% what it is I am striving for? I was talking to a friend the other day and she said I have nurturing qualities in ways that don’t necessarily involve babies such as entertaining, cooking, making friends etc. This was a very comforting thought. Perhaps I will enjoy certain parts of nurturing more than others. I am sure the priesthood enjoy and feel adept at certain responsibilities more than others. Nobody is perfect (and how boring would that be if we all were!).
In the new book Daughters In My Kingdom about the history of Relief Society they give the best definition of nurturing I can find:
“Nurture is a rich word. It means to train, to teach, to educate, to foster development, to promote growth, and to nourish or feed. Women have been given the great privilege and responsibility to nurture in all these senses. Sister Julie B. Beck taught about the role of nurturing: “To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow. Therefore, mothers [should] create a climate for spiritual and temporal growth in their homes.”
I think I might have stumbled upon the answer- to nurture is teach, to educate. That is something I’m great at! I’m a really good teacher (maybe not as much for kids but I’m learning). When I left the singles ward I got an email from a girl saying:
“I just wanted to say thank you SO much for all of the Sunday School lessons you taught. I always looked so forward for you to teach. I have learned a lot from you and I know I have heard other people say that too!
Maybe I’m not so bad at nurturing in this form. Hmmm?
I think of book club and how I have fostered an environment of discussion or teaching cooking lessons to my sister and her friends or writing this blog to hopefully share and teach. Is this not nurturing? It seems so different than Sister Beck’s definition?
I don’t know if I have it 100% figured out but I’m on to something. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about knowing everything but about continually learning. For me at least these questions are not faith altering but faith refining. If we do not ask questions than we will never grow and our faith will remain stagnant.
Even the pioneer women there were some who became doctors and published newspapers, and others who had 15 children. They weren’t all the same, but it seems like they were all good at nurturing.
What do you think? How do you define the word nurture? What is the end goal of nurturing in regards to womanhood and progression?
Some varying talks on this topic-