“Coping with Change Themes Conference,” Ensign, Apr. 1979, 77–78
Elaine Cannon, general Church president of the Young Women, commented, “There’s great wisdom in forcing ourselves to think about the realities of change. And coping with change is the challenge.” She was keynoting BYU’s Fourth Annual Women’s Conference, “Challenges in Change.”
During the next three days some of those challenges were outlined—death, divorce, the empty nest before and after children, careers, education, living in the world without becoming part of it, dealing with the ideal, adjusting to return from a mission, and parenting with or without partners.
Max and Donna Clark, parents of eleven children, spoke about the great education that parenthood represents, while Sandra Covey shared some of the things she and her husband Stephen do to help their children feel excited about learning. A dinner-table centerpiece from another country can spark a vigorous discussion on that country. “Season tickets to plays and concerts in a university community are available at a fraction of Broadway prices,” she noted. Their children set their own goals a couple of times a year. She and her husband squeezed in a philosophy class together.
Emma Lou Thayne, a writer and mother of five, urged women to think “beyond children and calamity” in planning their own education. Education gives you other senses in addition to the usual five, she claimed, and enumerated a sense of history (“history is human weather”), a sense of humor (“we have to savor some silliness”), a sense of proportion, and a sense of immediacy.
Grethe Ballif Peterson teamed with Leona Holbrook, professor emeritus of physical education at BYU, and David S. King, former congressman, ambassador, and Washington D.C. attorney, to discuss “LDS People: In the World.”
All three stressed the respect other people gave their values when they themselves took them seriously—values of family life, commitment, education, justice, and excellence.
Commenting on her family’s experience in the Church in New England, Sister Peterson said, “Our children were needed. My son was one of three priests, my daughter one of two Laurels, and they had marvelous experiences with their advisers. They were probably the only Mormons their friends had ever known. At an early age they had to know who they were and what they stood for. Of course, they shared many similarities with their friends; but the differences and similarities came together to give them a kind of self-confidence I didn’t have at their age.”
Mary Bishop, a young Relief Society president, addressed the problem of childlessness, the subject of a later panel as well. “Sometimes I used to feel picked on because I didn’t have a baby yet. But this experience has made me less critical of others, less apt to jump to conclusions using only myself as a standard.”
Belle S. Spafford, former general president of the Relief Society, commented on the “empty nest syndrome.”
Wallace F. Bennett, retired senator from Utah, quipped, “Our children didn’t leave us; we left them to go to Washington,” and termed “membership in the Church the finest resource of all.”
The careers seminar touched on the important role of volunteer service for community organizations, the kinds of stereotypes career women and homemakers sometimes have of each other, and some hard facts about “the real world of inflation and taxes.” For instance, pointed out Robert F. Bohn of BYU’s Family Resource Management Department, if current U.S. inflation rates continue, it will cost United States members $1,000 a month to support a missionary in the field in twenty years. Maren Mouritsen, BYU’s assistant dean of student life, noted that “Seventy-two percent of LDS women will be single at some point of their adult life—never-married, divorced, or widowed.”
A panel of six widows, widowers, and divorced women bore sometimes emotional testimonies about how the Holy Ghost and the loving support of friends and family give us power to survive wrenching grief, rejection, and loss of identity.
Summarizing some themes of the conference, Lowell L. Bennion, administrator of Salt Lake Community Services Council, pointed out, “Change is a good thing if it doesn’t undermine your stability. It can be synonymous with creativity. The way to cope with change is to find things that don’t change on which to anchor your life—intelligence, creativity, integrity, love and faith.”