“Enriching and Protecting the Home: A Conversation with Barbara W. Winder, Relief Society General President,” Ensign, Mar. 1986, 19
What do you see as the major challenges facing LDS women today?
There is much economic strain. But probably just as major are the moral issues we face. When the Relief Society was first organized, one of the commissions given to the sisters by the Prophet Joseph Smith was to strengthen the morals of the community. Traditionally and almost intuitively, women have taken upon themselves the challenge to teach moral values and to help their families and those about them to be upright citizens. It becomes increasingly difficult to do that when there are so many who would deceive and lead us astray.
How can Relief Society help women face these challenges?
Our Spiritual Living and Social Relations lessons deal with many of these challenges. As I talk with women and sense their feelings about Relief Society, I learn that they appreciate the spiritual growth they receive from the Relief Society curriculum. It helps them withstand and deal with today’s temptations and problems.
In addition, the sisterhood we develop provides a support system. Visiting teaching aids in building friendships. Homemaking meetings allow us to come together midweek to learn helpful skills and share one another’s concerns. These programs, along with our Sunday meetings, provide the opportunity for us to love and serve one another. It helps to discuss mutual problems and to know that there are those who stand up for what they believe. Our sisterhood is strong and good.
You mentioned that midweek homemaking meetings strengthen sisterhood. What are the guidelines for other midweek activities?
With the bishop’s approval, we can plan midweek interest groups at any time, as long as they do not conflict with family home evening. (See Relief Society Handbook, p. 4.) These groups provide opportunities for fellowshipping new and inactive members for socializing and for helping people become interested in the Church. We suggest the sisters have activities that follow the personal and family preparedness principles: literacy and education, career development, financial and resource management, home production and storage, physical health, and social-emotional and spiritual strength. If we gear our interest groups and our homemaking meetings around these topics, we will strengthen ourselves and our families against the vicissitudes of life.
Do you feel that Relief Society lessons make some women feel pressured to conform to impossibly high “superwoman” standards in their roles as wife, mother, or homemaker?
We hope not. The lessons have been designed to help a sister improve and better herself—not to make her feel she has to do the impossible. The Savior said, “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” (3 Ne. 12:48.) That statement shouldn’t make us feel inadequate because we are not perfect right now. Most of us recognize that we don’t become perfect overnight. We learn one precept upon another precept. Actually, learning correct principles—which is what the Relief Society lessons teach—should encourage us rather than discourage us.
How can a woman feel good about herself when she falls short of her own standards of perfection?
We need to think about the things that we have done. I remember one day when my children were young. They had been ill, and I hadn’t been able to accomplish any of the routine things I would have liked. The house was not at all orderly, and I was not feeling at all lovely. When my husband came home that night, I told him, “I feel like a failure today; I’ve been caring for the children and haven’t done what I wanted to get done.” He said, “Tell me the things that you have done today.” I enumerated the things that I had done, and then my husband said, “I want you to think about those things, not about the things that you haven’t done.” I think we all need to use that philosophy more in our lives.
Church leaders have encouraged women to gain marketable skills with which they can support themselves and their families if necessary. When women are educated and trained for careers outside the home, do you think they may then be unhappy and discontented if they decide to be full-time homemakers?
I don’t think so—if they have prayerfully made their decisions. One of the things we should think about as we prepare ourselves for a meaningful contribution in life is longevity. At the time of Christ, an average woman lived twenty-four years. At the turn of the century, she lived forty-eight years. And in 1983, she was living seventy-eight years. Having some kind of meaningful, marketable skill is very important, even if we only use it for further fulfillment after our children are grown.
Also, about a third of our women are single—widowed, divorced, or never married—and must provide for themselves. Nearly all of us are going to be single part of our lives. Statistics from the United States show that women make up about 60 percent of the population with poverty-level incomes or below. Many of these women are divorced or widowed. A third of all U.S. widows live on poverty-level incomes or less. Without some kind of gainful employment, it is very difficult for them to pull themselves out of that category.
If a woman is left alone with a family to raise and she has been educated, she is more likely to get a job that allows her to be selective in her hours and spend more time with her children. She will also receive better wages to meet her family’s economic needs.
How can LDS mothers best prepare their daughters to face these economic challenges? Should they encourage them to prepare to be full-time homemakers, to prepare for careers, or both?
I don’t think it’s a question of either-or. It is important for all of us to learn homemaking skills; whether she is married or single, every woman is a homemaker.
I know a single woman, a widow, who prepares meals on Saturday to last her through the week because she must work long hours each day. At mealtimes, she always has a tablecloth or a place mat, a napkin, and a flower in a bud vase. Her home is artistically decorated and full of wonderful books and beautiful music.
There is an art to being a homemaker. For ourselves and for our families, it is important that we have a sanctuary—a place of refuge away from the world where we feel comfortable and where, if others come, they, too, can feel comfortable.
We have talked about the importance of education and of preparing for potential employment as well as preparing to be a homemaker. Yet we are often counseled that mothers should remain in the home with their children. Has the attitude of Church leaders changed on this subject?
Being a wife and a mother and strengthening the family is an important career. The more education a mother has, the better off she will be in fulfilling that career—or any other career—well. President Spencer W. Kimball told us that our prime priority in life ought to be to enrich, to protect, and to guard the home. There are many ways we can do this. Many women are at the hearth, teaching their children by their side. Some women are in the classroom. Some are in the courtroom, guarding and defending the home. Some are in medicine, helping to protect us against the ills and dangers of life.
I watched a group of women in Tallahassee, Florida, leave their homes for a period of time to lobby for some important legislation for their community. To me, that is guarding and defending the home. They spent a lot of time doing what they thought was important and necessary. Education and training helped prepare them to be able to do that.
I don’t believe the attitude of Church leaders has changed. Throughout all ages, women have been guarding and defending the home in a variety of ways. In 1873 Brigham Young told Ellis Reynolds Shipp that he would like her to become a doctor. In 1875 Sister Shipp went east, leaving her husband to care for the family while she pursued a medical career. Many early pioneer women worked in the fields and kept the farms while their husbands served missions.
In Proverbs 31:10–31 [Prov. 31:10–31], we read, “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.” In those verses we are told that a virtuous woman weaves fabric, sells linen—her hands are not idle: “She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” (Prov. 31:27.) I think that is one of the keys. We should not be idle. We should be constantly using our gifts and talents to build up our families, the kingdom of God, and the community about us.
Some women who must work battle with feelings of guilt as well as the disapproval of some ward members and leaders. How can those sisters cope with these feelings?
I think they will not feel guilty if they will counsel with Heavenly Father in making that decision. If the decision is right, they will feel at peace. That is the key. If they have made the wrong decisions, they will tend to feel troubled.
One of the problems we have as human beings is that we are prone to judge others unrighteously. Yet the Lord’s instructions about judging one another are very clear. It is important for us to remember that what others are doing may be what is best for them. For every person, there is a different set of circumstances. Each of us can receive revelation for our own individual needs and responsibilities. We must take strength in that knowledge and live to be worthy of that blessing.
On the other hand, some women who are full-time homemakers feel unhappy and unfulfilled, as if they could be doing something to develop to their potential. How can they cope with these feelings?
First, they need to realize that, in teaching and training their children, they are fulfilling the Lord’s commandments. And women can develop themselves at home. Raising a family requires a great many different skills, each of which can be learned through the experiences we have in our homes.
I think a lot depends on a woman’s attitude. I have met many women who have chosen to stay at home and who are doing wonderful things with their families and making worthwhile contributions in their communities. They do not feel bored or put down because they are staying at home. They know they are developing in those areas most closely related to their eternal potential.
Whatever a woman feels inspired to do with her life, she should feel at peace and enjoy it. We need to enjoy the good things we are doing!
With all the things we are counseled to do as members of the Church, how can women make time for everything, let alone enjoy what they are doing?
When we find the answer to that question, we will have found the secret of contentment. We want to be involved. We want to grow. And we grow when we stretch a little and do just a little more. But it is important for us to learn balance and to set priorities. Sometimes we go through a period of trying to do everything all at once. I have had people tell me, “Oh, you’ve done so many things,” and I tell them, “But I’ve lived so many years!” There really is a season for everything. I couldn’t possibly do today what I am doing as Relief Society general president if my children were small and still at home and I were caring for them. My emphasis is a bit different now, though my priority is still with my husband and family.
This is a lesson we all have to learn. Only we can judge how much we can handle. We often think that someone else is doing everything. But usually one sister is doing one thing, and another sister is doing something else, and yet another sister is doing another thing. Then we try to do it all! And when it all comes tumbling down around our feet we realize that we can’t do it all. As we learn what we can do, we are growing; and then sometimes we can take on a little more—perhaps because of what we have learned in the process.
When women have questions about Relief Society policies or Relief Society programs, how can they find the answers? Is there always a “right” answer?
With the responsibility of each of our callings also comes accountability and a blessing. When we are called and set apart, we have straight-line communication with Heavenly Father for that responsibility. We can receive additional help by using our handbook as a guide, communicating and working closely with our priesthood leaders and following their admonitions, and maintaining personal worthiness.
Living the principles of the gospel as taught in Relief Society will help us to enrich, protect, and guard our homes.