A Message to My Granddaughters: Becoming ‘Great Women’

“A Message to My Granddaughters: Becoming ‘Great Women’” Ensign, Sept. 1986, 16

A Message to My Granddaughters:

Becoming “Great Women”

This is an edited version of a BYU devotional address given 12 February 1985.

I direct these remarks primarily to my granddaughters, although others might find them of interest, too.

On Brittany’s last birthday, I told her mother with considerable grandfatherly pride that I thought I detected some seeds of promise developing in Brittany. Of course I feel the same way about Nicole, Melissa, Kelly Ann, Katy, Sarah, Ashley, little Elise, and our other granddaughters.

I do not want to tell you girls what you must be. That is for each of you to decide. You have your agency. Each of you will have to work very hard to learn all you can and develop your skills. It will not be easy to achieve anything really worthwhile. I only tell you what I think will help bring you identity, a sense of value, and happiness as a person. I also challenge you to reach your potential, to become a person of great worth, to become a great woman.

Now, you need to know that to me great does not necessarily mean your becoming a great doctor, lawyer, or business executive. You may, of course, become any of these if you so desire, and if you work hard enough, and I would be proud of such an achievement. However, to me, greatness is much, much more. I hope that each of you girls will become an individual of significant worth and a person of virtue so that your contributions are maintained in both human and eternal terms.

Elder Boyd K. Packer tells me that among the species of birds in which both male and female sing, the different sexes sing a different melody. Yet it is pleasant to hear them singing at the same time, for they harmonize beautifully together!

As women, you are wonderful and special. You have a great mission, a great errand, and a great calling. Indeed, God devised his work for both men and women: “All those who receive my gospel are sons and daughters in my kingdom.” (D&C 25:1.) Being born as women brings to you many endowments that are not common to men and therefore make you unique.

President Spencer W. Kimball, in speaking of the roles of men and women, added some personal perspective: “Our roles and assignments differ. These are eternal differences—with women being given many tremendous responsibilities of motherhood and sisterhood and men being given the tremendous responsibilities of fatherhood and the priesthood—but the man is not without the woman nor the woman without the man in the Lord. …

“Remember, in the world before we came here, faithful women were given certain assignments while faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood tasks. While we do not now remember the particulars, this does not alter the glorious reality of what we once agreed to. You are accountable for those things which long ago were expected of you just as are those we sustain as prophets and apostles! …

“This leaves much to be done by way of parallel personal development—for both men and women.” (Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 102.)

This statement suggests that before we were born we made certain commitments, female and male, and that we agreed to come to this earth with great, rich, but separate gifts. We were called, male and female, to do great works, with separate approaches and separate assignments, and accordingly were given different songs to sing.

You say, Where do I begin? Rather than beginning with a wish list of all the things you want in life, the real question may be what you are not willing to do without. You should select two or three of life’s experiences that you are absolutely sure you want to have; these important things you should not leave to chance. Then you should think about what you can contribute to society by way of service to the Church, home, and community. You also need to think of what life will demand from you. Everything has its price. Much is expected of us.

It is unfortunate that it is taking so long to bring full economic justice to women. The feminization of poverty is both real and tragic. That is why you should work very hard to prepare for your future by gaining some marketable skills.

The struggle to improve the place of women in society has been a noble cause, and I sincerely hope the day will come when women with equal skills will be fully equal with men in the marketplace. However, this is an issue of equality, not sameness; it does not mean that women should be the same as men or try to do things the way men do them. Although some jobs that are traditionally masculine are now being done by women, it is possible for them to be done in a feminine way and yet be done equally as well—or even better.

Over a hundred years ago, in 1872, Eliza R. Snow said that some women “are so radical in their extreme theories that they would set for her an antagonism to man, and make her adopt the more reprehensible phases of character which men present and which should be shunned or improved by them instead of being copied by women.” (Women’s Exponent, 15 July 1872, p. 29.) Becoming like men is not the answer; being who you are and living up to your potential and commitment is.

You cannot trust the many conflicting voices that clamor about what women should or should not do in today’s society. Some of the loudest voices we hear are echoes of others who, rather than being unhappy with their role as women, seem actually out of harmony with themselves and out of tune with life in general.

Women today are being encouraged by some to have it all—generally, all simultaneously: money, travel, marriage, motherhood, and separate careers in the world. Sarah Davidson, in an article entitled “Having It All,” comments about forging an identity, building a career, developing a craft, and having a family.

“I do not yet understand how a woman can successfully split herself between home and the market place. Fifteen years of feminist theory and action have taught us that sacrificing one for the other does not satisfy, but having both together simultaneously is so difficult that no one I know has found anything but the most quirky and incomplete solution.” (Professional Esquire, June 1984, p. 54.)

Her article does not deal with the heartaches and frustrations of single parents or others thrust into very difficult circumstances due to divorce, death of spouse, or hardship. Rather, the article focuses on the issue of the woman who is intent on having it all, trying to simultaneously coordinate the roles of professional life, marriage, and motherhood.

Some will no doubt disagree with her conclusion, and there may be many exceptions, but she goes on to tell of three women who are partners in a New York law firm and observes that their personal lives are frustrated and unhappy. “The problem, of course, is that family happiness is less clearly definable and more often elusive than career success.” (Ibid.) For some, the answer has been to find and marry a man who will assume the female roles. But such men are rare.

The same author says: “At some point along the way, a number of us woke up and found that we were wonderfully self-sufficient and successful and our lives were empty. There was no one to share it with, no living, growing ties to the future; something vital had been discarded and we scurried to recapture it.” (Ibid.)

As Sarah Davidson approached forty, after years in a career, she and her husband were blessed with a baby. Of this experience she says: “This baby was the great missing link for me, the one I have longed for in my life. That, once realized, brought the hoped-for satisfaction. Nothing in my life prepared me for the happiness, the wholeness I felt when my son was born. I am embarrassed to tell you how many nights I would walk into his room and just stand at the crib, my heart brimming. The bond between a mother and child is so special, it is in the soul. …

“All my time is spent on three things: baby, work, and keeping the marriage going. I find I can handle two beautifully. When my husband is out of town or when I am between projects and not working, things go smoothly, but three pushes me to the edge. Someone is unhappy, something is always getting short-shrift.” (Ibid.)

No doubt it would help if husbands would follow the counsel of the late Elder G. Homer Durham: “Man, as well as woman, has obligations to learn the difficult art of fatherhood in homemaking. This is not a task just for the woman.” (In Women, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979, p. 36.)

But, my dear granddaughters, you cannot do everything well at the same time. You cannot be a 100 percent wife, a 100 percent mother, a 100 percent church worker, a 100 percent career person, and a 100 percent public-service person at the same time. How can all of these roles be coordinated? Says Sarah Davidson: “The only answer I come up with is that you can have it sequentially. At one stage you may emphasize career, and at another marriage and nurturing young children, and at any point you will be aware of what is missing. If you are lucky, you will be able to fit everything in.” (Ibid.)

Doing things sequentially—filling roles one at a time at different times—is not always possible, as we know, but it gives a woman the opportunity to do each thing well in its time and to fill a variety of roles in her life. A woman does not necessarily have to track a career like a man does. She may fit more than one career into the various seasons of life. She need not try to sing all of the verses of her song at the same time.

The Book of Ecclesiastes says: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” (Eccl. 3:1.)

The various roles of women have not decreased a woman’s responsibility. While these roles are challenging, the central roles of wife and mother remain in the soul and cry out to be satisfied. It is in the soul to want to love and be loved by a good man and to be able to respond to the God-given, deepest feelings of womanhood—those of being a mother and nurturer.

Now, I wish to note clearly that what I am saying is in the spirit of general counsel—that is, it applies generally. But there are exceptions in its application. Further, my heart and admiration go out to the large group of women who are single parents or who are required by circumstance to either provide or help provide for their families. Particularly is the responsibility heavy for single parents who courageously balance two careers simultaneously: that of supporting the family financially and that of parenting. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, these often remarkable single parents are guided and blessed in impressive and touching ways as they live in harmony with the Lord and his inspiration to them. As with all of us, they come to recognize that without His peace and strength in their lives, they are not as happy and as successful as they might otherwise be.

Granddaughters, do not be deceived in your quest to find happiness and an identity of your own. Entreating voices may tell you that what you have experienced in your own homes—that which you have seen your mothers and grandmothers do—is old-fashioned, unchallenging, boring, and drudgery. It may be old-fashioned and perhaps routine; at times it is drudgery. But your mothers and grandmothers have sung a song that expresses the highest love and the noblest of womanly feelings. They have been nurturers and teachers.

I join Brigham Young in saying, “Daughter(s), use all your gifts to build up righteousness in the earth.” (Susa Young Gates, The Life Story of Brigham Young, New York: The MacMillan Co., 1930, p. 307.) I hope you acquire all of the knowledge you can. Become as skillful as you can, but not exclusively in new careers at the expense of the primary ones, or you may find that you have missed singing the song you were supposed to sing.

Some divisive voices would suggest that the wants and needs of women in society have changed and that political power is the primary interest and need of women in this day. This is not so. A recent poll indicated that the individual priorities of U.S. women today are:

  1. A strong family

  2. Raising children

  3. Growing spiritually

  4. Economic equity

This means that the values of women in the United States are comparable with the values of women in our Church. You need not be defensive or ashamed of these priorities of family, children, church, and equal economic opportunities.

Your grandmother and I urged your mothers to get an education, not only to help them in their homemaking but also to prepare them to earn a living outside the home if that became necessary. Going to college is a wonderful experience, but the dollars, the effort, and the time are much better used if the education also prepares the student with a marketable skill.

I have said that you are wonderful, special, and unique as women. Let me tell you why.

Women seem to arrive at decisions in different ways than men do. I have noticed that your grandmother “thinks” with her heart. My approach seems more logical. Your grandmother is concerned about how her decisions affect the people around her. Beverley Campbell talks about it this way: For a woman, “her primary concern is what will be the greatest good for the greatest number of those around her. In value terms this would be called ‘care and mercy.’ For men the research indicated that the moral thought process was probably much more direct. It generally boiled down to firm rules of right and wrong, black and white.” (“Understanding the Uniqueness of Woman,” transcript of a talk delivered at Brigham Young University—Hawaii, May 1981, p. 2.)

Sister Campbell says: “Could it be that we, each of us, man and woman, were endowed at the time of creation with two distinct but equally important traits, traits which are both essential and complementary and bound to be used together in wisdom for the greatest good of all mankind?” (Ibid., p. 5.)

It may not be possible for economic reasons, but if you have the choice, do not abandon too quickly the full-time career of marriage and mothering. Some may criticize you and say that you have no ambition, that you lack brains, or even that you are seeking to get your fulfilment from others. But you don’t have to earn money to be important. You may choose not to sell your time.

As you consider a professional career, remember that no one will love you more than those in your own home. In the business or scientific world, no one would consider you to be perfect. But your little ones, for a time, will think that you are perfect. And if you are wise, they will adore you for eternity.

No one will need more of your time and energy and attention than your family. Their needs will not go away during the daytime working hours. But there is the advantage that in working twenty-four hours a day on family relations, you are working on eternal relations as well. Thus, you will also have more time to serve the Lord’s church on earth where your service is valued and needed.

I hope your husbands will be more helpful than I have been, but homemaking is whatever you make it. Every day brings satisfaction along with some work that may be frustrating, routine, and unchallenging. But it is the same in the law office, the dispensary, the laboratory, or the store. There is, however, no more important job than homemaking. As C. S. Lewis said, it is the one for which all others exist.

You all know that I adore your grandmother. To me, she is the greatest person in the world. She has done more for me than anyone except my mother, who gave me life. I hold this view, not in spite of the fact that she is a woman, but because she is a woman. She has brought to flower and fruitage many of the divine qualities of womanhood at their noblest and best. I can give you no better model than she.

Now it is very important, whatever you do, that you seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. (See Matt. 6:33.) It is important that you accept without reservation the Savior for what He was and Joseph Smith for what he was and President Ezra Taft Benson for what he is. God will not ennoble a person, man or woman, who refuses to uphold by faith, prayer, and works those whom God has called to preside over him or her. My dear granddaughters, you will want to sustain priesthood authority.

Some women may feel it subverts their agency to be directed by the power of the priesthood. This feeling comes from misunderstanding. There should be no compulsion, duress, or unrighteous dominion involved in priesthood authority. Elder Stephen L Richards stated: “Our accord comes from universal agreement with righteous principles and common response to the operation of the Spirit of our Father. It is actuated by no fear except one. That is the fear of offending God, the Author of our work.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1938, p. 116.)

Following the priesthood of the Church is an expression of faith in the Lord’s continuing guidance of his church. It is a willing acceptance of the principle of divine agency.

Girls, you must practice virtue in its largest sense. Of the many definitions of virtue, such as moral excellence, right action and thinking, goodness of character, and chastity, I also appreciate the definition of virtue as an order of angels. You cannot become great women if you are not also good women. You will become great women if you join an order of angels.

You may ask, “How do I join an order of angels?” My answer is that you must hunger and thirst after righteousness. William Law, an eighteenth-century clergyman, said: “If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.”

One of the great women I know is Sister Isabelle Bangerter. I have known her for over forty years. At age 93, Sister Bangerter is the mother of eleven outstanding children. My missionary companion, Elder Wm. Grant Bangerter of the First Quorum of the Seventy, is the second eldest of these children. Utah’s Governor, Norman Bangerter, is the tenth child. She has a posterity of over 260. There have been 72 marriages in the family, every one of which has been a temple marriage, and there have been no divorces.

As I have wondered what made Isabelle Bangerter so great, I have concluded that it was because she has hungered and thirsted for righteousness.

President Kimball said it well: “Among the real heroines in the world who will come into the Church are women who are more concerned with being righteous than with being selfish. These real heroines have true humility, which places a higher value on integrity than on visibility. Remember, it is as wrong to do things just to be seen of women as it is to do things to be seen of men. Great women and men are always more anxious to serve than to have dominion.” (Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 104.)

Granddaughters, cultivate and employ your noble womanly instincts of care and mercy. Always hunger and thirst after righteousness. Great women respond generously to their instincts to do good. With your very being held still, listen to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. Follow those noble, intuitive feelings planted deep within your soul by Deity. By responding thus to the Holy Spirit of God, you will be sanctified by truth and you will be eternally honored and loved.

Much of your work as a woman is to enrich mankind. Care and mercy seem to be a dominant refrain of the song you have the opportunity to sing. I hope you will not leave any of the melody unsung.

Illustrated by G. Allen Garns