An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Find Me a Mentor

Virtually the only feminine role models when I was growing up in Provo, Utah were SAHMs and elementary school teachers. A few women in my blue collar neighborhood supplemented family income with part time jobs clerking at Woolworths or at my dad’s grocery store. Outside of books, I never met women professionals other than my teachers—those dignified women who wore church dresses and nylons every day and seemed not to exist outside my school. They inhabited a different world from my mother and my friends’ mothers whose lives revolved around stove, sink and washing machine.

No expectation beyond marriage and motherhood existed for girls in my world. My dad’s two maiden aunts lived in genteel poverty in Salt Lake. My divorced aunt lived with my widowed grandmother also in poverty. Women needed a man to provide for them.

Would I have chosen a different career path if other role models had existed in my world? Possibly. For me, just getting a college diploma and teaching certificate was a leap up from my cultural and educational heritage.

Certainly, I tried to expand my daughter’s opportunities. But while most of the women in our ward worked at least part time, few had college degrees, and none had professional level jobs. For better or worse, I and their high school teachers were my daughters’ professional role models.

Each of our girls graduated from college. Lolly is a SAHM who hopes to get a master’s degree in a social field such as public administration when her youngest starts school. Aroo talks about entering a master’s program so she can advance in her work. So far Jaycee, who runs a technical writing/editing business, is the only daughter with a professional level career. Being single, Jaycee has more motivation to succeed financially than her sisters. Jaycee also had a mentor. The marketing director of the company she worked for after graduation took Jaycee under her wing, taught her business skills, and encouraged her to start her own company. Capable as Jaycee is, I doubt she could have started her business without the know-how and encouragement of this mentor.

And that brings me to my granddaughters. Where will they find role models and mentors? Mormons in Utah are locked into wards with others of their same socio-economic bracket. Girls in lower middle class neighborhoods are unlikely to meet professional women at church. Barring a move, I suspect my granddaughters’ main professional role model will be Auntie Jaycee. And while I don’t think every woman needs a professional career, I do think every girl growing up needs the opportunity to make that choice. Maybe Mormon mothers need to expand their circle of friends to include role models and possible mentors for their daughters.

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Comments on: "Find Me a Mentor" (4)

  1. I can’t recall role models from my childhood. I knew, however, that I never wanted to just be a teacher, nurse or wife, or maybe a nun, if one got the calling. Scary.

  2. Courtney said:

    I have to admit that your last sentence kind of gets my dander up. I agree that our kids need role models and mentors. However, the thought of intentionally seeking out friends who are professionals just for that purpose both irritates and overwhelms me. I don’t become friends with someone because I’m seeking them out for the kind of example they could set for my kids. I choose friends because we have some sort of commonality or bond. I’m busy enough, even as a SAHM, that keeping in contact with those friends I have who are not in my current “circle” takes more time and effort than I’d like. But I put the effort in because of that bond we have. I can only imagine the headache from trying to establish associations with those not in my circle because I think they might be a role model for my kids.

    • Courtney–

      I did phrase that poorly. Of course, I agree that extending friendship just to use a person is objectionable. But the point I wanted to make is the benefit of reaching out beyond the boundaries of ward or neighborhood to meet new people–something which benefits the mothers as well as the children.
      I remember when I was a SAHM, the boundaries of my small world chafed. I was so grateful to be called as a Den Mother because I got to meet women who were neither Mormons nor neighbors. And yes, I know that time and effort for young mothers to expand their horizons is limited. I wish I had cut back on some of my church service and gotten more invovled with community service–for my own benefit as well as my kids’.

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