Thursday, December 4, 2008

Existentialism and Mormon Women

I follow the Exponent II blog and one of the posts caught my eye. It was this one: The Existential Crisis: A Common Phenomenon for Mormon Women? The main issue discussed is that LDS women who don't have a career (in other words, are stay-at-home moms) are prone to existential crises. If you don't know much about existentialism, check out this Wikipedia article. I would say that the hallmarks of existential crises are feelings of disconnect and futility. How does this apply to Mormon women? Well, this is what I wrote in the comments to the blog:

Society has ingrained in us from a very young age that everything that has value has a price, therefore, a person’s value depends on their jobs. In other words, a person’s value is tied to their ability to produce profits.

So, yes, it’s common for those who opt out of the workforce to feel unfulfilled. They can’t shake the feeling that they aren’t accomplishing what they should.

We need to remind ourselves that society and commerce exist FOR people not, vice versa! The contribution of healthy, well-adjusted human beings is more valuable than any job.

Of course, on that same note, a mother is just as human as her children and should pursue any worthwhile interest that she pleases. Personally, I prefer volunteer work and artistic hobbies to having a job, so I relish in the opportunity to let my husband "bring home the bacon."

In my opinion, the existential crisis is one of many by-products of a processed and industrialised society. It's easy to feel like a queen bee forced to live the life of a worker bee when our society pushes both individualism and loss of self in the economy. The answer? I say we start focusing more on people. I mean, not in an individualist way and not in a Thomas Hobbes' Leviathon way, either.

Individualism, and it's twin sister, hedonism, are vices pushed by big business to make you want their products. How many times have you seen something you don't need advertised with the words, "Go ahead! You deserve it!" What you really deserve is to have a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle, not to give in over and over again to entirely unfulfilling products that will make you less happy in the long run. Materialism is just another way for your brain to get it's dopamine fix; it's a cheap substitute for sustainable happiness. Avoid it like the plague.

On the other hand, you don't want to "selflessly" throw yourself away, either. Proponents of utalitarian governments and communism are quick to state that the happiness of the individual is less important than that of the "community." I agree to the extent that a healthy community makes for healthy individuals, however, a community is also made up of individuals. So, while I don't condone exploiting others for your own happiness (that's happiness at someone else's expense), I also don't condone exploiting yourself for someone else's happiness. This ties into motherhood because a great deal of women feel guilty when they pursue interests outside the home and feel that if they do anything besides care for their children, they're being selfish. Really, if one of their children wanted to pursue a hobby, they wouldn't tell them not to because they need to be more concerned with helping others pursue their hobbies. Mothers need to take their own happiness into consideration as well. On the other hand, you don't want to fall for the trap of feeling useless because you're not in the workplace, either. You don't exist as a food pellet to shove down the gullet of the Market. You and your children are more important than creating profit for whatever company you end up working for.

Here's a comment posted on the Exponent II blog entry I linked to that I really liked. It's by a man, but I still agree with the sentiment:

I just can’t accept my stayathomelessness. I can’t face the next twenty-five or thirty years of career ladder garbage without knowing that I am also working towards my ultimate Eternal goal. I can’t face the mind numbing irrelevance and unnecessary competition of my career without a plan for how I will someday contribute to my community by raising a righteousness posterity. And I can’t figure out how to shake the feeling that the days I spend in my career are days of meaningless time wasting.

-A career Dad

I know, I’m a man, I don’t understand, but I really found myself unsympathetic to the comparison between staying at home and contributing to a community through a career.

What is so great about careers and working anyway? It is an means to an end, and we shouldn't mistake it for our life's work. That being said, some women truly do find fulfillment in the workplace, much as I find fulfillment in having and working with my dogs (an uncommon interest, and one which I don't think most people understand).

My advise for stay-at-home moms who feel unfulfilled is not to smother their feelings in guilt or to jump up and run to the workplace. Do some soul-searching, find what makes you truly happy, and pursue it. You may find that volunteering for a charitable organisation part-time and getting involved with your community is more fulfilling than earning a weekly paycheque. You may also find creative and artistic endeavours deeply satisfying. Be open to new concepts. Find a way of living and thinking that makes you happy.

I also really liked the D. Todd Christofferson talk at the next General Conference. Here's a link to it. It speaks of materialism in a way I really appreciate.


  1. Thanks for posting this, and the previous entry. These were interesting to read, and I think a couple of my friends would like to see them as well, so I'm linking to these from my blog as well.

  2. I loved Elder Uchtdorf's talk at the General Relief Society meeting, "Happiness, Your Heritage." He stressed how happiness comes from compassion and creation (and not just creating babies, but art, laughter, etc). In essence, he gave permission to feel validated by the "little things" that the world doesn't necessarily value, but, in reality, have a large impact, and are generally done by SAHMs, because we're the ones who have the time to do them.