Post-Mormon Mette: “Bait and Switch”

A dear friend of mine has been telling me about her frustration with her mother’s constant attempts to “reconvert” adult children who have left Mormonism and how often she complains that she didn’t get what she deserved, that there was some kind of “bait and switch.” She did all the “right” Mormon mom things. She was supposed to be rewarded with children who revered here and honored her Mormonism. She was supposed to have grandchildren who did all the Mormon milestones: blessings, baptisms, priesthood ordinations, missions, and temple marriages. She feels cheated and she blames her adult children for this.

The more I listen to my friend, the more I realize that her mother is right. I’m not saying this makes it easy to live with her mother, but when this Boomer-aged woman complains that there was a bait and switch and that the church promised her something that she did not get — she isn’t wrong. Furthermore, her complains actually echo so many of the complaints of women I hear who have left Mormonism in their 40s, 50s, and 60s and their anger at the church at taking away many of their youthful opportunities. There’s an irony in the similarity because I don’t think the people on both sides would want to see how alike they are, but once you see it, you won’t be able to unsee it.

Mormon mothers of the 60s and 70s were told that if they did these things:

1. Stay at home and not think about the workforce opportunities they were missing out on or the financial rewards they might have gained.

2. Focus on raising children to the exclusion of developing their own interests (except interests that were related to the church itself and to homemaking, like sewing, etc.)

3. Support their husbands in their church callings and never complain about time not spent at home or with children/family.

4. Pay tithing and always keep a temple recommend and attend the temple regularly (at least once a month).

5. Wear garments and don’t worry about the sexier styles that those “of the world” think about.

6. Keep food storage and be frugal in cooking and housekeeping.

7. Send children to church colleges and on missions.

8. Teach daughters to be wives and mothers, to replicate the cycle all over again.

9. Make sure your children know how important temple marriage is and that it is the only way to ensure that “families are forever.”

10. Plan finances so that you can serve a senior couples mission with your husband in your later years (instead of finally having a career of your own).

They would get these rewards:

1. The promise of eternal families sealed together forever in the celestial kingdom.

2. No child would be lost — even if they temporarily stray from the faith.

3. Children would happily serve missions and go to church colleges.

4. Children would marry in the temple.

5. Children would continue as faithful Mormons.

6. Children would have grandchildren and raise them in the faith.

7. Children would not have financial problems from having a single income.

8. Husbands would remain faithful to wives (including avoiding pornography).

9. Financial security by relying on a single income and being frugal.

10. An easy retirement surrounded by grandchildren.

Many faithful women (and men) of the previous generation worked very hard to get the promises that the Mormon church was offering them. They gave up their own dreams so that they could stay home with kids. Many of them were naturally talented and ambitious in their own ways. But the Mormon church told them that the “better way” was to be wives and mothers, to support other people’s dreams and ambitions. And they gave up — everything. They were the selfless women that they were told to be.

OK, maybe some of them complained about it because it turned out motherhood wasn’t as fulfilling as they had been told it would be. They weren’t as “naturally” suited to staying home with small children in quick succession for decades on end. They didn’t enjoy cooking rice and beans and sewing clothes for everyone in the family because there wasn’t any money to buy things like other people had. But many of them must have told themselves that it would be worth it in the end. I imagine that they pictured their futures with happy, faithful Mormon grandchildren gathered around them, praising them for their sacrifices. This was what they’d been taught to give to their grandparents. The narrative of Mormonism is all about near-worship of the pioneer ancestors, and doing work for the dead in temples to show our regard for those who brought us into the world.

But that isn’t the life that these retiring Mormon women got in exchange for all their sacrifices and years of unhappiness. They gave up everything for the church. And now their children and grandchildren are leaving. Worse than that, these same children and grandchildren they sacrificed so much for see no purpose in it at all. It just seems stupid to them; a waste of time and talent and energy. The world has turned upside down in a generation and what was once good seems bad and what was once bad seems good. Even within the Mormon church, there seems to be less talk about the important of mothers staying at home. The women who are called to leadership are often women who have had careers, often juggling motherhood and their own ambitions — directly disregarding the prophet’s advice of their own time.

For women who have finished raising their children — and then left Mormonism, this same problem is even more complicated. They aren’t just angry at the church system (though they are) for making promises it couldn’t keep, they’re also angry at themselves for being convinced to do things that they didn’t want to do. They’ve also lost a lot in the process. Some of them have lost relationships with their own children who remain committed to the Mormon church and see their parents as transgressors, as breaking the chain of faithful Mormons going back more than two centuries in some families.

It’s all just so tragic. I don’t have any good answers to all this regret. I sacrificed a lot to be a mother and I’ve never once regretted it. Or maybe I’m beginning to wonder how to say that I do regret it at times, because even though I love my children, I sacrificed things for them that they now think are stupid for me to have sacrificed. Even though my children are largely out of the church, I don’t know how to have conversations with them on this topic. The best they can manage is pity and that’s not what I want, either.

I have a lingering sense of sadness over lost opportunities, and I suppose that’s the same “bait and switch” that my friend’s mother complained about. I don’t blame my children. I blame Mormonism. And yes, I also blame me.

Author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series, The Mormon Sabbatical Podcast, Princeton PhD, fiction editor at Exponent II, autist, she/her

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store