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Of Tigers, Guilt and Beehive Mothers

10:11 am Thursday, January 20, 2011
by christa woodall

Practicing for my future career as a Beehive Mother with Jade, the firstborn of my best friends' children, six years ago.

Practicing for my future career as a Beehive Mother with Jade, the firstborn of my best friends' children, six years ago.

While visiting with my three best friends and their husbands – who have 10 children among them – this weekend, we started talking about parenting and Amy Chua’s book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," that’s ruffled feathers in the parenting world.

In a Wall Street Journal excerpt earlier this month, Chua took Western mothers to task for not pushing and believing in their children like the so-called “tiger mothers” of Eastern cultures, equating a lack of stringent standards with a lack of confidence in their children’s ability to rise to the occasion. Chua’s piece stirred the pot and has received varied responses from across the nation – including from Berkeley’s own Ayelet Waldman, a Jewish mother who wrote “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.”

Waldman’s rebuttal, which ran in Sunday’s Wall Street Journal, countered that such an iron-clad parenting technique might help some children excel, but would crush the independent drive of others. Both mothers expect nothing less than excellence from their children, but the paths they take to get results vary widely.

This made me think: Where do Mormon mothers fit into the picture? Latter-day Saints, too, excel disproportionately in business and civic leadership as a result of a similar cultural emphasis on education and hard work. But how is that instilled? By screaming at one's children like Chua’s tigresses? In equally strong – albeit less abrasive – disappointment and self-reflected guilt like Waldman suggests? What makes Mormon mothers tick?

So I asked more than a dozen of my Mormon friends who are mothers about the foundation of their parenting style. These women come from varied backgrounds, different races, educational achievements, socioeconomic status, and where they are at in life with their parenting – some have grown children, others have infants. Really, the only commonalities among the entire group are that they’re LDS and have children (and, of course, know me).

Yet despite their varied experiences, there were some common – almost universal – themes among the “Beehive Mothers.” (The beehive is a quintessential LDS symbol representing the industriousness and collaboration valued in our culture – not to mention how the Queen Bee rules the hive.)

Beehive mothers seem far more concerned with who their children become than what their children accomplish. In the Beehive Mother paradigm, happiness and fulfillment come through family and faith. Sure, LDS kids often rise to excellence in what they do, but it's a by-product of high-but-realistic expectations and anchoring their identities in being children of God – not award-winners.

As Deborah Stapley, a mother of six in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., pointed out, Latter-day Saints believe this life is just a short part of an eternal progression – as such, parents are stewards of their children who ultimately are God’s offspring.

“We, as parents, do our best to help them (our children) realize who they are so they understand their potential, they learn to love their Heavenly Father, and therefore serve Him by serving their fellowman,” she said. “[We believe] ‘Man is that he might have joy.’ Joy comes from understanding who we are, loving God, and serving others… There is more to life than being No. 1 at everything. Why must we be No. 1 at everything, anyway? To what end?”

Jordan McCollum, a mom of three in Orem, Utah, who pens the parenting blog MamaBlogga, agreed and laughs at the notion of trying to be No. 1 at everything.

“My husband could read at four (his mother says he learned from 'Sesame Street'),” she said. “I was my high school valedictorian and earned a National Merit scholarship. Now we're in advanced placement adulthood – oh wait. Nope, no one cares now.”

That isn’t to say Mormons don’t value hard work—quite the opposite. A dear friend whose children tend to run in “tiger cub” circles said she pushes her children to excel because she wants them to develop their talents instead of squandering them. Her parenting mantra echoes the words of the late Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “We are all inherently lazy. We would rather loaf than work. It is WORK that spells the difference in the life of a man or woman. It is stretching our minds and utilizing the skills of our hands that lifts us from the stagnation of mediocrity.”

Another pillar of Beehive mothering is to raise their children the same way Joseph Smith said he led the Latter-day Saints: “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”

A major part of that is teaching by example and living what’s encouraged in the home, whether that’s working together as a family during chore time or strictly adhering to the high moral standards parents urge their children to embrace. As Haas Pectol, a mother of three daughters in Holladay, Utah, put it, “If you want your children to do great things and become great people, they need to see that happening from the people who are closest to them. Parents set examples for their children through their words and actions.”

Several friends commented that when children are young, obviously more hands-on parenting is needed, but as they grow, they need more room to become their own people.

Lesa Thompson of Laguna Hills, Calif., said she encouraged her adult daughters in whatever they chose to pursue, from drawing and dance to guitar and television production. While many of their desires have taken them down paths that are different from what she would have chosen for them, she said it has “been rewarding for me to see the avenues that my girls have taken.”

In the end, as Michelle Johnson, who is raising three little boys in Temecula, Calif., puts it, when it comes to teaching children: “It’s not about running kids here and there, but spending quality family time together.”

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Tags: Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of Tiger Mother, Mormon, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Beehive Mother

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Posted by disciplescientist
05/10/2011  at  02:04 PM

I liked this blog entry very much.
I agree that in Mormon parenting teaching the individual worth as a child of God is central. Also the personal example is a big deal - though as a parent myself, I think it is much more an ideal guiding us is the background than always the absolute reality.
It would be interesting to know if this can be related in any way to the choseness of the Jewish people and how they might convey its meaning to their children.

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Posted by christa woodall
05/12/2011  at  01:31 PM

Thanks for your feedback, disciplescientist. That’s a great post idea - I’ll examine it and see what I can come up with in a future post. It’s amazing the difference it makes to a youth’s self-image when they anchor identity in that choseness instead of in fleeting things of the world (looks, power, position, wealth, etc.).

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