Do we still teach homemaking?

April 8, 2011 | 14 comments
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A guest post from our friend and colleague emeritus, Russell Arben Fox.

The title of this post isn’t a snark; it’s an open question, about which I am genuinely curious. (I’m also giving a presentation on this topic next week at the Midwest Sunstone/Restoration Studies conference, so my ulterior motive is a fishing expedition for anecdotes from the Collected Saints of the Bloggernacle.)

Though “Homemaking” and “Enrichment” are officially terms of the past in the Relief Society today, it seems to me that those ideas–the idea that we need to develop skills and a knowledge base that will make us (I suppose I should say “women” rather than “us” if I wanted to be brutally honest, but I don’t want to bring gender roles into the question at this point) better, more responsible and capable, homemakers–continue to lurk around Relief Society, and indeed the church as whole. So my question, which is really two-fold. First, in your Relief Society (or, just to be ridiculous and throw all caution to the wind, in your elders quorum or high priest) meetings, do you frequently, or even just occasionally, learn about actual, practical, usable homemaking skills and resources? And second, if your answer is no, is it because not many skills and resources are taught that are genuinely relevant to your home existence needs, or because you’re bored by or find unhelpful the way such skills are taught, or some other reason?

I await any thoughts you may have. And thanks.

14 Responses to Do we still teach homemaking?

  1. michelle on April 8, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Yes, we sometimes have these skills addressed in RS. Since I think homemaking also includes childrearing, I’d add that I hear topics about parenting in stake activities and other venues as well. BYU Women’s Conference is another place where I think these topics are well covered.

    I’ve been interested (and grateful) to see homemaking addressed at the general level as well. Sister Beck’s talk “Mothers Who Know” talked about it (although people thought she was just talking about housework, she ties the work in the home to training our children and helping create a climate for spiritual growth for our children).

    The 2008 WW Leadership broadcast also addressed homemaking, and it was not directed only to the women. The roundtable discussion brought up how men and women in our day work together more than in the past with regards to homemaking (again, I think they use that definition more broadly than just cooking, cleaning, etc. to include creating a good climate in the home).

  2. Rob Perkins on April 8, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    This has got to be the shortest RAB posting on record. ;-)

  3. Rob Perkins on April 8, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    And, of course, I meant RAF, but somehow the ghost of Regulus Black cast its spell at just the wrong time.

  4. Jax on April 8, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    We don’t have any useful things taught in my EQ. Not really even on sprititual topics. The downfall of a small branch *sigh*

  5. Anita on April 8, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    #3 :-)

    At the general training for RS presidencies downtown last week, Sister Beck stressed that our RS meetings should meet the needs of the sisters. So if you’re in a young married ward and the sisters need to feel success and learn skills related to raising children and learning homemaking, by all means that’s what the meetings should focus on. If you’re in an elderly ward like my parents and grandparents (downtown SLC condo complex), then you focus on creating living wills and planning funerals :-)

    Our ward (mixed Sandy, Utah suburbia) thinks the women need to feel included and find opportunities to serve, so our meetings tend to be more service project/social/occasional cooking or craft-centered.

  6. Rosalynde Welch on April 8, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    I can’t even remember the last time I heard the word “homemaking” in RS. We do hear quite a bit about food storage and debt avoidance (= “provident living,” in my experience) during church meetings, and we have had occasional RS activities that deal with the domestic arts—mostly crafting and some cooking.

    There is still a lot of nuts-and-bolts home economics education that happens in our ward, though—it just happens through the semi-official channel of the RS listserv. Recent discussion topics include vegetarian cooking, gardening and composting, laundry stain removal, refinishing furniture, sewing, and thrifty grocery shopping. (Also eyebrow threading, Groupon, and the ubiquitous requests for OB recommendations.) These occasionally get contentious in the typical fashion of online interactions, but largely they’re very helpful.

  7. Janell on April 8, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    Let’s see. At the last Relief Society shindig we covered avoiding debt, 72 hour kits, and stuffing pillows for a local charity. Theo one before that was studying scriptures, germinating seeds in egg cartons, and stamping up covers for little journals. So yeah, to some extent we’re covering “homemaking” skills of one sort or another.

    Aside from a handout to study and read later, I don’t actually learn much in these meetings because it is very difficult to teach and learn a skill in fewer than 30 minutes. Ok, great, I planted seeds in an egg carton, but how do I love and care for them beyond the egg carton?

    What I have found is that the sisters in my ward are wonderfully willing to help teach homemaking skills on a one-on-one or small group basis. There’s a small knitting group that happily teaches their talents to anyone. There’s a group of women who regularly impart knowledge among one another at play-dates-in-the park, and a monthly potluck for socializing. One sister is helping me learn a foreign language by patiently helping me improve my pronunciation, another is helping me learn how to maintain my garden, and another gives me hints, tips, and support in my sewing endeavors. Relief Society is providing a wonderful forum for me to expand my talents and skills, yet just not through the semi-obligatory quarterly activity.

  8. michelle on April 9, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    What I have found is that the sisters in my ward are wonderfully willing to help teach homemaking skills on a one-on-one or small group basis. There’s a small knitting group that happily teaches their talents to anyone. There’s a group of women who regularly impart knowledge among one another at play-dates-in-the park, and a monthly potluck for socializing. One sister is helping me learn a foreign language by patiently helping me improve my pronunciation, another is helping me learn how to maintain my garden, and another gives me hints, tips, and support in my sewing endeavors.

    This is awesome. Maybe the formal activities can be a springboard for this kind of one-on-one continuing connection.

  9. Krissie Ireland on April 10, 2011 at 7:46 am

    “There’s a small knitting group that happily teaches their talents to anyone. There’s a group of women who regularly impart knowledge among one another at play-dates-in-the park, and a monthly potluck for socializing. One sister is helping me learn a foreign language by patiently helping me improve my pronunciation, another is helping me learn how to maintain my garden, and another gives me hints, tips, and support in my sewing endeavors.”

    I double that! This is truly awesome!!

    I will be forever grateful to my Mother-in-law who taught my husband and his siblings lots of homemaking skills. I’ve ended up with a husband who is a true Domestic God/Goddess and that is such a gift!

    I’d say the RS activities I’ve been to are pretty good – although from experience they don’t seem to like it if you think outside the box. I volunteered to do an activity about food storage. I titled it “When is cheap food not cheap” and talked about the human and environmental cost of food production, and also mentioned how we can ‘love our neighbour’ by making better choices as a consumer. They didn’t like it!

  10. Judy Kay on April 10, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    I was a military wife, one thousand miles from home, raising my children. I didn’t miss a week of those Mother Education lessons thirty years ago because I could pick the brains of women who had children at all stages of life. I learned many important skills that way for being a mom. Also, I learned that my children weren’t anomalies, or even weird, and that most things that were going on in my home were in the catagory of “this, too, shall pass.” I hope that other women get a chance to do this socializing while being focused on a topic. But mostly, I see them in Primary managing other people’s children in isolation. I hope that blogs and playdates fill in this hole. The secret is mixing different age groups–experienced mothers were so helpful to me.

  11. BevP on April 10, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Well, yes, we do. Recently we’ve made green tomato chutney and lip gloss [not in the same pot!], made Christmas gifts and cards, done mending for one another, brought in the Red Cross to teach us basic first aid, and shortly, baby first aid. I think those are homemaking. We’re between spates of sewing and assembling hygiene kits. We’ve got a panel discussion next month on Autistic Spectrum Disorders, with nonmember and less active participants with hands-on experience and training, and plans for a taster on Sign Language, which might grow if the demand is there. We at least want interested sisters to sign well enough to go to a local teacher and sign “I want to learn more signing”. These skills and knowledge may not be needed in our own homes’ making, but they could well make other people feel more at home with us. Other things on the agenda include food storage for local conditions. And some completely unnecessary outdoor fun.

  12. Naomi Sloan on April 11, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Hi there, Russell–

    Oh, I could wax eloquent on this topic. But since I have two little girls taking naps but due to wake up soon, I’ll try to wax efficient.

    (1) I’ve had some formal RS meeting experiences which have provided direct homemaking training, as I’d term it. These have included: basic hair-cutting for kids and men; couponing; family finances planning, tracking, and strategizing; cooking with potatoes (one of my favorite classes, incidentally); sewing. My sister, Gabrielle, has planned RS meetings around food storage, emergency preparedness, and Family Home Evening for different age groups, so I know that these types of “mini-classes” at RS meetings are not unusual. That said, with the many changes in Homemaking/Enrichment/RS meetings over the past few years, some of the wards that I’ve attended have only done quarterly activities, and they’ve tended to be the dinner + speaker events to celebrate the RS birthday or kick off visiting teaching. Because we’ve met less frequently, there’s less time (obviously) for formal homemaking activities. The meetings have tended to have a spiritual rather than practical focus.

    (2) I’ve had MUCH more informal homemaking training. After my first daughter was born, I would invite myself over to friends’ apartments who lived within walking distance, and I would unabashedly cross-examine them about how to care for an infant. No joke, between every one of Polly’s naps for the first year, I would go on my rounds of about 6-7 LDS neighbors and ask them about how to get babies to sleep, how to bathe them, how to deal with chocking scares, etc. etc. I now live in a ward where the women are all interested in food storage and emergency preparedness, and I’ve done a lot of self-directed tutorials with them as well. I’ve been very interested in learning how they use their food storage, how they organize it, how they budget it, etc., etc. I’ve also found a few expert gardeners among the RS sisters, and I’ve solicited advice from them as well. Our ward has an account on myfamily.com called “Morgantown Connection,” and that’s become a fabulous forum for asking questions, sharing ideas, giving away free stuff, asking for free stuff, etc. So our homemaking instruction has become virtual, so to speak. I think that another informal way of homemaking training is through the plethora of Mormon Mommy blogs out there. I have my favorites bookmarked (mostly sisters and cousins), and I learn a lot from those blogs about fun things to do with my children, how to decorate my house, etc. ,etc.

    Okay, Daughter #2 just woke up. I’d say, in quick conclusion, that I’m hungry for homemaking knowledge. I wish that I could have interned with a new mom before my first baby was born. I wish I could intern with a farmer now that we have room to garden. I want this stuff, and I didn’t necessarily learn it growing up.

  13. Kaimi on April 11, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    But Naomi, you have two X chromosomes. That means that you’re naturally nurturing.

    (Can it be coincidence that the decrease in homemaking and similar “skills” training corresponds to an increasingly salient role for the Proclamation and related women-are-naturally-nurturey texts?)

  14. m2theh on April 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    I wish our ward would do more homemaking type things. When I was a kid my mom was the homemaking leader and she was always putting together all kinds of interesting things for the sisters to learn/do. One time they made chairs out of PVC pipe and another time made swimming bags out of shower curtains.

    To be fair, we do have a couple of RS groups that do cooking and food storage, but I’d really like to learn how to make glass grapes. And no, I’m not being facetious.

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