Happily Ever After?

by Linda Prusse Christensen

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    Dream of temple marriage and a family. You should. But what if that part your life falls through?

    One by one I turned the pages of the Brigham Young University catalog of courses. For the sixth or seventh time, I considered each subject major: accounting, agriculture, agronomy, air science, animal science, archaeology. … Even though I had one year of college behind me, I hadn’t yet decided upon a major. From accounting to zoology, nothing seemed right.

    I had always loved math, but a C+ in high school trig discouraged me from pursuing mathematics. A major in elementary education leading to a career as a teacher offered three big bonuses—June, July, and August—but even the prospect of having my summers free didn’t override what was for me a lackluster curriculum. Child development and family relationships was a popular major—too popular; something inside me cried out to be different. But what?

    My older sister Kathy spied me on the back lawn, soaking up rays. Thinking I was engrossed in a novel, she stopped to see what I was reading.

    “Sobby love story?” she asked.

    “Not hardly,” I replied, “but I’m just about in tears trying to decide on a major.”

    “I have a friend who’s majoring in advertising,” Kathy said, “and he loves it. Why don’t you look into it?”

    Advertising? BYU offered no such major. The catalog skipped from accounting to agriculture—I ought to know, I had it memorized.

    “It’s an area of concentration under communications,” she continued, almost as though she had read my mind.

    I turned to communications and read the class offerings. I was intrigued. “Advertising Media Planning and Budgeting,” “News Writing,” and “Public Relations” sounded more like fun than work.

    A few months later, A’s in two introductory advertising classes encouraged me to enroll in “Advertising Copywriting and Production,” and “Communications Law.” Advertising felt right.

    One day I ran into my uncle while I was visiting at my grandparent’s house. “How’s school?” he inquired. “Have you chosen a major?”

    “Yep. Advertising.”

    “Advertising? Never heard of such a major. Do you think that’s wise?” Then he made a statement I’ll never forget: “The Savior spent 30 years preparing for his brief three-year ministry. You have three years of college left. Don’t you think you should spend them preparing for your lifetime ministry?”

    A sword pierced clear through me couldn’t have cut any deeper. I was given cause to ponder.

    I thought about my mother. Had her education prepared her for her ministry as a wife and mother? She had graduated in dramatic arts. I’d never seen her on stage, but she annually directed the winning stake road show, and every Sunday School or sacrament meeting talk I ever gave was rehearsed to perfection under her tutelage. What if I married right out of college and never worked in my field? Could I use an advertising major to further the Lord’s work? Would it be of any benefit to my children?

    The puzzlement persisted, but I continued in advertising. I had never fancied myself as much of a writer (high school English themes were killers!), but in college I found myself pulling A’s in the creative classes as well as in theory. A scholarship as “outstanding junior student in advertising” convinced me I had found my niche.

    Fifteen years have passed since I received my diploma in advertising, and all of them have been spent working in my field. I now sit behind a desk at my own small advertising business. Until recently no husband awaited my return from the office, and no little ones call me mommy. I would gladly welcome the title. Creating advertising ideas has never seemed quite as fulfilling as creating little tabernacles, but life has not yet offered me that opportunity. My college studies really did prepare me for my lifetime calling.

    The problem is, at age 14 or 16 or 18, how do you know what your calling will be? Perhaps life will offer you a storybook marriage with a happily-ever-after conclusion. But maybe you won’t marry at all. Or perhaps through death of a spouse or divorce you will find yourself in the workplace. Life would be easy if we could foresee the future, but there’s only one way to get a jump on life—get prepared. To be prepared for any eventuality, you need an education.

    In addressing an area conference in Paris, France, Sister Camilla Kimball said: “I would hope that every girl and woman here has the desire and the ambition to qualify in two vocations—that of homemaking, and that of preparing to earn a living outside the home, if and when the occasion requires. An unmarried woman is always happier if she has a vocation in which she can be socially of service and financially independent.” Speaking of married women, she noted that “any married woman may become a widow without warning. Property may vanish as readily as a husband may die. Thus, any woman may be under the necessity of earning her own living and helping to support dependent children” (“A Woman’s Preparation,” Ensign, Mar. 1977, p. 59).

    Former BYU president Dallin H. Oaks, now of the Quorum of the Twelve, made this interesting statement: “In recent years our Church leaders have been increasingly concerned with the special needs of our adult single members, particularly women. More than 25 percent of the current adult membership of the Church are women who have never married or who are widowed, divorced or separated. I am deeply concerned that we do an adequate job to prepare our women students to deal with the circumstances that produce these figures. Experience shows that many of our young women will have little or no experience in this life with the ideal of marriage and motherhood in a model LDS family relationship. We cannot assume that all of our women students will marry, remain married, be physically able to bear children, or be able to remain in the home. Consequently, an education should prepare for all of these contingencies.

    “Many of our young women will need to earn a living for themselves because they do not marry, because they do not marry until after some years of employment, or because they have been widowed or through other circumstances have been compelled to assume the responsibilities of the family breadwinner. A mother who must earn a living for the family in addition to performing the duties of motherhood probably has as great a need for education as any person in the world” (BYU President’s Assembly, 9 Sept. 1975).

    As you prepare for your vocation, college is only one of the many educational opportunities you may wish to explore. If you live in a large city, open the telephone directory to the yellow pages and look under “Schools.” Beauty and business schools abound, but you’ll also find schools offering training in such diverse areas as court reporting, drafting and design, broadcasting, land surveying, and locksmithing. Other schools will teach you to become a medical or dental assistant, a travel agent, or a real estate broker.

    If you elect to attend college, don’t shudder at the general education requirements. They’re intended to develop depth, understanding, and flexibility. Besides, who can say when the occasion will arise that you’ll need to know the correct use of a semicolon or the function of the pancreas!

    In selecting a major, choose an area that genuinely interests you—not one in which you think you’ll meet the most boys or eventually earn the most money. While a family living major wasn’t for me, training in clothing and textiles, food and nutrition, and child development can open as many doors as training in the more “academic” areas, such as psychology, English, or political science.

    One word of caution: Whatever field you choose, pursue it far enough to be able to earn a living at it. For example, if you study German, you will probably also need your secondary education certificate in order to make a vocation out of your major. If you elect food science, you will also need to become a registered dietitian in order to qualify for employment.

    But what if you stick it out for four long years—or even four short quarters—and never teach one student, plan one diet, give one injection, or decorate one room? Has it all been in vain? Absolutely not. I believe that education can benefit a woman in five ways in addition to the vocational development:

    First, I believe that education enhances your self-esteem. You’ll feel better about yourself just by knowing that you tried, that you went beyond the minimum high school education, that you set out on the second mile. When you finish the second mile—whatever it may be—you’ll experience a sense of accomplishment that will cause you to say, “I did it! I’m okay!” In addition, you’ll have more self-confidence when meeting and dealing with people. You won’t feel like hiding when you’re surrounded by people whose accomplishments you admire.

    Second, you’ll be a more interesting person. Have you ever tried to carry on a conversation with someone who could only talk about football and baseball? How fascinating would you be if you only knew about washing dishes or ironing clothes? One New Year’s Eve I attended a party at which I met a Colorado State University alumnus. CSU had just creamed BYU in football, and I was able to name the BYU players that his team had mangled. He was so impressed that he asked me out. Football was certainly not part of my formal education, but I had become a more well-rounded and interesting person because of my exposure to athletics.

    Brigham Young said about educating women, “I would not have them neglect to learn music and would encourage them to read history and the Scriptures, to take up a newspaper, geography, and other publications, and make themselves acquainted with the manners and customs of distant kingdoms and nations, with their laws, religion, geographical location on the face of the world, their climate, national productions, the extent of their commerce, and the nature of their political organization; in fine, let our boys and girls be thoroughly instructed in every useful branch of physical and mental education” (Journal of Discourses, 9:189).

    Third, you’ll learn to see the world through wiser, more mature eyes. You’ll be exposed to different ideas and points of view. Prior to attending college, I thought that everyone lived exactly the same as I did. What a shock it was to discover that not everyone made their bed in the morning! Drinking glasses didn’t have to be kept above the kitchen sink.

    I vividly remember a conversation I had with my roommates during my freshman year at BYU. One night at dinner we were discussing what we would give our mothers for Christmas. I had been raised in a very middle-class family, but I attended high school with wealthy, upper-class Jewish students. I had no other point of reference, so by the standards of my peers, my family was pretty poor. As I discussed gift suggestions with my college roommates, I mentioned that I was contemplating giving my mother a telephone for Christmas. She seemed to already have everything else she needed. One of my roommates said, “I’m going to buy my mother a store-bought blouse. I don’t remember her ever owning a piece of new, store-bought clothing.” Wow, was I humbled in a hurry! My naive eyes had awakened to the real world.

    Fourth, you’ll be a better wife. Clear back in 1877, two Salt Lake women, Lula Greene Richards and Emmeline B. Wells, made this observation: “Of all the conditions of women in the world the most deplorable state is of those who despise working for themselves, and who have been allowed to imbibe the idea that woman’s position in life is one of dependency” (Woman’s Exponent, 15 Feb. 1877, 5:140).

    M. Scott Peck, a modern-day psychotherapist, says that a marriage in which one partner is wholly dependent upon another is not a healthy marriage (see The Road Less Traveled, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978, p. 104). You become strong and self-reliant by getting an education which enables you to stand on your own two feet.

    As an educated, independent woman, you’ll be a better wife because you’ll have something to contribute to your marriage. You’ll be better able to communicate with your husband, to help him in his business decisions, and to more maturely work out your difficulties.

    Fifth, you’ll be a better mother. Have you ever stopped to think about what an awesome responsibility it is to be a mother? Motherhood demands a lot more than just changing diapers and fixing meals. Whose responsibility really is it to teach children to pray, to be honest, to work, to read, to write, to be clean, to think, to be considerate, to serve, to share, to be conscientious, and on and on?

    Dr. Charles D. McIver, in addressing the students at North Carolina College for Women said, “When you educate a man you educate an individual; when you educate a woman you educate a whole family” (in The Home Book of Quotations, 8th ed., comp. Burton Stevenson, New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1956, p. 2193).

    Consider how Elder Oaks concluded his remarks to LDS women: “There are other reasons why it is important for our young women to receive a proper education. Education is more than vocational. Education should improve our minds, strengthen our bodies, heighten our cultural awareness and increase our spirituality. It should prepare us for greater service to the human family. Such an education will improve a woman’s ability to function as an informed and effective teacher of her sons and daughters, and as a worthy and wise counselor and companion to her husband. Some have observed that the mother’s vital teaching responsibility makes it even more important to have educated mothers than to have educated fathers” (BYU President’s Assembly, 9 Sept. 1975).

    A woman who prepares for a career is smart. Keep on dreaming about a temple marriage and a bright and beautiful family. Dreams do come true. But be realistic enough to recognize that life isn’t a fairy tale, and you may not have a happily-ever-after ending. Be prepared for whatever the future brings.

    Photos by Eldon Linschoten

    Have some plans and training for your own security, just in case.

    Even if you have to live alone for a while, homemaking skills will help.

    As you develop cultural and intellectual pursuits, they enrich your life.