It’s time for us to add in a new diagnosis to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM): Post-Traumatic Young Women President. The things I’m writing about here happened over a few months over a year ago, but I can’t write about them even now without tearing up.
I knew that YW president was a challenging calling when I took it. In our ward, we’d had only two YW presidents last over nine months in the position. The ward was only seven years old and I was the fourth YW president to serve, if that indicates to you anything about how difficult things were. The YW president before me had just been called as the Stake YW secretary, and she was my visiting teacher. She was as helpful as she could be, but she did not pull any punches telling me about how challenging the calling would be. I’ve taught Seminary, and I’ve been a Relief Society president, and I can tell you that nothing — nothing — compares to the relentless decision fatigue of being the Young Women president. It’s grueling.
It wasn’t long before I realized that the YW program was actually impossible to run as described in the Handbooks (did you know instructions for YW classes were found in three different locations — the CFM manuals, CHI2, and the PP manual?). The organization was so horrifyingly corrupted that it could not actually operate according to the instructions in the handbook. Structural and institutional organization is particular gift of mine, and it’s hard to explain how traumatic this discovery was to me. I was overwhelmed when I realized this, and reached out to the Laurel adviser, who had also been a YW president, to talk. She did not seem concerned at all, and she didn’t offer me the kind of support I needed at the time, which was mainly commiseration and a discussion of how to prioritize or make our own program, since the handbook vision was not possible to achieve. 1
Looking back, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when things really began getting dramatically difficult. I can’t point to a single thing, but I can point to a series of them that were traumatic. I remember I had been goofing off on the internet researching when I decided to try and find the name of a deformity I had when I was born but that was healed after a priesthood blessing. I suppose few know it, but I was born with a deformation of my right foot. The doctors told my parents I’d be in a brace, maybe forever, but that they could try to straighten out the foot by holding it in the right position. My dad, a new convert, called in my long-time member grandfather from Utah, and they gave me a priesthood blessing — a rarity in my family. I was healed. My foot is normal. “I walk because of the priesthood,” has been a cornerstone of my testimony of the priesthood since I can remember. But while researching this particular deformity, I learned that what I had is called a positional deformity, and it is something that straightens itself out. My foot healed because healthy bodies heal themselves–no blessing, no intervention needed. My miracle was not. It was a severe challenge to my testimony.
I have long struggled with priesthood blessings, but my service on councils in the church had usually offset any doubts and frustrations. I’ve had the good fortune to serve on five ward councils with many good men who hold the priesthood, and who I believed performed great works because of that authority. However, at the time I was YWP the ward council I was serving with really tried that faith. How could the EQP not bother to show up to meetings? Why wouldn’t the HPGL fulfill any assignments? Why was my line leader and former friend sabotaging me? Why were men using the Priesthood Executive Council to do end runs around activities we decided on during ward council2? The bishop told me once that even he had to write up to five reminder emails to get responses from these guys. These men had priesthood — something I will never have — and something I really, truly believed in — and they were treating that gift like garbage. I was getting angrier and angrier. It was getting harder and harder to believe these men have any authority, so I bought and read The Power of Godliness by Jonathan Stapely. It did not repair my faith. I was left questioning much, much more than ever before.
Until last year I ran a business selling seasonal items for the LDS market. I bought the cheapest card machine that I could find and designed jewelry and clothing that I had manufactured overseas and then sold and shipped all over the world. Business was very good, but because it was a church business, the busy times with the business matched exactly with the busy times in my own church-dominated schedule. For example, in January and February, I’d do about 70% of my sales — right at New Beginnings time. In May, it was last-minute camp preparations. In December, Christmas gifts. Working is good, and the money I was able to net and save paid for our children to go to college debt-free, two new cars, and several trips. But work, of course, takes time, and it brings with it its own stressors, and as has happened when I was RSP and Seminary teacher, I found I had to cut back my work schedule, which limited our family financially, to serve. I estimated once that the income I’ve lost from serving the church tops $200k — I’m talking real sales here that I had to forgo, not hypothetical “if I had been working” income.
You may also know that I used to run a couple of very busy LDS lesson helps websites and jewelry stores. During the time I was YWP, President Nelson asked used to stop using the name Mormon, which caused branding issues for my websites. I was too busy with the calling and my personal life to do the work to start from scratch, and that coupled with my general discomfort with profiting from church business of any kind, I eventually donated some of my stores to a non-profit organization and then closed some others.
My daughter did not get a driver’s license until she was a Freshman in college, which meant that I was her full-time driver to all over her activities the last two years of her high school career. I’d get up at 5:30am to get her to Seminary, work all day on the business or at household responsibilities, and then pick her up at band, drama, track, a club meeting, or whatever else thing she had going on to take her to whatever else thing she had going on next. With school ending at 2:30pm, and the fact that we live 20 minutes from everything, I spent hours and hours driving her around and completing my own errands every day.
In addition I’d had a recent traumatic, tragic experience losing some friends who had been special to me through a multi-year series of humiliating and horrifying events that all of my best efforts only seemed to exacerbate. The circumstances were not such that I could really open up to anyone — our connections overlap too much — and I didn’t want anyone else’s interaction with my former friends to be affected by what was happening. I’m not really a crier, but I have cried quite literally every single day for three straight years, hiding my grief even from my husband, who knew what was happening, but who I felt would not be able to function in either his interactions with these people, or even with me, had he known the depth of my hurt. Only my best friend knows all of it, and even she, as she lives 600 miles away, doesn’t really know how black many days were and how grief consumed me. These people, who really are good servants of Christ, also served in the Church as leaders at the same time as I did. For a long while I reported to one and another reported to me. Our children were similar ages and had been friends, and they continued to be involved in extracurricular and church activities together that could not be avoided. The situation was awkward and painful in the extreme.
It was a perfectly ordinary disintegration of a friendship. Friendships die every day. But I’ve bled for so long that even though they are now finally completely out of our sphere of connection, I fear I may never heal. And because of the church service we were performing at the time, my trauma is tied up in the calling of Young Women president and church service in general. I’m not blaming the calling for that situation, but the calling was unquestionably a complicating factor.
I am also responsible for the care of an elderly relative. Due to my connections at church and her long-term care insurance, we have been able to keep her in her home with private care for the last six years after a serious stroke left her mostly paralyzed and unable to read or drive or cook. Initially, I had caregivers come in only for the hours she was awake, but after she broke her hip and then continued trying to get out of bed at night, I began sleeping down there secretly until I could make arrangements for caregivers to come in 24-hours a day. This was against her wishes, but she kept falling, and I just could not leave her alone, lying in her own waste for 12 hours a day, even when she didn’t get up at night. She is very hard of hearing, so it was easy for me to go into the house and sleep there to keep an eye on her. I set the alarm on my phone to go off every two hours so that I could check on her while I was there. It was like having a newborn again, and it was just as exhausting. Just as we began the new 24-hour shift schedule, disaster struck.
One of the main nurses called me on a Thursday to inform me she was leaving the following Monday for medical reasons to Peru, and she’d be gone for a month. She didn’t try to get subs. Just left. Our main full-time caregiver was in a car accident just a day later and had to take several days off due to whiplash. Another caregiver was on a previously arranged vacation. The fourth could not take more hours due to conflicts with her disability benefits. The fifth, who asks me for more money every six months or so, would not take more hours, frustratingly.
It happened that week was spring break at the high school. I had already pulled up all the flooring in the living room and moved it to the kitchen and other rooms because I had planned to spend three or four days replacing the flooring in our house with my daughter’s help. Due to the problems with the caregivers, my daughter ended up taking many shifts, sometimes working 30 hours at a stretch. She did not have the skill to lay the flooring alone, so we couldn’t switch out. I ended up laying the floor mostly alone. What’s more, my son was going to finish his college semester in two weeks, and I needed to have a place for him to stay, so there was a time constraint on completing the flooring in his bedroom, which due to the layout of the house, would be the next-to-last room I could complete.
So I laid 850 feet of hardwood floor almost completely by myself. If you’ve never laid wood floor before, it’s HARD work. I’m in good shape, but getting up and down, up and down, up and down for hours at a time is murder on the 40 year-old person. Without my daughter to help, I had to do all the cutting and measuring and transporting and putting down of the underlayment completely alone. This changed the three-day — maybe four days if I went slowly — job into a two-week job, during which we were without a kitchen or living room. For at least part of the time, my daughter didn’t have a bedroom while I laid flooring in her room, which had a weird rise in the middle that I had to fill and level. I also put in new baseboard, which took forever, because once school started up again, my days were broken up getting Sydney to school and home and to her end-of-the-year activities. Hauling the tools in and out of the house to set up each day was not a lot of fun. Making matters worse, any money I would have saved by doing it myself was canceled out by all the eating out we had to do for those two weeks because the kitchen was full of furniture.
Also during this time, my relative had a health issue that was causing her significant pain, and a doctor prescribed a medication (unbeknownst to me) that was causing her to act out in dangerous ways. She became irrationally, terrifyingly depressed. She took out her anger mainly on me, but she was cruel and rude to her caregivers to the point that I thought I’d have to put her in a nursing home to keep them safe emotionally. I’d spend hours down there talking her out of a dark funk, leave her laughing, and within minutes I’d have the careworker calling me again to say she was dangerously depressed again and frightening them. Everything was my fault in her telling. She told everyone that came by that I was neglecting her, and then told me they told her that I was neglecting her. These people would call me, greatly concerned, and I’d have to explain the situation, but it was getting out of control. She said ugly things about me — blaming what she called my hypocritical religiosity — even to my 16yo daughter, who, as I mentioned, was also working as a caregiver. No matter how much time I gave her it was not enough. When I couldn’t be present at every whim of hers, it was not good enough for me to send Jared or stay in touch with the caregivers. If I was not at her beck and call every minute, I was neglecting her.
Finally one morning after she had upset my daughter by talking trash about me, I finally took Jared (who she loves) down there, and we had a heated conversation. She lied and made horrible stories up about me, but the caregiver and Jared were able to correct her and back me up. I am not proud to admit it, but, yes, I cussed out an 87-year-old woman. I blessed her out for ripping on the Mormon Church. Where are the Episcopalians? Who is it that’s here helping you? Who cut the tree off your carport during that crazy hurricane? Could you be home if I weren’t a Mormon? Why isn’t she talking to me if she has a problem with me? I have other responsibilities and can’t always be there when she calls — this trash talk has to stop. At one point she told me she was so messed up she couldn’t pick out her own clothes — I said so you really want me to take over at that level? To pick out your clothes and run your finances and operate the farms and make all —ALL— of your decisions? Because I can. And there will definitely be some changes. But I don’t think that’s what you want, and I don’t want to take away any of your autonomy before I have to. Of course, she didn’t. And mentally she is okay to make most decisions. She was just trying to play pathetic to force me down there. I get it. She has enough mental capacity remaining to know something is wrong, and she’s scared. And frankly, she has no idea how intimately I am involved with what goes on down there even without being physically present because of her hearing problems and because she doesn’t know how much I handle behind the scenes by phone or text. Things were okay for a week or so after that. But she got worse again as her physical health declined. It was soul-crushing and exhausting.
Jared and I had a trip overseas planned to take our niece and my father to England and Ireland to visit some family history locations. Unfortunately, my relative fell ill and was hospitalized again while Jared and I were overseas for those two weeks. I was coordinating care best I could with time zones and cell coverage issues. Adding to the stress, my daughter was supposed to have stayed at my relative’s house while we were gone, but at 16 she could not stay there entirely alone with no adults while my aunt and the caregivers were at the hospital for ten days, so she ended up staying with a family in the ward. My mom and dad were able to help coordinate things with the hospital from Mississippi to an extent. But it was stressful.
After my relative got home she started acting even more irrationally, so much so, that daddy and I regularly discussed her personality change. In one especially confusing incident, she tried to buy a $15,000 bathtub (no lie) that she could not possibly use, physically speaking, due to her paralysis. Daddy and I both worked on her and with the tub installer. Doing our best to try to support her in making decisions, but to try and keep her safe from spending thousands of dollars for no reason, daddy had the company bring a tub to the house for her to try and get into. When she got up to try and pretend she could step into this walk-in tub, she fell. I was ready and caught her, but the tub was so obviously a bad fit for her situation that even the salesman had to agree that it was a mistake to sell her the tub. She eventually dropped it. But that hassle lasted weeks and took an in-person visit from my dad to halt. One. More. Thing.
I ended up checking out her medication and discovered that one of the side effects of a the medication she’d been prescribed could cause bipolar behaviors, and we weaned her off it. Shortly after that, she ended up being hospitalized for the earlier, unresolved condition, but I literally had to be at the hospital every minute and leaning on the doctors to persuade them to perform an operation. The sick can’t advocate for themselves, and frankly, our upper middle class status helps us get action where others may be dismissed. We know how to talk and when to push back. I am convinced that had I been there for the hospitalization in June they’d have done the surgery then, but I was not, and she ended up suffering needlessly for 6 more weeks. Alone I could have handled it, but there was so much happening….
In the meantime, my son decided to go on a mission, to our surprise. He had just five weeks from the time he put in his papers to the date he entered the MTC. We had to scramble to get him through the temple (ours is closed) and his clothing and supplies bought. I went to Utah at the beginning of May for a week to help get everything lined up. In his typical fashion, he was completely unprepared and near totally unaware of how unprepared he was. His grandma and I did some eight loads of laundry, binned his stuff for storage, and straight-up saved his bacon. It was exhausting.
My son and I were able to go to the temple together twice, and I count those as some of my life’s best experiences. Parenting sucks. On the rare occasion you get a “Pay Day,” as my husband calls them, you treasure them. It was a rare glimmer of light during a very difficult slog lasting many months.
We worked around the son’s bad ideas about chilling in Utah with his “friends” 7, I made the cucumber sandwiches. I had asked for help from my presidency and advisers. None came, and I was too with my hands and coordinating the male leaders to call for help.
WMP and YMP were happy to eat on the food as I worked. Naturally.
It was my turn to teach the Laurel class that day. I had a kind of elaborate game planned, but with the presentation of the medallion, we had only a limited amount of time so I altered the lesson, which also involved food. We had the accordion door opened to the kitchen, when one of the young women we had been worried about, strolled into the kitchen — she was skipping class again. I made a mental note to call the Mia Maid leaders. While I worked to clean up the YW room and my lesson and the kitchen after the lesson and party, the bishop came in to tell me he was planning the temple trip meeting right that second (I forgot to mention that the bishop also announced at ward council that we’d have a meeting after church about the temple trip, which had not yet been discussed in any detail at all), and he needed to know how we’d sign youth up for the trip — beginning in five minutes. I told him a paper sign-up sheet was the simplest thing. He didn’t commit. I pushed again. He didn’t commit and left out.
I got my cleaning done and went into the gym, where the bishop was literally making up a meeting as he went along. I was wearing some high-heeled dress shoes that made this super loud clicking sound, and of course, bishop had everyone standing in a circle on the opposite side of the gym from where I entered. Awesome. Just as I walked up to the edge of the group, the young women looked up and split the ring so that I could walk in like I was in charge — inadvertently putting me directly across the circle from a family of members who despise me. Oh my gosh I was so embarrassed by the noise and attention and horrified by the unwanted exposure the family had to my face, unnecessarily. I stayed at the edge of the group, pretending I didn’t exist.
The meeting was going along fine, but all of a sudden the bishop said we’d need paper and pencil for a sign-up and then looked at me — he was literally finalizing the sign-up method right then in his mind. I did have the paper and pen, which I had pulled out of the closet seconds before in case he did decide to go with a paper sign-up. While he continued speaking the YMP and I set up a table and started a list that included the people who had already signed up for the trip and paid me but who could not attend the meeting. Then, out of the blue, bishop announces to the group that I am about to tell the group the itinerary…
… which did not yet exist.
The itinerary did not exist because he had not organized a meeting to plan one or made an assignment for me or anyone else to create one.
My heart stopped. Now I had an idea of how things would work, but I had not discussed it with anyone, because I didn’t know we were that far along, and I certainly didn’t know I’d be giving a presentation to a group of 50. Support the bishop, right? I faked it. I made up a schedule and did my best to appear like “we definitely have a plan for this trip; your children are safe with us”.
First off I hate being the center of attention. I doubly hate being put on the spot. And I don’t know if this bishop just likes picking on me or what, but he is constantly calling me out of the group for an impromptu presentation. I should feel the compliment — he knows I can stand up and articulate myself under pressure — but I hate it. Hate, hate, hate it. Plus, I was getting the stink eye from the ex-friends. I just wanted to fall in a hole and die.
When the meeting was finally over, we started signing people up, and one mother comes up to me to have a long discussion about whether or not her kids will maybe attend or not. Another mother comes up to tell me that her daughter has been diagnosed with a yet unspecified anxiety disorder and may need accommodation in Young Women in the future. Dealing….
Suddenly I remember that my relative is still in the hospital and will need a ride home, like, right now. I enlist a very annoyed Jared, who finally relents when I tell him I’ve literally got three overlapping meetings I am supposed be in after the temple trip meeting: one with the YMP and bishop, the Beehive class presidency meeting — all the Beehive leaders were out, and the Laurel class presidency meeting.
I was handling it. But I was about to teeter off the edge.
So when bishop asks to speak to me after most everyone has left, I think this is going to be it — this’ll be what I’ve been hoping for: someone will finally be inspired to ask how I’m doing. Some priesthood holder will care and this will show that the priesthood is real and I’d been mistaken doubting for all these months. Recent experiences with the broken friendship with my line leader had left me thinking that I could not reach out to priesthood leaders when I struggled for a variety of reasons. Rational or not, I had been burned and was afraid to show my vulnerabilities without invitation. But I still had confidence, or at least hoped, that priesthood gave these men insights and they’d know I was suffering and reach out.
It didn’t happen.
The bishop asked about girls camp — were we on track. I joked about not having to stay overnight for camp this year and how I didn’t mind not sleeping in the heat, but bishop laughingly promised he’d “fight” for me to be able to sleep at camp. It was a friendly visit. But he never asked how I was. I’M COMING UNGLUED. That’s how I really was. But no one could see me.
Discernment, my foot.
I handled the next two meetings. Our little Beehive Secretary needed lots of help with her minutes. When I got to the Laurel meeting, they had planned some event that conflicted with the calendar and we had to make some changes. As I briefly mentioned early, for the past several weeks, my counselors and I had been concerned about a young woman who was skipping Sunday School and sometimes Young Women. I skipped plenty of class when I was that age, so I didn’t want to overreact, but on that day she had skipped out of her Mia Maid classroom and accidentally outed herself by walking into the kitchen where my entire Laurel class could see her. The Mia Maid counselor was out of town, so I called the Mia Maid advisor to talk about the situation as I drove home after the meetings. After our business was done, she told me she knew I was juggling a lot of things and complimented me on handling things well. She said the things that the priesthood leaders lacked the insight to share.
But it provided me no relief.
Looking back, I understand why her remarks were unhelpful, and it doesn’t paint me in a great light. I had imagined in my mind a situation that I felt was appropriate — attention I thought deserved. I felt I deserved to have acknowledgment from priesthood leadership because I was the Young Women President. Kind support from a well-meaning adviser wasn’t enough. I wanted acknowledgment and support from those “above” me, not those who reported to me. Because of my struggles with priesthood in general over the previous months, I had decided that only something that showed male/priesthood inspiration would be enough for me. It was not rational, but it’s how I felt, and the experience I had that day tried my faith severely.
Things never did get better. I spent all two years I was in the calling being That Person who pushed back on the stake who kept assigning wards to do their jobs for them. For example, the first thing I refused to do was plan a stake dance. No, I will not plan a stake dance. I will not find the DJ, choose the music, determine the dress code, enforce the dress code on anyone — especially not youth outside our ward, locate chaperones on top of all the other meetings and activities I already run, and “let the youth lead” the activity. What on earth are stakes thinking when they do this? The several weeks of pushback worked, and the stake decided to allow wards to “volunteer” to manage dances and were shocked (hahahahaha) when none volunteered. Later on, I dealt with a stake leader who told me my dress was too tight. I managed successfully to ignore that. Later stake leaders asked us, two weeks before youth conference, to collect all of the paperwork and have it to them in 3 days, when THEY had already done a pre-registration and had the email addresses for every person who was registered for the conference. I refused to do that and explained why. Then the next year they did not provide bus transportation to a youth conference that was a four-hour drive away, despite doing so the previous ten years, and announced that wards should find ways to transport youth — in our case, about 45 youth, 4 hours each way, to the middle of nowhere Virginia, twice in three days. In that case, the bishop was left scrambling to figure it out, because I was already going out of the country. I did what I could, however, and I left the keys to my van with chaperones to use to help ferry kids back and forth — this four days after the stake girls camp river rafting trip had a last minute date change that required help getting 150 girls transported an hour to and from the river. That in itself wasn’t too bad, but the Rappahannock river mud from ferrying soggy young women left a huge mess I had find time to clean up while getting ready for an international trip so that I could have the van in a state that seven people could travel the four hours to youth conference comfortably. I had to fight for the most basic things: priesthood leaders thought permission slips were stupid, but I refused to transport youth without them. Leaders would not attend YW classes, preferring to meet with the boys, despite the handbook requirement. I never could find a way to get the girls to get their semiannual interviews. The bishopric didn’t feel it was important, and plus, all the boys were using porn (or robbing the scout store at Jubilee — another great story) and needed regular interviews, so….. I worked so hard to cover up how the girls were being neglected by priesthood leadership, and I think they never knew it. But I sure as heck did. Then there was budgeting, which had never bothered me until the week when the YMP suggested taking all the boys to a BYU football game in North Carolina with his “leftover” budget funds. His “leftovers” were more than the YW got in an entire year to hold New Beginnings, YW in Excellence, birthday gifts, and all our weekly activities. I suggested that they use the money for camp equipment, since we were always mooching off ward members. We didn’t get the camp equipment, but the boys didn’t go to a BYU game either.
Then there was the time that I emailed the YMP to ask him to help me with mutual opening exercises. YW leaders were always there a few minutes early to help set up and get the youth started to lead the meeting. Never once had a young men’s leader showed up to help with mutual, and the last boy had some cognitive issues that he’d been bullied for constantly, so I worked really hard to help him look and feel competent when he was leading the group. I made him an agenda each week, but it took me several months to teach him how to use it, because he’d never seen one. No one uses an agenda in priesthood meetings, apparently. I had done this for two years at that point, and as I said, I was bleeding out my eyeballs. YM president wrote me this hugely long email telling me I was a bad person for challenging my priesthood leaders and that he couldn’t possibly arrive at mutual five minutes early because he worked all day and he wanted that time to eat his dinner at home, so he deliberately left home late knowing everything would be okay. I was livid. I had spent the last two years taking my own daughter to get fast food every Wednesday night after picking her up from her activities so that jerk could stay home. Plus I worked — my business did $80k in sales. I was doing his calling, and the callings of the other 14 men called to serve in young men (this is not an exaggeration) and making my own family suffer because he worked so he deserved ten minutes extra to digest his dinner. He could not be inconvenienced to help out once a week. I wrote him a letter saying as much.
But I didn’t send the letter.
I had the presence of mind to talk it over with my counselors, who told me that if we can’t plan on support from young men, well, okay. We do what we can and let it fall how it will.
But I have not spoken a single word to that young men president since that day.
I dealt with advisers who wouldn’t attend mutual, counselors who wouldn’t participate in leadership group chats, and counselors who fought with or insulted each other. The bishop tried to take away my secretary when I needed her most. We rotated presidencies roughly every 6 months, which was a constant challenge. Finding reliable people is so difficult, and it seems once you find them, you have a month or so to enjoy it, and then you’re released.
Eventually, I was released. I remember my exit interview. Bishop did the thing where they tell you how great you are but they’re letting me go (my bishop is totally great and sincere, though I know this is cliche’) asked me how I felt about my service. I said “It’s been ….” and just wept. It had been hellish, and he knew it.
I ran into the previous YW president’s husband at Target shortly afterward. He was our home teacher at the time and Stake YM president. He asked me how I was feeling about the release, and I teared up like a goober right there in Target. I couldn’t even speak. He told me his wife felt the same way when she was released and tried to reassure me that in time I’d forget about the struggles and look back on serving as the Young Women president with happiness, only remembering the good times.
That has not happened.
Miraculously (or not), the major situations that had been causing me so much strain at the end of the calling all resolved within probably ten days of my release. My relative was able to have her surgery, which corrected her health problem for almost a year and dramatically improved her mood. School ended, so the strain of driving my daughter everywhere stopped. It was summertime, so business dropped off. The caregivers all got their stuff together, and I was able to hire a reliable caregiver (who had been a former Laurel of mine) to cover the bulk of my most difficult shifts. The family decided to move8.
But my faith was in tatters. I have still not fully recovered.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t expect I will ever resemble pre-young-women-president-Jenny ever again.
Just a few months after I was released, my BFF was called to be the YWP in her own ward. To be honest, listening to her describe her struggles being a YWP has been the most cathartic thing. These problems were not unique to me. Certainly, the personalities and specifics are different, but the stake is always “delegating” to wards at the last minute, bishops are constantly calling audibles, and you spend half your time trying to cover up how badly things really are operating so that the youth have a good experience no matter what. Personnel problems are constant, and every other woman in the program is also dying trying to make YW fit into family life. It’s draining to juggle the commute, the kids, the cooking, the cleaning, the extracurriculars, and the decision fatigue that comes with being a young women president. My friend is a doctor, but she has had to cut her work hours to make YW and Seminary fit — why does this never seem to happen with men? YMPs seem to be able to just drop the calling so they can digest their dinners. We women can’t for whatever reason. We feel obligated to help these youth have a good time, connect with God and each other, and to train them to be leaders. YW leaders do not take the YM approach of tossing youth off into the deep end and let them sink or swim. The YW leaders I know swim with the girls and help them learn skills by both example and real training. Structurally, no other organization in the church does as much with as little woman-power as the young women do. Not only do female leaders deal with the church’s institutional sexism, but sadly, sexism is alive and well in some of our men as well. It’s exhausting and stressful, and the effects are physical, financial, emotional
So, yeah, I’m traumatized.
And I’m not alone.
- Just a year after I was released the church scrapped the entire YW program and started from scratch, but of course, at the time I was called I could not predict these wholesale changes. I hope that the new program is situated in a way to help YW leaders feel less burdened, however, in talking with my friend who is now a YW president, it seems that the new program has not changed things substantially.
- Spoiler: he used PEC to manipulate our sweet bishop and avoid having the female leadership object to the things he was doing, which we would have
- read: girlfriend3. He finally came home to get his wisdom teeth out a week before he left. I was still serving as the Young Women president, and we were working to get everything together for Young Women in Excellence, which we had planned for May, thinking we might be able to recognize our Seniors who got their medallions at graduation4It didn’t happen that way. All of the YW got their medallions after graduation in June.5. May/June here is a crazy busy time. School and finals, end of the year parties, award ceremonies, seminary and high school graduation, weddings, summer sports spinning up, plus the inevitable last-minute youth conference and girls camp and scout camp pushes (because everything is always done last minute — they’re “going by the spirit”, I guess). It’s a nightmare. Everyone was going crazy. On top of our regular stuff, the bishop accepted the only temple trip opening at the Philly temple (our closest), and put me in charge of organizing bus transportation for our youth to Philadelphia…. departing in two weeks. That means I had to find a bus company, book, plan a schedule for the trip, help the bishopric coordinate temple recommend interviews, and collect permission slips from our 65 youth and chaperones — right in the middle of my personal and church chaos.
I know the reason he assigned me to do it is my skill set. No one else could have organized it so quickly, nor did anyone else have the contacts or institutional knowledge to get it done in the time frame we had. The Saturday before the trip, my relative had a spell that we thought was a stroke. We notified some local family, as we usually do, but they jumped the gun and started freaking out, thinking she was going to die. I didn’t think so, but as you know it takes time to get results from doctors, so at the same time I was sitting in the Emergency Room fielding last messages from family members to my ill relative (tell her “she was important in my life” type stuff), I was on the telephone with the temple finalizing details of the youth temple trip, because at that time, Philly was requiring lots more information to make reservations than they do now.
Oh, and that was going to be our last weekend at home with our son before he left for his mission. Fortunately, he had no interest in a farewell, or I’d have been organizing that as well. I was at the hospital until about 2am, when it became clear the seemingly extraordinary event was simply ordinary, and my relative would come home. It was a relief.
The next day the bishop randomly decided that the youth broadcast occurring that next Sunday evening needed to be viewed in member homes as groups instead of at the church as had been announced and planned. It was one of those “I’ve had a revelation” moments that leaders get at the most inconvenient times. YMP and I tried to talk him out of it, but he pushed back, so we went with it. The YMP and I decided that the fastest way to organize it was to use our recently organized “clusters,” which had been created to group members by geography for emergency preparedness. The problem is, neither he nor the Ward Mission Leader who had organized the groups, knew enough people or which youth were in each group to be able to determine how to group kids or whose homes we could ask to invade. We set up a meeting during the second block to knock out the details and have the plan ready to present during the third block to the youth.
While that impromptu planning meeting was occurring, I was preparing snacks — cucumber sandwiches — for a presentation of a YW medallion during the third block, so the guys met me in the kitchen. While we discussed the needs and split up the youth into four multiple-cluster groups, and made assignments to reach out to the family members I identified as having both youth and space for fifteen kids to watch the broadcast6I am pretty sure this was the Youth Battalion of the Lord speech that President Nelson gave. It was so good — our youth were so stoked! But then nothing else has happened with it. I’ve never even heard it mentioned since.
- But they made sure I knew I was the reason for the move and did what they could to make us suffer at every opportunity.