I’m 15. And my Young Women’s leaders are freaking me out. Help?

I am a fifteen year old girl and am having some troubles with the Mormon culture and NOT the faith. Lately I cannot stand going to young women’s or sunday school because it feels like they press upon you what to do and how to feel. All they are constantly telling me is that I have to get married (in the temple) and have children and I feel really frustrated by having to mould into the ‘perfect’ Mormon type. A bunch of my friends aren’t LDS (I live in a big town with few Mormons) and it seems like they are free to do with their lives as they please. I’m not saying that I want to drink, do drugs, or have a boyfriend before I’m sixteen because I wouldn’t do that even if I wasn’t LDS. It just seems like they aren’t as pressured as I am.

My best friend who is an inactive Mormon (her mom is LDS but her dad isn’t) is really fun to be around and lives life care free. Occasionally she’ll swear or have a boyfriend but I don’t feel that what she is doing is necessarily that bad. Sure, I would never do what she does but unlike my other two Mormon friends, I don’t see the harm in what she’s doing. She believes in the gospel and says prayers regularly by herself and with her family. It isn’t that important for her to marry into the Mormon faith or get married into the temple though.

I know that I’m only fifteen but I’m already worried that I won’t find the ‘perfect’ Mormon man to marry who will respect me and the way I view the Mormon culture and live it. Occasionally I will wear ‘short-shorts’ or wear a tank top, and I feel that if I ever told another Mormon guy or girl (besides my best friend who does it also) about the way I live, that they would think of me as not strong in faith (which I am) or truly LDS.  My parents don’t have a problem if I wear shorts or tank tops in the summer (not during school) and love me the way I am. I would never lie to them and they are two of my greatest friends.

I fear that there isn’t another Mormon person who would respect my decisions and how I am. I would love to marry someone who is like my father (a convert) in ways that he is strong in faith but has an opinion that some of the religious rules can be flexible (mostly the dress code). I would NEVER wear revealing clothing to an event and when I wear the shorts and t-shirts, I do it to cool off in the hot heat (and usually in the concealment of my backyard). We also go to church every Sunday dressed appropriately.

I plan to go to Brigham Young University to become a lawyer – yet I am afraid that parts of my lifestyle will be prosecuted and I will be treated differently by the more rule abiding Mormons and I won’t find a ‘perfect’ man to spend eternity with. Thank you for taking the time to read my concerns. I deeply appreciate it.

Sincerely,

KDP

Dear KDP:

Let me make sure I hear you right.  You’re a 15 year-old Mormon girl with strong faith.  You attend church.  You love and have a close relationship with your parents. You have excellent long-term personal goals to attend college and have a profession.  But you come away from Church carrying the feeling that you’re not good enough. So much so that wearing short-shorts and a tank top on a hot day (and usually in your backyard) makes you feel like your chance of a happy Mormon life and even a temple marriage is in peril.

It sounds to me like what you’re hearing at Church is making you feel anxious . . . so anxious that you’re not able to carry away the good messages you really need:  that you are a beloved child of Heavenly Parents, that you have tremendous power to make choices that can bring joy and fulfillment to your life and the lives of others, and that faith can sustain you through whatever life will bring.  I want you to plug into these kinds of messages and let them give you a greater sense of safety and peace.

So, first, I think you should talk to your parents.  Tell them that what you’re hearing at church is making you feeling anxious and inadequate, even worried about your future and your ability to find someone to love and marry.  Your parents love you and know you best.  They are in the best position to put their arms around you and tell you that you’re doing just fine.  They might even be willing to have a private chat with your Young Women’s leaders to let them know that the youth might need a little more encouragement and support along with the pressure.

Second, I want you to try to put the messages you’re getting from your youth leaders into a little perspective.  KDP, I’ve never served as a Young Women’s leader, but I can only imagine how responsible they feel for helping you turn out right. Many Mormons perceive the world as an ever more wicked place that we must keep ourselves separated from as much as possible.  Your Young Women’s leaders may be putting a lot of stress on the dress and grooming standards in For the Strength of Youth because dress and grooming standards serve as a way to keep ourselves visibly separated from the world and (they hope) keep us safe.  But even Young Women’s leaders are human, and they too might be letting their fear of the world and their anxiety about helping you turn out right get in the way of the equally important goal of making you feel safe and loved.

In the long run, I hope you’ll learn that the best reasons for keeping the standards, or going to church come not just from what others tell you or from fear but from how you feel inside:  from your faith.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  our religion was founded when a young man just about your age didn’t feel good about what he was hearing at church and went into a grove of trees to pray for an answer.  You have the same ability to pray and get answers.  Use it.  Ask God if you are meant to feel anxious.  Ask God if everything will turn out okay.  I have faith that you’ll get the answers you need.

Now, readers:  discuss amongst yourselves.  What gentle words of guidance do you have for KDP?  What musings on the state of Mormon youth, and their leaders?

Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.

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20 Comments

Filed under Mormon Youth, parenting, young women

20 responses to “I’m 15. And my Young Women’s leaders are freaking me out. Help?

  1. birch

    I was a rule-abiding, squeaky-clean, enthusiastic mormon young woman like yourself ten years ago. I felt the same pressure to conform, but I didn’t let myself think about how nice it would be to loosen up the rules a bit. Nor did I have parents who would support me in a lifestyle that involved tank tops, fun prom dresses, or R-rated movies.

    Now, ten years later, I have to say: live your life the way you want to. You can absolutely be your own mormon, not just a cookie cutter example. You definitely, definitely, don’t have to get married in the temple to enjoy being a member. Don’t let yourself stress from that pressure. I second Joanna’s advice to talk to your parents — you are fortunate that they are more concerned with your happiness than your strict adherence to mormon expectations.

    You only have one life to live, and you should do it in a way that you feel comfortable. In my experience, the more I have learned to be at peace with my own lifestyle (including short shorts — they really are perfect for the summer), the more I have been able to relax and enjoy the good parts of mormonism and the fabulous people who embrace it. Have confidence in yourself, and best of luck!

  2. KDP

    Thank you birch for those words,

  3. KDP,
    At times adults, youth leaders included, fail to explain “why”.
    You feel a pressure to conform that you do not think others feel, and you feel oppressed by standards or rules that arent that big of a deal.
    First as to the why. Why would they tell you to marry a Mormon in the temple? Better yet, ignore why your leaders say to do it, but rather ask why your father in heaven would instruct you to do so. Is it to have a happy life long union? I say no… many, many, non-LDS couples have great and lasting marriages; it must be something else.

    Why no tanks tops and short shorts? I would advise you that dress standards are not a function of Mormonism but of modesty. As a male, and a good guy, realize that boys are visual and how you look and what they see has a biological affect on them… whether they want it too or not. That being said, t-shirts are never mentioned in scriptures.

    You talk predominantly about rules and if they matter. We all do this, no matter our age. I have found a key in my life and my decision as to what rules to follow, comes from figuring out where the rules really come from and why. For instance, I once heard a rule that you cannot wear white after labor day. I have later learned this rule was created by a bunch of stiff, boring, old people who were snobs…. so I break this rule on a regular basis. There is another rule about how fast I can drive. At tims I think the rule is wrong and I could really drive much faste and still be safe… but the rule was made by the government who has the authority to pull me over and fine me lots of money… so I obey the rule.
    Maybe its time for a closer look at these rules and some self reflection to see if you think these rules came from your leaders or from your Father in Heaven. If they came from youth leaders, go ahead and argue with those leaders. If the rule did in fact come from God, feel free to discuss it with Him, just remember he is the ultimate authority at the end of all this.

    Sure you only have this one life to live and yes it is yours… but it is only a short while and what you do with it has consequences that go on forever.
    Have confidence in yourself, relax, and realize that sometimes doing the right thing is a little less comfortable and this may even mean your prom dress isnt quite as “fun”.

    • isobel

      “As a male, and a good guy, realize that boys are visual and how you look and what they see has a biological affect on them… whether they want it too or not.”

      I want you to know, brohammas, that every time that rhetoric is used in the Mormon community, whether in a YW lesson, or in Sacrament meeting or at a “Standards Night,” young girls’ hearts sink everywhere. you may be a good guy, but you should realize that it is not a woman’s job to be consumed, invaded and spat out just so men can evolve. a sexist, male-interest-only approach to standards will always be substandard. it is always first and foremost a woman’s own choice how she feels about, presents and uses her body, and confident choices are a direct result of empowerment, not fear.

      • Isobel, to assume, or infer, that being aware of how you are viewed, or the reaction you may cause, by the opposite sex means you are to be invaded, consumed, and spat out is quite the knee jerking jump.
        It would be nice if men, and everyone else, were evolved, but we arent there yet.
        It is the responsability of all Mormons, male and female, to be aware of how their actions affect others and weigh the consequences.

        It is my choice, first and foremost, how I use my body as well. If I am comfortable giving lude hand gestures to passers by, I guess I can do so. Of course many people will asume I want to fight and at that point I may have fewer options as to how I am comfortable using my body.

        Boys and girls are different. That doesnt mean you should be treated less or even better… what it does mean, is you should be aware of the differences to make more informed choices.
        Is that sexist?

  4. Jenny

    KDP: If you already feel this way at 15 in a regular high school, you cannot imagine the misery you will create for yourself if you go to BYU. Imagine getting the sort of pressure you are feeling not only from the people who teach you for an hour on Sunday, but from your landlord, your teachers, your advisors, your roommates, writers of letters-to-the-editor in the school paper…. You will hate it.

    BYU, with its rigidity and inflexibility, has probably destroyed as many testimonies as it has bolstered.

    Furthermore, unless you plan to major in accounting, its academic reputation is pretty weak.

    A better option is find a university with a strong program in the subject you want to study–and a strong institute.

    Plenty of people find friends and spouses at institutes. And going to a secular college is so much fun! I was a squeaky-clean Mormon at a state school, and I admit it: I feel sorry for friends who went to BYU. There is so much they missed out on–and I’m not talking about parties. I’m talking about classes where, at the end of the semester, the subject matter didn’t have to support gospel principles. Plus I didn’t have to deal with entire culture that produced attitudes and letters like this: http://universe.byu.edu/node/10467

    • Rob

      Any university is what you make of it. I attended BYU and other univesities and found crazy zealots at both of them. To paint BYU with such a wide brush is really quite dishonest. There are over 30,000 people there just trying to be the best they can be. And the school does quite well educationally, not just in accounting.

  5. isobel

    dear kdp,

    first of all, you are 1000% not alone. there are lots of people in the mormon church who feel uncomfortable with a lot of things they hear at church. a lot of people, like you, are afraid to speak out or bring up their concerns, doubts or misgivings. i relate completely to your fears of being perceived as a person of lesser faith because you have questions, because you might see things a bit differently than others. in many ways you’re very blessed to have parents you can talk to and who are willing to listen to your concerns with understanding. something i’m learning lately is how good it is to reach out to people like you, like j.brooks; the more you do, the more your courage and confidence will grow.

    i want to direct you to an article written recently by tresa edmunds called, “The Next Generation of Mormon Feminism.” in it she writes, “”…based on the anecdotal evidence, we are losing this generation of young adults at shocking rates. And while the reasons may be manifold, I am firmly of the belief that it’s because the vision we give them of their future is not a future they want. I think we are at an exciting moment as Mormon feminists. A new generation is refusing to accept things the way they are…”

    kdp, i applaud your ambition and your integrity. you are one of many many women who are ready to go out into the world and take up every opportunity you can get. you’ll meet lots of mormon men who will be unsettled and off-put by your gumption and grit, but don’t be put-off by them. you don’t even have to date only mormon men. the point is, you can have whatever you want. and it sounds like you’ve got a head-start at seeing that what you want might look very different from what your leaders want for you–and that’s O.K. it takes tons of courage to acknowledge that and move forward anyway. j.brooks, birch, and i are three women who can attest to that. that’s 3 already, of hundreds and hundreds you just haven’t met yet. we’re out there–we’re rooting for you–we love you.

    warmth,
    isobel

  6. DST

    KDP Around the age of 15, females do have changes going on in their minds – much as you probably did at 10-12 when we question people about God, life after death and many other topics based probably on what we have stored inside our brains in some conflict with what we have heard or not heard from elders or teachers. If you remember those days, you can see that some of your current confusion about LDS young women rules and expectations are going through a similar but more elevated biological process of searching already now for ideals and principles to run your ego and routine and life-organization centers in your mind for the future. That is, we try to establish (without a great deal of upper mental thought and logic processes) some routines and foundations to carry us into the next section of our lives. Perhaps it is like a baby learning to walk, but still getting ready to run too!

    My advice for university selection is to wait a year or so until your preliminary foundations are formed in your mind, then based on your own mind’s structure and your sincere prayers for answers, with a firm faith, you shall find your own way. Advice from others can only fit themselves – never you; you are you, but not yet you. 15 is not 18, neither in mathematics nor in life, nor in the LDS Church.

    Your brain seems to be experimenting but remaining in a strong defensive position (e.g. in the back yard only). Of course, your ears and eyes see and hear others; your brain is calculating on which observations you have had should or should not be incorporated in your mind for the present and for the future. The baby can run on the grass, but not in the street?

    Love your parents – you are very fortunate.
    There is a time for everything good – but some want everything right now and that is seldom good. Nor for you, not for me, not for your YW instructors either; but when you or I have to watch over a baby crawling around or experimenting with a new run in the park, do we not worry about their end? A rough fall? A run right in the street? You are smart so you can see that YW instructors are sincere and worried about YW because there are many dangers out there in the world that have destroyed the chances of many people for any happiness in this world at all. You say shorts – what about drugs and drunken driving and hanging with your head between your arms down to your waist in the rapidly running river – or “playing” Russian Roulette with a pistol with only one bullet – smart? Which of these are stupid – really stupid and dangerous? I wouldn’t play RR any where at any time – but shorts in your back yard could be fitting on hot hot summer days. But YW instructors and Sunday School instructors and Sacrament speakers do need to address many people all at once – perhaps you are placing too much emphasis on what your brain is adjusting in your memory and routine processes?

    We talk about marriage, but at 15 you are not really ready (but maybe looking ahead) at such an event? Just let your mind function, don’t get upset at someone with good, valid intentions saying you need 8-hours of sleep every night — perhaps your mental-biological system needs 8 1/2 of 10 at times – maybe 20 hours on some day – it is your biological-mental-spiritual system, not theirs. Just don’t disturb it all by creating negative emotional feelings, looking always at the “negative” or “pressure” … step outside the circle – pressure does not bother you at school or elsewhere – you are a well-adjusted, growing individual with good communication with parents and with the Lord – yes? So sometimes, until you are 18 or 19 and at a university, just smile and nod your head wisely when you hear anything that you think is “pressuring” – and realize that there might well be others in those LDS sessions that really need some “sheep dogs” – whereas you yourself are making your own decisions and experiments and limits … for the future and for now – no?

    You must be a wonderful person! But not all are so .. you are finding your own way, but believe you me, it is much easier and better to be among LDS people than out in the other marches of life … be happy – your life is now, but coming too. God Bless You, Jesus does watch over us all … truly you are wonderful!

  7. Jamie

    Hi! I am going to share with you a little secret I learned as a missionary: people in the church (and world) are so not perfect. Most are good, but not perfect. Growing up I felt like everyone was perfect, that the standards were lived. I have struggled with trying to live the gospel perfectly and saw Heavenly Father as a complete by the books kind of person. No, he does not support sin. But He doesn’t expect us to obtain perfection right now.

    What I’m trying to say is this: use the Spirit to decide if you are living the gospel. I love how Sister Brooks began answering your question. You sound like an incredible young woman who loves the Lord and is trying to do what is right. What more does He ask than your best?

    As far as marriage goes, it is ok to get married in the Temple. But if you don’t get married when you’re 19 to your return missionary and have many children, it’s ok, too. Or if you go on a mission and don’t get married soon after, that’s ok, too. I felt like that was what was supposed to happen so, when it didn’t, I didn’t know how to handle it. Life is life and everyone’s is different and there is nothing wrong with that. BYU, not BYU, that’s for you and Father to talk about and decide.

    Standards are there to protect us, not hinder us. I’m sure you’ve heard that a million times. But I have enjoyed life much more when I relax and don’t stress out about what I “can’t” do or that I’m not doing everything I’m “supposed” to. That is when I feel happy. It’s most difficult when I feel guilty for not being perfect. That’s not Father’s plan for us. We are to run as fast as we have strength.

    Best of luck to you. You’re wonderful and I hope you can see that in yourself, because it’s true.

  8. Tat

    Dear KDP,

    You are describing almost exactly how I felt at age 15. Now I am 33, and my life has taken me a lot of places I couldn’t have predicted – I actually ended up serving a mission, got married in the temple, and I have two young sons.

    I also attended BYU Law School, and am now a practicing attorney. I loved BYU Law, but I think I would have felt a little claustrophobic had I gone to BYU as an undergraduate (I attended New York University, which I loved).

    As a teenager, I felt that the last thing I wanted to be was a cookie-cutter Mormon, as one of the other commenters said. And it turns out that very few people actually are cookie-cutter Mormons. Everyone is an individual, even within the LDS community, and by following the Spirit, we all find our individual paths on the journey toward salvation and exaltation. I have no doubt that you will do the same. Just relax a little, breathe, and be grateful for who you are.

  9. KDP

    Thanks everyone! I really appreciate each of your comments!

  10. myjaspercat

    I feel the same way, KDP. I am 16 and was born in the Mormon church. My parents aren’t exactly inactive, but I think they just go to church because that’s how they were raised. I used to have a pretty strong testimony, but I do a lot of doubting lately because of Mormon culture. I find it intolerant and over-zealous. I don’t see myself ever leaving the church, because I don’t particularly like any other religion, but I’m also not sure that staying is what I truly want.
    You have stronger faith than I do, don’t let it die like I did. Now all the wondering drives me crazy and I wish I could feel assured like I used to. Ignore all the bigots who make religion crappy for the rest of us, stick to your faith and know that you’re a good person who’s doing the right thing.

  11. Ninja Pants

    Dear KDP, you are not a bad person, and you will be okay. I’m 17 and I have a boyfriend, and I wear the same clothes when it’s hot, and so on and so forth. But I think that Heavenly Father loves me and you and knows we are trying our best. However, I do know that the high standards the church sets come from the mouths of the prophets. And I know that the prophets received revelation to set those high standards from God, our Heavenly Father. And, although it doesn’t always make sense to us, Heavenly Father knows what is best for us. I don’t think we, as lds people, should lead stuffy, never having fun, isolated lives. But I know that the standards are there for our protection and also to test our willingness to obey God. I also know that a temple marriage is the only one that lasts forever. So my advice, is not to worry. We are young. It’s okay to play and have fun and stay cool. There is no such thing as a perfect lds person or lifestyle. Everyone is different. But just pray for understanding and comfort and that you will be able to find someone someday that is strong in their faith, but accepts you for you. :) YAY! have a happy day!

  12. John Paladin

    Just came across this topic while preparing for a Stake YW training meeting. One of the things I like about Joanna is that she is an example of a simple truth – it is possible to be an LDS woman without necessarily being identical to every other LDS woman. Indeed, KDP, spending time in the RS of any place where mormon culture is not the dominant culture will teach you this.
    Do I, as a stake leader, care about whether you sometimes wear less-than-ideal clothing or maybe want to express yourself in other ways – of course, but only because I want you to be safe, happy and make good decisions.
    However, I care much more about who you are, what you believe, that you have a strong and growing testimony, that you want to do and be what the Lord wants you to do and be. I also care that you feel pressured and inadequate to do and be something that you feel you might not every be able to do and be. I want you to know that what you feel is understandable but you will come to realise that you are already far better than you give yourself credit for. Be strong, be good, but be happy with who you are and who you are becoming. Also, learn to seperate culture from doctrine – you’ll be much less stressed.

  13. Rachel

    Let me start by saying I am not as eloquent as AMG, and her answer as always was beautifully written, but this post strikes a chord for me. I have been a YW leader for the last 5 years. I felt the same way you did when I was a teenager, I still have issues with Mormon culture. I was perhaps more rebellious and perhaps more outspoken in my disdain for the culture then you. I, like some other commentators, knew BYU was not the right choice for me. I met a wonderful convert and we were married in the temple, he didn’t grow up in the culture of the church, but loves the gospel. I write because as a YW leader it is my job to teach the lessons as they are laid out for me. I don’t think adding my unorthodox views would be the right thing to do. I teach principles of the gospel as laid out in lesson plans. I don’t teach anything I don’t believe because that wouldn’t be authentic. I also don’t add my opinions, like that wearing a two piece swim suit does not make you any more or less Christ like. I truly hope that none of the young people I teach ever feel judged or like they are not perfectly good members of the church for questioning, or not living the church’s standards to a T. I believe that young people like you are just what the church needs. People willing to question a black and white culture and find the many beautiful shades of gray within the membership of the church. No one is perfect, I could be the YW leader that taught 15 lessons in a row about temple marriage (believe me it drives me bonkers too) and I wear tank tops and short shorts every time I go for a run- it’s practical, just like it is on a warm summer day for you. I have been judged for this by members who wear their garments when they work out, but I really don’t care. I’m confident in my belief system and my value choices.

  14. DJH

    i dont have any new advice to add, but i just wanted to say how much this question and the advice given inspired me. im 18 and trying to decide if i should go to byu or not. i like KPD feel almost like im not good enough in other mormons eyes, because despite that fact that i know whole heartedly the gospel is true, im not “as perfect as other mormons”(shorts, Rmovies, bad words). im even judged for the fact that i have nonmember friends that dont make mormon choices. But im starting to feel much better about all of it. Thanks for the absolutely amazing advice (from Ask Mormon Girl and repliers).

  15. Rachel G

    I have read every single one of these posts, and not once has anyone said anything about Ether 12:27. “And if men come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness. I give men weaknesses that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me and have faith in me, then will I make weak things strong unto them.

    Heavenly Father GAVE all these weaknesses to us. To humble us, to teach us, and to test and try our faith. Ask your Heavenly Father to help you with your weaknesses. I’m not really sure what a “cookie cutter” Mormon is, but I do know this…NO ONE is perfect. We all have different weaknesses, to you it might be feeling far from the temple marriage idea…to another is “casting the first stone” and judging someone else’s actions. Cookie Cutter Mormon’s don’t exists, they only exist in our perception. You are measuring your greatest weakness to thier greatest strength. We are all tainted with sin and weakness. Some sins may be more apparent than others, but to each and every person, it’s there :)

    Lastly and most importantly, you HAVE to find out if its true for yourself. Are these silly rules stupid?? Are they dumb restrictions? like watching your media to make sure it’s not laced with pornography, violence, and profanity, or making sure you are most in dress and appearance, saving yourself for marriage and remaining sexually pure…

    I have a testimony of this gospel. I believe that the Book of Mormon is true. That as a young boy Joseph smith, with the power through God made it possible to have the book translated for our day. I find such power and truth to this book everyday. I believe in a loving prophet of the church, ordained of God leads and guides us. I have a testimony of temple marriages. We disqualify for those blessings and promises that The Lord wants to bestow upon us when we are not worthy of the temple. Strive…keep striving, you are a choice spirit of your Father in Heaven…strive to seal those blessings yours in the temple

    Rmg1984@live.com

  16. Paris Zimmerman

    hi im 11 years old and my best friend is Mormon I don’t get a lot of their rules ,especially the one that my friend cant tell me about , why cant girls over twelve go to sleepovers? >:(

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