A Window When The Doors Are All Closed

by Kylee Shields

I have wanderlust and ADHD and so I struggle with staying in one place and doing one thing. As a result I struggled many times in my life to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Even when I graduated from BYU with a degree in English and Linguistics I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be and do. I was raised in a family (thankfully!) where we grew up as kids who were “jack of all trades–king of none.” In other words I loved doing everything and was never really good at anything one thing.

While serving my mission something amazing happened to me. I realized I was really good at something. I was good at memorizing scriptures, finding principles, outlining lessons, and making connections. I discovered my passion for teaching the gospel! As a result when I went back to BYU in my last year (b/c I fought the idea) I took the two semesters of Seminary Teaching Classes.

It was here that I felt the heavy burden of inequality but not just me as a female. We were told that most likely none of us would become seminary teachers. We were told that males who were married by the time they were up for hire, would not be hired. I was told that if I was actually (by some miracle) hired that as soon as I had a child I would have to quit my job. Even with all this negativity I felt the spirit very strong and confirming that this is what I was meant to do.

So I began my student teaching and I LOVED it! I loved my students and they loved me. I made a point to raise the bar in my classes and expected the kids to reach it. They did and then some and I saw miracles in my classes and in my students lives. The thing I didn’t see was the male leaders who were suppose to be coming in to see my teaching and evaluate me.

I watched as they came on a regular basis to the male teacher in my same seminary building who was up for hire and engaged. And half way through my year I was told that I would most likely not get hired so if I wanted to quit that would be okay. I chose to finish out the year for my students. I wasn’t visited again. I was actually teaching full time at this point b/c two of the teachers had health issues so I taken on their classes. The Seminary Principal believed in me, my students loved me, and I felt the support of the Lord and the spirit. Yet, I wasn’t hired. I know that there are a gazillion teachers up for hire each year and the likely hood that I would get hired was a shot in the dark but I
wanted my shot. I wanted an equal chance to show my love and passion for teaching. I was devastated by my unequal treatment and failure.

I was confused by the spirit’s assurance and the contradictory knowledge that certain men had power over my ability to do what I love and was good at!

I actually tried again in Boston while teaching early morning seminary to 11 dedicated LDS kids from 7 different high schools. I was made promises by males in power that they would come out and evaluate my teaching. Again they never came. I realized I didn’t have the stamina to fight this losing battle and I stashed my teaching files far away in the back of the storage unit my family owns.

Then I battled. I wrestled with the Lord, I talked to everyone I knew, I made lists, etc.  I did anything I could think and even some things others thought of to figure out what to do with my life. I was so angry!

Slowly over time the Lord opened a window where He had closed all the doors and I discovered that while I may not be able to teach the gospel to kids I could find ways to work with them. Besides, I had always had an affinity for the punk kids anyway. Through much prayer, fasting, schooling, frustration, heartache, and joy I became a child and adolescent therapist! I love what I do, I love listening to broken kids, I love being a part of the process of change in their lives, and in a small way, I love helping them know they are loved!

Men in power may have kept me from being a seminary teacher but they couldn’t keep me from teaching the gospel (I’m currently a sunday school teacher) or working with adolescent kids. The Lord and I found a new path, a new plan, and a new found faith!

How I’m a Mormon Feminist

Just before the time when I needed to choose my educational path as a freshman in college, I was baptized and became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  As I embraced my newfound values, I found inspiration in the church’s teachings on families and how the answers to the problems facing society seemingly could be found in the gospel. Encouraged by the scriptures and the value the church puts on education “by study and also by faith,” I sought the answers from science and scholarly study and found that much of what social scientists have found contribute to happy and healthy families are also foundational teachings in the gospel.

BYU and The School of Family Life was the perfect place for me to understand this connection. There I was trained to become an activist for family friendly public policy and was encouraged to continue my scholarship and work.

When I had joined the church, my mother worried if her strong-willed and passionate daughter was up to the challenge of living the traditional role of a Mormon woman. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this stereotype did not always bear out in my observations of women in the church. At BYU, I found many examples of LDS women who were balancing the dual callings of mother and professional. I had hope and faith that the Spirit would guide me to the roles that I would play in my family and community though I did not understand how it would work.

As I came close to completion of a graduate degree, it was revealed to me in a blessing that the path I thought my life would take was different that what my heavenly parents intended. Just as I was expecting to hear counsel to be solely devoted to my family and raising my children, I was encouraged to continue my studies and activism. That was the last thing I expected to hear!

That blessing made me realize that I was going to be atypical in the church.  After a shocking birth experience where my right to informed consent was threatened and ultimately withheld, losing my job while on maternity leave and being thrown headlong into the Mommy Wars, I learned first-hand some of the discrimination and hurdles that complicate motherhood. I started to view family policy from the perspective of a mother and became aware that women’s efforts to provide for themselves and their families are still very much devalued in our society.

I was inspired to continue my work as an activist and found ways to work from home as a stay at home mother. In addition to completing a master’s degree with a child on my hip and another in utero, I collaborated with the non-profit, Solace for Mothers, to create an online discussion board for women who were struggling with emotional trauma caused by their childbirth experiences, and volunteered with the organization The Coalition for Improving Maternity Services to promote The Birth Survey, a consumer feedback website reviewing maternity care providers.

Currently enrolled in midwifery school and with plans to pursue a doctorate degree in the future, I find strength in the teachings of the gospel, the stories of women of the restoration and reliance on personal revelation.