Beliefs Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Mormon woman launches #EmbraceYourAND social media campaign

EmbraceYourAND_AlishaThis month, Naomi Watkins, founder of Aspiring Mormon Women, has been running a social media campaign called #EmbraceYourAND, born out of her sense that too many LDS women see family and career as an either-or proposition.

As she explains in this guest post, it can be “both-and” — women can unapologetically and proudly embrace both roles. — JKR

By Naomi Watkins

Even though I had a profound spiritual experience at the age of 25 propelling me into a doctoral program, I gave pause to whether or not such a pursuit really jived with being a wife and mother, two roles that were then possibilities and are still not yet realities in my life.

This line of thinking was an impetus behind the creation of Aspiring Mormon Women, a non-profit that supports the educational and professional endeavors of LDS women. I wanted a supportive space for LDS women (regardless of their church activity level) who were pursuing ambitious, worthwhile endeavors and who were fiercely dedicated to their families.

As we created this community, I’ve discovered that this either/or mindset is a norm for many LDS women, particularly those living in Utah. Susan Madsen’s work at the Utah Women and Education Initiative examined why Utah women (primarily LDS women in her study sample) were not graduating from college. Her research found that these young women:

“Cannot envision a life of integration…or cannot imagine being simultaneously married, having children, and continuing college…

Some believe that women need to ‘give up’ or ‘sacrifice’ college for their husbands/families. Several participants said it was their ‘duty’ to drop out of school.”

Much could be (and has been) written about the reasons and causes for this lack of vision, but I want to focus on one specific reason: few visible models of LDS women who live in what we at Aspiring Mormon Women are calling the “AND life.”


Those models were what I most wanted to see when I returned to graduate school. I and the other Aspiring Mormon Women are dedicated to providing these models to LDS women through our #EmbraceYourAND campaign.

EmbraceYourAND_JulieThis campaign is not about telling women they can “have it all.” There’s a significant difference between “#EmbracetheAND” vs “#EmbraceYourAND.” Changing out “the” for “your” places emphasis on the fact that the specifics of a woman’s multifaceted and integrated life–the pursuits she seeks, the roles she fills—will all depend on that individual woman.

It’s about believing that God does not place limits on our possibilities and our influence. Living an AND life is about embracing a life of abundance rather than living with a scarcity mindset. It’s about asking God, “And now, what would you have me do?”

It’s about embracing the answers that come as a result of asking this question. Living this type of life requires a great deal of confidence in God, His capabilities, and His knowledge of us as individuals. Sometimes the answers require us to expand the ANDs in our lives, sometimes they necessitate a change in direction, and other times, they compel us to focus more on the quality of our ANDs than the quantity.

It’s about recognizing our capacities, but believing that we can be more with God’s help.

It’s about letting go of specific timelines and realizing that we have a long time to be and do many things.

It’s about expanding the notions of womanhood beyond only wifehood and motherhood—and knowing that this expansion does not mean we are deserting our families.

EmbraceYourAND_SylviaIt’s believing that fixating on any one thing—be it family, church, work, exercise, etc.—at the cost of other areas of our lives is a falsehood that is perpetuated by culture and not by God.

It’s accepting that another’s ANDs do not detract from our own. It’s about recognizing the divinity and possibility within us. It’s about supporting and honoring the unique paths of others.

So, please, join us—Mormon or not. Share a brief list and photo of how you have embraced the many ANDs in your life to Twitter, Instagram, and/or Facebook with the hashtags #EmbraceYourAND #amw.


Naomi Watkins, founder of Aspiring Mormon Women

Naomi Watkins, founder of Aspiring Mormon Women

Naomi Watkins is a co-founder of Aspiring Mormon Women and an educational and instructional leader who worked as a university professor in the Greater Los Angeles prior to her new position as an instructional coach at a Title I high school in the Salt Lake City area.

She earned her B.A. in English Education from Brigham Young University, a M.Ed. in Language and Literacy from Arizona State University, and a Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning with a literacy emphasis from the University of Utah.

She is an active Mormon who most recently served as the Gospel Doctrine teacher in her ward.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • “There’s a significant difference between ‘#EmbracetheAND’ vs ‘#EmbraceYourAND.’”

    This is a brilliant and sensitive distinction.

    What a lovely piece; here’s to much reflection and embracing.

  • I saw this a couple of weeks ago and sent it to both of my daughters. I am excited by this.

    I do want to address the concern of why there are so few role models. I was in my early 20’s when the Prophet, Ezra Taft Benson gave a talk in General Conference about women needing to be in the home. Shortly there after the Ensign published articles lauding women leaving the work place and returning home. I was a career woman at the time, I had no kids, so I didn’t immediately return home. I was an oxymoron in my ward. All of us who heard the talk, are the women who are not available to be those role models. It is one of the reasons Chieko Okazaki was so unique, she bucked a trend, gently, lovingly, but she did.

    I look forward to seeing this idea grow. I am glad I can point my daughters to this. It allows the ideas to come from somewhere other than me. That is inspiring. Heading off to embrace my And.

  • I love this idea. Men could use something similar. They can nurture AND provide! I have yet to meet a dad who sets the house on fire trying to cook dinner because his man genes don’t know how to use a stove.

    I also had some powerful spiritual experiences urging me to voice my opinions through writing to try and change the world for the better. I experienced a lot of frustration, and still do, even after leaving the LDS church, because of the pushback against doing something so simple and straightforward. I haven’t shared the experiences with many people, but when I do, they tend to question the experiences rather than question the idea that maybe I’m not meant to have an OR life. If I were a man, those experiences would have been accepted as powerful revelation. Instead I get, “Well, have you tried praying about it *lately*?” and uncomfortable stares when I talk about doing things unrelated to home and family.

  • I’m just going to own it and say that I’m angry. Really angry about the life I failed to lead because I listened to the Church sponsored message of EitherOr. Little good it does me, I know, but I just want to say that I think anger is the appropriate emotion. Good on everyone who is living BothAnd but that wasn’t the message I was given in word or deed. And while I think it is better to just move on enjoy the rest of my life, the anger is deserved and instructive too. Someone should fix the message given to women and not with baby steps or blogs and our anger might just propel us to do that. While I’m at it I’ll just say that someone should apologize too for a very self-serving narrow message that just hasn’t ever been true about gender roles and motherhood and happiness and presiding and ….

  • SKJ wrote: “While I’m at it I’ll just say that someone should apologize too for a very self-serving narrow message…..”

    You have every right to be angry, but don’t hold your breath waiting for an apology. According to Mormon “Apostle” Oaks, the LDS Church has nothing to apologize for.

    “I know that the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them,” [Mr. Oaks, LDS “apostle,” as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune, January 30, 2015]

    With nothing to apologize for, one can only conclude that Mr. Oaks thinks the Church has never done anything wrong; the church has no need of repentance or asking for forgiveness.

    In the mind of the “brethren,” the church they lead is perfect.

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