This is a continuation of an article that is from 2000 in the BYU Magazine by Kathleen Slaugh Bahr and Cheri A. Loveless. In this part the authors explain how we are given, like Adam and Eve two commandments. One to provide for our families, or “till the earth” and the other is childbearing and raising a family. I have bolded some of my favorite parts.
“Back to Eden”
“Family work actually began with Adam and Eve. As best we can discern, they lived a life of relative ease in the Garden of Eden. They “dressed” and “kept” it (Moses 3:15), but it isn’t clear what that entailed since the plants were already flourishing. There were no weeds, and Adam and Eve had no children to prod or cajole into watering or harvesting, if such tasks needed to be done.
“When they exercised their agency and partook of the fruit, Adam and Eve left their peaceful, labor-free existence and began one of hard work. They were each given a specific area of responsibility, yet they helped each other in their labors. Adam brought forth the fruit of the earth, and Eve worked along with him (Moses 5:1). Eve bore children, and Adam joined her in teaching them (Moses 5:12). They were not given a choice about these two lifetime labors; these were commandments (Moses 4:22–25).
“Traditionally, many have considered this need to labor as a curse, but a close reading of the account suggests otherwise. God did not curse Adam; He cursed the ground to bring forth thorns and thistles (Moses 4:24), which in turn forced Adam to labor. And Adam was told, “Cursed shall be the ground for thy sake” (vs. 23, emphasis added). In other words, the hard work of eating one’s bread “by the sweat of thy face” (vs. 25) was meant to be a blessing. According to the New Testament, the work of bearing and rearing children was also intended as a blessing. Writes the Apostle Paul: “[Eve] shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety” (1 Tim. 2:15, emphasis added). Significantly, Joseph Smith corrected the verse to read, “They shall be saved in childbearing” (JST, 1 Tim. 2:15, emphasis added), indicating that more than the sparing of Eve’s physical life was at issue here. Both Adam and Eve would be privileged to return to their Heavenly Father through the labor of bringing forth and nurturing their offspring.
“According to scripture, then, the Lord blessed Adam and Eve (and their descendants) with two kinds of labor that would, by the nature of the work itself, help guarantee their salvation. Both of these labors–tilling the earth for food and laboring to rear children–are family work, work that sustains and nurtures members of a family from one day to the next. But there is more to consider. These labors literally could not be performed in Eden. These are the labors that ensure physical survival; thus, they became necessary only when mankind left a life-sustaining garden and entered a sphere where life was quickly overcome by death unless it was upheld by steady, continual, hard work. Undoubtedly the Lord knew that other activities associated with mortality–like study and learning or developing one’s talents–would also be important. But His initial emphasis, in the form of a commandment, was on that which had the power to bring His children back into His presence, and that was family work.
“Since Eden many variations and distortions of the Lord’s original design for earthly labor have emerged. Still, the general pattern has remained dominant among many peoples of the earth, including families who lived in the United States at the turn of the last century. Mothers and fathers, teenagers and young children cared for their land, their animals, and for each other with their own hands. Their work was difficult, and it filled almost every day of their lives. But they recognized their family work as essential, and it was not without its compensations. It was social and was often carried out at a relaxed pace and in a playful spirit.
“Yet, long before the close of the 19th century this picture of families working together was changing. People realized that early death was often related to the harshness of their daily routine. Also, many young people longed for formal schooling or to pursue scientific careers or vocations in the arts, life courses that were sometimes prevented by the necessity of hard work. Industrialization promised to free people from the burden of domestic labor. Many families abandoned farm life and crowded into tenement housing in the cities to take jobs in factories. But factory work was irregular. Most families lived in poverty and squalor, and disease was common.
“Reformers of the day sought to alleviate these miseries. In the spirit of the times, many of them envisioned a utopian world without social problems, where scientific inventions would free humans from physical labor, and modern medicine would eliminate disease and suffering. Their reforms eventually transformed work patterns throughout our culture, which in turn changed the roles of men, women, and children within the family unit.
“By the turn of the century, many fathers began to earn a living away from the farm and the household. Thus, they no longer worked side by side with their children. Where a son once forged ties with his father as he was taught how to run the farm or the family business, now he could follow his father’s example only by distancing himself from the daily work of the household, eventually leaving home to do his work. Historian John Demos notes:
“The wrenching apart of work and home-life is one of the great themes in social history. And for fathers, in particular, the consequences can hardly be overestimated. Certain key elements of pre-modern fatherhood dwindled and disappeared (e.g., father as pedagogue, father as moral overseer, father as companion). . . .”
“Of course, fathers had always been involved in the provision of goods and services to their families; but before the nineteenth century such activity was embedded in a larger matrix of domestic sharing. . . . Now, for the first time, the central activity of fatherhood was cited outside one’s immediate household. Now, being fully a father meant being separated from one’s children for a considerable part of every working day.2
By the 1950s fathers were gone such long hours they became guests in their own homes. The natural connection between fathers and their children was supposed to be preserved and strengthened by playing together. However, play, like work, also changed over the course of the century, becoming more structured, more costly, and less interactive.
“Initially, the changing role of women in the family was more subtle because the kind of work they did remained the same. Yet how their tasks were carried out changed drastically over the 20th century, influenced by the modernization of America’s factories and businesses. “Housewives” were encouraged to organize, sterilize, and modernize. Experts urged them to purchase machines to do their physical labor and told them that market-produced goods and services were superior because they freed women to do the supposedly more important work of the mind.
“Women were told that applying methods of factory and business management to their homes would ease their burdens and raise the status of household work by “professionalizing” it. Surprisingly, these innovations did neither. Machines tended to replace tasks once performed by husbands and children, while mothers continued to carry out the same basic duties. Houses and wardrobes expanded, standards for cleanliness increased, and new appliances encouraged more elaborate meal preparation. More time was spent shopping and driving children to activities. With husbands at work and older children in school, care of the house and young children now fell almost exclusively to mothers, actually lengthening their work day.3 Moreover, much of a mother’s work began to be done in isolation. Work that was once enjoyable because it was social became lonely, boring, and monotonous.
“Even the purpose of family work was given a facelift. Once performed to nurture and care for one another, it was reduced to “housework” and was done to create “atmosphere.” Since work in the home had “use value” instead of “exchange value,” it remained outside the market economy and its worth became invisible. Being a mother now meant spending long hours at a type of work that society said mattered little and should be “managed” to take no time at all.
Prior to modernization, children shared much of the hard work, laboring alongside their fathers and mothers in the house and on the farm or in a family business. This work was considered good for them–part of their education for adulthood. Children were expected to learn all things necessary for a good life by precept and example, and it was assumed that the lives of the adults surrounding them would be worthy of imitation.
“With industrialization, children joined their families in factory work, but gradually employers split up families, often rejecting mothers and fathers in favor of the cheap labor provided by children. Many children began working long hours to help put bread on the family table. Their work was hard, often dangerous, and children lost fingers, limbs, and lives. The child labor movement was thus organized to protect the “thousands of boys and girls once employed in sweat shops and factories” from “the grasping greed of business.”4 However, the actual changes were much more complex and the consequences more far-reaching.5 Child labor laws, designed to end the abuses, also ended child labor.
“At the same time that expectations for children to work were diminishing, new fashions in child rearing dictated that children needed to have their own money and be trained to spend it wisely. Eventually, the relationship of children and work inside the family completely reversed itself: children went from economic asset to pampered consumer.
“Thus, for each family member the contribution to the family became increasingly abstract and ever distant from the labor of Adam and Eve, until the work given as a blessing to the first couple had all but disappeared. Today a man feels “free” if he can avoid any kind of physical labor–actual work in the fields is left to migrant workers and illegal aliens. Meanwhile, a woman is considered “free” if she chooses a career over mothering at home, freer still if she elects not to bear children at all.
“In almost every facet of our prosperous, contemporary lifestyle, we strive for the ease associated with Eden. The more abstract and mental our work, the more distanced from physical labor, the higher the status it is accorded. Better off still is the individual who wins the lottery or inherits wealth and does not have to work at all. Our homes are designed to reduce the time we must spend in family work. An enviable vacation is one where all such work is done for us–where we are fed without preparing our meals, dressed without ironing our shirts, cleaned up after wherever we go, whatever we do.
Even the way we go about building relationships denies the saving power inherent in working side by side at something that requires us to cooperate in spite of differences. Rather, we “bond” with our children by getting the housework out of the way so the family can participate in structured “play.” We improve our marriages by getting away from the house and kids, from responsibility altogether, to communicate uninterrupted as if work, love, and living were not inseparably connected. We are so thoroughly convinced that the relationship itself, abstract and apart from life, is what matters that, a relationship free from lasting obligations–to marriage, children, or family labor–is fast becoming the ideal. At every turn, we are encouraged to seek an Eden-like bliss where we enjoy life’s bounties without working for them and where we don’t have to have children, at least not interrupting whatever we’re doing.6
“However, back to Eden is not onward to Zion. Adam and Eve entered mortality to do what they could not do in the Garden: to gain salvation by bringing forth, sustaining, and nourishing life. As they worked together in this stewardship, with an eye single to the glory of God, a deep and caring relationship would grow out of their shared daily experience. Today, the need for salvation has not changed; the opportunity to do family work has not changed; the love that blossoms as spouses labor together has not changed. Perhaps, then, we are still obligated to do the work of Adam and Eve.
Next Post: “For Our Sakes”–A continuation of an article that is from 2000 in the BYU Magazine, by Kathleen Slaugh Bahr and Cheri A. Loveless.
2. John Demos, “The Changing Faces of Fatherhood,” Past, Present, Personal: The Family and the Life Course in American History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 51–52.
3. See R. S. Cowan, More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (New York: Basic Books, 1983).
4. William A. McKeever, “The New Child Labor Movement,” Journal of Home Economics, vol. 5 (April 1913), pp. 137–139.
5. See Viviana A. Zelizer, Pricing the Priceless Child (New York: Basic Books, 1985).
6. See Germain Greer, Sex and Destiny (New York: Harper & Row, 1984), and J. Van de Kaa, “Europe’s Second Demographic Transition,” Population Bulletin, vol. 42, no. 1 (March 1987), pp. 1–57.