SALT LAKE CITY — It's 7:04 a.m. on a crisp spring morning and Patti Abbott Lammi is in the kitchen in her flannel pajamas, warming up milk for 3-year-old Juliet who's lying on the couch, wrapped in a fuzzy pink blanket.

As Juliet, nicknamed Juju, begins drinking, Lammi heads back upstairs for 4-year-old Luke, who comes down wearing Batman jammies and a yawn.

Lammi's been up since 6:15 to shower and do her make-up, and after getting Juju's milk, slips on a black sheath dress and a silver necklace. It's Tuesday, which means a handful of pre-hearings at the Utah Department of Health where Lammi is an administrative law judge and hearings unit supervisor — a flexible job for a working mother, she said.

Patricia Abbott Lammi walks from her car to her office in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Patricia and her husband Phillip work to juggle their work schedules to make things work with their two kids Luke and Juliet. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Her husband, Phil, left their northern Utah County home just before 7 a.m., a software quality assurance analyst by day, and an opera-singing, gardening enthusiast by night. He gets into work early so he can pick up the kids at 5 from Ms. Jane's house, where they go for in-home child care, before Lammi gets home around 6.

Having married at 34, Lammi had already established a career as an attorney working with low-income clients, first in Utah, then Washington, D.C., then back to Utah, and would bristle slightly when people asked if she wanted a family, as if her ambition indicated otherwise.

"Sure, I want to get married and have kids, but I don't want to give up my profession," she said. "I enjoy what I do, I feel like I'm good at it. I always wanted to work and have a family."

Patricia Abbott Lammi talks with her daughter Juliet as she helps her with her jacket as she gets her kids, Luke and Juliet, get ready to leave on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Patricia and her husband Phillip work to juggle their schedules to make things work with their two kids. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

For decades, such a desire was seen as almost anti-family within the LDS community, as leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emphasized the differing roles of men and women and the importance of having a mother in the home to raise and nurture children while the father worked to provide financial support. These sentiments, and often their misinterpretations, contributed to a specific and idealized version of motherhood, one that some women, like Lammi, said left them feeling guilty for their different paths, alternate experiences and additional goals.

In Utah, 59 percent of women over the age of 16 are in the labor force, compared with 57 percent of women nationally — a figure that has been consistently higher in Utah than nationally since 1980, according to senior economist Lecia Parks Langston with the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey | Aaron Thorup, U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey

DWS data also show that 59 percent of Utah mothers with children under six are in the labor force, along with 73 percent of Utah mothers with children ages 6-17 years old. Nationally, almost 65 percent of mothers with children under six are in the labor force.

Whatever women's work situation, LDS leaders have consistently encouraged parents to take seriously their responsibilities to teach and love their children, emphasizing the importance of different seasons of life.

"There is no one perfect way to be a good mother," Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said in 2008. "Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children. The choice is different and unique for each mother and each family. Many are able to be 'full-time moms,' at least during the most formative years of their children’s lives, and many others would like to be. Some may have to work part-or full-time; some may work at home; some may divide their lives into periods of home and family and work. What matters is that a mother loves her children deeply and, in keeping with the devotion she has for God and her husband, prioritizes them above all else."

Considering the activity of working women through the lens of history shows that LDS women have always worked — whether paid or not — and their contributions have been shaped, influenced or curtailed by historical forces and cultural movements that have little to do with the actual LDS doctrine of womanhood or motherhood.

"It's really good to emphasize the point that (women working) has been seen differently over time," said Kate Holbrook, managing historian of women’s history at the LDS Church History Department. "A consistent message over time is not that women shouldn’t work, but that women’s top priority should be their parenting."

But because that message hasn't always been as clear in some decades as in others, it has not only contributed to an ongoing tension for some LDS women today, but may also contribute to a financial imbalance as Utah ranks second to last — 50th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia — for the size of its gender wage gap, as detailed in this comprehensive Deseret News report.

U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey | Aaron Thorup, U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey

For every dollar paid to a man in Utah, women are only paid around 68 cents. The gap can be lessened to five or seven cents when controlling for profession, position, years of experience and education, yet it never fully closes, and while many experts blame discrimination for the residual portion, the exact reasons are still unknown, says Steven Horwitz, a professor of economics at Indiana's Ball State University.

"If that gap really is discrimination," Horwitz says, "solutions ... are largely going to be culture, and policy ends up backfiring."

In Utah, that means looking at influences that often began decades ago, particularly ideas related to cultural expectations, family dynamics and the roles of women, say economists, psychologists, historians, scholars and women, both LDS and non-LDS, interviewed by the Deseret News.

It means teaching men and women that there's more than one right way to be a Latter-day Saint woman and mother, and that updating historical views doesn't equal doctrinal dissension, says Lammi.

"I admire women who want to be a stay-at-home mom, women who make significant financial sacrifices to stay home," says Lammi. "Knowing who you are, and where you're supposed to shine — anyone who is authentic to themselves I admire them, support them. I wish more women would feel that way generally."

Juliet drags her blanket as she follows her mom Patricia Abbott Lammi as they get ready for the day before going off to work on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Patricia and her husband Phillip work to juggle their schedules to make things work with their two kids Luke and Juliet. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

A history of work

When Holbrook looks back on the history of LDS women who worked and served outside the home, she points to examples such as Emma Anderson Liljenquist, who in 1887, while in her mid-20s, was called by LDS Church leaders to study nursing and obstetrics.

Liljenquist writes that she left her husband and three children in Hyrum, Cache County, for six months while she attended classes in Salt Lake City. When she came home and began to travel to deliver babies, her husband and oldest daughter watched the younger children in her absence.

“In nineteenth-century Mormon culture, ‘mothering’ was not considered woman’s primary task, elevated above her other responsibilities," writes Linda P. Wilcox, in the book, "Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective." "Rather it was one of many responsibilities, all of them necessary and important. With so much other work to do, devoting most of one’s time, energy or thought to mother work was an unrealistic luxury.”

During the progressive era of 1890 to 1920, Utah's LDS women were very comfortable with the American culture of trying to "make the world and country better," and were on the forefront of social change as part of the Relief Society, the Red Cross, the suffrage movement and the National Council of Women, Holbrook said.

When WWI and WWII broke out, women across the entire country entered the workforce. Following the conflicts, LDS women were no different as they followed the country's "rush to domesticity," Wilcox writes.

Leading women of Utah. Front row: Jane S. Richards, left, Emmeline Wells. Middle row: Phoebe Woodruff, Isabelle Horne, Eliza R. Snow, Zina Young, Marinda Hyde. Back row: Dr. Ellis R. Shipp, Bathsheba W. Smith, Elizabeth Howard, Dr. Romania Pratt Penrose. | Utah State Historical Society

"The 1950s were the era of ‘togetherness,’ and it was probably during this period that motherhood became the central factor in the identity ascribed to the Mormon woman," Wilcox writes.

These cultural ideas were soon reflected in messages from the church. An editorial in the Church News on August 25, 1956, stated, “No one can take the place of mothers, not even dads wearing their wives’ aprons and doing their wives’ cooking and scrubbing" and went so far as to call earning mothers "one of the greatest threats we have to stable home life in America,' " Wilcox quotes.

By the late 60s and early 70s, many LDS women had become increasingly uncomfortable with the ideas endorsed by second-wave feminists, Holbrook says, including the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which the church spoke out against.

Over the pulpit and in classes, men and women were counseled that "numerous divorces can be traced directly to the day when the wife left the home and went out into the world into employment," from then-President Spencer W. Kimball.

And in 1987, then-President Ezra Taft Benson gave a fireside talk for parents entitled "To the Mothers in Zion," where he counseled, "contrary to conventional wisdom, a mother's calling is in the home, not in the market place."

In that talk, President Benson repeatedly discouraged women from working outside the home, says Holbrook, making it "the most important moment in this history that helps explain where we were until the last 10 to 20 years," she said.

The talk was reprinted as a pamphlet and had immediate, broad-reaching impacts across the globe, Holbrook said.

Yet, today, Holbrook believes church members have once again become more connected to the broader culture in regard to the necessity of and challenges resulting from working outside the home.

"The broader American culture cares a lot about their kids, and they also care deeply about these questions, of how to balance professional life with home life, and they see that dads are an important part of this equation too," she said.

Holbrook sees a marked decrease in LDS leaders publicly distinguishing between women who work out of necessity versus personal choice.

In a recent General Conference, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, praised women who chose to stay at home with their children, then warned against judging that "sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home."

WATCH: Elder Quentin L. Cook: LDS women are incredible

In the newly called Relief Society General Presidency, all three female leaders have worked outside the home — Jean B. Bingham as a teacher of English as a second language to elementary students, immigrants and refugees, Sharon Eubank as the director of LDS Charities, and Reyna I. Aburto as a translator, and owner of a translation business with her husband.

The church also continues to emphasize the importance of strengthening families and raising children in righteousness.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said, "We do not diminish the value of what women or men achieve in any worthy endeavor or career — we all benefit from those achievements — but we still recognize there is not a higher good than motherhood and fatherhood in marriage."

WATCH: Elder D. Todd Christofferson: The moral force of women

And Julie B. Beck, a former general president of the Relief Society said during her tenure, "The question of whether or not to work is the wrong question. The question is, 'Am I aligned with the Lord’s vision of me and what He needs me to become and the roles and responsibilities He gave me in heaven that are not negotiable?' "

Mommy guilt

Back in Utah County, it's now 7:20, and with milk in her tummy, Juju, comes alive, bouncing off the couch and chattering a mile a minute as she peeks outside at the play set dad and grandpa are building.

"In two weeks I'll be 7," she happily proclaims, while mom laughs and mentions that her birthday was last week. She turned 3.

That was a Monday and Lammi took the day off, making a cake and throwing a princess party. The next day, Juju awoke and proclaimed it was her birthday again — so mommy would stay home.

Lammi sighs as she talks about it. She definitely feels "mommy guilt" for the time she's away from the kids. They miss each other and she knows they probably want her home more, but she said she and Phil do their best to make the time at home the best it can be, whether it's in the morning, evening or weekends.

Patricia Abbott Lammi gets her daughter Juliet up from bed on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Patricia and her husband Phillip work to juggle their schedules to make things work with their two kids Luke and Juliet. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

"I'm sure you hear this a lot, but I feel like working makes me a better mom," she said, "because when I'm home, I'm home."

Nearly all the working mothers the Deseret News interviewed shared a similar feeling — that being a "working mom" made them a better mom. They felt more patient, more excited to see their kids when they were home, and more invested in being a parent.

Many of them also said they have friends or family members who are stay-at-home moms and excel at what they do, and that the arrangement is a good fit for each woman's individual personality and circumstances.

"I think that is the definition of feminism," Lammi says. "It's doing what you feel like you should do. If that's staying at home, if that's not, it's OK. I wish we could just take some of the judgment out of that."

While it's not always possible, mental health experts say the best situation is when women have the ability to choose what they feel is best for them and their family.

One study found that the women at lowest risk for depression were those moms who wanted to work and had high-quality jobs, as well as those moms who wanted to stay home and did so.

The moms at highest risk for depression were moms who wanted to work, but instead stayed at home, as well as the moms who wanted to stay home, but had to go to low-quality jobs.

However, even moms who didn't want to work, but who had high quality jobs, still had a lower risk of depression.

"In short, neither employment nor non-employment is best for all mothers with young children," researchers from Syracuse University's Center for Public Research and University of Illinois at Chicago wrote. "Instead, mental health depends on mothers' employment preferences, and if they work for pay, their job quality."

Christy Dorrity, 39, said spending three afternoons a week teaching dance at her studio in Layton has been a positive thing for her family, because the after-school time of day was a struggle for her anyway, she said. She gets her kids started on homework, then leaves them in the care of a nanny who keeps things running smoothly and prevents her teenage sons from tearing the house down.

While she misses a few family dinners, when she comes home to Mountain Green she said she's "rejuvenated, happy and able to spend quality time with my kids. I'm not extremely tired and worn out and just ready to send them all to bed."

Yet even though she loves what she does (she's won competitions as a professional Irish dancer and published several books as an author), she still worries about how she's making things work.

"It's more a perceived notion in my head of what is expected of me as an LDS woman, mother and a homemaker," she said. "There's always that, in the back of my mind, maybe I shouldn't do this, maybe I should just be home with the kids all the time. It's always there."

For Dorrity, her husband and their five kids ages 8 to 16, it's about finding the right balance at any given moment and being willing to make changes if needed. She said she relies on "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," a prophetic document that emphasizes the importance of families and the responsibilities parents have to care for them.

"Once I have that confirmation that what I am doing is God's plan for me," she says, "then that gives me the power and strength to move forward ... regardless of what anyone else says."

Breaking through bias

For years, Katie Clifford has been fielding the same question over and over, usually from older members of the family wards she's attended.

"So, what does your husband do?"

Elise Masden, Deseret News

When they learn the 40-year-old doesn't have one, they fall into an embarrassed silence, until she smilingly rescues them by sharing stories from her compelling marketing career that's taken her from California to Boston to Colorado Springs and into companies like Puma, The North Face and managing apparel for the U.S. Olympic team.

Even though Clifford tries to convey that she's happy and loves her life, living and working in downtown Salt Lake City, she frequently gets the "sad eyes," as if her life is "not the ideal, but it's working for you," she said.

And that, to her, is evidence of a damaging assumption she sees most strongly held in Utah, among both men and women — the idea that being an LDS woman centers around being a married, stay-at-home mom with children.

If that's believed, she said, then women who work, women who aren't married, can't have children, are divorced, or any other number of scenarios, will of course feel excluded and worry they don't have a place — in their communities, congregations and even workplaces.

"I do think there are some things that just spill over from church ideas," she said, adding that if people hear their whole lives that the best place for women is with their families, that will impact the way they look at women in their workplaces.

And there are data backing up Clifford's observation.

In one study, researchers found that men in traditional marriages — where the man worked and the wife stayed home — were more likely to hold negative views of women in the workplace, perceive a company with more females to operate less smoothly, and be less attracted to organizations with female leaders.

"If you are a man who's accustomed to seeing women in secondary roles at home, the odds are that you'll come to the workplace and expect women to be second in line as well," said study author Sreedhari Desai, who earned a doctoral degree at the University of Utah and is now an assistant professor of organizational behavior at University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School.

The report looked over five studies, with some of the data sets coming from Utah, said co-author Arthur Brief, presidential professor emeritus at the University of Utah, which means that while gender bias may be a problem in Utah, it's also a problem everywhere.

Aspirational shame

Phil Lammi knew when he got married, it would be to a woman with an education, who "took life seriously," and had her "head on her shoulders."

Patricia Abbott Lammi reads on her computer as she describes her work at the Utah Health Department on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Patricia and her husband Phillip juggle their work schedules to make things work out with their two kids Luke and Juliet. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

"(Patti) has great ambition," he said during a recent interview at their home. "I fully support her. It's a calling in her life to be an excellent lawyer and advocate for people, and now a judge. I don't ever seek to control what she wants to do in her career, I just encourage her and together we work out how we're raising our children."

Lammi didn't always want to be a lawyer. In fact, her undergraduate, pre-mission days at BYU were somewhat of a joke, she says, as she bounced on and off of academic probation with a 2.4 GPA.

Yet, after her serving a mission for the church she came home more focused and prayed about whether it mattered what she studied. She said the answer was clear — go to law school. So she changed her major, got straight As, and got into BYU's law school, which was a "perfect fit," she says.

She avoided working for a law firm because of its demanding hours, and has stuck with legal aid offices, and now the Department of Health, where she determines if people qualify for disabled Medicaid. She works with people who have "fallen through the cracks," but are now able, often for the first time, to get the help they need.

One homeless man came to her courtroom soaking wet, having just gone through the car wash so he would be clean for his hearing. He stood there, dripping and in socks, as Lammi found an appropriate, legal way to get him help.

"I have a strong sense of purpose in what I do, and that makes it very rewarding," she said. "It's working with individuals on a case-by-case basis and making a difference for them. That helps me feel better about my mommy guilt."

Patricia Abbott Lammi picks a cartoon for her son Luke as she gets her two kids, Luke and Juliet, ready for the day before going off to work on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Patricia and her husband Phillip work to juggle their schedules to make things work. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Feeling guilty as a mother is nothing new, nor is it unique to working women, LDS women or women in Utah.

"In some regards, issues are the same for women in general," says Naomi Watkins, co-founder of the non-profit group, "Aspiring Mormon Women," a forum dedicated to encouraging, supporting and celebrating the professional and educational aspirations of LDS women of all ages. "But the Mormon part sometimes adds another layer because you pull God into it."

Which means that for many women, it's not just a question of "what do my neighbors or friends think about my efforts and desires as a mother, but "what does God think about it? and "Am I at an acceptable level of 'perceived ambitiousness'?" as Watkins calls it.

"It's OK if a woman gets a master's degree, but more than that? Why do you need that? Or, it's OK to be a nurse, but a doctor? It's OK to sell LipSense, but to be a CEO of a company? I feel like there becomes this point where (working is seen) as being selfish," Watkins says. "If (a woman is) not married...or her husband is disabled and (she) needs the money, then it's OK, but if you're doing it just because you like to work, we don't talk about that."

For years, Julie de Azevedo Hanks, 48, caught herself trying to downplay her career goals, professional achievements, or hide the fact that she was working on her doctorate in marriage and family therapy.

Having grown up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 70s and 80s, Hanks was steeped in messages that a woman's place was in the home with her kids. She worried that her desires for higher education and a career were “not righteous” or “not what God wants for me, or “how dare I want so much,” she told the Deseret News.

As she talked with clients in her counseling practice, she realized she wasn't the only one feeling this way. So she coined a new way to describe these feelings: "aspirational shame."

Her 2015 blog post on the topic for "Aspiring Mormon Women" resonated with so many women that Hanks kept researching ways to reframe motherhood and parenthood to reduce unhealthy shame.

She conducted an online survey in April, and of the nearly 700 responses she received from snowball sampling via Facebook, almost 70 percent of women said they had experienced aspirational shame.

Women said they lessened or resolved their negative feelings in a variety of ways, such as focusing on God's plan for them, relying on a supportive husband and family, going to therapy, talking with others, especially strong female role models about their feelings, and in some cases, leaving the Church.

Hanks believes another way to lessen shame is by adjusting the words people use to describe women and mothers, noting that cultural views and doctrinal messages have broadened since she was a young woman.

She first dissects the term "work" and points out that mothers work every single day, whether they are compensated by an employer or not. In addition to raising children, many women have unpaid part-time or even full-time jobs as PTA members, community volunteers, church participants or caregivers for aging parents.

She also points to the early days of the country and the LDS faith, where both women and men were "stay-at-home parents" AND "working parents" as they managed farms from sun-up to sun-down to provide for their family.

“Eve didn’t sit around and do flashcards with her kids. They were out surviving, providing, they were all working together,” Hanks says. “We think (stay-at-home mom) is this eternal idea. It’s actually not.”

The term “motherhood” is next, Hanks said, emphasizing that it's a relationship, not a list of things to do.

When women see motherhood as a chance to bond with little human beings instead of a race to complete a socially prescribed checklist (Pinterest-perfect birthday parties, anyone?), pressure decreases and they can enjoy their children more, and also connect with — instead of compete with — other mothers.

Patricia Abbott Lammi finds jackets as she and her kids Luke and Juliet get ready to leave on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Patricia and her husband Phillip work to juggle their schedules to make things work with their two kids.| Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

But the pièce de résistance in Hanks' reframing requires eliminating the word "role" from the LDS vocabulary and replacing it with "stewardship."

“By using the word ‘role’ we’re limiting (the conversation) to a socially prescribed set of behaviors,” Hanks said. “We’re bigger than that. Parenthood is bigger than that. Stewardship implies oversight, responsibility for, and then it allows a lot more room for personal revelation and for how you manage that stewardship as a family.”

And that's exactly what the Lammis said they are trying to do.

Team effort

The sun is still high in the spring sky when Lammi gets home from work to find Phil and her father-in-law, Phil Sr., patiently sorting through a giant bag of screws and a massive pile of wooden posts, the next steps in the play fort assembly project.

She hugs, kisses and chats with the kids about their day, but they prefer to stay outside and play while she heads inside to start teriyaki chicken for dinner. Normally Phil cooks, but tonight he's on construction duty.

Patricia Abbott Lammi heads out the door with her kids Juliet and Luke on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Patricia and her husband Phillip juggle their work schedules to make things work with their kids. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Marriage has made Lammi more well-rounded. She's naturally a bargain hunter and a bookworm, while Phil's a baker and musician who frequently spends evenings practicing with the Utah Opera as a chorus member.

Despite busy schedules and varied hobbies, their marriage and family works because they are both committed to finding, and refinding, a healthy balance.

When the children were babies, Lammi insisted she be the one to wake up in the night when they cried, so Phil wouldn't fall asleep at work. Her 20 hours a week was more flexible. And in April, when tax day loomed and they'd procrastinated, Phil, with his accounting background, was the one who pulled the all-nighter.

Now that Lammi's working closer to 40 hours a week, it means a bit more stretching and coordinating. And they're learning as they go.

"I have more than one place to do important work," says Lammi. "I don't think one precludes the other. I know that I have so much help and my abilities are magnified by my Heavenly Father. I feel like he's not holding it against me that I'm working."