Two days before Mother’s Day, Xander texted with a request to speak in his ward on Sunday. He’s in a married student ward which has shrunk to a congregation of two dozen, but will be bolstered by new move-ins when the University of Utah finishes their deluxe modern housing this summer.
The talk went fine. Gabe and Mary laughed at my jokes and the two mothers in the ward thanked me. I was trying to talk about the complexity of motherhood in the church and the only right way to mother is to do it your own way. I can only pray they understood what I meant.
And I did talk about how proud I am of my own children and my three perfect daughters-in-law. I love the way they support each other, laugh together, share stories and memes, and constantly plan adventures together. I love that each of my children adores babies, changes diapers, and battles for the status of favorite aunt/favorite uncle.
It feels like bragging, but if you don’t talk about how proud you are of your children, how will they know? You can never assume anyone feels loved. Ah, I should have emphasized that truth: You can never assume anyone feels loved
When you speak in church, or anywhere, doesn’t it feel like you know exactly what you should have said two minutes after sitting down? You suddenly know exactly what your audience needed and feel sure you could do so much better if you had one more chance. I don’t speak in church very often, so I’ve never really had a chance to get better at it.
Ah, now I’m tempted to trash this whole blog post, because really, who am I to say I could give the perfect Mother’s Day talk? I can’t. Still, here’s what I’d include:
Motherhood is complicated. Motherhood in the church is even more complicated. We’ve weathered the seasons when the prophets said birth control is a sin and women shouldn’t steal jobs from men. Still, even now when education is encouraged and the timing and number of children are considered a sacred choice, I believe most women in the church feel confused and conflicted.
Here’s the truth: you get to choose. You get to choose with your spouse and with God what is best for your family. And you’ll probably need to reevaluate over and over and over (I certainly have). Sometimes you’ll feel like you don’t have a choice– so make that life your choice.
Here’s the important part: own your choices. Whatever you do, OWN IT. Don’t spend any time worrying about the judgment or esteem from other people. So much of our misery in life comes from worry about what others think. As mothers and mothers-to-be, you need to build that muscle of independent thinking.
Because when it comes to decisions about parenting (including the when and how many), you need to trust yourself. God gives knowledge to all men liberally, but especially to mothers. When you need guidance, turn to God, turn to your own intuition. Sure, you can buy books and follow Instagram accounts, but ultimately, you know more about your children, you have greater access to inspiration for your children, than anyone else on earth.
Scriptures and prayers and Sunday meetings are important, but the best way to teach your kids about God is in the kitchen, in the garden, while driving to the grocery store and in the mountains. A relationship with Jesus is part of daily life, not something to take out for special occasions.
I believe parents are more influenced by peer pressure than kids and teens. So many people parent by what they think they are supposed to do, rather than appreciating the unique little human in front of them and nurturing their unique talents. If I had spent Xander’s childhood chastising him for leaving his shoes and toys on the ground, we would have had no other conversations. Nurturing the wildly creative, funny person in front of me led to the wonder we know as Xander (and he’s actually very adept at washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, etc.).
Much of what parents think of as ‘naughty’ behavior is simply a kid figuring the world out. This is just as true for teenagers as for toddlers and is occasionally applicable to 53 year olds too. The world is confusing– these little people are new here. Be patient.
I love this quote from a kindergarten teacher:
“When I look around my classroom – I can’t tell you who crawled first, who walked before one, or spoke in sentences by 15 months. I can’t tell you if their parents breastfed or bottle fed. I don’t know if they were potty trained at 18 months or 4 months old.
You know what I can tell when I look at my kids in the classroom? I can tell which families value kindness and manners in their homes. I can tell when a child feels loved and secure at home. I can hear how you speak to your children – by how they speak to others.
When I look at my little friends I don’t see their milestones, I see who they are: their heart, their actions, their inner voice, their struggles and triumphs, and I see you! And all the love you pour into them.
We are always supposed to talk about testing and benchmarks and data during parent teacher conferences, and I had a mom last time look at me and say “I don’t worry about all the reading and math, she’ll get that. What I want know … is how is she as a person? Is she kind? Does she include others?”
It took my breath away.
Parents, just love your little ones … it’s all they need.”
And really, that’s all I have to say, love your kids. Believe in your kids, help them find the best version of themselves and be gentle and patient with this lifelong process.
Of course dads are a crucial part of the equation. Dads play, teach, roughhouse in a different ways. When men respect and esteem the role of mothers (and vice versa) the whole family benefits.
As much as moms need the love and assistance of men in their lives, women need to encourage and strengthen other women. There is no room for mommy wars in a world where every mother needs support and kindness.
One of my favorite experiences was helping a group of eight-year-olds write Mother’s Day letters. Every child said they had the ‘Best Mom in the World’ with detailed reasons to support the title. And this is true. Every mom possesses the God-given skills, knowledge, silliness, and weaknesses to be the best mother for her children. Sadly, we know this doesn’t always happen. There are mothers who are willfully cruel, neglectful and selfish. Still, many more simply lose their way by trying to please other people or to be like other mothers.
No one mothers perfectly. It’s too big of a job, it’s simply not possible to get it right all the time. But any mother who prayerfully and conscientiously raises her kids, who ignores the naysayers, loves mightily, and trusts her own intuition is the best mom in the world. Or at least at her house, and that’s enough.