Saturday, May 11, 2013

My "essay" on motherhood

I spoke in church last Mother's Day. Before I speak I write things down word-for-word and then paraphrase when I actually get up there. I thought it would be a good day to post what I said last year:

Claire was visibly upset one day last year. I sat down and asked her what was wrong. She asked, “Do you think I'll be a good mom one day?” I told her that she'd be great at being a mom. “But how?” she cried, “All you ever do is clean all day, and I HATE cleaning!” I assured her that there is more to being a mom than cleaning—although sometimes it doesn't seem like that.

You probably already know this, but I am really, really good at a lot of things. If I want to accomplish something, and I set my mind to it, I can do it. Throughout my life I excelled in all of my schooling, I put in the hours to be really good at playing the piano. I made the top ten at Miss America. I even convinced my husband to marry me. I've been really good at almost everything I've tried throughout my life, so when I became a mother I thought I'd be really great at it.

But it is hard. Sometimes it seems like there are days and even months where my head is barely above water. The day-to-day responsibilities of being a mother, the obligation that I have to teach them to be good people, to help them get an education, even just to get them to be reverent during Sacrament Meeting—it can all just be very overwhelming. Even though it feels like I clean all day, I must not because I'm horrible at keeping our home clutter-free. I've been known to get frustrated with my kids—sometimes even to raise my voice. I'm not always patient with them, I probably expect too much of them, and we may have even had cereal for dinner last Sunday. Somehow I just thought it would be easier.

A quote I've loved lately is from a recent interview with Sister Julie Beck. It was featured in LDS Living Magazine. It says, “I’ve learned that the world teaches us that we can have the dream now. They express the dream as what Adam and Eve had in the garden—you don’t have to work for anything and everything is peaceful and happy. That’s really where the adversary still is. But we chose to have a mortal experience to prepare for the real dream, and that dream is eternal life. Eve was willing to go through a long, hard mortal experience in order to work toward the promise of the dream—I don’t think most women realize that. They’re trying to make it be the dream now. We don’t get that here. What we get here is the experience.”

This “experience” stuff is hard! I know a lot of people struggle with Mother's Day because they focus on all of their failings as a mother, seeing only the successes of other mothers. As I was preparing for this talk I saw all of the things that an “ideal mother” would be or do. I am not the ideal mother, for sure. I don't think any of us are perfect in every way—but we can strive to improve in small ways. And we need to realize that there are small ways in which we are ideal. As we go throughout the day hearing about mothers, maybe pick a few ways to improve, but also pat yourself on the back for the great job you really are doing.

In another talk, Sister Beck says, 
“The responsibility mothers have today has never required more vigilance. More than at any time in the history of the world, we need mothers who know. Children are being born into a world where they wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places, however, mothers need not fear. When mothers know who they are and who God is and have made covenants with Him, they will have great power and influence for good on their children.

Female roles did not begin on earth, and they do not end here. A woman who treasures motherhood on earth will treasure motherhood in the world to come, and 'where [her] treasure is, there will [her] heart be also.'” 

By developing a mother heart, each girl and woman prepares for her divine, eternal mission of motherhood.

My mom is really great. Looking back, I realize that she gave me and my siblings two very important gifts. First, she taught me of my Heavenly Father's love for me, of the truthfulness of the gospel, and she was a great example of living the gospel. We saw first-hand that my parents were committed to being active members of the church. As a family we attended church together every single week no matter what—and we saw our parents diligently fulfill whatever calling they had in the church—whether it be big or small.

Second, my mother taught me to be a mother. This didn't start when Claire was born—it was a lifetime of lessons given both by example and by pointing out other mothers who also provided positive examples.

Because of this, it is my highest priority in raising my children to teach them first to love the gospel, and then second to grow to be caring parents and spouses. Kyle can already load and unload a dishwasher better than probably half of the men in the audience. He is compassionate and caring and empathetic and loving—and we consciously try to help him recognize and improve these qualities which will help him to be a great husband and father. Although he will tell you that he loves me so much that he wants to live with me and take care of me until I die, I'm sure one day he'll leave, and he'll be really great because we've prepared him to be great.

Claire wants to be a mom more than anything else in life. If you ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, the answer has always been “A mom.” Sometimes I wonder if that's because I make it look so great—or because she just thinks she could do a much better job! She is a wonderful sister and cousin, and it's so fun to see motherly qualities blossom in her as she cares for her dolls and her brother and other children. She and I have always referred to Kyle as “our” baby, and she takes that to heart. I don't know that a sister has ever loved having a little brother as much as Claire loves Kyle. She keeps a little scrapbook. In it she has a picture of Kyle when he was one year old. She writes, “I think that Kyle is cute here, but I like him just as much now that he is 4.” Her desire to nurture is so strong, that I can't help but think of the proclamation on the family where it says, “ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” It later states, “THE FAMILY is ordained of God...By divine design...Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.”

 While we stress the importance of education to Claire, and we do all that we can to help her learn all that she can—she knows what she is preparing to become. Even though she is just six years old, she already has a mother heart. She is growing to understand Harold B Lee's counsel that “The most important of the Lord's work you will ever do will be the work you do within the walls of your own home.”

Sister Beck also said, “I was recently at a park where I met a group of women with mother hearts. They were young, covenant-keeping women. They were bright and had obtained advanced degrees from respected universities. Now they were devoting their considerable gifts to planning dinner that evening and sharing housekeeping ideas. They were teaching two-year-olds to be kind to one another. They were soothing babies, kissing bruised knees, and wiping tears. I asked one of those mothers how it came about that she could transfer her talents so cheerfully into the role of motherhood. She replied, “I know who I am, and I know what I am supposed to do. The rest just follows.” That young mother will build faith and character in the next generation one family prayer at a time, one scripture study session, one book read aloud, one song, one family meal after another. She is involved in a great work. She knows that “children are an heritage of the Lord” and “happy is the [woman] that hath [a] quiver full of them.” She knows that the influence of righteous, conscientious, persistent, daily mothering is far more lasting, far more powerful, far more influential than any earthly position or institution invented by man. She has the vision that, if worthy, she has the potential to be blessed as Rebekah of old to be “the mother of thousands of millions.”

Again, this paints a pretty picture of family prayer, family scripture study, book reading, song singing and family meals. These things collectively and individually are NOT easy! In our home we have certainly ended a Family Home Evening or two with unhappy children and unhappy parents. We often wrestle children in the middle of family prayer. Sometimes only the person who reads the scriptures out loud at night hears what is said. But as the quote says, raising children requires “righteous, conscientious, persistent, daily mothering.”

Sometimes that seems exhausting though. All of the family meals, all of the scripture study, all of the persistent daily mothering. I like to think of the saying, “Life is hard by the yard, but by the inch, life's a cinch.” Some days are really hard. Some weeks are hard. Some months are hard. But moments are usually pretty doable.

In my very best moments I like to take time to congratulate myself. When my kids are happy and we're playing together and I get the feeling that I'm doing the very best thing I could be doing at that moment, I'm so happy, and I take it all in—especially if dinner is made and the house is semi-clean. But those small moments are the grand rewards of motherhood. I'm starting to understand what Mary felt in Luke 2:19 which reads, “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” We're always told that kids grow up fast, but you don't believe it until you realize that it's your baby losing teeth and skipping to kindergarten.

I think I've started to catalog moments to keep in my heart. The moments they were born. Claire's smile and early attempts at humor. Kyle's uninhibited nature and fierce devotion to me. The spontaneous moments when I find myself with them at the piano and they sing along to a primary song. And now the kicks and squirms of our new baby, growing inside me. In these tiny moments, time slows down, life is perfect, and I know that I am doing what my Heavenly Father wants me to do.

***So that was what I said. That last sentence is a thought I've had a lot lately. I don't know if at any other time in my life I've been as sure that I'm doing what God would have me be doing—at least in the big picture—I am a mother to children. (In the small, detailed, daily picture of the things God would have me be doing, there is always work!) But I find so much comfort in knowing that I am where He wants me to be, doing what He wants me to do.

And to make this even longer, here are a few more quotes about mothering that I really love.

Julie Beck: Who will prepare this righteous generation of sons and daughters? Latter-day Saint women will do this—women who know and love the Lord and bear testimony of Him, women who are strong and immovable and who do not give up during difficult and discouraging times. We are led by an inspired prophet of God who has called upon the women of the Church to “stand strong and immovable for that which is correct and proper under the plan of the Lord.” He has asked us to 'begin in [our] own homes' to teach children the ways of truth. Latter-day Saint women should be the very best in the world at upholding, nurturing, and protecting families. I have every confidence that our women will do this.

"Mothers who know honor sacred ordinances and covenants. I have visited sacrament meetings in some of the poorest places on the earth where mothers have dressed with great care in their Sunday best despite walking for miles on dusty streets and using worn-out public transportation. They bring daughters in clean and ironed dresses with hair brushed to perfection; their sons wear white shirts and ties and have missionary haircuts. These mothers know they are going to sacrament meeting, where covenants are renewed. These mothers have made and honor temple covenants. They know that if they are not pointing their children to the temple, they are not pointing them toward desired eternal goals. These mothers have influence and power.

"Mothers who know are nurturers. This is their special assignment and role under the plan of happiness.  To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow. Therefore, mothers who know create a climate for spiritual and temporal growth in their homes...Working beside children in homemaking tasks creates opportunities to teach and model qualities children should emulate.

"Mothers who know are leaders. In equal partnership with their husbands, they lead a great and eternal organization. These mothers plan for the future of their organization. They plan for missions, temple marriages, and education. They plan for prayer, scripture study, and family home evening. Mothers who know build children into future leaders and are the primary examples of what leaders look like. They do not abandon their plan by succumbing to social pressure and worldly models of parenting. These wise mothers who know are selective about their own activities and involvement to conserve their limited strength in order to maximize their influence where it matters most.

"Mothers who know do less. They permit less of what will not bear good fruit eternally. They allow less media in their homes, less distraction, less activity that draws their children away from their home."

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