Friday, May 31, 2013

Reflections from Mothers' Day

The week before Mothers' Day I stayed home from church with a very sick, unhappy baby. He was sleeping fitfully and struggling to keep food down. During church, while James was gone with the other children, Baby couldn't catch his breath. He sputtered, choked, then started to turn purple. I laid him flat on the floor, blew in his face, and gently pumped his chest: CPR light---since he was still conscious. I felt emotionally drained before the three hours of church were through. I didn't let Baby leave my sight.

The first counselor in our bishopric came to our house that afternoon and asked if I would be willing to give a talk on Mothers' Day. The topic? Being a mom. I started to cry. Being a mom on that day was too much to bear. But I assured him I would love to give a talk.

I spent the week in reflection, something I don't do very often. My brain is constantly listing, organizing, prioritizing, wondering, remembering, and analyzing---not reflecting. It was a good experience. I think I might try reflecting more often.

James recommended I post my talk on this blog, and I agree with him. I have, of course, changed my children's names as I always do and reworked the beginning, but here is the basic talk. I'll have to write a new ending since I didn't write an ending and only said what I felt from the Spirit would be an appropriate closing.

The Mother Ring at Muir Woods

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to reflect on my thoughts about mothering and the women who have influenced me in my life.

Like many young people who grew up in the Church, mothering was crucial in my personal development. My mother primarily cared for her five children. My grandmothers dedicated themselves to their children and grandchildren and were present for special occasions and, sometimes, just for special visits. Primary teachers carefully crafted lessons, and Young Women’s leaders dedicated themselves to my spiritual development. As an adolescent I was given responsibilities to mother my younger brother and children I was hired to babysit. The women who had dedicated themselves to my personal and spiritual education were my models for mothering. I still look up to mothers I know to help guide me now that I am a mother.

In October 2001, Sister Sheri Dew, then second counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency, gave a talk titled, “Are We Not All Mothers?” In Sister Dew’s talk, she broadens the definition of motherhood from women who bear and/or raise children to the caregiving all women give to others to build up the Kingdom of God. We have been raised in the church with the righteous desire to marry and have children, but, as Sister Dew explains, “For reasons known to the Lord, some women are required to wait to have children. This delay is not easy for any righteous woman. But the Lord’s timetable for each of us does not negate our nature. Some of us, then, must simply find other ways to mother. And all around us are those who need to be loved and led.” So mothering is a work of loving and leading those children and young people who come into our lives—in whatever capacity.  I admire women in our ward who dedicate so much time and energy to their children and to all of the ward’s children through their callings. I appreciate the mothering done by our Primary and Young Women leaders. I love that the Primary presidency is led by such different mothers: two without children of their own, one raising small children, and another who is a grandmother helping raise her grandchildren. Isn’t it remarkable that these women come each week ready to mother the children of this ward and teach them gospel principles?

Motherhood is the greatest blessing and greatest challenge of my life. Mothers make sacrifices for those they teach; it may be time, talents, energy, patience, attention, or other interests. Women who bear and raise children even make physical sacrifices during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and carrying those thirty-five pound toddlers who try to run away from them.

While I like to embrace my other roles—teacher, sister, editor, friend, scholar, reader— my primary role is a mother of three young children: an energetic eight-year-old with a big imagination, a curly-haired toddler who outweighs most children his age, and a baby with special medical needs. Most of my thoughts are centered around these three little people. They are the experts on my mothering skills, so I asked them what they thought mothers do. Unfortunately, the youngest can’t speak but he’d probably say it has something to do with holding and feeding him. Boo said, “They make dinner”—with the disclaimer that her dad also makes dinner. She said dinner is important because we all gather together and spend time talking. Ji said, “Batman,” which, in our family, is accurate. If his mother weren’t such a Batman fan, he wouldn’t have inherited so many cool Batman toys and movies.

I want to talk a for a minute about how my children see my influence in their lives and what that means as each of us works to build the Kingdom of God as mothers. Baby has the most basic needs: love, warmth, and food. He needs what all of us need from the women in our lives who mother us. Boo expressed a similar need: eating and talking. She thrives on the attention family dinner gives her and loves to give the same attention to us. Ji brought up different needs: play and shared passions.

Looking to these three children in different phases of life, we can draw some conclusions as to what people need from those who mother them. Last night James was talking with me while he was holding Baby. Baby gave a long screech until James looked down at him and started interacting with him. While some of us are more subtle in our requests for interaction, this is a need we all share. We thrive on the reassurance of love and acceptance we can gain from our caretakers. Likewise, each night during our family dinner, Boo opens with the same question, “So what do you want to talk about?” Sometimes the answer is a question, “What did you do at school today?” Other times James might say something silly like “the production of plastics.”  Listening and talking are extremely important to each of us. We all want to feel valued by the people who take care of us. Batman, on the other hand, may not be directly applicable in all of our lives (although I know it’s also important to other families). But, finding a common ground wherein we can play with children, or discuss issues important to them, or just go have fun are fundamental in our mothering role. I know that I don’t necessarily want to be Catwoman while I’m making dinner or changing a diaper, but sometimes Ji comes in and says, “You’re Catwoman. I’m Batman,” and we begin the imaginative chase. He needs to develop relationships through play as much as he needs food and shelter.
I hope that every woman, little girl, and young woman understands how important her role as a mother truly is. Again, it is not bearing children, as Sister Dew has told us; motherhood is about serving and caregiving. In this world that we have inherited, Brothers and Sisters, motherhood is not valued as the sacred responsibility it is. Some people might dismiss the woman who leaves a promising career to raise her children. On the other hand, others may demean the woman who works to help provide the best life for her children. James’s grandfather will often hug me and tell me, “I’m so proud of you.” As a retired BYU math professor, he was excited when I joined the family because of my academic aspirations to get a PhD and teach. So I was really confused by what made him so proud of me at this time. James recently discovered his grandfather’s reasoning. He is proud of me for choosing to postpone my doctoral studies so I can dedicate my time to my children. On the one hand, getting that PhD is an accomplishment he admires. But he is more proud of my choice to embrace the divine role of motherhood. In the same talk Sister Dew expressed a similar view, "When we understand the magnitude of motherhood, it becomes clear why prophets have been so protective of woman’s most sacred role. While we tend to equate motherhood solely with maternity, in the Lord’s language, the word mother has layers of meaning. Of all the words they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve 'the mother of all living' —and they did so before she ever bore a child. Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born. Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality,  righteous women were endowed premortally with the privilege of motherhood.  Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us."

Now I want each of you to consider what Sister Dew said: Motherhood “is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us.” Boys and young men need to see this divine stature and nature in their own mothers. Men need to remember that their mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters also possess the divine stature of motherhood—as given by our Father in Heaven. And sisters, young and not-so young, need to better appreciate “the essence of who we are as women” by embracing our mothering natures.
Every person who has ever taught a Primary class, a youth group, or family home evening lesson understands that teaching children and youth is the best way to gain an education. As mothers, we continually teach children correct principles, information, ideas, habits, and skills. But we are the ones who learn the more important traits of  patience, persistence, endurance, and Christlike love. Often times, the energy required to learn these traits can push even the most faithful of us to our limits. Anyone who has ever watched a child suffer physically or emotionally knows how difficult it is to endure to the end. Words cannot describe the heartache I felt after my tiny son returned from his first surgery, lines and tubes all over his body, needing to stay perfectly flat, and cringing in pain. It feels so helpless to a mother. But remember that our Heavenly Parents allowed Jesus Christ to suffer so that we might live with them eternally. We are developing these attributes so that we can have eternal life.   
But motherhood is about more than what the mother herself gains. We know that we have a responsibility for those who follow us in this world. We want to give the best future to the rising generation. That is the true purpose of motherhood. Sister Dew says, "As daughters of our Heavenly Father, and as daughters of Eve, we are all mothers and we have always been mothers. And we each have the responsibility to love and help lead the rising generation. How will our young women learn to live as women of God unless they see what women of God look like, meaning what we wear, watch, and read; how we fill our time and our minds; how we face temptation and uncertainty; where we find true joy; and why modesty and femininity are hallmarks of righteous women? How will our young men learn to value women of God if we don’t show them the virtue of our virtues? . . . We just can’t let the Lord down. And if the day comes when we are the only women on earth who find nobility and divinity in motherhood, so be it. For mother is the word that will define a righteous woman made perfect in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, a woman who has qualified for eternal increase in posterity, wisdom, joy, and influence."

Motherhood is a gift. All women are blessed with this gift whether or not she has children. I hope we can all show gratitude to our Father in Heaven by honoring this gift and embracing this responsibility.