I don’t remember the moment that it hit me. But suddenly Matthew 25:40 took on a whole new meaning—an application to mothering. You know the scripture; it’s the one where the Lord explains the best reason for treating others well, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Because they are so busy with mundane daily tasks of family life, most mothers are famous for asking the questions that precede those profound words, “Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, . . . and came unto thee?” (Matthew 25: 37-39)
Yet who does all those things more consistently than mothers? They patiently give food to their hungry children–many times a day. They give them water when they are thirsty, and clothe them when they are naked–which is much more often than at bath-time for many little ones! They nurse their children through endless nights of illness, and come to them, “visit” them constantly to fill their every need. Yet mothers tend to say, “that doesn’t count,” and feel they are not doing their part when they have little time or energy to serve outside the home. All of us as mothers need to allow ourselves to feel the Savior’s appreciation for our service to His little ones, our own children.
There is so much to learn from the words, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these . . .Ye have done it unto me.” No mother can tenderly nurture her baby, or do her best to comfort an older child without meriting the Savior’s commendation for doing what He would do if He were present.
I, Too, Am “One of the Least of These”
There is another application of this scripture I want to talk about. I’ve often been much better at feeding, comforting, and caring for my children and others than I have myself. I’ve often been kinder, more forgiving, more understanding of others than I have myself. I had to think long and hard about how I treated myself when I realized one day that I, too, am “one of the least of these.” Inasmuch as I do it to myself, I do it to the Savior. What a sobering thought–one that has motivated me to consider a wiser, more loving approach to myself. And Mother’s Day is a good time to apply it, since that is a time I’m often been least loving to myself. I suspect I’m not alone.
There is no other role that requires more caution in trumpeting our assumed weaknesses than mothering. One day, when my sons were mostly grown I was feeling really down and self-critical. Fishing for reassurance, I said something like, “I’ve been feeling lately that I never did anything right as a mother.” I got NO response, which made me feel even worse. One of my sons e-mailed me later and said, “I don’t like the inference that we turned out so bad that you feel like a failure as a mother. I wish you could accept us as we are and try to see the good.” Ouch! I was stunned. The last thing I had meant to do was to insult my sons! I thought I was being humble and repentant, but I was so self-absorbed I hadn’t even thought about what my words might mean to them. I have been determined ever since to send more positive messages to my children. They are all fine people.
The Atonement and Its Application to Parenting
As I have listened to mothers–especially those with grown children–I’ve never heard one that did not question or even agonize over her parenting. Even my mom, who had the most loving mother’s heart imaginable, worried about “what she didn’t know” as she was raising her children. She lived with me the last four years of her life, so I know. “I didn’t have any help at all raising my kids,” she lamented one day when I was doing her hair. “In those days we didn’t have parenting articles or books or Mother Education classes to help us be better mothers. I don’t suppose I taught you very much as you were growing up, because I didn’t even realize I was supposed to.”
“But Mom,” I replied, “you loved us, and you did such a good job in every way you knew. You’re not accountable for things you didn’t have a chance to learn.”
Even as I spoke those words, I realized how desperately I needed to be reminded of the message that I won’t be condemned for things I didn’t know–or didn’t know how to apply. When I still feel I “should” have done better as a parent, I remind myself that no one but the Savior did as well as he “should” have. The rest of us only do the best we can. We always fall short, and that is the whole point of the Atonement–the reason God sent the Savior after all. And without our imperfections and hard times it is unlikely we would reach out to each other in service or reach up to the Lord so earnestly for spiritual strength. I have discovered that the Savior’s invitation to have faith, repent, and apply the reality of the Atonement is the only answer to the dilemma.
When I asked my friend Stan to proofread this article he added the following note:
Accentuating the Positive
I suspect every mother falls short of giving her children everything they need; after all, only the Savior even knows what that “everything” is! But we usually fall short only because we don’t know better, or because we don’t know how to apply the knowledge we possess, not because we don’t put our whole hearts into trying. Not one day did I ever get up in the morning and say, “I think I will be a terrible mother today and cause damage to my children’s psyches.” Not one time did I on purpose do anything to hurt one of my children. Any way I failed my children was certainly not intentional, and I would wager I’m in good company.
This Mother’s Day season I’ve decided to do something novel: celebrate the things I did right.
Since I tend to be a behavioral perfectionist, I’ve been excellent at reminding myself of things I might have done better. I’ve learned, however, that humility is quite a different thing from self–flagellation, and that the Lord wants me to repent and rejoice, not hang my head and plod along feeling bad because I’ve had to learn “line upon line” like every other mortal mother.
So, for this Mother’s Day, I’ve decided to be kinder to myself, remembering how much I have always loved my children and how much I enjoyed each one, treasuring the joy of caring for them when they were tiny. I’m reminding myself that all through the years of raising them I did the very best I could with what I knew and understood at the moment.
I’m remembering the hours I read to my children and sang to them, my desire to teach them the gospel, the scripture story tapes and songs they heard as they drifted off to sleep night after night.
Instead of lamenting lack of regular, family prayer I’m remembering the tradition I had of putting my arms around each school-age child separately and praying for them before they went out the door in the morning. Instead of regretting the vacations we couldn’t afford, I’m remembering a few special times when I gave each child an afternoon with Mom alone–cavorting in the park, going out for hamburgers, feeding the pigeons and the ducks, doing whatever they wanted to do. Instead of worrying about all the noisy, disorderly years when the house was full of growing boys, I’m remembering that the kids felt free to bring their friends home, that they were the first in the neighborhood to have a computer, so all the kids “hung out” at our house and I knew where they were. I’m remembering the canyon outings I took them on, and later, the campouts. One time when I was the only adult camping with all five of my boys and two neighbor boys, the Scoutmaster said he was about to recruit me!
Instead of worrying that I didn’t create the “perfect” home for my children and didn’t show them an example of a “perfect” marriage, I’m remembering how totally I’ve always loved them, how I would have (and still would) do anything in the world for their well-being, how I could look in any son’s eyes and say honestly, “I want you to know I will always love you–no matter what!”
This Mother’s Day I’m going to rejoice over the good memories and love myself a little better for how very much I always wanted to do right by my children. By being a little nicer to myself, I hope to give the Savior more reason to rejoice too. After all, “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these . . . ye have done it unto me.”
Note: To learn more about Darla and her books, Trust God No Matter What! and After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On, visit her website: www.darlaisackson.com