by Darla Isackson
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.
There is no other role that requires more caution in trumpeting our weaknesses than mothering. If your mother says to you, “I’m a failure as a mother” what are the implications? I fell into the trap of saying something like that a few years ago on a mother’s day that goes down in infamy as far as I’m concerned. All my sons were over grown but still single, and I was suffering from the silly practice of noticing that practically nothing in our family fit my idealistic little dream of how a family “should be.” I was depressed that day and had been all too aware of my own weaknesses. When everyone was sitting around the table I said, “I’ve been feeling lately that I never did anything right as a mother. I’d be so appreciative if anyone could remind me of something good.” . . . Dead silence for at least two minutes–minutes that felt like an eternity to me . . . I wished mightily that I could disappear. I knew I’d made a mistake, but couldn’t just “erase” it. Finally the boys started a conversation on an entirely different subject, and nothing more was said about my plea. But you can imagine how heavy my heart felt.
One of my sons e-mailed me a few days later and said something like, “I think I can tell you, Mom, why nobody said anything on Sunday. Guys hate to be forced into compliments, and we 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.” I was stunned. The last thing I had meant to do was to insult my sons! I was so self-absorbed I hadn’t even thought about what my words might mean to them.
I did some serious repenting and have been determined ever since to send more positive messages to these people I love so much. They are all fine young men, and just because they haven’t chosen to read off my script all the time doesn’t mean they aren’t making progress in their lives. I’m making progress in mine, too, and the better I learn to treat myself, the better I can treat them.
The Atonement and Its Application to Parenting
In a booklet I co-authored for mothers of older children entitled To Be a Mother; the Agonies and the Ecstasies, I wrote:
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 elderly mom, who has the most loving mother’s heart imaginable, worries about “what she didn’t know” as she was raising her children. “I didn’t have any help at all raising my kids,” she lamented one day as I was giving her a permanent. “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.”I fastened the curler I was rolling, then sat down beside her. “But Mom, 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 my parenting dilemma. ( pp. 7,8)
Giving Ourselves Credit
One of the best sermons I’ve ever come across for mothers is based on some Bible verses in Matthew 25. When the Lord says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (vs. 40), most mothers are famous for saying, “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 left to serve outside the home. All of us as mothers need to give ourselves more credit, allow ourselves to feel the Savior’s appreciation for our service to his little ones.
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 love for doing what He would do if He were present. When we care for our children to the very best of our ability, we are caring for Him.
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.
So, for this Mother’s Day, I’m honoring me, being kinder to me, remembering how much I have always loved my children and how much I enjoyed each one, treasuring each day 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. Not one day did I ever get up in the morning and say, “I think I will be a terrible mother today and cause irreparable 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.
A Gift for Myself
So, for Mother’s Day this year I bought myself a Thomas Kinkade book called “The Home You Made for Me: Celebrating a Mother’s Love.” The book contains many of Kinkade’s beautiful light-filled pictures along with lovely quotes about childhood and mothers. I’m thinking of my own mother, and myself in my best moments, and reading every one of the thoughts with appreciation and love, not guilt and regret. The book includes pages meant for a grown child to write tributes to his or her mother. Pages such as One of my happiest memories of you is . . . or You made our home special because . . . or Special memories of our times together . . . or These ares some of the things you taught me that I hope to pass on to my children . . . I’m writing on these pages for myself. I’m remembering the good parts of my mother’s example (she passed away several years ago) and writing tributes to her, but I’m not forgetting to write tributes to me too. When it comes right down to it, how I feel about myself is far more important to my well-being than how anyone else feels about me.
Accentuating the Positive
I’m come to realize that 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, not because we didn’t put our whole hearts into trying. So I’m writing about the hours I read to my children and sang to them, about my desire to teach them the gospel, about the scripture story tapes and songs they heard as they drifted off to sleep night after night.
Instead of lamenting my failure to accomplish regular family prayer I’m writing about the tradition I had of putting my arms around each child separately and praying for them before they went out the door in the morning. Instead of remembering the vacations we couldn’t afford, I’m writing about the “special times” when I gave each child in turn 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 always knew where my kids were. I’m thinking about 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 that I will always love you–no matter what!”
Note: Half-price offer! Mother’s Day sale on Darla’s tapes and booklet–the most down-to-earth, uplifting gifts for any mom. Call Rosehaven Publishing toll-free at: 1-888-790-7040 or go to their web page: www.rosehavenpublishing.com for:
To Be a Mother, the Agonies and the Ecstasies, is a unique 16-page booklet with full-color cover, written specifically to mothers with grown children. It contains not only the comforting piece Darla quoted from entitled “The Savior Makes Up the Difference for Mothers, Too,” but four poems and some fine prose by poet laureate Emma Lou Thayne. Now only $1.99.
“The Juggling Act” and “Peace of Mind” are hour-long inspirational audio tapes that focus on the Savior’s comforting power in our lives. They are sure to lift the heaviest heart and give new perspectives for Christlike living. Now only $2.99 apiece!
Also check the special introductory offer with the book that Darla wrote with Ross and Susan Woolley (who were involved in the Alta View Hospital hostage situation) about pioneering clinical traumatologist Barry Richards. Sudden Trauma! When Life Will Never Be the Same Again contains revolutionary, gospel-based principles for healing emotional wounds caused by the traumas of life. Receive a FREE copy of THRIVING AFTER SURVIVING, the first book to discuss PTSD in layman’s terms, with every copy of SUDDEN TRAUMA purchased before May 31, 2003! (While supplies last.)
Expiration date of all discount offers: May 31st, 2003