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If you had to write a job description for the job of mother, how would you describe it? With my background in human resources, I watched with interest a clever video prepared several years ago. The spoofers prepared a job description for a titled, “Director of Operations” and 24 candidates applied and were interviewed. The interviewer explained that the job would not be a paid position, but would be pro bono. The Director of Operations would be required to be on-call 24/7 with no vacations or holidays. The incredulous interviewees asked questions like, “Is that even legal?” At the end, it is revealed that the actual job title for this position is “mother”.
I think we can all agree that being a mother is a hard job with great rewards. Each Mother’s Day, we celebrate motherhood and express gratitude for those who served as mother figures in our lives – moms, grandmothers, beloved teachers, aunts, family friends…the list goes on. Motherhood has been referred to as a divine role, as being a co-creator with God, as the highest and holiest calling on earth – and it is certainly all of those things.
But I think it only fair to acknowledge that for many others, Mother’s Day is a difficult day. I do love looking at the ideal, but I am also a realist. So here is my personal overview of the job description for the role of “mother”.
This job will force you to stretch beyond your wildest dreams.
This calling will cause you a level of joy and pain that you never thought possible.
Your heart will be broken. You will suffer. You will thrill.
You will cry tears of joy, pride and sadness.
You will never be loved quite like this again.
And all along you will wonder if you did the right thing or if you were good enough. Sometimes you will judge yourself harshly; and your children will judge you harshly. And your heart will be forever entangled around your children’s, even if they reject you.
In this role, you will learn the principles of godhood. And after all this, it will be just a tiny, small taste of what our Father in Heaven feels about us.
Some of us have amazing mothers and feel gratitude for the sweetness of her memory. I have a grandmother who I loved dearly. But, some of us had mothers who hurt us or were not there for us.
I was asked to give a talk on motherhood recently. I mentioned the difficulty of talking on that subject to one sister, and she said, “I was an orphan”. I wonder what she thinks on Mother’s Day. What about sisters who don’t have children or have lost a child? What about when a child goes astray? So much pain, hope. So much can go wrong.
I once gave a lesson in Relief Society on motherhood. Afterwards a sweet sister came to me and told me of her difficult relationship with her mother and her deep longing for a mother’s love. She said that one night she had a dream, and in it, she stood in front of a woman – a kind all-loving woman. This woman took her in her arms and held her. She thought maybe that was her Heavenly Mother.
I know a dear senior lady who has never been blessed with children. I wonder how she feels on Mother’s Day. I have sat in the hallway in my ward on Mother’s Day with a woman who was crying because of her feelings of failure. Her son was not speaking to her, and she condemned herself for her mistakes. I know an elderly woman in another ward whose only son was in prison for over 40 years. Another friend told me that his mother had abandoned him in the hospital after he was born. And I know that there are many mothers out there who are alone, forgotten. But this is the reality of our experiences.
As Latter-day Saints we have even another layer of concern for our children. We not only want them to be happy productive citizens, but we want them to obtain Celestial glory. That causes another layer of sadness when our children reject or ignore those things we hold most sacred. Remember, when Lehi partook of the tree of life, his first thought was to find his family so that they could share that great gift with him.
I am one of those who find Mother’s Day occasionally difficult. But I still celebrate mothers and motherhood. My relationship with my own mother was impossible. Without going into much detail, she was not gifted with the ability to demonstrate love. My father, on the other hand was the nurturing parent, and I modeled myself after him. He did what my mother would not including driving us to events, getting up with us in the night when we were sick. He was the one who took my sister shopping for her prom dress. Yet when my mother died 5 years ago, to our credit, my sister and I cared for her and honored her to the end. When we were asked to write her obituary, we looked at each other blankly. What to say? So many lost opportunities….
I have come to a place of peace about past events. My mother, like some other women, did not have that “mother instinct” that we expect all women to have. Some females are born with a nurturing spirit. Some are not.
As a consequence of my upbringing, I had no idea how to take care of a child or infant. I married and had my first child. Frankly, I was scared and alone. I who had never felt a mother’s love remember clearly when that baby boy was placed in my arms for the first time. I experienced a change. I had never felt love like that before. It was a new type of love and almost overpowering and unexpected. You see it’s a wonderful trick of nature that babies are adorable, innocent and helpless. And because they have ½ of our genetic make-up they are even more endearing. I began a growth process on that day. Juxtaposed with that overwhelming new love was a realization that I had no training in baby care. I was concerned as they wheeled me to the hospital elevator with my new infant wondering how this whole thing works. I knew I had to keep him alive, and I didn’t know how. I made mistakes. I stumbled. I erred. I went forward.
Each of my children has taught me things I could not have learned any other way. I was imperfect and they let me know that. You see, children will hold up a reflective mirror to display your faults, hypocrisies and inconsistencies and cause you to repent and grow.
As time went on, I was a single mother and together we braved the attacks from the world and from Satan and clung the best we could to the gospel. I am five different mothers to my children. They each remember me differently, partly because I evolved and grew over the years.
In spite of me, and partly because of me, my children are wonderful, amazing, powerful human beings – flawed like their mother.
But knowing how different each of our experiences and perceptions are about motherhood, how can we make it inclusive for all of us? The only thing we all have in common is that we were born into this earth from the sacrifice of a woman. I think we can also all agree on the fundamental importance of mother love. The exception proves the rule.
Sheri Dew once stated:
“The subject of motherhood is a very tender one, for it evokes some of our greatest joys and heartaches…I have wrestled with what the doctrine of motherhood means for all of us. This issue has driven me to my knees, to the scriptures, and to the temple—all of which teach an ennobling doctrine regarding our most crucial role as women. It is a doctrine about which we must be clear if we hope to stand “steadfast and immovable” 2 regarding the issues that swirl around our gender. For Satan has declared war on motherhood. He knows that those who rock the cradle can rock his earthly empire. And he knows that without righteous mothers loving and leading the next generation, the kingdom of God will fail… Motherhood is not what was left over after our Father blessed His sons with priesthood ordination. It was the most ennobling endowment He could give His daughters, a sacred trust that gave women an unparalleled role in helping His children keep their second estate.”
Since the day that Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden – because of Eve’s deep understanding of the plan – women and men have consecrated their bodies to creating and taking care of families. Make no mistake about it – women put their lives and health on the line in having children. Men have a similar sacrifice when they work for a living and protect their family in the cold and heat, wearing out their joints and bodies early. As Paul said, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.” (Romans 12:1)
Writer Kathryn Soper poignantly wrote of her feelings about a mother’s sacrifice. She told of a time when she was sitting in church listening to the speaker and very pregnant. She was exhausted and feeling grumpy when the speaker began to talk on the topic of pioneers. She said:
“The last thing I wanted to hear was heroic tales of mothers who kept walking resolutely to Zion no matter what they had to leave behind…then…at that very moment, the speaker said the very words I needed to hear…. He was reading the story of the Sweetwater crossing, the day that grown men and women sat down and cried on the banks of the half-frozen river because their strength was utterly spent, the day that three young men carried dozens of people through the chunks of ice and onto the continuing path west that waited on the opposite bank.
And as those words penetrated the hazy fatigue that enveloped me, the Spirit spoke. Not with words, but with a deep impression that I roughly translate here: “Your sacrifice is like unto theirs.” I sensed within myself and how there were spirits waiting on that bank needing to cross to the other side. And how I was carrying them, one at a time, to the opposite bank, so that they could continue along the path to Zion.
All the pain and discomfort and difficulty, I suddenly understood, was having a sanctifying effect”.
Even after the grief of a miscarriage, she stated:
“It wasn’t a waste,” …”It wasn’t a waste…I knew that somehow, my loss counted. It was known by God and would, in some inexplicable way, contribute to his work and his glory, as well as my personal holiness.
I realized that this is true for women in a variety of circumstances: women who try and try, but are unable to conceive; women who face the rigors of adopting a child; women who remain single in this lifetime, who must forego maternity as well as intimacy on a number of levels.”
So I ask you that we reconsider Mother’s Day as a day for forgiveness. Can we forgive ourselves for our imperfections? Can we forgive our own mother’s for their mistakes? Can we forgive our children who may not be doing all that we would have them do? I wonder, can we women focus on those things we are doing right (which are many) and overlook our weaknesses? Can we focus on the blessings of motherhood and celebrate the great sacrifices we and others made with full understanding we are perfect in our imperfections? Shall we not go on in so great a cause?
I know that all pain and sorrow will be healed someday by the great Healer of broken hearts. That which is unfair in this life will be mended and deficits will be exchanged for fullness.