A few weeks ago, I had a walk to Church that left me depleted. I am eight months pregnant, so keeping up with my 5 and almost 3-year-old boys is already becoming difficult. But this time the keeping up wasn’t the problem. My 5-year-old had decided to ride his bike and he was shouting his frustrations about how terrible church pants are on a bike, how terrible they are in general. In fact, he was soon saying how much he hates Church and he never wants to go again. I know he is 5 and spiraling out on a topic is not necessarily representative of how he will be at 19 or 50. I know he is still just barely learning emotional regulation.

But at eight months pregnant, whatever emotional regulation I’ve ever had seems to be mostly dormant and I too began spiraling out in my brain about what this rant meant for his spiritual future. It had also already been a rough morning for many run-of-the-mill reasons, but they had built up too far and by the time I sat in the pews waiting for the sacrament to come around, I was bawling uncontrollably (and quite publicly) and couldn’t pull it together. I had my head down like I was focusing on the ordinance to try to conceal the situation, but my sweet, almost-3-year-old was peeking under my arms at me and saying in full voice, “Mom, why are you sad? Mom, why are you so sad?”

A few minutes later, when my 5-year-old was being unruly and someone needed to step out with him, I jumped at the chance to escape. I held him in the mother’s room as he pressed his hands over his ears so he wouldn’t have to listen to the speakers, while tears continued to roll unchecked down my face. My friend who was in there nursing her infant, didn’t force conversation, but moved the box of tissues closer to me.

When it was time for Relief Society, I still wasn’t composed and I couldn’t bring myself to go in there where thoughtful sisters would ask what was wrong and the sincerity of the question would probably bring more tears even though the only real answer was just “too many stressors and too many hormones.” But I didn’t want to lose the spiritual boost that would’ve come from class, so I decided to find a conference talk to listen to as I continued to hide in the mother’s room.

The talk I found was Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s April 2023 address entitled, “Jesus Christ is the Strength of Parents”. The sound of his voice filled the little room with his signature optimism and reassurance as he shared a message that I needed so much to hear.

God has given parents the “sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to … observe the commandments of God.”

That’s enough to keep even the best parents awake at night.

My message to all parents is this:

The Lord loves you.

He is with you.

He stands beside you.

It’s a simple message, but certainly one we all need to hear again and again. I think motherhood leaves me too caught up in daily demands that I seem never to succeed at, to remember that the Lord is with me, even standing beside me.

Something I didn’t expect to struggle with so much in young motherhood is the feeling that nothing I do ever sticks. When I was a student, every class I took was a credit I could keep. I got degrees that will be associated with my name forever. I climbed mountains that could never be unclimbed, saw new countries I could never unsee. But now, I spend my days doing dishes that will be dirty again in an instant, cleaning one room even as my boys pour out all their toys in another, and not getting a chance to put away a pile of clean laundry before a pile of dirty laundry just as large looms. It makes it feel like I never get to accomplish anything anymore, or that very little that I do matters.

I thought about my son, who had now willingly trotted off to primary and wondered if there was something I could have done differently to make him not dislike coming to church so much. Did I miss my chance to instill a love of it in him at a younger age? Was this weekly bristling going to last forever? Was this one more way I can’t seem to make a difference?

Elder Uchtdorf’s message seemed to assuage the feeling that some perfectly-worded speech to him at some long past time was my one missed opportunity. He says,

Your efforts may seem small compared to the loud voices your children hear in the world. At times it may feel that you’re not accomplishing much. But remember that “by small means the Lord can bring about great things.” One home evening, one gospel conversation, or one good example may not change your child’s life in a moment, any more than one drop of rain causes a plant immediately to grow. But the consistency of small and simple things, day after day, nourishes your children much better than an occasional flood.

Echoing the message that you too are not too late to help your children, even if they are much older than mine, is an October 2015 message from Elder Bradley D. Foster of the Seventy. He shares about how he interviewed a young man in preparation for a mission who deeply impressed him with his knowledge and personal, spiritual preparation.

When Elder Foster asked how this young man knew all that he knew, he told him that he had learned it from his Dad:

I said, “Pablo, tell me your story.”

Pablo continued: “When I was nine, my dad took me aside and said, ‘Pablo, I was nine once too. Here are some things you may come across. You’ll see people cheating in school. You might be around people who swear. You’ll probably have days when you don’t want to go to church. Now, when these things happen—or anything else that troubles you—I want you to come and talk to me, and I’ll help you get through them. And then I’ll tell you what comes next.’”

“So, Pablo, what did he tell you when you were 10?”

“Well, he warned me about pornography and dirty jokes.”

“What about when you were 11?” I asked.

“He cautioned me about things that could be addictive and reminded me about using my agency.”

Here was a father, year after year, “line upon line; here a little, and there a little,” who helped his son not only hear but also understand.

Elder Foster was impressed with this paternal approach, but lamented that his children were past those stages where he could’ve said the same things.

As I continued to think about my experience with Pablo, I felt sad because my four daughters were grown and the nine grandchildren I had at the time didn’t live nearby. I then thought, “How could I ever help them the way Pablo’s father helped him? Had too much time gone by?” As I offered a prayer in my heart, the Spirit whispered this profound truth: “It’s never too early and it’s never too late to begin this important process.” I knew immediately what that meant. I could hardly wait to get home. I asked my wife, Sharol, to call all of our children and tell them that we needed to visit with them; I had something really important to tell them. My urgency startled them a little.

We began with our oldest daughter and her husband. I said: “Your mother and I want you to know that we were your age once. We were 31, with a small family. We have an idea of what you might encounter. It might be a financial or health challenge. It may be a crisis of faith. You may just get overwhelmed with life. When these things happen, we want you to come and talk to us. We’ll help you get through them. Now, we don’t want to be in your business all the time, but we want you to know that we are always in your corner.

It is strange to be a toddler parent and have your children seek comfort from you when they are mad at you. My 5-year-old cuddled into my lap in that mother’s room even though I’m the one he was upset with for making him come to church. When we have an angry exchange, he gets sad and frustrated with me, but also comes to me for comfort from that mean lady who is incidentally also me.

I am striving daily to deal with things with practiced composure instead of ever having any clashes to smooth, but in the meantime, I think he must know that I’m in his corner or he wouldn’t keep seeking me out as a safe place. In the same way, my almost-3-year-old comes into my room every morning sometime between 4am-6am. He comes over to my side of the bed and climbs in to snuggle, without asking permission because he knows he is welcome. I realized the other morning that perhaps not every child feels that sense of wordless acceptance and safety from their parents, maybe I’m doing that one thing right.

But it’s easier to have an open heart when my children are still so young and vulnerable. In his address, “With all the Feeling of a Tender Parent: A Message of Hope to Families” from April of 2004, Elder Robert D. Hales emphasizes the importance of deliberately cultivating an open heart to our children, even when they frustrate and disappoint us. He says,

Sometimes when our teachings aren’t heeded and when our expectations are not met, we need to remind ourselves to leave the door to our hearts open.

In the parable of the prodigal son, we find a powerful lesson for families and especially parents. After the younger son “came to himself,” he decided to go home.

How did he know his father wouldn’t reject him? Because he knew his father. Through the inevitable misunderstandings, conflicts, and follies of the son’s youth, I can visualize his father being there with an understanding and compassionate heart, a soft answer, a listening ear, and a forgiving embrace. I can also imagine his son knowing he could come home because he knew the kind of home that was awaiting him. For the scriptures say, “When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.”

I testify that our Heavenly Father leaves the door open. I also testify that it is never too late to open the door between us and our children with simple words such as “I love you,” “I am sorry,” and “Please forgive me.” We can begin now to create a home they will want to return to—not only now but in the eternities.

We can also help our obedient children leave the door of forgiveness open by expressing our love and appreciation to them and by helping them rejoice in the repentance of their siblings.

His mention of the power of the simple words, “I love you”, “I am sorry”, and “Please forgive me” are echoed in the more recent address given in this April’s General Conference by Elder Ronald A. Rasband when he said,

Let me suggest three simple phrases that we can use to take the sting out of difficulties and differences, lift, and reassure each other:

“Thank you.”

“I am sorry.”

And “I love you.”

Do not save these humble phrases for a special event or catastrophe. Use them often and sincerely, for they show regard for others.

In particular, the potential for power in an “I’m sorry” is such a comfort to me as I fumble my way through motherhood. I know that perfection isn’t even close to attainable for me, but I can apologize to my children and admit that I’m just learning too. Many nights I snuggle next to my five-year-old and we talk about how the day went and I do apologize for getting so angry about certain things and tell him I am working on it. I tell him I don’t always know the best way to do things and we’re both just figuring it out.

And the lesson seems to have made some impression because on Easter when I announced that we were making “resurrection rolls”, he thought I said, “resurrection rules” and he said, “My resurrection rule is no more hitting.” He didn’t say it with embarrassment or sheepishness, just announced his determination to do better because we’re all pretty honest about our need to do better in this house.

But I often wish there wasn’t quite so much to do better on. I wish I felt the significance of my work just a little more because, though I feel the eternal quality of human love in moments when I giggle with my children about something or they bound toward me with the excitement of a new discovery, I also feel the relentlessness of day-to-day household tasks that are never and will never be done and are rarely deeply satisfying.

It is a journey towards joy in motherhood that I think will not be simple for me, but I am comforted by the words of our current prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, when he told this story:

One day while I was speaking to a congregation in South America, I became exceedingly excited about my topic, and at a pivotal moment, I said, “As the mother of 10 children, I can tell you that …” And then I went on to complete my message.

I did not realize that I had said the word mother. My translator, assuming I had misspoken, changed the word mother to father, so the congregation never knew that I had referred to myself as mother. But my wife Wendy heard it, and she was delighted with my Freudian slip.

In that moment, the deep longing of my heart to make a difference in the world—like only a mother does—bubbled up from my heart. Through the years, whenever I have been asked why I chose to become a medical doctor, my answer has always been the same: “Because I could not choose to be a mother.”

He went on to exhort those women listening and everyone who reads his message thereafter:

My dear sisters, you have special spiritual gifts and propensities. Tonight I urge you, with all the hope of my heart, to pray to understand your spiritual gifts—to cultivate, use, and expand them, even more than you ever have. You will change the world as you do so.

I think calling upon our deepest, most ancient spiritual power and gifts may be the only way to flourish instead of flounder through the most difficult moments of motherhood. I often grieve for the loss of the gifts I no longer get to use in my current stage, but perhaps, by listening to a prophet’s voice, we can take the opportunity to learn what other gifts have been quietly waiting in the wings for their moment to shine.

And until we discover just what they are and how they can help us, we can know as Elder Uchtdorf said in that talk that I listened to, hiding in a mother’s room on a Sunday afternoon, that:

The Lord loves you.

He is with you.

He stands beside you.