But today I want to make a post about motherhood. Sometimes I have doubts about what kind of mother I am. Am I ruining my children? Am I scarring them in ways that will take plenty of therapy?
At my church the members give the talks and sermons every week and so we have the opportunity to hear from each other. Some talks are more engaging than others and lots of times, for me, that has to do with how well behaved Ryan is being at the time. But this past mother's day Melissa Lynch was one of the speakers and her talk was very inspirational to me and gave me hope. I asked her if she would send me her written talk and she has. It differs from her spoken words in that her time was short and she cut some things.
I'm posting the talk in its entirety. mostly for myself so I can easily refer to it now and then but I also hope that those of you who are mothers can read it and find some reassurance in Melissa's words.
Of course you know that I don't post much about my religious feelings here but this talk I am giving an exception. Take what you want from it, and bypass those things which may not blend with your personal feelings.
It is an honor and privilege to speak to you today. I hope to convey a spirit of inspiration through my words and hope that by the end of this talk, you mothers or soon-to-be mothers will have a renewed conviction to press forward in your most sacred roles in your families.
As a member of the church my entire life, I have been blessed to have the constant reassurance of my church leaders that being a mother is one of the most sacred and noble callings. Yet even with this constant reassurance, I had constant doubt thrown at me by outside influences.
Approximately one year ago, my sweet husband gave me a book called, “I Am a Mother” by Jane Clayson Johnson. Sister Johnson is a member of the church and tells her story of how she left behind a prestigious career to be a stay-at-home mom. In the first chapter of her book, Sister Johnson states:
“When we trust in the arm of the Lord rather than the voices of the world, everything changes.”
And then she goes on to quote Elder Neal A. Maxwell:
“When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?”
In preparing my talk, I felt compelled to research the definition of “mother” and these were my favorites:
a female parent.
a term of familiar address for an old or elderly woman.
someone that gives rise to or exercises protecting care over something else.
From these definitions, I gathered that you have to be female but do not necessarily have to give birth in order to be a mother. Yet these definitions still did not satisfy my hunger for a definition on the word mother. So I turned to the definitions of female, woman, womanly, lady, maternal, and feminine. Yet the deeper I dug, and the more worldly definitions I came across, the emptier I felt. The spirit then prompted me to turn to the Proclamation on the Family where it so beautifully and clearly defines who a mother is. So with the help of the Proclamation, I came up with the following definitions:
1. Daughter of God with a divine nature and destiny.
2. A woman who follows the Lord’s commandment to multiply and replenish the earth within the sacred bonds of matrimony.
3. Woman who fulfills her sacred duty to rear her children in love and righteousness, provides for their physical and spiritual needs, and teaches them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.
4. A woman who establishes and maintains her family on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.
Not only does this satisfy my desire to properly define mother, it also helps me make the point clear that I am also speaking to the young women, daughters, sisters, and those of you who have yet to bring life into this world every time I use the word “mother.”
With that clarified, I would like to quote Barbara Bush, as found in Sister Johnson’s book:
“Your success as a family…our success as a nation…depends not on what happens inside the White House, but on what happens inside your house.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland had this to say concerning mothers:
“Mothers go longer on less sleep and give more to others with less personal renewal for themselves than any other group I know at any other time in life. It is not surprising when the shadows under their eyes sometimes vaguely resemble the state of Rhode Island.”
How true is that, brothers and sisters?? It seems at times for me that the daunting task of motherhood is more like a cruel game of Survivor than a blessing full of joy and fulfillent.
As stated by Anna Quindlen:
“If any of us engaged in the work of mothering thought much about it as the task of fashioning the fine points of civilization, we would be frozen into immobility by the enormity of the task.”
Sister Johnson’s reaction to this quote is as follows, “Frozen is right! Some days I look around and feel so overwhelmed by the day ahead of me I don’t know where to start. And other times, when I least expect it, I am stopped in my tracks by society’s slights to motherhood or by a slew of expert advice on how to become Supermom.
It is, in part, experiencing those moments that has led to this book. Because, at other times, when quiet is allowed to seep into my heart and leads me to prayer and reflection, I have learned for myself that mothers matter. I matter. And so do you.
In her phenomenal book, Sister Johnson goes on to recount her story of the birth of her second child:
We were sitting in church on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when my water broke. Three days later, our little baby William was born – more than three months early, at only 27 weeks’ gestation. At his tiniest, he weighed just over 2 ½ pounds. I remember the nurses wheeling me on a bed into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston to see him for the first time. It was four-o’clock in the morning, and I had just awakened from undergoing a difficult and complicated 2 ½ hour caesarean section operation. I saw all those little incubators – with blankets covering them to keep the light out of the babies’ eyes – and thought they looked like little coffins lined up. How could these babies survive? Of course, some of them didn’t. William was in the NICU for eleven weeks. Almost every day, I would travel back and forth to that hospital to deliver breast milk and to hold him. Some days the doctors would not allow him to come out of the Isolette. And so I would sit and look at him through the glass, with all the tape and tubes and wires hanging from his frail little body. There was barely a place to touch his bare skin. On the good days, I would hold William while he received his fortified feedings through a tube in his nose. I had read medical research that showed that premature babies who were consistently held and nurtured by their mothers were healthier than those who were not. The hospital recommended “kangaroo care” – putting babies skin-to-skin with their mothers. It was supposed to help with bonding. The doctors said it actually made the babies stronger. For weeks, I did this. But for weeks it seemed that William still did not know I was there. He didn’t respond to me in any way. He didn’t open his eyes. He would hardly move. I remember so distinctly thinking: Am I really making a difference? A very perceptive neonatologist nurse must have sensed my sadness. One afternoon, she came over to our little corner of the unit, put her arm around me, and with such kindness said, “William can’t express it right now, but in his behalf, let me say Thank You for being here. These babies know their mothers. And even though it doesn’t feel as though you’re making a difference…you are.”
That night, after my husband had given William a beautiful priesthood blessing, I remember standing with both arms through the portals of his incubator. The feeling came over me so strongly that as a mother, the Lord needed me. And that, as my Savior, I needed Him to make this baby whole. In that moment, in a very tangible way, I realized that mothers matter. Even when our children cannot – or will not – express it, even when the voices of the world tell us that mothering isn’t as important as anything else we could be doing, we are making a difference. I keep this quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taped to my nightstand: “You are doing God’s work. You are doing it wonderfully well. He is blessing you, and He will bless you, even – no, especially – when your days and your nights may be most challenging. Like the woman who anonymously, meekly, perhaps even with hesitation and some embarrassment, fought her way through the crowd just to touch the hem of the Master’s garment, so Christ will say to the women who worry and wonder and weep over their responsibility as mothers, ‘Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.’ And it will make your children whole as well.”
As I’m sure all mothers can relate a story of similar experience, I have felt like unto Sister Johnson at times in my dealings with my son, Tanner. Being at his bed-side or holding him in my arms after swiftly scooping him up after an epileptic attack, watching helplessly as his small body convulses while running my fingers through his strawberry blonde hair wondering, “Am I really making a difference?” I hope to remember Elder Holland’s words the next time I am feeling discouraged as a mother, “You are doing God’s work. You are doing it wonderfully well. He is blessing you, and He will bless you, especially, when your days and your nights may be most challenging.” I hope to remember too that even though my little Tanner can’t express it, he appreciates me and his spirit recognizes I am there even when his mind cannot.
I again quote Anna Quindlen from Sister Johnson’s book, “If we stop to think about what we do, really do, we are building for the centuries. We are building character, and tradition, and values, which meander like a river into the distance and out of our sight, but on and on and on.”
Quote from pic in house….”
I would like to close with an excerpt from Sister Johnson’s book under the sub-heading “A mother’s influence”:
Like my mother and her mother and all the others who came before me, my actions and choices will affect generations of mothers to come. Mothers are the single most powerful influence in a child’s life, starting even before birth.
Author, obstetrician/gynecologist, and women’s health expert Christiane Northrup, M.D., says, “Our mother provides us with our first experience of nurturing. She is our first and most powerful female role model. It is from her that we learn what it is to be a woman…Our cells divided and grew to the beat of her heart. Our skin, hair, heart, lungs, and bones were nourished by her blood, blood that was awash with the neurochemicals formed in response to her thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. If she was fearful or anxious, our bodies knew it. If she felt safe, happy and fulfilled, we felt that too…
“Every daughter contains her mother and all the women who came before her. The unrealized dreams of our maternal ancestors are part of our heritage.”
But it is not only descendants who benefit from a mother’s love and influence. Elder Bruce C. Hafen said, “Women have always lifted entire cultures. Their influence begins in each society’s very core – the home. Here women have taught and modeled what social historian Alexis de Tocqueville called ‘the habits of the heart’, civilizing ‘mores’ or attitudes that create a sense of personal virtue and duty to the community, without which free societies can’t exist.”
How empowering! How true! It is mothers who teach future businessmen to be honest in their dealings. It is mothers who coach (and sometimes coax) future scientists, doctors, and mathematicians through worksheets and multiplication tables. It is mothers who show future politicians how to be compassionate – even in the face of opposition.
President Harold B. Lee taught that “a mother’s heart is a child’s schoolroom. The instructions received at the mother’s knee…are never effaced entirely from the soul…Family life is God’s own method of training the young, and homes are largely what mothers make them.”
President N. Eldon Tanner said, “A mother has far greater influence on her children than anyone else has, and she must realize that every word she speaks, every act, every response, her attitude, even her appearance and manner of dress, affect the lives of her children and the whole family. It is while the child is in the home that he gains from his mother the attitudes, hopes, and beliefs that will determine the kind of life he will live, and the contribution he will make to society.”
Every word. Every act. Every response. Every attitude. That might make you want to pull the covers right back over your head! But it can also be comforting. When a mother teaches her child a truth, she adds a layer of insulation against Satan’s influence – even as she struggles to hold that child’s attention through a 15-minute family home evening lesson or insists that her little one says a simple bedside prayer.
Author Ann Crittenden writes, “The more skillful the caregiver, the more invisible her efforts become. Ideally, the recipients themselves don’t even notice that they are being cared for, other than to accept caring as part of the natural order of things…Like the work of a fine seamstress, the tiny stitches that build character and confidence are invisible to the eye.”
The stitches that build testimony and teach truth are also tiny, but they are often the very things that hold a soul together: family prayer, scripture study, family home evening, a shared testimony, a sympathetic hug, a smile. And it’s the consistency of providing those things, day in and day out, that makes a difference and leaves a lasting impression.
We usually read D&C 18:15 in the context of doing missionary work; but think how applicable the verse is to the work of mothers as well: “If it so be that you should labor all your days…and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy.”
“Laboring all your days” is difficult – often unseen – work, but its rewards are immeasurable. It would serve us well, as mothers, to remember this more often. It would also help to remember that there are many ways to “labor,” each as appropriate as the other, and each necessary at different times and different stages of life. What really matters is that we labor with love and, as President Hinckley says, simply “do the very best we can.”
I leave these words with you to comfort, uplift, and inspire in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.