Mothers Day Revisited

May 10, 2004 | 19 comments
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The diveristy of opinions that my previous post on Mothers Day generated has led me to spend a lot of time this week pondering the following question: If I had to give a talk in Sacrament Meeting on Mothers Day, what exactly would I say?

This morning, I finally figured it out.

I was thinking about a time awhile back when a single, middle-aged sister was giving a lesson in Relief Society about Eternal Marriage. As she got up to speak, I groaned inwardly for her. She started out by saying that she was there to talk about the ideal. She didn’t meet the ideal. And neither did anyone else in the room. Even if a sister were temple married with perky children, etc., she wasn’t perfect. We are all working toward the same ideal, and no one is there yet.

What a stunning observation. The rest of her lesson focused on how to get ourselves closer to the ideal, regardless of where we currently were.

So, back to my hypothetical talk, I would basically crib her concept that none of us meets the ideal. I would begin by acknowledging the pain that I know Mothers Day causes women who are in obviously non-ideal situations, and that I always think about being willing to bear one another’s burden and mourning with those who mourn, and how often we do the opposite to childless women on Mothers Day as we remind them of their burdens and give them cause to mourn.

But I would also point out that mothers often don’t like Mothers Day: partially out of awareness of the pain it causes others, but also because of awareness that they don’t meet the ideal paraded out every year for this happy occasion. Take the standard praise used to describe a woman’s housekeeping prowess and compare that with my reality: you could eat off of my floors, but it would almost certainly kill you within minutes.

OK. So everyone feels miserable, because no one meets the ideal. The solution? Jesus Christ. We already knew that. But we go to sacrament meeting to be reminded of the fact that the atonement bridges the gap between our reality and the ideal. And that would be the focus of my talk.

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19 Responses to Mothers Day Revisited

  1. q on May 10, 2004 at 12:19 am

    boo

  2. Greg Call on May 10, 2004 at 12:39 am

    I think that would be a terrific talk, Julie. In my ward today, a shy 14-year-old boy stood and spoke about his foster mother. She is poor, in bad health, and probably too old to be raising four teenage boys. The speaker didn’t idealize her or make her into a monument, but rather explained to the congregation what she means to him: help with math; breaking up fights; kind words. He actually sang a cappella (and sheepishly) a verse from his favorite hymn. It was a touching tribute, and I hope that for all the complications figuring out what’s appropriate for Mother’s Day, we do not lose out on such concrete expressions of gratitude.

  3. Russell Arben Fox on May 10, 2004 at 9:00 am

    Our Mother’s Day sacrament meeting yesterday concluded with a rather drawn-out flower give-away. The second counselor, who was conducting, first asked all the grandmothers in the ward to stand, after which the Aaronic priesthood boys shuffled around handing out carnations. Then he asked all the mothers to stand for their flower (which, of course, posed the question as to whether the grandmas should stand again). Then he asked all the “married-but-not-yet-mothers” adult sisters in the ward to stand, so they could receive a carnation too. And then (he was really dragging this out, and seemed to be enjoying himself while doing so) he asked all the single adult sisters “who are not married or mothers, but who plan to be someday” to please stand. I honestly expected him to start going after the young women next. From what I can tell, I’m not sure anyone who actually received one of the cheap pre-frozen carnations they handed out particularly enjoyed the manner of delivery. Maybe next time, whoever is at the stand will just say, “Will anyone who has a uterus please stand up?” That would be much more direct.

  4. Sheri Lynn on May 10, 2004 at 10:54 am

    Wait, I have no uterus–but I’m a mother. It’s all that doctor’s fault!

    What about me???

    (LOL)

    (Long ago before I was LDS I saw an R-rated comedy, and there was a character named Stan who WANTED to be a woman so he could have babies, but he didn’t have a womb…but they decided to fight the oppressors for his RIGHT to have babies…)

  5. Russell Arben Fox on May 10, 2004 at 11:36 am

    Ah, “Life of Brian.” Monty Python’s greatest movie; one of the funniest things on film. (“You don’t have a womb; where is it going to gestate? Are you going to put it in a bag?!”) I regularly use on of the scenes from the movie (not that one) as an introduction to one of my political theory classes.

  6. Jennifer on May 10, 2004 at 12:18 pm

    Julie,

    Your post really got me to thinking this week, and I’m pleased that you followed up with some more thoughts. I paid particularly close attention in sacrament meeting yesterday. The first talk was given by the Relief Society President. The think that stood out for me was she was admonishing the children to respect and honor their parents, not to talk back. She said “Never, ever talk back.” Hope my daughter heard that one! ;-) The second talk was the regularly expected “sappy” Mother’s Day talk given by a young husband who extolled the virtues of his wife and his little baby daughter.

    As for flowers and such, I don’t know who thought of the idea, but about 3 years ago our ward threw out the handing out of flowers. Instead, they buy some really yummy chocolates from Idaho in nice little giftwrapped boxes and simply ask all the women age 18 and over to stand up while they pass them out. Mine never last past the end of meetings. *grin*

  7. Randy on May 10, 2004 at 12:27 pm

    Julie, I agree with Greg that this would be a fabulous Mother’s Day talk. I wonder, though, whether it matters who gives it. I would worry, for example, that if I gave this talk that people might leave distraught that I had called all of the women in the audience failures. Sometimes the messenger changes the message.

  8. Sheri Lynn on May 10, 2004 at 1:23 pm

    The whole problem could be completely solved if we’d just move these Hallmark holidays to Saturdays and left the Sabbath alone.

    /curmudgeon

  9. Greg Call on May 10, 2004 at 1:38 pm

    By the way, Russell, I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind this weekend and there was a full trailer promoting the theatrical re-release of Life of Brian. Unintended consequence of Mel’s flick, I suppose.

  10. Matt J on May 10, 2004 at 2:12 pm

    For our mothers’ day program, we had a young man talk about how his mother hated mothers’ day because the love and affection of her children seemed coerced. He went on to express his love for her regardless. Then a 50ish woman again spoke on how mothers’ day makes so many women uncomfortable. Her talk focused on the many different types of mothers who teach their children in different ways. She mentioned mothers that teach about patience and knowledge and service and many other things, nothing domestic though. The last speaker was a high priest man who talked a bit about current events, referencing corporate corruption execs and the US prison guards over in Iraq. He wondered what their mothers may have taught them, assumed that it was to do better than they’d done, and admonished us all that our lives would generally be better if we followed the teachings of our mothers (a la sons of Helaman). An implied comment is that most people have an increased sense of right and wrong when they consider what their children should do, that’s why we should listen to them. He also made the statement that young women live in an exciting time because society offers them so much more than just motherhood, but it is also dangerous because motherhood is no longer stressed as the ultimate ideal for women. (Why don’t we say the exact same thing for young men and fatherhood with more regularity? I don’t know if society has ever strongly reinforced the idea that the best thing a man can be is a father. Wait until fathers’ day.)

    There were also a few quotes about motherhood being the closest thing to divinity in this mortal life. I know some women find this kind of comment patronizing, while as a father I find it insulting. Obviously enough people feel happy about this train of thought or it wouldn’t have such staying power. Oh well.

    The primary children sang three songs, and afterward all mothers & potential mothers were given chocolates by the young men (no mention of childless women past menopause — you just can’t win). A pretty positive meeting overall.

  11. Sheri Lynn on May 10, 2004 at 5:20 pm

    I fear Matt may find this notion of mine insulting, too. I had an aggressive nonmember challenge me about why women in my church cannot hold the priesthood. I just opened my mouth and said, “It’s not that we cannot. It’s that we need not. Males in this life are on probation, and have a lot of extra hard work to do before they can win the Celestial Kingdom. It’s a burden the Lord determined we women don’t need to become exalted, rather than a privilege we do not deserve.”

    It seemed so obvious to me when I said it, though I had never thought about it before. Still, I have never found anything written or spoken by a General Authority that backs me up.

    And honestly, there are fewer men in the church who work as hard as women when it comes to the work of the Church.

  12. Kingsley on May 10, 2004 at 6:07 pm

    Sheri Lynn writes, “there are fewer men in the church who work as hard as women when it comes to the work of the Church.”

    I’m not quite sure what to make of that. Also: are you saying that *only* males are on probation? And is your thing about men having “a lot of extra hard work to do before they can win the Celestial Kingdom” tongue-in-cheek or what?

    I have actually heard that sentiment before, but it usually comes from men indulging in a little self-effacing humor, as if to say, “See? I’m not a sexist!” Most women of my acquaintance find it condescending.

  13. Julie in Austin on May 10, 2004 at 6:25 pm

    Sheri Lynn–

    I have to disagree with you, because I know of no scriptural or other support for your position, and it strikes me as something designed to add fuel to the fire of gender wars.

    Perhaps a post for another day, but my husband and I were listing all of the negative things you could say over the pulpit about men that you could never, never, never say about women if you wanted to make it out of the chapel alive. Such as: saying that your husband didn’t know which end of the baby to diaper would probably get you a good chuckle, but if a man made a comment about his wife’s inability to balance a checkbook, you’d probably get hissing and death glares.

  14. Kingsley on May 10, 2004 at 8:00 pm

    Come to think of it, the “men are so depraved God was forced to give them the priesthood to save their sorry behinds” line is not all that uncommon in the Church (at least in my experience). Not as hard doctrine, of course, but as a desperate joke in the face of a politically sensitive (to say the least) topic. It’s silly, of course, to say that God would entrust the leadership of his Church to a group of miscreants “in order to teach them a lesson”; kind of like the idea that mentally handicapped people represent God’s fiercest, most valiant warriors—if Joseph Smith had been just a *little* braver in the War in Heaven, he might have been born retarded.

  15. Sheri Lynn on May 10, 2004 at 8:07 pm

    I agree, it is condescending and that I’ve never found any doctrinal support for that. Still I do not feel any urge to have the priesthood myself. I do not feel slighted but rather relieved–I have enough to do! I do still see worthy exercise of the priesthood as an extra hurdle men must clear in order to win exaltation. Worthy adult males must be ordained to be endowed and sealed; I as a woman needed only to be worthy.

    As far as the men versus women thing, perhaps your ward has better statistics than mine does with respect to such things as home teaching versus visiting teaching.

  16. Sheri Lynn on May 10, 2004 at 8:14 pm

    I do remember taking my new baby to the pediatrician for the two week checkup. The pediatrician told me, “This baby’s diaper is on backwards.”

    I said, “No, that diaper is on perfectly.”

    She insisted it was wrong. I said again, “That diaper is on just right. My husband put that diaper on that baby. He did a perfect job.”

    (He had never used a disposable diaper before–all his little siblings probably have pin-scars, from where he learned while babysitting.)

    She shut right up. :-)

    (He got good at it before long. Practice makes perfect!)

  17. Jim F. on May 11, 2004 at 6:59 pm

    Julie, thanks for doing this topic again since I now owe Kingsley an apology: I went to the Mother’s Day Sacrament meeting in my second son’s ward and enjoyed it: three good talks and no flowers. I was particularly touched by my son’s talk and–I think–not only because he is my son, though that certainly didn’t hurt. He spoke about the obligations we have to mothers. I don’t think any of the talks degenerated into false praise, merely schmalzy sentiment, or masculine self-jutification. Guess I have to eat my words.

  18. Kingsley on May 11, 2004 at 7:10 pm

    Jim F: No eating-of-words will be necessary, as my ward put on a horror show. Then again, I’m in a student ward, where horror shows are routine. Anyhow, I’m glad you had a good experience!

  19. Volney on December 7, 2004 at 9:56 pm

    My mom’s passed on about 2 1/2 years. She was a good person with strengths and weaknesses just like me (and everyone else too). I am the only member of the church in my family of origin. It was interesting to read this thread. Thanks to all that shared. I don’t think I can add anything profound except I miss my mom, even though I just turned 57 years old and am a grandfather myself. It is my hope to see her again, and I am grateful for the restored gospel’s teaching. I have hope that we can be together, but I am realistic enough to know that is far from certain.

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