It’s almost Mother’s Day. I don’t like Mothers’ Day. You might expect to hear that from a woman who is childless, or who has strained relations with her children. I’m a married, at-home mom, and I enjoy being a mom. But I still don’t like Mothers’ Day.
Here’s why: the kind of motherhood that we celebrate on Mothers’ Day is the pastel, soft-focus, floral kind. In other words, Mothers’ Day is brought to you by Kodak and Hallmark. I think I can speak for a lot of mothers when I say that, while I occasionally have Kodak moments, I have a lot more Pampers and Lysol moments. I want to celebrate a motherhood that is gritty, real, messy, tough, and unsentimental.
When I think about motherhood, I don’t think about fluff.
I do think about Eve. We always talk about her as a prototypical woman and as a model wife. She is. But remember that her name means “mother of all living.” We don’t think about her as a mother very often. Here’s what I have learned about motherhood from Eve:
(1) Be reflective. Reflecting on the Fall, Eve says, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11). Eve didn’t allow the Fall to be ‘water under the bridge,’ she pondered to determine what it meant for her. My greatest improvements as a parent (and in other areas) have come when I have asked, “Why exactly was this the day from hell?” or “What can I do to make more days like this one?” Good parenthood is reflective.
(2) Moses 5 is a veritable gold mine for information about motherhood, following Eve’s example. Some thoughts: mothers labor alongside their husbands (verse 1), mothers maintain a close relationship with God (verse 4), mothers teach their children (verse 12), mothers hope for the best for their children (verse 16), mothers mourn at their children’s failures (verse 27).
I also think about Kitty deRuyter’s mother. Living in Indonesia during World War II, she and her mother were in an internment camp run by the Japanese. Her family was (non-LDS) Christian. Her mother was regarded as a leader of the women. One day, a Japanese officer came to her and asked her to pick out about a dozen young girls for the Japanese officers to abuse. Her mother prayed about what to do. (Sidenote: this was a revelation to me. Maybe this sounds naïve, but my first response was to think, “She can’t pray about which girls should be raped! That’s too sordid.” It took me awhile to internalize the idea that you really can pray about anything. God can handle it.)
She decided which girls to send, and prepared them by shaving their heads and spreading their bodies with bitter, stinky herbs. The girls were spared. She, however, was tortured for what she had done, and it is a miracle that she survived.
Maybe I’m weird, but this is one of the few stories about motherhood that has ever really resonated with me. And it isn’t really even about motherhood. Maybe I like it because it reiterates the common theme of mothers as self-sacrificing, but in the stories I don’t like, the self-sacrifice usually strikes me as . . . somehow inappropriate (“And, after having kids, my mother devoted herself so totally to her family that she not only gave up her aspirations to be a professional violinist, but she never played the violin again.” I mean, really, was that necessary?). It seems that we often value the concept of self-sacrifice as a good in itself, whether the content of the sacrifice was legitimate, necessary, or even reasonable. In this story, I see self-sacrifice, and I see that it was necessary.
When I think about motherhood, I think about President Harold B. Lee. Helen Lee Goates, daughter of Harold B. Lee, wrote:
“While I was serving as the chorister in our ward Relief Society when our first two sons were about two and a half and four years of age, I had arranged with Mother to come and tend my little boys while I attended a Friday afternoon stake leadership meeting. [But Mother had a cold and couldn’t come.] Sometime mid-morning, the phone rang again. This time it was my father, calling from his office in the Quorum of the Twelve. He said, ‘Dear, you plan to do to your meeting and I’ll come tend the boys.’ I was appalled at such an idea and strongly protested. But he persisted and asked, teasingly, ‘Don’t you think I’d be an acceptable babysitter?’ ‘Of course’ I replied, ‘but–well–I just couldn’t have you do that! I’d feel like I was thwarting the word of the Lord to have you leave your important work at the office just to come and tend my babies!’ His reply was sobering and taught me important lessons: ‘Why, my dear, who is to say which is the most important work of the Lord–to stay at my desk at the Church Office Building, or to tend two choice little grandsons while their mommy goes to her Relief Society meeting?’”
It has been noted that President Hinckley’s recent comments about his wife at the close of General Conference were worth more to the Saints than ten hours of talks about the roles of men and women. Similarly, I think then-Elder Lee’s attitude is worth more to the Saints than hours of jabbering on motherhood.