Photo: Mother Teresa, a woman who truly had a mother heart
Because the women of our church are very educated, passionate and proactive women, generally speaking, there are a huge diversity of viewpoints on what motherhood means to a Mormon woman. Let me tell you, we are some of the most opinionated (and sometimes obstinate) groups of women in the world. We have always culturally been a little feisty, I think. We certainly aren’t lacking in the “spunk” department.
However, one area in which I think we have been absolutely, phenomenally deceived is in our concept of mother. We just don’t seem to understand it, comparing it to everything from internships to a career in making dragon shaped cupcakes to whatever else–granted, I am not about to proceed to write about my profound insights into “mother”, but I can direct you to sources that will help you to understand it for yourself, through God’s whisperings to your heart.
The Concept Of Mother
Sheri Dew spoke of the concept of mother in her General Conference address, “Are We Not All Mothers?” She stated:
While we tend to equate motherhood solely with maternity, in the Lord’s language, the word mother has layers of meaning. Of all the words they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve “the mother of all living”—and they did so before she ever bore a child.
Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born. Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality, righteous women were endowed premortally with the privilege of motherhood.
Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us.
President Gordon B. Hinckley stated that “God planted within women something divine.”That something is the gift and the gifts of motherhood. Elder Matthew Cowley taught that “men have to have something given to them [in mortality] to make them saviors of men, but not mothers, not women. [They] are born with an inherent right, an inherent authority, to be the saviors of human souls … and the regenerating force in the lives of God’s children.”
This, then is a good start in our understanding of the concept of mother and motherhood. It is not, as one Mormon columnist put it, “like one very long, very unpaid internship from heaven….filled with all the menial, thankless tasks assigned to lowly interns…” nor is it necessary, as another wrote, “that every mother needs something that defines her outside of the parameters of motherhood,” because motherhood encompasses all that we are and could ever hope to be as individuals. Is it any wonder that when Sister Beck was recently asked what the greatest danger facing young mothers was she answered:
Escape. Running away. Distractions. Confusion for what our roles and identity are in this world.
Of course we are going to feel that way if we think that our purpose in life according to God is to be an unpaid intern or that God’s defining us as mothers is not enough–that we need to find something outside of His parameters. Yes, that will lead to a lot of confusion and disillusionment.
What “Mother” Is Not
A mother is not defined by any of the following:
- The number of children she has, whether none or 20 or more
- Making watermelon fruit sculptures for her daughter’s 6 months old birthday party
- Completing “menial, thankless tasks” usually assigned to lowly interns
- Sewing, crafting and other homemaking skills
- Laying aside personal interests and losing all sense of self for children and family
- Compromising or putting off your hopes and dreams for your children and husband
In reading the articles by many Mormon/LDS women bloggers, I can understand why these columnists spend so much energy justifying their “me” time. If their understanding of “mother” includes these types of mistaken definitions, they are just looking for eventual burnout and dissatisfaction.
While a mother may make cupcakes in whimsical shapes, chore charts that look almost too gorgeous to touch, run a corporation and a carpool, or have 20 children and a family closet, none of that is what defines “mother” or her role.
This role, if understood and taken on, will consume her entire life–not in a way that depletes–but it will be the burning desire, the goal of her existence, the thing that gives meaning to her life–the ultimate dream. The fire and passion of a great Olympian, an acclaimed writer, or even The Jimmer, will pale in comparison to the fire and passion of a woman who embraces her identity as “mother.”
A Mother’s Purpose and Essence
Satan is determined to confuse and make completely indistinct the purpose of mother, and he is succeeding. But, like the entire gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s defining identity for woman is easy enough that a child can understand.
In April 2011, Elder Quentin L. Cook said:
The remarkable pioneer woman Emily H. Woodmansee penned the text of the hymn “As Sisters in Zion.” She correctly asserts that the “errand of angels is given to women.”
This has been described as “nothing less than to do the direct and immediate bidding of our Father in Heaven, and ‘this is a gift that … sisters … claim.’
That is the most succinct statement I have ever heard on the purpose, identity and essence of women, and it is plain enough for anyone to understand.
This is our gift, our mission, our calling, our ministry: to do nothing less than the direct and immediate bidding of our Father in Heaven.
What does that mean for the women who feel like motherhood and mothering is nothing but “menial tasks”? It simply means that they do not understand who they are.
One mother I read about said that she had to be paid as a writer before she could endure being a mother to her children. Mothers who compare motherhood to the menial tasks of unpaid internship are lost to the idea that as a mother, there are no menial tasks…there is not a moment that goes by that a mother is, in reality, unpaid. Many mothers have plans for graduate school and a more substantive career in order to better define themselves. What they are missing is that mother encompasses all of that and more.
Still other mothers are being led by a prominent group of Mormon “deliberate mothers” who are attempting to professionalize motherhood by training each other to offer “Power of Moms Retreats,” in which they get paid to teach mothers how to mother. It sounds good, but wait a minute. While these mothers are out training other mothers and going to retreats, who is really doing the mothering to their young children? And, what does it tell mothers if they need to go on a retreat and pay for a seminar in order to be better mothers?
These voices from newspaper columns, these New York Best Selling Mormon Authors on Parenting, these Experts…when do they have time to implement what they are telling everyone else to do? Is it in between the times they are showcasing themselves on Good Morning, America!, writing books, speaking, doing world tours, conferences, seminars?
If “Mother” is the title Father in Heaven wants for all of His daughters, then there absolutely must be a way for every, single daughter of God to attain it–whether they live in Zimbabwe or Manhattan–whether they have money or none at all, whether they work full-time at the office or stay at home, whether they were educated at Harvard or in the trenches of a hard life, whether they have a perfect husband, a husband addicted to pornography or abuse, or no husband at all. They should be able to attain motherhood whether or not they go to a seminar, read the latest parenting book, or bear children.
The Lord can make a way, and He will restore all things to us. We don’t have to feel short-changed or slighted ever.
If we are all called to be mothers, how do we prepare for it? What does it really mean to be a mother? What does it mean to be given the errand of angels?
If we are feeling confused by all these perspectives and feel burnt out–that we need something more, that mother is equal to having it all to the point of complete exhaustion, or on the opposite end of the spectrum–that mother is equal to menial to the point of burnout–then we must better understand the meaning of “mother” and prepare for it differently.