We live in a world where motherhood is not valued, sometimes even by those who choose to do it full time. It seems there is an underlying resentment towards motherhood and about motherhood. It's so often seen solely as a sacrifice we do for the sake of our kids but that does nothing for us -- we're just waiting around for our kids to get raised so our real lives can begin or we can have the fabulous, fulfilling career life that we've been told all our lives that we should aspire to. Live your dreams, we've been told. The sky is the limit! You're amazing and powerful and can do anything you want to do. Follow your passion. Celebrate all your opportunities! You can do anything you choose!
In the words of Parry Gripp, "No matter how insane and ridiculous they seem, you must follow your dreams:"
The chorus is loud and the cheers almost audible, up until the moment you choose to stay home with your children. Then, there's either silence (of the raised eyebrow type) or the sense that you have taken a step back into the dark ages. Certainly, your talents are being wasted, your mind not challenged, and your potential put on hold. Your dreams, your sky, your passions, and your capacity to achieve success -- as measured by your prominence, prestige, titles, degrees, and of course, earning power -- were just buried under a mountain of laundry and homework logs, smeared with sticky fingers and dirty diapers, drowned out by crying babies, temper-tantrum-throwing toddlers, and wrong-note-hitting young piano players, and finally, driven over by a used minivan smelling vaguely like old sneakers and sour milk. So you're a stay-at-home mom? How, uh, interesting.
If we as mothers are not careful, we can easily buy into these ideas. We feel we have to apologize for staying home, list all of our non-children related accomplishments, take up time-intensive and impressive hobbies, or announce our future plans to do something else, something "better" than just taking care of children. Some of us feel so insecure that we feel driven to turn motherhood into a competition, measuring our worth against the imaginary Supermom who haunts us on Pinterest.
(I did a search this summer for ideas for games to play at my daughter's cowgirl-themed party and was amazed at how Pinterest seemed to have overtaken the simple parties I remember from my youth. Seriously? All I wanted was a "Pin the tail" printable or instructions for a game of tag. What I got was, well, this:)
Motherhood: A Cherished Gift
What I don't see very often on blogs or Pinterest or in society is the realization of what motherhood REALLY is. It is a gift and a privilege. It is a difficult journey and involves a lot of sacrifice, to be sure, but along the way, we are becoming something. Motherhood isn't a waste of our talents. It's the opportunity to develop the best of all talents in the God-given laboratory that is the family. It requires the absolute best out of us and stretches us to our limits at times, but that's why it is so powerful, as it teaches us as well as our children about things that are eternal.
In our Church, we've been taught that "Motherhood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to the angels.” This statement was made by the First Presidency of our Church over seventy years ago and has been repeated many times since (see for example, this talk or this one).
If we really believe that -- that the work of a mother is divine -- then we can let our resentment over our sacrifices fade as we search for the evidences that we are involved in the greatest of the Lord's work: the loving and daily care of His greatest treasures, His children. If we can really see who it is we are influencing and who we are blessed to nurture -- see them not as a demanding toddler or crying infant, but as a child of God who has been entrusted to our care -- then we can begin to catch a glimpse of how we are doing the Lord's work as we mother in our home.
It's interesting to me that motherhood is described as being "next to the angels." We see such a fight for prominence and prestige in our world, a desire to be seen and known and valued by at least our peers if not by a large portion of the world. Yet, much of the work of angels is done quietly and without any recognition except by the person who is so blessed. There are visitations of angels often in the scriptures and we are taught that angels are all around us ("Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them." 2 Kings 6:16), and yet, how many times in the scriptures or in talks and stories are the actual angels named? Very few. This tells me something about how God values and treasures the work of those who serve without desire for recognition.
Motherhood is near to divinity. Out of all the billions of people on earth, God is aware of me. He loves me and He listens to my prayers, my pleadings, my joys, and my sorrows, and He nurtures me. As mothers, we take on this role for our children. We understand the value of each one individually. We know them intimately and whole-heartedly give ourselves to answer their cries -- we feed them when they are hungry, clothe their nakedness, comfort them when they are sick, and love them even on their most unloveable of days (See Matthew 25:35-40). It is a quiet, unheralded labor that has gone on since the beginning of time. It is sacred and humbling role, one that calls to mind the nurturing we each received as a "beloved spirit son or daughter of Heavenly Parents" before we came to this life (see The Family: A Proclamation to the World).
M. Russell Ballard described it this way: "A mother's nurturing love arouses in children, from their earliest days on earth, an awakening of the memories of love and goodness they experienced in their premortal existence. Because our mothers love us, we learn, or, more accurately, remember, that God also loves us. President Thomas S. Monson said, 'One cannot forget mother and remember God. One cannot remember mother and forget God. Why? Because these two sacred persons, God and mother, partners in creation, in love, in sacrifice, in service, are as one' " (The Sacred Responsibilities of Parenthood)
Motherhood: A Refiner's Fire developing the most important of Talents
"Sacrifice" has many definitions. I fear that too often, when mothers lament the sacrifices they make, they are referring to the definition that says sacrifice is to "to sell or give away at a loss." The years of young children in the home can be difficult and trying, and sometimes in the midst of the exhaustion, we can lose sight of why we're doing what we're doing. We feel that we are giving away our time and talents to one tough day after another, reaching the limits of our capacities and selling ourselves at a loss.
But I wish to suggest that what we are doing is not that kind of sacrifice. Instead, we are giving "a surrender of something of value as a means of gaining something more desirable." The care of our children takes surrendering our pride, our sleep, our impatience, and our selfishness, but what we gain over the process of time is something infinitely precious.
Motherhood is a long-term investment. The days can be long and the progress unnoticeable at times, but at times, you catch glimpses of how the values you teach and the refuge you provide your children are helping them to become what the Lord needs them to be.
They go from this:
to this in the blink of an eye:
I submit that there is no greater laboratory for the development of charity than that of parenthood, and especially motherhood. Let's take a look at how Paul defines charity:
1 Corinthians 13:4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
What better place to learn long-suffering kindness but in our daily ministry in our homes? All that sacrifice, rather than taking away your talents, is adding to them. It's giving you patience, experience, perspective, and especially a deep love and concern for the souls who are under your care. You then share those attributes with your children as you nurture them.
You are involved in an important work. The world may not value the work you do. But God sees and knows what you are doing with the children He has lent to your care. He watches and loves you for your efforts.
Sheri Dew has said, "As mothers in Israel, we are the Lord’s secret weapon. Our influence comes from a divine endowment that has been in place from the beginning. In the premortal world, when our Father described our role, I wonder if we didn’t stand in wide-eyed wonder that He would bless us with a sacred trust so central to His plan and that He would endow us with gifts so vital to the loving and leading of His children. I wonder if we shouted for joy at least in part because of the ennobling stature He gave us in His kingdom. The world won’t tell you that, but the Spirit will.
"We just can’t let the Lord down. And if the day comes when we are the only women on earth who find nobility and divinity in motherhood, so be it. For mother is the word that will define a righteous woman made perfect in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, a woman who has qualified for eternal increase in posterity, wisdom, joy, and influence." (Are We Not All Mothers?)
*******Resources for Further Reading*********
"Are We Not All Mothers?" by Sheri Dew
"Awake, Arise, and Come Unto Christ" by Sheri Dew
"One Thing Needful" by Patricia T. Holland
"A Mother Heart" by Julie B. Beck
"Mothers Who Know" by Julie B. Beck
"Mothers and Daughters" by Elder M. Russell Ballard
"Because She is a Mother" by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
"Daughters of God" by Elder M. Russell Ballard
"Your Greatest Challenge, Mother" by President Gordon B. Hinckley
"The Sacred Responsibilities of Parents" by Elder M. Russel Ballard
(And I love this video, about the author of "I Am a Mother"):