And of course, I also lived it, welcoming our first three children into our lives in the span of three years.
I scrapbooked and journaled and wrote letters to my children and documented all their firsts. I even learned to sew and made all of our Halloween costumes.
Over the years, though, motherhood and its novelty has worn off a bit. I've learned that I can't do it all or be everything I want to be as a mother, and that children don't exactly always want to be molded into the well-behaved and diligent, talented prodigies I once imagined I'd have. I still do the best I can, but time and raising children have made me confront my weaknesses and realize that I'm not the perfect mother I used to imagine I'd always be.
Motherhood has been an intense learning experience, and it has required me to develop qualities I always thought I had but didn't realize I lacked until they were needed every day. Things like patience, self-sacrifice, wisdom, balance, organization, priorities, and choosing the best part.
It's been an adventure, to say the least, made more intense by the addition of twins two years after Michael was born (yep, the math on that is five kids born in five years), not to mention four more girls after that, several health challenges related to an autoimmune disease (Hashimoto's), a husband in grad school and then with a time-intensive career, and more.
But over the years, as I've lived motherhood more and more, I've thought, read, and dreamed about it less, until I think at times I take it for granted, not realizing the blessings I'm surrounded by because I'm so involved in the day-to-day minutia of running the household, catering to my large family's individual needs, and diligently caring for my own physical and emotional health.
So it was good for me to take a step back and look at the larger picture of what motherhood is and how blessed I am to be part of it.
You see, I believe that life does not begin at conception, but rather, that we lived as spirit children of our Heavenly Parents before we came to earth. There, we were prepared for life on earth and accepted God's plan that we would come to this mortal world to gain a physical body and be tested to see what we would choose. God knew that we would make mistakes and sin, and He presented to us a plan where we could receive grace and forgiveness through the Atonement and sacrifice of His perfect son, Jesus Christ. Christ would make it possible for us to live again spiritually by repenting of our sins and also to live again physically through the gift of the resurrection.
In the context of that fundamental belief about our life here on earth, it is easy to understand why motherhood and fatherhood are so important to those of my faith. We believe that God's first commandment to Adam and Eve to "multiply and replenish the earth" wasn't just God saying, "Hey, have children, it will be fun." Rather, it was an integral part of His work and His plan. Children would refine, change, and bring joy to parents, yes, but those children also needed a chance for their testing on earth.
That's why, in the words of Elder Andersen, "It is a crowning privilege of a husband and wife who are able to bear children to provide mortal bodies for these spirit children of God. We believe in families, and we believe in children."
I also believe that before we came to earth, we were given individual assignments and blessings. I believe we accepted and embraced our challenges and opportunities with excitement and even joy as well as understanding that God would one day make all things right. I know some strong, amazing souls who have come to earth in damaged bodies and with limited minds. Others are born into poverty, abuse, and desperate conditions. Some women desire to be married and do not find a spouse. Others want children and are unable to have them in this life.
Mothering your own children is a sacred privilege, but the act of nurturing and the qualities of motherhood embrace all women. Sheri Dew has said, "When we understand the magnitude of motherhood, it becomes clear why prophets have been so protective of woman’s most sacred role. 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."
In this context, the choice to have children isn't just another choice -- it is both an amazing refining experience and the choice to give life to a spirit who already exists and is anxious for a loving family on earth. Parents can attest that each child comes with a personality and mind of their own, independent of parental training or genetic predisposition.
As we accept and embrace motherhood, we are really accepting a role that God has modeled for us through countless ages -- that of recognizing the worth of each individual soul and providing that soul with life, counsel, love, kindness, nurturing, patience, and instruction. It is a weighty thing to be a mother or father.
I read two articles recently that brought to mind the stark reality of our world today, where children are no longer a significant part of life for many individuals. The articles highlighted quotes from women who had chosen not to have children and the reasons why. Some of the reasons for not having children included:
- "It's so much more work to have children. To have lives besides your own that you are responsible for — I didn't take that on. That did make things easier for me."
- "I don’t have time to raise a child."
- "It's unconscionable to breed, with the number of children who are starving to death in impoverished countries."
- "I like the idea of grown-up activities. It’s not like I have a specific hobby, I just really like the grown-up life. If I’m not going to recitals, that’s ok with me. I want to be married, not married with a child."
- "It’s weird because if you say you don’t want to have kids, everyone assumes you’re selfish or not nurturing or not compassionate. For me, that that’s not the case. I still have that strong desire to nurture something. I tell my husband, I still need something to take care of. I need to get some chickens."
But in my worldview, I believe that women who deliberately choose to be childless are making a mistake they will come to regret, likely in this life and surely in the worlds to come. And if sharing the belief that children are a valuable part of life and family is pressure, then so is telling people that they should try chocolate or Thai food or encouraging kids to go to college. The fact is that without experiencing parenthood for yourself, you don't know what it is like. So shouldn't you listen to those who do have experience with it and consider their advice?
Of course, I don't believe that women who will be neglectful or abusive should choose to have a child just because of pressure, but I have to believe that makes up a very, very small percentage of women.
I also understand that not everyone will be able to have children or even to have as many children as they want to. There may also be cases where a couple feels strongly for various reasons that it is best not to have children.
But as a society, we are losing the strength that used to come from people growing up, getting married, and having children. Children are no longer seen as the blessings they are, but instead as just another item on the menu of life choices and one that might take too much time, effort, or interfere with other pursuits.
It is also worrisome that with current trends, we will have an aging population without enough younger people to support them. There's been plenty written and produced about the challenges of our aging population as an aggregate, so I'll make that a topic for another day.
But I do want to briefly mention the impact on an individual who grows old without having children. Too many making the childless decision today are living in a fantasy world, one in which they never have to get old, lose any of their capacities, or need long-term care. Their lives without children are glamorous, full of fascinating careers, time for hobbies and travel, and of course, time to live it up while lying on a beach.
What they don't realize or expect is something that will happen to them just as it does to people all over the world. They will get old. No matter how healthy they live, how much they exercise, or how healthy they eat, as sure as time marches on, they will not always be in the prime of their lives.
They will retire and likely become irrelevent in their careers. They may lose the ability to do some of their hobbies. Their sight might fail, they might have a stroke or they might have dimished mental capacities.
I watched this week a poignant documentary called The Genius of Marian, about a family dealing with their mother Pam's early onset of Alzheimer's disease. The story was told through a series of video clips of every day life as well as home movies from when the children were young. On thing that touched me was how involved and helpful the three children in that family were as their dad tried to cope and make tough decisions about her care. They loved her and surrounded her with that love. Her husband was wonderful to her and spoke movingly about how he wanted to give to her in her time of need because of what a wonderful life she'd always given him. But I have to think that if he had been the only one available to care for her, he would not have been able to handle it. And what would have happened to that woman had she been childless or her husband been in poor health? What if she'd been divorced or widowed?
I was also touched by the many times the grandchildren in the family played a part in bringing joy. They toddled in and loved their grandma and brought joy to their grandfather as well.
The family did hire caregivers to help and of course that is appropriate in many cases. But with the ranks of our elderly overpowering the smaller younger population, good paid care is going to be tougher to find. And even the best of care provided by trained nurses cannot replace the loving care given by family members -- especially children. There are already too many cases of elder abuse, with caregivers taking advantage of their position to neglect or steal from those they should be helping.
And even if you are in good health throughout your life, what happens when the life you've poured yourself into instead of having children is gone? Will your co-workers visit you in your old age and reminisce about the wonderful career you had? Will your Facebook fans drive for hours just to spend a day sitting on your front porch? When you can no longer travel and backpack over Europe, who will be left to remember the good times you've had? Who will remind you of all the good you did in the world and tell you how much you mean to them? Who will tell their children about the things you taught them? Who will keep your picture on their wall? Who will kiss your cheek and tell you they love you?
And what legacy will you leave behind? When I leave this earth, I know that my contribution of nine amazing, hard-working, dedicated, loving children will live on. They will continue to give service to the world and make contributions in many areas, as will their children after them.
I asked some of my friends to share their reasons for having children, and I will leave you with their replies.
- Kati: I cannot image my life without children. The joy, sorrow, pain and love cannot compare to anything else.
- Tracy: It is my calling in life, to be a mother. My Dad told me after my first little one came that I'd never looked better and I must have been meant to be a mother. Greatest compliment anyone ever gave me.
- Jan: I was raised by my grandmother, because my mother chose to work. I was proud of my mother's accomplishments, but what I wanted and needed was a mother to be home. I stayed home for my six children because I wanted to be the mother who stayed home for them, to introduce them to a life of confidence, love, and family strength. I knew it could be done even though I didn't personally receive that start in life.
- Tiffany: As a mother, I feel like I am engaged in a BIG work, that far transcends any other responsibility I have held, even though much of what I do can feel mundane, boring, or even gross. Raising six children has refined my vision of who I am and what I can do to make the world a better place. Numerous studies along with anecdotal evidence bears out the reality that mothers tremendously to the emotional, spiritual, physical well-being of children, which ripples out to the community and world at large.
- ReNee: I have known before I was born, I feel it in my soul (and an amazing person confirmed this!) that I was meant to be a mother, it's the hardest thing I have ever done, but the most fulfilling.
- Lori: While growing up and watching my mom, I was in awe. She was always there. She taught me so much, and still does. I wanted to be just like her. When I married my husband, I was anxious to start my family. I knew, standing in the sealing room [to be married] that I had promised to bring some very special spirits to earth, Though there are trials and hardships, I can't imagine my life without any one of them. I am so blessed.
- Diane: I always wanted to be a mom. When I was a l girl, I would draw pictures of my future family and floor plans of my future home. But I would not have had so many children if it wasn't for religion. My religious views that children are a heritage of the Lord and that families are forever is the only reason I had to go against the grain of society and have more children. It became about following the Lord's plan for my life and trusting that would be better than society's plan for my life.
- Viki: I kept having kids because a) I enjoyed the process of making them b) I hated having periods and c) I just really wanted a chance at having an offspring to wipe my butt when I'm old and incontinent. . . Oh...did you mean serious? Then yes to all the great reasons you guys already know and listed! I felt it a calling, duty, blessing, and a way to praise my God.
- Stephanie: I did not feel enthusiastic about becoming a mother; in fact, I felt a lot of trepidation and didn't have much faith in my ability to be a good mother. I did, however, have a lot of faith in Heavenly Father and believed the doctrines in the Family Proclamation to be true, and that gave me the courage to move toward my divine potential. I must say that the Lord has proved faithful in both helping me and showing me important things about myself and my children, and motherhood has been deeply rewarding.
- Syndy: My reasons to continue having kids is this...they need each other! I have 2 siblings, one passed away about 6 years ago, and it's just my brother and I left. It's sad knowing that once one of us is gone the other will be the "last one". I want my kids to have a big family to rely on, and help each other, and have fun together! I also think that they learn a lot about patience, and service, and tolerance, and love when they "have" to try and get along.
- Kathryn: As a young bride, sealed in the temple and taking the covenants that we had made with God very serious, more than anything I wanted to follow His plan and receive the promised blessings. I wanted an eternal family and that meant bringing children into our home and raising them according to that plan. Every blessing that I now enjoy emanates from that choice. My husband and I, have raised five children and now enjoy 11 grandchildren. That is happiness not only here, but forever.
- Shelley: I just look deep into the eyes of any child (mine or others) & I feel I'm standing on holy ground. What a sacred privelege to serve & nurture children of God in any capacity. Can be rough, can be exhausting & messy- but still.... Sacred.
- Liz: I chose to have children because I needed a really good excuse to swing at the park without people looking at me funny. Honestly, though: it's very cool to have multiple new shots at the adventures of life, and it's a different adventure with every child!
- Rebecca: I have always wanted to be a mom, I never had any desire for anything else. Though that thought was strange at times because I really didn't like children that much, but I knew that I would love my children, and I do!
- Rochelle: It was pure biology that switched me from not wanting any kids to wanting a baby. When I was about 19 I sniffed a baby head and knew that I had to do that. I think that my love for my siblings, and then the great delight of getting to know each spirit that came into our family is what pushed us into large family territory.
- Jennette: Because of love, on every level. The love between my husband and I, our individual love for God, and the sense of His love for us; also love for others, His other beloved children, our brothers and sisters; its possible to love and serve someone you've never met. Its even possible to love and long for someone who's never been born. I'm about to have my eighth. Strangely, its not the tiny baby I'm anxiously anticipating, although I adore babies. Its a special, unique person who I already love and can't wait to finally put my arms around and make a permanent part of our family
- Britt: I want to change the world. A well loved child has every potential in the world to do that. It really is the only way to change the world-one person at a time.