Speaking As a Mother …


I have wondered sometimes if the day will come when we will have a Mother’s Day and no one will show up for the occasion. I don’t seriously believe that women will stop having children, but I fear that the time could come when women and men cease to feel that mothering is important enough for women to devote a significant part of their lives to it.

That would be no small catastrophe for humankind. I believe that motherhood enhances a woman’s relationship with her Father in Heaven, and thus with her fellow beings. In no other pursuit have I felt the Lord so anxious to bless me with wisdom, energy, and creativity. The fact is that my children are also his, and he loves them and wants to bless them, and often does so through me. The most direct and clearest answers to my prayers have been when I needed help as a mother.

When I had been a mother for just a few months, I was called to be a Relief Society visiting teacher. I was assigned to visit a marvelous older woman who still lived in the big old family house in which she had reared her sizable family. Upstairs in her home were three large bedrooms which she rented to three elderly women whom we also visited.

One of these women was a faithful Latter-day Saint. A widow for more than half her life, she had been a mother and a nurse. Although her health was now poor, she always seemed to enjoy living. She often visited her children and grandchildren and daily busied herself with reading, needlework, caring for her plants, writing letters, and finding small but thoughtful ways to serve the two women who were her neighbors.

The second woman had moved to Salt Lake City from New York a few years earlier to be near her only son. A native Italian, she spoke very little English. Although not a member of the Church, she always enjoyed our visits, and we grew very fond of her.

The third woman provided a remarkable contrast to the other two. She complained about many things and seemed rude to those who tried to show her kindness. She had been married once, briefly, and had never had a child. As she told us little details about her past life, her tone was bitter and resentful.

One day after visiting these three women, we went downstairs to visit the sister who owned the home. My companion and I began to complain about how distasteful we found our visits to her one disagreeable boarder. She allowed us to have our say, and then she said something I have never forgotten. “We must be patient with her. Remember, she has never had the growth that comes to a woman who is a wife and mother.”

Now, I recognize that this was a somewhat casual generalization, because we all know many single women who are warm and unselfish. But I have pondered her comment often over the years. Even that day, so early in my mothering experience, I knew what she was talking about. I had been married a little over a year, and a mother a very short while, and I was struggling in those two roles. But that day I began to realize that a big part of my problem was that I was trying to succeed without acquiring the extra measures of patience, commitment, unselfishness, and optimism which were essential to success as a wife and mother.

This is not a very popular viewpoint in much of the world today, but I believe that a wife and mother will almost surely fail to whatever degree she clings to self-centeredness. I also believe that one reason many women today are tempted to avoid the traditional role is not that the role lacks challenge and opportunity for growth, but rather that it requires too much growth. Being successful as a wife and mother and homemaker requires spiritual qualities and attributes of character that do not seem very fashionable to many in this era of me-ism.

President Kimball said in a recent address to women: “Selflessness is a key to happiness and effectiveness; it is precious and must be preserved as a virtue which guarantees so many other virtues. There are so many things in the world which reinforce our natural selfishness, and neither our men nor women should be partakers thereof. We have grown strong as a people because our mothers and our women have been so selfless. That ennobling quality must not be lost, even though some of the people of the world may try to persuade otherwise. …

“Let us be conscious of doctrines which preach unity but end up dividing. We hope our women as well as our men will be conscious of the philosophies of the world which would attempt to reverse the wisdom of the Lord when he told us that we can find ourselves only by losing ourselves.” (Ensign, Nov. 1978, pp. 103–4.)

I hope that someday my daughters will choose to be mothers. One reason I want that blessing for them is that I believe it will help them to lead full, interesting lives in which warm human relationships will blend with the development of their talents and abilities in a beautiful balance.

I recall a conversation I once had with a young woman who had been exposed to many of the arguments being presented by the anti-motherhood forces. She was a dental hygienist. She said that she had always wanted to have children but now she was worried that if she did, she would no longer be able to talk about anything except diapers and formula. I thought afterward that that was like saying all a dental hygienist can talk about is cleaning teeth.

Actually, mothers and homemakers are some of the most interesting people I know. I’m convinced that in a typical group of mothers you will find a greater diversity of interests and abilities than in almost any other group. Certainly we like to talk about children and homemaking. But among friends who are mothers and homemakers there are women who write books, run marathons, teach university classes, attend university classes, make boutique items, do flower-arranging, are expert gardeners, run for political office, volunteer in the Church and community in countless essential ways, teach music, study music—the list is inexhaustible. The fact is, I cannot think of one woman I know who does nothing other than care for her home and children.

But let me say also that neither do I know a woman who does all of the things attributed to the mythical Superwoman. I believe that one of the dangerous ideas being accepted today is that a woman can accomplish anything and everything she wants in life. That is nonsense. Any balanced life requires that choices be made, limits established. One reason this becomes such a dilemma for many women is that they have been sold the idea that motherhood and homemaking are routine and unchallenging. They have been so convinced that motherhood is unworthy of their creativity and intellect that they feel they must justify themselves by striving for a Superwoman image. But is it such a small thing to have planned for, given birth to, loved, cared for, watched over, nursed, comforted, taught, supported, listened to, and made a home for even one child? The prophets have assured us that motherhood is the highest, the greatest activity to which a woman can give herself.

Satan would have us believe otherwise. He would have us believe that children are damaged by too much mothering, that the mother herself will end up disappointed, frustrated, perhaps displaced, and her talents wasted. Let us listen instead to our living prophet, who has said, “No matter what you read or hear, no matter what the differences of circumstances you observe in the lives of women about you, it is important for you Latter-day Saint women to understand that the Lord holds motherhood and mothers sacred and in the highest esteem. He has entrusted to his daughters the great responsibility of bearing and nurturing children.

“This is the great, irreplaceable work of women. Life cannot go on if women cease to bear children. Mortal life is a privilege and a necessary step in eternal progression. Mother Eve understood that. You must also understand it. …

“Much is said about the drudgery and the confinement of the woman’s role in the home. In the perspective of the gospel it is not so. There is divinity in each new life. There is challenge in creating the environment in which a child can grow and develop.” (Ensign, Nov. 1978, pp. 105–6.)

During the past few weeks I have pulled carrots with an enthusiastic five-year-old helper, who viewed the job as magical as pulling a rabbit from a hat. I have helped an eight-year-old master a difficult list of spelling words. An eleven-year-old has read to me a chapter from a favorite book while I sat sewing. I have attended a violin recital and held my breath while my fourteen-year-old played a challenging piece. My seventeen-year-old has talked with me about her future, sharing plans which reflect some of my most treasured values. Just a few of the simple pleasures known to every mother. To me they were precious moments. Moments I wouldn’t want any woman to miss.

[illustration] Illustrated by Mark Robison

Nancy Raybould, mother of five, is Cub Scout den leader in her Salt Lake City ward.