President Harold B. Lee once told of a mother who was polishing pieces of silver in preparation for a reception in the evening. “Right in the midst of all her preparations, her little eight year old boy came in with his piggy bank and he said to his mother, ‘Mother, how do you pay your tithing?’
“And now of all times that she did not want to be interrupted, this was that time, but she wiped her hands and she sat down and they shook the pennies and the nickels and dimes out of the piggy bank and then she explained how he paid tithing. When she had finished, he threw his arms around her neck and said, ‘Oh, thank you, Mother, for helping me; now I know how to pay my tithing.’”
Commenting about the experience, the mother said something that is “very, very important for all … mothers to remember, ‘Well, all my life I will have time to polish silver, but this may be the only time I will ever have to teach my boy the principle of tithing.’”1
President Lee taught that “successful motherhood today spans the years and the eternities.”2 He emphasized that a mother’s glorious purpose “is the building of a home here and laying a foundation for a home in eternity.”3
Teachings of Harold B. Lee
How can mothers have a righteous influence over their children?
Woman has within her the power of creation in company with her legal and lawful husband here, and if sealed in celestial wedlock, she may have eternal increase in the world to come. Woman is the homemaker in her own home and an exemplar to her posterity in the generations that succeed her. Woman is a helpmeet to her husband and may render him more perfect than he otherwise would be. Woman’s influence can bless a community or a nation to that extent to which she develops her spiritual powers in harmony with the heaven-sent gifts with which she has been endowed by nature. … Year in and year out, she may cast the aura of her calming and refining influence to make certain that her posterity will enjoy the opportunities to develop to their fullest potential their spiritual and physical natures.4
Mothers are the creators of the atmosphere in the home and do much to provide the strong foundation for their sons and daughters, to provide them with strength when they leave the influence of their homes.5
Mothers, stay at the crossroads of the home. Some time ago, I was attending a quarterly stake conference. … I said to the president of the stake, … “Have you some mother here, an older mother, who had a large family and had the joy of seeing every one of her family married in the temple?”
He looked out over the audience and he said, “Well, there is Sister (I shall call her Sister Jones), she has had a family of eleven, and they all have been married in the temple.” …
And as this lovely white-haired mother stood beside me at the microphone, I said, “Would you take a lesson out of your book and tell us, what have you done to reach this most marvelous achievement?”
And she replied, … “I might give you two suggestions. In the first place, when our family was growing up, I always was there at the crossroads of the home, when my children were coming to or going from the home. And second: whatever we did we did together as a family. We played together, we prayed together, we worked together, we did everything together. I guess that’s all I can think of.”
I said to her, “Now you have preached two great sermons.”6
Keep the mother of your home at the “crossroads” of the home. There is a great danger today of homes breaking down because of allurements to entice mothers to neglect their being at home as the family members are coming to or going from the home. Now, I recognize the necessity of some mothers being required to earn sustenance for their family. But even here, Relief Society presidents and bishops should take care lest they fail to lend all aid possible to the mother of small children and to help her, if possible, in planning the nature of work or the schedule of time. All this lies within the province of the Relief Society working with the home.7
Today I feel that women are becoming victims of the speed of modern living. It is in building their motherly intuition and that marvelous closeness with their children that they are enabled to tune in upon the wavelengths of their children and to pick up the first signs of difficulty, of danger and distress, which if caught in time would save them from disaster.8
I read the other day again the words of the sainted mother of the Prophet Joseph the night that he went to get the plates. I read her writing:
“On the night of [September 21] I sat up very late. … I did not retire until after twelve o’clock at night. About twelve o’clock Joseph came to me and asked me if I had a chest with a lock and key. I knew in an instant what he wanted it for, and not having one I was greatly alarmed, as I thought it might be a matter of considerable moment. But Joseph, discovering my anxiety, said, ‘Never mind, I can do very well for the present without it—be calm—all is right.’
“Shortly after this Joseph’s wife passed through the room with her bonnet and riding dress, and in a few minutes they left together, taking Mr. Knight’s horse and wagon. I spent the night in prayer and supplication to God, for the anxiety of my mind would not permit me to sleep. …” [Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, ed. Preston Nibley (1958), 102.]
I say to you mothers, if you ever have sons and daughters who amount to what they should in the world, it will be in no small degree due to the fact that your children have a mother who spends many nights on her knees in prayer, praying God that her son, her daughter, will not fail. I remember at the foolish years of my teenage life, my mother came to me with an intuitive impression and warning which I brushed off as foolish teenagers do. “Oh, mother, that’s silly,” I said, then within only a month, to stand face to face with the temptation about which mother had warned. I never had the courage to go back and tell her how right she was, but I was on guard because someone warned—my mother.9
A family consisting of my grandmother, my mother, and two or three of the younger children were seated before an open door, watching the great display of nature’s fireworks as a severe thunderstorm raged near the mountain where our home was located. A flash of chain lightning followed by an immediate loud clap of thunder indicated that the lightning had struck very close.
I was standing in the doorway when suddenly and without warning my mother gave me a vigorous push that sent me sprawling on my back out of the doorway. At that instant, a bolt of lightning came down the chimney of the kitchen stove, out through the open doorway, and split a huge gash from top to bottom in a large tree immediately in front of the house. If I had remained in the door opening, I wouldn’t be writing this story today.
My mother could never explain her split-second decision. All I know is that my life was spared because of her impulsive, intuitive action.
Years later, when I saw the deep scar on that large tree at the old family home, I could only say from a grateful heart: Thank the Lord for that precious gift possessed in abundant measure by my own mother and by many other faithful mothers, through whom heaven can be very near in time of need.10
How can mothers fulfill their responsibility for teaching the gospel to their children?
A mother’s heart is a child’s schoolroom. The instructions received at the mother’s knee, and the parental lessons together with the pious and sweet souvenirs of the fireside, are never effaced entirely from the soul.
Someone has said that the best school of discipline is the home, for family life is God’s own method of training the young, and homes are largely what mothers make them.11
What is the mother’s role, then, in the great service of the kingdom? Her first and most important role is to remember the teaching of the gospel in the family.12
[I wish to refer to] woman’s place in training her family. … The Lord said:
“But behold, I say unto you, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten;
“Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me;
“For it is given unto them even as I will, according to mine own pleasure, that great things may be required at the hand of their fathers.” (D&C 29:46–48.)
… What are those great things that God requires of the fathers of children (which, by inference, means mothers as well) during this period before little children begin to become accountable before the Lord? … Parents are admonished to have their children baptized when they are eight years of age and to teach them the fundamental principles of the gospel. Their children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins and shall then receive the laying on of hands. They should be taught to pray and to walk uprightly before the Lord.
Great accomplishments are required of fathers and mothers before Satan has power to tempt little children. It is the responsibility of the parents to lay a solid foundation by teaching Church standards by example and by precept.
To the sisters, this means they must make a career of motherhood. They must let nothing supersede that career.13
Recently I came across a talk that had been given by one of my daughters to a group of mothers and daughters. She told an experience with her first born son who began to teach her the responsibilities that she must have as a mother. She said, “Many years ago when my oldest son was a very little boy, I found myself one warm summer night after supper frantically trying to finish bottling some fruit.” I am sure you young mothers can picture that scene. Everything had happened that day to keep you from getting to that project and you wanted to finish it. Now with the baby settled for the night and your husband off to his meeting on time, your little three and four year olds are about finished getting their pajamas and are getting ready for bed. You think to yourself, “Well, now I will get to that fruit.”
[My daughter continued:] “This is the situation I found myself in that night as I began to peel and pit that fruit, when my two little boys appeared in the kitchen and announced that they were ready to say their prayers.” But not wanting to be interrupted, she said very quickly to her boys, “‘Now why don’t you run in and say your prayers all alone and Mother will just keep on working at this fruit.’ David, the oldest, planted his little feet firmly in front of me and asked, not unkindly, ‘But, Mommy, which is the most important, the prayers or fruit?’ Little did I realize then as a young mother and a busy wife that in my life ahead that there would be many such dilemmas as I carried out this role of wife and mother in my home.”
That is the challenge that you as mothers have when your little children are pressing for you to stand by and help them grow. …
Mothers, when your children begin to ask you questions, even about the delicate things in life, don’t turn them aside. Take time to explain to their childish minds, or as they grow up, to their older minds. A successful mother is one who is never too tired for her sons and daughters to come and share their joys and their sorrows with her.14
I pray that the blessings of the Lord will be on you [my beloved sisters]. You have a greater power over the welfare of this Church than you have any idea. How you will discharge your responsibility as mothers, will determine greatly how the Church will go. That the Lord may help you so to do and build on a solid foundation of the home, is my humble prayer, and I bear you my humble testimony that within the Church of Jesus Christ are to be found the teachings and plans by which our homes can be kept safe, and I bear that testimony in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.15
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
What sacrifices does a mother make for her children? What blessings flow from such sacrifices?
In what ways does “successful motherhood today” bless future generations for eternity?
What does it mean to be at the crossroads of the home? Why is it important for mothers to be at the crossroads in their children’s lives?
How are women sometimes diverted from their sacred purposes by the speed and distractions of modern living? How can these distractions be minimized?
What do the stories about Joseph Smith’s mother and President Lee’s mother teach about how mothers can be a righteous influence on their children?
How have the prayers of your mother blessed your life? How have your prayers as a mother blessed your children?
In what ways can husbands and fathers help mothers fulfill their responsibilities in the home? How can priesthood and Relief Society leaders help?
Why must mothers give high priority to their responsibility to teach the gospel in the family? How can mothers do this?
In what ways can parents prepare their daughters to become good mothers?
In Conference Report, Mexico and Central America Area Conference 1972, 91.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams (1996), 288.
Ye Are the Light of the World (1974), 317–18.
Ye Are the Light of the World, 318–19.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 289.
“Obligations of Membership in Relief Society,” Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1969, 10.
Ye Are the Light of the World, 279.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 288.
“The Influence and Responsibility of Women,” Relief Society Magazine, Feb. 1964, 85.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 290–91.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 289.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 287.
Ye Are the Light of the World, 314–15.
In Conference Report, Mexico and Central America Area Conference 1972, 90–91; paragraphing added.
In Conference Report, Mexico and Central America Area Conference 1972, 91.