Mom, mom, mom, mom! Maaaaawwww-meeee!
We all know that certain pitch children have been using, I’m guessing, since Cain and Abel started their squabbling- the one where your brain starts to twitch, and your certain if you heard the word “mom” one more time you might implode and they’ll be nothing left of you but a puddle of smoldering yoga pants and perhaps your hands still clutching the unopened granola bar, your toddler needs, apparently right this second.
“Mother” may be one of the most loaded words of all time! It is jam-packed with cultural and social baggage, ideals, connotations, expectations, on both collective conscience levels as well as individual psyches and experience.
For me, I realized early in my own mothering journey that somehow the term “mother” (insert British accent because I guess I watched Swiss Family Robison and Peter Pan too much growing up) invoked this image of a woman wearing a white flowing, lacey nightgown, kissing the head of a tubby cherub of a baby, wandering through lush gardens.
So when my first baby (who we now know has huge sensory issues that go along with his diagnosis of severe autism) cried most of the time included in a particularly challenging stretch of at least two hours straight (and I usually joined him!) My nursing bras were so soaked through that I often slept wrapped in a towel- far from that image of a nice white nightie. I wondered why I wasn’t having a picture-perfect experience. We were students working summer sales far from home, and I remember sitting on a blow-up pool floaty chair (the same one I’d laid on months earlier, desperately hot, massively pregnant in the pool at our complex, dreaming of my little bundle of joy). You know that bundle that screamed, and screamed. My nipples were bloody, I remember the red on his face, the milk squirting everywhere from his gulping and pulling off to scream some more. It was a far cry from the calm image of motherhood I had somehow got in my head.
Motherhood has only gotten more complex from there. But I have been able to drop what I thought I was supposed to be as a mom and really try to believe and internalize the truth that the best version of me as a mom – is me being me! Wow has that helped.
For years I tried so hard to be the soft-spoken, sweet mom. Only to eventually erupt. And sink into remorseful, despairing guilt. Until I finally clued in- that’s not me! And God wants ME to do this particular mothering gig! I’m passionate, intense, and fiery. Instead of motherhood being this hold-your-breath exercise – it has evolved into a much more feels-like-me experience.
When I turn on music and dance it out in my kitchen, or sing loudly in my massive van my kids smile, and I give the message they can be themselves too. When I speed clean or don’t clean because the organizational level of my closets isn’t actually connected to my children’s well-being, I drop the shame comparison always breeds.
I allow myself to ask what I value…instead of reacting to the ever-growing long list of shoulds inflicted on parents. For example, I don’t value “manners” – I want my kids to be considerate and kind but that doesn’t always translate to “polite” in my book.
We place a huge value on independence. That means more mess. I know lots of moms who value tidy and their associated sanity more and that’s totally a valid choice. It’s about what we care about and that can look so different in every home. Yes, even within the gospel.
We value prayer, but I don’t personally value formality. I want my children to feel God is very approachable and that doing it a certain way isn’t part of communing with Divine love. My best prayers are when I’m driving, or running. I believe God is available to us. Period. Pres. Uchdorft outlined this extremely well:
“…while the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same. Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member [or mother] from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every [wo]man different from [her sister], every [daughter] different from [her mother]. Even identical twins are not identical in their personalities and spiritual identities.”President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I believe our Heavenly Parents, as exemplified through Christ, are fully developed persons. And to be like Them (our goal) isn’t about all becoming the same. It’s about fully becoming ourselves. And mothering to me is helping others do that as well.
Recently I heard motherhood defined as the capacity to hold space for the complexity of the paths unique from your own while maintaining profound ownership of your own path. I love that definition so much. Because when I heard it I thought, I can do that.
When my toddler (or teenager) is having a rough day where they just wanna throat punch the world, but actually just need a good cry, I may not know how to solve all their problems but I can make space for them. Let them cry. Let them know I’m right here. They aren’t alone. Which is all any of us really needs. We don’t need answers (I believe those are already within us) but we do need safe spaces, to regulate and lash out and scream if we need to – places we can let down all the facades and heavy armor and be seen and heard and loved no matter what. We need to be “mothered.”
One last story that ties these two principles together. My seven-year-old daughter was upset. “Hey, you know what helps mommy? Let’s turn on some music!” I was gonna help her dance it out – knowing how getting out of my head and into my body has been hugely helpful for me when I’m upset. About two measures in I looked at her face and noodle arms, “This isn’t working for you is it?” Her little eyes welling with tears as she shook her head. Off went the music. I bent down to her level, to look her in the eyes.
“What do you think will help?”
“Maybe a snuggle?”
“Sure thing! One snuggle coming right up!”
Later we would talk about how we’re all different and mommy forgot and was thinking we’d be the same (and in some ways we are) but not all ways, all the time. And that’s okay. It’s terrific. And she knew what she needed. Our souls know. If someone can help us feel safe and confident enough to believe in our divine identity- we know who we are.
Who are you? Who are your children? Are you allowing and creating space for you and others (your children, other moms) to be them?
Sister Neill F. Marriott shared tells of leaving Louisiana and a feeling of homelessness sweeping over her as they neared Utah where she would be married- not the traditional southern wedding her and her parents had always imagined. The plan was for her to stay with Aunt Carol until the wedding.
“Here I was, a stranger to Utah, going to stay in a stranger’s house before being sealed—for eternity—to a family I barely knew. (Good thing I loved and trusted my future husband and the Lord!) As I stood at the front door of Aunt Carol’s house, I wanted to shrink away. The door opened—I stood there like a scared rabbit—and Aunt Carol, without a word, reached out and took me into her arms. She, who had no children of her own, knew—her nurturing heart knew—that I needed a place to belong. Oh, the comfort and sweetness of that moment! My fear melted, and there came to me a sense of being anchored to a spiritually safe place.
Love is making space in your life for someone else, as Aunt Carol did for me.
Mothers literally make room in their bodies to nurture an unborn baby—and hopefully, a place in their hearts as they raise them—but nurturing is not limited to bearing children. Eve was called a “mother” before she had children. I believe that “to mother” means “to give life.” Think of the many ways you give life. It could mean giving emotional life to the hopeless or spiritual life to the doubter. With the help of the Holy Ghost, we can create an emotionally healing place for the discriminated against, the rejected, and the stranger. In these tender yet powerful ways, we build the kingdom of God. Sisters, all of us came to earth with these life-giving, nurturing, maternal gifts because that is God’s plan.”Neill F. Marriott
Our learning to “mother,” to “make space” lovingly, is part of the plan. Let’s be “mothers” by creating and holding space for our children, ourselves, and ultimately all God’s children. White dresses are nice, but for now, these snot-covered yoga pants seem just right for this flexibly, growing, stretching— mothering love I’m striving for.