Three-year-old Rockwell didn’t seem convinced that you could love mean monsters into kindness even with his amazing powers as a superhero. But I emphatically promised he could.
“Well, what if the monster does this to me?” He proceeded to pretend to scratch his face ferociously.
“Grab the monster and give it a big superhero hug!” I responded. He looked like I’d lost my mind. His mom Jill chimed in, “We are kind to everyone! Even monsters. Maybe the monster is sad because he doesn’t have a friend.”
I confirmed that many monsters I knew just needed someone to be kind to them and to feel needed in a good way.
Knowing a person’s story engenders love for them. Bitter, angry reactions seem so obviously understandable against terrible backdrops of life’s experiences. Even monsters.
I mentally flashed to monsters in my own life who I never, ever imagined I’d give a hug. But because of the Savior’s atoning grace, forgiveness made relationships possible. Not all of my monsters and I are best friends, but the fear and heartache of the relationships are gone. Most of the scars are even gone.
Not convinced, Rockwell reemphasized the ferociousness of the monster’s facial attack.
“You are right. Some monsters really are monsters. You don’t have to stand and try to fight those kinds of monsters. Use your superhero powers and run away.”
Rockwell laughed. “Yes! Run away sooooo fast!” Now that was an answer he felt was really doable and he demonstrated possible escape scenarios.
There are some kinds of monsters that you really should run away from. There really is evil. Instead of being scratched by evil, running away is a really good option.
But I’ve realized that I’ve made things monstrous and scary and unapproachable. For two decades, one of those monsters has been motherhood. I’ve been bruised and battle-scarred in my relationship with this monster.
In February, my cousin shared an interesting experience. She’s the Relief Society President of a mid-singles ward in Utah. The Relief Society General Presidency invited her participation in a focus group with them and other single adult Relief Society presidents. Their two topics? Increasing unity and elevating motherhood and womanhood when others are trying to degrade both.
Fascinated that motherhood would dominate this particular focus group conversation, I asked my cousin to tell me every detail she could remember. Months later, I don’t remember all of those details.
However, I do remember the intense emotion I felt as I realized I had made motherhood a monster.
It’s not like I loathed mothers or motherhood. It’s not like I denigrated it. But I shrunk away from it, built a wall around it, cried like a baby during talks about it, and dreaded Mother’s Day. I questioned my worth and my purpose. I doubted opportunity and even grace. Instead of elevating it, I made motherhood a monster.
It hurt me. It tore at my face and soul. I fought “motherhood” over and over and over again. I perpetually lost. Bruised and battle-scarred, I gave up. The monster I created won.
Ultimately, the Savior’s grace filled my heart with peace and contentment. But I still rarely talked about motherhood—even while celebrating new babies, fiercely praying for foster miracles, and listening to the mothering successes and woes of others—if that makes sense. If you’ve felt a breach in your life, perhaps that does make sense.
I think the realization felt so shocking because of my particular calling. I’ve spent two plus years advocating the unique purposes and divine characteristics of women I love and admire. I’ve celebrated life successes with them and cried with them and on their behalf.
But I haven’t elevated motherhood.
What does that even mean?
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “Sisters, we, your brethren, cannot do what you were divinely designated to do from before the foundation of the world. We may try, but we cannot ever hope to replicate your unique gifts. There is nothing in this world as personal, as nurturing, or as life changing as the influence of a righteous woman. … All women have within their divine nature both the inherent talent and the stewardship to mother.”
Sister Julie B. Beck taught about the role of nurturing: “To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow...Nurturing requires organization, patience, love, and work. Helping growth occur through nurturing is truly a
powerful and influential role bestowed on women.”
Are We Not All Mothers?
I revisited Sheri Dew’s seminal talk “Are We Not All Mothers?” I remember where I sat in the chapel when
she gave her talk on motherhood. I’d recently turned 30—the age 14-year-old me told friends I’d probably be dead by because it was sooo old.
We didn’t have children. She used a phrase used in my patriarchal blessing that stood solemnly without any connection to children—”mother in Israel.”
Will you stand steadfast and immovable as a mother in Israel and a woman of God?
I listened all the more because she described questions, confusion, and heartaches I felt and I knew she felt them, too! As a childless Latter-day Saint woman, Sister Dew elevated motherhood because she truly understood what motherhood was.
She gave me a glimpse of what she knew. I latched on to what I could, but still had a lot more suffering to endure before I glimpsed the clarity she offered.
Have you ever wondered why prophets have taught the doctrine of motherhood—and it is doctrine—again and again? I have. I have thought long and hard about the work of women of God. And I have wrestled with what the doctrine of motherhood means for all of us. This issue has driven me to my knees, to the scriptures, and to the temple—all of which teach an ennobling doctrine regarding our most crucial role as women. It is a doctrine about which we must be clear if we hope to stand “steadfast and immovable” regarding the issues that swirl around our gender. For Satan has declared war on motherhood. He knows that those who rock the cradle can rock his earthly empire. And he knows that without righteous mothers loving and leading the next generation, the kingdom of God will fail.
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.
President Gordon B. Hinckley stated that “God planted within women something divine.” That something is the gift and the gifts of motherhood. Elder Matthew Cowley taught that “men have to have something given to them [in mortality] to make them saviors of men, but not mothers, not women. [They] are born with an inherent right, an inherent authority, to be the saviors of human souls … and the regenerating force in the lives of God’s children.”
I repeat: We are all mothers in Israel, and our calling is to love and help lead the rising generation through the dangerous streets of mortality. …
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.
Hugging the Monster
A simple, basically random, conversation proved nurturing to my soul. I realized my subconscious, fully operating, bias “protecting” myself from the pains and heartache of my experience of non-“motherhood.” I asked the Lord to teach me more of its “layers of meaning.” And the Lord has taught me.
For the first time in many years, I joyfully anticipate Mother’s Day as a day to celebrate the divinity of all of those layers with my sisters in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, and every other woman everywhere.
“I testify that the Lord has blessed us, as women who live in these perilous times, with all of the power, gifts, and strength that are needed in order to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that we may all see our true potential and rise up to become the women of faith and courage our Father in Heaven needs us to be.” Bonnie L. Oscarson.
I finally hugged my fear and lack-based, self-created motherhood monster. And it vanished. I am enough and you are enough. We are perfect in our creation. And because of who we are and Whose we are, we can “Rise up, and stand forth in the midst” and say “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”