Today’s guest post is written by Janell Jensen Gehmlich and is a slightly edited copy of a sacrament meeting talk she was asked to give on Mother’s Day. The original can be found on Childless Mormon Support: Helping Childless LDS Women Find their Place in this World. Opinions shared on guest posts may not completely reflect the positions of the blog’s author.
Janell was born and raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Souther Alberta on a family cattle ranch. She graduated as a dental hygienist from the University of Alberta in 1994, and married her husband, Ben, in the Cardston Alberta Temple in 1995. Most of her church callings have been working with the youth in Young Women’s and Sunday school, as well as playing the piano. She currently serves as Director of Public Affairs for the English state in Québec. “I have learned that life often happens in spite of expectations and plans, and that I am strong enough to take anything head-on and come out better on the other side when I am willing to trust in the Lord and relinquish any idea I had of the way things ought to be.”
“There are a lot of reasons Mother’s Day is not something I particularly celebrate. It certainly is NOT because mothers don’t deserve acknowledgement, love and gratitude- my mother certainly did. On the contrary, I believe mothers should get that acknowledgement, love, and gratitude 365 days a year. But, Mother’s Day can be a tough one for a lot of people. While Ben is able to call his wonderful mother I no longer have a phone call to make or card to send, because my mother suffers from a dementia such that she doesn’t understand most words, doesn’t speak and doesn’t recognize anyone anymore, including her family. I’ve watched mothers of all ages sit and weep on this day- women who have buried a child, who literally don’t know where their child is, or whose child has broken their heart in any number of ways. I’ve seen mothers who are struggling with feeling that their best is never good enough slump a little more under the weight of the perfect mother stories. I’ve heard people whose own mothers have been abusive, or stood by and allowed them to be abused, wonder why their mothers didn’t love them like these mothers the children sing about in their Primary songs.
“As a childless woman in the church, I’ve made my peace with Mother’s Day (a LONG process, and one that usually involves my husband taking me away for the weekend). I have been known to get up and walk out of a meeting when hearing, yet again, that bearing children is the reason why women are on this earth, that there is no joy comparable to being a mother, that raising children is the single most important thing a woman can ever do with her life, that you have never known true happiness until you are a mother, and that the whole purpose of the church is for families – none of which applied to me, and was simply too much to bear. Sometimes there’s a comment about how if childless women are patient and have faith, they won’t be deprived of any true happiness and real joy in the eternities, but we feel their longing and heartache for the unfulfilled righteous desires of their hearts and know how hard it must be to miss out on that true happiness and real joy in the meantime. Let me assure you that if you have not walked this road, then you do not know.
“The impact of this line of thought is illustrated perfectly by a comment made after an article I read online recently- an article that, while full of beautiful truths regarding the vital part mothers play in the lives of their children and salvation of the next generation, also equated the sisterhood of the church to a metaphorical club, whose requirement for membership was motherhood. I understood exactly what was in this sister’s heart when she made the following comment:
“A lovely article. I would love to be in your club, but I don’t think I fit the bill. I am a single, middle-aged sister; I sometimes get mentioned as an afterthought. I know the gospel is true. I believe in the importance of the family, it’s central role in the gospel, and I understand why this is so and why it must have and does have a prominent place in the life and teachings of the church. As much as I accept these things, I will always be an outsider, and I can only hope to achieve life’s second best experiences and perform the second most valuable tasks.”
“My heart broke as I read that. And not just for this sister, but for every Latter-Day Saint who somehow does not fit within the ideal family structure that our church culture focuses on, who continually struggle to define their lives according to that framework, and may even think that their offerings before the Lord are somehow less, because they don’t “fit the bill” for membership in a particular club.
“The Lord does not have clubs in this manner. The blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ are available for anyone who has the desire, and is willing, to follow him. 2 Nephi 26:33 teaches us that “he inviteth all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”
“In our day, the apostle Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught in his April 2008 General Conference address that:
“Some (members of the church) are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.
Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.”
“I, for one, am grateful for the depth and richness of the membership of this church. I have learned to have an appreciation for who and what I am; the things that I both have in common with and that make me different from others here. I am a daughter of my Heavenly Father, as are all the sisters. I am a strong and capable woman, one among many others. I am a Relief Society sister who doesn’t do crafts, hates to cook, took my 138 pound dog to see the sisters I visit teach last month, and spent my free time this week learning a new Muse riff on my bass guitar. I am a wife, a daughter-in-law, a sister, a granddaughter, an auntie, a friend, a dental hygienist, a student, a teacher, a leader, and a mentor- all with varying degrees of success, depending on the day. One thing I am not is a mother – and that is perfectly ok. For whatever reason, the things that the Lord desires of me do not involve or require me to have children of my own, or by any other means. I know that beyond a doubt.
“Every single person on the face of this earth has disappointments and difficulties and heartbreaks- it is a universal part of the human experience. I don’t know anyone whose life turns out exactly the way they thought it would and expected it should. But that doesn’t mean we’re being deprived of blessings, or the abilities and circumstances to accomplish what the Lord has called each of us here to do. While I have greatly mourned the loss of the children that I always assumed I would have, I have also come to understand that that grief is not a burden I need carry forward with me. To do so would be to say, “Well, Lord, much as I appreciate being born to a loving family with the light of the gospel in a country of freedom and peace, my good health, the opportunity to get an education and have gainful employment, a husband who loves me in spite of having to put up with me, and many good people who care about me, you really dropped the ball on this kid thing. I will be heartbroken for the rest of my life, take no pride in any accomplishments because they will never be more than second-rate, and know that any happiness I feel is below par.” I know my life is not a consolation prize, because I simply do not believe that is how our Heavenly Father works. I trust that He always has and always will provide me with the people and opportunities that will allow me to achieve my true happiness and my real joy here on this earth.
“The Prophet Joseph taught that the fundamental principle of our religion is the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and that “all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” The reason we’re on this earth is to become like our Savior, and thus, as the apostle Elder Russell M Nelson taught in the April 2012 General Conference, “the attributes by which we shall be judged one day are all spiritual. These include love, virtue, integrity, compassion, and service to others.” As simplistic as it may seem, everything about the gospel of Jesus Christ and in His church, including families in all their forms, are a means for us to emulate Him as we learn, grow, and serve others; keeping our covenants and giving our best efforts through whatever life experiences Heavenly Father wills for us, until we can return again to Him. President Monson and others have reminded us, time and again, that everyone is in a different stage of their life journey, and that not all the roads traveled are the same. Our place is not to make judgments or comparisons, good or bad. Our work is to offer love and support to our fellow travelers, at whatever stage of their journey and on whatever road we encounter them.
“So mothers, thank you for all you do, to love and teach your children. I have taught and I work with the youth, and they are great kids. To raise a teenager is a commendable accomplishment, to be sure! But, if your children use their agency to go a different way, please remember that agency is so important to our Heavenly Mother and Father that they allow us to exercise it, in spite of what we may do. Our most perfect parents still lost one-third of their children when they chose to go. Know that your best is good enough, and we love and honor you and your efforts.
“May we also remember and express love today for those who mourn a lost child, whose arms are empty when they would have them otherwise, who lost their mother too soon, or who have never known a loving mother’s embrace. May you have the strength, peace, and comfort of the Atonement, and the feel the love of the Lord round about you, on this Mother’s Day.”
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST can be reached at natashaparker.org. She authors the Mormon Therapist Blog, hosts the Mormon Mental Health and Mormon Sex InfoPodcasts, writes a regular column for Sunstone Magazine and is the current president of the Mormon Mental Health Association. She has 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.