This Is a Tough Time to Be a Parent: Essays on Motherhood Part Two

It is so easy to get overwhelmed as parents.  Neil L. Anderson affirmed this feeling with an anecdote in his talk, “Children”, from October 2011.  (Read it again! It’s so good!)

“Having young children is not easy. Many days are just difficult. A young mother got on a bus with seven children. The bus driver asked, “Are these all yours, lady? Or is it a picnic?”

“They’re all mine,” she replied. “And it’s no picnic!””

On the hard days, I feel guilty that it’s hard for me.  Shouldn’t I always feel joyful that I am a mother?  Why is it sometimes very difficult to feel fulfilled in this role?

I was struck by Rachel Jankovic’s comments on the blog, desiringgod.org,  when she stated;

“[Growing] up in this culture, it is very hard to get a biblical perspective on motherhood. … Children rank way below college. Below world travel for sure. Below the ability to go out at night at your leisure. Below honing your body at the gym. Below any job you may have or hope to get.” She then adds: “Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling.”

So, is it any wonder that we have to work at feeling fulfilled as mothers?  There are voices all around that seem to shout, what do you have to show for yourself, woman?  Yeah, yeah, you’ve got kids, but what have you done for you?

I had a great conversation with my cousin and friend on this topic.  She expressed something profound saying (and I’m paraphrasing);

Sometimes I’m afraid to take my kids anywhere. People in our culture are wired to be critical. I’m half frightened someone will take a video of me in an awful mom moment and post it on the internet for all to critique. That’s what our culture is like. Sometimes I can’t stand the ridicule. But, then I realize this culture is seriously wrong! It’s unhealthy. Ours is a society where 1 in 5 children are sexually assaulted. It’s a culture where elective abortion is celebrated as a basic right.  So, no, I don’t choose to listen to what our society says about motherhood.

These facts are sad to contemplate, but the sentiment is strangely liberating.  In our culture, God is not valued. Life is not valued. Parenthood is not valued. Negative sentiments about traditional roles are sometimes blatantly, and often subtly woven into popular literature and media.

In Dalin H. Oaks’s wonderful address Protect the Children from October 2012 (read it again, it’s so good!), he references the idea that in our society, children have become mere shadowy figures in the background of selfish adult interests.

I believe that there is great strength in recognizing these societal shifts and calling them by name.  Or, maybe just by the name of he who works hard to muddy the water, the father of all lies.  In contrast to modern philosophies which minimize the importance of children and belittle motherhood, I have often thought back to Julie B. Beck’s words from, A Mother Heart (read it again, it’s so good!), when she stated:

“I was recently at a park where I met a group of women with mother hearts. They were young, covenant-keeping women. They were bright and had obtained advanced degrees from respected universities. Now they were devoting their considerable gifts to planning dinner that evening and sharing housekeeping ideas. They were teaching two-year-olds to be kind to one another. They were soothing babies, kissing bruised knees, and wiping tears. I asked one of those mothers how it came about that she could transfer her talents so cheerfully into the role of motherhood. She replied, “I know who I am, and I know what I am supposed to do. The rest just follows.” That young mother will build faith and character in the next generation one family prayer at a time, one scripture study session, one book read aloud, one song, one family meal after another. She is involved in a great work. She knows that “children are an heritage of the Lord” and “happy is the [woman] that hath [a] quiver full of them” (Ps. 127:3, 5).”

I love the way Julie Beck acknowledges the faith of mothers who are willing to place their own aspirations in the background to make children the central focus of their lives.  Marilyn Faulkner describes these early years of motherhood as a time grow deep roots. Dedicated mothers can figuratively prune back the showy leaves and blossoms of their branches for a season, allowing deep roots to develop below ground.  These foundational roots may not be much to look at, and it’s hard to see our own progress. However, The Master Gardener knows that in the end, the willing mother is the stronger for it, bearing sweet fruit in other seasons. 

2 Comments

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  1. Parenthood can be tough at times. I don’t think this time in history is necessarily any tougher than any other in which to be a parent. 100 years ago it was more common for a baby or child to die young. Parents throughout time have sent their sons to war only to have them never come back. There are always challenges.
    I must say I don’t really understand the comment from Ms. Jankovic. Can’t one be a mother and go to the gym? One can work and raise children.
    I’ve never thought being a mother was something others would belittle me for. I do believe, that however not everyone is called to be a mother. For those that do feel it is their life calling to be a mother, sometimes this calling never comes to fruition. I come from a very traditional background and there were more than a few older women in our family who were never married.
    I don’t claim to know much about being a Mormon, and as far as I can tell not many live in our community. My son is friends with a boy from a Mormon family. His mom seems like a great mother but doesn’t quite seem to fit into the model of motherhood you are hinting at there. She and I are both nurses, but she has went farther in her career than I have. Even so, lest one think we are pursuing an accomplishment by working that is just about us, both of us HAVE to work.
    I would say motherhood is often more nuanced than people like Ms. Jankovic would have us believe.
    PS. Your family is very cute.

    1. Hey Kate,

      Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      I enjoy Rachel Jankovic’s sassy voice, but perhaps the mode of her delivery has gotten in the way of her message in this case. Despite that, I think the point she makes is sound. She states that parenting is difficult in this generation because, by far and large, we’re loosing our once-cherished “biblical perspective” on motherhood.

      Notwithstanding her cheeky tone, for me, she offered a wonderful invitation for introspection. I found myself asking some tough questions about me as a mother. Do I put my children first, both with my attitudes and my time? Because I truly believe that children are entitled to the very best we can offer them.

      Now, I absolutely agree that giving them my best means being my best, staying healthy with good exercise habits 🙂 and doing whatever is necessary to provide for them, including working outside the home as needed.

      But the point is that our hobbies and work are ideally things which support our lifestyle as parents, instead of being our lifestyle and pushing parenting to the sideline.

      Yes, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I believe that God cares deeply about my effectiveness as a mother, and that no other success can compensate for failing to fulfill this role. Not only because motherhood is a calling, but also because it is a reward. I believe God designed families and parenthood as a pathway to His choicest blessings, to teach us things we could learn in no other way. As the bible states, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.

      So, I guess that brings us full-circle to the theme of Mother’s Day once again 🙂 I hope your Mother’s Day was a sweet one.

      xoxo, Johanna

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