As part of a project she’s doing, my dear friend asked me to share my thoughts on what I think are important attributes for being a mother. It was actually nice to reflect on this on Mother’s Day. I thought I’d share what I wrote, and ask, what do YOU think are important attributes for being a mother.
(As a side note, this friend and I are both members of the same church, so some of my comments reflect that, but I think the underlying concepts are true for mothers of all faiths or mothers of no faith. My atheist parents still taught me to be a moral person, after all.)
Here’s what I had to say:
Hmmm, I think my answer to this changes the longer I’m a mother.
I think the most important thing is to love our kids and make sure they know it. That softens the fact that we’re not perfect and will make mistakes. And everybody needs that unconditional love. Probably the best thing we can do for our kids is give them a sense of self-worth. That will soften the fact that they’re not perfect either and will make mistakes too.
Obviously we care for our kids in very “mundane” but important ways: we feed them, clothe them, bathe them (or, as they get older, make sure they’re bathing themselves). We drive them around, run errands for things they need, pick up after them (or, as they get older, engage in the not-so-pleasant task of teaching them to do such things for themselves).
There’s not a lot of glamor to this part of the job, but we sacrifice a lot of our time and personal desires to make sure it all happens. While the percentage of mothers who neglect their children is small, the effects of neglect on those poor kids underscores the importance and value of a mother who’s willing to fill a bottle, wipe a dirty face, and tie a little pair of shoes.
We also offer moral guidance. We help our children learn right from wrong, we teach them how to treat others and how to treat themselves, we give them standards for living an upright life. I think this includes everything from “work hard” to “know God.”
For members of the Church, moral guidance includes following the commandment in Doctrine and Covenants to teach our children the truths of the Gospel. We take them to Church, we pray together and read the scriptures together at home, we set a good example, we show them what it means to have faith, we take advantage of impromptu opportunities to bare genuine testimony of what the gospel has done for us in our own lives. We live our beliefs; we share those beliefs with our children. We present the truth to them as best as we can.
That commandment to teach our children the truths of the Gospel does not, however, include deciding for them what they will believe. I think people get confused by this sometimes. I’m sure this is easy for me to say since I haven’t been faced with a child wanting to leave the Church yet, but I see a lot of panic when this happens to others, often accompanied by lots of words and actions designed to help that child see the error of their ways. Obviously we want our kids to embrace what we feel is true, but I think it’s a mistake to try to control that choice in someone else, including our own children.
My mother never told me what to believe or tried to dissuade me from joining the Church, even though she doesn’t believe it herself. I’ve always admired her for that, and been grateful for it. It was MY decision to make, not hers. My father, on the other hand, was mortified to be losing his daughter to the Mormons and gave me a 2-hour lecture telling me all the horrible things about the Church. It took me years to forgive him, not because of what he said about the Church but because of what his actions said about ME. He didn’t trust me to make a decision that belongs solely to me.
God Himself says that decision belongs solely to me. And I think as members of the Church, we can trust God to love and care for our children and help them gain testimonies of their own, even if their path getting there takes a little longer. Although, if our children are doing something immoral, that’s different. If my kids chose to do drugs, steal, beat their wives, etc, etc, they will hear me roar no matter how old they are. But. Genuinely not believing the doctrines of the Church is not the same as immorality, and I think it’s important we respect our children’s right to decide for themselves what they believe.
I’m obviously getting on my soapbox here, but I think in general it’s important that as parents we try to understand what decisions we get to make for our kids and what decisions we don’t. It’s just a simple matter of respecting them as fellow human beings. We set rules in our homes, and that’s appropriate. I tell my kids the same thing my dad used to tell me: “This isn’t a democracy, it’s a benevolent dictatorship.” But the older they get the more they will become their own people and make their own decisions.
My freshman has decided that when he graduates he’s going to take a year off of school, get a job and an apartment, serve a mission at 19, then start college. Because I think he’s at risk of not wanting to go back to school once he takes a break from it, I’m not crazy about that plan. I think in situations like this it’s okay to share our “wisdom” about things–I’ve told him that sometimes it’s hard to go back once you take that break–but I kept it short and sweet and wasn’t trying to change his mind and I’m not harping on it either. I told him it’s his choice and I really do feel that way. When he’s a senior and ready to really act on his decisions (if those decisions are still the same), I’ll probably share my thoughts about it again, because those words may mean more to him when he’s older than they do now, but really it’s up to him. And I’ll support him if that’s what he chooses, even though it’s not what I would have done myself.
As I’ve thought about other attributes that are important for mothers, I realize that after a certain point it’s really going to vary depending on the mother. I’ve given this some thought before, because you know I often struggle to feel like I’m a good mom. (That drives Kevin crazy because he thinks I’m a great mom and can’t understand why I don’t see that myself. So he gives me lots and lots of positive reinforcement, which I appreciate.) Anyway, I think being a mom is like any other calling in the Church. When I was YW pres, I had a firm testimony that the Lord called me to that position when He did because those girls needed what I had to offer at that time. When they needed something different, something I wouldn’t be able to offer, He’d call someone else who could provide that. So, uncharacteristically, I didn’t suffer due to comparing myself to others. I felt confident that it was my strengths the girls needed, and the Lord would make up for my weaknesses some other way. Either by helping me be better, or by providing the girls with those things through someone else, like my excellent first counselor.
I think being a mom is the same, and I’ve shared this with my kids. I’m not perfect and I make all kinds of mistakes, but the Lord isn’t asking me to be a perfect mom. He’s just asking ME to be a mom to THESE kids, and I think since He threw us all together, what I have to offer them must be what they need. And anything else they need but don’t get from me, He’ll either put someone in their life to give that to them, or He’ll help me grow and be better. I think both things happen and that’s okay. So, I try to think about my personal strengths. I’m good at being straight with my kids and having rather grown up conversations with them. I have no trouble talking to them about difficult topics and I think they’re good at talking to me too. I’m not as consistent with discipline as I’d like to be, and I work on that, but I’m good at showing love and affection. I’m not good at making sure they follow that chore chart to the letter week after week, but I’m good at teaching them independence. My freshman is in charge of one dinner a week so he can learn how to cook, and they’ve been in charge of their own laundry for years. I figure it all balances out in the end. And I’m lucky that they’re good boys in spite of my shortcomings. So I do try to do better, but I also try to recognize my own strengths and trust that those are enough.
I also have gotten better at recognizing that what’s good in my family isn’t necessarily what’s good in other families, and vice versa. For example, it took my stepdaughters awhile to get used to the fact that we don’t make lunch for the whole family like we do for dinner. That’s not due to laziness, but a conscious decision I made years ago after watching some kids struggle to do something as simple as pour themselves a glass of juice or make themselves a sandwich. I want my kids to have independence, so they take care of their own breakfasts and lunches. They’re old enough and I think that’s a valuable skill. The girls’ mother makes lunch for everyone as a gesture of love, which is how the girls receive it, and which I think has just as much value. I don’t think their mother has to do it the way I do it to teach the girls independence, nor do I think I have to do it the way she does it to show my kids love. I used to lament the fact that kids don’t come with instruction manuals, but now I think that’s a good thing. There’s more than one good and right way to raise a child. I’m better at hearing stories of mothers over the pulpit without feeling inferior/superior if I do things differently.
So to sum this all up in a list of attributes important for being a mother? Good mothers are loving, selfless, wise, respectful, courageous, forgiving, faithful, and humble.
Happy Mother’s Day!