Motherhood—Expectations and Lessons

“Motherhood—Expectations and Lessons,” Ensign, Mar. 1992, 28

Relief Society Sesquicentennial


Expectations and Lessons

“I reject that I should be grounded!” the note penned in childish scrawl read. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I went downstairs to see the leak in the bathroom ceiling. From this night on, I am not speaking to either one of you—Dad and Mom—ever again!” The note was signed by my twelve-year-old daughter.

From the moment I had received my first Christmas doll, I had always looked forward to motherhood. At the tender age of twelve, I was already planning my ideal family. My best friend and I spent the summer creating scrapbooks with detailed descriptions of how wonderful our lives would be, including magazine pictures of husbands, children, homes, and belongings.

Yet, if someone had talked to my daughter on the night she wrote this note, they might have reached the conclusion that my perfect family was just a dream.

Twenty-six years ago my married life began. I met a wonderful returned missionary who took me to the temple, where we were married for time and eternity. We were both finishing work on college degrees, and the following spring, on the day I graduated from Brigham Young University, I also experienced my first wave of morning sickness. I was finally to become a mother. The expectations of what seemed to have been a lifetime filled my soul.

As the months passed and I could feel my child moving inside me, the anticipation and excitement of becoming a mother grew along with my figure. That fall, our daughter Aimee was born four months prematurely. She died within twelve hours of her birth. I was devastated. I didn’t understand why she’d been taken. But in the days ahead, as I prayed and cried with my husband, a feeling of comfort filled the emptiness in my heart. And I learned one of the great lessons of life—strength comes through trials.

I’ve heard that a tree’s greatest growth comes during years of drought when its roots must reach deep to find water. Along with Aimee’s death—my first experience in motherhood—came my first drought. Like the tree, I had to stretch to find water. But the water I found was the living water that Jesus had promised the Samaritan woman at the well. (See John 4:4–15.) With it I also found the strength that comes from anchoring oneself more securely to the Lord.

With new faith I prayed for another child and new motherhood experiences. Stephen arrived in the fall of the next year. What a feeling of joy filled my heart when I held him for the first time!

Stephen was soon followed by Marjorie, Sarah, Jonathan, and finally, Elizabeth. Each child brought new life and more love to our family. During the early years, motherhood was diaper-changing marathons, trips to the doctor, and mounds of laundry that never seemed to go away. Then it became hours in the car, driving children to music lessons and soccer practices, home to find overdue library books, and on last-minute trips to the store at closing time to purchase items for school projects due the next day. I became an expert at refereeing children’s arguments and locating matching shoes and socks, and I often wondered about the relevance of my college education to making peanut butter sandwiches.

One afternoon I voiced my frustration to my own mother. She looked at the children playing in the front room, their toys littering most of the area, and then turned to me and said:

“Cherish these moments, sweetheart. Remember, there’s a time and season for all things. Enjoy each season while it’s here, for it will leave all too quickly.”

I have found that what she said is true. The stages of childhood are not permanent—they only seem that way while our children are going through them. Eventually each phase is replaced by another, and suddenly the stage that has just ended becomes a treasured memory.

I have learned many other things from motherhood. I discovered that it was possible for me to help meet the needs of others only when I spent time meeting my own. I had to reeducate myself and allow myself time to do some of the things I enjoyed. At first I learned to use the children’s nap time to read, practice the piano, and resume my writing. Once in a while I traded baby-sitting duties with a neighbor so I could have an afternoon away from home.

I have continued to learn new things; I skied at forty, took computer courses at forty-two, and wrote my first children’s novel at forty-six. I know there’s even more to do in the years ahead.

I find, however, that no matter what activities I enjoy or participate in, there are three “musts”: daily prayer, scripture study, and exercise. Better than any other regimen, these three things help to give me the peace of mind I require in dealing with the challenges that seem to wait at my door each morning.

Motherhood has also taught me the importance of having a sense of humor. My two sons have been the ones who have developed it the most. One of my sons, who loves animals, has turned his bedroom into a zoo more than once. And I remember well the day my other son, with help from his friends, shoveled a freeway for their tricycles in the back lawn. After a scolding and an afternoon in his room, this son timidly approached me with a crinkled photograph of me taken some years earlier.

“Look, Mommy,” he said sheepishly. “You’re smiling.”

I learned that day that a lawn’s beauty may be only temporary, but a mother’s humor and happiness last forever. That lesson served me well when one of the boys dressed the family dog in my favorite nightgown and painted her nails with my fingernail polish. I came home just as the dog, seated at the dining room table, was eating her dinner on my best china.

Although the law of agency is a gift from a loving Father in Heaven, I’ve learned that it’s one of the hardest laws for me as a mother to let my children experience. In my overzealous desire to have them constantly obey the laws of the gospel, I may teach them correct principles but may at times deny them the opportunity to use those principles in making their decisions. Seeing them make mistakes is painful for me, but when mistakes occur and children feel the need for repentance and change in their lives, the effect is nothing less than miraculous.

One of my daughters is currently serving a mission in Japan. In one of her recent letters, she expressed the feelings that parents never tire of hearing:

“Mom, Dad, thanks for the examples you’ve set—for the time you’ve invested. And thank you for your patience, and for letting me find out for myself that the gospel is true.”

My daughter didn’t always feel that way. It was only a few years ago that home was merely a stopping-off place for her. She told me one day that she didn’t like being home and looked forward to the time she could move away. She rarely attended church, and I knew that we were drifting apart. That year her father and I sought competent family counseling and spent a lot of time on our knees seeking the Lord’s guidance. It was during this time that I learned another lesson from motherhood.

Wherever the Church is organized, brothers and sisters serving in priesthood quorums and auxiliaries have the opportunity of reaching out and fellowshipping those who are struggling. The Lord answered our prayers for our daughter—first through her Mia Maid and Laurel teachers, then through a perceptive Relief Society president, an outstanding LDS sorority adviser, and a bishop who extended to her the challenge of putting first things first. All these people loved our daughter with the same unconditional love exemplified by the Savior, and she responded beautifully.

Motherhood has taught me that sometimes children can be our greatest teachers. The Savior intimated this himself when he said: “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3–4.)

For example, I have a daughter who has never seemed to doubt the existence of the Savior nor his love for her. She seems to follow his counsel and that of his prophets with an innate understanding.

This daughter has also taught me how important it is to pursue good goals with all the determination and zeal one can muster. I watched the results of her hard work this past spring as she performed a Vivaldi solo on her violin with her high school orchestra. Her performance was the culmination of her intense desire, along with months and months of practice. Like the car or the horse that sets the beginning pace for the other participants in the race, this daughter and her brothers and sisters have been my pacesetters time and time again.

In contrast to those unrealistic adolescent daydreams, motherhood has been filled with both joy and sorrow. Often it has been a challenge requiring me to give everything I have—emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

Has it been worthwhile? Yes! The times of struggle and sacrifice have been balanced with times of unbelievable joy.

Motherhood is a great blessing—a blessing so valuable that it goes beyond this life and on into the eternities. I felt this truth again as I talked with my twelve-year-old about the note she had written. As we sat on the edge of her bed hugging and talking about our problems that night, I felt great love for my children and gratitude for the privilege I’ve had of playing a part in God’s eternal plan. In this life, I know that I will “have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” (3 John. 1:4.)

  • Karla Gaines serves as Primary president in the Holladay Twenty-fourth Ward, Salt Lake Holladay North Stake.

Illustrated by Scott Snow