“Meditations on Motherhood,” Ensign, Feb. 1999, 56
Motherhood to me has been the greatest adventure—the most fun, the most challenging, the most rewarding. I am grateful now to see our children teaching their children the principles of the gospel.
My own mother was a dear and special friend, a teacher, a confidante. Although she was not a member of the Church, she taught me to pray, and she prayed daily for me. Following my birth, while I was still in the hospital, she and her mother discussed my future. “I wonder what is in store for the poor little thing,” Grandma said to my mother.
“I don’t know,” Mother replied, “but she’ll have all the happiness I can give her.” She kept that promise, and from her I learned much of mothering and of making life happy.
I can now identify with that tender moment when a tiny newborn is placed in a mother’s arms. She knows a quiet joy and feels a deep responsibility. Who will this little person become?
I remember having such feelings when our first baby was born. I could hardly wait to go home and start really being a mother. I remember too how delightfully surprised I was that the feeling was just the same for each baby who came later.
Shortly after this little daughter’s birth I was given a wonderful book about children’s literature, and I wanted to begin reading to her that very day. We started with picture books, poetry books, and storybooks, probably long before she could understand the words, but a special tradition was begun in our family that made daily reading of the scriptures and other great books a natural step. Someone once said: “I wonder what families do who don’t read together. It’s like not knowing each other’s friends.” We loved reading aloud and sharing books and ideas. It is still a delight when one of my children says to me, “Oh, Mom, you just must read this book!”
Our first two babies, little girls, came just over a year apart, and our first son two years later. I believe that was the busiest time for me. I was sure I would never get the diapers folded (we used flannel diapers in those days), the dishes washed, and the babies all fed, bathed, and put to bed at the same time, and I knew I would be at least a little tired for the rest of my life. My husband was in graduate school and was working part time; I was working part time as a nurse, usually one night and two afternoon shifts a week. That way at least one of us was always home with the children. It was a good way for our little ones to bond closely with each of us, but we had to learn to prioritize a lot of other things. We tried to remember the saying quoted so often by Elder Harold B. Lee, then an Apostle: “We must not let the things that matter most be at the mercy of the things that matter least.” Except for our family and school and our Church callings, we had time for little else, but it was a happy time that we remember with fondness. We learned much of parenting and the real importance of working together.
I also learned to appreciate that tender time in the middle of the night when the house was quiet and the littlest one needed nursing and a few minutes in the rocking chair. This baby would never be two months, four months, eight months old again. Even though it was inconvenient at times, I didn’t want to miss a minute of it. Those same hours were special again when the children were growing into adulthood and one or the other would sit on our bed for a few precious minutes after a date to tell us about their evening.
After graduate school, another darling baby, and a move to California, our lives were rich and full. We were busy in our new ward, and I was learning much from Relief Society about mothering, about loving and giving and service. The sisters were great examples to me, as well as being very like our family. We felt that surely we were “no more strangers … but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).
One of the wonderful things about my husband has been his sense of adventure and his belief that the children could do almost anything if they were taught properly. We had exciting vacations that didn’t cost much: trips to the mountains, to the beach, to the desert; camping and hiking; swimming; finding shells and clams and other wondrous things. Even when I had to stay in bed most of the time during some later pregnancies, my husband would give me a rest by packing the car with children, food, and camping gear, and off they would go. I think our children’s lively sense of curiosity and the pleasure they still have in the out-of-doors came largely from those adventures with their dad.
During my time of bed rest we again learned valuable lessons about prioritizing, and there were blessings even from this challenge. The older children learned to cook and clean and help care for each other in ways they might never have done had I been up and about. We had wonderful reading sessions and games that could be played on my bed. It was also a good place for doing homework, for talking about the day, for having family prayer. I learned a meaningful lesson: if I could keep the children happy, it didn’t matter so much that I wasn’t keeping a spotless house.
Of course, our children were not always cheerful. There were sometimes arguments and tears and hurt feelings. We tried at those times to see what the Lord had said and to “liken [the] scriptures unto us” (1 Ne. 19:23). Nearly always we could find an answer. The fact that the Lord had instructed parents that they were not to allow their children to quarrel one with another (see Mosiah 4:14) seemed much more important than if it had been just Mother saying so. Sometimes, too, we’d sing “Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words” (Hymns, no. 232). I didn’t sing very well, but at least it brought a smile or two.
All families sometime experience the death of a loved one. For us that “sometime” came twice, once when our fifth baby was born and again when our twins were born. Our tiny son weighed just over a pound, lived for 18 short hours, then went home to Heavenly Father. I agonized a good deal about that. Should I have rested more? What could I have done differently? Could we ever have another healthy baby?
This sadness was repeated at a later time when, to our surprise, we had twins (numbers seven and eight): a boy and a girl. They lived for only a few days, but in the midst of our grief we had gratitude for our understanding of the plan of salvation and the place for children who die in infancy. The Relief Society sisters were there with comforting arms and hearts as well as food and service. Priesthood blessings gave us strength and faith. We lived a long way from our families, but the gospel was our solace and hope, and the Church our help. This was a teaching time for the children as we talked about trusting Heavenly Father even when our prayers were answered differently from how we had hoped, and about personal responsibility to live worthily to become an eternal family and to have each person with us.
We were blessed with three other children—two boys and a girl—making five of each, with seven living. What an adventure it has been! Babies, teens, school, music lessons, trips to the dentist, eyeglasses, broken bones, dates, tears, fun, missions, laughter, temple marriages—we have known them all. Now, I see our children in their own families having the same adventure.
I firmly believe that parents must teach their children the principles of the gospel and must bring them up in light and truth (see D&C 93:40), but the bringing up does not have to be a grim or dreary duty. Home can and should be a haven where people feel loved and comforted, where parents as well as children can say “I’m sorry” and be forgiven when they make mistakes, which they will. I believe we teach more by what we do than what we say. If we are happy and giving, it is more likely that our children will be too. If we have faith, if we try to follow the counsel of the prophets, chances are increased that they will too.
This does not mean that problems will never occur. The Lord tells us that the rains and the winds and the floods will beat upon our houses, but if they are built upon rock foundations, they will stand (see Matt. 7:24–25).
There have been times in our family, as in most, when pouring out our hearts to the Lord has been our only comfort—times especially when one or more of the children has had a serious problem that he or she has had to face alone. It is hardest of all for me when there is really nothing I can do except pray and be there. “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke 22:32). How we as parents hope that our children’s testimonies will be strong and that they will know the peace and strength that come from keeping the commandments!
Every mother’s experience is unique and has its own combination of blessings and challenges. For some, those challenges may include being a single parent, having a wayward child, facing serious illness or disability in the family. These trials can test a mother to the utmost and can be fully understood only by parents who have had similar experiences. But what I do know is that each mother has been given a sacred trust and that no responsibility exceeds hers in importance.
Our children and grandchildren in these last days will have great joy and also much to withstand and overcome. But the same good values and gospel teaching that have guided us can help them to use their agency to make wise choices and to become caring and responsible parents themselves. And, like John, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 Jn. 1:4).