It started about a week and a half ago. The anxiety, the dread. Mothers Day Sunday was coming up. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints puts a lot of emphasis on family and none more than on Mothers Day. Most Sacrament meetings on that day will feature the children singing a song about mothers and one to three talks about the importance of motherhood. Often flowers or chocolate are given out to women aged 12 and up. I once lived in a ward where a leader at the pulpit declared, "May I ask all the mothers here to stand?" All the mothers stood up. "Now, all the wives stand up." All the wives stood up. "All future mothers, stand up." It was a humiliating exercise. I think his intentions were good but woefully misguided. Other misguided efforts I've merely heard of but not experienced include excusing mothers from having to fulfill their callings, serving desserts and "parties" during Relief Society--all during church hours. Don't get me wrong. I'm not criticizing church doctrine. I'm questioning church culture. In a church where the importance of families is consistently underscored, is it really necessary to turn Mothers Day meetings into what a friend of mine aptly described as a "three ring circus"? Thankfully, my own branch celebrates Mothers Day fairly modestly. There is sometimes a Primary number and one or two talks about mothers. After church, the young men are assigned to hand out flowers to women as they leave. Last year, one of the young men sheepishly passed out single roses to every woman that went by. I could tell how awkward he felt about the assignment. As he handed me my rose I asked, "How does it feel to be The Bachelor?"
More Charlie love.
Despite the low key approach of my particular branch, Mothers Day at church is bittersweet for me. As I talk about constantly on this blog (at least I feel like it's constantly!), I only have one ovary left to my name. The rest of my reproductive system was cleared out like a fire sale at a furniture store. "Everything must go!" I'm blessed with the coolest kid ever. He's whip smart, cheerful and healthy. Despite that, there is still pain in my heart. The door to bearing children is closed. Mothers Day at church (as well as baby showers and the occasional Johnson and Johnson commercial) gives rise to those feelings I work hard to keep under control. Feeling that pain, I can only imagine how women with bigger problems than mine feel. I know many women that don't attend church on Mothers Day simply because it's too painful. It's not limited to women; many men who had abusive mothers, no mothers at all, an ill mothers feel uncomfortable at church. Many may think these people are too sensitive. You might think I'm overreacting. Why should we tone down Mothers Day traditions to appease a small pocket of people? In a wonderful talk, Marlin K. Jensen says:
The desired outcomes of a gospel-centered life are held up as ideals for which we are all encouraged to strive. Although such ideals are doctrinally based and represent desirable objectives in our quest for eternal life, they can sometimes become sources of disappointment and pain for those whose lives may vary from the ideal. Even when they are worthy, members whose lives don’t fit the ideal and thus are considered different often feel inferior and guilty. These feelings are heightened when we as their brothers and sisters fail to be as thoughtful and sensitive toward them as we ought to be.
We have to remember who leads the church and the true purpose of Sunday meetings. Elder Jensen puts it this way:
"It is inconceivable that the Savior would do or say anything that would intensify the pains of or injure any of God’s children."
That is the answer. Do our cultural traditions uplift or defeat? Is a tradition worth continuing if it only hurts those who are hurting more? I'm not saying we shouldn't acknowledge Mothers Day. Far from it. I don't have specific answers about what we should and shouldn't do. Obviously that is up to each individual branch and what's appropriate for their circumstances. However, I believe that we should recognize and include all women, not just women with children. All women are mothers.
On Mothers Day, I suggest instead of focusing on what we should have, maybe we can focus on what we do have. What all women have. Sheri "The Awesome" Dew (I gave her that nickname) said:
While we tend to equate motherhood solely with maternity, in the Lord’s language, the word mother has layers of meaning. Of all the words they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve “the mother of all living”—and they did so before she ever bore a child. Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born.Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us.
Almost two years ago, my dad took our entire family to Disney World for his 65th birthday. It was special, magical and exhausting. Charlie was 6 at the time and had never been to an amusement park much less a real vacation. It was overwhelming for him, and he whined for a lot of the trip. John and I lost patience with him frequently.
Charlie and Caroline
Every time John and I were D-O-N-E with Charlie, my 8 year old niece Caroline would intuitively take his hand. It happened every day. Charlie adores and looks up to Caroline so having her attention would immediately calm him down and give us a break. She would sit next to him on the bus we would take from the resort to the park every day. She would talk to him and listen. She was so patient with him and kind. It really warmed my heart and helped me to calm down and let go of my frustration. Caroline is proof to me that all women are mothers. I've been so blessed to have teachers, friends and even young nieces act as mothers to my son. I cannot do it alone. Thank you to all who have made my journey as a mother lighter by helping me with my burdens and sharing your love and talents. I hope this Mothers Day we can be a little kinder and empathetic to others. I hope we can reach out to others and share the gifts we've been given as mothers. For Sheri Dew's full talk, "Are We Not All Mothers?" read here. It's one of my favorite talks of all time ("of ALL time!"). Another talk that goes along with this topic is Marlin K. Jensen's wonderful "Those Who Are Different" (spoiler: We're all different.).