My son Michael tells me, “You are the best mom I ever had.” Every time he tells me that, I smile. I’ve thought a lot about that sentence. Michael means it to tell me he loves me. But, as I ponder the play-on-words, except for the obvious, I wonder what makes that true. The common applications of mothering might suggest that mothers could be interchangeable. It might seem as though anyone could be capable of running a home and keeping up with the day-to-day schedule. This might suggest that my children could have had other options, which were, occasionally, passionately requested. But, as I gave it some thought, I found the catch...
Motherhood is not a one-size-fits-all proposition...We use our individuality to navigate and magnify our abilities and modify our mothering according to the circumstances we are in. Our individuality stands as a testament to the words and a belief in the truth that “there is no one perfect way to be a good mother.” The truth of Elder Ballard’s statement is profound. Not only is there more than one way to be a good mother, it is essential we all mother in our own way. We don’t have to do it all or be it all. It is not in the how but in the doing that we nurture.[One Mom to Another]
This week, leading up to Mother’s Day, I wanted to highlight all the ways mothering can look different. Each day I will add another woman’s thoughts on mothering and nurturing in their own way, time and circumstance.
I grew up in a big family and I wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. I spent lots of time dreaming about what it would be like to have babies of my own. The first two times I came face to face with motherhood it ended in miscarriage and I quickly learned that motherhood would look nothing like the way I dreamed it to be as a little girl. Eventually we were blessed with 5 children, 3 girls and 2 boys. Although life looks much different from what I pictured in my 13-year-old mind, it has proved to be beautiful in ways that I couldn’t have comprehended as a young girl. Daily life is hard; we fill most days with homework, chores, chaos, and running a taxi service. But I believe joy in motherhood comes from being able to find joy in the ordinary. One of my favorite things is watching my kids care about each other and become friends. I love when I catch my kids, in what seems like a rare moment, and they are all laughing together and having a good time. Or when I watch my older children selflessly carry their younger brother (who is unable to walk) from room to room, helping him get anything and everything he needs, ensuring they always include him. They also have always been eager cheerleaders for him as he works on his therapies. I also love times when my girls climb in my bed at the end of the day and we laugh and chat. They beg their dad to sleep on the couch so we can have a girls sleepover. In these and other moments everything seems to be right in the world, and the chaos suddenly seems worth it.
For me, being a mom is the single most important calling I have ever held in my life. I take it seriously, especially because I am parenting on my own and doing my best to teach my children to be Christlike. Nothing brings me more joy than watching my kids choose the right and grow into amazing little humans. I am in awe of their goodness, and would do anything for these precious spirits that Heavenly Father trusted ME to raise.
Mother’s Day has always been such a lovely idea for me. I use the term “idea” because that is all it has held for me…. The idea of motherhood. I have never had my own children. Although, I have always wanted to. The opportunity just had never presented itself or came to fruition. That is not to say I have not “mothered” in my way.
I was a nanny in New England for nearly 12 years. I was a nanny for the same 2 children for much of that time. That experience changed my life. Being a girl that lost her mom to ovarian cancer in my early 20s, the opportunity to raise children was such a special blessing for me. I could not have loved those kids more if I had given birth to them. One of them in particular—I have grown to know that she was meant to be in my life! I started nannying her when she was 4 years old and she will be 21 (what!?) in September of this year. She is in the best parts of my life and raising her was an absolute privilege.
You see, I thought I would never get the opportunity to teach someone how to tie their shoes, how to hopscotch, how to drive, or how to dress shop for Prom or Homecoming. But this sweet girl gave me that opportunity. And I absolutely cherish the time I spent with her.
I think the best part of this story is that she still calls me for advice or if she is lost while driving. In fact, I got a phone call last week asking how to make scrambled eggs. (I would like to note, her mother was upstairs!). She is an adult now, and I could not be more impressed and prouder of the woman that she has become. And I know that one day, when she has a daughter of her own, somehow… something that I taught her, will be passed down to that new generation. My heart bursts with that thought.
And now that my nanny days are over, I relish the times I get to spend with my nieces and nephews. To watch the world through their eyes is beautiful. The absolute joy that comes over their faces when they see me—that is something that I keep with me always.
Children are beautiful and awesome souls. They learn from you! They learn to feel feelings with you, and they learn how to laugh from you. To nurture that—even if I am not their mother—is precious. It is not something that I ever take for granted.
Motherhood isn’t only for those women that have given birth, it is also for those women who step in to mother, to help, to love, and encourage. And in turn, even if you have not given birth to a child, they can wiggle their way into your heart as if you had. And that is truly something special.
Sometimes my four-year-old asks me why I love her. The question invites a rhapsody: I love how you notice beautiful things. I love your cheeks and belly, and how you let me give them kisses. I love how you gather bouquets and pray for the old lady across the street; I love your grin when you help me mash bananas for banana bread, the way you entice your little brother into all your games, your unconscious rapt expression as you pour over your books, the way you notice when I’m sad and run your hands through my hair if I cry.
But I struggle to articulate the truth: that while I love these things about her, they’re not why I love her. I just love her. These speeches of adoration are periphery rays of warmth that are merely offshoots of the real, blazing star. “It’s just you.” I try to say. “You just are, and I love you.”
I used to think a mother’s love provided a particular lens in which anyone was loveable. That is, the mother-child relationship was additive, providing reasons to love. My opinion has changed. I think now, that parenthood gifts me the ability to see a person as they truly are, as they always are, independent of me. Rather than adding something rosy to my view of a person, motherhood clarifies my vision. With every other relationship, I am judging and navigating, negotiating and weighing virtues, vices, values. “Is it worth it,” I ask myself, “to love you?” But with my babies, God frees me up, releases me from my muddy views, fear-laden calculations, and graces me with something better. “I’ll just let you love them,” He says. “I’ll make you strong enough to see them, and you won’t be able to resist. You’ll see.”
And I do.