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|A Very DKL Mothers Day Talk|
Jun. 23rd, 2012 at 11:13 pm
This is the Mothers Day talk I gave at church in 2010. I troubled over its content more than most talks, and I ended up being quite happy with the product. I felt like (and still feel like) it says some things that are very important. Nevertheless, it received decidedly mixed reviews, provoking strong reactions from people who liked it and did not like it. In 2010, I toyed with the idea of posting it online, but it is kind of a personal talk, and I decided not to. I’ve since reconsidered. So here it is. My Mothers Day 2010 talk:
So I searched the scriptures for the term “mother,” and the first result that I saw was a reference to “the mother of all harlots.” And it’s there when you search the scriptures, right alongside “mother of all living” and “Mary mother of Jesus,” you have “mother of all harlots” and “mother of all abominations.” And we don’t say things like, “the father of all abominations” or “the father of all harlots,” because that just sounds kind of wimpy. So I think the fact that the notion of motherhood gets used this way, to describe great extremes of both good and evil, underscores what a very powerful notion this idea of mothering is.
Science tells us that the connection that a mother makes with an infant when she cradles the infant in her arms is essential to proper cognitive and emotional development. There’s key brain development that will not happen unless that occurs. I think that it’s telling that we use this same imagery when we talk about God, being cradled in His arms. We have this intuitive idea that there’s a connection between motherhood and divinity. This is something that I’ll come back to in a few minutes.
Before I go into that, I want to discuss how some of our ideas about motherhood can be problematic.
One mother told me, “I’d like to be the ideal mother, but I’m too busy raising my kids.” And that’s such a great thing to say, because it emphasizes the disconnect between our notion of motherhood and the actual practice of raising children.
The reason for this disconnect is simple. There is no single, unified notion of motherhood. Motherhood, as a concept, varies from place to place, from time to time, and from social circle to social circle.
Greeting cards portray mothers as paragons of selfless sacrifice. Movies often portray motherhood as just one rewarding facet of the you-can-have-it-all lifestyle. Somewhere or another, mothers are portrayed as everything in between. Sometimes the notion of Motherhood is a moving target, a standard against which everyone is bound to fail.
I know a very successful executive who decided, after taking maternity leave, that she wanted to give up her career to become a full time mother. Much of her social circle treated her decision with condescension, even scorn.
So there’s this tension at work in the world, between valuing mothers and valuing just certain types of mothers.
Unfortunately, we see that this tension is at work here in our church, too. Past church leaders sometimes railed against mothers who work when they don’t have to. President Kimball said that when a married mother joins the workforce, it “prevents the complete and proper home life, breaks into the family prayers, creates an independence which is not cooperative, causes distortion, limits the family, and frustrates the children already born.” Just 20 years ago Gordon B. Hinckley said, “an ever-increasing number of mothers out of the home and in the workplace is a root cause of many of the problems of delinquency, drugs, and gangs.”
I think that most of us are relieved that Mormon leaders no longer convey this message when they discuss such matters. As we’ve become more accepting of the career choices of women, leaders have started to emphasize the nurturing role of mothers and how important it is to live within the means that a single income can provide. Career-minded women are no longer blamed for the problems of marriages or society as a whole.
One the one hand, these types of changing standards reflect the increasing options that women have today, thanks to the progress toward equality we’ve seen in our culture.
On the other hand, in this area and many others, the standards that we apply to motherhood are murky, inconsistent, and difficult to define.
And I think that this is one of the key burdens that mothers face, this moving target of the ideal mother. Its leads many mothers to underestimate their own significance, and it makes individual mothers easy targets for faultfinders and gossips.
In that context, I want to talk about my mom. My mom and dad were dating as teenagers when she got pregnant. When they married, she was 17, and he was 18. Shortly after that my oldest brother arrived. Marrying my dad was, I believe, a mistake. My father is an evil man. Even so, he has always found the church to be an hospitable place, a place where he could gain prestige and influence to manipulate, control, and destroy the lives of others.
Dad racked up an impressive array of church callings, and when Mom came to her senses and decided to end their 26-year marriage, he was HP group leader. This was the early-to-mid-1980s, and my parents’ separation made the church a very inhospitable place for my mom. I can’t explain everything that occurred, but I can relate just a few things.
Her church friends and ward leaders told her that because there was no physical abuse or adultery, she needed to stay. In such instances, church leaders sometimes use the authority that they have to make callings as a means to telegraph their opinions. It was humiliating for my mom to be prematurely released from her calling as YW president, while church leaders validated my Dad in his continued service as HP group leader.
Eventually, as part of her new life as a divorced woman, she got a job, and she got out from under my Dad and removed herself from his sphere of influence. This meant that she left the church, because, sadly, the church always proved more welcoming to him than to her.
My mom has pursued a life that works for her, and she’s still at it. She’s an amazing woman. My mom doesn’t fit anyone’s mold for ideal mother. She’s not a paragon of self-sacrifice, but neither is anybody else, and that’s not a realistic expectation anyway. Mothering wasn’t just one facet of her you-can-have-it-all lifestyle, because that only works on TV and in the movies.
What she did is harder than I can possibly imagine. She raised 5 kids and maintained a family, first within the framework of an impossible marriage and later as a divorced mother. She makes me feel loved and appreciated and respected. I’m proud that she’s my mom.
In this tension in our church between valuing mothers and valuing just certain kinds of mothers, I often wonder where my mom would fit today.
When we discuss the notion of Mormon mothers, we must note that the role that mothers play in Mormonism is very different from the role that mothers play and have played in other religions. The Mormon view of mothers is unique.
Among early Christians, they believed that intimate relations were inherently sinful. Back then, the reason that couples went to the priest to get married was that only the church’s blessing upon their relationship could absolve them for engaging in marital relations. Without the church’s blessing, such relations were sinful, even within the bounds of marriage. But even with the church’s blessing, families to them were always already a less-than-ideal arrangement.
Martin Luther taught that God gave marriage to mortals as a blessing after the fall. Luther’s view is far more attractive than the view of early Christians.
But Joseph Smith envisioned the family as the basic unit within the Kingdom of God. The family is an organization of preeminent cosmic consequence. No matter what else women encounter in the world or at church, it is in the family that women, as mothers, are to be engaged as “equal partners” — that’s the term used in the Proclamation on the Family. This is an engagement that we only begin to understand, though we do know that it is meant to extend far beyond the horizons of mortality.
At the beginning of my talk, I mentioned the intuitive connection that we make between motherhood and the divine. I believe that mothers are the primary instrument through which God administers blessings. Children love this about their mother, the way that she blesses their lives, even if some mothers feel uncomfortable taking the credit that they deserve for it.
My wife is the primary fount from which blessings flow into my life and into the lives of my children. As far as my own mother, everything that she did to make me who I am is a blessing that she gave to me. I give her credit, to be sure, but I also see the hand of the divine in her influence.
I’ll give you just a couple of examples.
My mom taught me about politics. I remember as a child we’d spend Saturdays putting up signs and making sure that volunteers had their literature. We spent evenings sitting through county committee meetings. I loved election day, because it meant that when school got out, I could go hand out literature at polling places. When the polling places closed, we’d make the rounds to visit the parties that candidates threw. Thanks to my mom, I learned to love politics and political issues.
It was my mom who taught me what the word “entrepreneur” meant. And when I heard that, I said, “That’s what I want to do!” And my mom told me that being an entrepreneur might be just the thing for me.
So when I failed out of high school, I started my first business. Later on, I thought it might be fun to go to college. So I sold the business, and I applied to attend BYU. They turned me down. So I flew out there to petition them in person, and they turned me down again. So I went anyway. I’d decided to be an entrepreneur, and that seemed to me to be the sort of thing that an entrepreneur would do. And it all started thanks to something that she may have considered the smallest thing. What a blessing that small thing was to me.
There’s a story about a little boy who forgot his lines in a Sunday School presentation. His mother was in the front row to prompt him. She leaned forward and whispered his line: “I am the light of the world.” The child beamed and with great feeling and a loud clear voice said, “My mother is the light of the world.”
Two of the brightest lights in my world are my wife and my mom. Happy Mothers Day, everyone.