Throwing Off the Chains of Motherhood

By Becca Hanson

By Becca Hanson

By Jenny

I sat across the desk from a suit-clad member of my Stake Presidency.  He was a kind middle aged man with a reassuring smile.  The desk that formally divided us was as familiar to me as anything from my upbringing in the Mormon Church.  Looking back I realize that it was a great gulf that divided him from me.  I had undergone many changes recently in my life, changes that perhaps he couldn’t understand from his position behind the desk.  I looked down at the car seat and the crinkly little body I had carried in my womb for nine months and given birth to a few weeks back.  I felt the achy heaviness in my breasts and the flab and skin that connected with my legs from my abdomen as I hunched over.  This counselor that my husband and I were meeting with to renew our temple recommends exclaimed his joy for us as new parents.  He certainly had a sense of what we were experiencing, or at least what my husband was experiencing, as he had eight children of his own.

The recommend interview went perfectly according to script, nothing out of the ordinary.  And then the counselor said something that has stuck with me over the last decade.  It was so simple really, yet in my vulnerable state at the time, it affected me in ways I couldn’t have imagined.  Looking directly at me, not my husband, he said, “Now that you are a mom, you know that you are not expected to go to the temple as often anymore right?  Your first priority is to your baby.”  He turned to my husband and I expected him to say something similar, but he didn’t.  “You are still expected to go to the temple at least once a month.”

Such simple words carried so much meaning for me after all the changes my body had experienced recently, after years and years of cultural conditioning to believe that my sole purpose in life was to bear children and to lose my identity to them.  After all the examples I had seen of women who were entirely devoted to their children, sometimes to the detriment of their own lives and bodies.  I had dreams and ambitions of my own to get a Master’s degree and travel, to do great things in the world.  But over a year before I had willingly placed myself and my dreams on the sacrificial alter of motherhood and placed my will in God’s hands.  Now this man of authority who sat across from me was unwittingly sealing my casket with his words.  My individuality was dead and I was eternally chained to the identity of motherhood.

I know that this member of my Stake Presidency couldn’t have known how his words would collide with my life experience, hormones, emotions, and the paradigm I had created of my world.  He probably thought he was relieving a burden from my shoulders.  He couldn’t have known that what I heard him saying was, “You are the most important person in this child’s life and you must be by her side every hour of every waking day.  You can take no time for yourself to go do things like temple ordinances that refresh and revive your spirit.  Your husband is still a free man to go and do as he pleases.  It is your responsibility to always be around for your children so that he can go do important work for God.”  He had no idea that in trying to relieve a burden, he was heaping an enormous burden on my shoulders.

And that is the way I lived for years.  I rarely looked back.  I plunged forward in bearing and rearing children.  The more children I had, the older they got, the less I felt like I was sacrificing myself for a worthy cause, and the more I felt like I was being buried alive.  I tried to keep writing and doing things that helped me to feel alive, to feel like me, but those things got buried under mounds of laundry and messes and tantrums and diapers.  Don’t get me wrong, I do love being a mom.  The things I have learned from motherhood have changed me in a very positive way.  And I love my kids.  Overall I have had a positive experience staying home to raise them.  This isn’t a post about the woes of being a stay at home mom.

No, if I could go back and be that young, tired mom in that office, if I could be that woman who felt changed, who felt like she had to replace her identity with that of mother, I would choose again to have the four children I have now and to stay home to raise them.  That wasn’t the problem.  The problem was that I felt like I had to give up all the other parts of me to be a good mom.  The problem was that I didn’t think I could ever set down, even just for a minute, my role of mother.  The problem was that I gave up my freedom at such a young age for what I thought was necessary to make me a good mom.

Luckily, I have discovered along the way that I don’t need to carry the chains of motherhood in order to be a good mom.  I don’t have to sacrifice my individual identity to take on the full mantle of motherhood.  Over the last few years I have been on a journey of rediscovering myself. I have discovered that investing time and money to do things that rejuvenate my soul and make me feel like my best self actually makes the act of mothering easier.  When I began letting go of the identity I attached to myself as mother and embraced my full and complete identity including the parts I had lost along the way, I found resurrection back to life and freedom.  I discovered that my chains weren’t created by having a child or being a mom.  My chains came simply from believing that I had to wear chains to be a mother.

If I could go back and be the Stake Presidency Counselor from a decade ago, I would give up the formal desk altogether.  I would embrace the young mother and congratulate the young couple who had embarked on a wild and crazy ride, a ride that I have found infuriatingly, nauseatingly, exhaustingly worth it.  I would reassure them that there was life after the constant nursing and diaper changes, that sleep would come again, and that their baby who now needed constant care would grow in independence and start to live her own life.  I would tell these parents to share the responsibility for their child equally, to help each other to find freedom, to fulfill dreams, and to do things that made them their best selves.  I would tell this young mother that the changes she was experiencing in body mind and heart were not death to her independence, but growth for her soul.  I would let her know that now that she was a mom, she should absolutely do things that feed her spiritually and promote good in the world.

Jenny

Jenny graduated from BYU with a bachelor degree in humanities. she teaches yoga classes and spends her time hanging out with her four kids, reading, writing, and running.

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28 Responses

  1. Carolyn Nielsen says:

    Jenny, this resonnates deeply. Every mom and dad needs to know and understand that the best parenting comes from those who fully nurture all dimensions of their being.

  2. We have policy that follows his line of thinking. In North America, women are banned from being temple ordinance workers when they have their first child–and the ban lasts for decades, until their youngest child is an adult. But fathers of children of any age are welcome as ordinance workers.

    • Andrew R. says:

      You are correct. However, that restriction is for the US where the demand for ordinances workers is not so great.
      However, a single male over 30 (widowers excepted) may not serve. Single sisters can. And that is in any temple, world wide.

      So you see, the policies of the church do not always go against women.

      • Joni says:

        It seems to me that these policies, though they appear to be contradictory, are both a function of the pedestalization of women.

      • Jenny says:

        Andrew, no one said all the policies hurt women. That doesn’t make policies that hurt women okay. A policy based on an archaic patriarchal tradition that says women, not men must be constantly available to their children, thus they must limit their time spent out of the home, is hurtful to women and needs to change.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Jenny,
        I agree, if the policy is based on an archaic patriarchal tradition. But that is your interpretation of the policy. Mine differs in that I believe that what you see as tradition is in fact the divine order of things. The prophets have given us God’s word on it. I realise that that is not generally accepted here. But it could be either.

        If it is God’s will then the policy is only hurtful to those unwilling to accept it as such. If it is the machinations of men then this, at least for me, could not be His church, and so the policy doesn’t matter.

        What I find the most difficult to understand is how you (and I mean the collective here) reconcile belief in a the Gospel of Jesus Christ being, and the keys to administer it, being in the Church with the belief that our Prophets, Seers and Revelators are out of touch misogamists. Having said that, I am glad that you have not all left the Church, but continue to serve and workout your salvation.

    • Moss says:

      My brother is the primary caregiver of two young children (a stay at home dad) and he was called to serve as an ordinance worker. His wife works full time. He finds temple service very energizing and renewing.

  3. Hedgehog says:

    “That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I felt like I had to give up all the other parts of me to be a good mom. The problem was that I didn’t think I could ever set down, even just for a minute, my role of mother. ….. Luckily, I have discovered along the way that I don’t need to carry the chains of motherhood in order to be a good mom. I don’t have to sacrifice my individual identity to take on the full mantle of motherhood. Over the last few years I have been on a journey of rediscovering myself. I have discovered that investing time and money to do things that rejuvenate my soul and make me feel like my best self actually makes the act of mothering easier. When I began letting go of the identity I attached to myself as mother and embraced my full and complete identity including the parts I had lost along the way, I found resurrection back to life and freedom. I discovered that my chains weren’t created by having a child or being a mom. My chains came simply from believing that I had to wear chains to be a mother.”

    Gosh yes! I hope it didn’t take you the 17 years it took me to get to that point.

  4. Joni says:

    Slightly off topic but it seems really inappropriate to me that the SP told your husband he was still expected to attend the temple once a month. Where is that written down? Is it in Handbook One? Or was the SP going off script? I thought they weren’t supposed to ask ONLY the temple recommend interview questions as written and not add or change anything.

    I really appreciated the talks in the last General Conference where MEN were told that being a father is a divine role that they are supposed to magnify, etc. Women hear these messages all the time. Then men hear about how important it is to be priesthood holders but very little about husbandhood/fatherhood.

    If your baby was supposed to take precedence over (enforced or at least expected) temple requirement, it should have done exactly the same for your husband.

    • Joni says:

      I meant to say, WERE supposed to ask only the TRI questions…

    • Andrew R. says:

      Why? Because he too would be more physically exhausted from carrying a baby, or breastfeeding one.

      Yes, down the line a little I would agree. Either can easily stay at home with a two year old while the other attends the temple. But at six months, for a breast feeding only baby – not so much. It would of course depend on where the temple was in relation to the couple. Our is over an hour away. So five hours total away time for one session, not allowing for poor traffic conditions.

      I got, from the context, that the TR interview was over and the SPC was expressing his thoughts – no longer part of the determination of whether to sign said recommend.

      All that said, there are should be no expectations given for temple attendance. We should all go as often as circumstances allow, and in accordance with our own personal revelation on the matter.

      • Joni says:

        New moms need time away from their babies – even breastfeeding mothers. (Frankly, there were times when I was breastfeeding mine that my wildest dream was not to be touched by another human being for like twelve hours straight. I did love it, but it’s an all consuming experience.) Expecting the new father to attend the temple at least once a month means that he is taking time away from his wife – at least two hours IN the temple, plus travel time, which can be significant – outside of his normal working hours. That’s time he isn’t providing his wife with adult conversation, or holding his baby so his wife can take a shower or eat dinner with BOTH hands, or feed the baby a bottle of formula or expressed milk so she can sleep for more than 45 minutes at a stretch.

        It’s entirely possible that a new mother is willing to sacrifice the time that she NEEDS adult conversation and another set of hands around the house, allowing her husband to attend the temple monthly; she may feel that it blesses the entire family even if she herself can’t go. But that is really, really not the stake president’s call.

      • Andrew R. says:

        I agree, and I thought I had made that obvious.

  5. Emily U says:

    “The problem was that I felt like I had to give up all the other parts of me to be a good mom. The problem was that I didn’t think I could ever set down, even just for a minute, my role of mother.”

    I wish motherhood and fatherhood were regarded more as relationships than roles. That’s the problem with a role – you have to fully inhabit it or you are no good at it. But a relationship is a living thing, it grows or declines, it changes over time, it doesn’t disappear if it doesn’t occupy your time and thoughts at every moment, and it not only allows, but actually requires, that you be yourself in order for the relationship to thrive.

    • Andrew R. says:

      Emily, judging by your photo I am guessing you do not have adult children yet. Whilst parenthood is a role, responsibility, job for young and growing children (and even adult children sometimes) by necessity – hard to imagine a 1 year old getting up, toileting, washing and dressing themselves. It does change into a relationship. I have found that with my parents, and with my adult children. It is a second weaning really. Their dependence on you lessens, and the need for the sort of relationship you speak of begins to grow.

  6. Anne says:

    This is beautiful.

  7. Denisse says:

    I think your children will be truly thankful for this new version of his mom. Thank you for your lovely post.

  8. Ashlee says:

    This is lovely and I very much relate. I’ve stayed home with my three children for the past seven years while knowing I would be a better mom to them if I were working outside the home. But I felt the need to stay. Recently I went back to pursue my masters. When my bishop asked what I would do when I finished, my response was that I’d be working again in my field. He replied with advice to never go back to work while my children are at home. That this was the worst possible scenario for them. I remember staring at him sort of blankly. I know he meant well. I know this is what he believes. But I also know myself and that I have my own path to follow. It is unfortunate that as a church and in leadership we continue to spread this rhetoric about motherhood and the very narrowly defined roles we can play as women. We are not one size fits all.

  9. Abby says:

    I remember you telling me this story once in the past, and I’ve thought about it ever since. I also feel chained to motherhood a lot of days. My husband has been gone with the military about 4 of the 13 years we’ve been married. He’s deployed three times and has regular training out of state to attend, and drill weekends. And sometimes he has to travel for his civilian job, like this week, when he was gone in Texas for four days.

    And you know, when he told me we would be in Texas this week, it struck me – he’s not going off to do something fun, but he also doesn’t have to think twice about leaving the family for a few days. Or a year. He may not want to go, but he always can – because I’m here 100 percent of the time to cover the childcare. The kids and our home are my responsibility, and when he’s around it’s extra help.

    On the other hand, you and I were talking about going to Boston in the fall, and I asked my husband if we could make it work. He said, “That’s probably my drill weekend. I also can’t take work off that time of year. It’s just not a good time.” Now, we’ll figure it out, and I’m coming, and he’s not actively trying to keep me from going anywhere. But it reminds me of the differences in our lives. When he is going out of town, he just informs me. When I go out of town, it’s a big inconvenience, and I have to ask permission.

    I definitely feel chained to our kids in a way my husband doesn’t. And… it’s exhausting after a decade. thank you for always writing things that speak to my heart.

    • Danna says:

      Exactly! My husband travels for work so he too does not have to even think about leaving. But it has also struck me that even when he is home he has this freedom that I do not. He will just go get a haircut, if I want a hair cut it is a production to make sure the kids are covered! He is an amazing dad and husband but they just don’t have that chain to our kids that we do.

    • Lady Didymus says:

      THIS. My husband travels a lot for his job and I often think it would be nice to “get away” even if it’s for work. At the end of his days when he’s gone, he gets to eat out (nicer places than we go at home), explore cities I’ve never been to (New Orleans, Las Vegas, etc.) go back to his hotel, relax, watch whatever he wants on TV, go to bed whenever he wants and sleep in a bed to himself. One of his out of town evenings would be a treat for me! I’m grateful for the work he does and he is an equal partner and parent when he’s home. But I wish I could “get away” like he does so I could get some rest, privacy and rejuvenation. I should make more of a priority to do that for myself instead of meekly suffering and feeling I have to “ask permission” for a night out. It’s all cultural; girls are raised to make sacrifices. Many “older” generations (i.e., my mother) frown upon mothers taking any time away from their family. It’s seen as “selfish,” which only adds to the shame of asking, much less demanding, time to ourselves. Sorry for the rambling–this post hit a nerve … in a good way.

  10. spunky says:

    This is a very important post– not just for biological mothers, but adoptive mothers as well. Thank you, Jenny!

  11. bonnie says:

    Andrew R., thanks for taking your time to continually check back in and regale us with your manly, elderly POV. Considering, contemplating, and discussing our lives a women and mothers in the church is made so much better with your great insight. /sarcasm

  12. MDearest says:

    This needs to be periodically taught to LDS women. Of course it should be clear that making time for yourself and continuing to grow and develop a career (for the inevitable day when the children are grown but you are still viable) should be done with wisdom. None of us wants to neglect our children, so it’s easy to internalize the notion that it is selfishness to do things that are essential to a productive life. Many women who take care of children are vulnerable to codependency and need to be told regularly to not neglect to nurture themselves.

  13. Violadiva says:

    These are such great insights, Jenny! I wish we could all figure this out sooner, but I sure am glad we’re getting there now!

  14. H says:

    Jenny, thank you so much for sharing your perspective and insights. I have loved reading your posts on motherhood and the series on authority. I’m in the middle of figuring out what maintaining my identity in the midst of motherhood looks like, and your thoughts are so helpful in that journey.

  15. n says:

    It’s sad when people making cutting remarks. I look back and forgive me because I know I have done the same unintentionally. However I would phase going to temple different that together try to figure out way to get to the temple once but if you miss a month try harder next month. Life throws so much at as. We offer to babysit my in-laws kids because it’s hard for them to go to the temple together yet are to kind to ask for help. We need not be afraid to ask for help if we have a worthy need for it.

  1. September 23, 2016

    […] year I have felt an explosion of energy surrounding my dreams and ambitions.  A few months ago I wrote about how my dreams and ambitions were squashed as I chained myself to motherhood.  I also wrote […]

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