Blessed Be the Mentors


Saturday was a special day. It was the day Claudia Bushman was celebrated via the Mormon Women’s History Initiative Symposium. I was not able to attend, but I was able to sit in a seminar with Claudia and her husband, Richard, almost every day for six weeks, just a tiny bit earlier this summer through BYU’s Maxwell Institute. It was a deeply enriching experience, as I thought it might be.

Claudia added her wisdom and knowledge, her strong and honest voice, and her pleas to tell our own stories, as well as precious bits from her own. Once she shared the price of her gold wedding band ($5!). Another time she pinpointed a doctrine (magnifying your calling) that she perceived to be pernicious, with quite good, and quite funny reasons. My favorite (class) moment of all occurred after we discussed the significance of Eliza’s hymn, “O My Father.” Claudia quipped that we should all write poems about Heavenly Mother, because then they can become theology.

My favorite non-class moments were different. They were about the fact that I was in an intensive class, while caring for a (still nursing) infant in a state far away from where I live, and where my husband would be. 

Claudia often asked me how I was doing in regard to this. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer these questions when they first came. Nor was I sure what to say when she said, “Maybe you feel you’re not getting enough mothering in.” What I did say was defensive–that I took my babe swimming almost every day, and that I read to her aloud my homework, and read (and wrote) more, while she was napping or sleeping, and that if anything, I felt I was not getting enough sleeping in.

It took a breakfast in Claudia’s home sometime later to realize that the questions were not accusatory, but caring. They were an acknowledgement that she knew it was hard. She had walked the PhD path before, with small ones. She trusted me to do the same, by initially admitting me in the seminar and by offering countless encouraging words.

Both she and Richard were understanding when I needed to bring my babe to part of a many-hours-longer-than-normal-class field trip to Salt Lake’s Church History Library and Church History Museum, and the one class session when my daughter’s caregiver was giving birth to her own child.

Claudia also always made a point of introducing my babe to whoever was around, when she was around. This meant a great deal to me, because it showed that she saw my 9 (now 10 month) old daughter as a full human being worthy of an introduction. On my last Sunday in Utah, Claudia introduced my little to her Relief Society sisters as “baby Cora, the seminar baby.” The words she said next concerning her were equally sweet and spoken with great kindness.

While participating in the seminar and corresponding symposium was difficult, and extremely tiring, it was also possible. The reasons why felt significant in their own right. The first day of our class on the Mormon Family, Richard mentioned the historical idea of the Big House, where all of the servants and all of the extended family lived in one space. He suggested that in some ways, polygamy was this Big House. Many early Latter-day Saint women were able to go East for advanced schooling because their sister wives stayed West and cared for their children. I do not have sister wives, but I do have sisters (and parents), and they watched my child. My Mormon family pulled through.

It was service, it was love, it was community, it was learning, it was growth.

While my pursuits may be different than yours, I suspect that we could all use encouraging words and strong examples.

How have you been supported by others in your own pursuits?

What loving and encouraging words have made a difference?

How do you try to lend that support to others?


Rachel is a PhD student in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont Graduate University. She co-edited _Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings_ with Joanna Brooks and Hannah Wheelwright. She is also a lover of all things books and bikes.

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8 Responses

  1. Melody says:

    Cora’s face in the corner – my favorite part of this post!

    What an amazing experience for you. Thank you for telling us about it. You are a wonderful example of womanhood and motherhood. Keep it up!

    The best piece of supportive advice I received (over and over from various sources) as a single, professional mom: Whatever you do is enough. Do your best and be at peace with it. God and family and friends will make up the difference.

    • Rachel says:

      That may be my favorite part of the post as well. 🙂 It was actually a surprise to me that she was in it. I set her down, rather than holding her so it would be a seminar-member only photo. And she still made it in. 🙂

      Thank you for your kind words and wise advice.

  2. Liz says:

    I remember listening to a podcast with Claudia, and she shared her story of getting her PhD with five small children. It was a lightning bolt moment for me – you mean you can have small kids and do other things?! I had felt so trapped by motherhood, as though I was supposed to dive totally in and immerse myself in it (while simultaneously drowning my individual self), and it was so good to hear that it was possible to swim in motherhood and still be myself, with other pursuits. She has inspired me like few women have.

    It truly takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to raise a mother, too. I try to do my best by watching other people’s kids when I can, offering support to those who are struggling to balance, and especially offering kind words to mothers with very young kids. It’s so demanding and hard with kids under 5, especially. It’s ok to love it and hate it at the same time, and it’s ok to accept help.

    I also try to be as “real” as I can about motherhood – I stopped cleaning my house when people came over (because really, that’s ridiculous) and I try to be as open as I can about both the wonderful times and the horrible times. I also try to be as open as I can about my non-motherhood pursuits that I find incredible joy in, to maybe be a small example of the fact that joy can come from multiple places. And that it’s ok for your kids to eat a can of Spaghettio’s for lunch every so often so that you can sit with a friend and talk all day, or write a paper, or whatever you need to do.

    I love Melody’s advice above, too. If I were at all crafty, I would put that on a pillow!

    • Rachel says:

      I love all of everything you wrote. Thank you, and thank you, and thank you. I also think I may have listened to the same podcast (or maybe it was Laurel?). Whoever the wise speaker was, said that a woman’s life is long, and she can do many things. It was a lightning bolt moment for me, too. I could do the things I dream of, even if that means I do them slowly.

  3. Cruelest Month says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with such a fabulous mentor. It made me take a moment to consider the women who have mentored me. When I imagine the face of Heavenly Mother, I see the faces of the lovely women who have showed me how to be.

    • Rachel says:

      You are welcome. I love that it made you pause and remember, and that women have great power to and for each other. I see HM in the wise, kind souls I am surrounded by, too.

  4. MargaretOH says:

    Thanks for some interesting thoughts, Rachel. This reminds me of my master’s thesis adviser, who was deeply disappointed with me when I told her I was pregnant. My studies were in international conflict resolution and most graduates got into the field by getting actively involved in a conflict zone. She knew I was seriously hampering my career by starting a family at that time. My thesis was on Iraqi refugees being resettled in Baltimore and I was struggling to finish interviews with the families because I was seriously sick with the pregnancy. When I told her of my lack of progress, she just said, “Well, you just have to get it done. It’s not going to get any easier.” I kind of resented it at the time, thinking that she had two kids and would be sympathetic and gentle with me. But I’m so so so glad that she pushed me, because I really wouldn’t have gotten those interviews done with a new baby and maybe I wouldn’t have finished my degree.

    So she kind of took the opposite approach from Claudia–tough love, she wasn’t there to care about my personal life. But it was what I needed at the time.

    • Rachel says:


      Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am grateful that your adviser gave you the advisement you needed, even if it was not the advisement you wanted. Our own Caroline gave me some pretty sound advice when I was trying to finish my last set of PhD coursework. I was super pregnant, and moving across the country the week my papers were due. She urged me to write them then, even though it was hard. She said write anything. Even if it seemed like they were bad, it would be better, and easier to write them when my research was fresh, and before the babe arrived. I tried to listen to her, but only wrote one out of three papers. It seemed too impossible. But she was right on every count. It took me an entire year to write the others, and it was much, much harder than I could have ever known.

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