“That’s Just Like Me…”

The theme for our Mothers’ Day service was to reflect on the blessings and struggles of being a Mormon Mom. Because my husband is in the bishopric and conducts in May, when the main speaker got sick I was the last minute substitute. So late Saturday night, I found myself pondering the highs and lows of raising kids and wondering what on earth I could share. 

What became clear to me is that the usual Mothers’ Day rhetoric from the pulpit has never been helpful to me.  You know what I mean. Mothers are saints. Mothers never complain. Her children call her blessed and her price is above rubies. It is easy to look at a child who is struggling and OWN their troubles, to feel that if you had just been a better Mormon or a better mom, then all trouble could have been avoided. It can be tempting to look at the mom who shows up to church each week on time with kids’ hair neatly combed and assume that she is livin’ the dream, that her kids don’t scream at each other over dinner, and that she doesn’t scream back. I’m always the loser when I compare because I am placing my dark truths next to what appear to be someone else’s shiny successes, which may or may not be real.

A few years ago I learned that some of the greatest blessings of Mormon Motherhood happen when women have been willing to peel back the veneer of perfection and allow me to see that we all struggle, even the “rubies.”  When my oldest was 2 he had this amazing nursery leader, Nancy West.  He began making spiritual connections to the world and seemed much more thoughtful. One night after a particularly sweet blessing of the food, Dave and I looked at each other and the light-bulb went on. “Nancy West!” we said in unison.  Nancy’s spirituality and nurturing seemed so perfect and unattainable. She was one of the women I admired but felt I could never emulate.

Several years later at stake women’s conference Nancy and her husband led a session on family unite. They shared a case study of a surly teen and fractured parenting. At the end they revealed it was an actual slice of their lives. What wisdom I took away from that class. Not only did I gain lots of insights on how to be a unified family, I was touched by their humility and honesty. Nancy cared more about our learning than she did about promoting an image of perfection.  Over the years many of my mothering burdens have been eased by the willingness of another to reveal their struggles and frustration and I am grateful for the boldness of women who will show their own weakness in order to give another strength. It reminds me of the wisdom in Ether 12:27 (forgive my slight alterations): “And if moms come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto moms weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all moms that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

As I go forward I try to be mindful of this. The woman I visit teach has three kids under the age of 4 and I can tell she thinks I’m way more competent and together than I am.  Periodically I tell her my war stories, like when my second kid was 2 and painted her entire leg with black nail polish while sitting on my sister-in-law’s white down comforter. Or when my oldest was so hyper in junior primary that he wacked his mouth on the seat in front of him and his tooth popped through his lip. Good times.

Of course all of this transcends motherhood. My favorite friends are the ones who, when I come to them with my humiliations and heartbreaks, always say, “That’s just like me….”

What is your ward/community like is this respect? Do the women around you participate in your pain? Do you feel comfortable sharing your struggles? Or do you feel the need to keep your weaknesses private because you don’t feel safe?



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8 Responses

  1. Whitney says:

    I’m not a mom, so I can’t really answer your questions, but I just want to say that I LOVE this post. I might have to quote from it if I ever get asked to speak in sacrament meeting on mother’s day.

  2. Kelly Ann says:

    Thank you Heather for this awesome post. I try to be open but honestly I find that I am more comfortable sharing some of my experiences with only a few people. However, when I do, I usually get good responses.

    It was interesting that the lesson by Lynetter from ZD that we had in Relief Society on Mother’s Day made the point to note that not all people were comfortable at church on Mother’s Day. The comment (a minor part of the lesson really) made an impact on the pretty conservative Relief Society president. She said something to the effect of she would never have considered that … So it really is true that unless we share our experiences, other people can’t be opened to increasing their understanding.

  3. CG says:

    I love this post. Thank you for sharing. I am not a mother, tho I get serious pressure from all sides. (Back off already- we’ve only been married 3.4 years!) Anyhoo, I have always been so appreciative of the women in my life who don’t hide their struggles. I have learned more from them than the ones parading a facade of perfection.
    I had a YW leader who had 8 kids and Sacrament started at 9AM. I asked her how she was able to get ALL of her kids up and ready and out the door in time for Church. Her response, “They just sleep in their Sunday clothes so in the morning we only have to worry about combing hair. Their clothes may be wrinkly, but they get that way from the car ride anyway, so who cares.” Honest. Brilliant.
    Kelly Ann, you are so right– “So it really is true that unless we share our experiences, other people can’t be opened to increasing their understanding.” I get so tired of women, especially my close friends who I thought would be more open/honest with me, that spout the tired cliches even when you can see the weariness on their faces, ie: “This is the best job I’ve ever had”, or “I’m just a little tired– but, it’s so worth it”, or my favorite, “How can I ever complain about this job?? It’s too rewarding to be ungrateful!”
    Why can’t we be more honest? Why is sharing the truth about your struggles taboo, ironically in the very setting where we come to find instruction and aid? This Gospel was not intended for the perfect, but for those whose perfection will never come in this life, and whose struggles will (let’s be honest here,) never cease. Why can’t we be more open about them? And what calling in life has more struggles than motherhood? I yearn for more honesty- more insight on how to deal for when it is my turn. We will all be better mothers and caretakers if we are able to pass on this honest wisdom stemming from our frustrating experiences and how we persevered.
    And so, I thank you again.
    (* I skipped Church on Mother’s Day. Mostly, I was tired from a weekend that could have afforded me more hours of sleep, but also because I didn’t want to deal with the comments. I live in a “Newly-wed/Nearly-dead” ward and most of the newlyweds have babies. The nearly-deads are shameless and ask probing questions about your reproductive choices and habits. It gets old And I find the pity flower simply a pathetic attempt to make non-mothers feel included.*)

  4. Maureen says:

    I’m a hypocrite. There, there’s one of my MANY weaknesses. I’m a hypocrite because I would love for others to stop putting on the perfect and happy face. I would love for others to openly share in their struggles and say that life is difficult and that’s okay. But I am not comfortable and willing to do the same.

    In my defense, I have suffered a lot of trauma and betrayal by people in positions of trust. I have anxiety such that it is difficult reaching out and opening up even anonymously/pseudo-anonymously. But I know I am denying the good natures of others that wouldn’t hurt me and an opportunity to help.

    I feel extra excluded because I have twins. And while I have heard a lot of comments like, “It was hard having one, I can’t imagine two,” I simply don’t get the impression that past the sleepless nights of infancy that it is that hard from just the simple impersonal comments others are willing to make. I simply don’t know how to compare raising a single child, or two children of different developmental stages, to raising twins. I don’t know how much of the difficulties I suffer are natural to child-rearing, which are due to the twin phenomenon, or maybe it’s me. I don’t exactly have a model motherhood to follow from my own life. I only seem to hear motherhood is wonderful, every mother is good (partly implying to me they don’t have difficulties or are capable of handling them with a smile), or here let’s laugh at these slightly annoying but amusing instances of raising children. There is a lot I don’t find humorous. A lot others are willing to “black out” but I can’t because I’m in the very midst.

    When people tell me I’m a good mother, I cringe. I don’t feel like I’m a good mother, and no matter how I look at it I can’t change that feeling. One of the few comforts for that which I have found is Mark 10:18. If sinless Jesus can question others calling him good, so can I for myself. It’s okay to not “be” good or think I am good, because in truth I am BECOMING good. And I am much more at peace with that.

    • Jessawhy says:

      While I don’t have twins, I can identify with the feeling of not being a good enough mother (or even just good). I’ve said that my friend Danielle should raise my kids, she’s the angel mom. I’ve said that I don’t yell at my kids because I hardly notice they’re there half of the time. I’m not the best mom, and I know it. I make jokes about it, etc.

      But reading your comment reminded me of something a little different. I taught Zumba for some Jr. High students today and had a teacher who joined us. Like almost everyone who takes Zumba for the first time, she was worried that she wouldn’t be good enough. I hear that comment all the time, so I just reassured her that the object is to have fun, not do it perfectly. If you have fun, you’ll do it more, then you’ll be healthier.

      So as I read your comment, I thought about how these situations are similar. We’re never going to be perfect, and we’re always going to compare our worst to other’s best. But, really, if we try to have fun, focus on the good, then we’ll keep going even when it’s hard.

      I guess that’s my own lesson today (as my kids are locked outside the office pounding on the door.) Sigh.

  5. Caroline says:

    Wonderful post, Heather. I loved this line, “I am grateful for the boldness of women who will show their own weakness in order to give another strength.”

    Amen. Relief Society would feel far less artificial if people were more willing to be vulnerable and admit to problems/weaknesses. It doesn’t happen all that often in my RS, but it does happen sometimes. I loved the moment when a young newlywed admitted to having a penchant for coffee, saying that she’s trying to get off of it permanently, but knows it’s only a matter of time before she falls off the wagon. I was touched the moment when a woman teaching RS about forgiveness mentioned that she had been raped. If only we had more moments like those…

  6. Hydrangea says:

    There is something liberating about presenting yourself as you really are, however flawed. We all can probably think of people we love because they are simply comfortable in their own skin, no cover up needed.
    As a new mom my first few weeks of breastfeeding was a joke. (Rock boobs, milk spraying. . .) I remember thinking “Why didn’t anyone tell me it would be like this!!!” and feeling that all of woman-kind had kept nursing trauma a little secret. A little bit of empathy from other women goes (and went) a long way.

  7. Amber says:

    Please, people come to my house knowing that things will be a mess because I just don’t care. I also don’t care if they see me when I’m frazzled, ticked off, or wanting to cry because of a hard day. Frankly, what I want to present is a mother who is like all other mothers: trying to make it work. I suppose this could turn people off to parenting but I also hope it helps other women be more true to their difficulties.

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