Throwing Off the Chains of Motherhood
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.