Over the last few years, I have been searching for the principles behind righteous motherhood. I wanted to understand which parts of everything I do were vital and non-negotiable and which parts were nice if they fit. So far, I have found three characteristics that describe to me the mothers I know who I respect and admire, with all their variety.
1. "What matters is that a mother loves her children deeply and, in keeping with the devotion she has for God and her husband, prioritizes them above all else." (M. Russell Ballard, April 2008 General Conference)
A good mother loves her children. They are one of her top priorities. This doesn't mean she never does anything else. It means that she makes sure that what else she does fits with her children's needs. When she can't be with them when they are small, she makes sure that whoever is in charge will take good care of them and love them, whether it be a neighborhood teenager, a nanny, a grandma, or a daycare. She makes sure that her children have the food they need, whether it be homemade, allergen free, carefully screened food or school lunch or something quickly picked up on the way home.
2. "The righteous are whoever are repenting, and the wicked whoever are not repenting." (Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon, p 474)
I love this beautiful idea. In many ways, it sums up my experience with the Atonement and with Christ. In my life, the important thing isn't whether I'm doing everything right, it is whether I'm turning towards Christ. He can fix any and all of my mistakes, but He will not force me to come to Him. As long as I keep working and trying, it is ok to keep failing or keep falling short.
This applies to mothering. It doesn't matter if I am a good cook, or am an amazing saver, or can throw birthday parties every year. It doesn't matter if I struggle with depression or health or finances or testimony. It doesn't matter if my marriage is rocky or my family is dysfunctional. What matters is that I am teachable and keep trying. As long as I don't give up and keep doing what I know how to improve and stay willing to change when I realize I can be better, I am a good mother. As long as I let God into my mothering, He can work miracles.
3. "We prayed and pleaded to know what to do. The answer that came was clear: 'It is OK if the house is a mess and the children are still in their pajamas and some responsibilities are left undone. The only things that really need to be accomplished in the home are daily scripture study and prayer and weekly family home evening.'" (Linda S. Reeves, April 2014 General Conference)
As a mother, I am bombarded by opinions on where I should spend my time. Often it seems that everybody wants a part of my precious time with my children. Especially because my influence with my kids is so strong, others try to tap into it.
The dentist wants me to spend 5 minutes morning and night teaching each child proper oral hygiene. The French teacher wants me to spend at least 15 minutes supervising my children on French websites and to listen to French CDs in the car. The speech therapist wants me to spend my time with Miss S focusing on her speech and talking to her in the "right" way. The eye doctor wants me to spend 15 minutes with Young A strengthening his eyes. The school teachers want me to supervise homework, reading with each child, reviewing spelling, checking on each assignment. The school sends home papers telling me activities to do with my children and conversations to have with them and to get them to bed early, especially if there is testing going on. The orchestra teachers want me to supervise my children's cello practice. The piano teacher wants me to pay attention to each child's piano practicing and to help them do it right. The primary at church wants me to listen to children's songs in the car when we go places. The teachers at church want me to talk with my children about what they are learning at church. The scouts want me to help my children fulfill the requirements to advance each year.
And then there is the public in general. There are ad campaigns to get me to talk with my kids about smoking, or bullying, or drugs, or sex. The library wants me to read 1000 books to my kids before they start kindergarten, to sing songs and nursery rhymes to the kids, and to support my kids in the summer reading program. There are loudly voiced, strong opinions about everything from diapers (cloth vs disposable) to schooling (home vs public vs private) to activities (none vs some vs super busy) to working (stay home vs part time vs full time) to appropriate behavior (children should be seen not heard vs let them be kids) to food (from scratch vs from box vs from restaurant or organic vs affordable vs healthy vs what-the-kids-will-eat) to family planning.
Life is messy. It doesn't fit into everybody else's expectations. Every choice I make will offend somebody, especially every mothering choice. This drives me crazy. I love being told that most of it doesn't matter. The only things that always matter are the things that help me and my family turn towards Christ and God. Prayers and scripture reading and spending time together as a family are the way to build a foundation for my family that will hold us up through the weeks and months we slip into survival mode. Prayers and scriptures are where we get the answers we so desperately need. They are what gets me through the extremely difficult days (or weeks). Everything else is negotiable depending on my family's particular needs and wants. Most of us will be able to fit in much of the huge list the public throws at us most of the time. And many of those expectations are good for us and our children. But they are not the essence of my mothering, they are simply the manifestations of it.
My current personal definition of a good mother is a woman who loves her children and the Lord, a woman who listens and learns how to become better and to meet the challenges of her life by turning regularly to God and then putting into practice what she has learned (even if only imperfectly), a woman who teaches her children to turn to God during both the easy times and the hard times.
I'm not saying that the many specific things mothers do are not valuable. I'm a firm believer in reading with children and teaching them manners and providing them the tools to function well in society. I expect them to learn to cook and clean and serve those around them. I am saying that each child and each family and each year are different. Most of us cannot do all we wish. In this broken world, that is expected. That is why we have grace.
I am surrounded by good mothers in my family and my neighborhood and among my friends. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They home-school, public-school, breast-feed, bottle-feed, work at home, work outside the home, or don't "work" at all. They have no children, one child, two, three, four or more children. Some decorate beautifully. Some clean well. Some organize amazingly. Some paint. Some bake. Some quilt. Some run. Some blog. Some play tennis. Some teach. Some read. Some travel. Some are Muslim. Some are Christian. Some are Mormon. Some aren't sure what they believe. Some have lots of formal education and degrees. Some don't. All of them love their children. All of them fail. All of them learn and grow and change. All of them do the right they know. The Lord is working miracles with each of them. And I love every one of them.