Friday, March 18, 2005

The Mother Myth

I'm sure every woman who plans to have children wonders what kind of mother she will be. Whether her kids come to her through an accidental pregnancy, planned pregnancy (in our case REALLY planned and expensive pregnancy), adoption, surrogacy, fostering, or any other way, there's no guarantee that she's not going to totally screw them up permanently by committing some horrible parental mistakes. My parents were wonderful and loving and did the very best they could, but guess what? I still have issues that stem from the way I was raised and from things that happened to me in my childhood. Nothing terrible or abusive, just stuff that can lead to issues. It seems that no matter how hard you try, you're bound to mess your children up in some way, usually the exact opposite way of how your parents messed you up.

I don't think I'm alone in this fear. I think it's impossible not to worry about it considering the expectations we're all up against. Mothers are supposed to be perfect, loving, nurturing, always have the right thing to say and have enough time and energy for each child no matter how busy her own life may be. This is why so many women hate Mothers Day. In the 1930's David O. McKay had this to say about his mother: "I cannot think of a womanly virtue that my mother did not possess...To her children, and all others who knew her well, she was beautiful and dignified. Though high-spirited she was even-tempered and self-possessed. Her dark brown eyes immediately expressed any rising emotion which, however, she always held under perfect control...In tenderness, watchful care, loving patience, loyalty to home and to right, she seemed to me in boyhood, and she seems to me now after these years, to have been supreme." (Improvement Era, May 1932, 391)

When this quote was read aloud in Relief Society, the remarks that were made were all along the lines of, "How wonderful that he had such a great mother and that he had so much respect for her." My reaction? It scares the crap out of me. Honestly: "high-spirited" AND "even-tempered"? "loving patience"? "always under perfect control"? From his description you can't imagine that she ever yelled at her kids, told her husband he was a jerk, or burned a frozen pizza because she was too engrossed in an episode of LOST (which, BTW, has replaced 24 as my favorite show on TV.)

I think we need to create a new image of motherhood, one that allows us to be human, to have some serious flaws, and even to occasionally make mistakes. Because really, wouldn't having a perfect mother screw you up even more?


  1. I think it's totally true that parents screw up their kids in the exact opposite way their parents screwed them up. But I really appreciate your point that having a perfect mother would be that much harder. My parents did the best they could and I know that they loved me. But more importantly, I know that I am OK in spite of any issues that I may have stemming from the way I was raised.

  2. Interesting post. I've been thinking about this a lot lately too.

  3. I think the mists of time sometimes soften memories. In our sunday school lesson on D&C 25, the instructor asked a mother of eight grown children whose husband had been stake president while the kids were all home to talk about supporting a husband in his calling. She is a wonderful woman; I really love her. She talked about how she tried to make the home a peaceful, orderly place so that he could relax and enjoy the family when he was home. As she was speaking, her funny and wise husband leaned over to mine and said, "It wasn't really like that."

    It's one of those moments I'm hanging onto for dear life ...

  4. My mother was an alcoholic who smoked and lived on welfare and did not pay her bills and we constantly got evicted, or the power turned off. She was never there for me in any way.

    I tried to be everything she wasn't. I screwed up my kids. Big time. I didn't know that you had to be loving. So, my two stepchildren are addicts and alcoholics who don't pay their bills as they should and have been to jail. My sisters also tried to be different than my mother. Their kids (and mine) never knew the degradation and deprivation and shame we knew. Almost every one chose to live like my mother.

    After my son's suicide, I changed and was very gentle with my youngest daughter. So far, so good, what a joy she is. But still, I feel a lot of regret and heartache.

    Go figure. We're mostly pretty discouraged campers at this juncture.

  5. I remember one Ensign article when Elder Nelson talked about going to medical school and being gone a lot, leaving his wife to raise their 10 children. "She never complained," he wrote.

    Yeah, well, she never complained to HIM, because he was never around!

    I'm sure that David O. Mckay's mother wasn't perfect. He probably didn't notice her imperfections, or has forgotten them, and likes to remember only the wonderful things about his mother. I could say some really great things about my mom, too. But she ain't perfect. I think the quote is more DOM's way of honoring his mother more than saying she was perfect.

  6. I have always struggled with the "She never complained" comments. I was married to a bishop for seven years with 4 kids 6 and under and for several of those years wondered what was wrong with me because it was hard and I struggled and yes, sometimes even complained, unlike all the other saintly wives of church leaders. When our stake presidency was released, one of the counselors described his wife in the same way. I know her well and know that she would never want to be put on a pedestal or described as some sort of a perfect angel. I'm wondering if sometimes in LDS culture we confuse "complaining" with just being honest and sharing our struggle, which leads to the pressure to appear or be perfect

  7. I think they mean to say the wife didn't whine. They looked at the glass being half-full. That type of thing.
    There are wives/mothers who have huge struggles. FOr instance, if a husband has to work a lot. If every time a husband comes home, he hears another lecture on how much he is gone, he hates it.
    My husband's parents had this issue. His mom would go on and on about it. I think it made his father work more....and have an affair. Maybe he wasn't even at work all that time. LOL.
    Anyway, I promised my husband that I wouldn't whine about his responsibilities. If he has to work, he has to work. If we both feel his job is too many ours for our family, we will discuss the problem and find a solution. But endless nagging/whining never fixed a problem yet.
    ANd I agree about DOM's comments about his mother. He loved her and thought she was wonderful.


Give it to me straight!

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