I started working when I was 14 years old. Unlike any part or full time job I’ve ever had, motherhood is a completely unique occupation.
Most mothers know that their work is important. Of course it is. It is a basic belief of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (known as the Mormons) that mothering matters deeply.
“We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World)
So why is contentment in mothering such a rare commodity in today’s world? On a radio show, I hear a TV producer say that she would go completely crazy if she had to stay home full-time with her kids.
Another friend’s husband jokes that his wife needs to get back to work after the birth of their second child to “do her part” to support the family. A neighbor says she looks forward to going back to work on Monday because the weekend with her young children is so exhausting. A friend repeats the oft-heard question, “But what about YOU?” implying that mothering isn’t personally rewarding.
It’s true that the laundry pile and meal preparation can feel tedious. And some days I wonder if I’ve made a difference taking my son to cello or if my daughter really cares who makes her a sandwich. Finding a rare moment to myself usually involves locking the bathroom door (often to hear pounding on the other side). Yes, becoming a content mother can be a true struggle.
But I know mothers who are content. They do not live problem-free or perfect lives, but they are happy, satisfied and joyful. They take satisfaction and pride in their work. They are confident and at peace with their choices. I want to know their secrets because I want to love being a mother. I want to feel content and fulfilled while I’m living every busy minute of mothering. I have watched and tried to learn from the wise mothers around me. So far, I have uncovered four secrets that only content mothers seem to know:
Secret #1 – Content mothers know what they do
A CEO describing his job would say, “I run a corporation.” He would not sheepishly answer, “Well, I answered a lot of email today.” Content mothers know that they are co-partners that create, sustain and develop human life. There is magnificence, power and eternal glory in this statement. Our first mother, Eve, was hailed as the “mother of all living”. (Genesis 3:20)
Without mothers, creation of all living ceases. Our Creator gives us the privilege of creating the most renewable, the most vital, the most productive and the most regenerating resource on earth: human life. He graciously gives most of the human family this opportunity to share His creative power.
He does not ask us to pass a test, earn more than 50K per year or have a Bachelor’s degree to be a mother. He gives this honor and gift freely, wanting most of His children to participate in the creative process. And because He gives it so freely, it seems common. We easily forget its miraculous significance.
Content mothers know that human hands can create art, buildings, and businesses, but mothers build a human life at its core. Both parents teach, but our Father in Heaven has designated mothers to be special teachers in the lives of their children.
“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”(The Family: A Proclamation to the World)
With unique nurturing abilities, a mother’s daily influence teaches a child to speak, read, eat, love, listen, share, work, and act with integrity. We teach respect of self, of others and of property. We teach basic beliefs about religion, ethics, self-perception, and how to find happiness.
Content mothers know that we can fix a broken bridge after an earthquake, re-start a failed business, or re-paint a work of art if it gets damaged. But once we build our human family, we cannot re-create it or recapture our time. Our early work is permanent and not easily repaired. We have created a living, vibrant being from the ground up and the impact of our work is multi-generational. Once our children are grown, what we have done during the teaching years is in their hearts and minds forever.
Content mothers believe the words of 9th LDS Church President, David O. McKay:
“The home is the first and most effective place for children to learn the lessons of life: truth, honor, virtue, self-control; the value of education, honest work, and the purpose and privilege of life. Nothing can take the place of home in rearing and teaching children, and no other success can compensate for failure in the home.” (Family Home Evening Manual 1968–69, p. iii.)
When mothers really understand the significance and impact of what they do, they are quietly confident. They know that they are a moral leavening agent, lifting others around them. They are content because what they do matters immensely. Mothers have created the foundation for the human experience.
“When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?” (Neal A. Maxwell, “The Women of God,” Ensign, May 1978, 10)
Secret #2 – Content mothers don’t compare
Looking at the mother next door will always make us feel that our life is not exciting enough, or personally enriching enough or financially rewarding enough. We will never be “enough” when we compare.
Content mothers do not try to “outdo” other mothers. They know that comparisons are at the core of pride.
“Pride is essentially competitive in nature….Would we not do well to have the pleasing of God as our motive rather than to try to elevate ourselves above our brother and outdo another? (Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989, 4)
Content mothers feel the natural pull of comparisons, but consciously reject them. In daily life, they avoid the common mistake of using business standards to compare or measure their value. Jobs make measuring “results” easy. The business world values revenues achieved, products manufactured, efficiencies gained.
When mother come from the work environment into the home to raise children, it can be easy to try to compare mothering value to business values – they are measurements we already know. But business metrics cannot capture the value created by mothering.
Mothering measures service rendered, love given, time spent, relationships forged. Content mothers know that results can take time to measure. Mothering has a here-and-now impact on the human family in breadth, depth and length while also extending to the eternities.
“After all, to do well those things which God ordained to be the common lot of all man-kind, is the truest greatness. To be a successful father or a successful mother is greater than to be a successful general or a successful statesman.” Success in an occupation—even a lofty one—is only temporary, President Smith concluded, whereas success as a parent is “universal and eternal greatness.” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, p. 285.)
I once asked my sister how she measured her mothering success when she could not guarantee how her children would turn out. She answered simply, “I measure my success by how I am becoming more like the Savior, Jesus Christ every day.” My sister is a content mother who doesn’t compare.
Secret #3 – Content mothers know the basics
Content mothers know that fatigue and hunger make both kids and moms cry. They know that sleep, diet and exercise must be a priority to function (at all).
In their families’ schedule, they follow the advice of apostle Elder Dallin H. Oaks to prioritize and be wise in their scheduling choices.
“We should begin by recognizing the reality that just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Good, Better, Best,” Liahona, Nov 2007, 104–8)
They know they cannot “run faster than they have strength.” (Mosiah 4:27)
Secret #4 – Content mothers know what brings happiness
Content mothers reject the loud and constant cry of the world that personal fulfillment comes through work or projects outside of the home. They know that there are enough circumstances (death or illness of a spouse, divorce, economic hardship, etc.) that will require outside work.
Extra support from family members and God is required for these mothers who have an added burden. They know that outside care may be a necessity, but they do not fool themselves into thinking that outside caregivers can offer the same level of care, development and love that they can.
Content mothers continue to educate themselves. They learn a language, play an instrument, create a web site, write a book, get a degree, teach a class, volunteer, or do a hundred other things. They enjoy and use their talents and bless the lives of their children in the process, but they know when to pull back if their family needs them. They know life is not to be lived in one day.
Content mothers control their days. They know they can ignore the dishes for a week if they want. They can also teach a four-year-old the name of every bone in the body if they want. The knowledge of their autonomy has power, and content mothers know “If it is it be, it’s up to me.”
Content mothers know they need feedback, but they will not see a “mother of the month” plaque in the living room in July. There will not be a bonus in August or a raise in December. They will not ask their children for a performance review unless they want to hear, “Good job, Mom. We want more candy.”
Content mothers ask spouses for support and encouragement, but create their own report cards to measure their progress. They use prayer to get feedback and direction from the only source that really matters, a loving Father in Heaven.
Most of all, content mothers follow the example of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
Like Christ, they know that men and women of true personal greatness give unending service at great personal sacrifice.
These women are smart, savvy and wise. I look to their example and notice that when I bring children to the earth, I have created a legacy. By teaching them, I have learned true and correct principles. By treating them with an increase in love, I have become more Christlike. Through my service, I have begun to refine myself. As a content mother-in-training, I look to the words of 15th LDS Church President, Gordon B. Hinckley for inspiration:
“God bless you, mothers. When all the victories and defeats of men’s efforts are tallied, when the dust of life’s battles begins to settle, when all for which we labor so hard in this world of conquest fades before our eyes, you will be there, you must be there, as the strength for a new generation, the ever-improving onward movement of the race.” (One Bright Shining Hope. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006 pg 18)