In an email exchange a few weeks ago, my favorite college professor asked me to tell her a little bit about my mom. This particular professor taught a class called "Work and Relationships in the Home," which taught me that housework is not about the work itself, but about the bond that is forming within your family. I wrote an article on it called "What's the Point of Housework," if you'd like to read it.
Here's what her email said:
In observing the struggles I see around me, I think the blessing of being raised by a mother with vision of the importance of what she is doing cannot be overestimated.
So, my question, tell me about your mother. You have such an innate commitment to this calling of mothering; I know it didn't originate with the 371 class.
Here's what I wrote:
Just thinking about my own mother brings tears to my eyes. She's in her 70s now, and whenever I visit with her, I say, "Mom, the only reason I'm able to do all this work to strengthen mothers is because I was raised by YOU." I was literally raised by an angel.
I've written out my "story" on The Power of Moms website--describing the main influences in my life that have helped me to learn the importance of motherhood, but I'll try to record some specifics about my own mother below.
First of all, I have never once seen my mother "frazzled." She does get nervous when she has an airplane to catch, and she jumps up in panic every time she hears the street sweeper (and then she runs up and down the street, saving our neighbors from getting tickets), but she's never seemed stressed or tense or worried about anything.
Here are a couple of paragraphs from an article I wrote called "He is Here to Help Us": (Describing two conversations with my mother that helped me to love God):
The first conversation took place when I was nine years old, and my mother had just returned from a preschool co-op parents’ meeting. I recognized that my mother did not have the same fashionable clothes and jewelry as all of the other mothers, and I asked her if she ever felt intimidated by all of the other women. As an insecure nine-year-old, with bangs that never curled right, I felt very intimidated by the “pretty” girls at school, and I was sure my mother must have felt the same.
She sat down by me and said, “No. I don’t feel intimidated because I look around the room and think, ‘No one here loves the Savior more than I do. They might love Him as much as I do, but they can’t possibly love Him more because I love Him with all my heart.’” That gave me a whole new way to see my self-worth. From that point forward, even when I had weight problems and/or bad hair days, I felt confident in who I was because I loved the Lord.
The second conversation that comes to mind took place sometime during my high school years. I do not remember how we got on the subject (except for the fact that our discussions always turned to the Lord), but one day we were talking about physical possessions, and how our testimonies of Jesus Christ were more precious to us than anything we could buy.
My mother, sitting across from me in the kitchen, taught simply, “There is no possession in the world—not the biggest house, not the fastest car, not the most extravagant outfit—that can bring tears to my eyes just by thinking about it.” I remember a long pause after she spoke those words, and we both just looked at each other, neither one of us holding back the tears. I knew she loved the Lord, and I promised myself that I would always show Him that same love.
My mother had eight children--six of us girls. She never worried about the wedding receptions at all (My teacher and I had been discussing how stressful weddings are). We kept them VERY simple. She would buy us whatever we needed and help us get the photographer, cake, decorations, etc. lined up, but weddings were never stressful to her. Three of my sisters were married the same year--two in January, one in August, and I don't once remember my mom looking the slightest bit worried.
She needed lots of naps (she was 46 when she had her 8th child), and I remember she got headaches occasionally, but I've never once seen her moody or angry or flustered or anything but calm. Friends of mine have asked me how on earth she did that, and I think the answer comes in two parts:
#1: She loves the Lord with ALL her heart. Every morning when I woke up, I'd find her sitting on the couch reading her scriptures. She'd mark them with highlighters, red pens, black pens, pencils, etc., and she'd have a journal right next to her where she would record all of her thoughts and feelings. She would take her scriptures in the car with her and read while she waited for me to get out of cheer or drama practice. If I was ever late, she'd say, "Oh, that's okay. I had my scriptures."
I have dozens of memories of my mother on her knees, as well. I remember many times walking into her room and finding her kneeling by her bed. I would start to leave the room, but she would pop her head up, open her arms to me, and invite me to come in and talk to her. One day, I said, "Mom, what do you say to the Lord in your prayers when I interrupt you?" She said, "I tell Him my child needs to talk to me, and I'll be right back."
Many times, my mother has told me that if she could choose her place in heaven, she would ask to be the Lord's door keeper. She wants to be the one to open the door for him whenever he needs to enter His home. We saw a painting once of a man hugging the Savior, and when she saw it, she bowed her head and said, "Oh, I can't picture myself doing that. I need to be at His feet."
As I've talked to my mom at length about the process of raising her children, I know for a fact that angels have been with her continuously. She has had so many sacred experiences--too sacred to write--in which miracles have happened for her. They haven't been "huge" miracles that anyone in the world would necessarily value, but they are beautiful, powerful, real experiences that can only be explained by heavenly intervention.
Here's a section from another essay I wrote:
I'm trying to be better about stopping myself during those hard moments and asking for the help I need. My mom was a great example of this. She'd be doing the dishes or making the beds or sweeping the floor, and I would hear a whispered plea: "Father." A couple of times, I asked her why she called out to Him.
To me, everything seemed like it was going just fine, but my mother was often carrying burdens that I knew nothing about. Instead of taking her anger out on me or running out and racking up debt on the credit card or wallowing in time-wasting activities, she simply focused her faith and called, "Father."
You can't spend a significant amount of time around a woman like my mother without feeling the power of the Lord. All 8 of her children know for a certainty that the gospel is true because we saw it in the life of our mother (and certainly in our father, as well). None of us ever wanted to be rebellious because we couldn't stand the idea of hurting our mom. She is the definition of sweetness.
So yes, I do think that faith in Jesus Christ is a huge part of handling crises, but that second point you brought up about knowing the importance of your work is also essential. I think the two go hand in hand. When you really know the Savior, you know what matters to Him, and you will live your life accordingly. My mother always treated us like we were the most important people in the whole world.
She never aspired to be recognized for anything in public. In fact, she shied away from any attention at all. Even when she teaches a class at church, she is so nervous and doesn't want any extra attention. In any social setting, she will be the woman off to the side, giving hugs and words of encouragement to anyone in the room who is struggling.
I call her on the phone at least twice a week, and when she answers with her sweet, "Hello?" I say, "Mother!" and then she says, "April!" (like I'm her long-lost best friend that she's been hoping would call for the past six months). And then she sits on the phone with me for as long as I want, and she wants to hear "all about it from beginning to end," and she listens to me cry, and she lets me tell her all the secrets I can't tell anyone else (and I know she'll never share them), and she lets me know how her knee is doing (she just had a knee replacement) and when her next doctor appointment is, and then she asks when she gets to see me again, and she says, "I think about you every single day, and I want to call, but I don't want to disturb you." and I say, "Oh mom, you're never disturbing me. Just call whenever you want, and I'll pick up when I can." I always feel like I matter so much to her.
I know that was long...I think I was writing it more as a record for me and my children than anything else, but I thought I'd share. These are the kinds of things I think about when I assess my "success" as a mother. It's more about how my children feel and who they're becoming. All the "fluff" doesn't matter.
I know that not everyone was raised with a mother like mine. But I also know that we each get to decide what kind of a mother we will be, and I think my mom is one of those examples of motherhood that's absolutely worth following.