Yesterday was one of those Sundays when it might have been better for me to skip Relief Society all together. The lesson was on motherhood, and as any woman who has ever been to Relief Society knows, that can become a touchy subject for many women for many reasons. A volatile subject.
The teacher was a woman who I know and like very much. In fact she’s my visiting teacher, so we’ve had lots of long conversations, and I think the world of her. She started her lesson by acknowledging that there are women in our ward living in all different circumstances: some married with young children, some married without children, some never married at all, some whose children are grown up and gone… and she wanted to share the idea that all women everywhere still have the divine trait of motherhood and can use it. But because almost all of the women in the room (rather than being a diverse group) were women with children who had given up work to be stay-at-home moms, most of the comments came from that perspective and defended that lifestyle, which, I think, threw the lesson off its course. The comments focused on the worldly view of motherhood, and how it makes those who stay at home rather than having career feel like they don’t measure up, like they’re “just a mom” or “just a housewife”. It was the typical discussion, and of course the underlying agreement was that there’s nothing in the whole world more important for a woman to do than to raise children.
I believe that. I believe very strongly in the role of motherhood, and in the principles of family that the church teaches. I always have, and maybe that’s why I always start to squirm in lessons like this. It’s hard to know that the path your life has taken is off track, that you’re not fulfilling your most divine role, and that nothing else in this world will ever be as good. So, when faced with these situations, I just sit quietly and wait for the lesson to be over so that I can go home, and maybe cry.
But, there was one woman in the crowd who couldn’t sit quietly. She raised her hand and told us all that she had always been a working mom because she had to be in order to support her family, and then she broke into tears. She said a few times over that her children were always her first priority, but she couldn’t say much more because she was really crying. I think that what others had said had hurt her, and made her feel like she hadn’t done things right, and she was trying to speak up for herself but couldn’t.
The teacher, at this point, said that she understood that women in the Church lived in so many different circumstances, and many have to work, and that there’s nothing wrong with that, and then she tried to get back to her original message. And that’s when she picked me out of the crowd and started asking me questions about how I feel about my divine role as a mother.
If she was looking for someone who could be a cheerleader for the single girls who love acting like moms, she chose the wrong single girl.
I said, “These lessons are always painful for me.” And then I stumbled and stammered and searched for words. She said, “You have nieces, right?” People love to mention the nieces and nephews, like they’re a consolation prize.
“Yes, I do, and I love them. I’ve loved spending time with them. They’ve given me a lot of joy. But do they replace having children of my own? No, of course not.”
I think that then another woman raised her hand and mentioned that her children have an unmarried aunt, and that she’s been a huge influence and very important and other nice things. I was so uncomfortable at this point that I wasn’t really listening.
Then the teacher asked me again, “But how does it make you feel to know that you still have this divine role as a mother?”
“It hurts.” What I meant was that it’s hard to hear because it just makes me feel like the most important part of my life is missing, but I couldn’t get that out, so I just said, “I think that people have to accept things, and make the best of it” and then I let it go. She didn’t call on me anymore.
I sat there fighting back the tears, feeling like a spotlight had just been blasted on me at my most vulnerable, and like I had just derailed this poor woman’s lesson. But I just couldn’t give her the answers she was looking for. I couldn’t tell her that even though I’m single I’m still working all the time to mother people and am so fulfilled and happy. I can’t say that with any sincerity because I simply don’t believe it.
After the lesson many of the women gave me hugs and told me that they loved me and said that they appreciated my honesty. The teacher and I hugged each other too. There are no hard feelings. I really appreciated the outpouring of support. At least I could go home without feeling like I had ruined Relief Society.
I’ve thought a lot about the whole scene since and here’s what I’ve come up with. I understand what the teacher was trying to tell us: women are blessed with a natural ability to nurture, to reach out to others, to take care of them, and to love. And any woman, no matter her situation, can develop those qualities.
But I can do that without having to think of myself as a mother. It wouldn’t be healthy for me to think that I had to somehow find a way to fulfill a divine calling that simply doesn’t fit, not now, not like this. Life has enough pressures without having to live up to something like that. I love the children in my life, love them like crazy, and we’ve had a lot of fun together, but that doesn't make me a mother. They have mothers, and I think that it would be a slight to their mothers to think that I am also filling that role. That's not what they need from me. They need me to be Angie, their aunt, their friend, another person in this world who loves them. Their main support system is in their own home with their parents, and that’s how it should be. I’m a little something extra.
No, if I were to base my self-worth on whether or not I was fulfilling my role as a mother, I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Instead I find my self-worth in who I really am – a daughter of God, a sister, an aunt, a daughter, a friend. And if the people in my life need a little extra nurturing from me, then they know I’ll give it. I’ll hug them so tight it hurts. But at the same time I’m a single girl. I am independent, self-supporting, and learning to value myself for myself. And I really believe that if I learn that now then I will be a better person, and a better mother should that day come.
Women everywhere are constantly bombarded with things that can make them feel bad about themselves. Even those who live the ideal, who have a good husband and are able to stay home with their children, can still feel like they’re not enough. It’s at those times when a sincere prayer will fill in the empty spaces. Trust in the Lord’s love. And then call a friend. If you need to, call me. I’m not your mother, but I'm happy to help.