In October 2007, I sat listening to General Conference, excited to listen to Sister Julie Beck's talk. I had loved so many of her talks before, I loved that she uses her normal speaking voice, not a high-pitched "Primary" speaking voice when giving talks, I loved her haircut and her choice of clothing. I'd felt myself inspired by her words in the past.
So it was with great shock that I found myself listening to 'Mothers Who Know,' a talk that's pretty famous (and infamous) in Mormon circles now. I felt my chest tightening, my breath becoming more shallow. I felt tears come to my eyes. And not in a good way.
My imperfections are many, but the imperfections I have dwelt on most in my life have been those dealing with homemaking and mothering. I've found much solace in the idea that we all have different strengths and weaknesses and that we should do the best we can with what we've been given. I've been given some pretty strong gifts, and I've done a lot to strengthen those. I've also been given some strong weaknesses, and I have spent hours on my knees, days fasting, and time in the temple begging Heavenly Father to make me stronger in these areas. I haven't seen much improvement.
Let's just say first off that my house is not a disaster zone (most of the time.) Meals get prepared, laundry gets folded, dishes get done. But the toy closet is scary. The laundry room...also scary. Closets and cupboards range from mostly organized to total chaos. I lose things. I forget things. Our clothes are not usually laid out before church. We're often late. The kids go to bed later than I'd like and have baths less often than I'd like. I don't sign the daily reading schedule. I forget to send back permission slips. The kitchen floor hasn't been mopped in a while.
But I have always WANTED to be different. I've wanted to have perfect routines, to have a place for everything and everything in its place. David is a very organized and clean soul, and I've always wished that I could keep our home in a way that gave him more peace. The biggest hardship to me is that I know what my strengths are. I used to be able to use them daily in school, in my teaching and accompanying. It's been incredibly hard to feel on a daily basis that my main responsibilities now lie in the places I am the least talented. It's like I trained all my life to be a doctor, and then one day I wake up and someone says, "Oh, here's your new job. You'll be a lawyer and you need to be in court in an hour. Oh, and your client's life is in your hands. Better do the best you can." It's daunting. More than daunting, it's depression-inducing.
So Julie Beck said, "Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and keeping an orderly home. Home is where women have the most power and influence; therefore, Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world. Working beside children in homemaking tasks creates opportunities to teach and model qualities children should emulate. Nurturing mothers are knowledgeable, but all the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make a home that creates a climate for spiritual growth. Growth happens best in a “house of order,” and women should pattern their homes after the Lord’s house (see D&C 109). Nurturing requires organization, patience, love, and work."
And what I heard was, "You are not enough. You will never be enough. You are failing in the most important area possible." I felt a punch in the stomach.
I read it again later when it was posted on the internet, thinking that I must have overreacted.
I felt the same pain. The same judgment. The same overwhelming feeling: That I wasn't enough and I'd never be enough. I told a friend (my visiting teacher) about how it made me feel: that despite being a prized daughter of God with important gifts bestowed upon me, I would be judged most on the things I lack.
The next time she came to visit teach, she said she'd prayed and prayed and prayed and felt like she was supposed to talk to me about 'Mothers Who Know'.
I cried through the whole discussion.
Finally, I decided that I needed to shelve it. Let it go. And in the next conference, Elder Ballard spoke to young mothers. His talk, 'Daughters of God,' was balm to my soul. He said, "We need to remember that the full commitment of motherhood and of putting children first can be difficult. Through my own four-generation experience in our family, and through discussions with mothers of young children throughout the Church, I know something of a mother’s emotions that accompany her commitment to be at home with young children. There are moments of great joy and incredible fulfillment, but there are also moments of a sense of inadequacy, monotony, and frustration." Once again, I cried, but this time it was with relief. I felt understood and blessed.
In fact, it was in response to this talk that David and I made the final decision for me to stop teaching piano so that I could spend more time with our children in those precious after-school hours.
Fast forward to now...
I've spent time pondering and fasting and praying. I want to walk in Christ's footsteps better. I want to follow the path that Heavenly Father knows will help me and others around me find the most joy. And I've found myself drawn back to 'Mothers Who Know.' Sometimes I respond extremely negatively to something I read or hear because it's just plain wrong. But sometimes I have the same reaction to something that is true but that is hard to accept, something that needs revisiting and a softened heart.
And today, when I read the talk again, I was able to sift through the elements that I find troublesome to find the truths.
It's OK to reach for ideals and fall short. After all, we are asked to emulate Christ in all of our actions. I think it's safe to say that none of us manages to do this. We struggle, we try, we fail, we repent, we pick ourselves up, and we try again.
I'll only be a mother with small children in my home for a few more years. I only have a little while more to teach them, to train them, to love them. I AM inadequate to this task. I AM an imperfect mother.
But I can continue to reach for the ideal. Too often in the last couple of years, I've stopped trying. Family scripture study too difficult? Oh well. We'll just read once a week or so. Family Home Evening is tricky to schedule? OK. We'll have ice cream and call it good. Feeling irritated? I'll just say something sarcastic or snarky instead of biting my tongue.
Now of course I'm the first one to say "Let it go" when something is crazymaking. But scriptures? Prayer? FHE? Teaching about how to use gospel truths to make life better? NOT crazymaking. Vital.
So I'm going to try to stay calm about my weaknesses and keep reaching for the ideal, RECOGNIZING that we'll fall short. It's accepting the impossibility of it that makes me feel calmer. I think I realize now that if I do my best (even if my best is a weak effort) to do what Heavenly Father asks me to do, He can make up the difference.
So this week I'm going to get the scriptures out every day. We'll have an FHE that I actually plan ahead. I'll keep trying to get organized. I'll pray for my children.
And I'll wait for grace to make up for what I lack.