My Mother’s Day Talk About Not Being a Mom

As I’ve written about before, children did not come easily to our family. During those struggles, Mother’s Days at church were excruciating. Even after becoming the mother of two, I still struggle with Mother’s Day-–the sense of inadequacy as people wax poetic about their Supermoms, the echoes of painful Mother’s Days past. I’m happy to report that those echos are fading, and each year I better appreciate the beauty of a day when we celebrate the very real sacrifices of the mothers of every one of the 6 billion people on this planet, of mothers of past generations, and our Heavenly Mother.

Still, I have immense empathy for Mother’s Day angst. While (barely) enduring a Mother’s Day Sacrament Meeting during the infertile period, I fantasized about the talk I would have given if I’d been asked, an antidote to the typical Mother’s Day talk.

By typical talk, I mean that people frequently go on about how parenthood has been the best preparation for godhood, or parenthood does more than anything else to build those traits and give one a sense of what it must be like to be God. As someone who was facing the possibility of not ever having children in this life, I found this talk very frustrating. Would I then be forever under-prepared? Why was I even here if not to experience something that is, according to these talks, an irreplaceable experience?

So I tried to think about what lessons I was learning about what it must be like to be God, by not having kids. And the main one I came up with is that the position I was in was very helpless. I was just waiting for children to come, with very little control over the situation. At the same time, I wanted to do more than just sit around passively waiting, so I was preparing to be the best parent I could. I made elaborate plans for all the great things I would do. At one point I even made my own fantasy architectural plans for a backyard playhouse (two-story, built into the trunk of a giant faux tree). But the more I prepared, the more frustrated I became, wanting to shout up to my unborn in the heavens, “What’s wrong, kids? I have so many things waiting for you! So much I want to do for you, and yet, you’re not coming!”

That frustration, that feeling of wanting to embrace and wanting to love, but having the child not approach me, which is ultimately not in my hands, is the exact feeling that God must have all the time. We have to want to return to Him, that is our agency. He has blessings He wants to bestow on us, knowledge He can’t wait to share with us. My backyard had a planned playhouse, but His house has many mansions that He has prepared for us. Yet most of us spend most of our lives veering off the course back to Him to varying degrees. I don’t pretend to know the mind of God, though I am certain He has infinitely more patience in waiting for us than I had in waiting for children. But in that aching, longing love, I felt very close to Him.

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  1. This is an essay version of some impromptu comments I made on last year’s Mother’s Day edition Zeitcast.

  2. Cynthia, these are lovely and poignant thoughts. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I used to make up talks for Mother’s Day talks in my singles’ wards. Imagine a ward full of people longing to have babies but can’t find anyone to have sex with! And then being told, inevitably by some high councillor who had kids when he was 22, that we’d get to have children in heaven. Just wait til heaven! they’d say.

    My secret plan was to pull a Mormon Easter sacrament meeting, say ‘wow, what an important day to have to give a talk’ and end up talking about tithing.

  4. > Just wait til heaven! they’d say.

    Yeah the heaven thing is 0% comforting. Maybe it should be comforting, but it’s not.

  5. Peter LLC says:

    …and end up talking about tithing.

    Nah, that’s been done before. How about church government or, say, the history of scouting?

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Quite lovely.

  7. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    Still in the waiting period myself… thank you for sharing these thoughts.

  8. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Cynthia. I cringe hearing people say parenthood is the best preparation for godhood.

  9. During one Mother’s Day sacrament meeting I found myself blubbering like a baby. I was not a mother but am close to my own and one friend asked if I was sad thinking about my mother who lived far away. In actuality, the thoughts of the day made me think about all those children who don’t have mothers and how hard Mother’s Day must be for them. Either not being a mother and wanting to be or not having a mother at all make for a rough Mother’s Day.

  10. aloysiusmiller says:

    The job of teachers in the church is to teach general principles. The most general is that we should be guided by the Holy Ghost. Instead we all want a customized Gospel that has everyone teaching the thing that will make us happy. Can’t have children? Preach to my pain! Need to work on Sunday? Preach to my pain! etc. etc. ad infinitum ad nauseum.

    Maturity in the gospel means that we teach general principles and we accept the guidance and comfort of the spirit to help us in our particular circumstances.

  11. aloysiusmiller, I agree with you absolutely, though I’m not clear on why you felt the need to say that in this thread. It sounds like you are saying that I am not mature in the gospel, and that I was arguing that the church should ‘teach my pain.’ That’s not what this piece says. What I was trying to say in this piece is not that we shouldn’t celebrate Mother’s Day, or that we shouldn’t teach important principles like family at church. But it’s just a fact that Mother’s Day can be hard for some people. Instead of sitting on my behind complaining about how it was hard for me, I realized I needed to try to make something positive of the situation. That caused me to reflect and receive this insight that I’ve shared here.

  12. aloysiusmiller says:

    Yes but why is it hard on some people? Why do they let these things bother them?

  13. Cynthia, this is a great post. Thanks.

    aloysius, why do you let it bother you that some people let these things bother them?

  14. Cynthia,

    I kinda wish I still lived next door to J. and you were crashing on our couch.

    Thank you for the testimony and insights you share.

  15. CS Eric says:

    aloyisuismiller (#12),

    Good question, why is it hard to miss what we don’t and can’t have? Why do we have to say happy birthday every year to Betsey Pearl?

  16. Ruth, lovely to see you here! Thanks for leaving a nice note.

    aloysiusmiller, that’s not an easy question since it is probably different for each person. Of course having an eternal perspective would prevent a lot of tears, but you could apply that to just about anything. You could just as well ask why should a young mom cry when she finds out her husband has been killed in Iraq–doesn’t she know that because they were married in the temple, everything will be ok in the end? Sometimes, we just let people cry when they are experiencing or reminded of something difficult, instead of trying to beat them over the head with our judgmental comments about how they shouldn’t “let it” bother them.

    Holidays pose particular challenges for some people for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the content of the holiday itself (like Mother’s Day) can remind people of painful aspects of their lives. For other people, if a holiday coincides closely with the anniversary of a tragic event such as the death of the loved one, it can poison that holiday for them. The Ensign sometimes has articles addressing the emotional challenges many people experience during the Christmas season. Here is one example focusing on challenges many single saints face during that time of year. Here is another (“The Most Important Gift”). Did you know that statistics show suicide attempts spike during Christmas season? Hard to imagine for me since I love Christmas! But just a reminder that we need to reach out to those around us who might be struggling. [edit: ok I just googled and it turns out that is a media-created myth that actual suicides spike. However, Christmas is a hard time for a lot of people.]

    If you’d like to learn more about the feelings and emotions of people who struggle with infertility, that is something that you can read about from many sources (including this post!). The Ensign also has articles occasionally on that topic. Here is an Ensign article about how to talk with friends who have experienced miscarriage without accidentally saying something that makes them feel worse.

    Hope that helps you better understand other people.

  17. Did you know that statistics show suicide attempts spike during Christmas season? Hard to imagine for me since I love Christmas!

    I understand that suicide rates around Christmas are highly correlated with being placed on the Naughty list.

  18. Love this, Cynthia. Thank you.

  19. aloysiusmiller says:

    I do know grief first hand and I understand our obligation to mourn with those who mourn. But Sacrament meeting is an affirmation of life. If we make every occasion a memorial service for the bereft we can lose hope instead of nurture it. The most important part of comforting those who mourn is assuring them through our testimonies of the totality of the atonement.

  20. Mark Brown says:

    Thank you for this insight, sister L.

  21. Aloysiumiller–

    Some people have trials that other people don’t. Sometimes it’s hard for the people with those trials to listen to others talk about the wonderful blessing of not having those trials.

    What is so hard here?

  22. Ardis E. Parshall says:

    Think of it this way, aloysius: Mothers are like people who have called on the Elders’ Quorum to help them move. The childless, or mothers of children who strayed, are like the elders who have given up a half dozen Saturday mornings in the past few months to help people move. On Mothers’ Day, everybody in the ward tells the mothers how wonderful they are for moving into the ward, and you sit there with the Elders’ Quorum, nursing your sore shoulder, annoyed that none of those mothers has ever shown up to help move somebody else, and wishing you could go to the football game this Saturday instead of helping another mother move.

    What’s not to love about that?

  23. Mark Brown says:

    That’s a three-pointer from way downtown.

  24. Ardis, please. No Elder has ever given up a half dozen Saturday mornings in their whole life to help people move. They have, however, selflessly given up hours and hours spent signing up for Saturday moves. Let’s not discount that sacrifice.

  25. Steve Evans says:

    play aloysius off, keyboard cat.

  26. I really like this connection, Cynthia. Nice post! If you wanted to be even more snarky (since this is an imaginary talk anyway, after all) then you could say that in fact parenthood is the best preparation for devilhood. Or at least it is for me. I probably yell at my kids like I don’t at anyone else in the world. Sure, it’s not very often, but when I’m mad at them, I’m really mad. What better preparation for devilhood could there be than getting really mad at someone you should love the most?

  27. Natalie says:

    Wonderful post. I love how you think about what we can learn about Godhood from not being parents.

  28. #25 –

    I’m pretty sure I’m missing something there…

  29. aloysiusmiller says:

    28. Someone is missing something it isn’t you.

  30. Scott B says:

    29. Someone is missing some punctuation, and it might be you.

  31. my perspective says:

    Aloysiusmiller: I don’t think anyone is saying they want every lesson/talk geared to their situation. Rather, once in awhile, perhaps they just hope for a dash of empathy/awareness of the potential pain. You are right about maturity in the gospel and seeking the Holy Ghost for comfort. But another aspect is that just as those of us who cannot have kids for whatever reason help those of you [meaning all married church members w/kids, not you specifically] w/kids (ie whether teaching your kids, working w/them in a calling, babysitting for you, helping you move, helping provide parts of meals when you have a baby,etc, giving you gifts from bridal shower, to wedding gifts, to baby gifts, I at least hope I would merit a miligram of concern/care that Mother’s Day might be hard to bear at times, instead of the “grin and bear it and turn to the Holy Ghost” attitude, no offense to the comfort we get from the Holy Ghost. But sometimes we need fellow human beings to care about our situations- that is one way I think the Holy Ghost can work His wonders.

    aloysiusmiller Says:
    May 8, 2009 at 9:31 am
    The job of teachers in the church is to teach general principles. The most general is that we should be guided by the Holy Ghost. Instead we all want a customized Gospel that has everyone teaching the thing that will make us happy. Can’t have children? Preach to my pain! Need to work on Sunday? Preach to my pain! etc. etc. ad infinitum ad nauseum.

    Maturity in the gospel means that we teach general principles and we accept the guidance and comfort of the spirit to help us in our particular circumstances.

  32. Great post. I wonder about sharing my own parenting experiences sometimes because I want to be sensitive to others–anyone have insight on that? Should we hold back on discussing our own experiences if we feel like it could potentially make someone else feel badly?

    The holiday suicide thing is a myth since most people are able to suppress the bad feelings due to forced social interaction but there is a spike on Mondays so the Bangles were apparently onto something.

  33. Lee, I guess I can’t speak for everyone, but even at my most sensitive, I always understood that there was a need for people to share their parenting stories, preach family-oriented theology, etc. Frankly it would be impossible to say anything that doesn’t have a chance of hurting somebody, and people who are married with kids need to hear about managing and appreciating that very difficult responsibility. Knowing that it’s necessary doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt now and then, kind of like getting shots. You being aware of it and having a heart that is ready to reach out and not blame the hurt person is 90% of it.

    The only things that bothered me more than fleetingly were things so obviously grossly rude that I’m sure you wouldn’t go there. For example–and this really happened–after the Bishop clearly told all women 18 and older to stand and receive a flower on Mother’s Day, I stood up, then someone laughed and told me to sit down because I hadn’t earned my flower. I tried to protest about what the Bishop had said and they responded something like “oh, he just has to say that.” Yeah. Pretty rude.

  34. my perspective says:

    yikes Cynthia, that is rude of that person. Poor you!

    I once read somewhere that they ran out of flowers so someone handing out flowers asked someone who wasn’t a mom to give the flower back.

  35. Cynthia L. says:


  36. aloysiusmiller says:

    I put this to my wife who endured several years of infertility early in our marriage. She said that in her mind Mothers Day has never been about her. Mothers Day was about her mother. The lack she feels most acutely is the passing of her mother several years ago.

  37. Ooh rude. Sorry to hear that.

    Mother’s Day for me is a sham anyway. I might have given the flower back and said “so you earn one of these puppies by having kids? You can have it lady.”

    But you were wise to keep the peace.

  38. Sad to see so much angst and antipathy generated by a holiday intended to provoke feelings of gratitude for blessings.

    Having seen my wife endure years of flower-giving on Mother’s day Sundays when she felt she didn’t merit one (despite our three little boys who died in childbirth), I can appreciate Cynthia’s poignant comments. I think it’s enough to know that there will be some in each congregation who will feel pain when they would like to be feeling the Spirit in church.

  39. I was also musing over the church’s mothers day practices. They bend over backwards at least in our ward to say that it really isn’t about the mothers, but the sisters, and how Heavenly Father loves all his sisters, etc…. First of all this line of reasoning isn’t fooling anyone. Secondly, in a time when less women are choosing to have children, you think the church would be one place where we can celebrate that choice, but instead we dumb it down.

  40. I like your fantasy talk. It’s much better than the fantasy talks I’ve given.

  41. Love the idea of a fantasy talk. Mother’s Day is always a struggle for me as well, as a woman who yearns to have children and have not been blessed with them yet. I have to admit that I skipped out on church on Mother’s Day. But the potted pansy still ends up on my door step!

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