I left Relief Society today feeling a bit…annoyed.
For those of you who aren’t members and are not familiar with Relief Society it is my church’s women’s organization and on Sundays we meet for a class during the third hour of church. This year we are studying a former president of the church, Gordon B. Hinckley. Today we had a lesson on “Daughters of God”(https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-of-presidents-of-the-church-gordon-b-hinckley/chapter-5-daughters-of-god?lang=eng); a rather lovely subject, except for the fact that I loathe the direction this topic almost always veers towards in church lessons and talks.
See most of the time this subject comes up in church it inevitably heads to women being the child-bearers. How being a mother is part of being a daughter of God, our divine purpose, a sacred task, an honor if so chosen, and on and on. Yes, for many women having children and raising them is part of being a daughter of God, but for plenty of women that is not the case. Scores of women, for one reason or another, do not have children. Yet they are still daughters of God and no less valuable to the church, Heavenly Father, or the world because of their lack of gravidity and/or parity.
Typically what closely follows the above conversation are sentiments along the lines of “oh but don’t worry if you’re not a mother yet because you will be” or “even if you don’t have children yet you’re still a mother”. Baloney. Don’t tell me I’m going to be a mother; you don’t know that! The only one who has any inkling of whether a woman will ever have children at some point in this life or the eternities is Heavenly Father, and that is between him and said women in question. Don’t call me a mother when I am, clearly, not one.
Making statements like this is damaging. It demeans my experience as a woman struggling with the painful disease of infertility. It demeans women who may not want to have children now or in the eternities, and it is 100% okay if a woman feels that way. Let’s respect her choice. It also demeans women who are actually mothers whether they be mothers through pregnancy/birth, adoption, foster care, or foster to adopt. It cheapens that title of “Mother” that those women so deserve.
To me the title of “Mother” is one of great meaning, one that deserves great reverence. Not because I do not have children of my own and I put mothers on a pedestal, but because mothers are amazing. Women who bear and rear children are amazing. They deserve my (and your) utmost respect and awe for what they do. Calling me, or other women, mothers when we are not takes away from those women who really are mothers.
I want to share a specific example with you that was brought up today; not because I want to single out a specific person, but because sharing a personal example is the best way for me to explain this issue more clearly. While this discussion was going on in Relief Society today a dear sister specifically pointed out that while I cannot have children I was still a mother because I was good with/take good care of/love very much my two and a half-year old twin niece and nephew. While I do love these two children dearly and fully with all of my heart, and while I’d give most anything to make sure they have the very best the world has to offer, I am not their mothers. I am their auntie, and I love being their auntie. That title is special to me and it is enough. I do not need to be their mothers, not because I don’t love them, but because they have the two most amazing moms in the entire world. I do not and will not usurp them. For people to say that I am a mother to them, or to any children that are not mine, I feel is just wrong. While I would love and cherish the title of mother and sincerely hope that one day it will be my turn, taking that title from someone else is not okay. I am not the twin’s mothers. I do love them an awful lot, but not like their mothers do. Only their mothers can do that. I do care for them and take care of them, but not like their mothers do.
Calling me a mother to them devalues all that I am and can do as an aunt. I can do great things as an aunt. I know because I had an aunt who showed me that. It also severely devalues their mothers. The twins mothers work their fingers to the bone providing every opportunity to those kiddos. They’ve nursed their children though illness, injury, and surgery. They’ve put up with all of the struggles that accompany being a mother and doing it well; because they are great moms. They have earned that hard-fought title of Mom. They deserve it. They excel at it. I am not a mother to the twins. Do not call me that. I have not earned it and I do not deserve it. For that matter nor do I want it; because they have the two most wonderful mothers! I am their aunt. I am proud of that. Do not devalue my worth as an aunt in guiding these two souls.
I also feel like when we head this direction with our conversations that we miss out on so many of the other things that make up what being a daughter of God is all about. Being a daughter of God is about so much more than my childbearing status! Do not devalue my worth as a daughter of God because I do not and cannot bear children.
Maybe lessons like these head in this direction as often as they do because women in the church view motherhood as a shared experience where almost every woman is a mother so we can drum up more conversation if we talk about it; however that is simply not often the case. When we do this we alienate entire groups of women; many of whom are often going through painful circumstances such as infertility, healing from the loss of a miscarriage, or managing the judgement from others over their decision to not have children.
Again, this habit devalues not only the women without children, but also those who have children who are doing things outside of raising them. Women with children are also so much more than the fact that they are mothers, they are women and that in and of itself is wonderful. We need to support those women who are out there being breadwinners, who are setting examples for their children that you can be more than a mommy – that you can accomplish your dreams/get your education/travel the world all well raising children if you so choose.
So how can we approach this differently in the future? Let’s change this antiquated dialog! As women we are daughters of God, and that is wonderful. Let’s talk about ALL that it encompasses and all that women do in our church as a whole, in our wards/branches/stakes, and in the world. Let’s direct the conversation to cover more than just motherhood.
I want to hear about the women who are leaders outside of the home, the women who are getting their education, the women changing the workforce, the women fighting for our rights in the government, the women who are starting and running their own businesses, the women who are the breadwinners. I know these women exist, and I know that even the small branch that I attend has them.
I want the church to acknowledge more fully, and treat with more openness and respect, those who struggle with the disease of infertility and those dealing with the grief of miscarriage. I understand that all too often we don’t know what to say when faced with a grief laden topic, but outdated, obsolete platitudes do not soothe a hurting soul. In fact they may cause more harm to a melancholic sister than silence would. Instead of saying “don’t worry if you’re not a mother yet, because you will be” or “even if you don’t have children you’re still a mother” why don’t you say things like “Heavenly Father loves you as you are and where you are”, “your worth is not determined by your childbearing/child rearing status”, “you bring so much to our ward simply by being you. Thank you for being here today sister”, “I know that this may be difficult for you. I’m here for you whenever you’d like to talk”, “Would you like to share you viewpoint on this topic”, or “How can we help and include you”.
It doesn’t have to be a grandiose gesture; just a quiet acknowledgment and an understanding that we all have divine worth regardless of our life stage will do.
**All opinions and viewpoints shared in this blog are solely my own and are in no way sponsored or endorsed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They are in no way intended to belittle or point fingers at any church members. I’m just sharing how I feel y’all.**