Saturday, March 27, 2010

Motherhood Part IV: Childless

Faithful daughters of God desire children. In the scriptures we read of Eve (see Moses 4:26), Sarah (see Genesis 17:16), Rebekah (see Genesis 24:60), and Mary (see 1 Nephi 11:13–20), who were foreordained to be mothers before children were born to them. Some women are not given the responsibility of bearing children in mortality, but just as Hannah of the Old Testament prayed fervently for her child (see 1 Samuel 1:11), the value women place on motherhood in this life and the attributes of motherhood they attain here will rise with them in the Resurrection (see D&C 130:18). Women who desire and work toward that blessing in this life are promised they will receive it for all eternity, and eternity is much, much longer than mortality. There is eternal influence and power in motherhood ~JBBeck [link]
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This is part IV of my series on motherhood. You can see the prior posts here: I-motherhood can't wait, II-mother at home, III-quiverfull. Today I am finally sharing the last installment: for those who do not have children.
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In my perception, there are two kinds of women in the world who are without children: those who do not want to have children, and those who do want to have children but are not able to do so (because of infertility or other life circumstances--such as not being married). To the former I would recommend going back and reading post I of the series. It is the latter women who are on my mind today.

I linked several talks in my first post, but here are some additional ones that were only relevant to this post

I begin with a quote from Shari L Dew (a single woman herself):
Have you ever wondered why prophets have taught the doctrine of motherhood—and it is doctrine—again and again? I have. I have thought long and hard about the work of women of God. And I have wrestled with what the doctrine of motherhood means for all of us. This issue has driven me to my knees, to the scriptures, and to the temple—all of which teach an ennobling doctrine regarding our most crucial role as women. It is a doctrine about which we must be clear if we hope to stand “steadfast and immovable” regarding the issues that swirl around our gender. For Satan has declared war on motherhood. He knows that those who rock the cradle can rock his earthly empire. And he knows that without righteous mothers loving and leading the next generation, the kingdom of God will fail.
When we understand the magnitude of motherhood, it becomes clear why prophets have been so protective of woman’s most sacred role. While we tend to equate motherhood solely with maternity, in the Lord’s language, the word mother has layers of meaning. Of all the words they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve “the mother of all living”—and they did so before she ever bore a child. Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born. Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality, righteous women were endowed premortally with the privilege of motherhood. Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us. ~SLDew [link]
Women are sometimes referred to as 'the gentle sex' or as nurturers. This is because motherhood--that nurturing nature--is part of how we were created. Motherhood is part of who we are.
Many mothers carry and birth biological children. Some do so on their own, others with the help of fertility treatments. Some mothers nurture and raise adopted children. Some mothers are never able to call a child their 'own,' but instead reach out to children, youth, and other mothers around them, teaching, helping, guiding, nurturing, and mothering just as surely as any woman who pushes an infant from her womb.
These 'childless' mothers value and honor motherhood, and support the sanctity of family. Perhaps at some time in their lives they will marry, perhaps the time will come when they will be able to bring children into their own homes, via birth, adoption, or some other arrangement such as fostering. On the other hand, perhaps they never will do these things.

As daughters of our Heavenly Father, and as daughters of Eve, we are all mothers and we have always been mothers. And we each have the responsibility to love and help lead the rising generation. How will our young women learn to live as women of God unless they see what women of God look like, meaning what we wear, watch, and read; how we fill our time and our minds; how we face temptation and uncertainty; where we find true joy; and why modesty and femininity are hallmarks of righteous women? How will our young men learn to value women of God if we don’t show them the virtue of our virtues?

Every one of us has an overarching obligation to model righteous womanhood because our youth may not see it anywhere else. Every one of us can mother someone—beginning, of course, with the children in our own families but extending far beyond. Every one of us can show by word and by deed that the work of women in the Lord’s kingdom is magnificent and holy. I repeat: We are all mothers in Israel, and our calling is to love and help lead the rising generation through the dangerous streets of mortality.

As mothers in Israel, we are the Lord’s secret weapon. Our influence comes from a divine endowment that has been in place from the beginning... We just can’t let the Lord down. And if the day comes when we are the only women on earth who find nobility and divinity in motherhood, so be it. For mother is the word that will define a righteous woman made perfect in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, a woman who has qualified for eternal increase in posterity, wisdom, joy, and influence. ~SLDew [link]

To those women who are single, prophets have encouraged us to be marriageable: to take care of ourselves, physically, mentally, and emotionally, so that if a good man should come along we would be someone worth catching. On the other hand, it is counterproductive to become so hyper-focused on marriage that we cease to live in the present. Live life! Pursue education, pursue a career, pursue your dreams. Do not let those things get in the way of a potential (good) marriage, but do not let the as-yet-unrealized possibility of marriage get in the way of living a good, productive, happy life. A marriage is made of two people, not two half people--if you cannot be whole on your own, you would not have much to bring to a marriage anyway.

Some of you, unfortunately, will never marry in this life. That turns out to be the case sometimes. If that happens, do not spend your life grieving over it. The world still needs your talents. It needs your contribution. The Church needs your faith. It needs your strong, helping hand. Life is never a failure until we call it such. There are so many who need your helping hands, your loving smile, your tender thoughtfulness. I see so many capable, attractive, wonderful women whom romance has passed by. I do not understand it, but I know that in the plan of the Almighty, the eternal plan which we call God’s plan of happiness, there will be opportunity and reward for all who seek them. ~GBHinckley [link]
To you single women who wish to be married, I repeat what I recently said in a meeting for singles in this Tabernacle: “Do not give up hope. And do not give up trying. But do give up being obsessed with it. The chances are that if you forget about it and become anxiously engaged in other activities, the prospects will brighten immeasurably…
“I believe that for most of us the best medicine for loneliness is work, service in behalf of others. I do not minimize your problems, but I do not hesitate to say that there are many others whose problems are more serious than are yours. Reach out to serve them, to help them, to encourage them. There are so many boys and girls who fail in school for want of a little personal attention and encouragement. There are so many elderly people who live in misery and loneliness and fear for whom a simple conversation would bring a measure of hope and happiness.” ~GBHinckley [link]
I think that this advice about marriage can apply equally well to the married woman who longs for children but struggles or is unable to have them. Do not give up hope, do not give up trying, but do give up being obsessed with it. I experienced a small piece of this when I repeatedly miscarried over the first 2 1/2 years of my marriage. I genuinely did not know if I would ever carry a biological child to term. I mourned my 'broken' body. I confess I did obsess to varying degrees. Honestly I was not very healthy (mentally or spiritually) during much of that time. It was when I finally found peace, and chose to go forward as I was, that I finally crept out of my depression. I accepted that my family was not going to grow in the ways or timelines that I had planned. I began pursuing license as a foster parent. I found happiness in my life, and then I was blessed to have a baby. I do not mean to imply that everyone who waits, everyone who hopes, will find their desires fulfilled as soon as they get busy with something else. I do, however, stand by the statement that when you get busy living life, then you'll be happier, regardless of what may come next.
For reasons known to the Lord, some women are required to wait to have children. This delay is not easy for any righteous woman. But the Lord’s timetable for each of us does not negate our nature. Some of us, then, must simply find other ways to mother. And all around us are those who need to be loved and led. ~SLDew [link]
We want you single sisters to know of our great love for you. You can be powerful instruments in the hands of God to help bring about this great work. You are valued and needed. Other women, even though married, may not be mothers. For those in either of these circumstances, please be assured that the Lord loves you and has not forgotten you. You can do something for another person that no one else ever born can do. You may be able to do something for another woman’s child that she may not be able to do herself. I believe some compensatory blessings will come in this life and in the hereafter to sisters in those circumstances. These blessings and a comforting peace will come to you if you can love God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” You can still be highly successful in whatever you do as instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work. ~JEFaust [link]
We have special admiration for the unsung but unsullied single women among whom are some of the noblest daughters of God. These sisters know that God loves them, individually and distinctly. They make wise career choices even though they cannot now have the most choice career. Though in their second estate they do not have their first desire, they still overcome the world. These sisters who cannot now enrich the institution of their own marriage so often enrich other institutions in society. They do not withhold their blessings simply because some blessings are now withheld from them. Their trust in God is like that of the wives who are childless, but not by choice, but who in the justice of God will receive special blessings one day. ~NAMaxwell [link]

You can recognize women who are grateful to be a daughter of God by their reverence for motherhood, even when that blessing has been withheld from them for a time. In those circumstances, their righteous influence can be a blessing in the lives of children they love. Their exemplary teachings can echo the voice of a faithful home and resonate truth in the hearts of children who need another witness. ~MBNadauld [link]


Lisa said...

That was very well done! I have been waiting for your post on this since you mentioned the series, curious as to what you would say. I have heard some single or childless women say that they feel patronized or preached down to by these talks, that the leaders are just trying to make them feel good. But I never felt that way. Even through years of childlessness I knew I was already a mother, a "childless mother". There is great strength and peace in pure doctrine. The adversity of childlessness can be painfully difficult in the church context, but I can't imagine what it would be like without those doctrines of who we are, who we have always been.

Mallory said...

I have loved this whole series! My husband and I talk about these topics frequently and I am so grateful for the blessings I have received in my family and as a mother. You have done a wonderful job at these posts. (I love it when there is a post that sings to me and is full of scriptures and quotes from our prophets!)

Elizabeth said...

Jenni, i appreciated this post, as it very directly pertained to me. I liked the quotes very much and I plan on reading the talks that you posted as well. I think that you did a wonderful job at writing this. I like that term "childless mother" and I think that is a good description of how I feel.

Katrina said...

Great post! And definitely an important topic to address.

(Also wanted to point out that Sis. Dew's first name is actually spelled Sheri with an "e".) :)

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