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Hey, Moms: George Washington Wasn't Perfect Either

Despite the fact that I’ve spent several years reading and writing about motherhood, I still have a lot of bad mom days. I have acted and spoken in ways that do not make me proud. I apologize and try to do better, but still. Some moms hate Mother’s Day because they feel like it’s a reminder of everything they’re supposed to be and they simply don’t measure up. I’ve always been one to brush off the self-loathing and embrace the attention and the chocolate, but this year, with the months leading up to Mother’s Day being among the busiest in my life, I can empathize. I don’t see glowing examples in my recent mothering that are worthy of celebration.

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But then the other day, I was in the shower thinking. The shower is where I do all my deepest thinking, and on this day, I made some enlightening connections. Why do we celebrate any holiday, especially those related to individuals? I realized that--with the exception of Jesus Christ--none of the people we celebrate were perfect.

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln? Patriotic men with good ideas who made both personal and public mistakes but kept trying and managed to influence a nation for good. Martin Luther King Jr.? Another flawed man who did and said some great things and made a difference in the way society thought about humanity. Christopher Columbus? An imperialist with strained relationships who was even arrested, and yet, he initiated a whole new world view and set the stage for civilization as we know it. We celebrate these people because of their influence. They were human. Their lives were full of errors and missteps. Their lasting greatness lies in the fact that people and societies were affected by them in good ways, and that's what we remember.

What about me? A mother? Yes, I make mistakes, but I also do hundreds of little things every day that are born from love and caring for my family. I prepare meals [please ignore the contrary evidence from paragraph one], I referee arguments, I craft chore charts, I give hugs and pats on the back, and I try to help them--to make their lives better. Is it possible that these children who sometimes bring out the worst in me might someday “arise up, and call [me] blessed”? (Proverbs 31:28) Perhaps my children and then theirs after them will be more confident, more successful, and better disciples of Jesus Christ because they know that their imperfect mother loved them and cared for them the best way she knew how. President Joseph F. Smith taught:

“Sisters, you do not know how far your influence extends. A mother that is successful in raising a good boy, or girl, to imitate her example and to follow her precepts through life, sows the seeds of virtue, honor and integrity and of righteousness in their hearts that will be felt through all their career in life; and wherever that boy or girl goes, as man or woman, in whatever society they mingle, the good effects of the example of that mother upon them will be felt; and it will never die, because it will extend from them to their children from generation to generation.”  (“Chapter 4: The Influence of Mothers,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 31)

Even after a barrage of error-ridden days, that knowledge gives me hope that my good mothering qualities--however intermittent they may be--can be seeds for growth and goodness in my own children. I have the potential for powerful influence, and I don’t have to be perfect to be successful. That makes me want to celebrate too. Mothers deserve a day to remember that fact: Flawed individuals who work hard to do the right thing can change the course of history. Bring on the chocolate and flowers. Let’s embrace celebrating who we are and who we can be in the memories of children, families, and communities. (And three cheers for selective memory over time.)

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Stephanie is a mother to three and teaches Church History and Doctrine at BYU. She blogs about finding faith in motherhood at her blog, Diapers and Divinity, and her new book, Covenant Motherhood, is available at most LDS retailers.


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