The world does very little honor the role of mothers. However, when all is said and done, what we do with our family within the walls of our own home has far more influence on society as a whole than anything else. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:
"When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses? ... You rock a sobbing child without wondering if today's world is passing you by, because you know you hold tomorrow tightly in your arms."
That is a true, powerful, and inspiring thought from a servant of the Lord. It is a true statement, yet it doesn’t always feel that way. What can I do? With five children, my husband and I are greatly outnumbered, and all too often I feels like my days are spent covered in spit-up, cleaning up dirty diapers, folding laundry, and praying for the baby to please sleep through the night… just once. How can my tiny, trivial efforts help? How will wiping noses and wrestling with my boys in sacrament meeting help them grow to be men of God?
Once upon a time, I was a perfect mom. It's true. And it was actually quite easy. But evidently hypothetical children are different from actual children, so it all came to a screeching halt when my first child was born. Since that time I have been plagued with a never-ending inner voice that will second-guess every single parenting decision I make. Along with the normal anxieties that come with motherhood, my family has chosen to homeschool, so I am also weighed down with the knowledge that it is solely my responsibility to ensure that they learn everything they need to be successful in life. I want my children to grow up to be righteous leaders in whatever their pursuits. I envision one of them bringing about world peace, inventing transparent aluminum, or curing cancer. I awake from my fantasies to find Nutella smeared all over my countertops and a mess in the bathroom that no one should ever have to face. My countless maternal pleas all seem to fall on deaf ears and I have lost count of how many times I have wanted to throw my hands up and scream, “Why do I even bother? No one listens to me anyway!”
In October of last year, Elder M. Russell Ballard told us of the complex inner workings of a beehive. He spoke of how a colony of 20,000-60,000 honeybees will cumulatively travel the equivalent of twice around the world, visiting millions of flowers, to create one pound of honey (1 1/3 cups). Over the course of its brief lifespan, each bee will contribute one-twelfth of one teaspoon to the hive. He said, “Though seemingly insignificant when compared to the total, each bee’s one-twelfth of a teaspoon is vital to the life of the hive.”
So it is with motherhood. Not long ago I was making dinner (and enjoying an audiobook in a rare moment of quiet) while the rest of my family was watching television. My younger daughter, who had just learned to read, wandered into the kitchen clutching a game in her tiny hands. She asked if we could play together while I made dinner. It was a simple question and answer game so it wouldn’t have distracted me from my culinary tasks, yet at that moment I wanted nothing more than to shoo her out of the kitchen and get back to my book. I opened my mouth to do so when a still, small voice whispered, “Why not? Is your book really that important?” We spent five minutes asking each other questions about the Revolutionary War before she got bored and left. That experience took so very little of my time, yet it put a sparkle in her eyes for the rest of the evening.
One hug, one story, one whispered joke, one batch of cookies made together, one tickle, one snuggle, one late-night movie, one art project, one family prayer, one moment of silliness … one… one… one… They all add up to influence who our children will become. Each time we stay up all night cradling a sick little boy, we are adding just a little bit to his usefulness in the Kingdom of God. Each time we let our daughter paint our toenails, we contribute to her feelings of self-worth. Each chaotic family scripture study and Family Home Evening strengthens our children’s testimonies just a little bit more.
President Monson has oft quoted the poem saying:
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be—
I had a Mother who read to me.
The legacy we leave to our children will be seen in their works, their testimonies, and the reflection of Christ in their lives long after our work is done, but it doesn’t take countless “once in a lifetime” experiences, a bottomless pocketbook, or endless hours logged in to extra-curricular activities to raise the next generation of Stripling Warriors. All it takes is a mother and an infinite number of seemingly insignificant acts of love.
Courtney is an Air Force wife, a mother, teacher, a runner, and an aspiring scholar. She writes book reviews, lofty fitness goals, political commentary, and musings on her family, homeschooling, the Gospel, and life.