There was nothing leading up to Mother’s Day 2006 that indicated impending doom. There was no foreboding music playing ominously; no dark clouds. In fact, that morning there were birds chirping and the light of warm, yellow sun spilling through my bedroom windows. Had the beautiful conditions of the day been any indicator, the day I’m about to describe would not exist in our family’s folklore. But alas, Mother’s Day 11 years ago will forever be known as the day I landed face down on the floor of the chapel, on top of my 3-year-old, in the middle of sacrament meeting, with my skirt flung over my head.
I’d had a challenging morning, but somehow, my 3-year-old-daughter was decked out and ready for church on time. My daughter’s dark brown curls looked so sweet against her yellow polka-dot spring dress. All I wanted was a picture of the two of us in our pretty clothes.
This was my first child and her behavior had recently taken a turn for the horrifying. We’d sailed through the “terrible twos” with no behavior challenges, leading me to possess a deep pride in my obviously amazing parenting skills. And then, one day it happened. She turned 3. I had no idea at that time about the normal developmental behaviors of children. I simply thought that someone had invaded our home in the middle of the night on my daughter’s third birthday, stolen my angel child and replaced her with some sort of misbehaved-alien-being. (Now that I am a more seasoned mother, and having had the same changeling-child experience with multiple children, I know the official term for this phenomenon. Science calls this “Age Three.”)
“Age Three” was with us that morning as I struggled to get the right picture of Mommy Day jubilation. My husband tried to snap pictures of us on the front porch. “Age Three” cried, she hissed, she arched her back. I begged her in vain to “smile for mommy.” While each picture he took captured a unique essence of my child’s fury, none of them seemed to say, “Look at the bliss that is my motherhood!” I had hoped the camera would document some aspect of perfection that would prove to myself and others that my efforts were enough—that I was enough. But “Age Three” had no interest in participating in my quest for the picture of perfection.
After several minutes and for the first time in her young life, I lost my temper with her. I screamed at her, cried, and stomped into the house where my temper continued until it was time to leave for church.
The drive to church was thick with silence, and in the quiet came the mommy-regret. Upon arrival at the chapel my husband announced that he had forgotten the Mother’s Day corsage he had purchased for me from the Young Women to contribute to their girl’s camp fundraiser. We decided that he would quickly drive home to retrieve it and I’d grab us a seat. It seemed like a reasonable plan.
Due to our drama, we were late and there was only one row left . . . toward the front of the chapel. The entire row was empty and my child kept running across it. I would grab her, put her down and help her fold her arms. Then, sensing my weakness, “Age Three” would jump up and run down the pew again. By the third time of this routine, I decided to stand and take her out of the chapel so that others could enjoy a reverent spirit. Halfway down the pew, during the sacrament hymn, I simultaneously caught my high heel on the carpet and my daughter by the waist. We both went down to the ground in a flash of lavender and yellow taffeta, exposing my not-so-flattering side. I have been told that it looked, to the entire congregation behind me, as if I had intentionally grabbed my child and body-slammed her to the ground. The epic sacrament slam-down of 2006.
In horror, I stood up, smoothed my skirt down and sat us both back on the pew with as much dignity as I could muster. I bit the sides of my cheeks so that I wouldn’t cry. I think “Age Three” realized the gravity of the situation because she finally calmed down with her chubby little arms folded.
My husband arrived at that moment with my flowers. He had no idea he was pinning a corsage on the blouse of a ticking time-bomb. The first speaker began their talk by saying, “Today I want to talk about the importance of mothers.” That was it. That’s all it took. My crying came on so suddenly, nothing could have been done to stop it. I listened to the talks and knew that I would never measure up. I would never be the perfect mom.
While most people don’t end up in a wrestling match during the sacrament hymn or cry themselves through Mother’s Day sacrament meeting, I know that I’m not alone in my feelings. I take comfort knowing that readers of this article who are also mothers are nodding their heads in unity as if to say “We’re with you, sister!”
Many of us mothers have sat in church each Mother’s Day cataloging our flaws and our inability to measure up as we listen to talks celebrating motherhood. We listen with an inward defeated sigh, “I will never be good enough.” Then at the end of the meeting, we stand and look at each other awkwardly as we wait for the young men to distribute what we hope will be chocolate, but what ends up most of the time being a wilting geranium.
Mother’s Day is a day that was instigated to celebrate the influence that motherhood has on the world. It is a message that the world needs to hear: Motherhood is valuable. Motherhood is important. Motherhood is noble. And we honor it!
And yet, for so many of us, we simply feel inadequate to rise to our full potential as mothers. In our own minds, we tell ourselves that Latter-day Saint mothers have one distinct “right” way of doing things. And if we don’t look like the “perfect picture” of motherhood, we are not enough. We are afraid that if people see who and what we really are, we will most certainly come up lacking. And, as Latter-day Saint women, I think we are especially afraid of falling short in our Father in Heaven’s eyes.
It’s sad, isn’t it? And it’s all a lie, by the way. It’s a lie called perfectionism that seeks to rob us of the joy that our Heavenly Father wants us to feel as we raise His children. For “[Wo]men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).
Lauded researcher and author Brené Brown says this about perfectionism: “Perfectionism is a way of thinking that says ‘if I look perfect, live perfect, work perfect, I can avoid or minimize criticism, blame and ridicule.’ All perfectionism is, is the 20- ton shield that we carry around—hoping that it will keep us from being hurt, when in truth what it does is keep us from being seen”
What might happen as women raising children in the fold of Christ, if we gave ourselves and the mothers around us permission to be ourselves—to be seen? What would happen in our homes? Our communities? Even the world? What if a picture of “Age Three” crying was just as beautiful to us as the perfect smiling picture we imagined because it was real? What if we allowed our lives to be an honest testament to this sometimes rocky, but oh-so-beautiful road that is Motherhood?
I take heart in the words of Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, “We don’t have to be perfect today. We don’t have to be better than someone else. All we have to do is to be the very best we can. Though you may feel weary, though you sometimes may not be able to see the way, know that your Father in Heaven will never forsake His righteous followers. He will not leave you comfortless. He will be at your side, yes, guiding you every step of the way.”
The story of that Mother’s Day of doom in 2006 ends well. We came home and retook the pictures, with no expectations of perfection on my part. We ended up with one sweet picture that I treasure to this day. In the picture, my eyes are a little red from crying and that’s okay. It helps me to remember.
I still take pictures every morning before church on Mother’s Day. They rarely turn out well. Sometimes the kids cooperate and sometimes they don’t. But I no longer think it makes me a good or bad mother. I’m just a mom, trying my best to point our kids in the right direction on their way back to Christ. I show up, love them, and let my husband snap the imperfect pictures. The reality of our lives is better than the perfection. It weighs less.
Now when I go to church and listen to the speakers share the best stories of their mothers, I smile and think how wonderful it is that from the reality of their imperfect upbringing (as all upbringings are) they still see their mother as enough. It is as if the all the rough edges of their childhoods have been somehow smoothed away through the years. I hope that one day in the future when they are asked to speak about me, my children will be able to see beyond my flaws to the heart of it all. I partnered with God and my husband. I was not perfect, but I did my best. This is the beauty of Christ’s Atonement in action. No matter our circumstances in our motherhood: married/single mom. Young/more seasoned mom. Working/stay-at-Home mom. The Atonement makes us all enough.
As you sit in church this Mother’s Day, it is my hope that you will be able to sit in confidence, (and anticipation of your—cross your fingers—chocolate bar) knowing that you are just the right mother for the little people sitting on the bench with you. You are the mother, grandmother, aunt, and friend that the children in your life need. The wind is at your back, and whatever motherhood looks like in your world, our Heavenly Parents are with you…every step of the way.
Have a perfectly imperfect Mother’s Day.
Lead image courtesy of Christie Gardiner
Motherhood is the toughest job you'll ever take on: there is no interview, no job description, and no salary. When you get the position, it can be all too easy to feel under-qualified and overwhelmed. But with a sweet message of encouragement, Christie Gardiner reminds women there are as many ways to be a good mother as there are mothers in this world and there's no one more capable of raising your children than you! In this You Are the Mother Your Children Need, mothers are encouraged to let go of the quest for perfection and recognize the divinity within. Learn to own your strengths and weaknesses, and allow your true self to shine! With practical advice on learning to accept failure, hold on to your identity, and harness the divine help available to mothers, women will gain the confidence to embrace their uniquely perfect qualifications for the job of motherhood.
Available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.