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2 Latter-day Saint women on the eternal, but difficult, call to nurture

This story originally ran in the July/August 2020 issue of LDS Living.  

Women—whether because of their own sense of responsibility or the responsibilities that the world places on them—can carry a lot of anxiety over their roles. Here are two insights into how women can gain a better perspective about their eternal callings as nurturers.

Emily Watts: “Slow-Ripening Fruits”

As an accomplished author and writer, a beloved Time Out for Women speaker, and the mother of five children, Emily Watts understands that sometimes it can feel like it takes forever to see the positive outcome from caring for others. But whether you’re raising little ones of your own or nurturing people around you, perhaps what God is really trying to teach us all is how to become more like Him.

I am at the grocery store with my 3-year-old daughter. She has the pint-sized grocery cart and is pushing it along beside me with my regular-sized cart. We are quite a picture, the two of us shopping together, me initiating my little girl into the mysteries of the grocery world. I can see it in the approving expressions of the shoppers passing us in Aisle 7: “Isn’t that darling? What a lovely child. What a good mother.”

Then we turn into Aisle 8, which is where the Oreos reside, right at the 3-year-old’s eye level. She chooses a package of cookies from the shelf and puts them in her cart. I pluck them out of the cart and return them to the shelf with a cheery if somewhat terse, “Not today, sweetheart. We’re not going to buy those cookies today.”

Well, perdition hath no fury like a 3-year-old deprived of her Oreos, and she immediately flings herself to the ground and begins screaming. And I can see it in the disgusted expressions of the shoppers passing us in Aisle 8: “What a brat! Why doesn’t her mother control her? Why would anyone bring a child like that out in public?”

Well, which is it? Angel child, or demon spawn? Am I a good mom or a bad mom? All too often, people will form that judgment depending on the moment in which they catch me at my mothering. I want to grab the tantrum observers as they pass by and tell them that this never works. I never buy Oreos under coercion. I am a sensible, intelligent mother, with appropriate boundaries. But they have made their judgments based on what they see. Appearances. They can indeed be deceiving.

Here’s a challenge, though: Don’t the scriptures say, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (see Matthew 7:17; 3 Nephi 14:16)? They do. What those scriptures forget to remind us is that sometimes fruit takes a long time to ripen. 

Think about this. Have you ever bitten into a fruit that’s not ripe—a hard strawberry or a green melon or something like that? It’s gross. All you really want to do is spit it out. If you were judging the fruit based on that appearance at that time, you might think the fruit was not good. But if you waited until the fruit was ripe and then tried it, you would see how delicious it could be.

An important thing to understand about raising children is that children are the slowest-ripening fruit there is. Those precious fruits of our mothering take a long time to mature, and what’s more, they all ripen at different rates. So it’s unproductive and even dangerous to base our feelings of mothering confidence on where the fruit is at any given time. 

I went on a quest to try to understand better the truth that Heavenly Father is not just capable of helping me in my difficulties but willing and anxious to do so. I went to the heading “Trust” in the Topical Guide and found some wonderful scriptures that have helped me see things a little more clearly. The first one that I want to share with you is Psalm 27:14, which says: “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” This is not my favorite scripture because I have never been a very good waiter. It is not easy for me to have the courage it takes all along the way to wait for that child-fruit to ripen.

But waiting ultimately yields its rewards, little glimmers now and then that strengthen our hearts and give us hope that the fruit is coming along. That little girl who came to the grocery store with me occasionally (when I couldn’t avoid it) is a good example of this. She has always had the blessing and the curse of knowing her own mind. The back of her bedroom door still bears the scars of where she used to kick it when she was in time out, learning to behave herself a little better. She wouldn’t ever try to come out, but she would lie on her back on the floor and just kick the door.

That fruit takes a long time to ripen. It takes a lot of faith, and a lot of spiritual insight and divine encouragement, to see it as it’s really going to be. In the end, in order to have the patience we need, we have to remember how fruit ripens. Consider that we plant it, and we nurture it, and we water it, and we do what we can, but the ripening of that fruit is mostly up to the sun. It’s the same with the fruit of our children. Ultimately, their maturing depends largely on the Son. We have to trust Him.

By our fruits we will be known. But not now. Not yet. We need to give ourselves time and give our children time.

One last thought regarding this principle occurred to me when I was pondering it one day: What if the fruit of my parenting isn’t my children at all? What if the fruit of me being a mom is who I am becoming as a result of being that parent? 

That thought changes the whole picture. I start to realize that the children who are the hardest are very often the ones who are making me the most of who I need to be. The problem children (and they’re all problem children at some point, I think) are the ones who drive me to the arms of the Savior. They’re the ones whose challenges put me on my knees to ask their Father, “Thou who lovest this child more than I do, wilt Thou help me understand what I need to do to bring him back to Thee?”

The fruit of my life is me, and most of what I know about believing all things and hoping all things and enduring all things (see 1 Corinthians 13:7), I have learned as a result of being a mom. To me, the most interesting thing about that is that I have friends who would say that everything they know about believing and hoping and enduring has come to them because they haven’t yet had a chance to be a mom. Isn’t it amazing how Heavenly Father takes the circumstances of our mortality and uses them to mold us and make us who we need to be to return to Him?

Zandra Vranes: “Pint-Sized People”

Zandra Vranes is largely recognized for her humorous take on Latter-day Saint culture as one of the “Sistas in Zion.” In this essay, she reminds us that sometimes life feels like a constant cycle of loving those in need and receiving love in return when our well runs dry. And although our plans for life are never picture-perfect, there are quiet moments—like those spent at a mother’s knee—that remind us of our potential and how we can all build up our eternal families.

I once heard Pastor T.D. Jakes say that there are pint-sized people and there are gallon-sized people. That when you’re a gallon person, you can pour into a pint person and the relationship will be everything they need it to be because you have the capacity to fill them up. But a pint person could pour all they have into you, but it doesn’t fill you up because you need a gallon. He said that we need to recognize that there are relationships in our lives where the person is truly giving us all they have, and no, it is not enough, it isn’t everything we need. But it is all they have; they gave us everything they could.

As I’ve thought about his message throughout the years, that recognition has freed me to adjust my expectations regarding my life relationships, change my interactions or limit them when necessary, and above all extend forgiveness and grace. I’ve also come to believe that we aren’t always one or the other, a pint or a gallon. There are portions of my life where I only have pint-sized capacity and capabilities, but gallon-sized responsibilities. And I’ve had to admit that I’ve poured every last drop of myself into a bucket that I simply cannot fill on my own. There are times when I have been the gallon running around pouring into other’s pints and watching them be restored through me, and I am left depleted with my gallon running dry. Sometimes you’re the gallon with a steady flow pouring into a pint and you’re drowning them because you have so much to give, but they can only hold so much; you can’t pour a gallon into a pint.

As people of faith, our relationships can sometimes become our greatest anxiety. We worry about all the pouring and filling it takes to be with our loved ones, together, in the next life. I know that what we do in this life matters in the next, but I also know that what we don’t do in this life matters there too. If we don’t spend our time learning how to love each other on earth, will we even want to be with each other in heaven? There are days when “Families Can Be Together Forever” sounds more like a threat than a promise, and some of us are thinking, “They can be, but do they have to be?”

As I strive to keep my covenants, I’ve been prompted to be more aware of glimpses of what eternity can be instead of being anxious about whether my life or my family looks like a picture-perfect Church magazine or Proclamation family. When everyone isn’t in the temple together, can you still see the moments that togetherness brought the temple to your home? One Sunday, as my mum poured into me, I realized that with love, simple homes can become sacred spaces. If we let them. It’s not preaching or pestering—it’s the moments like these that keep my eyes on eternity. A girl is never too old to sit between her mother’s knees and have her comb her hair, to receive her love and allow her to give it in the ways she can give it best. There is no crown that adorns me better than the ones she has created upon my head, taught to her between her mother’s knees, and rooted back through ancestors further than the eye can see. This is a glimpse of my eternity, for there is no kingdom I can strive for that doesn’t have this.

Saints, do you see them in your life? Create the moments of eternity today that make an eternal family worth striving for tomorrow. Let that be our focus, and the Lord will work out our forever better than we could ever hope for.

All images from Shutterstock.

In this thoughtful collection, dozens of Latter-day Saint women across generations share their gospel insights and the occasional contradictions found in everyday motherhood. Perfect for all women in whatever role they occupy, All Kinds of Mothers examines motherhood from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, reminding us that there are countless ways to fulfill the divine calling of motherhood. Available now at Deseret Book stores and on deseretbook.com.

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