“May I say to mothers collectively, in the name of the Lord, you are magnificent. You are doing terrifically well. The very fact that you have been given such a responsibility is everlasting evidence of the trust your Father in Heaven has in you.” —Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
My mother passed away in 2006. She was a marvelous woman. I am reminded of Lincoln's words: “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”
From observing her (and my wife) through the years, as well as observations through my professional experience and gospel study, I've found seven common traits exhibited by exceptional mothers. And before you allow guilt or feelings of inadequacy tell you otherwise, know you too are an amazing mother and doing better than you think.
You Give Genuine, Regular Affection
“The love of a true mother comes near to being like the love of God.” —Joseph F. Smith
You will make mistakes as a mother. All good parents wonder occasionally if they're “messing their children up.” The biblical Peter taught that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8), and nowhere is this more true than in parenting. Explicitly expressing love, appreciation, respect, and support for your children helps to neutralize the effects of your natural, human mistakes. It will also build your kids' self-confidence and strength.
You Teach Your Children Values
“The character of a person is formed through life, to a greater or lesser degree, by the teachings of the mother.” —Brigham Young
Honesty. Integrity. Hard work. Compassion. Accountability. Other sources can supplement a mother's teaching of these characteristics, but none replace her daily feedback and loving instruction. As your kids grow up they will make their own choices and become their own people, but the foundation upon which they build their identity usually comes from you.
You Practice What You Preach
“They had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.” —Alma 56:47-48
Of course, instruction and feedback will only get you so far. Many children are ever-vigilant for parental hypocrisy. You can't reasonably expect your children not to yell if you do it yourself. If you insist that they eat vegetables while you eat chocolate, that they abstain from violence while you put hands on them, that they watch their language while you regularly curse in their presence, or that they pick up after themselves while you're untidy, you'll lose their respect. You'll end up with children who do what you do, not what you say. You already know this and are striving every day to set a good example and practice what you preach. That said . . .
You Embrace Imperfection
"Sisters, I don’t want to overpraise you as we sometimes do in Mother’s Day talks that make you cringe. You don’t have to be perfect; I don’t claim that you are." —Elder D. Todd Christofferson
Of course you won't be a perfect example. That’s why you create a climate where you and your children try your best, but imperfection and mistakes are met without harshness or judgment. You model accountability by apologizing if you say something you regret or neglect to do something important. You let them know that mistakes are part of the learning process.
Doing so will encourage them to keep trying instead of giving up because they feel shamed for error. If you must offer correction, direct it at the behavior without attacking the person. Affirm the worth of the child and your love for him or her.
You’re a Mother First and a Friend Second
"There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children." —Elder M. Russell Ballard
If your kids aren't mad at you once and a while, you're doing it wrong. Parents who try to make their kids happy by indulging in their every whim and granting them unlimited freedom end up with entitled, ungrateful children who use the parents instead of respecting them. But you have your kids work for things. You follow through on consequences. You trust your judgment over theirs when it comes to safety. It's okay for your kids to yell “I hate you!” on occasion; just make sure it's because you're firmly holding to boundaries and expectations, not because you're being snide, condescending, or mean.
You Love Yourself
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” —Matthew 22:39
If you don't love yourself you may be in danger of relying on your children to meet your emotional needs. If you don't respect yourself (and, in turn, rely on your kids to make you feel respected) you may take their disobedience or back-talk more personally than is warranted. This may make you feel worse and injure your relationship with your kids by triggering your rage. You love yourself enough to take care of yourself. You make time for your dreams, your passions, and your hobbies. Remind yourself regularly of your strengths and good points as a person and a mother.
You Relinquish Control and Honor Agency (While Teaching Consequences)
“By persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile…thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.” —Doctrine and Covenants 121: 41-42,46
The above scripture is directed to priesthood holders, but its principles apply to every parent as well, including mothers. Many parents make the mistake of trying to make their children think or behave in a certain way. “You will clean your room!” “You will not fail this class!” Children, like adults, are autonomous beings with free will. They'll make their own choices and will resist attempts to force them to do otherwise. Nobody likes being told what to do; you certainly don't and neither do your kids. Issues on which your children “have no choice” should be few and far between and limited to issues of safety. Otherwise, honor their free will by giving them choices with consequences. Let them make the choice, then always follow through on the consequence.
Instead of “you will clean your room!” it becomes “you can clean your room and keep your toys or not clean it but I'm taking your toys away for a week.” If they choose not to clean the room, you take the toys for a week (or however long). When they cry for them, reiterate that they knew this would happen, they made the choice, and you hope they choose better next time. Instead of punishing them out of anger (leading to their resentment) you compassionately follow through on established consequences (helping them learn to make good decisions). Control leads to rebellion. By supporting their free will you help your children to feel respected, keeping you from being the “bad guy,” eliminating disobedience, and increasing their ability to think.
Bonus: You Help Shape Your Children's Perceptions of Men
Yes, this is primarily the father's role, but don't underestimate your influence. If you tolerate an abusive relationship, your children may later do so themselves (or become the abuser), because they've observed that behavior occurring without consequences. If you're separated or divorced but their father is a good dad, you bless your kids by supporting their relationship with him and save your complaints for your counselor or support network.
If you're still with their father, draw attention to his goodness. Appreciate him, back him up, and help them to learn what type of man they're looking for (or want to be). My own mother did so when she left this note where we'd all see it:
You've got this, mothers. I believe in you.