This week’s episode of the All In podcast focused especially on Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. The guest, Mary Holland McCann previously wrote a book titled In Mary’s Arms: A Christmas Message for Mothers. But as host, Morgan Jones, prepared for the interview she noticed something interesting: Nearly every chapter in the small book includes some tribute to McCann’s own mother, Sister Patricia Holland. This, McCann says, was not intentional but as she put it, “everything that I know and feel and believe about being a mother has come from her.”
So, amidst a special episode dedicated to the mother of the Son of God, McCann paid a beautiful tribute to her own mother—reminding us that all righteous mothers are a gift from God just as Mary was to her Son, the Son of God.
Morgan Jones: I really appreciated how you talk about the overwhelming nature that having as much influence as a mother has on a child can be for that mom, and you write, “It is far less important to plan the perfect family home evening or buy all the copies of the scripture videos for your children to watch, than it is to be what it is you’re trying to teach them. Children learn by example.” And you quote Elder Neal A. Maxwell who said, “Your teaching techniques will be secondary to what you are as an individual. Your traits will be more remembered compositely than a particular truth and a particular teaching moment. This is as it should be for if our discipleship is serious, it will show and it will be remembered.” What does this quote mean to you? And why should that take some pressure off of us as mothers—people that are trying to raise little children?
Mary Holland McCann: So I think I answered your last question this way, which is maybe not very helpful, but it’s a double answer, which is both extremes. In some ways, it maybe even feels like more pressure because there’s just no room for hypocrisy in motherhood.
The last place that we can teach and say one thing, and then try to be another thing and think we’re going to get away with it is with children. And anyone who’s had a teenager for five minutes will confirm that what I am saying is true. They will call you on the carpet if you so much as look down the left side of the road and then decide to turn right. So I guess what I’m saying is confirming Elder Maxwell’s quote, which I’ve also carried around with me for 20 years is that children learn best by example. And our unspoken sermons will mean so much more to them than those spoken.
I tell this story in the little book, so forgive the repetition, but my dad tells the story of he was in graduate school in Connecticut, and I was like two years old. And he came home from school one day earlier than normal. My mom was in bed with her knees tucked up reading her scriptures highlighting them like I’ve seen her do every single day of my life.
And as a two-year-old, I was sitting up propped on the pillow with my little blue flimsy copy of the Book of Mormon in my red crayon just scribbling all over and underlining everything. And think that what I’m trying to say is I think I learned to love the scriptures, before I could even read them, because my mother loved them. And she didn’t have to do a lot of teaching and family home evening lessons about reading the scriptures. Sometimes we’d get gentle reminders, but even those weren’t necessary because my brothers and I each grew up knowing that you just love the scriptures. And that’s what our mom does and that’s what we do. And it sort of wasn’t even a thought.
She did that without any verbal teaching. So I think that’s the point instead of researching and reading and looking on Pinterest and combing the internet for ways to get our children to read the scriptures as mothers, we just need to read the scriptures. And instead of worrying about how to get them to go to the temple, they just need to see us going to the temple. So in some ways, that’s a little bit relieving, because we don’t have to try to come up with lots of creative ideas for teaching, but it’s also a bit of a–another feeling of weight or responsibility that we have to live our lives in the way that we want our children to live our lives and then trust that they’re watching. Even if that takes time, and even if children stray, I really believe the tentacles of example are really hard to ever fully outrun. I mean, who doesn’t hear their mother's voice in their ear when they’re thinking about things or deciding things or see their mother in their minds eye? I’m 52 years old right now and I still–when I have days where I feel a little distracted to read my scriptures or too tired or whatever I will get an image of my mom at 79 years old in her house in Salt Lake City in what I know she calls her “Scripture chair,” curled up and reading her scriptures. And I know that happened today or yesterday or whatever any given day I’m struggling with just like I know the sun came up. And that’s as a 52-year-old who should know better, and I still sort of rely on my mom’s example. There’s a power there that’s greater than anything we can try to come up with to manufacture.
Morgan Jones: I love that you said that. I was just thinking last night, my mom–like the “Light the World” thing, and my mom sent me like the three things that she loved about me for the December 1st prompt or whatever. And one of them was, she said, “You love the Lord.” And I wrote her back. And I was like, “You are the reason that I love the Lord.” Because I–like you have–walked in on her countless times reading her scriptures or saying her prayers. And for me like that is what made me want to do those things is because as a little girl, I just wanted to be like my mom. And so I love that.
And I don’t know if this was intentional in your book, but it seems almost as if while the book is certainly a tribute to Mary, the mother of Jesus, it also is a bit of a tribute to your own mother. You write about how she calmed your fears and she taught you to be more submissive. And I couldn't help but think about how your mother, Sister Patricia Holland is someone who is so beloved by members of the Church and likely doesn’t have any idea just how loved and doesn’t get enough credit.
But I read her book, A Quiet Heart–my boss a few years ago gave it to me as a birthday gift and told me that it was one of her favorite books ever. And it has served in the years since as just like a friend that I revisit anytime I’m feeling sad. It's like, “Oh, I’ll go pick up A Quiet Heart and read a little bit and I'll feel better.” But I wondered, what do you wish that people knew about your gratitude for your own mother?
Mary Holland McCann: Well, first, I have to agree with you about the Quiet Heart book. I try to read it every year, at least once a year. And every year as I’ve gone through my mothering years it's taken on new meaning. It’s almost like the scriptures that means something to you one day and something the next day. So if you’re wanting to do another podcast about a book sometime I will see if I can connect you with her because that’s who you should be talking to.
Morgan Jones: That would be amazing. That would be like a dream come true for me, Mary.
Mary Holland McCann: Yeah. The book is in some ways a tribute to my mother. But you’re right, I didn’t set out–that wasn't my intention. I didn’t set out for it to be that way. It's just that naturally, everything that I know and feel and believe about being a mother has come from her. And I’ve always–I think everyone agrees, I think all mothers agree that, that we don’t get a lot of instruction as mothers. You know, any career or occupation or even a hobby generally requires a lot of years of study or education or apprenticeship at least or a YouTube tutorial. Like there’s got to be something–I just did a cross stitch for the first time and I watched a YouTube tutorial to get me through.
And yet as mothers we don’t even have that. So what we do have is our own mothers and we largely learn from them, I think, all that motherhood means. And I know it sadly, it just breaks my heart that not everyone is blessed with a mother who truly understood or understands her role. And that’s, that’s heartbreaking. But I–but that’s why we have prayer, and that’s why we have scriptures. And that’s why we have temples and divine help.
To help us be maybe mothers in ways that we feel like our own mothers maybe didn’t fully understand. But if you had a mother like mine, you would know it’s virtually impossible not to be a believer. My mother’s testimony really was the air that we breathed as children. It just was in the room. It filled the house. And my mom does mean a lot to the Church. She’s married to an apostle. She was the first lady at BYU for 10 years and gave countless talks and devotionals and she’s written and co-written several books. She’s won awards. She’s a classically trained musician. She trained with a professor from Juilliard. She served as a member of the General Young Woman's presidency. She’s visited with presidents and kings.
I mean, she is an accomplished lady and she’s had a large impact on the Church and in the world, but honestly, that really doesn’t mean anything. I was going to say it doesn’t mean much to a child, but I really don’t know that it means anything to a child. It would not have changed–if you took away all of those things I just mentioned, it would not . . . change the woman who was my mother.
If you stripped away every one of those titles or accomplishments, she would still be the same woman who gave birth to me and raised me and the decisions that she made and the way that she loved me. All that mattered to my brothers and me was that she was our mother. And we knew she’d rather be our mother than doing any of those other sort of assignments that she was given.
She never really asked for them, we always knew she did them to serve the Lord. And that taught us also a lesson, but we knew the one thing she really wanted to be doing was to be our mother. And we always knew–she made sure we knew–that nothing made her happier than that.