Latter-day Saint Life

Stephanie Nielson shares touching detail about her recovery—and it’s made me a more joyful mother

Stephanie Nielson and her oldest daughter Claire.

In a talk given just before he became president of the Church, President Thomas S. Monson shared, “Parents everywhere realize that the most powerful combination of emotions in the world is not called out by any grand cosmic event, nor is it found in novels or history books, but merely by a parent gazing down upon a sleeping child.”

This week’s special Mother’s Day episode of the All In podcast featured an interview with author and mother of five Stephanie Nielson and her oldest daughter Claire Nielson. As part of their discussion, Stephanie shared how she found motivation from the powerful emotions of motherhood after a life-altering accident in 2008 severely burned over 80% of her body:

“From an early age, motherhood was the job, the profession that I wanted. So I took it seriously at a really, really young age, and I felt like, before the accident, I was really good at being a mom. … And I felt like I wanted to finish that job. …

“We were prepared to have family take over if we needed [after the accident], … but the fact is that they are my children. They were given to me, and I wanted to raise them. And they were my motivation to get better.

“In the hospital, my physical therapists would say, ‘Let’s work on stretching so that you can get better.’ I would have to do these silly preschool things, like separate blocks and organize them by color. And all these things were just really hard for my fingers and my hands. And I wasn’t motivated.

“It wasn’t until the nurses would say, ‘Let’s pretend you’re playing with your children. Or let’s say you’re vacuuming, or you need to reach for the spaghetti sauce in the cupboard.’ And it wasn’t until I got those prompts that I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I'm working for. I want to get back to my kids.’

“That just changed me overnight. … That saved my life. I would think about my kids. I wanted to get back to them. I wanted to get back to putting them down for naps and reading stories to them and riding bikes together and playing around.”

In all honesty, unlike Stephanie, motherhood is not something that I immediately felt like I was “good at.” And in hindsight, I think part of what made it so challenging initially was I had to learn to give up some control.

When you’re just responsible for yourself, you can roughly sketch out most of what your day-to-day life entails. But children—even from their earliest days—get to be their own little humans. Every single day feels like a total shot in the dark as to how things will go, and as hard as you try, you can’t make your kids fall asleep at a certain time or learn to walk or use a toilet or play nicely with other kids or eat their veggies or learn to read or behave in school. I could probably fill three more paragraphs with examples.

But like Stephanie, I can also attest to the fact that so much of what I do every day is beautifully motivated by my son. He has stretched my husband and me in important ways, he has brought me light and deeper love than I knew was possible, and he has taught us so much about the love of our heavenly parents. In short, he is exactly what our family needed.

So maybe one important lesson I’ve learned about motherhood is taking inventory of your ultimate motivation and then taking advantage of the things you can control to reach that goal. When Stephanie’s life was thrown completely sideways after her accident, she knew she still wanted to be an involved and active mother to her kids. So she took advantage of what she could control, which for her at that point was healing and staying “on this side of heaven,” as she puts it.

I also loved what Claire Nielson, Stephanie’s oldest daughter, had to say in recognition of Stephanie’s efforts to be intentional as a mom and how important that has been for her as a daughter. It gives me hope that my own efforts as a mother may be recognized one day, too.

“My mom has created a home that is happy and safe and somewhere we want to come home to. It makes me sad when moms say, ‘I’m just a mom,’ because you’re not just a mom. Moms are everything.

“We live in a scary world. We need good homes where kids can grow up safe, where they can grow their relationship with Heavenly Father, and where they can learn about Jesus Christ. So that when we go out into the world, we have those essential things like a strong testimony. And a place where we learned important lessons so that we can be good moms and dads and missionaries and help other people.”

Listen to the full episode in the player below or on your favorite streaming platform. 

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