I’ve been thinking about this post for several months, while caring for my new baby and reading, every so often, the series of posts Segullah ran on working mothers.
It was, to be honest, a hard series for me. Every time I read about someone who was guided to apply for that job or do this career move I felt envious. I wish I’d gotten a graduate degree of some kind so I could at least teach a class or two someplace. I wish I felt good about doing that right now. But I’m swimming in the middle of kids, juggling a baby, a toddler, and three older kids, and I don’t have the funds or the time to do anything besides fantasize about some day returning to school and getting a teaching degree.
Because for me, motherhood is a constant battle to not get discouraged. The house is always, always messy. Except at one a.m. on Saturday, after I’ve spent the entire day attempting to catch up. The active child always needs my attention, the baby needs to eat and to be played with, the toddler needs to be kept from removing all the keys on the computer keyboard and scattering cold cereal down the stairs (that was just today), the other kids need me always to listen, and it feels like I don’t have enough time to do anything (yoga, scriptures, write) that would give me enough internal strength to handle all the demands on my resources and sanity.
I taught Relief Society a couple of months ago and it was fabulous. The Spirit was there, the discussion went well, I was funny and tender, and it was this adrenaline rush that reminded me how much I love teaching, and (let me say it) how good I am at it. I would love to do this all the time, I think. I know I’d hate grading papers (all my teacher friends tell me so), but I think I’d love to teach. I didn’t plan my life well enough, though, and so here I am without any marketable skill unless I go back to school, mothering like I’ve been told I’m supposed to do and feeling like I can never ever do it well enough.
So when I read posts about other women who are using their talents, the ones I feel like I’m squandering, I have this raw envy inside me. Because stay at home mothering is a sacrifice for me, and if I’m doing this, I want it to be necessary. If it’s not necessary for them, why is it for me? I want my time spent at home to be essential somehow. I want it to be vital to my children’s development that I be here, all day long. Because if it’s not vital, then what the heck am I doing here? Why don’t I go out and do something I’m good at, something I don’t feel like I’m just muddling through all the time?
It is this feeling, for me, that is at the heart of the mommy wars: whatever sacrifice we make for our children and families, whether it’s staying at home or sacrificing time with your children to work, we all want that sacrifice to be necessary. It’s part of the story we tell ourselves.
The envy comes when I extrapolate what’s necessary in my life and project it onto someone else: the lie that if this sacrifice is necessary for me and my family, it must always be for yours too. Because the core truth about sacrifice, documented in the scriptures and Church history, is that sacrifice is intimate, personal, unique to each person. The Anti-Nephi-Lehis sacrificed their lives, over a thousand of them, to keep their covenants. That was their choice, and God consecrated their sacrifice but also guided Ammon to get the survivors to safety so they would not all have to give up the same thing. The people who kept the law of Moses no longer needed to make the same sacrifices after the Savior’s coming; animal sacrifices were done away with, and the law changed. As much as we honor the Martin and Willie handcart pioneers, it’s worth noting that no one was ever allowed to leave so late in the season again. No one else was ever asked to sacrifice in that way.
Sacrifice, then, is unique and specific. The only common denominator is a broken heart and a contrite spirit. But what that looks like in practice varies from person to person, from woman to woman. For some women, it looks like giving up time with their children to go provide for their families by caring for cancer patients, teaching microbiology students, driving a forklift. For me, it looks like the bookshelves in my bedroom, which I stripped of actual books to make room for baby clothes, for baby #5, last spring.
I am working on the broken heart and contrite spirit. It’s a work in progress. I believe, in the end, that God can and will make sacred my offerings, my muddling through this season. And that I will have the grace to, at some point, rejoice in sacrificing, and not envy others because they have not given up the same things I have.