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Are Mothers Born or Made?

By Andrea Rediske

Here is another welcome guest post from Andrea R. There are days when I am covered in barf, poop, pee, and mucus, when children are clamoring, and when juggling two little ones and a disabled child leave me feeling completely overwhelmed.  I think to myself, “I am NOT cut out for this job!”Having grown up in the LDS Church, I was groomed from a young age to grow up to be a mother, to raise children in the gospel and to be the nurturing foundation to my family.  I have been counseled by leaders, teachers, and my patriarchal blessing that this calling is one of the most important things I will ever do with my life.  I came to believe it then, and I still believe it now as the mother of three children. I babysat when I was growing up, and I did it mainly for the money. When people brought their newborn babies to church, I wasn’t one of those girls fawning over the darling babies, and while I enjoyed holding one, I was always happy to give it back to its mother.  My mom always told me, “It’s different when they’re your own.”  I hoped to believe her.I went to BYU partly because I knew there would be nice Mormon boys there that I could date and eventually marry, but I also went because I had a scholarship and was very interested in getting my degree.  I served a mission, and wasn’t particularly distressed when I didn’t get married until I was 25.  When we felt we were ready to have kids (5 years after we were married), my husband had to talk me into getting pregnant, and when the pregnancy test was positive, my life flashed before my eyes.Still, I took the leap of faith because I knew that it was what I was supposed to do with my life.  It was right and good for me to be home with my kids.  It was what the Lord wanted me to do.  But here’s my problem:  I like working.  Being a mom is hard for me, and some days I wished that I had gone back and gotten my PhD and was working to eradicate polio around the globe rather than clean up three little humans’ various bodily emissions.  Some days I feel like nothing I do matters – everything I do becomes undone. “Didn’t I just wash these dishes yesterday? Wasn’t this room tidy just a few minutes ago?”I envy my husband his quiet office where he has a place to think, and where little hands aren’t prying his fingers off the keyboard while he’s trying to respond to an email.  I envy the adult conversations that he has every day that don’t revolve around who has to go potty or where is their blankie or who has barfed on what.  I envy his lunches out with his colleagues that don’t involve fights over eating macaroni and cheese or peanut butter.  I actually have a part time teaching job at night, partly for the income, but partly because if I don’t have an adult conversation once in a while, I may have to be committed.But I love my children.  My mom was right – it is different when they are your own, and I love my children with the kind of deep and visceral love that sometimes frightens me.  Sometimes the cute things they do make me want to explode with happiness.  I just don’t feel all that good at being a mom – I don’t feel like I’m cut out for it. I hate having a messy house, and I get uptight over dirty dishes in the sink and laundry strewn all over the house. I long for a clean and orderly laboratory, for an office with a door that I can close and collect my thoughts, to go to the bathroom and not have someone open the door and say, “Peek a boo!”  The constant neediness of my children is sometimes overwhelming, and I am terrified that I may neglect some important need, that my children may suffer because of something I have done wrong.But I’ve made my choice.  I know that being a stay at home mom is vitally and eternally important, that my children need me there to care for them, to guide them, and to make them feel secure.  I know that this is what the Lord would have me do with my life – He has told me this over and over through my leaders, The Proclamation on the Family, and my patriarchal blessing.  I know that there will be benefits and blessings to me being home with my children that won’t be evident for many years in the future, and may be completely intangible.  I try to have faith that what I’m doing is the right thing for me to be doing.  Still I struggle.  My prayer goes something like this:  “Lord, I am doing what You have asked me to do.  This is hard for me and isn’t something I would necessarily have done if You hadn’t asked me.  I’m trying to do the right thing.  Please help me.”

About Andrea Rediske

(Blog Team) is the proud mother of two living sons, aged 9 and 7, and Ethan, who passed away in early February 2014. She is currently working as a freelance science writer and blogger and will begin a PhD program in Science Education at the University of Central Florida in Fall 2014. When she's not juggling the laundry, her writing work, and the busy lives of her little boys, she likes to squeeze in a triathlon now and then. Also, her husband rocks.

10 thoughts on “Are Mothers Born or Made?”

  1. I don't know anyone who was born to be a great mother, and I tend to think that anyone who says being a mother is "easy" is lying — either to me or to themselves.

    But ease isn't necessarily the end goal, here. I'm kinda hoping that the harder it is for me, the better I'll ultimately be at it. Because sometimes, my "career-self" is hollering so loudly at me that I can hardly hear anything else.

    My prayers sound somewhat similar, as I just wish I knew how to parent, how to be patient, how to spiritually nourish my children, how to, how to, how to…

    There are just so many things to learn…

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  2. When my kids were small, there was a regional conference with Pres. Hinckley in the BYU Marriot Center. My toddlers were going crazy with the noise and the crowds and the change in routine, and I wasn't appreciating it much either.

    No idea who spoke that day. Pres. Hinckley, presumably. The only thing I remember was from Sister Hinckley. She said with her twinkly smile, "I just love to see you young mothers with your little ones. It almost makes me want to trade places with you." It was the "almost" that got me. It said, in code we young mothers could hear, "I know it's hard and annoying and not very fulfilling, but hang in there, because it's important and it gets better."

    It does get better, too. Big kids, in my opinion, are where it's at!

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  3. I was not a born mother. Not by a long shot. But I do think I was born, in part to be a mother. I think the transition from work to home was hard for me partially because I had spent so much time developing academic and work related skills and so little time developing homemaking skills. It was depressing to start over in doing something that made me feel frustrated instead of successful. Years later I still feel overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood sometimes. Having a career was way easier. But I wouldn't go back.

    PS Maralise did a post called Natural Born Mothers a few months ago that you might like.

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  4. Reading everyone's responses and some other posts with similar themes, I think this is an issue for a lot of women — many of us struggle with being SAHMs. One of the things that I edited out of my original post is that my husband is much more laid back and playful and doesn't get as uptight as I do about the housework — he would make a MUCH better stay at home parent than I do. Also, I have a more advanced degree than he does, and technically speaking, I probably have greater earning power than he does. I guess I just wish the mandate wasn't always so cut and dried: Mothers are the primary nurturers, fathers are the breadwinners. I wish that growing up, and even before we had kids I had heard, "Traditionally, the mothers are the primary nurturers for the children and fathers are the breadwinners, but this scenario may not work for everyone, so you need to figure out what works best for your particular family." Knowing what I know now, I may have chosen differently.

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  5. Motherhood for me is definitely, positively, absolutely, continually a process. I have been doing this for almost a decade, and I'm still feeling like I'm trying to figure it all out and really be a good mom.

    My husband recently said flat out that I was born to be in the board room. I'm a natural for the business world, and that has made motherhood all the harder, because it hasn't come naturally for me. But it's also all that much more rewarding in its own right because I'm having to work to become. And it's exciting when I can sense little parts of my heart changing, loving motherhood more and more, and feeling my desires and goals changing. (I am nearing the 'all kids in school' stage and I'm finding it interesting that I'm not sure that I'll be going back to work during that block of time in my day. The Lord keeps molding me and guiding me and life keeps unfolding as I go…an adventure!)

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  6. My husband also makes a much better homemaker than I do. He was the stay at home parent for the first couple of years of our oldest daughter's life. I was the one with the advanced degree. But even though he was a natural at keeping the house clean etc, it was really terrible for our marriage. Our family life was totally transformed when I came home. The house got messier, and I struggled with other aspects of the job as well, but the dynamics of our relationship shifted in a crucial way. I have had many spiritual confirmations and reminders since then. I know now that this is where I am called to be, whatever the challenges may be.

    Andrea, I think the idea of doing something that feels wrong and is incredibly difficult for many years would be almost impossible for me to sustain. Even the Proclamation just sets forth general guidelines. I wouldn't be doing this if I hadn't had a personal confirmation in some form or another (it did seem to have taken lots of them in my case!) I hope you can receive a personal answer about what you are supposed to be doing. There is still time to develop in other areas if that is where you are guided to go. I my case, I still get ongoing comfort and confirmation that the SAHM path is right for me at this time, but I so value the peace that that confirmation brings. I also ask for inspiration all the time in dealing with the constantly shifting dynamics in our home–everything from the schedule to my children's spiritual development. It is too hard to go it alone.

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  7. To clarify: I didn't mean to imply that following Church guidelines is optional. My point was just that we are fortunate as Latter Day Saints to have access to personal guidance as we figure out to apply those guidelines. I nurture my family by being home full time, including home schooling. I believe that full time mothering is very valuable and too often neglected, but I also know that nurturing looks different for different women for various reasons. We don't have to live with regret, wondering if this or that sacrifice was needed, because ongoing reassurance and direction is available for each of us.

    I wish you all the best!

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  8. Andrea, I can so relate. I have nothing to add, just that – I could have written this post. Thanks for posting it.

    By the way, my DH and I have taken turns as the breadwinner, and it's been wonderful for the kids and our relationship, because we both get it, how hard it is to be home sometimes.

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  9. I loved your thoughts. I always love reading things like this because it reminds me that I'm not alone–everybody finds motherhood a great stretching experience.

    I've been on both sides of this. I went through many years of infertility before becoming a mother, and during that time all I wanted was to be a parent and be home with children. I had opportunities to further my career in music and use the advanced degree I'd gotten, but my longing for motherhood made it virtually impossible to focus on a career or to appreciate the opportunity that I had. As a result, I didn't do much with career pursuits.

    Now, as a stay-at-home mother, I deeply regret that. I never could have envisioned the conflict that I would experience between my career aspirations (and fulfillment of practicing my craft) and my desire to do the best possible for my children. The realities of parenthood are far harder and less glamorous than I could have ever envisioned, and my longings to be able to be more immersed in my music are much stronger than I ever dreamed they would be. I do want to stress that I love my children beyond belief, and truly I know, having been there, that in spite of the challenges, parenting children is better, more joyful, and more fulfilling than not having them to parent.

    I do tend to think that maybe one of the reasons we need to be mothers is precisely because the experience stretches and refines us far more than any career could. The other day I was rocking my toddler to sleep, initially frustrated because she is so hard to get to sleep and doesn't stay asleep, and we do this routine day after day with little progress. Yet as I looked into her eyes, I had the thought that I am literally responsible for creating her life experience. Of course she has agency and will make her own choices and define her life to a great extent, but it is me who will have the second largest impact on who she becomes and how happy she is in life. Working to create a happy and well-adjusted human being is far, far more important than anything else I could be doing.

    A few months ago I wrote back and forth with another woman who has been in my shoes, but whose children are now grown. She had such valuable insights! She pointed out that the academic experience that seems to be the source of some of my angst is in fact such a great blessing because it gives me something to look forward to when my children are older. Because of that experience, I can make plans and have dreams about the future that I wouldn't have otherwise. It is a matter, for me, of looking at the glass as half full instead of half empty. She also shared with me the profound idea that the core issue really is finding out what the Lord would have me do at this time with the gifts I've been given. When I look at it this way, it removes the conflict between my life as a musician and my life as a mother.

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  10. I haven't had the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom yet in my life; but while I always thought it sounded great, now it terrifies me. I don't know that I'm cut out for it either, and I have all the same fears you do! Thanks for honestly expressing what I'm sure many of us are feeling.

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