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Mother’s Day Gifts: Beyond Geraniums

By Emily Milner

On Mother’s Day I listen to the talks praising Motherhood, I take home my geranium (does anyone like the smell of geraniums?), and leave feeling unworthy of the Mothers I’ve just heard about. I’ve always wanted to speak in Sacrament Meeting on Mother’s Day, to give a talk that doesn’t make me feel guilty and inadequate. But I have never been asked to, so this year I’m blogging instead. I was going to rant about Mother’s Day. The rant is still in me, but I’m trying to get away from that and think more about the women I honor, my mothers and grandmothers.

My Grandma Bishop raised eight children in a small white house with one bathroom. Eight children required frugality, a habit she still keeps. She plays Scrabble, sometimes with herself, and has beaten me every time I’ve tried to play her. And every so often, she writes letters.

This particular letter arrived on a day I had been feeling grumbly about mothering. Nothing specific wrong, no major catastrophes, only that general feeling of fatigue as I thought about all the weeks and months of potty training and laundry ahead of me. I had recently listened to Elder Bednar’s “tender mercy” talk, and I was wanting a tender mercy of my own. It came. Grandma wrote: “I just wanted to write and express my love to you wonderful grandchildren who are accepting the great responsibility of being parents and taking it seriously. It is a marvelous thing for me to see you sweet, wonderful mothers staying home”“nurturing, teaching, and guiding your children and bringing them up in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

I did not feel like a sweet, wonderful mother. I felt like an imitation mother, going through the motions without really knowing what I was doing. But I appreciated the way she validated me. It would have been easy for her to pass judgment, to say something like “I raised eight children without disposable diapers or a DVD player, so buck up!” Instead she recognized and honored the difficulty of choosing to be a mother. I needed her words that day. I felt her strength and love.

***
Easter Sunday my children sang “We Will Follow the Lord” for my family. It’s a song written by my husband’s mother, who passed away three years ago. My children do not remember her well, but we have taught them some of her songs, and they love this one. Scott danced with big leaps and arm-wavings as he sang; Norah twirled her yellow Easter dress. My family, including my Holdaway grandparents, watched their joy.

“As for me and my house, as for me and my house, we will follow the Lord.” I sang along, watching them dance, holding my breath a little from the sweetness of it. They were singing my mother-in-law’s song on Easter, and it made us all aware that she was not with us, but that one day she would be. My children couldn’t articulate this, but they could sing her songs.

And my Grandma Holdaway, watching them, said in wonder when they finished, “What if I missed that! Oh, what if I missed that!”

Although Grandma has many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, there’s nothing blasé about them to her. She does not get tired of watching them dance.

***
When my first baby was born, Mom arranged his room during my too-early labor and recovery. She helped us get home from the hospital. She got us settled. And then she left.

I wanted her to stay with me that night, to help me figure out how to change and feed this stranger. But she didn’t. She gave me a lot of help, and then let me figure it out. Through the next weeks and months, she helped me, tending and going with me to the doctor. But she also let me figure out what I was doing on my own. That’s my mom’s gift: to support me and let me go at the same time, to balance her assistance with the ways I need to grow.

This Mother’s Day I want to get away from my wallowing in motherhood insecurities. I want to ponder on the gifts from these strong women: respect and honor, delight in my children, sweet remembering music, and, most of all, the confidence that I really can join with them in mothering. I want to listen to my kids sing “Mother, I love you.” I believe them.

How have you been strengthened in your mothering by other women? How do you handle Mother’s Day frustrations or feelings of inadequacy? What’s the best Mother’s Day talk you’ve ever heard?

About Emily Milner

(Poetry Board) graduated from BYU in Comparative Literature, but it was long enough ago that most of what she learned has leaked out. She would like to mention other hobbies or interests, but to be honest she spends most of her free time reading (although she does enjoy attempting yoga). She used to blog at hearingvoices.wordpress.com. For now, though, Segullah is her only blogging home, and it's a good one.

10 thoughts on “Mother’s Day Gifts: Beyond Geraniums”

  1. Some of my "imitation mother" moments have been tempered by kind words from one of the many wonderful women in my life. And sometimes someone says something kind to me about my children, and I think I couldn't possibly be dooming them to tragic adulthood if they can be polite to strangers!

    And truthfully, the older my kids get, the more at home in my skin I am. I think it's partly because the snippy comments do seem to wane a bit, but also because I'm not listening for them as much.

    We women sometimes don't realize the strength of our influence on other women around us. I very clearly see how the women in my life affect me, but I rarely consider that I might be affecting someone else. There is just such strength in women together, and yet women can also be so unkind to each other. I'm just trying to focus on the former and ignore the latter.

    Thanks Emily!

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  2. I'm a new mom. 2 1/2 months new. And all I can think about is "how did you all do it?" How has every mother in the world done what she did? I have definitely felt inadequate but not because of other women. In fact, when I got home with the baby and the reality set in I was paralyzed with fear. . . it was only through reaching out to all my other new mom friends that I found out most of them felt that way too. Most of them had a hard time with the transition and are still trying to grasp the whole idea of being a mom. I guess it wasn't just my new mom friends either, but my mom and grandma also spilled the beans to how tough it was with their first babies as well. I'm sure I'll have those times where someone makes an off handed comment and makes me feel like I'm a bad mom, but for now I'm grateful that in expressing my insecurities other moms could empathize and express theirs as well.

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  3. I love scrabble! I never thought about playing it with myself, but it makes perfect sense. I want your grandma.

    I've watched other women all my life and adopted various mothers and role models to help me learn how to be a mother. I sure didn't learn it from my mother, she abandoned her children when the chips were down and preferred to smoke and drink rather than feed and clothe her children.

    I glom on to other women and soak up their wisdom. I can't let them love me–it hurts too much, I can't explain that. But I can learn from them.

    I haven't begun to master my feelings of regret or inadequacy. I also haven't heard a good mother's day talk. Although I liked Julie Beck's talk to the Young Women, wherein she talks about the sister who'd abused her children and gone on to repent and be a wonderful woman.

    I wish somebody would give a real mother's day talk.

    But–this is funny. One year we got tomato plants for Mother's Day. I sat there thinking, "just like a man."

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  4. ooh– i would've liked getting the tomato plants. is that weird of me?

    we once had a mother's day talk where the speaker told all these zany stories about her mom, who seemed sort of a "when i am an old woman i shall wear purple" kind of lady. so it was very entertaining to hear how she didn't drive and on day it was raining so she ordered a pizza and asked if she could be delivered with it to her destination! it was great. i like the off-beat, different thinking sort of women. and i love that we can all be different but share a sort of sisterhood simply by being mothers together and experiencing motherhood simultaneously. i loved what you said, justine, about "strength in women together." that is so true.

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  5. Thanks all for your comments. Justine, this is my delayed response to your post last week, which I very much enjoyed. I'm getting better about not letting comments get to me too… I think. It depends on the day and the comment. I like what you say about strength in women together.

    Miggy, can I say that my first was my hardest? Everyone told me two and three would be an adjustment, but still, nothing was harder for me than that first baby. You can do one, you can do anything. Thanks so much for your comments.

    Annegb–my grandma is cool. Up until a few years ago she did yoga and could stand on her head. She also climbed to the top of Mount Timpanogos in her seventies. I need to look up the Julie Beck talk. I've never heard of tomato plants before!

    Brooke–What a great talk. Exactly the kind I would love to hear on Mother's Day.

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  6. I also received tomato plants for Mother's Day last year from the ward, and it was the best gift I had ever received for Mother's Day! I get so much more excited growing things than looking at a flower that's been cut, though–it may just be me.

    I really respect all the women who have struggled through life, knowing they weren't perfect, but doing their best anyway. I respect the mothers who are honest with their children about their own insecurities, and I try to be that way with my children. They know I'm not perfect, but I hope they also feel closer to me because of it. I'm just so grateful that children are forgiving, and as long as you keep loving them, even if you lose your temper more than you want to, they will still love you and grow up right.

    Thanks for your post, Emily!

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  7. I hope no one minds me eavesdropping on this blog, but I was asked to give a talk this Sunday on Mother's (obviously). While I am sure it's far too late to get some thoughts from anyone past what has been posted here, I am very curious as to what you would "like" to hear on Mother's Day for a talk? I was trying to prepare my talk and came upon several interesting musings from different women regarding these same topics, so just figured I would ask. And I know you are thinking "just like a man to wait until the last minute to prepare a talk", I was only given this assignment Thursday 🙂 I guess you don't realize that giving examples of mighty women in history and the church could leave other women struggling to accept themselves as great mothers. This topic sort of came to me (only a different twinge so to speak) just before visiting this post and it would be nice to perhaps speak on this very topic for mother's day.

    If anyone reads this and would like to email me any thoughts and suggestions, please do: ddobes AT yahoo DOT com

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  8. Daniel, you are welcome.

    This is what I like to hear on Mother's Day: specific examples and stories of how the mothering women in the speaker's life (this can include teachers, aunts, mothers, grandmothers) have blessed and nurtured you. I am partial to Sheri Dew's talk "Are We Not All Mothers?" (I am in a rush so I'll let you look it up yourself) that way, because it's very inclusive of all women.

    If you're specific and detailed enough in your stories, then you can avoid sappiness and sentimentality. For example:

    Bad: My mother always had fresh chocolate chip cookies when we got home from school. She was just so sweet that way.

    This may be true, but it's said in a way that implies that all mothers who do not bake cookies are bad. It doesn't imply it directly, but it will make women in the audience feel guilty.

    Better: I remember one afternoon I'd had a hard day at school, and I came home to the smell of cookies. My mother made them often, but this particular day it was just what I needed… [continue to tell the specific, detailed story of why the day was bad and how the mother helped.]

    That's not perfect, but you get the idea. What makes me feel guilty are generalities about Motherhood and how all Mothers are. But it's hard to argue with a specific, real, detailed story of how you have been blessed by nurturing women. And it's helpful for me to hear stories of faithful struggle. It's okay to talk about great women in the Church and in scriptures. It's also okay to paint them as real, human people–not to dwell upon their faults, but to make their greatness accessible to the rest of us.

    Got to run. Hope this helps. Good luck with your talk (if you want to report on what you said, that would be great. 🙂 ).

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  9. Thank you sooo much. I thought I was completely finished with my talk but after reading your own post and Sheri Dew's article (which was surprisingly hard to find on lds.org!) I had to include some of her quotes and your examples. I actually had already included those same type details of specific examples, but it is amazing how a simple "my mother baked cookies and was the best mom" type statement could lead women to feel intimidated and not worthy of being a mother. Especially if they hated chocolate chip cookies 🙂

    I hoping my talk does justice to women everywhere, but I think that is a tall order to fill. My main point in the talk (or will be tomorrow) is the influence of mothers in everyone's lives. From your own mother (or lack thereof) to the mothers around you. They shape all aspects of life. From the shaping of young minds to the influence other mothers have with the women around them (as Justine posted about).

    Of course, now that I start thinking about that, I a wonder if that doesn't inspire feelings of inadequacies among some women. Bah, I had better just stop thinking and go to bed now!

    Thanks again for the help and inspiration here.

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  10. Daniel, it's clear that you have put a lot of thought and prayer into this talk. So, I am sure the Spirit will bless your efforts. That's the main thing when you're speaking anyway.

    Women with a chip on their shoulder may be offended, and there's a lot of that on Mother's Day. But I've never been miffed by a sincere, honest talk, that truly communicates love and respect. Even if the words aren't exactly right, the Spirit can convey your love and honor.

    Thanks for your comments (and sorry the Sheri Dew talk was tricky to find!)

    Reply

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