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So, What else do you “do”?

By Heather Herrick

This if for my friend who recently wrote me an email about her discouragement.

She has a three-year-old and a new baby. Someone asked her the other day, “So, what do you do besides keep 2 children alive?” They laughed a bit, but the girl waited for an answer and my friend stood there thinking, “I don’t do ANYTHING but keep two children alive. That’s all I do.”

Feeling a complex over this realization she wrote to me for advice and guidance. Which is so sweet, but of course I’m thinking, “I’m not doing anything else either. I’m keeping 3 children alive and trying to grow another one.” I’m just entering the second trimester of a pregnancy. I’ve been tired and sick the majority of most days for the past 8-10 weeks. I’m just now starting to feel a bit more energetic, a tad less sick. But during these past weeks of physical strain I have experienced some intense emotions of discouragement & uncertainty. Some hours have been spent tossing and turning in my bed, reading scriptures but not finding comfort, blankly staring at journal pages not sure what to write. I’ve fought with my five-year-old, spanked my two-year-old, and taken my seven-year-old for granted. I feel inadequate & ashamed. I’ve been snippy with my husband and felt sorry for myself. What could I possibly have to offer in words of advice and encouragement for this friend?

I sent out an S-O-S to another friend the other day in the midst of a tearful late evening “episode”. “I need a motherhood pep text,” I wrote. She sent a note back, “I actually have an entire article I want to send. There is no doubt that we are engaged in a sacred work. And they are children so briefly. Only 5 years and 8 months until [my oldest] goes to college. Enjoy a snuggle today.”

My kids were already in bed, so I couldn’t really get a snuggle right then, but I did quietly go to each of their beds and smooth away the hair from their faces and feel their warm breath on my hands as I pulled blankets back up under their chins. I whispered I’m sorry and resolved to do better the next day.

The article she sent is called, “My Home as a Temple,” by Kristine Manwaring. It appears to have been published in Meridian magazine in April, 2009, but I couldn’t find an active link to share with you. However, the gist of the article is the author’s struggle and ultimate discovery and acceptance of the sacredness that can be found in the everyday. I hope she won’t mind me sharing a section of her writing here. A wise friend of the author shared her belief that, “the work of feeding, clothing, and nurturing one another is every bit as spiritual as it is physical. She feels strongly that when ordinary, life-sustaining tasks are done together as a family, they bind family members to one another in small but critical ways. I was startled to realize that she saw as “sacred” the tasks that I always thought were obstacles to sacredness. And for evidence, she turned to the scriptures. The parable of the sheep and the goats found in Matthew 25 clearly shows that Christ will judge us according to our willingness to feed and clothe “the least of these my brethren” (verse 40). Does this include members of our own families? In fact, Christ used imagery of feeding and washing and cleaning throughout His parables and object lessons. “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd” (Isa. 40:11). He will wash “away the filth of the daughters of Zion” (2 Ne. 14:4) and “sweep away the bad out of [His] vineyard” (Jacob 5:66). He even likens Himself to a hen who “gathereth her chickens under her wings” (Matt. 23:37).
Even more striking to me, Christ not only spoke of these things, He personally did them. He fed multitudes with limited tangible resources in a miraculous example of His attention to our physical as well as spiritual hunger. He washed the feet of His disciples to illustrate the humble service required of a Master and to reveal what He was willing to do that we might be entirely clean. In the book of Moses, He states that He, Himself, made the coats of skins to clothe Adam and Eve. When seen in this new light, my perception of tasks like peeling potatoes and scrubbing floors began to turn upside down and inside out. It was becoming obvious to me that when we care for the physical as well as the spiritual needs of our families, we are patterning our lives after the Savior.” (end quoted section)

The very purpose of our lives is to become like the Savior. Keeping 2 small children alive, helping a teenager with a school report, making a bed, tying a shoe, washing a dish with a 10-year-old, isn’t a “just”. The same friend of mine who sent the article said something several months ago I’ve thought of again and again when I feel discouraged and wonder what I’m doing & if I’m spending my time well. She said, “I’m striving for eternal salvation for me and my family every day. I think that’s enough.”

Are you able to recognize that sacredness? What helps you remember?

About Heather Herrick

Heather currently lives in the center of the universe (she’s not being egotistical, it’s true—ask any other New Yorker). She loves NYC, but misses the mountains of Utah where she grew up. Heather and her husband are glad that the baby from her poem now sleeps alone; baby two spoils her mama by having the cutest dimple ever, and hopefully will not become a kicker like her sister.

34 thoughts on “So, What else do you “do”?”

  1. In a recent Relief Society on covenants, the teacher proposed that she felt overwhelmed and inadequate when it came to living the law of consecration. I think that is the easiest covenant to keep — I am living the law of consecration every day. I devote my time and talents and resources to raising kids. I am raising future missionaries who need to know the gospel, iron a shirt, make a meal, and get along. I am raising future church leaders who need to know how to serve, and their training ground is in my home. When folding laundry and making lunches and scrubbing toilets (and teaching my kids to do the same) is viewed in this framework, everything I do becomes more holy.

  2. Thanks for this. I too would love to find the full article. This was just the boost I needed at this time, and gave me some great food for thought.

    Now off to the divinity of making dinner, bathing kids, cleaning the kitchen after our 10 year olds gourmet cookie adventure, and so on and so forth.

    Best wishes to you as you continue through this pregnancy keeping FOUR children alive and well. It is God's work.

  3. I could say so much about this topic. Many pregnancies ago when I "only" had a 6, 5, 3, and 1 yr old and was suffering from anemia with absolutely no energy, I was sitting in a chair feeling depressed. My dear husband (who was much younger and naive-er and who was struggling to know how to deal with a normally active, energetic wife who was now a couch potato) suggested that if I wanted to feel better I should serve someone. (That's the correct "Sunday School" answer, right?) If I had had the energy I might have risen off my recliner and throttled him. "Serve someone?" I asked acidly. "With what energy and WHAT DO YOU THINK I'VE BEEN DOING?" (To his credit he realized his error and backtracked immediately.) Keeping young children alive is a VITAL service (usually provided invisibly) by so many women day in and day out at great personal sacrifice. Too many times (for a variety of reasons–all topics for another post) that service gets discounted. But how do you keep that baby/child alive (let alone well) unless you give constant, vigilant service? I am grateful that God has provided understanding leaders that shore us up and remind us of the truths of eternity. I love that Pres. Hinckley said that in our sphere, our responsibility is just as important as his. I think he is right, especially as it pertains to motherhood.

  4. I fiercely believe in this with my whole heart. It's why I chose to do this mother-thing, inclusive of all the joy and heartache. I love being a mother, and to me it is the most sacred and important work I do; however, I can't help but feel the sting of the world when I'm in a room full of "professionals" and they ask me what *else* I do. Because, actually, I could be doing a whole lot of fabulous things. Instead (and not that being a mother doesn't have its fabulous points) I mother 24/7 with an RS pres. gig on the side. My verbal "resume" in the midst of people who get to do other fabulous things in their lives seems simple, inadequate and mundane. Even though I would never trade what I have, it is hard to protect myself from these red-hot, fiery darts…
    And I think all mothers need a good "motherhood pep text" on a regular basis. 😉

  5. I am absolutely able to recognize the sacredness of what I am doing, however, the recognition seems to me a process. Don't most of us go through a period of doubt thinking that we are not doing enough? I had read enough to know that Satan was the author of that lie. I had also been a teacher before staying home and the thought occurred to me one day that caring for my baby WAS my "job". I would NEVER have put a video on for my students so I could go make copies, grade tests or clean out a cupboard. While they were in my care, I taught them. It's no different for a mother of children at home. The children are our job. We play with them, feed them, hold them, read to them, take them to the park, etc. Cleaning the house, washing the clothes, and household projects are things that it would appear we have more time to do because we are physically in the house, but anyone who stays home and raises children knows that that is a farce. A lot of our stress as mothers is due to the fact that we never feel like we can keep up. We are trying to keep up with too much. Satan delights in sending the message that we have to be everywhere and be everything. It takes our attention away from the most important job we will ever do.

    I have so much I want to say, but I don't want to take up the space. I have been working on my job description for a long time, and I have reached a place where I know that this is the most important work I will ever do. All too soon I will have all the time I need to clean my house, plant a garden, organize closets and make beds. Now is not the time for me to focus on those things; it's the time for me to cuddle and love and nurture the sweet spirits that have been sent to me. It takes more time and energy to do my job well than any other job out there, and I am darn good at what I do. 🙂

  6. I hate going to a party for my husband's job or sitting on a plane and having someone ask me the "dreaded question". I completely belive in what I'm doing. My testimony of the vital job of raising children is rock solid (I don't have such a testimony of housework, though. Darn it.) But I always feel like some sort of imbecile when I have to tell people what my job is. So I finally composed/memorized a little intro (you have to be a bit intrepid to do this, but I'm usually in a feisty mood):

    "I have six children. It's the grass-roots way I've chosen to change the world. I'm pretty much raising the future leaders of America."

    And then I hand them a business card which I have printed with my name and "Amazing Feats of Domesticity."

    They always say, "wow. Good for you." In their heads they probably think I'm a psycho. But they keep that to themselves.

  7. Yes, it is a dreaded question. It can be like trying to talk to someone who lives in rural China about my day. Not only do we speak a different language but our cultures are worlds apart.

    I think I've read that article, its wonderful.

    I'm easing out of the physically intense baby years and see a bit better how important my role is. (Having a teenager will do that.) I realize more how hard Satan works to discourage mothers. Staying close to the Lord is vital for me. Without His spirit to remind me what is most important in this life motherhood can seem like foolishness.

  8. While enormously pregnant with our #4, my husband came home from work to find me in the same corner of the couch, looking greenish, as I'd occupied that morning. He asked, "How was your day, Punky?" and I replied, "I didn't kill any of your children." He wisely kissed my forehead and said, "Thank you. I'll handle dinner; do you want a hot shower?" 🙂

    Some days it might seem like an endless round of the mundane, but I do take a lot of inspiration from people through history who have turned the mundane into the divine. Looking at what I'm *really* doing at home with our kids is enlightening.

    I'm raising adults. I'm mentoring them in all the skills they'll need for the rest of their lives. I'm teaching them to find satisfaction in work, and delight in small details (like writing in the window condensation, or curling up under blankets to read books.) I'm teaching them that connections happen in small, consistent ways, that socks will always need matched up. I'm teaching them to have delight in the world, and curiosity, because I don't confine myself to "kid" experiences–rather, I share MY delights and loves and curiosity with them. (Thank you, YouTube, for a big collection of all the music I like! My kids are well-versed in 80s and 90s music, as well as a fat lot of classical stuff. And hair bands.)

    I'm absolutely NOT perfect at "being a Mom at home"–but I do love my career, and my family, so I keep showing up, every single day. One of these years, I'll get to use the bathroom without any company at all, too.

  9. I think I'd get along with the friend who sent along a whole article, because I'd do the same thing! As a matter of fact, I have three articles to share, all from the Ensign.

    As soon as I read this, I thought of this article:
    The story is about the author's conflict between working and motherhood, but I think it applies here because it is still about things that discourage us or distract us from our worth as women and mothers.

    This is a somewhat lighthearted approach to finding joy in moments:

    And this article has some excellent points about the value of mothers, including the very real economic and social benefits they provide:

    I like Jennie's comment about the business card. When I was a kid we gave my mom a pack of cards that just said "MOM" in big bold letters. I don't think she ever gave them out. Instead, she put them to use in craft projects and as "coupons" for TV watching or other privileges. Only a mom would put her business cards to work like that! 🙂

  10. THANK YOU for posting this! I am not a mom (YET) but I have struggled recently with how I've begun to define myself by what I DO for money, and not by who I AM. It's been a hard month in that respect, especially because I can hardly wait to have a family–still preparing for Mr. Future. Every time I see something like this, my internal commitment to my future family grow stronger. I will probably cry the day I can answer "I am a mom" to the question "so, what do you do".

  11. Besides my own testimony and the reassurance over and over from the Holy Ghost, Sister Beck is the main influence who helps me remember the sacredness of my role and job. Any time I'm down and discouraged about it, her talks can help me. (Oh, and Elder Ballard's Daughters of God talk. Love that one.)

  12. The last two years have given me the opportunity to answer the "what do you do?" question several times. My husband is almost finished with a very competitive executive master's program (which means flying to another city every other weekend), and we had our fifth child within months of starting the program. There are only three LDS students in the entire program; and although there are several married students with children, nobody has more than 3.

    Except us.

    Luckily, I had experience with those questions while living in California with our four children. I was approached almost daily with the "how can you do it?" "Why aren't you working, too?" questions. I was prepared for the onslaught from the very educated women (most executives themselves) about what I "did."

    I prepared myself thusly:
    1. Don't care what they think. Without bragging or seeming proud, boldly declare that you love being a mother.
    2. Laugh along with their surprise; don't make the situation awkward.
    3. Be confident. This was a CHOICE. You CHOSE to be a mother, and your reasons go beyond society. Your reasons come from God.

    That helped me immensely, and honestly? I ended up not needing to be so "prepared." Most women admired me and my choices. Some of them are now my dearest friends.

    (Great post!)

  13. "One of the most important jobs you will ever have is within the walls of your own home". I saw this at church but can't remember who said it. It has been known to get me through a tough day.

  14. I love this post. I absolutely believe the principles you express here, and admit that some days it's easy to forget.

    Just in the last week, I have felt uplifted in my basic mom-duties because I've purposely thought of the Savior every time I start to get annoyed or discouraged. In my mind, I say to him, "I'm doing this for you. I'm trying to make my home a place where you are welcome." Sounds trite, but it's helped me a lot.

  15. I had an epiphany about this the other day. I'll never be able to do justice to the thought now, but it had to do with the scripture in Luke 9:46-48 and also Luke 18:15-17. In the first, Jesus references a child and says "whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me." In the second, He suffers the little children to come to Him.

    I seem to spend so much time enduring silly games or nonsense conversations with my children in order to get on to more important things. At the same time, I want so desperately to have the Savior more abundantly in my life and to become the kind of person He would have me be. It dawns on me periodically that receiving my children (or the other children who find their way to my side) allows me to receive the Savior in my life in a way that nothing else can. He had things of eternal importance to do, and yet He suffered the little children.

    I still dread the aforementioned “what do you do?” question. I don’t have a cute answer for it, but I care less what others think now.

  16. I agree, that my primary purpose and the bulk of "what I do" is entirely motherhood. But I have to say… I would be a terrible mother if I didn't have my morning hour to write while the kids clean up their rooms and eat their breakfasts. And I wouldn't be a sane mother without my Wednesday "nights out," when I get to go to my music lesson and my writing critique group 🙂

    So… what I do? Motherhood.
    And Writing.
    And Singing.

    This, for me = Sanity. This way, if I have a day where I completely fail as a mother (raise my voice one too many times, can't quite get a kid to understand a difficult math concept) I don't feel like I am a failure, period. 🙂 And my kids don't feel that kind of pressure from me: that my own feelings of adequacy depend entirely upon my relationship with them.

    That isn't to say that I don't have periods of my life where motherhood is all I can do. Growing a baby is a good example of a time when morning writing goes completely out the window. But… I guess I'm saying, try to keep a little corner for yourself as well.

  17. I have a different experience, but similar feelings, I think. As a single woman working full-time, I often wonder if what I do has any significance beyond providing me a paycheck, let alone any eternal significance.

    Sometimes I feel so disenchanted by the corporate world that surrounds me, and I wish we could go back to a much simpler life when people used wheat and pigs as currency. That way I wouldn't have to try to understand so many complex financial transactions.

    That's when I remind myself that the Church has only been able to make so much progress over the past 200 years because of the technology, etc. that has come from the advancements of our day. Those resources that are so valuable in building the Lord's kingdom are very directly tied to the business world and what I do.

    I was working in the temple today and marveling at how technology is blessing the lives of so many on both sides of the veil. Sometimes it's just hard to remember that after 8 hours of sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen.

    I think the good things we all do are always bigger than us and can be sacred in some way.

  18. Maybe the whole thing is a balancing act; defining ourselves as more than what we "do for a living." Avocations are more important than employment, paid or not. Ideally, our work is meaningful, and can also support life. Pigs as currency is optional. 🙂

  19. I have yet to find the "sacredness" of being a SAHM. I know it's there, I just don't have those Hallelujah moments that other moms seem to have. I'm just hoping the kids turn out okay if I'm persistent, and, in the end, God will give me a chuck on the shoulder and say, "You did good."

  20. Thinking of my own mother helps me. While she wasn't perfect, she created an amazing, loving atmosphere in our home. I admire her so much, her hard work as well as her character. Now I want to do the same for my kids. And it is definitely a full time job.

  21. For some reason I notice the sacred nature of motherhood when I bathe my children, especially my littlest one. Maybe it comes from the fact that she can't clean herself yet, and she looks at me with such love and awe. I agree with the article- we can learn all kinds of lessons from the physical nature of our mortal lives.
    I have come to feel so blessed to be able to stay home with my kids that I sometimes feel like I'm bragging when I say I stay home. It's harder to measure our accomplishments some days and many days I don't feel like I've really done anything, but I know it's a tremendous blessing to be with my kids all the time. There's a time and a season for all things, and right now is the season for me to stay home. When my kids are older, it may be a season for me to do more outside the home.
    Thank you for this post and the lovely comments. I needed this.

  22. Valerie, I appreciated your persepective as well.

    I have yet to find the “sacredness” of being a SAHM. I know it’s there, I just don’t have those Hallelujah moments that other moms seem to have. I’m just hoping the kids turn out okay if I’m persistent, and, in the end, God will give me a chuck on the shoulder and say, “You did good.”

    I just want you to know that I appreciated your honesty. And in fact, I think your faith in the doctrine is inspiring — if I'm reading you right, anyway…that you are pressing forward even though you aren't feeling the hallelujah moments (although I think we'd all agree that motherhood is full of a lot of mundane moments, too, and a lot of thankless work).

    I've found that the difficulty that comes with motherhood only reinforces the blessing of having the doctrine about its importance. For me, that's doubly true because motherhood has not come naturally for me. But over time I feel I have grown in my role as a mom (I hope!) — and my testimony of that role has grown, too. So I just say keep on keeping on, momma. You've already done good. 😉 Persistence is half the battle, methinks.

    And I think parenthood is as much about God raising *us* as it is about us raising our children.

  23. I mostly just lurk around here because I come from a slightly different perspective, but if I were to ask someone who was a SAHM "What else do you do?" I would be asking about what other things they enjoy, what are their hobbies, and interests. Obviously there are times in a mothering career where those go by the wayside, but I would love to hear about those things in an effort to become friends! Do you run, read, ski, sew, bake, garden, play piano, teach Joy school, serve in the community, etc. I think it is OK for moms to have outside interests and passions…even though it can be discouragingly hard at times to maintain them. I realized recently that outside my job as a mom and my other job (I work part-time) and my calling I am doing absolutely nothing else because I'm just so tired! But I've tried to carve out some time to read a novel, collect Christmas-related scripture to read as a family, start a sewing project–and yes, exercise occasionally. These are things I would talk about if someone asked "What else do you do?"

  24. Valerie–I totally thought being a mom was a drag until my older kids started getting old. FAST. Once I realized how quickly the time with them was going I really changed my perspective. I've really savored my last two children much more than my older children.

  25. Love this post & topic. Like Meg, I feel very priveleged to stay home. I see it as a great blessing to have complete freedom to choose how to use my time (wait–I just remembered that mountain of laundry in the basement, and the pans in the sink). I have five kids! Ages 17,14,10,4,17 months. And I'm really busy. But I paint and sew and cook & bake & hang with friends & read & go to bookgroup & do my two church callings & exercise. Life is good!

    I call my job: Quality-of-life Control Manager!

    Love you Moms and all you teach me!

  26. "Are you able to recognize that sacredness? What helps you remember."

    Age & maturity has helped me see how quickly children grow & learn & need me to be there for them and I'm trying to sense the sacredness of these ties more as my oldest applies to college.

    My 4 yr. old wants me to be in the bathroom with her, brush her teeth, and sometimes feed her lately–and I haven't been very patient. Hearing her cry for me reminded me of my sacred responsibility. I still make her feed herself, but I'm nicer when I say it.

    I've been snippy with husband lately too. But he calls me on it & I am repenting!

    Sorry for a second long comment–I just wanted to answer the question better!

  27. I was able to get a PDF version of the article. Please feel free to email me if you would like a copy.

    sara dot hammond dot wa at gmail

  28. I should also mention the aforementioned article is in an amazingly useful book called: Strengthening Our Families: An In-Depth Look at the Proclamation on the Family
    Edited by David C. Dollahite
    School of Family Life
    Brigham Young University


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