I’ve lived now through thirty Mother’s Day sacrament meetings.
When I was a child, I loved these meetings because I got to walk up to the stand and beam at my mother while I sang, “dear mother all flowers remind me of you!”
When I was a teenager and young single adult, I listened to the talks in awe of the miracle of Motherhood, of the wonder that is Woman.
Since I have become a mother myself, and have worked in the field of childbirth, I still do enjoy Mother’s Day, even as I have become aware that not every woman revels in this meeting. I’ve read many a blogger, and talked to a couple of close friends, who for one reason or another find it too painful to attend at all. I have witnessed and understood that pain, and hope our congregations continue to approach Mother’s Day with increased sensitivity to women of all experiences.
Yesterday I enjoyed another Mother’s Day sacrament meeting, typical with its children’s songs, a talk from a young man about how wonderful mothers are, a talk from a sister about how wonderful women are, and a tearful talk from a brother about all the incredible mothers in his life. I appreciate the truths they shared, their genuine and heartfelt offerings!
But there was one moment, when I felt a sudden impulse to cover my son’s ears. (He is only four years old, and was anxiously engaged with his magnet toys, or I might have). One of the speakers shared the following quote from Hugh B. Brown:
“There are people fond of saying that women are the weaker instruments, but I don’t believe it. Physically they may be, but spiritually, morally, religiously, and in faith, what man can match a woman who is really converted to the gospel! Women are more willing to make sacrifices than are men, more patient in suffering, more earnest in prayer. They are the peers and often superior to men in resilience, in goodness, in morality, and in faith.”
Thirty years of Mother’s Day meetings, and I have heard quotes like this in each one. I understand the good intentions behind them. I used to relish them. Then I learned to mistrust them, knowing that they placed an extra burden of guilt on women who are genuinely striving and often genuinely falling short. But yesterday I heard it with new ears.
Yesterday, I looked away from the women to the little boys. To my pure-hearted, wild but willing little boy.
I don’t want my son to believe that the ladder toward charity, toward purity of heart and strength of character, is more difficult for him than for a girl. I don’t want him believing, just as he begins to reach upward, that the climb is inherently harder for him. I don’t want declarations like the one above to become self-fulfilling, as boys grow to men believing they are spiritually, morally, religiously, and in faith, inferior. As for my unborn daughter, as she strives toward discipline, wisdom and virtue, and sometimes fails, I don’t want her thinking, “Isn’t this supposed to be easier for me?”
The reality is that while women and men in general have essential differences, we are all attaining to be like Heavenly Mother and Father. We all have equal potential to arrive there, hand in hand and side by side. Elder Nelson’s words that “you sisters possess distinctive capabilities and special intuition you have received as gifts from God,” and that “we brethren cannot duplicate your unique influence,” are true in my mind. When I look in my son’s eyes I know the same is true of him. His influence cannot be duplicated; he is not inferior to his sister. Their unique, God-given attributes are not to be ranked and rated against each other.
As a mother, I felt defiant today as I defended my son quietly in my heart. I can only imagine what my Heavenly Parents feel when their hope for their sons and daughters is undermined by strange and false narratives of gendered hierarchy (of righteousness and virtue, of leadership and purpose).
As a mother, I will strive to teach my children what I believe to be the cooperative model of Heaven. I will show my son the path of the world’s many light-filled, pure-hearted and earnest men. I will show my daughter the path of enlightened, purposeful, and honest women.
Their paths run side by side, and together.