Happy Not-Mother’s Day

My best friend from college is far away in another state, but we stay close through our blogs, twitter, emails, and texting. It is my turn to fly and visit her since she came here last time. I love her.

She recently reminded me of an experience last year on mother’s day, where someone at church wished her a “Happy Not-Mother’s Day” because she did not at that time have any children (yet).

The friend meant well, but it came out badly and stung.

In that context, my friend shared with me this post, where the author (not LDS, hence the latte in a coffee shop) told this story:

I sat across from Caroline* at our favorite coffee shop in Nashville. We are the same age, but she’s married and loves to hear about my single life shenanigans. Having said “I do” right after college, this jungle that is dating in your 30s is super foreign to her. So when I tell her, “yeah, the hardest part is that he flirty texts me a lot but doesn’t ask me on dates,” she’s all, “wwwoooowww…. we didn’t even have cell phones when Brian and I got married.”

I know, Caroline. I remember. I was in college then too.

We laugh so much. She always makes me feel like my simple Nashville single life is absolutely THE MOST INTERESTING THING EVER.

[It’s really not, y’all. Not for a lack of trying on my part, but it is not.]

On this day, in the dead of winter, we held our warm mugs tightly and I shared my doubts and struggles in this season of singleness.

She said, “Well, I just KNOW that God has someone for you.”

And I paused. And stared blankly. After a few seconds, I responded, “No, no you don’t. You don’t KNOW that.”

And she blankly stared back, then looked down at her latte. “You’re right,” she said, “I don’t.”

She goes on to talk about the lame things people say on accident when they are trying to help.

It made me think of being single in LDS-culture, which is very much as she described except also with the impending deadline of the eternities quickly approaching.

Once someone told me that I wasn’t “meant to be an angel mopping the floors of the exalted”, and quickly followed that with the reasons why he wasn’t the one to participate with me in the exalting process. That wasn’t even a dating disaster, just an unsolicited very-public hallway encounter gone wrong.

Adding mother’s day to the mix makes it far more uncomfortable, while people accidentally spend three hours telling you not only why you have not been chosen (“You really should straighten your hair like the young girls do these days”), but also why you are not yet worthy of being a mother (“You would be more prepared to mother if you would stop working.”).

Yes, I think. I should stop working. Instead of spending my days loving and caring and nurturing for children who have been abused or neglected or otherwise struggle, I will simply quit my job and put my house (the one God gave me for my husband and family) in foreclosure, and sit quietly on the corner, hungry only for a man to come and rescue me from my deprived state and care for me in all the ways I am otherwise capable yet resign from doing.

Yikes. No. That is false.

It is a false idea to think none of it matters to me, that Mother’s Day doesn’t matter. The “we are all mothers” talks that teach about how our influence matters as aunts and mentors to the children of our friends are true, indeed. But it also applies to me just because I am one, or will be, someday.

What they forget is that time is irrelevant.

It has already happened, because it was promised, and so it does already exist.

With premortal covenants, and time being only a measure of mortality, it does already exist, even if I don’t remember it yet – even if he doesn’t remember it yet.

That’s another blog for another day, but what people don’t understand is that I pray for my husband everyday, that he is preparing for me as I am preparing for him, and that I will know him when I see him, that I will be able to recognize him, and that He will empower and enable me to love him well. I thank my Father-in-Heaven that the atonement is big enough, and ask only for love and kindness, and know that that it will be delightful, and that it will bring joy, even though it will be our task to weed out the rest, just like in my Garden. But I do pray, even though he isn’t here yet, knowing the timing is exactly right for what is good for me and good for him. In the meantime, I spend my time preparing and practicing – mostly learning to be kind and to comfort. That’s what I practice most.

I also pray for my children everyday, that the sealing of the Spirit will bind us and protect us in truth and righteousness, and that our hard work of learning to love will create the happiness we have been promised, and now also that we will be saviors on Mount Zion, purifying and sanctifying generations past and generations to come. I ask Him to quicken me, that I will be empowered and enabled to do the hard work of being a Mother, of making good choices so that they can learn to use their agency well, of becoming holy so that they might become holy.

Because that’s what mothers do.

The thing that my best friend and I, and the author of that post, all agree on is that most people really do mean well. it is sweet of them to work so hard to find ways to include us. And the careless comments are actually few and far between, just shocking when they stumble out of someone’s mouth. And really, as the author points out, they are not so hurtful as it is we are sensitive to them. The problem is really ourselves, she says:

And you know the reality? The problem usually isn’t found in the person sharing the encouragement- the problem is in the ears receiving the words.

I am sensitive about other people talking about my singleness. So when someone bops in and says, “I just know God has someone for you!” it makes me want to scream and say, “YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT ANYTHING!”

[Because I am very mature. Obviously.]

That is why I loved her post about this topic when I read it last month. It made me laugh.

We need to laugh in the midst of legit struggle and days that sting, just as much as we need to laugh at our own weakness and the humanity of other people.

We are a bumbling lot, us mortals.

The blog author gave some good scriptural responses for the bumbling comments others might throw at us accidentally:

“God has someone for you!” …. well, maybe. But more than that, God has PLANS for me. (Jeremiah 29:11)

“Why are you still single?” …. well, I’m not sure. But I know that God’s purpose for my life will always prevail. (Proverbs 19:21)

One of my friends would have been excitedly announcing her first pregnancy this Mother’s Day, but she (and her husband) just experienced a miscarriage. There is grief there, a kind of grief that is deeply legitimate but that our society is not very good at acknowledging. That is sad, and I found some tiny comfort, in a new way, to understand some things within LDS doctrine and culture, to honor her child as a noble spirit that just needed a body and that they will get to embrace again one day. But it still broke my heart, and I am not even her.

I think of her this Mother’s Day, this Not-Mother’s Day, and I know in my own way what it is to survive a day that stings with every breath, where it is sheer will that forces you to to go to church and face it, that it is an exhausted pain that sneaks you out before it is finished.

I have another single friend who just blows it off. She says it doesn’t sting for her. But she does think it’s weird when people try to include her. She likes the free candy, though.

Another single friend thinks the whole thing is creepy. She doesn’t have a good mom relationship to celebrate even her own mother, and so others turning her into an honored-mother-to-be-(someday) really creeps her out. She tries to skip church if she can, because it is too much for her, and she would rather skip town all together. Sometimes she does.

I have another friend who is married, but they have not yet had children. She hates the oppressive shame of mother’s day, as well as her own burning-yearning for a child that hasn’t yet come. It’s a hard and tearful day for her.

Another young married friend is okay with Mother’s Day, looking forward to it excitedly even though they have not yet had their own children.

This is my first mother’s day with my mother living here, where my brother and his family came here to visit her and take her to lunch and celebrate her. I let them. They are my family, but they are also their own family, and it seemed important, somehow, to give them time and space. I went to work, and they took her to lunch. She really likes being grandma, and nothing in the world makes her happier than being with those kids. Seeing her that happy makes me happy, too.

They left my youngest niece here with her, a mother’s day gift beyond words for any grandmother, especially one who is fighting the countdown to kindergarten. Once my niece starts kindergarten, she can’t just come here to stay any time she wants. She and my mom are having some special bonding in these final months before she starts school.

Mother’s Day is hard.

Mothers are hard, in general. The mother issue is so difficult that not any culture in the entire world has a myth or story or fairytale about a mother. Always the mother is gone, or dead, or separated, or asleep from the little daughter. It’s that complicated.

But it’s not just that it’s hard, and not necessarily because it’s bad.

It’s also that it’s sacred.

There is something about womanhood that must be reverenced. I learned that from Elder Bednar’s wife. There is something sacred, something holy, something beyond what we can comprehend. There is something about womanhood that creates men into something they cannot be without Her, gives children life in a way they could not without Her, and becomes Her in a way she could not be without doing those things – in whatever ways those experiences come.

But the experiences themselves are hard work and hard-pressed, for nothing else could so deeply purify and so completely sanctify. When I think of how it has to be hard, how that is part of the process, I think of the olive presses in Israel. It comes back to me, and I think it was preparation, even for me, who is not (yet) married and not-(yet)-a-Mother.

This mother’s day, I have my own mother right here with me to celebrate all day long, which leaves little time, energy, or focus for any self-pity. Her being here is its own miracle, and I am grateful that she has taught me what Luke 15 is all about, layer after layer. I promised her lots of gluten, extra refined sugar, and double the salt. I said on facebook that it is a mother’s day gift as sweet and complicated and dangerous as any mother-daughter relationship.

My niece is here to be the child in my arms. Somehow this is both protective and evasive, and I am okay with that. Just for today. But we won’t talk about it, because it stings. It just is. And so we smile. Because that’s what mothers do.

And I will still probably straighten my hair, though, just so no one can say I didn’t try.

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Happy Not-Mother’s Day — 5 Comments

  1. Sorry, curly hair is WAAAY better!

    It’s ironic that we have a holiday that seems to mostly offend or cause pain to those it is intended to honor. But I do think it’s important to honor the ideal and reverence the role and capacity of women. I’d just rather eat the chocolate than think about how much better I should be!

    And I do think it should be a day to make the ladies in your life feel important. I love that when I was growing up my dad would give me and my sisters something special on Mother’s Day. Even though motherhood was super far down the road. And now my husband does sweet things like buy me ice cream to show that I matter to him. Even though I feel like a lousy mom. But having others treat you better than you are makes you want to be better, too.

    • I do love the reminders of whom we will become, and after whom we are patterned.

      And, less selfishly, the opportunity to honor those who have loved and nurture us so well.

      Even if my meager efforts at following those examples are still mostly un-graceful, I am still grateful for His grace!

  2. Okay, so I used to hate mother’s day. I was not the perfect “Love at Home” mother and there were no roses blooming beneath our feet in our house, no babbling brooks, no constant joy, etc. It was always the worst Sunday of the year for getting a family ready for church. That Saturday was invariably the most stressful and frustrating piece of time just thinking of all the lovely talks and songs coming the next day. So things have changed. Now I can enjoy the day not having small children to wrestle into a church frame of behavior and only myself to get ready. Funny thing though–it’s not as wonderful as I thought it would be some day. The thing that makes it more enjoyable for me these days is focusing on all the women who are my mothers and/or mother-trainers. And I absolutely love those mothers of my 13 grandchildren. And it is much simpler being the GRANDmother to charming, funny, smart, adorable boys and girls. And I love the people my children have become. I guess what I am saying is that just having children doesn’t always make Mother’s Day all that great either. It is a very complicated holiday. However we could just look at it like the other holidays of the year and just wish “everybody” a happy day. Happy Mother’s Day to all, mothers or not. Have a nice day.

    • I am most grateful to my many mothers! That’s part of the mothering of our womanhood, I think, mothering each other!

  3. Oh Emily, this post made me cry. Thanks for being such a good friend and for honoring me, my baby-in-heaven, and other mothers-to-be on a good but difficult holiday that gives so many of us mixed feelings. Love you.