Sometimes I really hate euphemisms. They add a kind of insulation to the truth, numbing it in our brains so we don’t get the full force of an idea.
This dampening effect can sometimes be good. After all, if we toss around intense words or powerful ideas with abandon, those words can lose their impact. But the pendulum often swings too far: euphemisms can also end up as poisonous lies to our brain when we don’t consider the deeper truth behind them.
This phenomenon has afflicted society’s notion of parenting to a distressing level. Note the banality of that word, “parenting.” When we say it, what comes to our minds? Probably something common, something ordinary that we see every day. Something messy and difficult and stressful. As we use that word over and over, the deep beauty of the thing is lost.
This happens especially with the word “motherhood.” So often “motherhood” is reduced down to “folding laundry” and “cleaning kitchens” and “wiping food from chins” and other things like that, usually to highlight the difference between that lifestyle and the thrill of high power careers. And maybe because we conceive of it in that dreadful way explains why there is so much parenting failure in the world today. And so with Mother’s Day this weekend, I feel compelled to offer a reminder of what “motherhood” really is—or rather, what it can, and should, be.
Every life begins with Mom, starting with nine messy and miraculous months of increasing discomfort and disgust, and climaxing in the most agonizing experience a human being can endure, all to create a tiny little physical body for our beginning. Yours and mine.
That physical sacrifice is our first encounter with love. We love because Mom loved us first. She is the primum movens of all the love we will ever show or receive in our lifetime. She is where we learn closeness, where we learn to look in times of trouble. The things we learn from Mom at our youngest ages frame our reality for the rest of our lives. Whether from direct teaching or by example, Mom is how we gain our first knowledge. Indeed, moms, of all the people on the planet, have the greatest influence over the future of the human race—for good or ill.
Neal A. Maxwell said:
“When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?”
Yes, moms often do fold laundry, clean the kitchen, and wipe food from our chins—but there is subtext to this daily drudgery (tasks that, I need add, should be shared with Dad). What she’s really doing is teaching her children to live ordered lives, building up civilization one home and one child at a time. Every stair climbed in our physical, emotional, and even spiritual development is found first in that precious relationship between parent and child. And so, at her best, Mom is God’s representative to our sprouting souls, doing for us the work he would have done to us.
So let’s call motherhood what it really is: the work of crafting souls.
And let’s call mothers what they really are: cultivators of God’s garden of souls.
That is the reality of motherhood. Planting truth deep within us. Feeding us and watering us and giving us light. Tending the branches as we grow. Pruning the bad parts along the way. Showing us the beautiful things of the world. Giving us arms to retreat to when life takes a bad turn. Teaching us all the life skills she ever learned. Trying to steer us toward the right way to avoid the mistakes they once made. Giving place for us to rise to our fullest potential, from tiny seed to a great and towering oak.
Who else would put up with our rebellions, little and large? Who else would suffer long while we wander from better paths? Who else would love us when no one else will? Who else would worry for us at night and endure such deep anxiety on our behalf? And who else would be there to fall on our necks and kiss us when we at last return home?
Abraham Lincoln said, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”
So don’t let anyone denigrate motherhood. Don’t let anyone reduce its grandeur to a mere chore-doer. She is closer to God in form and responsibility than any other vocational position in the world. While the stewardship gained from jobs and careers is vital to providing for a family, it is still less than the stewardship of soulcraft. And that is what motherhood truly is: the work of creating and crafting souls.
I hope that when we think about it that way, we want to be better mothers, better fathers, and more appreciative and grateful for what our parents did for us.
That said, Mom, Nyssa…thank you. I love you both.
Happy Mother’s Day.
[Adapted from a post at my blog.]