It took two short weeks of sitting in Sunday School together for Dick and I to paint ourselves as faith-deficient troublemakers. (At BYU, this length of time was usually unnecessary; everyone knows that English majors like to ask critical questions.) The teacher today was very nice about it. He probably made a mistake in acknowledging that we had a point; others in the class were not about to make that mistake.
And I remembered, after several years in primary, why it is often simpler to save my questions for later, if one does not want to be treated like a . . . well, like a faith-deficient troublemaker. (When in fact one is merely curious and intrigued by inconsistencies.)
Anyway, by the time Relief Society rolled around, I was properly chastised. Chrysanthemum, having taken Dick’s spot, may have heard mutterings, but mostly I was good.
Our lesson was a discussion of New Year’s resolutions, based on the three goals in the Introduction to Relief Society: increase faith, strengthen families and homes, and serve the Lord and His children. So far, so worthy a list of endeavors.
With each goal there is a quote from last year’s Ensign or Church News. The quote under “strengthen families and homes” is:
Although parenting is hard work, it is made a little easier with the gospel, said Joselyn Akana . . . from Hawaii. ‘It helps me when I have the gospel to anchor me in the caring of my family,’ she said it is important in mothering to consider what a mother should look and sound like. The key to motherhood, she said, is having patience and relying on the gospel for guidance” (Lisa Christensen, “Convert Says Gospel Helps with Parenting,” Church News, June 13, 2009, 15). [sic]
I agree with a lot of this. Parenting is hard work, and the gospel makes it easier by infusing it with eternal significance and providing both interesting examples of parenting and the desire to be a good parent. And I believe whole-heartedly that the key to motherhood is patience. What dominated our discussion, though, was the middle part, that:
it is important in mothering to consider what a mother should look and sound like.
If you have read this website for any amount of time, you know that I am rather preoccupied with what a mother should sound like, or rather, my regret over too often not sounding like what I think a mother should sound like.
But, no. We discussed what a mother should look like. The teacher (also our great Relief Society president who I personally love not only because she drives Sally to school every morning) started by saying her mother always got up 30 minutes before the rest of the family, no matter how early that turned out to be, even on camping trips, to do her hair and have full makeup on before anyone saw her. And (this is why I love her) she said that that always seemed like a huge waste of time to her, and that she is personally much lazier, etc, but now (and this is where things took a downturn) she thinks she maybe should definitely be doing this.
Several sisters shared similar stories and proclaimed the virtues of treating motherhood like any other job (you’d get dressed up for a real job, right?) and having lots of mirrors in your house so you could check your hair and lipstick and your shirt to make sure you looked good all day, especially if your husband is retired and can see you anytime.
The 15-minute to one-hour power session of cleaning the house, grooming the children, and having dinner on the table right before dad comes home was extolled, and the testimonial given that if we only cared for our appearance we’d feel better about ourselves, and don’t our children (and husbands) deserve to see us looking our best?
I think about this a lot. I think about what my children, my daughters see when they look at me. I think about what they deserve, what they need, what will equip them best for life as they look at me. Especially when Susan makes some statement of discovery and description in the car about how being a doctor like grandpa or a writer like daddy are boy jobs and being a mom is a girl job.
Of course, being a mom is a girl job, and in some ways I do it it the traditional girliest manner possible. But I want Susan to know that girls can be doctors or writers too, and sometimes I worry about how I can ever really teach that to my daughters if all they see me doing is being a mom. On the other hand, I want them to see that I value them and our family enough to devote so much of my time and energy to being a mother. If this is the girl job I choose to show them, then what a mother should look like becomes fraught with meaning.
What should a mother look like?
Should a mother look like a clean home and dinner on the table and clean-faced toddlers and Mary Kay cosmetics?
In some ways (surprisingly), yes:
A clean house is worth pursuing because the cleaner and more organized things are, the easier it is for kids to play, create, and feed themselves, which leads, of course, to a messy house, but it’s a worthwhile cycle because the more the kids can do for themselves, the more I can do (and the more they are learning and growing), not because with a clean house I can be “unafraid to open the door if someone drops in.”
A table set for dinner when Dick arrives home and happy smiling children is worth working towards because it means the girls have learned to cheerfully help in the kitchen and that we have successfully worked together to create something we will all enjoy, not because it means I’ve worked behind the scenes to set a pretty stage.
Three daughters groomed for church or school (or dad’s homecoming) is a triumph when it means I have exchanged meaningful words with them while the hairbrush was in my hand, not when it means I’ve harped impatiently for them to JUST HOLD STILL.
And the Mary Kay cosmetics? Few things feel better than a hot shower after a hard workout or hours spent languishing with the morning sickness in bed.
Some things do, though. There are days, too infrequent, when Dick comes home and I look up from the book I’m reading or the story I’m writing, and I see the clock says 6:30 pm, and there are legos and Barbies on the carpet, paint and glitter glue on the table, clementine peels and yogurt containers all over the kitchen. Perhaps wet snow clothes are draped over chairs and I am smelly and muzzy from forgetting I even have a body. Dick is unperturbed (I chose well), and I wonder if I look then as a mother should — lost in thought.
I think I do.