I don’t generally go to sacrament meeting on Mother’s Day. That’s not an accident or omission; I have purposely stayed away.
I've made my peace with some parts of Mother’s Day. I certainly love the cards and the breakfast-in-bedness of it all. What I have a rough time with are the platitudes, often laid on fast and thick at church, about a generic, idealized motherhood and womanhood.
The complication with Mother’s Day and church is that motherhood often is what the greeting cards say: it is life-changing, it is a gift from God, it is a great blessing.
But the greeting cards don’t quite acknowledge the other sides of the story. There’s the difficulty of it, the sheer exhaustion, the 24/7ness of it.
Some women don’t get to be mothers at all. Some have lost a child; others have children but feel inadequate in their care.
Some of us are angry and disappointed that we have a Mother in Heaven we don’t know enough about and aren’t supposed to pray to, on Mother's Day or any other.
It doesn't help when well-meaning people, in the face of the pain that litters the minefield that is Mother’s Day, often resort to generalities and platitudes.
But this is a mistake.
What can save the Mother’s Day church experience are flesh-and-blood stories of broken people doing their very best.
As uncomfortable as I become when I hear womanhood or motherhood praised with no real-life context, I delight in hearing people talk about their own mothers. We have all been mothered, whether we were lucky enough to receive nurturing from our own biological mothers or from other women who, like the biblical Anna, positioned themselves in our lives at key points.
A few years ago someone in Relief Society asked me to share something my mother had taught me that I would never forget. I think she was aiming for a tidy life lesson or a spiritual thought, but what I passed along was this: Always put a little dollop of honey in the spaghetti sauce.
The other sister laughed and then said, “No, really, what did your mother teach you that you will never forget?”
I repeated, slowly and stubbornly, “Always put a little dollop of honey in the spaghetti sauce.”
I knew intuitively that my mother would want me to keep it real, to be specific, to bring her down from that pedestal.
I have wonderfully specific memories of my mother caring for me. Like the time in high school when I had to pull my first-ever all-nighter to write a paper on Jane Austen, and my mom made popcorn and stayed up too.
Or the time when my nonreligious mother was a direct answer to prayer, walking in the back door just moments after I started violently throwing up one morning during my senior year of high school. She said she’d just had a feeling that she needed to turn the car back around not long after she had left for work, so she headed home instead.
But my mom was also flawed. She sometimes had a temper (at least back then), was a lousy housekeeper, and had a whole matching set of baggage that came from growing up with an alcoholic dad.
Such brokenness didn’t make her less inspiring; it made her more so.
This Mother’s Day in church, I want us to keep it real. I’ve talked with enough Mormon women to know I’m not alone in this. I’m so uncomfortable with lavish sayings like “all women are [insert hyperbole here]” or “women are so much more ___ than men.”
The more I hear those kinds of extravagant expressions about motherhood, the smaller I become.
Instead, tell me about your mother, or someone who was a mother to you. Tell me both the good and the bad, and how knowing that particular woman brought you closer to the heart of God.
And please don't extrapolate from that example that ALL women are (spiritual/nurturing/loving/angelic) because one person was for you. The last thing Mormon women need is more platitudes.