Zelophehad’s Daughters

Missing Motherhood

Posted by Seraphine

In high school, I was often frustrated with the standard gender narrative for women (get married in the temple, have babies, become a noble mother in Zion, ad nauseum). I was passionate about education, and even in high school, I imagined myself going to graduate school. I resented being told over and over in YW that my only purpose in life was to be a mother. I wasn’t anti-motherhood, but I had other goals and dreams that I wanted everyone (including God) to recognize.

My senior year of high school, I got my patriarchal blessing, and it was a painful experience. I was trying to sort out my educational plans (and hoping for a little bit of guidance), and my patriarchal blessing went on for paragraphs about how the most important thing I would do in life would be a mother. At the time, it felt like God was telling me my desires were wrong: I needed to get over my love for school and resolve myself to marriage and motherhood, since YW had already told me that was my sole mission in life. I was hurt and angry that God would not give me the kind of validation I felt I needed to follow the educational paths I was so passionate about (there’s only one sentence in my blessing about education, and it’s nothing if not vague).

Fast-forward thirteen years.

My patriarchal blessing and the standard narrative of motherhood is still difficult for me, but in much different ways. In college and graduate school, I came to understand that my educational goals were an important part of my life plan, and that the Lord not only accepted but encouraged my educational pursuits. And as this happened, I was able to recognize that at some point in my future I did want marriage and a family. But it’s only been in the last couple years that this has begun to be a painful issue for me again.

As I’ve settled into my job as a high school teacher, I realize that, professionally, this is what I’m meant to do. It’s an immensely fulfilling job, I love it, and I’m good at it. But the end of the school year is painful. I find myself having to let go of students who I’ve developed strong bonds with over the course of the year. There are students you connect with, and sometimes it’s difficult to watch them move on to new classes, teachers, life pursuits, etc. This is how teaching works, and I know I will have a new set of delightful students the following year, but I’ve realized that I want people in my life that will not move on–people who will be tied closely to me, who will be part of my life, as I will be part of theirs.

I’ve had a similar realization as I’ve spent time with my nephews over the past couple of years. While there are ways in which I don’t envy my sisters and don’t fully recognize the difficulties of their lives (I recognize that as a single woman I can’t fully recognize the struggles of parenting), when I spend time with my nephews, I feel the same thing that I do with my students.

In the last few years, I’ve come to recognize that I am meant to be a mother. I still question the standard narrative because I think it’s okay for women to have other passions and pursue alternate paths, but for me, motherhood is something not only that I deeply want, it’s something I feel like I’m meant to do. I look at my strengths (emotional sensitivity, patience, the desire to teach and nurture others), and I realize the qualities that make me a good teacher would make me a pretty decent parent. As I play with my nephews and teach my students, I think about my patriarchal blessing, and I think, “Yes! My calling in life is to be a mother.”

But that path isn’t open to me, at least not yet. And while there’s still much of my life to be lived and enjoyed, there are no guarantees. And now, rather than the pain of feeling like something I don’t want is being forced on me, I now have the pain of missing something I feel like I am meant to be doing.

19 Responses to “Missing Motherhood”

  1. 1.

    I have some ideas but they are not within the typical LDS mindset.

    I do know that figuring out what a person can change, and what a person needs to accept can be a difficult journey. There may be options outside of the box – but I can understand why a person might not want to pursue those.

    For others, even the mention of those options can be offensive -trying to solve an issue when a person just wanted their voice to be heard. So, I hear you.

  2. 2.

    I feel your pain, though a little differently. All my life, all I have wanted was to be a mother, to stay at home making a nice little place to have a family. Being raised outside the LDS church (I converted when I was 15), I was told that I HAD to have a career, and a desire for one, if I was going to be a happy, fulfilled woman. I was either laughed at or tut-tutted by someone if I mentioned that I only wanted to be married and have kids. But I agree wholeheartedly that while most women have the innate ability (and possibly desire) to be mothers, there is so much more to life than that, and we should do all we can to fulfill the dreams we have.

  3. 3.

    I have often heard it said that as women we can have it all, but not all at the same time. I’m in the mom stage right now, and missing the education/career path I could have followed. I hope one day I will.

    Something I believe in my core is that there is a time and season for everything in life, and if we are searching we’ll find what it is we’re meant to do at a particular time. Knowing what you really want, what your purpose is, is half the battle.

  4. 4.

    My patriarchal blessing mentions motherhood only in passing. It talks a lot about getting an education, as well a many other things, and then at the end (and when I got the blessing it felt like it was an afterthought), it basically says, “Oh yeah, and someday you’ll have a husband and children.”

    I’m still single and I’m old enough now that children are clearly not going to happen (at least by birth). I still hold out hope, though, that someday I may have a family.

    I’m kind of sad about that, but otherwise I have found much wisdom and guidance in my patriarchal blessing.

  5. 5.

    I married shortly after my mission, at age 23, and had my first child two years later. All of my life, however, I’d felt that I wasn’t that interested in ‘mothering’ and that I wanted to do other things as well. My husband and I traded off going to graduate school with part-time work and part-time parenting. On the one hand, I think it was good for our kids and good for us as a family. On the other, our finances haven’t been so great. And last year I realized that I really didn’t want the PhD that I always thought I did. We were both surprised when I realized that I’d rather just stay home full-time. Thankfully my husband found a job he really likes and during the last few months I’m slowly adjusting to learning how to be ‘just’ a parent without any school or work.

    I find it interesting how in some circles motherhood is denigrated as not as valid a choice as other things. On the other hand, all of my female professors and advisors last year were very supportive of my decision to drop out for a while and just focus on my kids. I still feel some guilt because I know many good women who’ve been able to combine graduate school or work with childrearing, and I can’t, but I take comfort in knowing that everyone has a different path. For some reason turning 30 has also made me realize that I have so many years ahead of me to do things with my life.

  6. 6.

    Very interesting, Seraphine. I was a late convert to motherhood myself for many of the same reasons, but after all those years of waiting and after having given up, I’m immensely grateful to have my daughter. It’s been the most intense, hardest, most joyful experience of my life (and she’s not even one yet!).

    I’m really impressed at your patience and dedication in teaching high school. I don’t think I’d have what it takes.
    And I think you’d make a wonderful mother.

  7. 7.

    Thanks, aerin. And you’re right that I’m not ready to try outside-of-the-box options. I want parenthood as part of being in a committed relationship to another person, and that’s kind of my hold up at the moment. :)

    Naomi, I definitely think that women should the paths best for them. For some that means being mothers, and for others, it doesn’t. And it can be tricky figuring what’s best for you when you have a lot of cultural messages both inside and outside of the church telling you what you should (or not) be or want.

    Chelsea, part of me believes the whole “time in life” speech. But I do struggle with how this narrative seems to be different for men and women. Men are typically able to have it all (career pursuits and family), and it seems to me that women have a more difficult time doing so. As someone who would like to keep working even if I have children someday, this worries me.

  8. 8.

    Tanya, I’m sorry to hear about your sadness, though I’m glad that your blessing has been a good guide for your life. Maybe I’d have an easier time of it if my blessing’s discussion of motherhood felt like an afterthought (though perhaps not). But since motherhood is the central theme, and because it’s something I do really want, it’s difficult.

    FoxyJ, different people have different paths and capabilities, and it sounds like you are figuring out what is working best for you and your family. And you are definitely right that you have many years ahead of you to do a variety of things! I’m about the same age as you are (I’m 31), and I still feel young.

    Eve, thank-you. And I’m really happy that things have worked out for you. :)

  9. 9.

    Wow, Seraphine, I had the same experience with my patriarchal blessing.

    It did have a little more about education, but the majority was about mothering and that was much further from my mind than a career.

    However, I did get married young and had children shortly after and now the blessing looks a bit different to me.

    It’s the education part that seems so strange and out of place. . .

    Anyway, I wish you the best in your desires to become a mother. Like Eve, I think you’ll make a great one.

  10. 10.

    I love your description of your feelings for your students. It is wonderful to know that there are teachers out there who truly enjoy and care about their students.

    When I was growing up, I never really thought that much about whether I wanted to be a mother, I think I just assumed I would be. But I didn’t play with dolls, didn’t like to babysit, and always planned on a lot of education and a career. I was in HS when President Benson gave his “To the Mothers in Zion” talk, urging mothers to stay home full time. I was very upset about it, and tried to resign myself to that, but I never quite could.

    Now I am a mother (I also enjoy working full time), Being a mother is absolutely the best, most fulfilling, most wonderful role to me. It is way, way more important to me than my career. I now feel that I could be reasonably happy without my job, but life would be almost meaningless without my children. This has sort of surprised me, because before I had children I kind of felt that I didn’t like children and probably would not be a very good mother.

  11. 11.

    Seraphine, you and I have the same job. I love teaching High School English, I love the fulfillment it gives me, even if it isn’t the most glamorous of jobs. I really could have written this post myself. And I’m not looking for outside the box options right now either. But, generally in life, it’s hard when you know you’d be really good at something, you desire something greatly, and yet, somehow, you have so little control over it. I’ve always been able to go out and get everything I wanted with my education and with my career and so to keep hitting a brick wall with marriage and family (when so many people around me seem to enter into it so effortlessly) is a frustrating reality.

  12. 12.

    Thanks, Jessawhy. I can see how your blessing looks different given that you got married young and had kids. Though there’s still lots of time for you to pursue education!

    E, I’m glad that you have found fulfillment in something that you weren’t sure if you wanted or that you would be good at. I totally think this can happen sometimes. Or, like FoxyJ said, sometimes the things we think we want aren’t what we actually do want (for example, I spent most of my life wanting to be a professor, and I’m not at all upset that my life has changed paths).

    D’Arcy, it sounds like there definitely is a lot of commonality in our experiences (and we should compare teaching notes sometime). As my post hints, I can definitely identify with the frustrating reality of hitting a wall with marriage and family (and watching it come so easily for others).

  13. 13.

    I’ve had the same worries and doubts. One time Sheri Dew talked about those attitudes in a fireside, but other than that, I feel like the Church or maybe just the members don’t seem to recognize or face the concerns like that, so I have often times ended up feeling like the outsider liberal or the one with the dangerous ideas or something. I’m coming to terms with it, but it will take a lot more humbling, I think.

  14. 14.

    Seraphine, I don’t think men can have it all. Men that work a lot are more distant from their families (particularly their children) than those that work normal hours, and this is even more true compared with fathers that are full-time homemakers. I know I resent how much work will keep me away from my (currently not yet conceived) kids.

  15. 15.

    Michelle, good luck coming to terms with your own doubts and worries. I know that can be difficult when you feel on the margins at church.

    The Franchise, you are definitely right to point out that men do have to make difficult choices when it comes to work and family. And if they work a lot, they don’t get as much quality time with their family. At the same time, I see many men figuring out a balance that works, and I see more women who want to work struggle to find this balance.

    Overall, the marketplace is not structured to be good for families where both parents want a lot of quality time with their children.

  16. 16.

    I think there is a tendancy in LDS culture (unintentional, but still common) to think that fulfillment only comes one way and if you find fulfillment otherwise or don’t have the opportunity to Do Things The Proper Way, you can’t possibly be living the best kind of life. At university one of my flatmates (who was an English Language major) and I were talking about what we wanted to do after school, she said, “Oh I’m going to get married and have babies.” “Well, what if that doesn’t happen right away? Would you go into editing or writing?” I asked. She looked at me like I’d just said something horrible and walked off.
    I didn’t mean to offend, because I genuinely think people can be happy and fulfilled whatever their circumstances. My own patriarchal blessing contains one, single sentence about the possibility of marriage and motherhood, and otherwise concentrates almost entirely on the importance of my education. I did get married recently (took my husband nearly 2 years to talk me into it), and no one was more surprised than me that I wanted to. I still don’t want kids (they scream just looking at me…makes a girl feel a bit inadequate) but I suspect down the road he’ll be able to talk me into that too. A long ways down the road.
    I think we do a disservice by cramming the idea of marriage/motherhood as the sole route to happiness down women’s throats. Women are blessed with a myriad of talents and abilities (whether it’s mothering, microbes, language, or nuclear physics), we have stewardship over all of them and will be held accountable if we don’t use and strengthen them. And I also believe that if a woman is not able to be married or have kids and it’s something she wants, prays for, and works towards as a healthy goal, she will not be denied those options, whether now or in the eternities. Which I recognize might not sound very hopeful or positive for some women now struggling with frustrated desires or dissapointment.
    Even living life right and Doing Things The Proper Way does not promise bliss. I have many wonderful friends who have gone through divorce, infertility, a loved one’s addictions and abuse, and other problems. I think that The Proper Way may be an ideal. Ideals good to strive for, but not always attainable, and it’s alright to carve out happiness for yourself in another way.

    I also think you’ll be a great mom, seraphina, because you want it, but don’t seem to let that desire overwhelm you, or tint your life with bitterness. I always felt growing up that I was at odds with the church because of my desire for a career and lack of desire for a family until I realised that either a career or family can bring happiness or misery. It all depends on what we do with the cards dealt us! Thanks for taking on a touchy topic!

  17. 17.

    Thank you for your heartfelt thoughts. As I have pondered your very honest post I remembered a talk by Barbara Thompson in the October 2007 General RS Meeting:

    “Obviously, the first responsibility for teaching children and strengthening the family lies with parents. However, there are many others who can help. I have wonderful parents, but they did not do it alone.

    I was in the Tabernacle when President Gordon B. Hinckley first delivered the proclamation on the family at the general Relief Society meeting in September of 1995. That was a great occasion. I felt the significance of the message. I also found myself thinking, “This is a great guide for parents. It is also a big responsibility for parents.” I thought for a moment that it really didn’t pertain too much to me since I wasn’t married and didn’t have any children. But almost as quickly I thought, “But it does pertain to me. I am a member of a family. I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a niece, and a granddaughter. I do have responsibilities—and blessings—because I am a member of a family. Even if I were the only living member of my family, I am still a member of God’s family, and I have a responsibility to help strengthen other families.”

    Elder Robert D. Hales said, “Strengthening families is our sacred duty as parents, children, extended family members, leaders, teachers, and individual members of the Church.”3

    As Relief Society sisters we can help one another to strengthen families. We are given opportunities to serve in many capacities. We constantly come in contact with children and youth who may need just what we can offer. You older sisters have much good advice and experience to share with younger mothers. Sometimes a Young Women leader or a Primary teacher says or does just the thing that is needed to reinforce what a parent is trying to teach. And obviously we don’t need any particular calling to reach out to a friend or neighbor.

    The greatest help we will have in strengthening families is to know and follow the doctrines of Christ and rely on Him to help us. ” Ensign Nov. 2007
    http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=2f781b3e50cf5110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&hideNav=1

    Blessings on your journey Seraphine . . .

  18. 18.

    “Motherhood” has little to do with bearing children in mortality, in my opinion. The spirit of mothering is inherent in being created female. I did not “become a mother in Zion” when my first child was born… I became one when God created my spirit.

    The opportunities to mother and mentor abound, and it sounds like you’re doing it right now, in your job and as an aunt. To BE a mother in Zion is not the same thing as giving birth. I’ve had many mothers in the gospel and in life, and only one of them actually birthed my physical body.

  19. 19.

    [...] with where I’m at, it’s not always easy. Part of this has to do with the fact that I do want to get married and have a family. Part of this also has to do with the difficulty of negotiating church as a single woman. [...]

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