Last night I attended the Worldwide Leadership Training. I had heard it was on raising a righteous posterity and went prepared to feel guilty. Halfway through the event, I found myself crying not with guilt but with relief. I was agreeing with so much of what was said that I left feeling like it was doable and that I was actually on the right track.
Many of Sister Beck's comments were touching and I loved how Sister Tanner reminded everyone that the ideal is one thing but reality often looks very different. But the comment that won the day was when Sister Lant told us about how hard she had worked to get all her little children ready and to church on time. She would start Saturday afternoon and it was exhausting. One day after arriving at church with her brood, a sister walked up to her, put her hand on Sis. Lant's shoulder and said, "Oh, if my children were as good as yours, I'd have a big family too. For you it is so easy." Sister Lant admitted she cried during the entire meeting. It hurt!
Right after I had my first baby and started staying at home for the first time, my visiting teacher was the Stake President's wife. When she found out that I had decided to be a full-time mom, she looked at me and laughed, "Well, it is nice that you can do that, my brain is just too quick to handle being home all the time." I was young and swallowed it, feeling like an idiot and a failure for days.
Why do we do that? The truth is both sides behaved less than their best.
Often comments like those above are done in admiration or ignorance. Sometimes they are subconscious reflections of an individual's struggle with that principle and are said to alleviate personal guilt. In those cases I hope women realize the impact of their words and love and support these great mothers who sacrifice so much to raise a family because it is disgustingly hard. Other times they really are meant to hurt. So what if they are? As I look back on it, my biggest disappointment is in my own reaction.
Most of the world thinks I'm insane for having seven children. I remember walking into a grocery story with my first four children all under the age of six and having a woman sneer at my posse and say, "Don't you know what causes that?" I smiled back and said, "Of course I do, isn't it great!"
When I had my fourth child, a little indian woman who believed the world was already over populated delivered my beautiful first daughter. While I was on the delivery table she asked me if I was ready for a tubal, since I was already numb. I looked at her in shock and told her absolutely not. She shook her head and commented, "Then you'll be here next year in the same position." I smiled at my perfect new baby and replied, "I certainly hope so."
When people in the world make such comments, I am delighted because it allows me to express truth. I believe that if they bring it up, the topic is free game and I can openly express my side of the issue, which I do- in detail. But when women in the church do the same thing, especially someone I admire, it hurts- but it shouldn't. If I really remembered what I knew to be true, I would be sad for them, that they didn't have the vantage point that I do.
At my father's funeral my entire family came to mourn his early passing. I have eleven brothers and sisters with large families. We have never lived very close to my family but that day all the brothers, sisters, spouses, cousins, grandchildren, great-grandchildren sat side by side in the chapel. We filled the entire center section. In the middle of the funeral we stood up and sang our family song, "What does it mean to be an Edwards!" In the very heart of our grief I knew and my children knew the joy of being couched in a loving family. They knew that no matter what there were hundreds of people that were bound to them eternally and would do anything to help make their life better. They felt the joy of the most essential part of our Heavenly Father's plan.
That's why I had every one of my beautiful babies and changed thousands of diapers and spent day after day being more like a chair than a human being as my clingy, croupy third baby was never happy unless he was in my lap and I wasn't doing anything else but rocking him. That's why I get up way too early every morning to drive my teenagers to seminary in my pajamas and stay up way too late helping them with homework at night. That's why I drown in laundry on a regular basisand spend half my life either doing dirty dishes or nagging my children to do them. That's why my thyroid blew out with hormonal shifts during pregnancy, my knees where pulled out of alignment from widened hips and I lost my waist entirely. But the price is worth it, so worth it.
Tonight we all gathered together and watched a stupid movie with arms and legs hanging over each other in comfortable, connecting peace. Earlier today my thirteen year old spoke in church with confidence, expressing his pure testimony and I beamed. And two days ago my second son came home doing a victory dance because his missionary papers are finally in. The price is huge. It is yucky, hard, routine work to raise a big family but it is also fun, glorious, intellectually and physically satisfying, and the most incredible blessing of my life.
So the next time someone says something about how easy it is for me, I'm going to smile confidently and say, "I wish! But the work is worth it because look what I have to show for it."