By Alisha Worthington, BSW, SSW
I remember my new daughter's wet, warm body lying on my chest for the very first time. I could feel her bird-like heart pounding away as she took her first breaths and looked toward my face with searching eyes. For my part, I was breathing hard myself while trying to wrap my mind around the fact that this tiny person was completely dependent upon me for care, teaching and guidance. Me! At that moment I was so overcome with fear and anxiety I almost couldn't look at her or hold her.
But then, a split-second later, something changed. A determination took hold that would completely spin me in an entirely different direction. It was as if every scripture, talk, lesson and quote on Motherhood passed through my brain and culminated in this moment, and I decided that not only was I going to be the Mom those talks told me I should be, but I was going to be better. I was going to take this little girl and nurture her perfectly, cuing into her every need intuitively. I was going to do all the things the books said I should, and more. I was going to stimulate her brain to ignite the genius within her. I was going to take her on long walks explaining all about the Plan of Salvation and her part in it. I was never going to yell or even become frustrated because that's what some other mothers might do, but not a good Mormon Mom.
And that’s when I gave myself my new title—Mormon Mom—which I knew was a tough title to live up to. You don’t just claim that title, you have to earn it. Mormon Moms are different from other moms—or so we tend to think. You see, we Mormon Moms have a better understanding of the purpose of life and therefore, we expect ourselves to nurse that baby—discreetly of course—while leading the singing in Primary, making sure the carpool is ready for the coming week, hitting the gym at least three times during the week, and being ready for sex on the weekend. All this happens of course with the six-week-postpartum in-shape body, newly colored hair, and lip gloss freshly applied.
Yep, all that flashed through my brain in about the 1.5 seconds it took her little heart to beat once and I knew what I had to do. I “put my shoulder to the wheel” and set out on the path toward Eternal Motherhood.
Three months later I was sitting in our basket chair—the kind you see at Pier One Imports—feeling like a mother bird sitting in her nest. Only, this mother bird hadn’t left her nest all day and was still holding the baby, not having gotten dressed, or brushed my teeth or even having realized I hadn’t done those things.
I was too wrapped up in the thought of how I might ruin my “bond” with my baby if I put her down too many times or how I hadn’t even gotten through 1st Nephi with her yet, or how she needed to see her mother’s smiling face at her at all times lest she think she had an unhappy mother and was ruined for life!
For I knew that if I put her down to shower that she would think I had abandoned her which would put the spark of fear in her heart, which would lead to her not trusting anyone, which would lead to her hanging out with the wrong people, which would lead to her doing drugs and getting pregnant, which would lead to her hating me and leaving the church altogether which would mean she would go to Hell and I would be responsible! Nope, I set out to be the perfect Mormon Mom and come Hell or high water, that’s what I was going to do! So there I sat, being just that.
Then my husband came home—and thank God for him. He looked at me, and luckily was able to overlook whatever smell was probably emanating from “the nest” and asked three simple questions, “Have you been holding her all day? Do you know you don’t have to? Do you know that if you put her down and she cries for five minutes she’ll still be okay?”
It was as if a light burst through the darkness and, until that moment, I didn’t even know I was sitting in darkness! I looked at him like he had just pronounced some new revelation and said, “Really?” I had no idea that the way I was caring for my baby and neglecting myself was carefully wrapped with symptoms of postpartum depression. Again, postpartum depression doesn't happen to Mormon moms, not this mom, let alone good moms.
Without another word, he took her from my arms, told me to go take a bath, not to make dinner, to please brush my teeth, and then to go get some ice cream. And so, I did. And when I came home, much cleaner, and sufficiently sugared up, I looked at her happily swinging away in her swing and realized that in my attempt to be the perfect Mormon Mom I was inadvertently teaching her everything I didn’t want to teach her. I didn’t want to teach her that we have to do everything on our own. I didn’t want to teach her that being a Mom meant losing your own identity completely and never having needs of your own. I didn’t want to teach her that the Atonement isn't necessary because we can reach perfection on our own—or in her case, if someone else does everything for you like I was trying to do. That’s the “other” plan. I swear she winked at me.
I sat down at our little makeshift desk and wrote a short, but succinct letter that freed me from my quest to achieve my unattainable idea of perfect Mormon Motherhood—whatever that is. It said:
Years from now when you need to go to therapy to talk about me and all the ways I failed you, I'll pay for it. Until then, I'm doing the best I can which, in my mind, makes me a perfect Mormon Mom.
The girl/woman who somehow got put in charge of you and loves you fiercely, but imperfectly.
Now that baby is 14 and I still get on my knees each day and say, “Sorry, I’ll try again tomorrow.” And each day I continue on as a Mormon Mom, which means sometimes I'm able to hit a quick Gospel principle as we're painting nails, or I make it through the day without uttering one of several of my favorite swear words. She hasn't taken me up on my promise of paying for her therapy, but she's still young and I have lots of mistakes to still make.
Alish is a contributor at Hey Mom.