When I was raising my large family there were times when I felt like I’d scream if I heard one more person cry, “Mom!” It felt like somehow mom had become a four-letter word. While pondering these feelings one day, I looked mother up in a dictionary. The word is used as a noun, an adjective, and a verb. (The dictionary was obviously written by men or women without children because it didn’t account for its usage as an expletive.)
As a noun the word means “a female parent” or “a woman in authority.” Those definitions are what we usually think of when we hear the word, but the next definition sums the word up better: mother means “source or origin.”
As maternal mothers we are obviously the source of life, but maternity isn’t all that defines a Latter-day Saint mother. Pres. John A. Widtsoe explained that “motherhood is an eternal part of Priesthood” (Evidences and Reconciliations [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960], p. 308.) Therefore, mother is a title all worthy LDS women bear whether they have given birth to children or not. Why? Because besides being a source of life, mothers are a source of love, laughter, comfort, peace, nurturing, and affirmation not just to their own children but to everyone with whom they come in contact. Every woman who is seeking to follow Jesus Christ can define herself as a mother, a source of all that is good.
As the Lord said in his letter to the exiles, “Seek the welfare of the city [situation] where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” As we do whatever good we can in whatever situation we are in, we are a source for good-we are mothering.
In the gospel of Jesus Christ, mothering is about much more than producing children and it isn’t about producing children that never make mistakes. Mothering is about being a source for good. Eve mothered Cain as well as Abel. Rebekah mothered Esau as well as Jacob. Children have their agency and our status as mothers is not determined by their choices. Eve and Rebekah were sources of great good! In addition, Miriam mothered the children of Israel (see Micah 6:4) and Deborah mothered the Israelites and we know nothing of their maternal status. All these women worked for the welfare of the people around them–they were mothers.
Why is this important to understand? Because when we define ourselves by what we do instead of our circumstances or the outcome of what we do, there is great peace and joy in life. Then mothering brings joy. Being a source of goodness is pure delight. Nurturing is what we were created to do and when we do it to the best of our ability, despite how it is received, we can rejoice in our efforts. When we understand this, instead of a disparaging expletive, the word becomes an exclamation of joy: “Mother!”