My friend Kieth Merrill, an Academy Award-winning director, says there is a reason we rarely find strong mothers in movies today.
"If you're a screenwriter, and you understand drama, and you want to plunge your characters into conflict, you have to 'lose the mom,'" he says.
"Mothers go missing in movies because leaving them in the lives of characters in crisis makes sustaining conflict difficult. Mothers listen and resolve problems. They are selfless and love without conditions. You want to stir up trouble and make it believable? Better keep mom out of it."
Mothers do everything Kieth describes, and more. The subject of motherhood is a tender one that evokes some of our greatest joys and heartaches. This has been so from the beginning. Eve was "glad" after the Fall, realizing she otherwise would not have had children. And yet, imagine her anguish over Cain and Abel.
Some mothers experience pain because of their children; others feel pain because they don't have children; and yet others live with the nagging feeling that they could or should have done better with their children. As women, we can be hard on ourselves.
I found myself thinking about this wide range of emotions last week as I addressed the American Mothers Convention in Salt Lake City. It was inspiring to meet women from different cultures and backgrounds, all united as champions of motherhood.
That night the 2011 Mother of the Year was named: Ernestine Allen, a beautiful woman representing the District of Columbia.
Ernestine is an educator, a counselor, and, with her husband, an Elder in The Greater Mt. Calvary Holy Church. When the Allens' youngest son fell victim to a violent crime, they responded by establishing the Bereaved Parent Support Group.
Ernestine's oldest son Ronald said that his mother, the tenth child of eighteen, learned early how to share.
"That is where we get our giving personality," he says. "My mother has done it all her life because she loves to encourage and empower others. And through our toughest time, the passing of my brother, she was the glue that held us and our faith together."
This son's tribute says it all.
I have had the joy of working with women and their families on almost every continent. From one culture to another, I have seen exactly what he described: When mothers are strong, their children — regardless of the challenges they face — tend to be strong. When they're resilient and filled with faith, their children are likely to be resilient and filled with faith.
It was no doubt curious to those at the American Mothers Convention that an unmarried woman without children would be invited to address them. But I care deeply about motherhood precisely because of my life experience. The doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which I am a member, are clear: that the family is ordained of God and that there is no pursuit for a woman more ennobling than motherhood. Period.
My faith means everything to me. So as the years have marched by and my hopes and prayers for marriage and motherhood have as yet to be answered, I have wrestled with what motherhood means for all women.
Why do I feel deeply about mothers? Because I know exactly how it feels to NOT have the privilege of fulfilling the foundational aspect of a woman's divine nature–which is bearing and nurturing children. For a woman of faith, nothing fills the void of not having children. Nothing.
So as a tribute to the highest, noblest calling a woman may receive, I share five truths about mothers.
Truth #1: Motherhood is a sacred trust from God.
The destiny of mankind is in the hands of mothers. This is not hyperbole. The proverb, "Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6) is more than a formula; it is reality. Mothers not only perpetuate the human race, they raise up the next generation.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell, who served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said, "When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happens in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?" (Ensign, May 1978, 10-11)
God has placed the well-being of His children in the hands of mothers.
Truth #2: We tend to define motherhood as maternity, but the word "mother" has layers of meaning.
Eve was called "the mother of all living" before she ever bore a child. Mother is the word that best describes the essence of who we are as women. It defines our identity, our divine nature and the gifts with which we have been endowed.
In reality, all women are mothers. We all need the nurturing touch of the mother who bore us and the "mothers" who bear with us. One of the greatest blessings of my life has been the privilege of learning from marvelous women — beginning with my mother and grandmother, but including others who have taught me things I would have never grasped on my own. They have made all the difference.
Truth #3: Mothers can do more than any others to cure the problems that exist in our society.
While serving in the General Presidency of the Relief Society, the women's organization of the LDS Church, we hosted Mrs. Jehan Sedat, the widow of Egyptian president Anwar Sedat, at a luncheon not long after a mass shooting in a U.S. high school. During the luncheon, the conversation turned to this horrifying event, and one man opined that the problem was with the failure of law enforcement agencies.
Mrs. Sedat immediately countered him: "No, the problem is with our homes. Too many mothers have abdicated responsibility for teaching their children what is right. What happens in society all begins with mothers."
There is no better place to teach integrity or compassion or the virtue of virtue. Perhaps that is why President Gordon B. Hinckley called women the "one bright shining hope in a world that is marching toward self-destruction" (One Bright Shining Hope, Deseret Book, 1)
Truth #4: Satan is real, and he has declared war on women.
The adversary understands full well that those who rock the cradle are strategically positioned to rock his diabolical empire. Thus, today his destructive myths about women and mothers abound. Here are just three:
Myth #1: Men are more important and have all the power, so if women want to have influence they should be more like men.
Myth #2: A woman's value is based solely on size and shape.
Myth #3: The only worthwhile validation comes from outside the home, and thus, motherhood is a waste of any talented woman's time.
Too many women have bought these lies. Our culture is disintegrating at the speed of light, and regrettably, the female gender is doing its share of the damage. Sleazy women who flaunt their indiscretions jam the airwaves and monopolize magazine covers.
Other distortions are equally troubling. One prominent magazine annually publishes its "100 Most Powerful Women" cover story. Almost every woman mentioned is a politician, entertainer or CEO. I mean no disrespect to any of these women. What I dispute is the distortion that in order to have influence, a woman must have money, fame or a title. That is a lie!
External validation has short-term value at best. It's difficult to hug an award. No one from the office will call on Mothers Day to thank you for changing their life. There world's praise pales when compared to the joy of family.
Truth #5: Mothers have more influence than they realize.
Women are the leaders of leaders. Who has more influence on a man than his wife? Or on children than their mother? The word that best describes leadership by a woman is mother. Is there any influence more enduring than a mother's shepherding of her children along the path towards exaltation?
One of my sisters just finished chemotherapy. Two days after her final treatment, while still battling nausea, she insisted on running a 5k with her two daughters and son-in-law. I thought she was crazy, but she not only ran the race but won a medal in her age category. (We like to tell her it's because there wasn't anyone else in her age category.)
Within hours, both daughters had posted Facebook tributes to their mother. Imagine what she taught them that day about courage and about running the race of life.
Mothers are always teaching, often in simple ways. As a youth, it was not uncommon for Mother to wake me in the middle of the night and say, "Sheri, take your pillow and go downstairs."
We lived in Kansas, in "tornado alley" (think Dorothy and Oz), and that meant a tornado was nearby. It was scary, but mother always calmly reassured me, "Everything will be okay."
I learned early to listen for her voice. To this day, when the pressure becomes too intense, I call home to hear mother say, "Everything will be okay."
After 9/11, First Lady Laura Bush described something similar: "I called my own children immediately to reassure them," she said, "and then I called my own mother, just for the comfort of her voice." (WashingonPost.com, 21 September 2001)
A mother's voice is unlike any other because a mother's influence is endless.
On this Mother's Day, I pay tribute to my mother and to the other "mothers" in my life whose collective influence has been life-altering. And I thank Heavenly Father for giving his daughters the most ennobling gift of all: the privilege of motherhood.
Sheri Dew is the President and CEO of Deseret Book Company, a member of the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board, and the author of "Are We Not All Mothers."