I'll acknowledge at the outset that I'm not a mother. So, if that fact disqualifies me from writing this review, it might be best you stop reading now.
But I am married to a mother. I'm the son of a mother, and the brother to mothers. As a teacher, I work with a large number of mothers. I have been the bishop of mothers, and I'm currently in a calling where I give temple recommends to mothers. So, while I'm not one, I am around them often.
There is a unique dynamic I've noticed with many mothers, both in and out of the Church. I don't know how to articulate it fully, but most mothers I know severely undervalue their work. Others in their life will tell them how wonderful they are, how important their work is, and so forth. But it doesn't seem to sink in.
This has always made me sad. Even as a fairly young child, I noted the disparity between my mother's value to our family and that which she assigned herself.
When I was a bishop, it was difficult. Long hours of difficult, soul-stretching work, and constant, unremitting feelings of inadequacy. But I was able to get through because, in spite of my weaknesses, I believed in what I was doing. I felt divinely called and guided, and although I was deeply flawed, I didn't doubt I was divinely appointed (although I often wondered why in the world that would be the case. But that's another story). In short, I felt that a divine purpose trumped my many flaws.
I drew strength from these things in spite of the struggles, both internal and external. A lot of mothers I know make far larger sacrifices for far longer, but don't seem to have the internal support of believing in the ultimate value of what they are doing. Or at least, they don't believe their own personal efforts have value.
It is in that regard that I find this book to be so profound. It is short and simple, quick and easy to read. But there is so much here. In a concise and cogent way, Stephanie lays out a foundation and she shows how deeply the tasks of motherhood parallel the things that Christ does.
I always saw motherhood as an intrinsically spiritual work, but Stephanie shows why, and explains just how closely the work of a mother echoes and prefigures the various functions of the Atonement.
I saw some reviews of the book that were dismissive. They made a mistake, in my opinion, of confusing simplicity with depth, writing off these parallels as facile mottos.
The Savior taught in simple parables. He used the day-to-day features of people's lives to teach profound and eternal truths. Coins. Yeast. Wheat. Birds. Seeds. Sheep. In his hands, all of these became powerful sermons about concepts that could transform human souls.
Stephanie has done something similar, finding the ways in which the work of a mother testifies of Christ's divinity, and elucidates the divinity of the work of the women who have consecrated their lives to being co-creators with him.
This is all the more remarkable when you understand Stephanie's story, and why she came to seek the answers she has elucidated in her book. You can read that for yourself, but this book represents the testimony of one who was converted to a principal that once seemed annoying and even burdensome.
For that reason, I wish every mother in the world could read and really understand this remarkable book. I would very much like Stephanie to write a companion volume for fathers. Until then, my appreciation for the women in my life and the Atonement of Christ have both increased.
If I have one quibble, it is with the title. I don't think it really reflects the fullness of the content. However, to be fair, most authors have very little control over their titles, which are usually chosen by a committee at the publisher. I think a more descriptive, but admittedly less-poetic title would be: "How the Daily Work of a Mother Reflects the Atonement of Jesus Christ." That's a small quibble, though.
Stephanie was kind enough to answer some questions for me.
Q: I know you refer to this in the book, but I think the genesis for this book is fascinating and inspiring. Can you give explain that for the readers?
A: I was afraid to be a mother because I didn't feel like I would be good at it. I also knew it was an important part of God's plan, so I eventually took a leap of faith. We started our family, and I was right. It was hard, and I wasn't very good at it. Because I so often felt that way, I struggled with the daily challenges of motherhood. Even though I knew motherhood was important for my children in an eternal sense, I struggled to see what it meant for me. Did all this hard stuff really matter? I started a quest to study what I now call the doctrine of motherhood. I read everything I could find in the scriptures and the teachings of prophets and apostles about why motherhood matters. I knew that if I could understand the why, and have a testimony of its importance in God's plan, then I could do it. I asked for a clearer vision of my purpose, and little by little, the pieces came together. I began to see my role the way God sees it. The process was extremely reassuring and liberating. I collected what I learned and decided to put it into a book because I felt like having it all in one place might be helpful to another mom who experiences similar feelings about her role. (And I also had a strong desire to bear my testimony about what the Lord had taught me.)
Q: If I understand the timeline correctly, this book began as a series of blog posts. At what point did it grow to become a book?
Q: What projects are you currently working on?
A: I love to study and teach about the gospel. I finished Covenant Motherhood and got a part-time faculty position in Church History and Doctrine at BYU right as my youngest child started school. Even though I only teach 1-2 classes a semester, that keeps my free time kind of busy. I wrote a chapter for a book called A Mother's Prayer that will be released this Spring. This summer I will be teaching at BYU Women's Conference and Especially for Youth, so I'm trying to get those presentations prepared. I also have three new book ideas rolling around in my head, but I'm still in the research stage for all three. I'm curious to see how it all plays out.
Q: Do you consider yourself an expert on motherhood?
A: I always want someone to ask me if I think I'm an expert on motherhood, mostly so I can shout, "No!" I have a testimony of motherhood, but I'm still working every day on being converted. I tried so hard to write the book in a way that would help every mother recognize the good that she's already doing and not make her feel like a failure for what she's not doing. Probably 75% of my days, if you asked my children and husband if I am a motherhood expert, they would laugh at you. So thanks for "asking."
Thank you, Stephanie!
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The Road Show, and The Middle School Magic series. His next book, Luminescence, will be published in March. He blogs about all of the above at bradenbell.com.