I figure that since I posted my Mother’s Day talk from two years ago, I’d better post last year’s right away or I’ll put it off for another year. I’ll save you a long intro to this since I already share getting suckered into it two years in a row right at the beginning of the talk (along with a lot of ad-libbed nonsense, as I recall, but I’ll spare you that as well and just stick with what my notes said).
Here’s my 2011 talk.
So, last year on Mother’s Day all of the young men’s presidency spoke. We were all relieved when Cameron told us that we wouldn’t be asked to speak again this year, not just because no one likes speaking in church, but also Mother’s Day is kind of a high-pressure week by itself. But not half an hour after Cameron told me that we were off the hook, Vaughn Clement comes up to me and tells me that I’ve got to speak after all.
Now unless the bishopric is just out to get me, the only reason I can think that they would do this to me two years in a row is that they know how nice and understanding Kelly is, and that she probably wouldn’t stay mad for too long if I ruin Mother’s Day with a bad talk.
Still, I’m not taking any chances that I don’t have to, so I was glad that the topic that I’ve been assigned to speak on is “a husband’s duty to aid, support, and sustain mother”. I think I’m slightly less likely to get in trouble if I’m just talking about what I’m supposed to do to help out.
Understanding how to sustain mothers in their calling requires understanding the duties of that calling. In the Proclamation on The Family we read that “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” 1
We’ve all heard these phrases dozens of times. I want to draw special attention to the last sentence, where we are instructed that “fathers and mothers” are to be “equal partners”. I think it’s important that we recognize that this is not just a nod to political correctness. We’ve been taught this lesson multiple times. President Gordon B. Hinckley said that, “Marriage, in its truest sense, is a partnership of equals… with each encouraging and assisting the other in whatever responsibilities and aspirations he or she might have” 2. President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “When we speak of marriage as a partnership, let us speak of marriage as a full partnership. We do not want our LDS women to be … limited partners in that eternal assignment!” 3 We need to understand and believe that God really does want us to be “equal partners” with our spouses.
So what does it means to be “equal partners”? The dictionary defines “equal” as “having the same quantity, measure, or value”, “having the same privilege, status, or rights”, and “being the same for all members of a group” 4. So, as the phrase is used in the Proclamation on The Family, it means that the rights and obligations of fathers and mothers are the same. The “sacred responsibilities” explicitly assigned to one partner implicitly belong to the other partner as well.
With some of the responsibilities outlined in the Proclamation this is easier to see than with others. For example, we intuitively know that fathers have a duty to “nurture… their children”. But if intuition is not enough, President Boyd K. Packer has specifically instructed fathers to be equals with their wives in nurturing their children. He says, “There is no task, however menial, connected with the care of babies, the nurturing of children, or with the maintenance of the home that is not [a father’s] equal obligation.” 5
We do sometimes use a mother’s duty to nurture to acknowledge that not all men are naturally good at nurturing, especially when it comes to being understanding and sensitive to the emotional needs of others. I know that I have a hard enough time recognizing my own feelings, let alone being sensitive and supportive to the feelings of others. However, my lack of natural skill does not mean that I don’t share the responsibility.
Each individual is different, with diverse gifts, and we shouldn’t use trends and stereotypes to excuse ourselves from righteous behavior. There is nothing inherently feminine about being nurturing. In fact, General Relief Society President Julie Beck uses Jesus Christ as the supreme example of nurturing, saying that women should “nurture as Christ nurtured” 6.
Whether we are men or women, we have a God-given duty to learn to be nurturing. Both parents are responsible for the emotional and spiritual well-being of their family.
As for the duties that the Proclamation assigns explicitly to fathers, most are easy to see how they apply equally to mothers and fathers.
The responsibility to “provide the necessities of life” means to provide for the temporal needs of the family. We usually have no problem recognizing that mothers are equal partners in this role. It’s so clear that the world often forgets that there is more to families than this, simply splitting parenting into the roles of breadwinners and homemakers. Ultimately, however, the choice of who is bringing home the bacon and who is cooking the bacon doesn’t change the responsibility that both fathers and mothers have to be actively engaged in providing for the temporal needs of their family.
The Proclamation also tells fathers that they “are responsible to provide… protection for their families”. We’ve also been taught and understand that mothers have the responsibility, right, and even instinct to protect their families. In fact, God’s own desire to protect his children is often explained in the scriptures by using the image of a mother’s protection. In several places in the scriptures, God describes his desire to protect his children by saying “how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings” 7. The image is of a mother hen, covering her chicks with her own wings to protect them from danger.
The responsibility to preside over the family can be harder to see as a shared duty between mothers and fathers. I think that is largely due to the way that we view presiding.
I remember a Sunday School lesson when I was in the singles’ ward that dealt with the Proclamation on The Family. One class member had asked, “why does either spouse need to preside?” Another class member answered that someone needs to be in charge so that they can make the final decision at times when the couple can’t reach an agreement.
Now there’s nothing special about this scenario other than that it was the first time I remember giving any extra thought to this issue. You’ve probably all heard people give this explanation of presiding: that the person presiding gets to break the ties and make the final decision, and that without them we wouldn’t ever be able to agree on anything. The only problem is that this idea of presiding is quite opposite from how the scriptures say that priesthood leadership should work. 8
Elder Oaks addresses this very misconception as it relates to husbands and wives by quoting the Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball. He says that “President Kimball… declared, ‘We have heard of men who have said to their wives, “I hold the priesthood and you’ve got to do what I say.”’ He decisively rejected that abuse of priesthood authority in a marriage, declaring that such a man ‘should not be honored in his priesthood’” 9.
Presiding righteously in the gospel takes on the metaphor of stewardship. A steward is someone who is not the real ruler, but who has been entrusted to care for the estate. (I always think of the Steward of Gondor in the Lord of the Rings. He’s not the rightful king, but he has been entrusted with the kingdom while the king is absent. Of course, he’s not a very good steward, but that’s beside the point.) Through the gospel we understand that God is the rightful ruler, he is the Father, and he entrusts us with the care of his children. This applies to the people we teach or watch over in our priesthood callings, in other church callings and auxiliary presidencies, and in our families. To preside righteously is to take on this stewardship and accept the responsibility to care for God’s children.
See, it’s not about taking charge over people. It’s about taking care of people.
When we see presiding in the light of the gospel it becomes clear how mothers preside over their families. Mothers and fathers are jointly entrusted with children, and it is as a partnership that they must “preside over their families in love and righteousness”.
Not only do mothers and fathers preside together over their children, but they preside over each other. Just as God gives children to parents and entrusts them with their care, spouses give themselves to each other (very explicitly in the case of temple marriages). We give ourselves willingly in this case, trusting that our spouses will care for us, that they will “preside over [us] in love and righteousness”.
Even if we already knew that mothers and fathers share this responsibility to care for each other and for their children, it is important that we recognize that this constitutes presiding over their families.
One of the most powerful reasons to understand this shared stewardship is what Elder Oaks calls “the principle of ‘responsibility in revelation.’” He teaches that “Leaders receive revelation for their own areas of responsibility.” 10
If a mother did not preside over her family, then she would have no authority to receive revelation to guide her husband and children. Many of us have personal testimonies that mothers and wives do receive such revelation. There are even examples in the scriptures, such as the revelations that Mary and Elisabeth received about their special children, Jesus and John, respectively 11. Even the wife of Pontius Pilate had a vision on behalf of her husband warning him not to prosecute Jesus. 12
There was a time in our marriage when Kelly and I were confronted with a big decision that was going to affect both of us. Well, at least I felt confronted with it. Kelly had felt that there was a change we needed to make, but frankly, I didn’t want anything to do with it. Just talking about it stressed me out.
Then one Sunday I taught my young men a lesson about honoring their fathers and mothers, which included teaching them that both their fathers and their mothers could receive revelation to guide them, and that they should listen to them.
After I taught the lesson I pondered how that applied to Kelly and me, and whether I was actually letting her receive revelation for our family. I realized that she might have been inspired to recognize this change that we needed to make.
As soon as I opened my heart and mind to the possibility that Kelly had been inspired about this decision, I felt overwhelmed by the the Spirit, confirming to me that it was in fact the right decision. I don’t doubt that I could have saved myself much of the stress of that decision if I’d recognized Kelly’s inspiration sooner, but I’m grateful that I recognized it when I did.
I know that Kelly cares about me and about our little two-person family, and I know that the Spirit is just as eager to inspire her as he is to inspire me. I hope that I am supportive of that. I hope that I let her reach her potential by sustaining her in her rights and responsibilities.
I didn’t disclose this at the time, but it’s not a secret anymore. The decision that I was alluding to at the end of the talk was the decision to have a baby. Even with the complications, I still believe that it was the right time for us and I’m still glad that I listened to Kelly’s inspired counsel.
- The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” (1995).
- Gordon B. Hinckley, “I Believe”, Ensign, Aug 1992, 6, quoted in “Lesson 2: Developing Unity in Marriage”, in Marriage and Family Relations Instructor’s Manual.
- Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 315, quoted in Dalin H. Oaks, “Priesthood Authority in the Family and the Church”, General Conference, Oct 2005. Emphasis in original.
- “Equal”, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (Houghton Miffin, 2009).
- Boyd K. Packer, “A Tribute to Women”, Ensign, July 1989.
- Julie B. Beck, “And upon the Handmaids in Those Days Will I Pour Out My Spirit”, General Conference, April 2010.
- 3 Nephi 10:4-6 quoted here, but there are a lot of other places that use the same metaphor.
- See D&C 121:37, 41.
- Dalin H. Oaks, “Priesthood Authority in the Family and the Church”, General Conference, Oct 2005.
- Dalin H. Oaks, “Revelation”, New Era, Sept 1982.
- Luke 1:26-38, 46-55.
- Matt. 27:19.