My husband and I are expecting a third child this winter, and I find pregnancy is a good time to eat a lot of cheese and re-examine my role as a parent. I’ve been thinking recently about how I approach my relationship with my kids in light of the Heavenly Doctrine. What makes me their mother? To what end am I raising them?
I have an older biological daughter and a younger adopted son. As I awaited the arrival of both children, I couldn’t wait to find out what they would be like: what color eyes he would have, what her voice would sound like. When she got older, would she be a bossy oldest child like I was? Would he enter the business world like his grandpa?
When my daughter was born, I and everyone else with an opinion could detect the Pendleton head shape, Frazier chattiness, and so on. She felt familiar, a dear little genetic cocktail of our bloodlines. It is natural—and I use that word for its many shades of meaning—to love a biological child.
I believe the Lord gives parents spontaneous love for their offspring to protect the children. The Heavenly Doctrine states that a love for offspring comes as naturally to animals and people involved in evil as it does to parents seeking to do good (Married Love 392). It describes “natural parents”: those who love their children because those children are parts of themselves (Married Love 405-408). It was easy to love my newborn daughter, who felt like a piece of me and my family. I was surprised at my overwhelming, animal love for her, a little person I’d known only a few minutes.
In considering adoption, my husband and I talked about how it would feel to welcome a child who didn’t look like us, whose disposition or interests might feel foreign. I didn’t expect genetic familiarity or the instant “mother bear” feelings I’d felt when my daughter was born. I gave myself permission to be emotionally honest, counting on the Lord’s promise that a love for children comes not only to biological parents but to all caretakers of young children:
The sphere of a love for little children is a sphere of protecting and maintaining those who cannot protect and maintain themselves… For it exists from creation that things created must be preserved, safeguarded, protected, and maintained–otherwise the universe would fall to ruin. But because this cannot be done by the Lord directly in the case of living beings to whom He has bequeathed free judgment, He does it indirectly through His love implanted in fathers, mothers and nurses. (Married Love 391)
I think of this passage when I remember seeing my new son for the first time, a sleepy, fuzzy-haired bundle. His pacifier obscured most of his tiny, dark face. He looked nothing like me, darling as he was. I distinctly remember the moment I felt like his mother. I’d taken him to his first checkup. He’d been sleeping with his head on my shoulder as I sat in the waiting room. Slowly, he opened his eyes and lifted his thin, baby-bird neck so that he could look me solemnly in the face. There he was, a genetic stranger to me, unable to protect or support himself; there I was, his mama.
After a year and a half, it’s hard to remember that my son seemed like anything but family to me. Now my role as a mother is not defined by a biological link. I like to think of men and women in the Old and New Testament who cared for children not their own. Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses and raised him in the Egyptian royal court. The priest Eli prepared the young Samuel for his role of prophet and judge. Even the Christ needed the protection of Joseph, his earthly father, for a time.
I feel with greater clarity that my children don’t belong to me—an unconscious belief that I might have held onto had this little boy never entered my life. My babies come from the Lord, they are in my care for a time, and then they are meant to return to their Heavenly Father as they grow up. My kids are sojourners in my life, who I love and guard and teach and tend to while they are with me.
“Sojourning” in the Heavenly Doctrine refers to instruction (Secrets of Heaven 1463). According to Israelite law, sojourners were to be welcomed and included as if they’d been native-born. They receive inheritances within the tribe they join (Ezekiel 47:21-23). These parallels are useful for framing how I think of my kids.
“Inheritance” means another’s life, in this instance the Lord’s; thus the life of good and truth which is derived from the Lord is meant, since those who possess this life are heirs of the kingdom and are called sons. (Secrets of Heaven 8327)
My husband and I will keep the promises we made at their baptisms: to teach them the Ten Commandments, to introduce them to the Lord’s truth. We can offer a safe haven from which they can travel, independent and free to pursue their own lives. Moses heard the voice of the Lord in the burning bush, Samuel heard His voice calling, and Jesus felt the Divine within Him. I hope that I can help my children hear the voice of their Heavenly Father calling them to their inheritances.
My part as their earthly caretaker is a small one—hard to remember on days when it feels that I am the end-all, be-all to my small dependents. My children need me for everything from diaper changes to hair bows now, but they will not need me forever.
I rebel a little at this thought. I can’t imagine letting either one of them go off into the world. My daughter tearfully protests that she will never want to live anywhere but our house; I remember saying the same thing at her age. I imagine our feelings will be different as they grow up and away from me, though.
Married Love 405-408 describes the counterpoint to those “natural parents” who love their children selfishly. Natural fathers (no mention of mothers) cling to them in the next life, even if the grown-up children commit awful evil. “Spiritual fathers” love their children for their good inclinations and usefulness. They greet their grown-up children in heaven, inquire about their lives, and remind them on parting that the Lord is their Heavenly Father.
At this point I can’t imagine being so detached from my babies’ lives, but it’s easier to think about in the way Romans 8 frames it: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God…” (16-17).
My children and I are children and heirs of God if we choose. I can point my small sojourners on their way to their eternal home, their inheritance. I hope we can meet as dear friends and fellow travelers. But we’re not ready for that yet, because my teething toddler wants to be held and my four-year-old’s dinner doesn’t cook itself.