I Am a Mother by Jane Clayson Johnson
Reviewed by Catherine K. Arveseth
Say it with Confidence and Joy
“The next time someone inquires what you do or asks you to describe yourself, [can] you say with confidence and with joy, ‘I am a Mother’?” (17). This is the first question Jane Clayson Johnson asks in her book.
We honor our own mothers and we understand the importance of our role as mothers, but as Johnson queries, “Why don’t we honor motherhood more? Why don’t we mother with more delight? Why do we seem to struggle so much with the value of this great calling? Do we really understand its significance and get it that the seemingly small things we do while our children are young . tend to stick with them throughout life?” (41).
These are tough questions – questions Johnson has wrestled with herself. Johnson began a career in broadcasting at KSL-TV in Salt Lake City. Eventually, she found herself co-hosting The Early Show on CBS, working as a network correspondent for the CBS Evening News and 48 Hours. At ABC News, she covered national and international stories for World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and Good Morning America . That’s no shabby resume. And Johnson left it behind – along with a lucrative, four-year network contract dangling in front of her – to get married and have a family.
I Am a Mother is Johnson’s story. It is compelling, full of much-needed perspective, and has the ability to influence mothers of all ages for good – especially young mothers, like myself, who are often exhausted with the challenge of raising young children. We need a strong reminder that our work is worthwhile! If I could give one Mother’s Day gift this year to all my girlfriends, sisters, mother, and mother-in-law, it would be Johnson’s book.
The Need for Encouragement
I approached Johnson’s book, not as a critic or writer, but as a mother. I write from this perspective and hope that other mothers will find the same joy, satisfaction, and empowerment I found in her timely message.
Two months ago our twin daughters came into the world unexpectedly. They were born seven weeks early during an emergency cesarean section. What followed was a month-and-a-half stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) while I recovered from a complicated and rushed surgery. The week we brought our girls home I Am a Mother arrived in the mail for review.
Amid the diapering, feeding, and holding of babies (not to mention trying to meet the needs of my toddler) the title to Johnson’s book seemed to shout out to me the simple yet loaded summation of my existence. I am a mother! There it sat on our living room table for days. I didn’t even have time to read the press release.
Looking at the cover alone, however, the book seemed to whisper to me – “If she can do it, so can I!” I was hungry for encouragement and validation. So tired, as Johnson puts it, I could “barely butter my toast,” I was in need of strength and spiritual reinforcement.
Johnson understands this need. “We become discouraged or guilt-ridden or just plain exhausted and don’t realize that what we do every day has enormous impact and implication. We get caught up in judging one another or taking sides and forget that the work of mothers is God’s work – and because it is his work, he will help us and lift us up and make us stronger” (xvii).
So one early morning after a 4:00 AM feeding, I opened Johnson’s book. Waiting for one of my girls to fall back to sleep, I sat on the floor next to the nightlight in their bedroom and read of Johnson’s experience with her son William. Born even earlier than my own daughters, he spent more than two months in the NICU. There in the stillness of that place, Johnson came to the profound realization that she and the Lord needed each other. Day after day, Johnson held William, but he didn’t seem to respond. She wondered if she was really making a difference. Did he even know she was there?
She writes, “A very perceptive neonatologist must have sensed my sadness. One afternoon, she came over to our little corner of the unit, put her arms around me, and with such kindness said, ‘William can’t express it right now, but in his behalf, let me say, Thank You for being here. These babies know their mothers. And even though it doesn’t feel as though you’re making a difference . you are.'”(16).
This was most touching to me, for I had just experienced something similar. Johnson remembers standing with both arms through the portals of William’s isolette. “The feeling came over me so strongly that as a mother, the Lord needed me. And that as my Savior, I needed him to make this baby whole. In that moment, in a very tangible way, I realized that mothers matter” (16).
That is the glowing message of Johnson’s book. Mothers matter. She writes, “I want every woman to believe this, to feel it in her soul, and embrace it” (xvii). Johnson believes there is a power that exists within women and mothers. Reading snippets here and there during feedings, I began to sense that power. It comes from on high so we can do God’s work – the work of saving and nurturing souls. A strength began to seep into my daily work. I looked at nighttime feedings as an opportunity to bond with and sacrifice for my little ones. My prayers became more meaningful. I was feeling closer to the Lord.
The Most Worthwhile Venture
Johnson’s perspective is compelling. She is an influential figure. She seems to have it all – the looks, the brains, the most exciting profession. Yet, she has embraced motherhood with a fierce passion. She stands firm as a powerful example of the need to reverence and celebrate the work of mothers.
As mother of two and stepmother of three children, Johnson admits there are some days when she thinks it would be easier, if not preferable, to be a foreign correspondent than a mother. “There are definitely moments when I am down on my hands and knees, mopping up yet another mess, when I look up at the TV to see one of my old friends interviewing someone famous or globe-trotting on a big story, and I think, What have I done? But as I look at the little faces of my children, I realize I would not trade in my current occupation. Not for anything” (12).
Johnson explains further, “Satan has found a willing partner in the world to blind us and distract us with so may other ‘worthy endeavors’ that we forget that Motherhood is the most worthwhile venture of all” (46).
Scattered throughout the telling of Johnson’s personal story are wonderful quotes and scriptures. In one chapter, Johnson refers to Doctrine and Covenants 18:15, not in the context of doing missionary work, but in the context of mothering. It has stuck with me ever since. “If it so be that you should labor all your days . and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy.” (61).
I love Johnson’s honesty. She writes in a way that makes you feel like you are sitting up late talking with her about your biggest dreams and challenges. She makes you laugh, cry and think. She debunks some of the myths of motherhood. (What a temptation to believe some of them!)
She offers practical spiritual advice, encouraging mothers to seek the spirit of revelation as it will guide, soothe and help us through. She urges women to avoid judging and comparing each other. Instead, she says, turn yourselves over to the Lord.
“Every woman has the opportunity to feel this . sense of fulfillment – this blessed measure of happiness . How do we achieve it? I believe we do it by turning ourselves over to the Lord and by then tapping into the part of ourselves that innately and instinctively knows how to nurture and love others – the part that knows how to mother” (115).
Here are a few statements from Johnson’s book that have helped me maintain perspective.
“It’s all about seeing the big picture, especially when so many things you do don’t last – folded laundry, washed dishes, a clean house” (80).
“Rather than trying to be Supermom, try being simply Mom – and let the wonder of your child’s eyes give you strength to keep on going” (88).
“Remember one thing: My path is not your path, and your path is unique to you” (xviii).
“My friend Sara often refers to mothering as ‘The Ironman [Competition] of Living.’ Exactly! We go into motherhood expecting that it will require some strength; then we find ourselves in it and realize we’re completely out of breath – with miles left to go. Indeed, motherhood is an extraordinary test of endurance and strength, some days requiring that we sprint, and other days asking us to swim uphill against the current” (76).
“I believe that God is more concerned with the ‘big picture’ in our lives, more concerned that we love our children and less concerned that we provide them with the two or three music lessons; more concerned that we spend time with them and less concerned about how many hours we volunteer with the PTA; more concerned that we talk with our teenagers and less concerned that we finish the laundry. Don’t waste your time trying to do it all! If you do, you may miss the best parts!” (88).
“Sisters, we must revere motherhood in our homes, in our church callings, in our places of employment, in our associations with our neighbors, in everything we do. If we do not, what are we teaching our daughters? How can we expect the rising generation of young women to enthusiastically embrace their futures as mothers and leaders if we are ambivalent or apologetic about our own motherhood?” (10).
Share Your Story
“This is my story – at least the beginning of it” Johnson writes. “May you share yours – along with your love, your faith, and your courage – with everyone in your life” (127). I Am a Mother does inspire women to share their feelings of empowerment with others. Her book spawned many discussions with my sisters, mom, and mother-in-law. It is a message of divine encouragement.
When both babies are crying and inconsolable or it’s the middle of the night and I can hardly keep my eyes open while changing a diaper, I have remembered Johnson’s story. An image or phrase pops into my head and gives me courage to press on.
I offer my personal thanks to Johnson for candidly sharing her story – particularly with women of my generation. Hers is an important message that has been taught before. But for some reason, we need to hear it again. Stories like hers should be told and retold, lest we forget the magnificence of our calling as mothers. Jane, please know, the next time someone asks me what I “do,” I will happily say with confidence and with joy, I am a mother!To see pictures of Jane Clayson Johnson and her family, read Meridian’s interview with Johnson by clicking here. Or listen to her on Meridian Radio by clicking here.