Optical illusions have always entertained us, much like a magician does. Most of us enjoy the unexpected surprise, and the discovery that our brains have been tricked, right before our very eyes. We marvel at ocean creatures which resemble coral, then suddenly move and swim away. Nature is filled with such examples-leaves that are actually insects, a shiny mirage of water on a long highway. And we’ve all seen the Penrose impossible staircase and other works of art that seem to defy physics. You could spend hours looking at intriguing examples of optical tricks online.
But the one you will never find there, the one that still seems to hoodwink much of the world, is the illusion that motherhood is a dreary career choice. In fact, the world paints it to resemble no career at all. Movies, books, and even real live people perpetuate the myth that motherhood is an accidental mishap that forever robs a woman of the success she could have had, if only. If only.
Remember the movie, “The Adjustment Bureau?” In this movie we meet Politician David and Promising Ballerina Elise. They fall in love, but mysterious government agents keep placing obstacles in their path to keep them apart. These two lovebirds simply cannot end up together, or it will threaten the future of humankind, at least according to the master plan of “The Chairman.” And guess what argument they give David for leaving Elise alone? It turns out Elise is destined to become the world’s foremost ballerina and if she deviates from that course, gets married and-heaven forbid-opens a dance studio to teach children-the world will have lost the greatest dancer in history. As if our sole objective in this life is to produce Olympic-level athletes and performers, and something as trivial as a marriage should obviously be sacrificed for this nobler cause. And we’re all supposed to nod and mumble, “Oh-of course they can’t get married! That would be a disaster for The Arts!”
There’s an unspoken idea out there, subscribed to by more and more followers every day, that marriage-and even more so, motherhood-is a secondary goal that should never supersede the larger ones of fame and fortune. Thousands of women have deferred motherhood to chase that earthly dream, only to find that nobody gives a flying rip that they were the CEO, and now their childbearing years have slipped away.
“Just a stay-at-home mom” has replaced “just a housewife,” and is spoken in the tones of an apology. Notice the “just” is still there. The role is still perceived as one of drudgery, of endless peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich making, diapering, laundering, driving ungrateful runny-nosed children to soccer games and sleepovers. It’s certainly not something any truly talented woman would choose, right? Not smart women, or women with so much to offer. Why would you give up a career for that?
And that’s where the painting remains, in the minds of most viewers. But here’s where the optical illusion is revealed to those willing to take that leap of faith, to look closer and live more faithfully: You’re not giving up a fraction of what you’re getting! Raising children is actually the grandest career in the universe and possibly the only career God actually cares about.
Seriously, do you think your worldly career is going to exist in eternity? Does God care about the nonsense at the water cooler, the agenda of yet another board meeting, the trophies and accolades we accumulate for all our rushing around in pursuit of merely mortal concerns? Measured against the shaping of a soul, the teaching of morality, the encouragement of a testimony-those other things don’t stand a chance.
Yes, there are lovely things “of good report” in the world, and ballet is one of them. But at the expense of the larger, more important work of bringing spirits into the world and helping them return to Heavenly Father? Hellooo? Family relationships and temple sealings are the entire purpose of life. If you can attain those things and be a wonderful dancer as well, kudos. But the king cannot bow to the pawn.
The notion that motherhood is nothing but a mountain of unappreciated work is a genuine illusion. The exact same way that sacrifice results in joy, motherhood results in pure elation, the kind only achieved by people who give their entire being to help another. That kind of happiness is rare, and never even glimpsed by the selfish, the dismissive. Too many see the outward trappings and conclude that motherhood is an unhappy, unfulfilling choice. They simply don’t realize that this package comes in a clever disguise. Truth is hidden from the eye, and can only be perceived by the heart.
C.S. Lewis once said, “The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only-and that is to support this ultimate career.” He solved the puzzle and exposed the optical illusion. Everything else is in the support function of the key element of society-the family. Motherhood trumps all other choices, and anything else is simply an illusion.
Be sure to read Hilton’s blog at jonihilton.blogspot.com. Her latest three novels, Jungle, Sisters in the Mix, and Pinholes Into Heaven are available at Amazon, www.mormonbooksandauthors.com, and in paperback at Createspace.com.
Her most recent LDS comedy is Funeral Potatoes-The Novel (Covenant Communications), available in LDS bookstores. Hilton currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California. Her radio advice show can be heard at blogtalkradio.com/jonihilton on Thursdays at 2pm PST.