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“Jane Clayson Johnson has a powerful message that is sorely needed today — and she is the perfectly packaged messenger to do it!” — Sharon Larson, author of All Rain, No Mud
“What do you do?”
It's a loaded question for many women, especially Latter-day Saint women, who recognize the sacred calling of motherhood but sometimes feel overwhelmed — and undervalued — in their roles as mothers.
Author Jane Clayson Johnson has been asked that question on many occasions since trading in a prestigious and rewarding career in network news for the equally challenging career of motherhood. And, like most mothers, Jane has hesitated before answering the question.
In this personal — and honest — narrative, Jane recounts how she has since learned to welcome questions about her role and to respond, with enthusiasm, “I am a mother.”
Her testimony of the gospel and refreshing candor about the realities of motherhood create an immediate connection between reader and author and will inspire women to change the way they feel about being mothers.
Whether you're a mother of young children or are approaching the empty-nest years, you will find affirmation in this book that mothers matter.
“You matter,” Jane reminds women, because “a mother's work is God's work” — even on the days and nights that challenge your strength and test your character, and even when the world works overtime to minimize your calling.
Foreword by Sheri Dew
- Run Time: Approx. 183 min.
About the Author
I Am a Mother
I’d rather be a mother than anyone on earth
Bringing up a child or two of unpretentious birth. . . .
I’d rather tuck a little child all safe and sound in bed
Than twine a chain of diamonds about my [carefree] head.
I’d rather wash a smudgy face with round, bright, baby eyes
Than paint the pageantry of fame or walk among the wise.
—Meredith Gray, from The Beauty of Motherhood
A couple of years ago, my husband and I attended a dinner meeting outside Washington, D.C. It was a wonderful gathering of about seventy-five mostly LDS couples from a variety of professions, including law, business, education, and communications. After dinner, each of us was asked to introduce him or herself.
The men in the room confidently and appropriately stated their professional achievements, which were impressive. They had degrees; they served on boards; they tended to patients and served clients; they had accomplished sons and daughters.
Then their wives stood up—beautiful, intelligent, spiritual women. Many of them had served on boards, held degrees, and were seasoned in their respective fields. Each of them was also a mother.
But this is how many of the women described themselves:
“Oh, I’m just a mom.”
“I don’t have any credentials; I’m just raising our six children.”
“My life’s not very exciting right now; I’m just a stay-at-home mom.”
“I don’t have much to offer here. I’m just a mother.”
We heard some variation of the phrase “I’m just a mother” repeated, almost apologetically, over and over again.
Their words surprised me. I had recently given birth to my first child, and I was on top of the world. My baby was a blessing that had come to me a little later in life than usual, and I was excited and honored to finally accept the mantle of motherhood. I felt an extraordinary sense of responsibility. And power. Not as the world defines the word, but from entering a sacred partnership with the Creator himself. What a remarkable gift! I wanted to shout from the rooftops, “I am a mother! I am a mother!”
So when I heard these women say, “I’m just a mother,” I was taken aback. Was I missing something? Did these lovely women—these experienced mothers—know something I didn’t? Was it simply a matter of time before I’d figure it out? Before I, too, would understand that motherhood was somehow of lesser importance?
I was so bewildered by their comments that questions began to gnaw at me—What have I done? What have I done?
When I left my television career in New York City to get married and to have a family, many of my colleagues told me I was crazy, that I was out of my mind. I had turned down a lucrative, four-year network contract, working on exciting, high-profile, prime-time projects.
Some people were incredibly supportive. One producer in particular came into my office, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “Good for you!” He wasn’t endorsing my decision to be a mother per se, but he did congratulate me for having the courage to follow my heart, to act on my convictions. He noted that there were so very many others with the impulse to leave; but they wouldn’t. They just couldn’t walk away from the prestige, the money, or whatever it was that seemed more important than following their hearts.
By way of contrast, when I explained to another rather influential colleague that I would not be taking that contract offer, he told me I was making a terrible decision that I would regret for years to come. “What will you be without your job?” he asked. “If you leave television now, you’re done.” He quoted an old CBS newsman as saying, “Without work, there is no meaning to life.” And finally, knowing of my faith, he asked, “What are you going to do . . . move up there and teach Sunday School?” Well, as it turned out, the first Sunday in my new ward, I was called to teach—the Gospel Doctrine class.
I found that the reaction from my female colleagues was largely, and disappointingly, less than supportive. I shared my decision with one woman who smugly joked, “Why don’t you just get a nanny?” Another network executive asked me what I was going to do once I got to Boston. I told her I was going to have a family, I was going to be a mother. “No, I understand that,” she said, puzzled, “but what are you going to do?”
All of this was still fresh on my mind during that evening spent near Washington, D.C. A chorus of “I’m just a mother,” juxtaposed with “What will you be without your job?” and “You’re making a terrible mistake” made me wonder, Could they be right?
Is it possible that motherhood is an insignificant, second-rate occupation?
Had I made a bad decision? I thought I’d done everything right. I’d fasted and prayed. I’d felt such a powerful, spiritual confirmation that this was the right choice, for me. Could it be that Heavenly Father would plan for me to walk away from something I loved for the “misery” of being “just a mother”?
What I have since learned is that God’s definition of motherhood and the world’s definition are vastly different. And sometimes—probably all too often—the challenges, daily physical and emotional exhaustion, and occasional self-doubt that come along with being a mother cause many of us to buy into an inaccurate and destructive understanding of our role. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of joy—or fulfillment—associated with the world’s interpretation of motherhood.
But when we trust in the arm of the Lord rather than the voices of the world, everything changes. Elder Neal A. Maxwell observed, “When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?” (“The Women of God,” 10–11).
I see no “justs” when I read those words. Instead, I feel something: Honor. Responsibility. Awe. Hope. I begin to understand what the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been quietly reminding mothers for years, that “motherhood is near to divinity,” the “highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind” (J. Reuben Clark Jr., Improvement Era, 761).
At times, there may be few immediate rewards for those of us who are mothers. There are no Christmas bonuses, no promotions, no paid vacations. But there is love, there is laughter, there is joy. And there are assurances. For, as the Apostle Paul taught, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). A mother who loves the Lord and teaches her children to do the same—above all else—cannot be denied this blessing.
President Gordon B. Hinckley has said, “God planted within women something divine” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 387). It is that divinity that makes women nurturers, that encourages a woman to pursue motherhood—even when that means sacrificing her own comforts for those of her children . . . and loving those children with a fierceness and loyalty that is incomparable.
What power we would possess if every mother would turn off the voices of the world and instead truly believe what President Hinckley and all the prophets have taught—and the Lord has promised!
Changing the Way We Think
Sometimes, if you listen for it, you can find voices in the world that echo President Hinckley’s words. I love it when I hear educated, talented, well-known women from different corridors of life call on other women to raise the image of motherhood, to erase the feeling that any of us are “just mothers.” Recently, I watched an interview with Maria Shriver, the wife of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. She was explaining her agenda as the state’s first lady and said that one of her goals is to “empower mothers”!
“How do we get women,” she said, “to stop saying, ’I’m just a mother.’ Or, ‘I used to be such and such, but now I’m just a mother? We need to market motherhood. So I came up with a saying: ‘Motherhood: 24/7 on the frontlines of humanity. Are you man enough to try it?’” (from “First Lady Maria Shriver—Her New Life,” The Oprah Winfrey Show, April 29, 2004).
“In our society, we give motherhood plenty of lip service,” says Oprah Winfrey, another champion of motherhood. "We pat moms on the head, bring them flowers on Mother’s Day, and honor them before crowds. But at the end of the day, we don’t extend them the same respect we would a professor, a dentist, an accountant, or a judge.
“I believe the choice to become a mother is the choice to become one of the greatest spiritual teachers there is. To create an environment that’s stimulating and nurturing, to pass on a sense of responsibility to another human being, to raise a child who understands that he or she is created from good and is capable of anything—I know for sure that few callings are more honorable. To play down mothering as small is to crack the very foundation on which greatness stands.
“The world can only value mothering to the extent that women everywhere stand and declare that it must be so. In our hands we hold the power to transform the perception of motherhood. . . . We should no longer allow a mother to be defined as ‘just a mom.’ It is on her back that great nations are built” (“What I Know for Sure,” O, The Oprah Magazine, 66; emphasis added).
Sister Sheri Dew adds a spiritual component to that thought:
“It’s no wonder,” she says, “that Satan has declared war on motherhood. He knows that those who rock the cradle can rock his earthly empire. And he knows that without righteous mothers loving and leading the next generation, the kingdom of God will fail. When we understand the magnitude of motherhood, it becomes clear why prophets have been so protective of woman’s most sacred role” (“Are We Not All Mothers?” Ensign, 96).
Are you protective of that role? When asked, do you meekly respond that you’re “just a mother,” or do you confidently declare, “I am a mother”?
I recently met with a group of beautiful high-school-aged young women. The Young Women president asked these impressive girls to describe what they wanted to “be” when they grew up, and the girls spent some time responding:
“I want to be a veterinarian.”
“I want to be an artist.”
“I want to be a figure skater.”
This pattern continued around the room.
Then, one young woman raised her hand and shyly, as if she were embarrassed to admit it, said, “I’ve always wanted to be a mother.”
One of my friends recently shared an experience she’d had with a thirteen-year-old in her neighborhood. This bright, talented young woman often stops by my friend’s house on the way home from school to talk about her day and just hang out.
One afternoon, their conversation turned to motherhood, and this girl told my friend, “I want to have only one child when I grow up, because I want to be more than just a mom and sit on the couch all day.”
General Young Women President Susan W. Tanner has related several similar experiences with beautiful young girls who, when asked what they want to be, have been hesitant—even fearful—to express their desires to be mothers. And with other girls who have emphatically declared that they want to be more than just mothers.
Sister Tanner’s own daughter has stated that “one of the disturbing anxieties in her life” is the lack of affirmation motherhood receives on all fronts—at school, at Young Women activities, even at seminary (see “Strengthening Future Mothers,” 20).
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?
When mothers themselves begin to revere their callings, so much can change. And surely, when a woman of virtue values motherhood above other pursuits, her children will “arise up, and call her blessed” (Proverbs 31:28).
Still, the sanctity of motherhood can be hard to appreciate when you spend endless hours making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, singing along with Elmo, helping create elaborate science projects, or enforcing late-night curfews. Many in the world will shout that motherhood is full of small, mundane tasks.
And certainly, if you look only on the surface, this is true. But underneath all of the secondary things mothers do—cook, clean, read, chauffeur, nurse, and so on—is a mother’s real occupation and, I believe, the definition of true success. Webster defines occupation as “the principal business of one’s life.” The principal business of a mother’s life is loving and nurturing her children; it is teaching them, by example, how to pass on that love and thereby strengthening the world around them.
For years, many in the business world have taught—and been taught—that the definition of success is achievement, chiefly in career and financial terms. At the Harvard Business School, the model of success included one word: achievement. A few years ago, however, Harvard took another look at the model and added a few more words: happiness, significance, and legacy. Is there any other person who can bring more happiness to her young charges, has more significance in another’s life, or has the potential to leave a greater legacy for those who come after her than a mother?
I believe, from the depths of my heart, that a righteous mother is the embodiment of success. I believed this about motherhood before I got married and had children. Now, I know it: As a woman, the most important work I will ever do will happen within the walls of my own home.
Having said that, I must admit that there are some days when I think it would be easier, if not preferable, to be a foreign correspondent than to be 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.
I know what I gave up so that I could be a mother during this season of my life. But I also know what I gave it up for. I traded in fancy lunches in fancy restaurants for rice cereal and bunny-shaped macaroni and cheese. There’s no one to do my hair and makeup anymore. Some mornings I’m lucky to squeeze in a shower. When I get up at 4:00 A.M. these days, it’s not to be chauffeured to a television studio. Instead, you’ll find me huddled near a nightlight, lulling a little baby (or two!) back to sleep. No more pats on the back for booking exclusive interviews. They don’t give awards for best diaper change of the day. And I don’t get a paycheck that can be cashed at any bank. Now my compensation comes in packages money can’t buy.
Indeed, every mother who prayerfully chooses her own path in life—no matter where that path leads—does not have to apologize for being a mother. As she loves her children, as she sacrifices—in her own way and within her own capabilities—she will be led by the Savior and buoyed up by his loving care as she works to rear “the offspring” of God (Acts 17:28). In this, she will have acquired true success.
A Mother’s Influence
When I was pregnant with Ella, I started a little stitchery project (which I will someday finish!). It’s a quote from the book of Alma, in the Book of Mormon: “They had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it” (Alma 56:47–48; emphasis added).
Can you imagine the joy experienced by the mothers of Helaman’s 2,000 stripling warriors? Can you imagine how it must have felt to know that it was their teachings and their testimonies that gave their sons the courage and faith to honor sacred covenants under extraordinarily difficult circumstances? Mothers today can expect similar challenges and potential success as we work to raise another army of righteous youth. I strive to be like those faithful mothers and to one day be able to say, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 1:4).
President David O. McKay once said of women: “She who can paint a masterpiece or write a book that will influence millions deserves the admiration and the plaudits of mankind; but she who rears successfully a family of healthy, beautiful sons and daughters, whose influence will be felt through generations to come, . . . long after paintings shall have faded, and books and statues shall have decayed or shall have been destroyed, deserves the highest honor that man can give, and the choicest blessings of God. In her high duty and service to humanity . . . , she is co-partner with the Creator himself” ( Gospel Ideals, 453–54).
A Co-partner with the Creator Himself
I felt that relationship in a very profound way after the birth of our second child. We were sitting in church on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when my water broke. Three days later, our little baby William was born—more than three months early, at only twenty-seven weeks gestation. At his tiniest, he weighed just over two and a half pounds.
I remember the nurses wheeling me on a bed into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston to see him for the first time. It was four o’clock in the morning, and I had just awakened from undergoing a difficult and complicated two-and-a-half-hour caesarean section operation.
I saw all those little incubators—with blankets covering them to keep the light out of the babies’ eyes—and thought they looked like little coffins lined up.
William was in the NICU for eleven weeks. Almost every day, I would travel back and forth to that hospital to deliver breast milk and to hold him. Some days the doctors would not allow him to come out of the Isolette. And so I would sit and look at him through the glass, with all the tape and tubes and wires hanging from his frail little body. There was barely a place to touch his bare skin.
On the good days, I would hold William while he received his fortified feedings through a tube in his nose. I had read medical research that showed that premature babies who were consistently held and nurtured by their mothers were healthier than those who were not. The hospital recommended “kangaroo care”—putting babies skin-to-skin with their mothers. It was supposed to help with bonding. The doctors said it actually made the babies stronger.
For weeks, I did this. But for weeks it seemed that William still did not know I was there. He didn’t respond to me in any way. He didn’t open his eyes. He would hardly move. I remember so distinctly thinking: Am I really making a difference?
A very perceptive neonatologist must have sensed my sadness. One afternoon, she came over to our little corner of the unit, put her arm 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.”
That night, after my husband had given William a beautiful priesthood blessing, I remember standing with both arms through the portals of his incubator. 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.
Even when our children cannot—or will not—express it, even when the voices of the world tell us that mothering isn’t as important as anything else we could be doing, we are making a difference.
I keep this quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taped to my nightstand: “You are doing God’s work. You are doing it wonderfully well. He is blessing you, and He will bless you, even—no, especially—when your days and your nights may be most challenging. Like the woman who anonymously, meekly, perhaps even with hesitation and some embarrassment, fought her way through the crowd just to touch the hem of the Master’s garment, so Christ will say to the women who worry and wonder and weep over their responsibility as mothers, ‘Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.’ And it will make your children whole as well” (“Because She Is a Mother,” 37).
A “co-partner with the Creator himself.”
That is a mother.
We are mothers.
The next time someone inquires what you do or asks you to describe yourself, would you say with confidence and with joy, “I am a Mother”?
by Customer - reviewed on March 31, 2007
Loved this book! Every young girl and mother should understand the importance of what a mother does!
a gift to many, many women
by Customer - reviewed on March 22, 2007
'As I started reading I thought, 'Oh, this is my favorite part.' But by the middle of the book, I lost track there were so many favorite parts. I was moved to tears so many places. This book is a gift to many, many women.' --Susan Andersen
by Customer - reviewed on March 23, 2007
'I truly think it is the best comprehensive book on the importance of mothers that I have ever read. It spoke right to my heart.' --Debbie Youd
by Customer - reviewed on March 22, 2007
I just finished reading the book, 'I am a Mother!' Fabulous. I now want to read it again and mark my scriptures as I read and make little quote papers to tuck in the special places of my scriptures. What treasures. I just loved what I read. , --N. Ann Snider
A truly inspiring book for every woman to read!
by Shannon - reviewed on April 18, 2007
Sister Jane Clayson Johnson, through her own story and outside resources, shares thoughts on motherhood that every woman (and the men in their lives) can benefit from. Overall, I found the book comforting and inspiring. It left me with the feeling that I am truly not alone in my efforts to be a good mother and that my calling is of the utmost importance both in the world we live in and eternally. Thank you, Jane, for you inspired words!
A fantastic promotion of motherhood
by Deborah - reviewed on November 13, 2008
I loved this book. It is really inspiring for LDS mothers to be proud that they are a mother.
Just the thing.
by Becca - reviewed on April 15, 2007
This is one of those books that you will read and then want to go out and buy a copy for every mother or future mother you know. There are so many parts where I thought, 'Yes! Exactly!' and often, quiet moments, where I felt like someone had overheard my prayers. This book was sorely needed, which is why I think it's being received with so much enthusiasm. Wonderful!
make it last...
by Customer - reviewed on August 30, 2007
My friend gave me this book for my birthday. I have read it slowly over the last several months...not because I didn't want to read it fast, but because I wanted to savor and truly enjoy every word on every page. , Thanks for a peak into your amazing and yet average life, Jane! You are an inspiration.
What every mother needs!
by Jill - reviewed on May 03, 2007
I received this book as a gift from my sister- a truly inspired mother. I loved reading every page and felt uplifted and encouraged. As a young mother of four and expecting our fifth child, I was reminded what the 'Big' picture really is. I don't have to be a Supermom, I can enjoy my children and create lasting memories with an eternal perspective. Thanks to all the mothers who have contributed to my life. This book is a must own!
So Grateful to Jane
by Joanna - reviewed on April 10, 2007
I loved how Jane shared her life experiences touching on the tender parts of her mind and heart. It made me look at my own life, what I had mapped out for myself and how the lord has steered me when I have made his will my own. I felt very inspired by the read as if it was a cross reference for the proclaimation on motherhood as it supported the feelings and importance attached with nuturing gods own. I loved the story on pg 114 ... and her mind set ... that really stood out for me and I would encourage anyone struggling or feeling out of gas this was the key to rejuvenation and enjoyment as a Mother.
by Lacey - reviewed on July 22, 2007
I absolutely loved this book! It was such an encouraging and uplifting experience. As I was reading, it felt as if this book was wrote just for me! Thank you!
Next to the scriptures, this is my FAVORITE book!
by Robyn - reviewed on July 02, 2007
I LOVED this book! It was just what I needed. I borrowed it, but will buy it soon to have around for reference and for reading on those hard days. I read a review on amazon about it that was so negative and I loved this book so much that it made me want to cry! I think that in writing this book Jane has blessed and will bless so many lives! I think my kids will have a happier mom now!
A Great Encouragement!
by Liana - reviewed on August 11, 2007
For someone who is not yet a mother but has been contemplating very seriously about when to start our family, this book was an incredible read for me. I felt as if the author was writing it just for me. I have struggled with how the world see's success as someone who has a great career and puts motherhood second in life; and yet the gospel teaches us that motherhood is the most divine and important responisiblity we will ever hold. This book was such an encouragement and reminder of how important motherhood and womanhood really is. I wanted to go and buy a copy for my mother and all my sisters to read!
The Perfect Boost for Mothers in the Heat and Heart of Motherhood
by Debra - reviewed on April 18, 2008
Jane Clayson Johnson's I Am a Mother serves as a fascinating narrative of one mother's journey from her high profile career as a network news anchor to the heat and heart of motherhood. Her book is written, in part, to answer the question of how she could have given up such a highly-valued position in society to take on a much less publicly esteemed role, in other words, to become 'just a mother.' As her book's declarative, unqualified title makes clear, Jane believes there is no such thing as being 'just a mom.' We are mothers -- no 'just' about it -- she tells us, and mothers matter. Drawing on her own experiences and quoting others who value motherhood as much as she does, she shares with us a myriad of reasons why mothers matter and encourages us to stand tall when we declare our role to others as mothers in Heavenly Father's great plan of happiness. Consider reading this book with a pen in hand as there are sure to be passages you'll want to return and savor. -- Debra Sansing Woods, author of Mothering with Spiritual Power Book of Mormon Inspirations for Raising a Righteous Family and It's Okay to Take a Nap And Other Reassuring Truths for Mothers Everywhere
by Customer - reviewed on September 30, 2008
This book reminded me to be proud of being a mother.
by Customer - reviewed on November 24, 2008
Heard about the book from a friend and love reading it.
by Summer - reviewed on September 14, 2008
I bought this book as I contemplated how my life would change as my son started kindergarten. It gave me reassurance that the choice I made to stay home with him was worthwhile and that both my son and I would be blessed because of that choice.
A needed reminder
by Customer - reviewed on September 19, 2008
I received this book as a gift at a time when I really needed to be reminded of the joys and gifts of motherhood. The author inspired and comforted me with her candid style.
by Customer - reviewed on October 14, 2008
This is a beautiful tribute to motherhood. A definite must-read.
This was my mother's day gift!
by Rachel - reviewed on October 22, 2008
I got this book from my mother in law for mother's day and it came at a perfect time-I have been struggling to really embrace my role as a mother of three small children without missing my teaching career too much. I really appreciated what the author had to say and it caused me to looka t my role as a mothe rin a different, more eternal light. thanks for a great book!
Our important work
by Liz - reviewed on October 29, 2008
I heard Jane Clayson Johnson at Time Out for Women and found her very inspiring so I bought her book. It made me feel the worth of what I do each day when it sometimes feels monotonous and unimportant.