Finding fulfillment: Jane Clayson Johnson

Earlier this week, I quoted an article “I Am a Mother.” It was written by Jane Clayson Johnson. If her name sounds familiar, it could be because she spent 15 years on network news, first for ABC News, then as a co-anchor on CBS’s Early Show. She was at the top of her game, and negotiating a lucrative contract, when she decided to leave journalism—for motherhood.

She talks about people’s various reactions in her article and in her book of the same name. Today I got to hear her speak at BYU. She’s now the happy mother of two (and stepmother of three more). I learned so much from listening to her speak; she has an amazing perspective on life and its seasons.

One of my favorite stories that she shared took place not too long ago. She was with her family in Florida (I think), and she said she had on her “new mom outfit,” no make up, diaper bag and kids in tow. Someone she’d worked with several times recognized her and flagged her down.

“So,” he asked once he’d caught up with her. “What are you up to now?” He glanced at her children. “Just a mom?”

It took her only a split second to respond: “Just a mom? No, no—I am a mother,” she declared proudly.

At the end of her excellent talk (you’d think she’d been paid to write and speak for decades! Oh, wait…), there was a little bit of time for questions.

Naturally, I hopped right up, ducked under a few handrails and got to the microphone (luckily my sister was there to hold on to Hayden).

I asked Jane how she found fulfillment as a mother. Here’s what she said (from my notes; my tape recorder wasn’t cooperating!)

It’s difficult in our culture because we place such an emphasis on measuring success—awards, titles, etc. As a mother, you don’t get a pat on the back every day. You can’t measure motherhood on a daily basis—it’s a long-term process.

The world esteems titled professions: lawyers, judges. Society seems to set motherhood below those things. But that success is fleeting; it goes away. And there is always someone waiting in the wings to take your place. Your relationship with your children will last forever. It is more important.

I like how she was unafraid to make firm statements, from “I am a mother” to “It is more important.” And that’s something that I like to be reminded of: my relationship with my children will last forever. It is more important. Success in the workplace is nice—I quite like it—but it’s fleeting, and someone can easily replace you there. There is no substitute for a mother to her children.

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3 responses to “Finding fulfillment: Jane Clayson Johnson”

  1. Dave says:

    It’s great — honestly — that you have strong convictions about motherhood. The same, yes, can be said of fathers and fatherhood. Too many people — men and women — want children, have children (yes, I know, only women can give birth, but that doesn’t stop irresponsibility after childbirth) — then, as the children grow, these people forget it is a commitment.

    Sadly, my ex and I battled for over a year in divorce court. The entire battle was because of our children. She wanted sole custody — with no oversight by me in the rearing of the children — something I would not allow. After the divorce, after the award of child support (33 percent of my net), she wanted me to pay her bills, as well as buy her clothing and such. I was floored, but managed to ask in a civil manner: Why would I buy you clothing? You know, that was something I did during our marriage. Now, though, you want to be “free” (her words, and those of her friends who convinced her single parenting was an easy “scheme” to “pull off” — words taken direct from an email two of her friends sent her, telling her to “con me into feeling guilty”) of me and marital union, but you want the benefits of marriage?”

    Her reply was, “If you love your children, you’ll make sure I look good when I go to work.” I never did understand that concept. I did make sure my children had nice clothes. I made sure they had what they needed. As time went on, though, she did make it hard to do stuff for our children, as she never told me of things they were involved in or with until the last minute, often, quite literally. Once, for example, one of my children had a school play. For some reason, during “my time” (you know, that Friday night through Sunday evening time that is “graciously allowed” by the court) with the children, this wasn’t mentioned, but there was always so much to tell me, things slipped through the cracks. That was one. I was called 20 minutes before the play started. From the time of our divorce until that point, my ex had moved over 75 miles away. Why? To make it harder for me to see the children. Honestly. She moved to an area with a higher cost of living, a lower-paying job, and higher rent for a smaller apartment. She didn’t move there for friends, family, or job. No, she actually moved and had to find a job. After her move, she called me and said, “I moved here and can’t pay the rent. You need to pay it until I get some money coming in.”

    Yes, I could have fought her for custody — and won. I had friends who are still practicing attorneys who knew her, knew the stuff she was doing, and actually offered their services because of what she did. I never did, though, and it always broke my heart, and still does. Why didn’t I? Because the children would have been forced to testify — and ripped to shreds by her attorney — to prove she was a good mother, stable, and so on. The facts would have spoken for volumes.

    Yes, she went back to school after we divorced. While we were married, I encouraged her to go to school, earn her degree, but she wanted to be a stay-at-home-mother. The only thing: the children were all in school. The house was never kept up, and she often got home from running around after our children got in from school. Yes, I know what she was up to during the day, as I often came home, sat with the children, started their homework with them, and slipped out, heading back to the office just minutes before she arrived home.

    It was a sad situation. There was nothing to do to make things better. She wanted everyone to believe I was this monster. Her problem was that she had issues she refused to address. When she had the checkbook, she’d bounce checks all over town. I tried for several years to get her to go to marital counseling with me, but, after she cheated on me, then lied about it when I confronted her — telling her I knew — I washed my hands of her. I stayed at the house, only because of the children. I slept on the couch for five years, never going near her again. Initially, yes, I could have forgiven her. I think. After she lied — then continued to lie to me, even when confronted with proof — that’s something I tolerate from no one.

    Yes, parenting, as you say, is something that is important. Nay, it is critically important. Parenting — from a mother, a father or even a grandparent or guardian — a person who commits their life to loving and rearing a child from birth through adulthood. It’s more than important, actually.

    I look around, at the friends my oldest has made. She came to live with me just before starting high school. After graduating, she came to me, cried, and told me how she never felt she’d accomplish anything. Before the divorce between her mother and I, she was pulling in A’s and perhaps a B or two on her report cards. In the time following the divorce, until she came to live with me, her grades dropped. She was lucky to pull in Cs and Ds, actually. Why? Because her mother was never at home, and when she was, she was sleeping. My daughter said she felt like Cinderella.

    When she came to live with me, the focus was on school. She hated me for the first month or so of high school. I enforced a deadline for her to be home each day, and she argued, “But Dad, I am in high school. I have a social life.” I laughed, telling her I would determine her social life.

    Inside, yes, it hurt me. I also knew that to get her grades up and her mind focused back on her academic career, she needed someone strong.

    Before the middle of her sophomore year, she was listed on the Honor Roll twice. While seeking colleges and universities, she chose “safe” or “fall back” schools, you know, the ones that were “okay,” but not really the ones she wanted to attend. She chose three “fall back” schools. She applied to six schools, in all.

    Before April during her senior year, all the schools responded. She had been accepted to all except one. The three she wanted to attend — all Ivy League schools — accepted her. One of her “fall back” schools didn’t accept her, and in the rejection, which seems to be a real letter, the dean who wrote the letter said her “heart didn’t seem like it was in it” for applying to that particular school. The comment was based on a statement she had to write about why she wanted to attend that particular school.

    For high school graduation, her mother attended. All of my daughter’s friends were floored. They assumed her mother died because my daughter spoke only in past tense of her mother. Once the graduation ceremony was over, the ex made a mark that really hurt our daughter. She said: “Well, your father got your grades up for you. Now you can come home to Mommy, right?”

    See, I did not get her grades up. Yes, I worked with her, helped her understand a few things she was unclear of — in her freshman year — but all the work was hers! Not mine. I encouraged her, pushed her, and after a month of enforcing a deadline to be home during her freshman year, let her come and go with a curfew for the evening. Past that, she had her social life. She knew if she missed her homework assignments or if her grades slipped, she had to answer to me.

    Your summation, “There is no substiture for a mother to her children” is more appropriately something like:
    “There’s no substitute for caring parent(s) to children.”

  2. Jordan says:

    I’m sorry your family has had to endure such a difficult experience. I agree that there is no substitute for caring parents in the life of a child, but I also stand by my statement that there is no substitute for a mother in the life of her children. Lots of single fathers have expressed the concern that they cannot be everything to their children—they cannot be their children’s mother. From the way you describe the situation, your ex-wife can’t be their mother either. Your children are lucky to have a caring parent that they can rely on.

  3. Danny Cavins says:

    Jane I can’t tell you how proud I am of you for choosing motherhood over a career. I’m assuming that you wanted to raise your children instead of a nanny? good for you. I suppose you reieved Quite a bit of negative feedback over your decision but I think it is admireable. Jane I have several ideas for some childrens books, and would appreciate any help you could give me. I’ll pay! Such as contacts of publishers/Editors. Or maybe you could read one or more of my manuscripts maybesome help with my grammar and composition skills which are lacking. This is not a very easy field to break into, need help pleeeeeeeeezzzz. I’ll make it worth your while, but I do understand that you have little ones to raise and thats number 1. Thank you for your time Danny

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