Sacrifice, anxiety, joy ... laundry — mothers across all ages share so many things in common, even when their approach is different and their children are at different stages in their lives.

We wanted to hear from mothers themselves about what being a mom is really like. It may depend on who you ask — and what stage they are at in their motherhood journey. To get the inside scoop on motherhood and its many facets, the Deseret News interviewed four moms from four different generations.

A new reality: Gen Z

The moment she held her newborn child for the first time, McCall Porter entered what she called a “new reality.”

“My thoughts were this is so surreal. How is this my baby? How is this my child?” Porter, age 23, said it felt crazy to finally be what she always wanted to become: a mother.

She said she is inspired by the example of her own mother. Porter grew up in a single-parent household with her mom as the primary caregiver. When Porter was 1 week old, her mom juggled three jobs to provide for her and her brother, Kaden, who was 4 at the time.

“Seeing my mom do everything on her own, it just made me want to be a mom even more in a way, honestly,” Porter, a Utah native, told the Deseret News in an interview from her home in Philadelphia. “It made me respect her and respect motherhood so much more.”

When Mother’s Day came around, Porter said her mother would feel lots of mom guilt. “She would always just feel bad in the ways that she didn’t feel like she was a good mom, which is kind of reverse. She should feel like a good mom on Mother’s Day.”

McCall Porter is pictured with her husband, Cole Porter, as they hold their firstborn child, Jack. | Porter family photo

Porter made sure to do everything her mom asked when the holiday came, from cooking breakfast to cleaning the kitchen. She wanted her mom to feel special on the day meant specifically to celebrate her.

Porter said she can’t believe Mother’s Day now applies to her. And since her child isn’t old enough to make breakfast or clean, she said spending time with her baby is a good enough celebration for her.

Growing up, Porter was always drawn toward kids. Her love for them brought her to work in preschools and pediatric dentistry, which helped prepare her for motherhood — although it’s still a big adjustment for the couple.

“The moment you find out that you actually are pregnant and are going to have a baby, everything totally changes,” she said.

She and her husband Cole have been navigating parenthood for about three months now with baby Jack.

So far, Porter worries about being the best mom that she can be. “Obviously, being a mom has a lot of responsibility,” Porter said. “It’s your job to make sure that they learn and grow as they’re supposed to,” adding, “I worry about that the most — that I’m teaching him and helping him grow the best I can.”

She said they plan to take things day by day and to follow certain values they learned growing up, as well as make decisions based on their own best judgment.

Following in her mom’s footsteps, Porter hopes to teach her kids the value of knowing who they truly are, being kind and developing a strong work ethic.

And for other new moms about to embark on the wonderful yet intimidating journey of motherhood, her advice is to take things as they come, especially if you have a newborn. “I feel like for my husband and me, because we see it the same, you just take it as it comes. It’s so much easier that way for us.”

Maintaining an identity: Millennial

Hailey Terry lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and children, ages 1 and 3. Terry is the ultimate high-adventure mom. The one that other moms might look at in awe. When her baby was just 2 years old, she strapped him to her back and headed into the mountains.

Worried she might be in over her head, she decided the benefits of sharing nature’s beauty with her child outweighed the few fears she had.

Growing up, Terry had a mother who instilled this passion for the outdoors in her and encouraged her to invest time in things that made her happiest.

Terry would hike and camp often and went on her first backpacking trip at age 14.

She hopes her influence on social media can work as a tool for people who may not have the support like she had from her mom, which benefits her to this day.

“I had a mom who gave me a lot of encouragement and advice and knowledge. And so I was like, there’s maybe a lot of people who don’t have that person in their life to help them,” she told the Deseret News.

“And so anyway, that’s kind of how it started as I just felt like I could maybe be that person who could share my experience in it to help a mom out there who wanted to hike with their kids or camp and share my advice, or just my experience.”

Known as HaileyOutside by her 172,000 followers on Instagram, Terry promotes a bold lifestyle of “Motherhood in the mountains,” sharing tips for hiking, camping and traveling with kids.

Hailey is pictured on a hike with her two children and pet dog
Hailey Terry is pictured on a hike with her two children and pet dog. | Terry family photo

When asked how she decided she wanted this lifestyle with her children, Terry said, “I wasn’t necessarily taking my baby out because it was important for his development; it was more, this is important for my well-being.”

She added, “And then as I got out more and realized how much he just loved it, he loved to be outside in the fresh air, he loved seeing all the new things, and I was a better mom, I was happier. It was part of me realizing this is an important part of our life. And I want to continue doing this with all my kids as they grow up.”

When they added another baby to the equation, the transition to two children was a tricky process at first, said Terry, but because she had learned so much with her first, physically it was harder, but mentally it was easier.

Every kid can benefit greatly from the outdoors, she said, noting that she teaches her children to take precautions when they are on one of their hikes or campouts.

That paid off, as her toddler listened to her advice in a dangerous situation. “I had told him when you see a snake on the trail, you never touch it, and you come to me right away. And that’s exactly what he did. He’s 3 years old, he saw the snake and he came up and told me he was the first one to see it.”

Every kid brings unique challenges and because of this Terry said she’s had to make sacrifices to make her lifestyle work best for her family.

“You give up your free time for your kids, sometimes you give up your body for your kids and all moms make sacrifices in some form ... there are so many selfless moments we have to have. But it’s so important also to take care of ourselves and find what we enjoy.”

Terry said that sharing her passion for the outdoors with her kids has brought her great joy and she looks forward to more adventures as her young family continues to grow.

Facing new challenges: Gen X

As she gets ready to move her third out to college, Carin Christensen, mom to four kids ages 15-25, reflected on the family she’s raised in Deer Creek, Oklahoma, and how she felt when she first became a mom.

“You just don’t know how you’re going to be as a mom, or what that responsibility is gonna feel like, and I just remember feeling like she was my best little friend. And I wanted her to go everywhere with me. And I wanted to share everything with her and was kind of excited about the future, and it just felt totally normal,” she told the Deseret News.

When she got pregnant again, Christensen said she got nervous that she couldn’t possibly love another baby as much as she did her first.

“It’s a little bit scary to jump into that and trust that it’ll work out. And then when you have that second baby it’s not like your love is divided, it’s just multiplied. I just found that with every kid each time. You just had more love. And it was pretty amazing,” she said.

Carin Christensen and her two youngest children, Halli and Issac.
Carin Christensen and her two youngest children, Halli and Issac. | Christensen family photo

Growing up in a household full of love, she knew she wanted to create a place of comfort for her children and their friends like her parents had for her.

Her earliest memories of time with her mom reflect just that: “I remember being in the kitchen with her and I remember helping her wash peaches. We had a big orchard and we would harvest all the fruit out of the trees every year. I remember rinsing off the peaches and watching her peel the peaches. I was probably 4 or 5 years old.”

When asked what her ideal Mother’s Day looked like, she joked that an unloaded dishwasher and no fighting was all she wanted, but really, she appreciates the words of love she gets from her kids on Mother’s Day, she said.

“The things I remember most are the cards that they write me. From the little drawings when they were little, to Carmen’s (her eldest’s) really good way of expressing herself through words of affirmation.”

She continued, “You spend so much time as a mom, worrying and working and folding laundry and cleaning up and taking care of everyone else. That to get just those few words from your kids of appreciation or just that they love you. That’s what meant the most to me.”

Chase Christensen, Carin Christensen’s second son, is currently serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Idaho Falls, Idaho. | Christensen family photo

Pondering what motherhood will look like for her daughters compared to her own experiences, she believes they will face more difficult challenges than she did, adding that so much has changed just in parenting her oldest versus her youngest.

“They will face different challenges, but I also feel like the spirits that are in these children that are younger, are even stronger. They might be really stubborn, but that’s not always a bad thing, ... Moms will have to be on their toes and aware of what’s going on out there, but I don’t think it’s always like gloom and doom and scary. The more you trust your children, I think the more they respond and can make it through.”

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Ramen with marinara: Boomer

When she was 16, Lori Howell lost her 2-year-old brother in a tragic accident. Now 59, she said that experience significantly impacted her motherhood before it even began.

“I recognized when I was 16 how fragile life is and how quickly time goes,” Howell told the Deseret News. “I think, as a mom, it kind of made me realize every moment is precious with every child.”

Howell is living in Provo, now a mother to seven adults, a grandmother to five grandchildren and a professor at Salt Lake Community College.

She said when she first became a mother, she was worried about being perfect. “For so many years, I kept feeling like I was playing ‘Mother’, you know what I mean?” She said that after some time, you grow confidence and “realize you are a mom, you’re not playing mom.”

As her children grew up, her concerns changed. Over time, she learned to value the relationship she had with each child more than how things were being done or how the children looked while doing it.

But adult children are a “totally different dynamic,” Howell said. “As a mom of younger kids and teenagers, I think you have to be the large and in charge. You have to be telling them what to do and holding them accountable.”

Later, Howell said, “I didn’t sweat so much the small things. I picked my battles much more judiciously, I think. And I think a lot of parents do that.”

Lori Howell poses for a portrait at her home in Spanish Fork on Monday, May 8, 2023. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News

Howell followed her mom and dad’s lead in parenting, making sure to teach her children family values like honesty, integrity, kindness, a strong work ethic and the importance of religion.

Once the kids grow up and embark on their lives outside the childhood home, she said she and her husband interfere less in their kids’ choices. Unless they call and ask for advice, Howell said, “I don’t try to tell them what to do.”

And parenting children who have children is another thing entirely.

“Once they start having children, I’ve noticed they need their mothers so much more,” Howell said.

Adult kids who are new parents will call and ask advice more often from parents. “I think they appreciate you more as a mom once they start having children, too,” she said.

Making sure to prioritize her children above all else was hardest when Howell served as a mission president's wife/sister mission leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ North Dakota Bismarck Mission.

She and her husband, Scott Howell, moved to North Dakota for the the church calling. Liberty Howell, their youngest daughter, who accompanied them, was a junior in high school at the time.

“I loved the missionaries, but my No. 1 priority was always Liberty,” Howell said. “It was different for me because, all of a sudden, I was stretched between being a mission mom and being a mom to my last daughter,” a balance she continued to learn until Liberty left for college two years into Howell’s mission service.

“I wanted to be with missionaries, but I also didn’t want my daughter to think she played second fiddle to anybody else,” she said.

After her mission, Howell continues to put her family first. Her best piece of life advice is to value people over material things.

Even when her husband cooked ramen noodles topped with spaghetti sauce for Mother’s Day one year, Howell made sure to tell him she appreciated the effort, though she now admits that any meal “beats ramen with spaghetti sauce.”

Howell advises people to make memories, spend more time with others and be kind, since “things can be replaced, but a relationship can’t.”

Lori Howell plays pickleball with her grandson Bentley Lords, 7, at her home in Spanish Fork on Monday, May 8, 2023. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News