Complicated Mothers' Day
I don’t love Mothers’ Day, but I don’t hate the day. I have a great mother and I’m a fan of the original mother’s day proclamation against war. And I think it’s okay to have days that apply to some people, but not others.
Some of my not-loving of Mathers’ Day comes from the fact that I universally don’t like sweetness and chocolate, flowers and light. Or more accurately I don’t like the simplification of complicated things. If I haven’t appreciated my mom all year, I don’t think Mothers’ Day flowers will fix that. And if I can’t wrestle with what’s wrong with the stereotypes of mothering on the day that’s about mothering, then am I really appreciating it at all?
Mothers’ Day is awful for mothers who don’t have homes. Many have had their children taken from them, some due to abuse, but most simply because they are poor, or black, or brown. Not surprisingly, mothers who have lost their children have a harder time with recovery and a harder time with managing their mental health. That creates a circle, as managing recovery and mental health is necessary to the plan that will perhaps earn them contact with their child. It’s a horrible system we have where we try breaking mothers hearts to see if that will possibly make it better for their children.
Mothers’ Day is complicated for children. Complicated for children who are adopted, children in foster care, children whose parents have hurt them, children whose parents have passed, children whose parents are drunk or high, children whose parents stay too removed, children whose parents are smothering, for children who cannot ever live up to their parents, and for children who cannot let go of their parents expectations. Who is left?
Mothers’ Day enforces a binary that doesn’t exist—a gender binary, a parenting binary, and a good vs. evil binary.
My distaste for the day comes in part from the fact that I am not a mother, and wish that I had had that opportunity. It comes in part from sitting with my sister who has lost a daughter. It comes in part from sitting with unacknowledged trans moms. It comes in part from sitting with so many people with such complicated lives.
But I think it comes mostly from our ability as a culture to sanitize every radical and complicated thing. Julia Ward Howe was not asking for chocolates or a card when she declared “‘Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.’ Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.” Link to the full proclamation. That this holiday was first proposed by a woman who both hated motherhood, and yet stayed with her husband rather than be separated from her children, makes the hallmarkification of the holiday that much worse. Link to book review of The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe.
And yet I loved my chance to chat with my mom on this day, and was jealous of my brother's chance to cook for her. It was a joy when, during worship, someone interrupted my welcome to the mothers present to shout “and aunts”. It pierced my heart when my sister thanked me for the way that I mother/aunt my nieces and nephews.
I don’t love Mothers’ Day, but I don’t hate it, either. It’s complicated.
5/15/2023 05:02:17 pm
Thank you for this post. And, you alluded to it when mentioning that you are not a mother, but wished you had the opportunity. Even so I would add that more generally, it is hard for those who wish to become mothers, but can't or are struggling to do so for whatever reason. I couldn't stand the day for all the years I struggled with infertility. I was blessed to eventually become a mother through adoption. Now I see my own daughter struggling with all the societal pressures (including her own on herself!) that somehow she is less than for not being married and having kids "by now." She's a great auntie to all her friends' kids but for her it's only a partial help.
Ruth and Magill
5/15/2023 06:07:11 pm
Such a beautiful commentary. I love you, my caring and thoughtful daughter. I am inspired and thankful that you are my daughter.
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For my organized thoughts, see my book Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Developing Relational Food Ministries. In this spot are thoughts that appear for a moment--about food programs, mission, church, building community, writing, and whatever else pops into my head.