Mother’s Day Holiday Ambivalence

May 10, 2015

Mother’s Day is on the quite long list of holidays I would just as soon ignore.

I’ve written previously about my ambivalence toward Christmas, but actually I don’t like most holidays and celebrations including  birthdays. Sometimes my poor attitude is because I don’t like attention focused on me. That made planning our wedding difficult. And it made baby showers awkward. And that makes Mother’s Day a holiday I would just as soon ignore.

Another part of my unease is the semi compulsory nature of these days. I really don’t like being told by society when and what I ought to do and feel. I simply don’t trust what “they” tell me to do or not to do. They told me that women could not be veterinarians. They also made me take home economics rather than shop. I’m still miffed about that. And what was that silly six person basketball the girls had to play in gym class? Why couldn’t we play real basketball? I guess I should be glad they let the girls have gym class. Cranky as it sounds, I don’t like being told by society what days I should be happy, or grateful, or patriotic.  Life would be easier for my family if I could be happy and celebratory on the appropriate days.

It is easy for holidays like Mother’s Day to slip into a shallow, sappy sentimentality. To say what ought to be said to my mother or to my sons is important and tender and can’t be summoned by the dictates of the calendar. At some level Mother’s Day always seems a little forced to me. That probably says more about me and my issues than it does about the holiday, but there it is.

There are other problems with Mother’s Day. The iconic images of motherhood we portray every Mother’s Day can be very painful for many women. For some women our relationships with our mothers or our children are sometimes painful or even non existent. So in a good hearted attempt to be sensitive to these situations and not to exclude, we have expanded the scope of Mother’s Day to include women who do any sort of mother-like things.

This approach has it’s own set of problems. It conflates being a mother and being a woman. I know only women can be mothers.  But not all women are mothers or even motherly. And mothering gets conflated with any sort of caring for another that any woman does. We assume, at least for the day, that there is complete congruence between being a woman and being a mother. And of course there isn’t.

For a lot of Mother’s Days I was not a mother and the attempts to include me in the festivities always felt awkward to me. The carnation I got at church on Mother’s Day felt a little like the participation trophies that my kid’s received from their soccer team.

Because of that I am very glad that the last couple of churches I have attended ignored Mother’s Day. That is quite appropriate, I think. The purpose of worship is, the worship of God. It is not the glorification or sentimentalization of mothers, or fathers, or veterans or the USA or any other person or thing that is not God. All those things may have their place in society but worship is not that place.

Personally, I think it might be better if each family picked its own particular day and way to celebrate Mother’s Day. Then we could pick a day that is meaningful for the family. It would make the commercialization and commodification of motherhood more difficult. (Although I’m sure capitalism is up to the challenge.) And those of us who wanted or needed to ignore the day, could.

Perhaps even better might be something we might call “Relationship Day” where we celebrate and honor the myriad of relationships that nourish us and have helped us and sustained us.

This Mother’s Day I have written two posts about this day.  For a less cranky view of Mother’s Day, see here.


Thoughts on Mother’s Day

May 10, 2015

Mother’s Day, as it is for some other people, is for me a day of complicated emotions. Like many women my relationship with my mother was complex but the older I’ve become the more I am able to accept and love the person my mother was both the great things about her and the not so great things. Few of us get the parents we wanted, always appropriately attentive and loving. The key is to learn to embrace the parents we have or had.

Because my feelings about my mother are complex and because my feelings about being a mother are complex, Mother’s Day is a complicated day for me. It is filled with sorrow and regret and joy and love. It is a lot of emotion for one made up holiday.

My mother died several years ago and so I don’t need to attend to the outward symbolic trappings of Mother’s Day. No flowers to send, no special meal. Which presents another set of emotions on this day.

This Mother’s Day I have been thinking about my own life as a mother. My sons are 21 and 18. My relationship with them is inevitably changing as they grow and mature.

I almost wasn’t a mother. I wasn’t sure I wanted children. I wasn’t sure I could be a good mother. It seemed like a big risk to just to give it a try and see how motherhood worked out. I mean, what if it didn’t?  But as I thought about it, parenthood seemed like a risk I needed to take. So I, actually we, did.

Fortunately my first pregnancy was a textbook pregnancy. Morning sickness started and stopped when the pregnancy books said it would. The baby kicked when he was supposed to. He was even born on his due date. After he was born, I looked at him and thought, “Well everything has changed now. I hope we can do this.” I spent the first couple of weeks after his birth feeling like a stand in parent and waiting for the real parents to show up. And then one day I realized that we were his real parents and no other people were coming to pick him up.  I was glad because I knew could never give him up. I am still astounded by the intensity and ferocity of my love for my sons. Committed pacifist that I am, I would kill you in a second if you harmed them. Really, I would. That kind of love is frightening to us reserved and introverted parents.

With my second son (not a textbook pregnancy) the ambivalence about being a parent was replaced by wondering how it would be possible to love another person as much as I loved my first child. I still don’t know how that is possible, I only know that it is. Love, somehow, miraculously expands.

Being a mother is the most difficult and the most wonderful thing I have ever done. It has been filled with joy and fear, pride and anxiety, hope and wonder. I am amazed at the people my sons have grown to be. I am grateful that they are the people they turned out to be. Loving your children and doing your best as a parent is no guarantee that your children will turn out well. By the grace of God they are both kind and strong and caring young men.

Being a mother has changed me in ways I could not possibly imagined. If I had know what being a parent entails, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to do it. But I am so glad that I did. I am a better person because of my sons. My heart has been broken, broken open in the best possible way by them. This Mother’s Day for me is not about my sons thanking me, but it is about me thanking my sons because without them, I would not be who I am.

This Mother’s Day, I have written two posts about the day. For a lsomewhat crankier view, see here.


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