Mother’s Day: The Flip Side

If you’ve come looking for a gushing tribute to mothers, you won’t find it here today – not exactly anyway.  It isn’t that I don’t have a wonderful mother (for I certainly do) nor that I haven’t loved being a mother (because I have).  Perhaps I’m a bit Scrooge-ish in terms of this holiday, because I’ve been thinking about the message it sends to women who aren’t mothers or who don’t have good relationships with their mothers or whose mothers are no longer with them either by choice or by reason of death.   Also, by making all this hoopla about motherhood in general and our own individual mothers in particular, are we saying that women who don’t bear children are somehow less worthy of celebrating than those who do? 

I don’t believe that for a minute, and I suspect most other American’s don’t either.  Certainly there are thousands of women who would give their eye teeth to have children, and cannot do so for a myriad of reasons.  There are likely just as many women who have a houseful of children running around their feet and would rather never to have set eyes upon any them.   For every Hallmark family with smiling mother  and perfectly dressed children bearing gifts today, there is a family mired in dysfunction, or one bereaved, or one with empty arms and womb crying out to be filled.

Motherhood is not like anything else you do in life, and it calls on skills that no one can really teach you.  Most of it is learned on the fly, by doing and by having successes and failures of varying proportions.  Some people have a natural gift for it, others have to work harder at it, some of us succeed in spite of ourselves, others fail after valiant effort.  There isn’t and cannot be an archetypal mother, mostly because every child is different and therefore requires unique responses and upbringing.   Having one day per year to recognize the awesome responsibility that goes along with this job title seems like too little too late.  

Truthfully, all the adulation and expectation associated with this holiday makes me a little bit uncomfortable.  Trying to be a good mother isn’t something I did (or do) with reward in mind – the real reward isn’t in candy or flowers, but in having helped another human being live a healthy, satisfying, and productive life.  If you’ve done that, at least a little bit, and you have some sense that your children understand and are appreciative of your efforts, that’s about all the recognition I would need on any day of the week.  (Incidentally, that’s exactly the kind of gift I got today, and I couldn’t be more pleased.)

Given a choice, I’d like to make celebrating mother (or father) more of a private affair, one that’s not so in the face of every other person on the planet.  Perhaps one’s birthday is a great day to offer mother some remembrance and recognition, a way of saying “thank you for having me.”    Since we’re so often concerned with being “politically correct” in regard to issues of race, gender, religious affiliation and sexual preference, perhaps we should extend a similar courtesy to family connection.

6 thoughts on “Mother’s Day: The Flip Side

  1. It’s funny. I’m not a mother, as I have no children. And yet, on a certain website I frequent that’s as much social as anything else, I received a number of mother’s day greetings and cards.

    It’s nurturing that’s being celebrated, I suspect, even though it’s called mothering, but the meaning has become so broad it’s almost meaningless. I don’t mind mother’s day, or father’s day, for that matter, but I surely would like to see people resist the commercial interests’ desire to have us turn everyone into a mother!

    I love my cat and take care of her, but I’m most assuredly NOT her mother!

  2. I’m not a mother (yet?) but I do not feel left out by mothers day. I also don’t feel forced to do anything, especially not in public.

    But I like it that there’s a day where I can go to my mother and say explicitly with a flower or card or kiss what usually goes unsaid. Just a moment to say thank you.

    but it’s funny, I was just thinking about a post to my sister and wondered “gosh we really should have a sisterday as well :p “

  3. Becca, I appreciate the honesty in this post. Since becoming a mother, all I’ve wanted is a quiet, relaxing Sunday with my family (the ones who actually live in my house) but there are so many expectations and commercial pressure tied to the day. I do feel compelled to honor my mother and my husband’s mother, but there’s this undercurrent of obligation to celebrate with everyone on “the day.” (When I just want to lie in the bed and watch Lifetime movies)

    I especially understand the points you are making when Father’s Day rolls around. I have a much harder time with that day.

  4. I’ve often had a problem with Mother’s Day for a lot of the reasons you so beautifully articulate here. In fact, if you saw my mother’s day post this year, I linked back to last year’s post, “When Mother’s Day Doesn’t Apply.” That was me — the kid without a mom, without kids. For a very many years, I wanted those kids, and I wanted my mom. Dad would take me out to celebrate and I hated it; hated seeing happy families celebrating mom, often with kids or generations. But we never talked about it; just had dinner, a nice time, as times go, but there was a mongo-sized elephant in the room.

    I realized, many moons after that we should have spoken about it. I suspect he wanted to spend time with me on that day because he couldn’t spend it with my mom, because it was his way of honoring her in her absence. I didn’t see it that way at the time; I wish I had. It took me a long while to realize she was there, just not “there.” And that maybe I wouldn’t have been such a good mother back then. (Maybe even now — that’s the advantage of ‘borrowing’ kids.

    This is a beautiful post and so wonderfully stated. And to me, it really touches a chord. Thank you.

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