Ah, Mother’s Day. A time for day drinking, family strife and last minute gifts. Jokes aside, though, I love my mom. Living away from home (and growing up in general) has been an ongoing revelation in terms of how I think about her. As I’ve begun to comprehend the true effort it takes to be a functional adult my awe has grown for the domestic and emotional labor my mother took on for us. My laundry was always done, my dinner was always made, and she always came early to the after school pickup line. She compromised sleep, sanity, and God knows what else so that we, her children, would feel comfortable, safe, and loved. She still does.
Another great thing about my mom is that as I’ve grown she’s become one of my primary sounding boards for thoughts and ideas. Today, for example, we ranted about the Mother’s Day practice of wishing every woman (of a certain age) a “Happy Mother’s Day!” without actually knowing that person’s life situation. As beautiful as a day that celebrates motherhood is, we hurt a lot of people in our platitudes and vague good wishes. I would like to present here four reasons you might want to think twice before wishing a random female a “Happy Mother’s Day.”
Death and Illness
A huge problem with large scale and randomized Mother’s Day wishes is the issue of health. Many people have lost their mothers-some even in the past year-and the constant reminder or anniversary can no doubt be painful. It can be difficult to know how to celebrate Mother’s Day when one feels newly motherless. Others have lost their children and no longer “look like a mother” with a live child to care for, but they certainly have complicated feelings about their identity as a mother and feel grief at the loss of this role.
Similarly, though many mothers or children may be physically alive, wishing a stranger a happy Mother’s Day could still trigger difficult feelings due to illness. Everything from a mother with Alzheimer’s to a child with a terminal illness could make someone feel like they’ve lost the motherhood relationship they used to have or thought they would have. Others worry about whether they will be able to spend next Mother’s Day with their child or parent at all.
To the people going through these struggles today: I’m thinking of you.
Abuse and Estrangement
As much as many of us would like to believe that a mother would do anything for her children, this, unfortunately, is not true for everyone. A number of people have been physically, verbally, emotionally, or even sexually assaulted by their mothers or mother figures. Less often, mothers have had to cut abusive children out of their lives, as well. This is tragic and awful but there is a large likelihood that someone who has endured this is somehow a part of your life. While obviously you are free to celebrate your parents and all they have done for you, it would be deeply kind and sensitive of you to keep this in mind. Some people’s lives are healthier without their mothers in it, so remember that as you thank your own mother. The fact that her love and commitment to you is not a given should make it all the more meaningful to you.
To those who were feeling this today: I’m thinking of you.
There are women who spend years enduring physical discomfort and financial strain in hopes of having a child. Whether someone is going through IVF, mourning a miscarriage or stillbirth, or even adopting, the celebration of motherhood can hit hard. On this day of the year someone could be anxiously savoring the feelings of a new pregnancy or mourning their inability to have biological children. The process and struggle of infertility is often painful and isolating (particularly in religious communities) and I could not imagine the mix of emotions one might feel in the face of Mother’s Day festivities. Everyone approaches this journey differently but I think we would all be better and kinder for keeping those with infertility issues in our hearts on days like Mother’s Day.
This is a video by YouTuber Missy Lanning who has vlogged her experiences with infertility and motherhood. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MosAkwGMJYM
If this was you today: I’m thinking of you.
Usually less emotionally hurtful but still damaging is the assumption that womanhood and motherhood are synonymous. By wishing every woman above the age of thirty a happy Mother’s Day we’re reinforcing the harmful idea that motherhood is a necessary or inherent part of womanhood. It’s important to realize that many women choose not to be mothers and not all mothers identify as women. As a society we simultaneously degrade domestic and emotional labor while also heavily implying that this is the type of labor women were made to do or are best at. Not all women are naturally nurturing, some worry about overpopulation or fear repeating abusive patterns they were raised with. Regardless of the reason someone chooses childlessness we should celebrate families in all of their configurations, not guilt someone into taking on an enormous responsibility they don’t even want. The choice to become a parent is personal and complex and one I am still ambivalent about. Ultimately, we need to help one another recognize the amazing and heroic motherhood around us while simultaneously respecting those who choose to channel their love and energy elsewhere.
If you felt this way today: I’m thinking of you.
There are so many reasons someone could feel triggered or unsure or upset about motherhood. I have not even touched on issues like divorce, incarceration, or the foster system in this piece. My point here is not to promote a politically correct culture that operates at the expense of free speech. You do not have to stop indiscriminately wishing people a happy Mother’s Day. However. I think this is one small way we could choose to be more loving, more sensitive, and more thoughtful to those around us. As we begin to acknowledge the ever growing possibilities for how a family can be, I hope we can remember what families are really supposed to be about: love.