Yes, I said it, but Mother’s Day invokes within me a certain hesitancy. Now before you say, “Well that’s because you don’t have children of your own so you don’t understand what it is like to be a mother or because your relationship with your own mother is awful, you hate the day.” I would respond that that is an unfair assessment of the situation. First, Mother’s Day doesn’t bother me because I don’t have children. (By the way, I find the idea that I don’t truly understand love or commitment and/or motherhood because I don’t have kids unbelievably condescending. Yes, motherhood can give one gifts and insights but those can also come from other areas of one’s life and/or other experiences.) I am also not hesitant about Mother’s Day because my mother and I have an awful relationship. We don’t. In fact, it is quite good.
Rather, Mother’s Day bothers me for three reasons. First, it often seems fake. People seem to go through the motions because it is expected and not because they sincerely want to honor their mothers. Second, I often wonder if Mother’s Day isn’t just some consumer-driven, capitalist, patriarchal creation asking us to buy expensive cards and “remember” all our mothers have done for us this one very special day of year.
Third, what are we celebrating about mothers? Most of the cards at the store and advertisements on television (if we would take them as research on what the general sentiments on Mother’s Day are) honor a mother’s love, support, guidance and acknowledge the child’s needs. They thank mothers for all they do. Some even had the word sacrifice in them. It seems as if we are celebrating the patriarchal standard of motherhood filled with self-sacrifice, unconditional love, placing others before self and “natural nurturing and caring feminine” selves whose main contribution to society is the production of children. Why would I celebrate that? (On a side note, if I remember right, Father’s Day cards are very different. It has been awhile so I will do the research in a month or so when they come out and get back to you.)
That is not the kind of Mother’s Day I will honor. If I am going to honor my mother on Mother’s Day, I will do so in an intentional way that envisions motherhood differently. What follows is Mother’s Day proposed in a way that I can support as a feminist.
Mother’s day should be a day to acknowledge the reality of our lives, that our relationships with our own mothers are often less than perfect because of patriarchy. Some people may not know who their mothers are and others may have been abused by their own mothers. Some peoples’ mothers may be drug users who abandoned them. Some people may feel slighted that their mothers were never home and others raised them. While Mother’s Day is often presented in happy, joyful and lovely terms, for many people it may not be such. Even if we have mothers of our own whose care was generally good, we still had a parent/child relationships in the midst of patriarchy and its expectations which can embroil them with conflicts, disagreements and disappointments. We have to acknowledge all of this to be truly present with each other on Mother’s Day.
Likewise, while traditionally Mother’s Day focuses on certain characteristics: care, education, guidance, creation, support and love, motherhood also includes strength, commitment, perseverance and (sometimes but not always) the pain of childbirth. Likewise, mothers are people whose sole duty and/or focus is not just their children. They have their own needs, wants, dreams and life ambitions that they should be able to pursue as well. In fact, the best mothers may be the mothers who show their children ambition, drive, determination, commitment and dedication to other pursuits and life goals in addition to raising children. It is important to also note that some mothers may have never wanted children but, with patriarchal circumstances and pressures as they were, had to birth and raise them and some of the best mothering figures in our lives may never have been able to birth biological children but are mothers nonetheless. Also, take into consideration the fact that there are some women who long so much to have children of their own and cannot that Mother’s Day reminds them of dreams unfulfillable or perhaps unfulfilled. Acknowledging, embracing and cherishing all that motherhood is, all the ways ideals of motherhood can stifle and crush dreams, and all the various ways to be a mother on Mother’s Day is a prerequisite for any Mother’s Day celebration for me.
Finally, and perhaps tangentially, I think Mother’s Day should honor the motherhood of G-d. So often, G-d is understood to be, even in our most liberal congregations and communities, in gender neutral ideology in order to supposedly counter the very long history of G-d as male, father and king. Spending the day (if not more than just one day) intentionally calling on G-d as She (rather than just through gender neutral terms) would add present-ness to prayer as well as topple patriarchal devaluations of femininity. I am convinced that we truly need more imagery of G-d as mother, the One who birthed the world into existence in pain, in tears and in joy. We should also hear about and experience mother G-d as nurturer, educator and care-giver because we do not celebrate these G-d characteristics enough and we still think because of their association with femininity that they are less than in our patriarchal society.
Conceivably one day we won’t need a Mother’s Day. One day we will live in a world in which women, females and values once associated exclusively with femininity will be honored and cherished the way they should be every day. May it come in our lifetime.