According to Juvenal, politicians in ancient Rome discovered they could get the downtrodden masses to abdicate their rights and accept shocking degrees of oppression merely by giving them enough bread to eat and circuses to distract them.
Meanwhile, in our modern age, we have this thing called Mother’s Day. Never mind how overworked and burned out many mothers are, balancing fulltime employment with the lioness’s share of childcare and housework. Never mind that the possible overturning of the Roe vs. Wade would outlaw abortion and force a whole generation of women and girls in the United States to become mothers against their will.
We’re supposed to dismiss all of the above from our pretty heads because, for ONE DAY A YEAR, we celebrate motherhood with a proliferation of sentimental greeting cards, hothouse flowers, and overpriced restaurant meals served by waitresses who are themselves overworked, burned out mothers.
I think we need to call out hypocrisy here.
A culture that truly honored motherhood would do a lot more than offer one day of saccharine appeasement. It would provide paid parental leave for both parents and urge fathers to put in equal time in parenting and housework. It would provide excellent subsidized childcare, following the Scandinavian model, along with a shorter working week, creating an even playing field for women and men to pursue their careers while still having downtime with their families. A culture that truly celebrated motherhood would insure that motherhood was a freely-elected CHOICE and provide sex education, birth control, and abortion with no discussion or handwringing.
Motherhood in a culture that is toxic to mothers and to women in general can be a fraught experience. Generations of unspoken pain, repression, and deep-lying trauma get passed down from mothers to daughters. Some women I know have made the decision not to have children in order to end this long chain of hurt. Just imagine if every woman refused to reproduce until we could dismantle the chains of patriarchal oppression.
Mother’s Day can be a contentious holiday for both mothers and daughters, especially those who have suffered abuse, neglect, or trauma.
An older friend of mine is haunted by the beatings her mother gave her back in the day when the kind of physical punishment we would now view as child abuse was considered acceptable. Her mother even used to joke about these incidents at family gatherings, as if it were some amusing anecdote, and she seemed to remain steadfastly oblivious to her daughter’s deep pain and trauma. One can only wonder what was going on inside the mother. Did her repressed anger or her own unhealed trauma move her to smack the hell out of her little girl? Had she herself been beaten, shamed for her tears, and ordered to laugh it off?
As the saying goes, hurt people hurt people. I would go further by saying that hurt mothers hurt their daughters.
This is the crux of how patriarchy divides and conquers women. How it trains mothers to cut their daughters down to size, just as they were cut down.
The greatest gift we can give mothers on Mother’s Day, or on ANY day, is our own healing and strength, co-creating a world where every woman, whether she is a mother or not, is respected and whole. Where hurt mothers can be healed and heard, without passing the pain down to the next generation. Where the whole insidious cycle of abuse can end once and for all and we can live inside our power.
Mary Sharratt is committed to telling women’s stories. Please check out her acclaimed novel Illuminations, drawn from the dramatic life of Hildegard von Bingen, and her new novel Revelations, about the mystical pilgrim Margery Kempe and her friendship with Julian of Norwich. Visit her website.