It’s Mother’s Day in the USA. Its origins were in politics and peacemaking; women’s groups in the US tried to organize special days and activities to promote peace, and especially to reunite families that had been divided by conflict in the Civil War. Ann Jarvis organized one such day in 1868, and she is usually credited with founding Mother’s Day.
Now, however, it is nothing more than a Hallmark holiday–one of those dreadful occasions that purport to celebrate a group of people, but is in reality counter productive in a thousand different ways. It causes all sorts of distress when ‘mother’ is clumsily elided with ‘woman’, creating the ridiculous and wounding idea that motherhood is the single supreme expression of womanhood. It stirs up just as much pain as joy — for those whose mothers are no longer alive, those whose relationship to their mother is or was destructive, those who wish they were mothers but are not, those for whom motherhood has been traumatic, and for bereaved mothers.
But it can create an odd dynamic even in families where things are more or less OK. For one thing, I hear people speak about it in terms of it being their mother’s “annual day off”. (Annual day off? Come on people, roll up your sleeves and share the chores on the other 364 days. Cooking the dinner and washing the dishes is not part of the contract of being a mother. You eat here? You join in with the cooking and clean-up.) Or, it imposes an expectation that certain rituals must be observed that you would never, in a thousand years, do the rest of the time, just because people want to sell you cards and chocolate.
Maybe some women want chocolate. I don’t — it makes me fat — and I don’t want an expensive card with a soppy greeting manufactured by someone in a factory. I’d rather have a personal message on a post-it, and time to spend hanging out with my grown up son. He’s a student, and broke, as students usually are. But he has planned our trip to the movies this afternoon. It’s the kind of stuff we often do when he’s home for the weekend, not just once a year. Lovely, heartwarming, and real. I’ll take that over sentimental any day.
I say celebrate your family every chance you get, if you are lucky enough to be doing OK. And celebrate your life with the people you love, whatever your circumstances, even if you don’t have family. But let’s rebel against this obligatory sentimentalization of motherhood, especially at Church where it can feel doubly pernicious.