Mourning Mother’s Day

by | May 10, 2015
filed under My Reality

Photo of backs of Mother's Day cards

“Thanks for telling me to call my Mom for Mother’s Day, Skype. She’s dead so that’s not possible but thanks for that reminder.” – a Facebook friend

The history of Mother’s Day, like most holidays, is buried beneath inches of advertisements.

Few know that the holiday was founded by a childless woman whose mother was dead. Mother’s Day was founded in mourning.

Yet for those of us without living mothers, those of us whose mothers hurt us, those of us who have lost our children or been childless, there isn’t much room for us in modern Mother’s Day. Like most holidays, the day is tone deaf. It only has one setting. The script doesn’t include those of us who have experienced trauma, or who have different kinds of families.

When family is complicated so are holidays.

Mother’s Day is especially difficult for many of us, because we all had parents whether or not they passed or pushed us away. If we are women, motherhood is also part of a story we’ve been told about our lives and what they mean.

That’s what makes Mother’s Day so hard to emotionally opt out of.

I feel the same awkwardness around Mother’s Day that I feel about people asking me about my parents. Where do they live? What do they do? What do they mean to you?

I answer the questions lightly and without detail, and the questioner rarely knows how heavy the answers are.

As a woman who has never intended on having children, Mother’s Day carries twice the admonition and twice the sadness of a regular holiday. Not only have I failed in my relationship with my mother, I have also rejected motherhood. I am failing to fit the script in every way possible.

Mothers do deserve recognition, but it feels like Mother’s Day more about money than about mothers.

Mother’s Day is the single most profitable holiday of the year for florists. While much of that is grounded in genuine gestures of affection, how many flowers are bought to cover up the pain between people on Mother’s Day?

Like all North American holidays, Mother’s Day is heavy on sentiment and short on the kinds of rituals that nurture family and relationships. It’s all frosting and no cake. It pushes us to celebrate motherhood without ever questioning what that truly looks like or is. Nor does it recognize, celebrate or include those of us who don’t fit the standard script.

Perhaps that’s why the founder of the modern holiday, Anne Jarvis, was so against its commercialization. Perhaps she saw how the more money there was to be made off the day, the less it would be centred on real human relationships.

With more and more couples choosing not to have children, or having fewer children, Mother’s Day will only become more of a struggle for more people.

I hope that instead of simply buying more flowers to cover up our sadness, will we instead show compassion to ourselves and each other, and build new traditions on that honour the spirit of Mother’s Day, while widening it to include more people.

Photo of Mother’s Day cards by Zen Sutherland, CC-licensed via Flickr. Feature photo of Mother’s Day cupcakes by Rachel Kramer Bussel of Buttercupcake Cake Shop, CC-licensed via Flickr.

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