A New Kind of Mother’s Day

Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Acceptance, Mormon women, motherhood, parenting, personal notes, sisterhood | 23 comments

This last Mother’s Day was new to me. In the past few months, we unexpectedly found ourselves in the lucky position of increasing the numbers in our household, with the end goal/hope/prayer to permanently adopt. It has been a wonderful adventure and my husband and I are absolutely thrilled. Still… I faced Mother’s Day with trepidation. The first time I was wished a Happy Mother’s Day outside of the foisted “future mother” carnation at church, I was a young single adult. It was in a simple, yet beautiful card from a gay friend. He was also Mormon, and a close enough to know that I could never carry a pregnancy. As he recognised that we both had impossible mountains to climb if we were to gain the families we desired, he wished me a Happy Mother’s Day in a beautiful card with a hand-written addition, to the “Mother in embryo”.

Since then, other men, usually men I dated or close friends, including my husband, wished me Happy Mother’s Days. Most often, children I know—nieces, nephews, Sunday school children who all know I do not have the worldly status of “mother” have always wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. Dear, beautiful, precious close female friends also have wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. I’ve loved this and always felt that was… well… normal. So, when we first married, my husband and I made the choice to celebrate our pre-eternal selves. With this, we have always given each other gifts and celebrated each other for Father’s and Mother’s Days.

This always seemed quite normal to me, until one May when I went Visiting Teaching. At that time, my companion and one of the sisters we taught had toddler sons of similar age who often plays for hours in a very informal visit. The other two women asked each other and chatted openly about what they had been given for Mother’s Day. Thinking it a mistake to not ask me, I joined in. “In our house, we celebrate all women as mothers, so I received…” They both stared at me blankly, and said nothing. The shock on their faces was clear. I was not a mother to them. At all. I was later told that I did not have the spirit with me that day, and needed to be more prayerful before I spoke. I was confused and hurt by this… politics aside, if the prophets of the church teach that all women are mothers, why was it so wrong for me to enter a conversation about gifts I received celebrating my maternal nature? I still do not understand.

Yet even when I finally developed the ability to face Mother’s Day with confidence, I usually skipped church and opted to indulge in some way or another. Last year, my husband and I gorged on scrumptious carbs at a local pancake shop, for example. But this year, I have a child in Sunbeams. And my new darling LOVES going to church. So I could not skip church because of my Mother’s Day anxiety. So I went. And it was weird. For the first time in my life, women who were not close friends, openly wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. It never struck me before that I had not be wished a Happy Mother’s Day by women in general, but for the first time, I had emails, texts and wishes from women wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day.

In particular, an acquaintance who had also dealt with a period of infertility, wished me a “Happy First Mother’s Day”. Her message made me angry. Did she really think that all of those Mother’s Days spent in emotional degradation were somehow not real? As if the day never occurred for me before?

Processing all of this, and trying to appeal to her conservative nature, my response was this:

Thanks for the Mother’s Day wishes! But it isn’t my first mother’s day. If we believe Sheri Dew and Julie Beck that all women are mothers/have mother’s hearts, regardless of birth status, then I have lived through decades of some good and some horrific Mother’s Days. To say this is my first Mother’s Day is like making all of those painful Mothers Days into nothing, which would then remove my empathy for childless women. I did go to church on this Mother’s Day, something I don’t normally do, and then as a family- we delivered cookies and wished friends and childless friends a Happy Mother’s Day with a visit. Do women only see women with children as Mothers? If so, why do you not believe Julie Beck and Sheri Dew?

Happy Mother’s Day to you, and all women, as it should be- even if you don’t have children.

Her curt reply stated that she believed all women were mothers, but that “it just feels different when you have your own little ones to watch over. It makes it a little more meaningful.” Hmmm. I agreed with her that it felt different, but to be honest, for me, it felt a little more vacant than normal. It was meaningful in a new way; no more, no less.

And I was still uncomfortable. I think it is because I realised that women who have given birth by and large seem to only wish a Happy Mother’s Day to other women who have also given birth. That stung. It still does. I am still processing it. After all, it seems that these women who finally addresses me on Mother’s day for the first time are the same ones who refused to see me as a mother until I came into the position of having a child in my care.  It triggered a memory of Sheri Dew’s talk, Are We Not All Mothers?. As a childless woman when I first heard that talk, I was relieved because I thought that women with children would then take me more seriously and understand that I had insights to offer them. Epic fail on that thought. Women with children assigned the talk to me as a band-aid for infertility, in complete opposition to what I thought the talk expressed, making the talk into part of the cadence of second-class Mormon womanhood. Blech.

But my past-infertile acquaintance’s response did not end there. “Also, I think the women are more sensitive to the waiting for a baby moms and don’t want to wish them a happy moms day and hurt their feelings. You never know,” she wrote. I was floored. Is this why women in the past never wished me a Happy Mother’s day? Because they thought it was better to ignore me, and ignoring me was “more sensitive”? Hey, I get that not all childless women want to be wished a Happy Mother’s Day. Some women with children probably don’t want to be wished a Happy Mother’s Day. But my heart bled knowing that I was willfully ignored by the majority of women at church before this Mother’s Day. Why go to church or speak to people on a day when they feel that it is best to ignore you? Is ignoring women without children really the best answer to the enigma that is Mother’s Day?

My head was still trying to process this when I spoke out loud to a non-Mormon friend. I told her how in years past, I realised that only very close friends, inclusive of women, men and children wished me a Happy Mother’s Day, but this year… women in general also wished me a Happy Mother’s Day, and I was perplexed as to why. “I think that women who have kids get how hard it is,” she said. “So they wish a Happy Mother’s day to other women with kids, especially single mothers because sometimes the dads don’t have the kids do anything.” Empathy! In her words I could see some logic behind the wish of child-laden women wishing other child-laden women a Happy Mother’s Day… it was because Mothering a dependant child full time is such an all-inclusive, exhausting job. But yet… is there no room for empathy, or recognition for childless women by women with children? Have we come to a place where if we do not understand the place of another woman, we would rather assume and ignore rather than celebrate and communicate? Especially on the only Sunday of the year where the church meetings celebrate women?

I don’t know. And I am still wondering. Because this wasn’t my first Mother’s Day…. and I have the scars to prove it.

Did you wish a Happy Mother’s Day to any childless women or single fathers?

Have you ever asked a childless woman what she plans to do for Mother’s Day (and if you can join her)?

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23 Comments

  1. The first year we were married I insisted that we would do a small gesture for mothers/fathers day, to set a good pattern and to celebrate our future roles and our nurturing capability. It is hard (and I am guessing will always be hard) because my birthday always falls a few days before Mother’s day, and my husband’s celebrate-my-wife battery is pretty worn down. Still, I was glad to receive a small gift and a feeling of recognition. This year nothing. Instead I devoted my weekend to celebrating my mother and my mother-in-law, which has its place and was a good choice, but it also drove home the “you are not a mother you are not a mother you are not a mother” point. I decided to take my own treat by walking out of the house and leaving my husband to entertain his brothers, mind the BBQ etc. while I went for a walk. Walking away from chores for twenty minutes was my way of saying that this day is special for me too, and I should get a little relief and respite and reward too.

    As for church — nobody wished me a happy mother’s day, except in a kind of odd way that made me think the sister thought I was pregnant. That is what you get for wearing an empire waist I guess.

  2. I think you may be lumping two groups of people together here. Since I didn’t give birth to my first child until after my eighth wedding anniversary, I certainly ran into the “you don’t count as a mother so why are you butting into our mom chat?” crowd. These were the mothers who discuss their children’s behavior in a group setting and look annoyed when I would pipe up with some observation about my nephew. So your experience with two women who felt like you shouldn’t be celebrating Mother’s Day sounded familiar. But I don’t think everyone who ignores women without children on Mother’s Day is in this group. I think another group reasons something like “I can’t imagine not being able to have children, so I won’t bring up Mother’s Day in front of her because it will probably bring up painful feelings for her.” This is the same thought process that people use to avoid mentioning deceased family members around holidays. “I don’t want to bring back painful memories.” Of course, this assumes that the bereaved somehow forgot those painful memories or the childless woman somehow didn’t notice it was Mother’s Day and she has no children. But this is how the thought process goes anyway.

  3. I have tons of empathy for childless women. I try very hard not to do anything to offend them. Since the #1 most important thing to not offend them is to never ask them about their desire for children or when they might have children, I have to steer clear of mentioning motherhood in regards to them. So I only mention my own motherhood.
    I totally get thinking of yourself as a mother in embryo. But I myself thought of Mothers Day as a day to celebrate those who have become a mother to somebody in particular. I became a mother at 26. If my married student ward gave something out to everyone I would have happily accepted chocolate but it didn’t mean anything to me until I actually was a mother.
    Sometimes I get the whole upset with Mother’s Day thing people have. But other times I get a little frustrated reading people’s rants online. If someone actually feels that much sorrow that they don’t have children they actually view motherhood as something important, so why are they trying to turn it into something meaningless.
    Mothers also turn Mother’s Day into a drama, expecting perfect husbands and perfect children or thinking that the day is there to make them miserable for not being perfect.
    I’ve known Mother’s Day was “difficult” for many women (both mothers and not) since I was 16. 25 years of worrying about all the women around me and whether they will go home and cry because someone else mentions that they love their mother. I’m tired of being irritated on behalf of those women at the speakers at church who are imperfect. Can’t all people just be nice? Why do I have to judge these poor people who are stepping on landmines left and right. I guess I’m a little tired of trying to help entire ward full of sad women. I am socially awkward. I do not have the social power to make everyone feel good.
    Mother’s Day is a holiday. You are going to have different traditions in different families. Just enjoy/celebrate it the way you want to.

    • JKS – You said exactly what I was thinking!

      Spunky – your post created anxiety for me. It was a sort of damned if you do – damned if you don’t. How are we all supposed to be mind readers and say just the right thing? Not all childless women want to be wished a Happy Mothers Day. I am a mother but don’t especially like Mothers Day. It can be so fraught with expectations that are hard to meet.

      • I am sorry to cause you anxiety, Rita. I just found it odd at the change in who wished me a Happy Mother’s Day…. and am not sure how that sits with me, because it seems to be telling me that the women in years past purposefully ignored me on the day. That is what I am struggling with– to not feel bitter as I recognise that I was purposely ignored by women on the day until this year. But again, I suggest you ask women, especially women who are not defined by giving birth to children, what recognition they are comfortable with, even if it is none. Knowing you are respected is much more comforting than knowing you are ignored.

  4. I do not have children. I do not want sympathy or empathy. What I want is the understanding that as a woman I have the right not to bear children and still be treated as a whole worthwhile person.

    I’ve had people wish me happy mother’s day and I did not take offense to it because in one sense I am a mother. I have been a nanny for well over twenty years. And I don’t care what anyone says, I treated my babies as if they were my own. I have mentored girls who were living with members (as foster children) so that things that happened at home could be straighten out.

    I have adopted and nurtured a dog and brought him back to a life he so richly deserved.

    So, while I have not physically given birth, I have in the truest sense of the word become an emotional mother. I’m not sure that that makes sense. But, I feel like that I think, I protect, I nurture, I feed, I walk, I listen. These are all things that mothers do. And this is what I currently do and have done so yes I am a mother.

  5. It’s so interesting to read your perspective on this, Spunky, since I’ve had childless friends who are very upset when they are wished Happy Mothers Day. They totally disagree with the idea that all women are mothers. One of my Mormon friends has said a number of times, “Trust me. If I were a mother I would know it. And I’m not a mother.”

    So I love hearing your thoughts, Spunky, though I confess this all makes it all the more thorny for me. For years I have never wished childless women Happy Mothers Day because of the feelings of these other friends I mentioned above. But now that I know that women like you welcome those sentiments I’m not at all sure about what to do. Is it appropriate for a person to ask a childless woman how she feels about Mothers Day and whether she likes being included in the holiday, and then respond accordingly?

    • I appreciate this post for many of the same reasons, Caroline.

      This was my first Mother’s Day as a married Mormon woman. It is hard for me now to remember if people told me “Happy Mother’s Day!” before this milestone in my life, but they definitely told it to me this time (including in a well-meaning but unnecessary card). I didn’t punch anyone, or even feel the particular need, but I did find it strange. Other’s told me “Happy Woman’s Day!” which I might have found more appropriate, but also unnecessary.

      I think what I liked best was a text from a close friend a few years ago. It simply said, “I think you’ll be a great mother some day.” This wouldn’t work for all woman (aka: those who don’t want to be mothers), but it worked for me. I think asking specific women how they feel about the holiday in a sincere way to be a very thoughtful approach.

  6. This is a super tricky subject, mostly because grief is tricky. Its different for everyone…one thing said out loud with good intentions would buoy one person up, and crush another. Having been through grief, I know it can be a lose/lose situation for everyone involved. Its just really hard to know what to do…because one day its the perfect thing to do, the next day, its the worst. And its different for every person. There are churchy one-liners that inspire my other friends who are grieving, that hurt me beyond words, and vice versa.

    I know women who have struggled with infertility who have expressed opposite feelings about this subject, ie, NOT wanting to be reminded or wished Happy Mother’s Day, or given a “sympathy flower” (as they see it), or whatever. That its somehow insulting to them or belittling. So its interesting to hear there is another perspective. Thank you for sharing your truth…I think its important to hear all sides of it.

  7. I am a childless woman and if someone wished me “Happy Mother’s Day,” I would want to punch them in the throat.

    But it’s not the childlessness that is the real problem. It’s the motherlessness.

    My mother died several years ago. I really miss her. There is still a horrible jab long about the end of March when I see the first advertisement telling me to “Tell Mom How Much You Love Her!”

    I would LOVE to tell Mom how much I love her.

    I realize that the holiday is not about me, and that the world won’t and shouldn’t adjust itself to suit the particulars of my situation. So I grit my teeth, summon as natural a smile as I can, and just wait for the horror to end.

    I realize that not everyone who has lost a mother feels this way. Plenty of women who think of Mother’s Day mostly in terms of their own motherhood don’t feel this way.

    But plenty of men, women, boys, and girls who have lost a mother find the holiday almost unendurably painful. Christmas and Thanksgiving without Mom are tough. Mother’s Day without Mom is torture.

    What I want is to be left alone so that I can do my job of just not wrecking the day for everyone else. Don’t say one single word to me about Mother’s Day. I put up with the ads and the articles, because they’re not personal. Please don’t MAKE it personal by saying something to me, personally, about how you think I should have a HAPPY Mother’s Day. I don’t.

    • sometimesIfeellikeamotherlesschild,

      Thank you for your comment. I want to say something profound and deeply soothing to you, but feel woefully incapable of doing so, so will not attempt for fear of causing you pain. But I am very thankful for your comment because it is an important reminder of recognising different women’s needs. I wish you peace and comfort as you navigate your path.

  8. I’m grateful for you post and the comments below it. I have definitely been a member of the avoidance crowd with this. Not wanting to offend, I have avoided the topic altogether with friends and acquaintances who don’t (for whatever reason).
    I had two experiences this last Mother’s Day that I’m seeing differently having read this post and comments. One was with a friend whose mother passed away about a month ago. I found her after the meetings and saw her raw emotion as she hugged a mutual friend. When they were done, I hugged her again and expressed my sympathy for her recent loss. The experience and posts here reminded me that the loss of one’s own mother complicates the day’s emotions. The other experience was with the sister I serve with in Primary. She wished me Happy Mother’s Day when she first saw me. I responded Thank You – and then looked at my piano book. She is single and childless and my automatic response of “To you too” halted in my throat. Should I have said something, or not? What I’m thinking having read all of this is that I should probably ASK her what she’d prefer. That would allow me to honor her feelings and love her as she wishes to be loved. But how do I have that conversation? Could that conversation offend?

  9. I love your perspective Spunky. I’ve never had much enthusiasm for the idea of all women being mothers, so I’m glad that it was helpful for you!

    Unfortunately, I’m one of those women who gets angry when people with me Happy Mother’s Day. I’m childless by choice, so I’m not a mother and I’m very okay with that decision. Motherhood to me is something very specific; there are responsibilities that parents and guardians have that are difficult for anyone else to take care of. So when someone tells me as a teacher I’m a mother, I get annoyed. My responsibilities as a teacher are different from those of a parent, and it is extremely inappropriate for me to take on some parental responsibilities in the lives of my students. I can be a teacher, a good influence, a support system, but not a parent. And I”m okay with that. Hearing that I”m a mother to my students when I know I’m not makes me feel as though I’m being given a pity title so that I can be fit into the Mormon motherhood box. I”d rather be appreciated for what I actually do, not for something I don’t do.

    Another thing I struggle with is the assumption that I will have kids. At church people just assume I”ll be a parent and therefore it’s okay to wish me a happy Mother’s Day. The assumption is irritating to me; I only count because they think I fit into a certain mold.

  10. I appreciate the well-written post and comments about Mother’s Day. Although I am a mother and grandmother, I honestly think the Church needs to eliminate the a focus on mothers/sisters/women and return to a focus on the Savior. I feel very empty and sad on Mother’ Day because during our Church services we either glorify motherhood, forgetting that many women have not and will not have that experience–or we try to hard to be exclusive about motherhood, ie. all women are potential mothers.

    I’d tired of seeing my tithing money spend on wilted flowers that I don’t want to plant when I would prefer the money went to a shelter for abused women–or a humanitarian project. Since my mother passed away, the holiday has become even more painful and I feel sad that the Church bows to cultural constraints in glorifying this holiday. Of course, we all celebrate motherhood and honor good mothers everywhere, but if we focused more on the Savior at Church, we would all leave feeling more edified and loved.

  11. I got tired of dealing with people stumbling into my tender feelings on Mother’s Day, so I decided to not take the whole thing so seriously. It is what it is, in its endless variety: chocolates or carnations, platitudes from the pulpit, primary children singing in all their charming incompetence, hurtful behavior from the in-laws or insensitive ward members, rarely something profound — It doesn’t have to be meaningful if you don’t invest power in it. Instead, I collected some extra goodies and took them to visit a sister who I knew was at home dealing with multiple traumas in her family, and I mothered her a little, and let her mother me a little, and that was meaningful enough. I didn’t receive any gifts, but instead hosted the extended family party. My kids called me and that was nice — but mothering someone else…that has become the new meaningful on Mother’s Day to me.

  12. I have a close friend who told me yesterday, “I didn’t like Mother’s Day. I don’t like that I’m one of those people.”
    I told her that 90% of the women I know in all walks of life have a conflicted view of Mother’s Day.
    Thanks for explaining where you’re coming from, Spunky. It gives me new perspective.

  13. I skipped Sacrament Meeting (epicenter of this yearly dangerous dance) and went out for pancakes with my family. I think it will be a new tradition!

    • We did pancakes last year. I was disppointed that we missed them this year– I say stick with that new tradition!

  14. Everyone has left such beautiful comments, thank you to all.

    Mhana, I love that you went for a walk to centre yourself and for all of your wise Mother’s day choices. Would you have appreciated someone at church wishing you a Happy Mother’s Day (and I don’t mean the door greeters who foist the gifts at all of the females)?

    Jks, I can relate very much to the landmines you discuss, and it is very difficult to navigate a ward full of diverse women who all have different needs, emotions and expectations. It makes me think of the woman who started Mother’s Day—she did it to honour her own mother and became irate when it turned into a commercialised blanket event because she wanted it to be personal, perhaps sacred. So that is what I wonder—if we made it more personal, would it mean something better or more? If we looked at Mother’s day the same way we look at Easter, such as speaking reverently of Heavenly Mother, yet leaving space for personal self reflection for women in general, would it be a more personal, sacred experience?

    Diane, I respect and see you as a mother. Happy Mother’s Day.

    Caroline, I think it is necessary to ask childless women about their feelings on Mother’s Day. There was a time that I would have screamed at someone for wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day, but what changed my want to scream was dear friends who asked me how I wanted to recognise the day. To be clear, if they asked me the morning of Mother’s Day, or flippantly in the hall at church before wishing or not wishing it to me, it would offend deeply. But a real friend, who is mindful enough to ask out of real friendship and respect, rather than last-second awkward social obligation will be rewarded with my gratitude and respect. Because isn’t that what it *should*/*could* be about—respecting women in our varied life places?

    Olive, I agree. Very challenging. Again, that is why I think it boils down to real friendship- asking people how to support them rather than ignoring them (even if they ask to be ignored on the day- you will then know that you are doing the right thing).

    Laura, Thank you for your beautiful comment. It is a hard call for the situation you describe with your friend in Primary. I would have responded, “You too” with sincerity. When I did not want to be wished a Happy Mother’s Day, I did not invite the drama so did not wish it to anyone else. You never know—if you rang her up today and said that you regretted not knowing if she was happy to have you wish her a Happy Mother’s Day in return, and asked her thoughts—you could very well have a beautiful and honest conversation and make a life-long, loyal friend.

    DefyGravity- you hit the nail on the head! In your eyes, motherhood has a very specific definition, one that you do not see as applying to you. I love and respect that in you, so I won’t wish you a Happy Mother’s day. But I want you to know that I refrain from wishing you that because I respect your brilliance, clarity and choice in regard to the topic. I am not just ignoring or avoiding you. Respect is so much more that avoidance. You have my respect and support in your choice to be childless. Good for you.

    Chris, I am with you. I just also like the idea of expanding holiday with a reverence and recognition of Heavenly Mother.

    Mommie Dearest, I did something similar! And yes—it filled the day with love, rather than expectation, disappointment and clumsiness.

    Jessawhy- I am so interested in your friend’s statement! “One of those people”… was she addressing women with children, or women who like to nurture? Fascinating! I love people. Love the different ways our hearts and minds interact.

  15. I’m just shocked and appalled at the sisters who decided you didn’t have the spirit that day that you joined the conversation. I married late in life, and was blessed to get pregnant immediately, and I try very hard to remember how it felt before I was married, when all I wanted in the world was to be a mom. I would hope that I never decide that a woman’s experience doesn’t matter because it doesn’t mimic my own. I’m sorry you were subjected to that, and grateful that you shared it.

  16. i’m 35. married with no kids. for me mother’s day has never been about me and my feelings. it’s always been about celebrating the women in my life that have somehow mothered me. showing gratitude to these women is where my focus has always gone instead of inward.

  17. My interpretation of why so many women didn’t wish you a Happy Mother’s Day before you officially became a mother was because they figured they didn’t know you well enough to know if it would make you uncomfortable or not, and so chose to err on the side of caution. At least that’s the reasoning I use around people I don’t know very well. Whereas people close to you would have that insight of how you would like to be treated on Mother’s Day. I tend to like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but there are times when I find myself experiencing an involuntary feeling of being belittled or taken-aback by things people do or don’t do.

    • Thanks, Annie B. I understand wanting to error on the side of caution, but I can’t help think that if the sunbeam singing that day became permanent, even more women will wish me a happy mother’s day? And what of the women who only recognise women who give birth as mothers? I have known adoptive mothers who were refused mother’s day wishes by extended family because they had not given birth.

      So- with that in mind, what was it that made me “officially” a mother in your eyes on the day? Why was I not “officially” a mother prior to then?

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