The Mother’s Day Conundrum
I am debating whether or not to attend church on Mother’s Day next week.
On the one hand, I love that on Mother’s Day we hear stories about women and often even quotes by women – something that is sadly lacking on so many other Sundays. In Mother’s Day talks I’ve heard about women church leaders, Deborah, Eliza R. Snow, and even Heavenly Mother. I’ve heard about people’s mothers and their complicated lives and relationships. My heart and soul sing to hear women and their unique lives and contributions acknowledged from the pulpit.
But on the other hand, I am often uncomfortable with how women are talked about on Mother’s Day. I don’t connect to the pedestalizing of mothers – the constant references to their heroic selflessness and transcendent spirituality. That just doesn’t represent my reality. I’m a mom three times over, and I love my kids a lot, but I have no intention giving up all my desires and dreams for them. Nor am I a tower of spirituality, as anyone who knows me can attest. I am a messy, flawed person who has and will make many mistakes in my parenting, as I have and will make many mistakes in every other facet of my life. Roses definitely do not bloom beneath my feet.
I also become uncomfortable if Mother’s Day talks implicitly reduce women – who are complicated, multifaceted beings with many identities and loyalties– to this one role. Too often in Mother’s Day talks I’ve heard that old correlation of women having motherhood as their central purpose and identity in life, while men have priesthood. Telling women than their central purpose and identity is motherhood can be hurtful. Aside from all the other problems with this type of gender role rhetoric, I’ve had non-mother friends who have been deeply, deeply wounded by this teaching. They leave the meetings gutted and wondering if, in a Mormon worldview, there is any point to their lives.
Last night I was explaining to a friend some of my hesitations about Mother’s Day talks, and he told me that not talking about something because it might hurt a few people in the audience was stupid. In his thinking, any topic might hurt someone somewhere if they couldn’t live up to the ideal. But I tried to explain to him that this topic of motherhood is so incredibly fraught for women. In much of Mormon rhetoric, motherhood is all the women have and are. That’s it. In Mormon gender role differentiation, women don’t have other identity markers like priesthood holder and often they don’t have wage-earner either, as so many Mormon men have in addition to fatherhood. Because of that fraught, loaded nature of this topic of motherhood, Mother’s Day talks are a minefield and have the potential of making women — mothers and non-mothers — feel pretty bad about themselves.
So what do I want to hear on Mothers Day? I’d like to hear about strong women who have contributed to the world in a variety of ways. I’d like to hear about complicated women who make mistakes but keep on trying, either in their relationships or other facets of their lives. I’d like to hear about women in the Bible who are models of wisdom and insight to the rest of us. I’d like to hear about Heavenly Mother. And bonus points of someone talks about the pacifist and socially responsible origins of Mothers Day. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/05/140508-mothers-day-nation-gifts-facts-culture-moms/
What are your feelings about Mother’s Day talks? And Mother’s Day at church in general? What would you like to hear over the pulpit on Mother’s Day?