Mother’s Day Wars

leith graffiti 7 There is probably not a holiday more volatile for Mormon women than Mother’s Day. While some love the talks and chocolates and pansies, some haven’t been to church on Mother’s Day for years.

There are many reasons why one would like Mother’s Day to be skipped over at church. First, Mother’s Day is a secular holiday and the devotion of a worship service to a cultural holiday is yet another specter of American culture creeping into the “gospel.” Second, the veneration and idolization of mothers hurts a myriad of people: women who want to be mothers but aren’t, women who have no desire to be a mother, women who struggle in their motherhood or feel trapped in it, women who have lost a child, people whose mothers were abusive or absent, people who live in families without a person in the role of “mother.” The talks end up speaking to a minority group in the congregation while the rest shift uncomfortably in their seats, eyeing the obligatory chocolates, ready to bolt at “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

On the other hand, Mother’s Day is the one day that almost every talk is focused on women, or at least mentions women. It is entirely possible that for 51 Sundays in the year, every scripture will reference a man, every quote will come from a man, every life story and testimony will be about a boy or man coming of age and what he’s learned. But on Mother’s Day, there is a spark of hope that a woman’s name would be listed for every talk in the program, that someone will share scriptures and experiences directed at women, that a breath might be given to Heavenly Mother. We are dogs begging crumbs at the Master’s table.

I have been on both sides of this Mother’s Day war. I have spent my Mother’s Days rolling my eyes and sighing as well as hoping for a drop of gold. Is the motherhood rhetoric so drenched in “shoulds” that there’s almost no way to avoid hurting each other with it? Can we resurrect Mother’s Day from of guilt and shame? Or should we take the crumbs and run with them as far as we can? Should we even mention it at all?


TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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20 Responses

  1. Jessica F says:

    I have to go to RS for the first time in 3 years. Why does it have to be this sunday? Primary I will miss you dearly! I love the idea of making it about Heavenly Mother and how our heavenly parents mother us. But at last it my ward it will not be good for my 🙁 I will bring my iPhone and pretend I am reading my scriptures.

  2. Diane says:

    Mother’s day is a double whammy for me. First, today is my birthday and usually it falls on Duh Mother’s day. I usually opted out of going to Mother’s Day celebration because of my upbringing doesn’t really mesh well with the traditional gooey Mother’s day crap.

    I remember my first year in foster care. I turned eight years old and we we suppose to make mother’s day cards for our mothers’ and when I told my teacher I didn’t know who I was making the card for, she still made me do it. I tore it up on the way home.

    Hate it, Hate it, Hate it.

  3. EM says:

    What I hate most about MD is when we’re told during sacrament meeting to stand so that the young w & m can pass out wilting flowers or pot plants to “mothers”. How humiliating is that – that we have to stand to beg for our little gift of soon to die flower(s). What I love most about being a mother are the heart felt cards or letters that are given to me by my children and the gratitude they express therein. I really think they need to abolish the MD recognition during church time – it has absolutely nothing to do with worshipping and learning of the Saviour – which we don’t do enough of – IMHO!

  4. spunky says:

    I don’t think we should mention Mother’s Day at all, it just is too political and problematic, and– worst of all– teaches children that we only recognise women who are mothers within the church.

  5. CatherineWO says:

    This is beautifully written, TopHat. The metaphor of dogs begging for crumbs applies well to the situation. For me, the biggest problem isn’t Mother’s Day itself. It’s the entire issue of patriarchy. Women simply are not as important in the church heirarchy, so the praise on Mother’s Day comes off as phony and insincere, or it induces guilt or pain. The problem can’t be fixed with one day of talking about women. And the men are in as much of a pickle with this as are the women. Until the whole system and organization of the Church changes, I don’t know what can be done to salvage Mother’s Day. For myself, I take the coward’s way out and just stay home.

    • Ziff says:

      I completely agree, Catherine. I’m not a mother, but my impression as an outsider is that motherhood rhetoric in the Church, particularly the stuff centered around Mother’s Day, is beyond redemption. It’s particularly bad that it seems to be played up as a way to placate women while preventing them from having any authority in the institution. Yuck!

      • T.R. says:

        Beyond redemption? Really? I completely agree with much of what has been said, but to say anything is beyond redemption is to say that there is no forgiveness, change, or repentance. I think the beauty of this blog is for the purpose of repentance, even if it only makes small changes in various congregations. I think it is important to think optimistically and see this as an opportunity to make the change we want to see instead of cast it off as a done deal.

  6. Alicia says:

    I too have many reasons for avoiding church on this particular Sunday and I am in agreement with all of this discussion. This blog is such a great forum for women to express their wants and needs within the gospel, it would do the general congregation of the church well to have its leaders read the conversations here and really listen to what is expressed and then find ways that would provide for those wants and needs, instead of chastising the women for wanting more feminine doctrine, for wanting the room to become more of they truly are, for wanting to know their mother in heaven, and for wanting more substance to their feminine existence. I for one, will be spending the day with my children, far away from the chapel doors and claiming the joy that is mine, as well as honoring all the women in my life who have taught me what it is to stand and simply be proud of the fact that I am a woman who can be strong, intelligent, creative, valuable and loved. So, Happy Feminine Recognition Day! Thank you all, for the frequent reminders and examples of how to be strong, graceful, articulate, and dignified and for the courage I gain from you to speak my truth and seek answers to my hearts desires! I am so grateful.

  7. Nancy says:

    I’m in the same quandary – appreciate that they at least have one day of focus on women even if it’s usually in a condescending way or wish that they didn’t do anything. I think I may have found the answer today when I attended church. This is our first Mothers Day in this ward and was surprised when the first thing the bishop said when he stood up was that this bishopric long ago decided not to focus on moms during sacrament meeting on Mothers Day, but instead to focus on the priesthood, since it’s also around the time of the restoration of the priesthood. My husband thought my eyes were going to come out of my head. Maybe they were trying to be sensitive since so many moms have a hard time with this day and it would be one thing if they just said they were going to focus on doctrine or the Savior or something instead. But to take this one day and purposefully turn it to a day of focusing on the priesthood just rubbed me the wrong way completely.

    • April says:

      Ouch! I don’t have a problem with wards choosing not to celebrate Mother’s Day–but to purposely celebrate male-only priesthood on Mother’s Day instead? Could they have done anything more offensive? You’re right–any other topic would have been better. It’s not like we don’t have anything else to discuss. There’s faith, hope, charity, etc.

      • namakemono says:

        That`s what we got in our ward here in Japan yesterday for Mother`s Day – the restoration of the Aaronic PH! Although one of the YM speakers did talk about his mother ^_^

  8. EM says:

    Received the stupid potted flower today and 4 little pieces of dark chocolate – I hate dark chocolate. There was a lot of women in RS today that felt the same way I did and thankfully the teacher today made us all cupcakes – made me feel a little better. A few potted plants were left behind – hmm I wonder why? I suggested that we give back the plants to the men on Father’s Day – dead of course! Well at least we had a good laugh about that one.
    it’s branch counsel next Sunday and I will be voicing my opinion re Mother’s Day and potted plants.

  9. Twila says:

    A woman in my old ward gave a talk where the opening lines were “I hate Mother’s Day. It is an excuse to treat us badly all year and try to make up for it in one day.” Love it. Perhaps if women spoke and were listened to more often in the context of church it would not feel so oppressive.

    As far as saving Mother’s Day honesty would go along way. We are all imperfect mother’s and women. We all have struggles and strengths. How about a talk listing one thing you have learned or enjoy about every woman in your congregation. I would like to see the focus shift from idealization to true connectedness. I find the love of God/Christ through the love I feel for and from my fellow congregants.

  10. Our ward was a bit different – the women got plaques. Rather nice plaques, but it doesn’t seem the same as the previous years of various candies and other etc.. The plaques had the depiction of a forget-me-not flower and a quote from Elder Uchtdorfs Gen RS talk by the same title. There wasn’t any talk about giving it to all mothers and potential mothers, just to all the women 18 and over.

    Speakers were interesting, as they purposely got 1YW, 1YM, 1 Elder, and 1 High Priest to talk about the mothers that have and do affect their lives.

    On the good side, being the choir conductor and person who gets to select the hymns, we managed to not sing “Love at Home”, but went for a couple of the lesser known songs about home. The Choir sang “How Will They Know?” (thanks, April), and my sick wife didn’t miss out on hearing her first daughter sing with the Primary for the first time, cause the Primary didn’t sing.

    Every Bishopric I’ve known has wracked their brains on what to do for Mothers day, and what can be done for it. I think if its done early enough that they’ve already planned something, they’d be glad of any suggestions, but that could feel a bit like getting a present you specifically asked for.

    I hope everyone had a good Mothers day, even the hard ones. I hope everyone got at least a little time to think about their HM, who I think may also have a hard time on such a celebratory day by children who know nothing about her. I hope I can continue to make my wife feel special, important, and needed every day, not just on the extra special scheduled and unscheduled days.

    Maybe I will give a suggestion to my Bishopric for next year – talks about HM. Could be interesting . . .

    • April says:

      I love “How will they know”! I am glad you got to try it out with your choir. I was pleasantly surprised that a quartet of men sang that song in my ward today, as well.

  11. Mike H. says:

    Mother’s Day & Father’s Day often turn into fertility rituals in the Church. Yes, the single, the divorced, the abused, the neglected, etc. often feel out of place.

  12. Elisa says:

    Mother’s Day in the U.S. began as a pacifist reaction to the carnage of the Civil War. How we got from there to Hallmark and a potted plant is a tale of American commercialism run amok.

  13. Emily U says:

    One of the Sacrament Meeting speakers in my ward said Mother’s Day is kind of a religious holiday in our church. I’d not heard someone put it so bluntly like that before, but I think he’s right. Motherhood is celebrated as a religious calling/duty in Mormonism, so I think we take Mother’s Day as an opportunity to reinforce teachings about women’s roles. I wish this weren’t the case.

    The pigeonholing of gender roles is like, my least favorite thing about the Church so a sort of memorial day to gender essentialism is so obnoxious to me. And it’s ironic that in the midst of hearing platitudes about mothers (“mothers embody charity, blah, blah, blah…”) I’m down in the trenches with my toddler who won’t be entertained by anything and we have to pack it up and leave the meeting.

    I don’t dislike Mother’s Day, however – getting cards from my kids makes me happy, and I like the reminder to express my love & gratitude for my mom and grandma. I just think it would be better if we allowed each family to celebrate it in their own way, privately, at home. A little “Happy Mother’s Day” over the pulpit during announcements would be fine, but why does every talk and lesson have to be about motherhood?

  14. Rachel says:

    This post does a fabulous job naming some of the reasons why this holiday is difficult for many. I hope that lots of lots of people read it, so that they can be more sensitive to the issue.

    This year I tried to have real conversations with the women in my life about their feelings on this day. I tried to listen to them, as they told me their own mixed feelings, and how the “angel mother’s” sometimes painted in Sacrament talks can do more harm than good, and the accompanying feelings of guilt. We heard one talk like that, but we also heard a beautiful talk about Emma Smith, which (rather impressively) painted her in a very nuanced light. The speaker acknowledged many of the difficult things she dealt with, including polygamy and deceit. I was grateful to hear her story in an honest and straightforward manner, as well as the story of other women in the scriptures.

    I hope that more talks can be as thoughtful, particularly as thoughtful towards women’s extremely varying situations and feelings on this fragile day.

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