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Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Complicated Emotions of Mother's Day

Today many of us feel thankful for our mothers and mothers-in-law and other women who have cared for us like mothers during certain seasons of our lives when we needed the love, care and guidance of an entire neighborhood. For these strong and loving women, it is an undeniable fact that they have shaped us in ways that humble and strengthen us and to not be thankful for them on this day would be a complete misstep.
But without wanting to rain on the parade of celebrating motherhood, I also approach this day with caution. I am mindful of the folks in this world for whom mother was not a warm, caring presence. Abuse and neglect have shaped their relationship with their mom and thus the expected cultural norms of thanking them with a card or flowers or a gift only creates conflict or guilt. I am mindful of those who have lost their mother to death and the grief that rises up out of nowhere when on Mother's Day, the longing for the presence of their beloved mother is acute. I am also aware, in a very personal manner, of the mothers in our world who have lost children and the grief that bites afresh when they consider that one fewer of their children will be around today to wish them well. And of course, I become more deeply aware of my own (and others who have experienced infertility) barren status that mother's day lifts up year after year.
What's hard about raising these issues is that for mothers, I understand that it can feel a bit like, 'why do you have to talk about this on our day? It's kind of a kill-joy.' And of course, I struggle with that too, balancing a thankfulness for my mom, mother-in-law, and other beautiful women in my life who have “mothered” me over the years with my own sense of failure, isolation and loneliness in not being a mother. I feel outside of the conversation, clearly not a member of a society whose subtle chant can sometimes be, “Being a mother is the greatest thing that can ever happen to a woman.” Ouch. Just another reminder that through no fault of my own, I was not able to experience the greatest thing that can happen to a woman. And so perhaps by sharing these feelings on Mother's Day, in some weird way it at least helps me feel a little bit more a part of the sisterhood of women even if I don't know the inside scoop on being a mom.
So, please don't think that I begrudge the handmade cards, the beautiful flower bouquets, or the nice brunches out that many moms will experience. But perhaps, in a private moment of savoring the joy you experience as a woman, you could raise a silent yet heartfelt toast to those of us in the world for whom this day is filled with loss and longing. Yes, those of us without children are a little bit jealous of those of you with children but if you can forgive us this sin just for today, it would somehow help us not feel so quite on the outside of what surely must be a wonderful gift to experience.
And if for some reason, you yourself are a mom, and you are feeling disappointed by your children today, just know that for many others, today is a day of mixed emotions for many in our world.
Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there.
Peace and grace day to all you non-moms out there.