Reflections on Mother’s Day, Take Two

mother baby swing

Last year on Project M I wrote a blog post explaining why I dislike Mother’s Day and why I intend to discourage my kids from participating. I explained how I’m averse to obligatory gift-giving, and how it alienates would-be moms (i.e. infertile women, mothers who have lost babies, etc).

I guess I was naïve. I sort of expected a big round of “Hear, hear’s!” — especially from other women who’d had a hard time becoming mothers of biological children. Instead, I was frankly astonished at the response: moms everywhere were upset and offended that I could say such things against what they perceived to be “their” day.

Lesson #1: If a holiday is universally celebrated, it’s because it’s universally beloved. If you’re gonna dis it, be prepared for a backlash.

Many women mistakenly believed I was trying to take their holiday away from them. (Not only do I not have the authority to do that, but it’s not true: I only said I personally didn’t want to participate, or, that if I did, I thought we should celebrate all women). One commenter accused me of not wanting anyone to have a party if I wasn’t invited. Another said I “dishonouring all mothers.” Phew! What a big accomplishment for a silly girl in Ontario with a tiny little blogging platform!

I wrote this post when pregnant with my first child after a two-year struggle with infertility. I assumed being pregnant put me into the mom camp, winning me the support of other mothers, while my experience with infertility would win the sympathy of other women who were currently enduring the same thing.

Instead, my not-here-but-not-quite-there position kind of alienated me from both sides. The infertile women saw me as a mom trying to throw them a pity card. Other mothers saw me as a non-mom throwing a tantrum because I wasn’t invited to their party.

Well, things are different this year. I gave birth to a child nine months ago and am officially and universally recognized as a mother.

Not much has changed in regards to my feelings about Mother’s Day, though.

In fact, when my husband reminded me that it was coming up, I stamped my foot and let loose a barrage of Christian-ified curse words. (Dang it! Frig! Frigitty-friggins!!”). ( I’d had all kinds of fun plans for this weekend, like visiting the new farmer’s market and watching The Avengers. Now I have to spend Saturday afternoon at a mother-daughter church luncheon. Bleh.)

Here’s the thing. I absolutely LOVE being a mom. It is, without question, the most fun and interesting job I’ve ever had. Nine months into this gig, and I’m still not convinced my job is any harder or more important than many other women’s jobs. Sure, caring for an infant is time-consuming, frustrating, exhausting, et cetera – but so was earning a Master’s degree. I actually think it was harder. I got less sleep, and no one in my program was half as adorable as my baby. I imagine writing a book or running a business is equally tedious and taxing at times but also gratifying.

I got the distinct impression that those women who were most upset by my post criticizing Mother’s Day were the ones who most doubted the value of the work they were doing.

“No one appreciates us moms!” they protested, either explicitly or implicitly. “We deserve at least one day where someone acknowledges our work! Everyone else gets paychecks. Don’t we at least deserve some flowers?”

Our Cultural Ambivalence Towards Mothers

Our culture seems to have mixed feelings, and to send mixed messages, about motherhood.

On the one hand, motherhood is highly sentimentalized. Being a mom means you’re self-sacrificing, nurturing, and all-around wholesome, especially if you stay at home. Lots of career women feel judged for not choosing to procreate.

At the same time, though, many moms feel underappreciated, embarrassed, and inadequate. They suffer from what I call “just-a-mom” syndrome (“Oh, I’m just a mom . . .” ). They tend to feel defensive — they often feel the need to point out that unlike paid work, their jobs go 24-7. And their work is extra-important, because they’re raising the next generation of citizens. These feelings are legitimate, of course, in a culture that tends to value earning power over anything else.

(I’ve written more on our culture’s love-hate relationship towards being a stay-at-home mom elsewhere.)

Maybe my antipathy towards Mother’s Day is connected to the high regard I have personally experienced towards mothers and motherhood in my community. I feel like my choice to become a mother and stay home has been generally lauded and celebrated. I feel respected and valued by my husband, my extended family, and my church community.  In fact, I feel damn lucky to have been able to have this miraculous experience. Pregnancy, birth, motherhood? All incredible privileges. I don’t need a special day to exchange flowers, smiles, and saccharine cards and with other women who have been blessed with children.

Who is a Mother?

The other objection I have to Mother’s Day is the somewhat arbitrary demarcation between who is in and who is out.

Now that I am “officially” a mother, I can look back and see that I didn’t become a mother when I gave birth to my baby. I didn’t even become a mother when I got pregnant.

I believe my gradual metamorphosis into a mother began the day I fell in love with a child.

See, I was regularly caring for a friend’s child at the same that I was first toying with the idea of starting a family. (I didn’t know at that point how much trouble I would have with the first step, i.e. getting pregnant). I had never been especially fond of children.

I enjoyed the babysitting job, but it wasn’t anything magical. But one day, something crazy happened: the little boy leaned on me affectionately and I had the overwhelming urge to kiss him. And I exploded into tears.

Without meaning to, I had become a mother.

That’s why I found it so painful in future years when Mother’s Day passed and my arms were empty: just because my ovaries weren’t working quite right, I could not be acknowledged as a nurturer of children.

And that’s why I continue to insist: if you’re a woman with a love for children, YOU ARE A MOTHER. Even if you’ve never been pregnant or given birth.

That’s why I continue to insist: if we’re going to set aside a day to celebrate mothers, this day is also for those women who are nurturing children in any capacity.

Those who are seeking fertility treatments. Those who are working to improve their health and learning about their bodies in the hopes of conceiving. Those who are seeking adoptions. Those who care for their nieces and nephews and students and youth groups. Those who babysit and nanny with love and affection.

All of these women are mothering children, either future or existing.

From one mother to another, I insist that if we’re going to go around congratulating women for bringing forth children, you women who care for other people’s children or wait patiently for your own deserve recognition as well. You might be doing the hardest work of all.

Imagining a Mother’s Love

Last thing. There was a lot of stuff going around in the comments of my post last year along the lines of, “You just can’t imagine the love you have for your own children until you’ve had them.”

First, I feel these commenters underestimate my imagination. How do they know what I’m capable of imagining? I’m a writer. It’s my job to imagine feelings and experiences.

And second, I’m not sure they were right. I wasn’t able to imagine the specifics of how I’d feel towards my actual child, of course — I’m not clairvoyant — but I think I had a pretty good idea.

I had to spend two years of my life waiting and imagining what it would feel like to have a child of my own. And I’ve spent the last nine months saying, “Yep. This is about right. This is sooooo right.”

Mother’s Day and Me

I’m going to keep celebrating my own mothers (i.e. mom and mom-in-law) on Mother’s Day because I know it’s meaningful to them. But I don’t think I want to be a part of it in any other way, except to take the hands my sisters who feel like not-quite-mothers and to tell them, “You’re one of us. Thanks for being you.

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  1. Great post, Kathleen. I like the way your definition of mothering extends, and I love that last year and this year you’ve brought up thought-provoking issues about motherhood, obligatory holidays and relationships.

    As someone with a passion for and vested interest in education, as someone who has spent my fair share of time caring for (and enjoying) other people’s children, I like that you consider my contributions to the next generations as valuable, even though I’m not yet at a point in my life where I’m physically producing spawn.

    And, though I look forward to celebrating my own wonderful Mom on Sunday, I have to admit that I was also bummed when I realized it meant I wouldn’t be going to see The Avengers this weekend! Dang it, everyone’s talking about it and I haven’t seen it yet! :-S

    Finally, I’m going to dare to wish you a happy first Mother’s Day, just because I’m so, so glad that you’re in such a great place in your life.

  2. I don’t embrace everything you have put here (probably because my experience has been quite different in some respects), but this is a really thought provoking post! I could say so much! And maybe I will email you more but this was the point that I could really connect with:

    “I feel like my choice to become a mother and stay home has been generally lauded and celebrated. I feel respected and valued by my husband, my extended family, and my church community. In fact, I feel damn lucky to have been able to have this miraculous experience. Pregnancy, birth, motherhood? All incredible privileges. I don’t need a special day to exchange flowers, smiles, and saccharine cards and with other women who have been blessed with children.”
    Rue recently posted..Spur-of-the-moment list: some things I am bad atMy Profile

  3. Honestly, my thoughts on Mother’s Day have been similar. I’m not a mother and probably won’t be an actual mother for awhile, though only because I’m currently single. But I most relate with that feeling you talk about of when you fell in love with the child you were taking care of. My sister recently gave birth to my niece and I have never felt so much love towards a child. I’ve always loved kids, but this was different. My brother-in-law asked if I wanted to be a mother and I didn’t even hesitate to say yes. Thanks for this post and though I do like celebrating Mother’s Day with my mom, I agree that all women should be celebrated. :)

  4. Hey Kathleen: I concur that this is a wonderful post. Remembering your post last year, vaguely now, I remember fuming! I will be completely honest here. But a lot has changed for me since then. Two things spoke to me:

    First, “That’s why I continue to insist: if we’re going to set aside a day to celebrate mothers, this day is also for those women who are nurturing children in any capacity.
    Those who are seeking fertility treatments. Those who are working to improve their health and learning about their bodies in the hopes of conceiving. Those who are seeking adoptions. Those who care for their nieces and nephews and students and youth groups. Those who babysit and nanny with love and affection.
    All of these women are mothering children, either future or existing.”

    I reflect on the fact that we have to leave our children with sitters quite often. And those people are nurturing our kids, raising them essentially along with us. I’m picky with who I leave my kids with; why wouldn’t I acknowledge their work with my children as anything less than mothering.

    Second, I experienced a miscarriage last November. This month actually marks when my babies were to be born (yes I was expecting twins). This has been one of the most painful experiences in my life. But it was through this experience that I also realized that anyone who is/has experienced infertility, miscarriage, still birth, etc. is a mother! Imani and Salem, my twins, are just as much part of our family as the ones I see playing outside right now.

    Thank you Kathleen for opening my eyes last year! It truly has brought many things to light that I now see. Blessings to you this Mother’s Day! … The Avengers is a great movie, worth seeing!!! Sorry, I just had to put it in there. :)

  5. Kathleen, you totally have to look into spiritual motherhood! I’m not sure if it was coined by Pope John Paul II or what, but some of his writings discuss it. It basically takes your premise that “if you’re a woman with a love for children, YOU ARE A MOTHER” a step further and says that every woman is called to be a mother in some way, whether she physically bears children or not.

    M just woke up, so I’ll just give two quick links: and (Sorry I don’t know how to embed them and make them look nice!)
    That Married Couple recently posted..Baby shower gift ideas for the crunchy momMy Profile

    • Thanks for these links, That Married Couple!

      I had actually been introduced to the idea of spiritual motherhood last year when I was looking into New Feminism. That’s the reason last year’s post leaned more towards celebrating all women on Mother’s Day (because “every woman is called to be a mother in some way,” as you put it). I LOVE the idea of spiritual motherhood. However, the reaction against my suggestion was so intense that I somewhat rescinded and refined my original standpoint. Too many people were like, “But not all women are motherly!” and I could kind of see their point. I still find the idea attractive, though. I’m definitely going to look into it further.

  6. Kesha Kellogg says:

    Kathleen, this is absolutely brilliant. I was following Project M last year and your post blew my away. I was SO GLAD to see a woman saying something that was not in support of celebrating Mother’s Day! I share your sentiments exactly, although you are much more adept at word-crafting.

    I have always hated Mother’s Day, although I didn’t recognize why until last year: it’s because my mother abused me emotionally and physically. I’ve spent years working through the memories and letting God heal my heart’s wounds, and although I now feel forgiveness and compassion toward her, she has not played the role of a loving caretaker in my life. Last year, your post helped me clarify my feeling that it’s okay to not celebrate the mother who caused me to wish my childhood circumstances had been different.

    A few months ago, when I called my mother on her birthday, I learned that was the day she chose to leave my father. Not only that, but she had been consciously lying and bribing me with gifts to be on “her side” when she made the decision to split the family in two. Although my father, sister, and I had seen this coming for a decade, mental preparation does not make the situation feel any less like betrayal and abandonment. My sister and I decided to take this opportunity to remove her from our lives and immediately felt a lifetime of burdens lifted, although we received backlash from people telling us we were choosing to not forgive her and that God’s judgment would be upon us (seriously) and that this would be a decision we would always regret. Looking back now, I can say this was one of the best decisions I ever made, albeit the most difficult. Instead of feeling sad, angry, or bitter this year because of the loss of my mother, I’m praying for God to guide her to Himself, and I’m sending letters of thanks to women for their role as Mothers in my life. It feels good.

    I’ll be re-reading and sharing your post. Thanks for taking a second, fuller look at the subject, Kathleen.

    • Kesha Kellogg says:

      I must check for typos more carefully, haha. Sorry!

    • Wow, Kesha– thanks so much for sharing all that. I can’t imagine what it must have been like, growing up with an abusive mother. It just goes to show that just because you give birth to children, that doesn’t mean you have it in you to be a mother.

      It sounds like you’ve been incredibly courageous, walking down a difficult road that no child was meant to walk without a nurturing mother. I also think you’re courageous for being able to look into your painful past to seek wisdom. Thanks again for sharing and for your encouragement. *Hugs.*

  7. Linda Thiessen says:

    First I really enjoy your posts and have sent my friends referrals :)

    I have had two miscariagers prior to having James. During `those times` I felt envious of other moms getting either flowers or pins at church for mothers day.
    So your idea of celebrating all women with nuturing feelings toward children is a great idea!

    As for other universal celebrations like Valentine`s Day for example. I feel like my husband should not take one day a year to tell/show me he loves me. I do not long to receive gifts that cost way more money than they should or pay extra for food for one day. I would rather be loved and appreciated every day of the year.
    Like wise for mothers day. Call me crazy unless cards are hand made with sentimental writitngs from the giver; I do not keep them. Another words I do not want anyone to waste their money on them.
    I would rather go see The Avengers too :) Great movie by the way.

    Happy Nuturing Women`s Day

    • Thanks, Linda! I’m totally with you on Valentine’s Day, too. I have actually forbidden Ben from buying me things on those day, haha. I welcome flowers any other day of the year, though :) Happy Nurturing Women’s Day to you, too!

  8. Emily W says:

    Bravo! As usual, you’ve blessed me like crazy!

  9. Some good thoughts here, and I really do think I hear your heart in all of it. (Your heart is lovely, by the way.) I agree that it’s hugely important for moms to learn to think beyond themselves, especially this time of year. (Far too easy to get self-absorbed in the “Queen for a Day” attitude. I know this because I’ve been guilty of it.) It’s sad to me that women can so easily (and inadvertently) marginalize and offend one another. We’re all in this together, and motherhood certainly reaches beyond biology and lineage. I make a very deliberate effort to recognize all moms on Mothers Day – especially those who are hurting from delayed adoptions, infertility, miscarriage, child mortality, etc. – as well as those longing to be moms who’ve not yet had an opportunity. The desire for them to feel honor and support from us “moms” during this sensitive time is deeply entrenched in my heart. BUT I also think it’s important to honor moms. God’s heart is always to honor, and I think it’s amazing to have a special day for that purpose. To me it’s a bit like Christmas. If I’m only honoring Jesus at Christmas then something is wrong. I should be honoring him every day with my life and choices and thoughts. But Christmas rolls around and gives us an “opportunity” to hone our focus and really go over-the-top in our acknowledging of him. (And by “over-the-top” I don’t just mean a bunch of gifts and other material things – it’s both a frame of mind AND a physical expression.) It should never be a one-off thing, or just a cliche or obligatory thing. But he loves to honor people, and he is present in celebration, so for that reason I think Mothers Day is wonderful. Honor, celebration, gratitude, joyful extravagance of heart – those are the marks of holy sacrament if you ask me. :) I would never cut back on celebrating life and people due to a fear that it might exclude someone else. (I would, however, do my best to also extend honor to those who feel marginalized. That’s my greatest privilege as a Christian – including the “least of these”.) All that to say, I’m glad you still honor your own mom and MIL. :) And last thing – I personally DO think a mother’s work is “extra important” to use your words. (Whether she’s a SAHM, works outside the home, whatever.) Mothers are responsible (along with our partners) to provide phase one training for any possible avenue that these little humans will endeavor on. Foundation-laying is serious business, albeit fun! That’s not to say it’s superior. But extra important? Oh, definitely. Sorry for the super long comment… with no paragraph breaks. (Ugh.) But I really appreciated your post and wanted to add my two cents since I have some strong opinions too – both in agreement and disagreement. ;) I found your blog through a ping-back I had on this post: You can see that it’s a little bit related. xx
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  10. You make some GREAT points about who is a mother. I actually wrote something similar on my Mother’s Day post. As someone who has always wanted children and at one point feared and wondered if I’d ever have them, I think a mother is someone who has the heart of a mother.

    I just happened to come across your blog…awesome that we were thinking along the same lines!
    Rachel J. recently posted..What It Means To Be A MamaMy Profile


  1. […] Today is my first official Mother’s Day. While the day is mostly beloved, many people have mixed feelings about the holiday. I want to acknowledge those people who may have recently lost their moms or a child, those wish to be moms but aren’t due to singleness or infertility, or those with other reasons to have mixed feelings today. On a related note, I’ve read a couple interesting takes on this holiday recently that I want to share with you: Will You Remember Her? and Reflections on Mother’s Day. […]

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