In Defense of Mother’s Day

This morning, I was thinking about Mother’s Day. This is unsurprising, because today is Mother’s Day.

This year I think I have encountered more counter-culture reactions to Mother’s Day than I have in past years. It seems like a few crept in each year, but this year I encountered more of them than usual.

I appreciate the underlying message of many of these reactions. Anne Lamott, in her essay from Salon, says,

I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure. The non-mothers must sit in their churches, temples, mosques, recovery rooms and pretend to feel good about the day while they are excluded from a holiday that benefits no one but Hallmark and See’s. There is no refuge — not at the horse races, movies, malls, museums. Even the turn-off-your-cellphone announcer is going to open by saying, “Happy Mother’s Day!” You could always hide in a nice seedy bar, I suppose. Or an ER.

I like her essay more than many of those out there because it touches on all of the reasons Mother’s Day can be distressing: expectations and pressures, commercialism, a lack of evidence that mothers are superior to other people, and the fact that we both sentimentalize mothers and blame mothers far beyond what is fair.

This year, I had more cause to think about Mother’s Day, because there was no other adult in my household to shepherd my young children through the process of buying gifts, making breakfasts, and pampering me. Being a single mom is a bit anti-pampering, and there’s no reason Mother’s Day should be any different. I was afraid of Mother’s Day, though I was grateful that I would at least be with my children on the day.

However, I woke up (at a decent hour) to the small thud of presents hitting my bedspread. Each child had made me something at school, and they had smuggled them into Selah’s sock drawer so I wouldn’t see them. I had caught a glimpse of the boys’ gifts when I brought them home, but didn’t look closely, so they were still a surprise. Apparently while I was napping the day prior, they had pulled off various preparations. I’m sure this was largely Selah’s idea, since she’s old enough to grasp the day. (She’s 8.) She had climbed up into the cupboard over the fridge and found drink umbrellas. (Note to self: the children already know where the household’s tiny amount of booze is. Rehide it within the next 4-6 years.) They had brought me an empty drinking glass with the umbrella in it. “We could put some kind of drink in this,” Selah explained. Asher leapt up and grabbed the glass and raced away with it to fetch me some water. “We wanted to make you breakfast, but we don’t know how,” Asher said. He added, “You can get up and make hard-boiled eggs with the directions.” Selah admitted, “I can’t do it by myself yet.”

Like They Do in Hawaii
Like They Do in Hawaii

Selah had made a card with a little pop-up heart in it, and written me a poem inspired by the Barney song, “I Love You.” She had helped Asher write a nice message onto a monster picture he drew a while back. It was kind of crumpled. Noah kept trying to wrestle his flower-shaped photo frame away from me, failing to grasp that it was supposed to be a present for me instead of him. Selah gave me a cookie press she made in school.

Asher's Masterpiece
Asher’s Masterpiece

I got up and made my own oatmeal, feeling slightly relieved that it was so hygienic. The children poured their own cereal (apparently it didn’t occur to them that they could have poured me cereal.) While they ate, I made my own coffee, like I do each morning. The children announced that they would do all of the laundry, even though I pointed out that there was tons of it on the couch. Selah folded a small pile.

To pamper myself, I turned on a movie, and we sat down to watch it together while I ate. Noah snuggled into my lap and periodically nibbled on my hand or turned around to hug me. That was the best part. When I went on Facebook, I saw that another friend who is not single was also spending Mother’s Day on her own because her spouse was working. Her children tried to treat her in a similar fashion. I texted a few of my single friends to wish them a happy Mother’s Day. I got to see my own mom and sister later in the day.

I was so blessed. I had a real Mother’s Day even though we’re not a traditional family anymore. It was really one of my better ones, because there were no pressures or expectations, only surprises and love.

There are so many people for whom Mother’s Day is salt in a wound or even a twist of a knife, as Anne Lamott acknowledged. I realized this year more than I had in the past that this is true for ALL holidays. People spend Thanksgiving alone. People spend Christmas alone. People spend days alone remembering their babies who were supposed to have been born on that day. It’s hard to be alone and forgotten, and it’s hard to feel ashamed of being alone, maybe feeling unloved or left out. The problem is not the existence of Mother’s Day (or Christmas, or Thanksgiving). The problem is that we often forget about other people’s experiences. We fail to realize when we are unusually blessed, and we fail to offer comfort and refuge for those who are not similarly blessed. Often, just being thought of can really assuage our pain. Sometimes it can’t, but it never hurts to remember people and at least try.

Remember people whose moms have died. Remember people who wanted to have children and don’t. Remember people who have fractured relationships with family members. Remember that some people have to work, and it sucks. Be the person who brings them a glass of water with an umbrella in it. It just might be enough, more than enough.


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