The Pitfalls of Mother’s Day

As I lay in bed snuggling my daughter tonight, I started thinking about people I know for whom tomorrow is going to be difficult – the mother whose daughter was just diagnosed with cancer.  The husband and two daughters whose wife/mother died suddenly earlier this year.  The friend whose relationship with his mother is strained because of deep-held and widely different understandings of what sin is.  The mother of a preschooler and an infant who posted one of those things on Facebook this week about the utter frustration about not being able to get it all done.  The mother who was first to find her daughter’s body.  The woman whose daughter has made bad choice after bad choice, who was treated savagely this last month.

But then there’s the first-time mom, a woman I knew in her twenties, who glows in every picture she posts.

Flowers, chocolates, and sweet cards can’t make up for all the fraught-ness of Mother’s Day.  I dread Mother’s Day in church, knowing that for some it’s right up there with Easter and Christmas and for others it’s a day to avoid the worship and sweetness and light.  Before I met my husband, when my own hope to become a mother was slipping away, silently and ashamedly, I was leading prayers one Mother’s Day.  At the first service, a well-intentioned person asked prayers for all those women who had hoped to become mothers who never did.  I felt as though he had shined a klieg light on all that I was trying to suppress that day.  I made it through that service, and then collapsed. My good colleagues covered for me, but it was excruciating and humiliating.

Why all the fraughtness? Why is Mother’s Day the be-all-end-all for some and the nadir of existence for others?  Does Father’s Day carry the same peculiar heft?  Maybe it goes way back to a time when a woman’s worth was measured by her ability to bear children, especially those of the male variety.  Maybe it has to do with the different emotionality of women (which, I suspect, isn’t really all that different from the emotionality of men.)

But maybe in the end it’s because Mother’s Day is really about life, but pinpointed and concentrated.  Mother’s Day reminds us of how we’ve been loved in this life.  Mother’s Day reminds us of hopes fulfilled and crushed.  Mother’s Day magnifies the grief and the joy, the disappointment and the exhaustion.

This morning my daughter and I painted the door to our garage.  I really wanted to do it by myself, so I could get it right; she really wanted to do it with me, because she loves me and loves to be with me.  Seven years into this mother-thing, I have figured that part out.  It’s not about being perfect; it’s not about the flowers and chocolate and matching apron and oven mitts that I know are waiting for me tomorrow.

It is about the moments, the little moments of squirting paint, and getting out splinters, and shouting and making up.  The grief and the disappointment and the frustration lurk around the corner.  But we got our door painted today, on Saturday, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ve already had a great Mother’s Day.

So raise a glass or a mug tomorrow to someone you love – someone who’s here, or someone who’s gone; someone who is your mom or someone who is your hero; someone who’s load is unbearable, or someone who radiates joy in every fiber of his being.  Raise a glass to the good, however it comes, and whoever it looks like for you.photo

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5 thoughts on “The Pitfalls of Mother’s Day

  1. What you offer is somewhat the same for us fathers…..I’m still learning what that means as an old geezer and being a grandfather… those moments when we “touch” each other bring the deepest of all times of incredible gratitude which is really another name for grace. As the Aussies say, “Good on ya, mate.. you’ve done right!”…. and did you clean up the paint brushes?

  2. Beth–I always struggle to find a Mother’s Day card for my mother–who wasn’t exactly the most affirming mom in the world. Most cards are so saccharine and trite and totally not apt for my mother, who in all honesty, was doing the best she could as a single mother with three children to raise. One Mother’s Day–when I was a year or two older than your darling daughter–my mother “let” me help her put fish oil on her rose garden. What a smelly job that was! But it remains my most cherished memory of Mother’s Day because my mother made me feel that my help was valued and appreciated. I am sure that this day will live on in your daughter’s heart. What a gift to her! And the door is just delightful!

  3. Even after I became a mother I never gave much thought to Mother’s Day until one Sunday, just a few years ago, the pastor at church we were visiting asked all the mothers to come up front. As we stood there he proudly presented each of us all with a flower. One lone woman remained in the pews of this country church. At that moment I was not proud to be a mother I was ashamed. Ashamed for this pastor and ashamed that I had not stayed in my pew. Since then I have been grateful to all the women who grace my children’s lives. You teach them things their mother never will.

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