Mother’s Day isn’t about you

I’m glad Avily gave us a feel-good Mother’s Day post yesterday. It balances what I’m about to do to you.

I see a lot of complaints on Facebook and elsewhere about Mother’s Day. Here’s the thing. Mother’s Day was never meant to be happy joy celebrating your own motherhood. It’s about honoring the one who gave you birth. So let’s look at some of the usual self-centered beefs:

I’m not a mom — or — I’m not able to have children

Having faced infertility myself, I understand the heartbreak of feeling that everyone is celebrating a thing you’re still waiting for. Or that you may never have. But it’s not about your motherhood or lack thereof. It’s about your mother.

Anna Jarvis, who had no children of her own, conceived of Mother’s Day as an occasion for honoring the sacrifices individual mothers made for their children.—Sarah Pruitt

I had a miscarriage — or — my child died

This sorrow I cannot imagine. And Mother’s Day must surely make it worse. But as real as your grief is, this day still is not about your children. It’s about your mother.

I never knew my mother

Yet you are here, so she must exist. If you don’t know your birth mother, who raised you? Even if the woman who raised you wasn’t biologically or legally your mother, this day is still about her.

white carnation by cynthiab-500My mother was abusive

I’ll grant you, this is a tough one. Maybe you’ve had to cut her off because the relationship turned toxic. It’s still a day for her. She’s still the one who brought you into the world, and you can be grateful for that and honor it without taking her to brunch.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.—Exodus 20:12

My mom is dead

I saved this one for last because it gets to the real heart of what Mother’s Day is for.

Just as our culture has mistakenly co-opted Memorial Day for white sales and barbecues, we have co-opted Mother’s Day for expensive gifts and lavish brunches.

Memorial Day is supposed to be for remembering our honored dead who fell in battle. Mother’s Day is supposed to be for honoring our mothers, whether they are living or dead.

Anna Jarvis created the Mother’s Day holiday after her mother had died. Her intent was to create a day for remembering and reflecting upon what our mothers have done for us, not a day for spending a lot of money on gifts for our mothers. The commercialization of the day troubled her even more than the commercialization of Christmas bothers most of us.

Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as an intimate occasion—a son or daughter honoring the mother they knew and loved—and not a celebration of all mothers.—Sarah Pruitt

I can’t pretend the day isn’t painful for some of us. But instead of trying to avoid our pain or complaining about it, what if we leaned into it? What if we took it God in prayer? We’re often told that God uses our painful experiences to teach us something, and in my experience, that something has usually been about serving other people.

What if we offered prayers of gratitude for the mothers we did have, even if they were toxic or have passed on?

And if your mother isn’t toxic and hasn’t passed on? Call her. She misses you.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

8 comments on “Mother’s Day isn’t about you

  1. Thanks for these thoughts, Kristen. As one who fits in the last category (one whose mother has passed on) I can certainly take some time to talk about the ways my own mother is worthy of honor.

    Mothers Day would be much improved for so many women if it became about giving honor and not about whether we ourselves feel honored.

  2. Thanks, Kristen, for the reminder to honor our moms. I miss mine. Our early relationship had serious flaws. Yet, I still smile at her latter years’ behavior. She adored her granddaughters and they enjoyed ice cream sundae dates with her. I cherish how she turned impish and thoughtful, a result of dementia erasing the memories that had plagued her life enjoyment. What a gift God gave me in her last years. Glad to be reminded it isn’t all about me! Nevertheless, I do hope my daughters call! 😉

  3. Great thoughts! I guess I still think like a kid, because when people tell me Happy Mother’s Day…I get confused for a minute before I think..Oh yeah! I’m a mom, too.

  4. THANK YOU for this. It baffles me every year when I see all over Facebook… mothers posing with their children and saying “happy mother’s day to me.. sooo thankful for these kids and that they call me mama” etc. It isn’t “Children’s Day”. (I know I sound like a big meanie for saying this). I also have lots of people wishing me “happy mother’s day”. And I want to say “thanks…. but I’m not your mother.” 🙂 Along the same lines, husbands publicly wishing their wife a happy mother’s day, and lavishing her with gifts and pampering. (Maybe that is a little more acceptable since she is the mother of his children, but still, it’s not Wife’s Day). If the kiddos are young, sometimes dads give a gift on behalf of them, which seems fine. Hopefully as my kids get older they will want to do something for me, but it’s not about ME! Mother’s Day, … singular possessive, which makes it about A mother… my mother. Not my kids, and not every mom in general, and especially not a day for all WOMEN everywhere (which I have seen it turning into lately). I’m glad you addressed that although infertility is heartbreaking, Mother’s Day is not a “knock” against those women. I see those posts circulating too .. (How to survive Mother’s Day when you’re not a Mother, etc). I have even heard of women staying home from church so they don’t have to endure the Mother’s Day message from the pulpit. Can we just go back to the original intent and think about/honor/respect our mothers? I guess I would just seem like a stick in the mud and most people would reply “We can celebrate it however we want”. (sigh)

    Recently Ryan Reeves at The Gospel Coalition wrote something similar: “Today Mother’s Day is celebrated around the world. Churches will hold brunches, thank the mothers of the church, and hold all sorts of ceremonies in honor of the women in their church. Of course, not a few people have urged caution about celebrating only the women in the church who have children, neglecting those unable to have kids or who are unmarried. Much of this tension comes from the modern context of Mother’s Day. Today Mother’s Day is a corporate thanking of mothers, while in bygone centuries it was simply a time for people to celebrate their mothers (which should not happen only once a year!). It is the public nature of Mother’s Day that gives rise to the problem of exclusion. No one will fault a daughter for loving her mother or a son for giving a gift to mom.”

    • Thanks, Evie! I’m glad this was meaningful to you. That Reeves quote hits right at the heart of it. If we kept the recognition of our mothers private, it wouldn’t give others the feeling of exclusion.

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