Don’t Pity Mom on Mother’s Day

I’m not a big fan of Mother’s Day.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of celebrating moms. And I enjoy receiving my family’s affection and appreciation in an extra-large dose. I’m not saying we should get rid of Mother’s Day.

My problem is with the ways we tend to celebrate, or more specifically our attitude toward the holiday, which calls attention to a cultural attitude I find annoying all year long. The basic premise is this: Moms are weak, pitiful, and perpetually just about to fall apart.

Poor moms, the story goes. We slave away all year, putting Band-Aids on everyone else’s knees and cleaning up after other people and keeping the stove warm and food on the table, and many of us hold down jobs at the same time. And sadly we do it all while wearing “mom jeans” and sweater vests, oblivious to the tides of fashion and every day slipping further from relevant and beautiful. It’s a good thing we have a day just for us, when we can take a long bath, receive some flowers, or eat some quiche to renew our strength for the next year. It’s also a good thing we’re simple-minded and easy to please and we don’t seem to notice that a cheap carnation, dyed a garish shade of orangey-pink, is a poor substitute for respect.

Every year around this time I’ll admit I roll my eyes at the hype over all that moms are able to accomplish. “Look at how much Mom would get paid if she worked as CEO of a Fortune 500 company, chef of a five-star restaurant, and proprieter of a Laundromat! That’s basically what she does every day! Now don’t you appreciate your poor mom, who just wants to be loved a little?”

Besides the obvious exaggeration–no one could actually do all these things, and sorry, but the work that moms do is not equivalent to filling all these roles–this kind of pandering reveals some very low expectations for moms and some assumptions about what matters to us. Apparently it’s surprising that a little old mom can manage to do so much.

By contrast, our messages to fathers are often laced with high expectations–do more, be there more, recognize how important you are. Now I realize that much of this is driven by the problem of a massive number of fathers who have fallen down on the job and who legitimately need to be challenged to step up. But we send these messages to all dads. The bottom line is, we assume even good fathers can do more and good mothers need to do less for their own sake.

But moms are not weak. Being a mother does not make you pitiful or pull all your stitches or sap all your strength. Moms are strong, smart, and capable of carrying all that we do.

Moms need partnerships with dads–but married or not, many moms don’t have that partnership, and they keep on doing what has to be done. That takes an awful lot of strength.

Motherhood might make you last week’s pork chops on the clearance rack in life’s meat market, but it will make you richer in love than you ever thought possible. And love is powerful.

Motherhood makes you tremendously vulnerable to a thousand new ways your heart can be broken. It takes a very gutsy woman to live with that level of emotional exposure.

Motherhood will deepen your emotional life and bring your wells of feeling much closer to the surface–but laughing and crying easily doesn’t mean you’re falling apart. It just might hold you together when others fall apart.

Motherhood might leave you with physical scars and permanent changes to your body–but it will build muscles you didn’t know you had.

Motherhood changes your values, and if you embrace that change, you’ll find that you don’t care much about the things that other people need to feel hip and significant.

Motherhood helps you appreciate the simplest things in life–but you’ll think more deeply about them than you did before. Far from simple-minded, you will reach a new level of complexity.

Motherhood might make you tired, but you’ll have access to new sources of energy.

Being a mom will transform your powers of observation–and your excitement over what you notice.

Being a mother changes our vision, opens a set of eyes we didn’t know we had.

When I was with my sister last fall, walking through a downtown area, suddenly she grabbed my arm and cried excitedly, “There’s a train!” I wasn’t all that excited to see the train, and she didn’t think I would be. She did this automatically because of her son’s passion for trains, even though she was with only me and her son was hundreds of miles away. Ever since he was little, she has been noticing trains and grabbing his arm because his passion has made her see the world a little differently. Her intense love for him adds another layer to what’s important in this world.

Being a mother has changed the way I feel about God–because it changed the way I imagine he sees me. If God sees me the way I see my kids–well, that is just really cool. I love being loved that way. Perhaps that was part of the reason he created us–to watch us enjoy what he had made, and to enjoy it twice as much because of his delight in our own delight.

Delighted is not the same as weak. God is not weak. And mothers are one powerful picture of God’s relationship to us.

This year can we celebrate moms by acknowledging their strength? Can we ask them to be more, not less?

2 Comments
  1. Travis says:

    Preach!

  2. Amber says:

    I appreciate your desire to empower women–I strive to empower my fellow woman too–and I appreciate your recognition of the strengths we mothers have, however, I fail to see how Mother’s Day, and the advertising they do for Mother’s Day, makes women look like weak simpletons who need to be coddled. Sure, we are often given horrible carnations, because they are considerably more affordable than roses, but when your child gives you that poorly dyed flower, they are usually doing it with joy. I know my three-year old doesn’t have a lot of money or the means to go out and buy me a dozen roses, so someone handing her a flower for free that she can then run to me with a huge smile on her face and love in her eyes is a big thrill for her! My daughter gives me dandelions with no fuzz, but she makes sure to pick the tallest ones, because to her, that means they are better than any of the other “flowers” in our lawn. She is so proud that she was able to give me a gift, and I love that!

    As for bubble baths and breakfast in bed, perhaps your spouse is very supportive and takes a much more equal approach to helping you with the children than others, but I remember last Mother’s Day, when I was so emotionally fried from having to head up a move overseas, purchase a vehicle, buy our first house, set the house up almost all by myself, research preschools, find my daughter some friends, etc etc, that I told my husband, “I don’t need gifts–I just want a day where I don’t have to do anything parenting related.” And I went to Starbucks, read for four hours, and then bought myself some new shoes. It was magnificent. Is every year that tedious and busy? Certainly not! But consistently, I work hard to create good meals from scratch for my family. I clip coupons and shop sales to maintain a budget that allows us to cut out the processed food, but still allows us to remain a one-income, enlisted military family, so that we can have a bit more control over the influences our daughter absorbs throughout the day. If I can have a day where I get to choose a restaurant, and my husband happily lets me order lobster, I’ll take it! If I can have a bubble bath that doesn’t include 50,000 questions about Mickey Mouse and Sofia the First, little hands on my breasts, and I can keep the water as warm as I want, I will take it!

    Sure, a lot of the things we do are mundane–washing the dishes, making dinner, doing the laundry, but mundane things without thanks become tedious. These mundane things that we strive to do every day take up most of our time and energy–I appreciate the world thanking me once a year for making sure the dishes don’t pile up all year round, ensuring the pets and children are healthy, making sure my child is clean and properly clothed when she goes out. I don’t want someone telling me, “You do a good job, but you could be more!” This is a day to celebrate the things I’ve already done, not a day to criticize the things I haven’t! Fact of the matter is that I DO feel a little frail this time of year. I don’t get a lot of help from my spouse usually, and we live far from our families. As someone who feels love when they receive gifts, however small, this holiday does a lot to recharge my batteries and make me feel appreciated, and set me up for the remainder of the year. I know plenty of other women who feel the same way, because most of the men I know don’t think about acknowledging the efforts of their wives until this day–not because they are negligent or mean, but because they just don’t THINK about it! Those hyperbolic comparisons to chefs and chauffeurs and CEO’s? Most people realize they are ridiculous comparisons, but it makes them feel a little bit better having their accomplishments and efforts laid out and acknowledged–it is much like a tiny person running up to you and saying, “You are the BEST mommy in the WHOLE WORLD!!!!” Is that accurate? Probably not, but it sure makes you feel validated! We question the decisions we make, and whether we do enough–afraid that if we don’t engage our children enough, someone will criticize our parenting credentials, possibly even take them away from us. It is nice to have a day where people just look at you–a mom–and say, “Good job for keeping those kids alive and fed! You have done your job, now take a break!”

© 2014 Amy Simpson.