Some ideas are sold so effortlessly that we buy into them without blinking an eye. Is Mother’s Day one such idea? Anne Thériault, who blogs at The Bell Jar, questions if patriarchy has inspired this day that celebrates women for sacrificing their personal happiness for that of their children. In a sense, do we smother our mothers with work and then smother them with love hoping that will make up for it ? Thériault is a mother herself, and this is her take on Mother’s day. But before we get into it, take a look at this picture: popular ideas really can make you blind to oppression.
I’m gonna be totally honest here: Mother’s Day makes me feel weird.
I think that part of it is that I have an automatic distrust of anything that’s gender-specific. Like, why is it Mother’s Day? Why not just Caregiver’s Day? Or Excellent Parental Unit Day? Or, as a friend of mine mentioned on Facebook, Gender-Diverse Parents’ Day? I mean, I get that it’s supposed to be about howhard mothers work, and how under-appreciated they are, but something about this sentiment seems … off to me. We spend most of the year crapping on moms, picking apart their parenting choices and publicly lambasting mothers that we disagree with, but suddenly we’re supposed to spend a day talking about how great they are? It sort of reminds me of the way that a good friend spoke about her ex – he was great at the big things (like buying her lavish gifts and taking her on fancy vacations), but not so much with the little day-to-day stuff. And really, it’s that day-to-day stuff that keeps the world turning, you know?
I guess that part of my ambivalence comes from the fact that Mother’s Day was never a big deal when I was growing up. We would make cards for my mother, and maybe bake her a cake or something, but it never went much beyond that. I mentioned once or twice that I might make my mother breakfast in bed, but she always vetoed that idea, saying that she would be the one left to clean up my mess (which was, to be fair, probably true). Even when my dad still lived at home, we never went out for brunch or anything fancy like that. I think I remember really wanting to make it a special day for her, because school and television and books made me feel like that that’s what I should be doing, but not being entirely certain of how to about that. I realize now that the best gift I could’ve given her would have been a kid-free afternoon or more help with household chores, but those things didn’t occur to me at the time. I wanted to either go big or go home (and I had no way of knowing just how “big” a few childless hours would have seemed to a single mother).
I guess that what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t really understand how HUGE Mother’s Day is for some people until I became a mother myself. Then, all of the sudden, people wanted to know what I was doing for Mother’s Day – they seemed especially interested in what, exactly, my husband was going to buy me. As my first Mother’s Day approached, I heard more and more about all the gifts I should be expecting. What do you think you’ll get for Mother’s Day? people kept asking, as if I had submitted a list of desired items months ago and had only to use my mad deductive skills to figure out which one my husband would pick. When I told them that we would likely go out for a nice family brunch and then go to the park, they seemed disappointed, as if I was somehow missing the whole point of the holiday.
The whole “Mother’s Day is too commercialized” thing has basically been done to death, but you guys? It’s pretty much true. It’s now more about picking out the perfect jewellery or the cutest card or the fanciest chocolates than it is about honouring the hard work your mother does. And to get back to that weird gender thing, why are we so obsessed with honouring how hard our mothers work? Or rather, why are we only interested in thinking about it only once a year, and why is our solution to throw sparkly things and candy at it, and then ignore the issue for the next 364 days?
I can’t help but notice the differences between how Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are marketed. Mother’s Day is all about honouring the sacrifices your mother made for you, showering her with pretty, mostly useless things as a sort of payback for all that she “gave up” in order to raise you. Father’s Day, on the other hand, seems to be about high-fiving your dad for being such an awesome friend, and maybe thanking him for somehow, occasionally having had a hand in how you turned out. Even these lists of suggested Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts are pretty telling – a whole lot of stuff to make Mom look and smell pretty (with a few gardening items thrown in), and then a bunch of fun, boozy, outdoor-adventure stuff for Dad. I mean, I’ll be honest – I would way rather read a book on my Kobo while sipping a glass of nice scotch than put on a stupid scarf and spritz myself with floral-scented chemicals. Not unexpectedly, all of the gifts for mothers are about her appearance, whereas all of the gifts for fathers are about going out and having a good time.
I guess that, at the end of the day, what really bothers me about Mother’s Day is this idea that sacrifice is somehow inherent in the idea of being a mother. And also that there’s something sacred about getting knocked up and then giving birth, as if that raises you on a pedestal above all other women. I feel particularly irritated by this image from Indigo’s website:
Because, you know, everyone doesn’t have the best mom in the world. The ability to be sperminated and pop out a kid doesn’t really mean anything; I definitely know enough people with awful mothers who pretty firmly disprove that rule.
Instead of celebrating how much women have to give up in order to have children, why don’t we look at ways that we can even the playing field? Instead of insisting that mothers have to be the nurturing caregivers, how about finding ways to help promote these behaviours in fathers? And instead of having Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, why not just a day that celebrates all of the people who help make our kids the way they are? Why not have a day that acknowledges the fact that some people owe more thanks to their aunts, uncles and grandparents than they do to their mothers or fathers?
But if we have to have a Mother’s Day, I would much rather celebrate Julia Ward Howe’s proposed Mother’s Day for Peace. I would rather honour the sentiments put forth in her Mother’s Day Proclamation than receive a bunch of flowers that will be dead in a week. Because you know what? This is a Mother’s Day that I can really get behind:
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace, Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, But of God.
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask That a general congress of women without limit of nationality May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient And at the earliest period consistent with its objects, To promote the alliance of the different nationalities, The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.
—Julia Ward Howe
To those of you who celebrate Mother’s Day, I hope that you have a wonderful day. To those of you for whom this day is painful, I hope that it passes quickly and peacefully for you. And if you’re someone looking to give a mother that you know a really amazing gift, consider finding a way of giving her some time to herself. I promise you that she’ll love that more than almost anything else.
And finally, to the amazing kid who came along two years ago and made me a mother: thank you. The same goes for Matt, who does more than his fair share of co-parenting. I’m super lucky to have these two dudes in my life. It’s been a hell of a ride, but I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anyone else.