Learning to Be Okay With (and Maybe Love) Mother’s Day

[ 23 ] Comments

by Cheryl

“I hate Mother’s Day.”

Mother Circa 1933

I did not say this, but I have heard it uttered (both online and in person) frequently throughout the years. And the list of LDS members who utter it is very, very long:

  • Married women who suffer from infertility
  • Single women
  • Single mothers
  • Women who birthed babies who were then adopted by others
  • Women whose mothers have died
  • Women whose mothers were abusive
  • Mothers who never feel they will ever add up to what has been dubbed as the perfect mother in many a Sacrament Meeting talk
  • Fathers who suffer from infertility and hate to see their wives feel pain
  • Single fathers
  • Men whose mothers have died
  • Men whose mothers were abusive
  • Fathers who see their wives suffering when they feel they will never add up to what has been dubbed as the perfect mother in many a Sacrament Meeting talk.

mother and child statueTheir reasons for disliking (or hating) the holiday of Mother’s Day can be justified. Just as a person who has lost love does not look forward to Valentine’s Day, it is logical that those finding themselves in what they would describe as a motherless situation would not look forward to a holiday that honors mothers.

I had a miscarriage right before Mother’s Day, once. I’ve heard the sermons preached about mothers who always got things right and felt my soul squirm because I had yelled at all the kids out the door that very morning. I have heard about the pain my friend experienced when (after 10 years of infertility and many miscarriages) her married/mothered friend was offended that my friend wasn’t happy about receiving the obligatory plant after Sacrament Meeting. I know how much my dear friend misses her mother who was taken early from all of them due to cancer. I’ve spoken with a friend who has felt the immense pain of realizing she will probably never be a mother (perhaps never married, either) in this life. The pain is not pretend. It is real. And palpable.

The innate desire to be mothers runs deep in our religion. In fact, if we were to take a long look at our theology, we would realize that motherhood and fatherhood are the highest goals we desire: eternal marriage, eternal families, eternal increase. The goal: to be Gods and Goddesses, Mothers/Fathers, Wives/Husbands for eternity. We are taught in the Proclamation, the scriptures, general Conference, and even in the temple that this is our goal. Is it any wonder, then, that when people do not reach that ideal (the goal) that they will feel pain?

So, what is our obligation when Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day) approaches and people feel pain (that turns to bitterness that turns to hatred…)?

The answer is to love them, but not to change what we’ve been taught in order to justify their pain.

Middle-aged Mormon man wrote a great post about this very subject recently. In his essay (which was written in response to those people who specifically hate Mother’s Day), he said:

How does this apply to Mother’s Day?

a) It is an opportunity to teach truth to the congregation. Full blast, unmodulated. Preach the profound glory that is Motherhood – even though not everyone wants to hear it.

b) It is also an opportunity to minister to the individual. If you are assigned to visit teach a sister who had been struggling for years to bear children, and has been unable … (p)erhaps this would be a good week to visit her and tell her “I know this is a hard time for you, but I want you to know that I love you, and God loves you. I look forward to seeing you Sunday.”

When it comes to preaching to a congregation, it is simply impossible to anticipate every single offense or prick of conscience. The duty of leaders in the Church are to teach the ideal. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin stated:

“…(W)e cannot apologize for the truth. We cannot deny doctrine given to us by the Lord Himself. On this principle we cannot compromise.” (General Conference, April 2008)

But he also said:

“I know that each of you bears a concern for a loved one. Give encouragement, service, and support to them. Love them. Be kind to them.”

So, what does this mean for those who hate Mother’s Day? I have only one simple suggestion: Honor and celebrate the good of motherhood, whatever that may mean for you. If you do not have children, please honor your own mother. If she has passed on, honor her memory. If she was a horrible person, you can at least be grateful she gave you life. If you are a mother, don’t assume you have to be a perfect mother (Who is?!) Be grateful your body gave you children. If you adopted, honor the mother who birthed your children, and realize what a blessing you are as a mother. And, if, in the worst case scenario, you hated your mother, you hate your children, or you hate everything about motherhood, at least try to honor your Heavenly Mother who gave your spirit life. Honor Eve, our first mother, who chose mortality. Honor Mary, the mother of our Savior, who personified sacrifice.weeping 2

And then remember that Jesus Christ will make all things right again. Remember that His Atonement covers everything, including the special, private, excruciating pain all mothers and those-who-desire-to-mother endure.

Mother’s Day doesn’t have to be filled with bitterness and hatred. It really can be a day of honoring the holy calling of motherhood, even amidst our own personal pain.

photo by: A.Davey

About Cheryl

Cheryl has been blogging for many years about --but not limited to --her children (there are six), her husband (there is one), her depression (not fun), her travels (very fun!), her religion (loves it), and anything else that strikes her fancy. Right now she's probably reading a book or changing a diaper, maybe at the same time...

23 Responses to Learning to Be Okay With (and Maybe Love) Mother’s Day

  1. Nice job Cheryl!

    I think there is a common thread in most people who hate Mother’s Day: Being Self-absorbed.

    When a holiday, or any other event comes around that is meant to draw attention to a bigger purpose, concept, or cause, but I can only see how it impacts MY own feelings, then I am not in a good place. It ain’t always about ME.

    • Ana says:

      Being in pain is pretty different from being self-absorbed. Your words are unduly sharp in my opinion.

      • Cheryl says:

        Ana, that’s true. But being in pain and being a jerk about it is different, too. I’m not saying people aren’t allowed to feel pain (obviously), but I think I get what MMM is saying –asking people to set aside doctrine (motherhood) and celebration (motherhood is good) as a community (or congregation or extended family) in order to placate personal suffering IS selfish. Just as I would hope I wouldn’t ask my Bishop to change an entire meeting around my experiences/pain, I would hope others wouldn’t assume the same (and/or become angry/bitter/justified to hate when it doesn’t happen, etc. etc.).

  2. Ramona Gordy says:

    This is a thought provoking post. I am a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS (6 years). I had never had a problem with Mothers Day, and I didn’t give it much thought except to remember my own mom and step-mom.
    No big deal, until I had to teach a mother’s day themed subject in RS. It was based on a talk that concerned mothers teaching their daughters about modesty. So I changed it a bit, and taught about the value of womanhood, whether with children or not. It was an emotional subject not just for me, but for just about every sister in that class. Not a dry eye, everyone had a story to share.

    I don’t have any children and most people assume 3 things, “since I work, I chose a career instead of a family; I married late, why didn’t you and your husband try fertility treatment or adopt. or lastly, What’s wrong with you/me, don’t you like kids?
    I started to get a complex, and I was almost persuaded that Heavenly Father would judge me harshly because I didn’t have kids ( and I reasoned that if he knew my heart, then He knew what my desires were).
    I stopped going to RS because I just couldn’t be around the Fertility Sisters as I called them, and worse the grandmothers. I decided to explore the option of developing a “mother heart”, which seemed an alien concept to me. I was called to Primary.
    The “mother heart” is still in development, but what I have been taught is about “who I am” in the kingdom of God. How is my identity linked to motherhood when I am childless? I am learning that there is no shame in not being able to bear children, it’s not my fault. No guilt, no heartache for something that was decided for me before I was born.

    Now moving on, Mother’s day in our ward is really sensitive and sweet, because everyone is honored and that’s what I can take away from Mother’s day. I am glad there is a day for Mom’s, I remember all of the kooky home made gifts I made for my mom and I am sure she loved them all. My mom has since passed away, but I am thankful for her.

    • Becca says:

      I love your comment about a “mother heart” – I wrote a Mothers Day letter to all the women in my life when I was in junior high school, and I wish I still had it. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I remember talking about how you don’t have to actually be my biological mother for me to honor you for mothers day, and how I have had so many “mothers” in my life, and I appreciate each one, and I feel as if they were mothers to me. I sent the letter to my aunts, my school teachers, my church teachers, every woman who had mothered me – and there have been many.

      And I think that is the essence of mother hood – a mother heart. Motherhood is not just about physically birthing children. It’s about much much much more than that. When we realize what motherhood really means (not just those who have pain – but also those who don’t understand the pain of others) I think we will unleash great power in ourselves as women.

      For me, being a woman means being a mother – which is so much more than we think it is.

  3. Chris B says:

    I understand those who feel pain and have felt some of those very specifics pains outlined in the talk. MAMM is right, it is our personal responsibility to find a way not to be so bogged down in our own pain that we drag down others. We may not be the ideal, but we can be pleased that we are striving and are better today than we were last week. Of all things, the Gospel should be about hope.

  4. Cliff M says:

    Thank you for the article. I used to hate the way Mother’s Day was celebrated by the church. But for a strange reason.

    For years I would go and hear the talks about mothers and how they were great. I would hear about their child-rearing superpowers. I would see the candy passed out. All of this was deserved since it was true and mothers should be praised. So why did I hate Mother’s Day? Two words, Father’s Day.

    Father’s Day would come around and all I would hear about is my duty and how we don’t measure up. Then it was time to pass out the candy that was left over from Mother’s Day (sometimes there wasn’t enough for everyone).

    Then I let it go. I realized that my feelings for one celebration shouldn’t affect how I felt about the other.

    • Cheryl says:

      Cliff M, thank you for pointing out that Father’s Day does not get the attention it really deserves. And although I know your comment is more about how not to be offended in light of that reality, you’ve given me something to think about. Perhaps I’ll be writing a Father’s Day post about this??

    • Liz C says:

      I’ve had similar feelings around Father’s Day. I have some great men in my life, and they need celebrating, too!

      Perhaps, though, in church we ought to be focused on the gospel roles, not the party? I really miss it when we have multiple Sunday meetings go by without much mention of Christ.

      • Cheryl says:

        Liz, it’s funny you mention that because next week on Mother’s Day our Sacrament Meeting will have a hymn (“Lord, I Would Follow Thee”) sung by the choir (a simple arrangement), a sister missionary speaking (who is leaving this week) and the topic is on following prophets. At first I was kind of bothered that it wasn’t more Mother-centered, but during choir rehearsal on Sunday I realized that they were celebrating mothers –just not obviously. And we’re going to be singing about how to be like Christ (serving others) and what is the definition of Mother if not someone who serves?

      • Brittany says:

        Liz C, I am speaking in sacrament meeting in my ward next week and I will be talking about Christ in my talk. I’m basically talking about how motherhood is challenging, but we are not alone. My husband is also speaking, when I was telling him how I would have really liked to also talk about how all women can be mothers, but I would not have time to include it, he said he had been thinking about talking about that :)

  5. Liz C says:

    Very lovely!

    I’m reminded that all women have mothering work to do, whether or not they raise children on earth. We can mother our sisters, mother missionaries, mother and minister to orphans around the world and in our own towns, mother in hospitals and hospices… there is no end to situations where a mother’s heart can be a blessing.

    And, looking at our spiritual mothers, there is so much to celebrate and rejoice in!

    This piece reminds me to be loving to the mother-hearts in my acquaintance who are struggling right now… thank you!

  6. Sundy DeGooyer says:

    Amen! I’ve always loved Mother’s Day… even though I have also suffered through infertility. I’m grateful to be able to mentor and “mother” what children I can! :-)

  7. Tudie Rose says:

    I think you could add to that list mothers who tried their best and believe they were good mothers, raised all her children to be wonderful adults who all went on missions and who are all temple worthy — but some of her children view her with contempt and blame everything bad in their lives on her. I value motherhood so much that I stayed home the first 17 years of my marriage to raise my children, then worked another 18 years to get out of debt from the first 17 years, only to have to listen to my kids talk about who will “have to take” Mom when she’s old. I’m passing on Mother’s Day “celebrations” this year. My husband and I are going to disappear for the day and value womanhood in our own private way.

  8. Shauna says:

    Sheri Dew, a single, childless woman with whom most of us are familiar, have an excellent talk in October 2001 General Conference on how motherhood is not synonomous with maternity (child bearing/rearing). You can find it at: http://www.lds.org/ensign/2001/11/are-we-not-all-mothers?lang=eng. I wish we all understood this concept as women in RS.

  9. SilverRain says:

    I have two minds about this. On one hand, I see the value of honoring the sacrificing and Christlike attributes of all women in my life on Mother’s Day. On the other hand, I see how expanding the definition of motherhood to include any sacrifice and service by a woman dilutes the meaning of actual motherhood.

    On Valentines Day, I don’t expect everyone I care about to give me a Valentine. I don’t resent it that I happen to be single, and probably always will be. I don’t wallow in the pain that brings, nor expect everyone else to make me feel better about that reality of life.

    It was the same for Mother’s Day before I had children of my own to raise. I never accepted the little mother’s gift. (Of course, I try to dodge it even now, but usually end up accepting for my children’s sake.)

    “Motherhood” without children is not the same thing the holiday was made to celebrate. And while I understand while some people may want to expand the meaning, it just feels a little condescending to me. “Don’t worry, you’re a mother, too! Poor dear.”

  10. Paul says:

    I also enjoyed MMM’s original post. THis line is important: “Preach the profound glory that is Motherhood.” I think where we stray is when we preach Perfect Motherhood. First, it does not exist. Second, because it does not exist, it is depressing.

    SR, as much as I value your point of view on so many things, I do not understand how recognizing the mother-like contributions of others somehow devalues motherhood. It is not as if it is a zero-sum game.

    I lived in one ward in which the bishop had his wife speak every Mothers Day. She regularly began her talk with, “I hate Mother’s Day.” (We all loved her straight talk, and we wondered how he stayed married those years he served as bishop.)

  11. SilverRain says:

    When I was afraid I’d never be able to have kids, it was far more painful to me to be condescended to and told I was still a “mother,” even though I wasn’t a mother. It came across like, “your value as a woman is tied up in your motherhood, so since you don’t have children, we’ll play word games with the meaning until you can feel like you have value, too.”

    Again, I can see how it might work for some women, but it didn’t for me. It still leaves a bit of sour taste on my mouth, though I don’t get all angsty about Mother’s Day. Hence the two minds about it.

    What is different about this so-called general “motherhood” that is different from plain Christlike qualities that should be found in both genders? Until that can be answered concretely, I would prefer personally that the word “motherhood” be reserved for women who are actually raising children.

    No amount of mentoring and nurture from a third party can be quite the same as waking up in the middle of the might to find they have a fever, losing sleep for nights on end, scrubbing stains out of poles of laundry every week, making sure they get their homework done, have a healthy packed lunch, or any if the myriad invisibly thankless but vital tasks that mothers who take their job seriously work so hard to accomplish.

    Just like Father’s Day celebrates the many background sacrifices of self and life that fathers make for their children.

    It’s not that I feel that those who truly do third-party “mother” and “father” don’t deserve recognition, just that such recognition should stem from the individual hearts of those children so blessed, and not involve a wholesale redefinition if the terms in order to avoid resurrecting pain.

  12. SilverRain says:

    *piles of laundry…autocorrect messed with a few of those words. Blech.

  13. Brittany says:

    SR, I see what you are saying. I’m currious as to whether you have an explanation for Eve being called “the Mother of all Living” in the garden of Eden when she wasn’t physically a mother yet, and if I understand correctly, was not capable of conceiving in the state she existed in before the fall. That is something that is often mentioned with discussion of the broader definition of motherhood.

  14. SilverRain says:

    Because God is omniscient. It COULD mean what has become a popular definition, but it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that. It could simply mean that Eve covenanted pre-mortally to be just that, the mother of all living covenant people, that God knew she would be, or a host of other things.

    Either way, I’m not saying that people who feel comforted from approaching the doctrine that way are invalid, just that it has the opposite effect for me. It waters down the reason I celebrate Mother’s Day: to honor the actual, real, largely invisible deeds of actual in-the-trenches mothers which are not otherwise honored. Not to honor a half-formed and nebulous idea of part-time nurturing, nor to honor someone just for being born a woman. Those things aren’t bad, but they aren’t the reason for Mother’s Day, either.

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