Mother’s Day blah blah *##%&$##!!!…
…for a long time this was my reaction to Mother’s Day. I dreaded it – all the seemingly self-congratulating smugness of it. I would write my cards to my mother and a great aunt and reflect on the fact that I felt unworthy, excluded from an exclusive club and that I would never receive a mother’s day card. In principle I have no objection to Mother’s Day and my rational head says that it’s wonderful to celebrate such an amazing thing as motherhood. But for those of us who are not mothers and who wanted to be, Mother’s Day can constitute a painful underlining of our sense of loss. Whilst time, thought and a great deal of working through my grief has taken away that intense, unbearable sting of Mother’s Day, I still find navigating the build up to the day and the day itself a bit of a challenge.
But maybe there’s a way for those of us who haven’t actually borne children to claim a place in the day, to find something for ourselves in the spirit and sense of what the day should be about.
Reach out and grab your space
A couple of years ago I went for a family meal in a restaurant on Mother’s Day. Even though I’d come a long way over the previous years, emerging from those awful days of searing grief, walking into that restaurant and seeing the tables full of families took a huge amount of emotional resilience. I’d decided to embrace the day, to be thankful for my mother’s love and to celebrate the way my sister-in-law is a beautiful mother to my nieces. That felt good. It helped me to free myself from that net of sad introspection.
But what threw me off course was a seemingly innocuous moment when the waiter arrived at our table with a handful of roses and asked ‘So who are the mothers?’ The thought that only mothers deserved a flower hit me somewhere between my gut and my heart. Of course, the waiter could not have known the effect his question would have had on me and how it struck me at my core.
In one moment I felt thwarted and ‘unworthy’. But in the next I felt a heat rising from my gut to my face. I stuck out my hand and grabbed a flower. My head filled with words I wanted to shout. I wanted to stand on the table, hold my flower above my head, claim my place amongst all the mothers in the room and, a bit like in that famous scene in Spartacus, shout, “I am a mother!” In my fantasy, every other childless woman in the room would stand up and join in the cry and, in one glorious moment of defiance, cut through society’s assumptions and ignorance about childless people.
Avoiding vs Embracing
When it comes to surviving Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day for men), it seems to me, we have several options depending on how resilient or vulnerable we are feeling. We could choose to ignore it, stay at home, treat ourselves to a pyjama day. We could escape to another country where it isn’t Mother’s Day – perhaps an expensive tactic! We could avoid it by taking a long walk where there are no posters or adverts shouting at you to ‘book your Mother’s Day lunch here’. Or we could, with a mixture of love, thankfulness and defiance, grab that rose and claim our place in the day. After all, the alternative name for Mother’s Day is Mothering Sunday. Mothering is an act not exclusively reserved for mothers; we can mother and be mothers even though we have not borne children.
The grief of childlessness does not necessarily have to turn us into one-dimensional creatures; our situation is nuanced, layered and complex. We don’t have to be EITHER sad OR happy; embracing OR angry; we can be all these things. We can stand up and say, ‘I’m not running away because I can both give and receive the nurturing, mothering kind of love that is celebrated on Mother’s Day’.
This year I’ve decided to immerse myself in the spirit of thankfulness that Mother’s Day represents. I’m going to send messages – either verbal or written, on paper, by text or even Instagram – to all those women whom I’ve felt have nurtured me. They include family members, friends, colleagues and a few people who, in the course of their job, have shown great care.
Rant, rap, write
I am also going to write my own ‘Mother’s Day Reclamation Charter’. It might be a rant or a rap. It could be bullet points. It might be a sonnet. I don’t know yet. But it will be bold and defiant and glorious.
Of course, if this year you feel like escaping to some warmer clime where Mother’s Day won’t have happened then that is the right thing for you. Equally, if you feel unable to embrace anything of the day then you must be true to yourself. But know that sometime in the future there can be a time, if you want it, when you can say that Mother’s Day is for you too.