There have been 18 Mother’s Days since I accepted I would be childless and it amazes me how the day – and the hype leading up to it – still manages to stir some very painful feelings and emotions. For sure, my level of anger has reduced over these nearly two decades and I no longer shout at my computer at the receipt of yet another email announcing another great deal for Mother’s Day. (This year even my bank has got in on the act – although they are offering me a free bottle of wine so I do feel rather positive about that!)
It seems that over the years I’ve settled into a more comfortable emotional ‘nest’ about the whole Mother’s Day thing – accepting that I will still be triggered by my grief whilst finding ways to assert my place in the world – even though that place is one that does not include my own children. To get to this place I have tried many strategies from straightforward avoidance and rejection to lukewarm acceptance to a wholehearted embracing. The one strategy that seems to have worked best for me has been to accept the existence of Mother’s Day and focus on the ‘mothering’ aspect of the day rather than the ‘motherhood’ angle. For me this has meant that I don’t feel that I’m being dragged along by ‘undertow’ of emotional fallout the day can produce but that I’m finding a tide and a flow of engaging with Mother’s Day that suits me.
Just as a woman who has had children is more than a mother, a woman who has no children is much more than her childlessness. So often the grief of childlessness can be so all-encompassing we can forget the facets of our life, talents and personalities that make a positive impact upon the world. Sadly, it is a truth that the whole concept of motherhood is deified in society as though it is the one true form of love and nurturing. This notion is, to use an old-fashioned phrase – total poppycock. A quick internet search will reveal many childless women in the present day and in history who have touched, helped, saved, healed, loved and nurtured other humans. In many families there is a childless woman or women who, with love, time and effort, are helping to ‘bring up’ the next generation. Every day, in every corner of the world, childless women are mothering.
Interesting fact: the two women who were instrumental in ‘inventing’ and promoting a day for mothers in the USA were themselves childless. In the late 1800s Julia Ward Howe, a poet and women’s suffragist from Boston established a day for women in response to the horrors of the Franco-Prussian war. Anna Jarvis then took up the baton in 1905, campaigning for a mothers’ day to memorialise the work her mother undertook to improve the working conditions of women. Therefore, Mother’s Day is built on the pillars of pacifism, suffrage and a desire to make the world a better place both for men and women.
When I drill down to the seed of my sadness and anger at the notion of Mother’s Day I find it has been buried in the soil of isolation and ‘otherness’. In its popular, romanticised form, Mother’s Day can seem to exclude those of us without children of our own and this has a profound effect on our sense of worth and how we see ourselves within our on community and wider society. But… but…
…but it doesn’t have to be like that.
“Squarely confronting, engaging, and grappling with the negative, as well as the positive, may facilitate the process of ‘working through’ and possibly resolving or even transcending a major life stressor” Steven Southwick & Glenn Greenberg, Resilience
For some years now I have reclaimed Mother’s Day. I send cards to those women – both with children or who are childless – who have made a difference in my life. Last year, for example, I sent a card to my GP who has shown me outstanding empathy. My cards are not the ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ ones but ones in which I say that I’m taking advantage of the spirit of the day to tell the recipient how they have made a difference in my life.
What I have come to realise is that all the strategies I have used in the years I’ve been navigating the grief of childlessness have contributed to my sense of resilience. And learning to cope with Mother’s Day has been a bit of an emotional lodestone for me. By facing up to its existence, acknowledging the sadness it can provoke whilst at the same time as embracing the potential positives the day can represent, I have made my peace with it.
It may be too soon for you to embrace the whole Mother’s Day thing and that is absolutely fine. You have to cope with it as you can. But maybe you are ready to make a move towards asserting your place and unique presence in the day.
And that free bottle of wine offered by my bank? Nowhere on the email did it say that I had to be a mother of children to claim it and I’ll be taking up the offer unashamedly!
“Mother’s Day has endured. It serves now, as it originally did, to recognize the contributions of women. Mother’s Day, like the job of “mothering,” is varied and diverse. Perhaps that’s only appropriate for a day honoring the multiple ways women find to nurture their families, and the ways in which so many have nurtured their communities, their countries, and the larger world.”National Women’s History Alliance