As I get older, I find that this holiday is ….. a complicated one.
When I was a kid, Mother’s Day was easy. I had a wonderful Mother who cared for me deeply and each year on this day, I would celebrate her. It was fun and made me feel good to honor her and to have her in my life. Then when I met my husband in college, I gained a second Mother, who I have had the pleasure of knowing and loving for the past 26 years. After three years of infertility following our marriage, I gave birth to our first-born daughter on March 8. But she was born with a severe heart defect and died at the age of 24 days old. That first Mother’s day where I was finally a Mother was anything but celebratory. In fact, it was downright awful. That afternoon, my husband and I ran into a neighbor who we didn’t know out on a walk. He wished me a happy Mother’s Day and asked me if we had any kids. It was all I could do not to burst into tears right there in front of this stranger. My own Mom died 13 years ago and I miss still being able to celebrate her on this holiday.
When my dad was a young father, he had to be Mother and Father to my two brothers until my Mom came into his life. I’m sure Mother’s Day was complicated back then for him, too. I have friends who are struggling single Mothers, friends who have never been blessed with children no matter how much they have tried, and this year I have a friend whose own daughter is living the same fate I did all those years ago – trying to survive her first Mother’s Day as a Mother after giving birth to stillborn twin boys just a few weeks ago.
Mother’s Day has surprisingly dark roots – it was never meant to be the commercial engine that it has become – it was originally observed (as explained in this National Geographic article by Brian Handwerk) by Anna Jarvis in memory of her own mother after her death, and was intended by her to be for each person to quietly and intimately honor their own mother. She continued to fight her entire life to curtail the commercialism that surrounds this holiday, and she ended up dying penniless and alone, suffering from dementia in an asylum.
And what about those people who have complicated or downright unhealthy relationships with their own Mothers? What are they to do on this day? For these and other reasons, I would encourage each of you commemorate this day in the way that feels best for you by honoring who it is you feel called to honor, whether that is yourself, your own Mother, or someone who Mothered you in your life. It is a day to slow down and celebrate those who have cared for and loved you, whether they gave birth to you or not. And if you have not given birth but have Mothered anything from plants to animals to people, celebrate yourself, for all that you have done helps to make this world a better place.
As for me, on this Mother’s Day I will remember my own wonderful Mom while I try to deeply enjoy this day with my husband and three kids and then watch as my husband and teenage son lovingly make dinner for me and my mother-in-law. We never know what tomorrow holds – all we have is the present moment. On this day of this year, life is really good for me and for that, I am thankful.