In Defense of Mother’s Day

Wife, mother, writer, sister, friend, Ruth Mitchell lives in the golden San Diego hills, plans the best parties and tells fantastic bedtime stories.

Mother’s day dawns and the women are grumbling. Most of the women I know don’t particularly like Mother’s Day. Growing up my mom hated Mother’s Day. She would sit in church and hear sermons in which old men talk about their dead saintly mothers who inevitably never raised their voice. And then on the drive home from church my mom would remind us that the only thing she wanted for Mother’s Day was for us kids to get along which was asking way too much. We’d quarrel more than ever and my mom would raise her voice, leaving her feeling even more guilty than she did in church. My mother-in-law cried most Mother’s Day’s because her mom was dead.

I too have had Mother’s days where I’ve wondered about the holiday. I remember as a young mom trying to host my mom or mother-in-law for Mother’s day and at the end of day feeling frazzled and not too appreciated. There’s a long list of other reasons women might not like holiday: she is not a mom and wants to be one, she is a mom and does not want to be one, her kids are failures and she blames herself, her children are successes and have moved far away, she doesn’t get a long with her mom, she adores her mom but her mom is dead or living far away, no one appreciates her. But probably the biggest reason women don’t like mother’s day is guilt. Like my mom most women seem to compare themselves to an unrealistic ideal and fall short.

A lot of women just skip church on Mother’s Day. Some congregations try to downplay Mother’s Day. I have a friend who was asked to speak on Mother’s Day the topic was prayer. She was told there would be no special musical number, it would be just like any other Sunday. At some point in my life I might have thought downplaying or eliminating Mother’s Day was a good idea. But right now even as the approach of Mother’s Day gives me a heavy heart and dreams of my dead mother, I’m looking forward to a day devoted to reflection on motherhood. I’m in awe of mothers.

As a young woman I did not think much of mother’s. They were dowdy women who drove mini-vans and talked about nothing but their kids. Then I became a mom. I had no idea–no idea the courage, sacrifice and love that beat in the hearts of those dowdy women driving mini-vans. Each stage of raising my kids has been revelatory. Mothers get up in the middle of the night and clean up poo or vomit or both and then gently put children back in bed. Mothers go with out eating, mothers gain weight. Mothers stay up late waiting for a child, mothers get up early to drive to seminary. Mothers drive children everywhere. Mothers clean, harder still mothers teach children to clean. Mothers pray for children adrift, mothers yearn for children on missions. Mothers listen to long mind-numbing incoherent play by play accounts of video games.

I am currently in the trenches of Motherhood and I have seen some amazing things. I’ve seen a single mother work back to back shifts through the night to provide for her family. I’ve seen mothers pushed into depression as their children grow up, move out and move on. I’ve seen mothers helplessly watch on as their children suffer divorce or cancer or both. I’ve watched gentle quiet women deal with the perplexing problem of angry uncontrollable toddlers. I’ve watched women torture their bodies with hormones and procedures all in the hope of becoming a mother. Almost every woman I know holds some heart ache because she loves (or wants to love) a child so much. I think of this heartache as a mother’s heart.

There is a scripture I love in which God gives Enoch a glimpse into His heart. And seeing this the prophet’s heart like God’s “swelled as wide as eternity; and his bowls yearned: and all eternity shook.” (Moses 7:41) As wide as eternity–the perfect description of a mother’s heart. No wonder so many women cry on Mother’s Day.

Mothers are courageous enough to make their hearts vulnerable. I remember driving home from the hospital with my fourth child and thinking what will happen to this child? And knowing that no matter what even if he makes perfect choices and lives to a ripe old age, that loving this child will bring me heartache. One more person to love, one more person to miss, to worry about, to mourn. Each person we let into our hearts, our hearts swell wider. No wonder women’s hearts are so tender.

So we need to be gentle with each other on Mother’s Day and our selves–not compare or dwell in guilt. But acknowledge the beauty of self-sacrificing women. Mother’s day is a day to be in awe of the miracle of mothers–that walking on this earth (or driving mini-vans) are women whose hearts swell as wide as eternity.

13 thoughts on “In Defense of Mother’s Day

  1. well, this post is a slice of perspective that i appreciate. thank you ruth. i too am surrounded by women that sacrifice, love and serve their children in every kind of circumstance.

    i love mother’s day. i love celebrating and reflecting on this amazing devotion.

    growing up with my mom was far from ideal but when it’s all said and done i think we were all doing our best…for the most part.

    i have loved being a mother. no words can adequately express my gratitude at having had this privilege.

    xox

  2. I love the part of Mother’s Day that I celebrate with my children, even though they are now grown. That just means I get to love the grandchildren, too.

    Even so, I do not like Mother’s Day at church. It has always made me feel uncomfortable. Partly that is because I feel for those who are not in a perfect mother’s position for whatever reason. All the fru-fru of the day just makes their burdens harder. I like when the talks are about general principles of motherhood that all women exhibit – about expressing love to those who have raised us, but not making them into saints that they never were – about sharing a message of love not guilt.

    But for the last 13 years, Mother’s Day has been the hardest day of the year for me and I have often just skipped church, because I couldn’t deal with it. For a mother who has lost a child, nothing brings the pain back more forcefully than Mother’s Day. He was 21 when he died and I rarely cry on his birthday and almost never on the day he died, but Mother’s Day puts me over the edge.

    I have a strong testimony and know where he is and what he is doing – and I even have a pretty sure knowledge of why he was needed. None of that matters when something makes me miss him. I think of him everyday, but for some reason the emphasis on motherhood is what brings the tears.

    So everything you say is true and I acknowledge all of those things. I love the mother I have lost and remember her sacrifices for me with love. I remember the grandmothers who sacrificed for me and made me feel special and loved. I love my daughter who has given me grandchildren and who is a terrific mother herself. I am grateful for all of them and all the other mothers, and they deserve every word of praise and love they receive.

    Even so, I am sitting here, having to force myself to go to Church, because it won’t be an easy day and I don’t want these tears to keep coming. I don’t want to share these private emotions with the ward.

    Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Mothers of Zion – and that has nothing to do with giving birth and everything to do with being a righteous daughter of God!

  3. Ruth,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love Mother’s Day but today our ward completely ignored it (except the candy bar at the end). I was so hurt, I felt so ignored, unappreciated, worthless. I am used to the world telling me that being a mom isn’t important but to feel that way at church was absolutely heartbreaking. I left in the middle of sacrament meeting. This essay is exactly what I needed and I can’t express my appreciation enough for helping turn my day around.
    Thank you.

  4. It seems like Mothere’s Day is weird counterpart to Valentine’s Day; a contrived holiday that is supposed to mean love but really ends up making a lot of people feel bad. So I make it as lighthearted as possible.

    I view it as nothing more than the day when I can order my children to do whatever I want and they can’t say no.

  5. Great post!

    “And then on the drive home from church my mom would remind us that the only thing she wanted for Mother’s Day was for us kids to get along which was asking way too much. We’d quarrel more than ever and my mom would raise her voice, leaving her feeling even more guilty than she did in church.”

    This is pretty much word-for-word what happened on our drive home.

  6. I appreciate your words today…I appreciate Mother’s Day more. I usually hate it because of everything I have done for the children of my husband, goes unnoticed and I usually hear what a lousy mother I am to our 4 sons. I know I am not. My body has endured 3 emergency c-setions, living for years in and out of the hospital with our 13 year old…working to keeping him a live.
    BUT today, my feelings were hurt because of his unkind words yesterday, fresh in my heart. Today a friend held me as I cried. Today my 13 year old wrote me a letter, thanking me for the sleepless nights, for fighting for him in the hospital and helping him live beyond his age expectancy. Today my mom let me know that I am a good mom and that I am her hero…she is really mine.

    Happy Mother’s Day and so many more.

  7. Oh Shelly, I am so sorry. I would hold you and cry too.

    And Rosemary, I’m so sorry. The death of a child would absolutely crush me. I can think of no greater pain (and I know grief).

    Jennie– I like your attitude. Make the day lighthearted, feel good about breaking the diet and taking a nap etc.

    And many thanks to my darling sister who wrote this today.

  8. I like Mother’s Day – the tiny marigold sprouts my kindergartners grew for me at school, the handprints carefully cut out in Primary, the chocolate bar presented at the end of sacrament meeting, all the extra hugs and I-love-yous. Most of all, I loved eating a nice dinner that I didn’t have to prepare, or clean up.

    Most of the year, I feel my share of mother guilt. But this day, I set it aside and enjoy being just a little pampered.

  9. Yes. We actually had a speaker today who deliberately addressed this–the idea that women don’t like mother’s day because it makes them feel guilty, and so instead of extolling perfect women, he praised the real women that he knew, and even quoted passages from Elder Uchtdorf’s talk on “Forget Me Not,” especially the idea we need to be gentle with ourselves.

    It was one of the best mother’s day talks I’ve heard for some time.

  10. Mother’s Day used to make me feel guilty–you know, the talks about angel mothers and all that–but it doesn’t bother me much anymore. (Heck, today I even gave myself credit for NOT following through on the urge to kill one of the children! :)) After all, nobody is perfect–we all have strengths and weaknesses. I am hopeful that I am reaching a place where I can allow my family to honor me for the good things I do without first requiring that I be perfect in all the areas of motherhood. And I’m with Jennie–its a day “when I can order my children to do whatever I want and they can’t say no.” LOVE that! :)

  11. Ruth, everything you write is a masterpiece. You are magnificent.

    I love what Rosemary said – that celebrating Mother’s Day surrounded by the people we love is quite enjoyable, but Mother’s Day in Church is difficult. I can think of a couple of reasons why this may be so.

    One, we as Mormons aren’t very good at worshiping or praising in church. It seems that most of us attend Sacrament meeting thinking, “What am I doing wrong? How can I use this talk to become better?” While not necessarily bad, this paradigm is problematic on days like Mother’s Day, when addresses focus on celebrating fabulous Moms. Most of us leave feeling like we aren’t doing well enough. Somehow we need to forget our flaws and shortcomings on these days and learn, like Ruth said, to stand in awe of Mothers.

    Secondly, motherhood is not one-size-fits all. It is a very difficult job that requires inspiration and consideration of our unique circumstances. This can make Sacrament Meeting talks uncomfortable, especially when we hear “advice” from people who have never been mothers or experienced our trials. I personally find it very hard to believe that there is a mythical woman who has never raised her voice at her family, and that children don’t need to be yelled at sometimes!

    I hope that Mother’s Day can be turned from a day of guilt into a day of gratitude and praise.

  12. Thanks for this post. I was happy to find out that you are ‘that’ Ruth — Michelle’s sister! Makes the post all the better.

    I know there is a lot of pain on Mother’s Day, but I like how motherhood as a role is celebrated here.

  13. A sister asked me this past Sunday, “So, when did Mother’s Day stop being awful for you?”

    My response: When I stopped obligating people to read my mind and function according to me preconceived ideas of what was a ‘good way to honor me.’

    My husband was not raised in a family that was missing most of what we consider basic family skills. He loves me fiercely, but it doesn’t show up in traditions and such, so consequently it never occurred to him to take our kids to fill in those gaps. He didn’t know they existed, and doesn’t know how to respond when it is pointed out to him. And seriously, pointing it out and then expectantly waiting for the result is like giving your kid a $5 bill and waiting outside the store while they pick out a present for you. Not much to celebrate in that process.

    I decided to take responsibility for the ‘change I wanted to see by creating it myself.’ I created events I enjoyed, made the foods I love and celebrated all of the amazing opportunities that are a part of my life–and offered to share them with my family if they cared to participate as well.

    Incidentally, the year this happened, either the kids were finally old enough to ‘get it’ or suddenly released from the doom of doing it wrong or not enough; however it happened, they flourished and stepped up with all manner of ideas–and not one of them included a construction paper card made while riding in the back seat on the way to church or a canned craft from whatever social event had occurred during the previous week.

    It took a bit of juggling to work in some of their ideas because frankly, I was booked! I had made a 4-day weekend out of it, stuffed full of soul-fueling things that I love.

    There was no animosity toward my family in this. I decided it was time to quit grumbling and complaining (most of the time silently so they STILL didn’t know what was up or why, though they could certainly feel the displeasure vibes–funny how we expect our family members to use the Force or their own psychic abilities to meet our needs) and step up into a joyous celebration.

    I put flowers on my mother’s and grandmother’s graves and spent time in meditation in the cemetery honoring them and their memories; I got a massage; watched a great chick-flick; chose the flowers that I wanted in the flower garden; found a fabulous ‘new’ dress at the thrift store; picked up a good read at the library and matched it with with a fancy candle and some child-unfriendly cocoa; picked out ALL the crazy veggies that I ADORE and gorged on them; brought home some amazing bread to make French Toast and piled it high with all manner of berries for my breakfast; etc.

    Most of these things I do anyhow in one context or another–the difference being, I did it this time on purpose, with a purpose and with a joyous attitude. For example: We home school our kids, which means we LIVE at the library, but I partied picking out the perfect book that made my heart & soul sing and gave me great satisfaction.

    I have not suffered through another out-of-sync Mother’s Day since.

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