(Updated 2021) I’m here to confess that I dread Mother’s Day. I feel guilty about that dread and maybe you do, too. For me, it’s kind of like my birthday (which I also don’t love) where people ask what I want and say it’s all about me but then I don’t actually give what I want – which is usually going to be: SLEEP. BATH. READ BOOK. BATH. READ BOOK. SLEEP. What’s yours?
I’d go for either of two options. Maybe I would kill to be left alone. That feels horrible to say out loud – when my family wants to “celebrate me” and I don’t really want to even see them? The other option is maybe that I do want to be with them, but they would lavish me with service and affection. What can I say, my “love language” is service and children are maybe not the best at providing that one. Children usually have the love languages of quality time (“mommy, mommy, play with me!”) or gifts. I don’t want gifts and quality time is ok – but on a day that’s supposed to be about me, that time should be doing something I enjoy. But I don’t hate Mother’s Day only because I don’t have a deep soaking bathtub and my family doesn’t serve me kale hash while I sit in it.
I hate Mother’s Day because the weight of responsibility of being a Mom* is CRUSHING and this day only reminds me of just how crushing it is and how infrequently my contribution is acknowledged; how unconsciously taken for granted I am. I think about all of the ways our society shows us that the value of the work of mothering is much less than any other work. Mother’s Day in years past was a day I suddenly could reflect on how I actually feel as a mother in my day to day: still bone-chillingly exhausted even when the progeny sleeps well. I’m mentally exhausted, physically exhausted and spiritually exhausted from worrying about the development and constant feeding of the progeny. I am doubly exhausted because if I try to have my feminist and self-care boundaries in place to try and get help from my housemates large and small – giving those reminders and keeping my boundaries is its own extra JOB.
And I still feel like this even though I have enormous privilege and resources and am extremely confident in the parenting realm because of my life’s work and experience working with families. It nauseates me to think about moms who have come into this job with no training or experience at all – and the struggle of moms of color, or those living in major financial stress, or without parenting partners. (I’ve been mostly single parenting for my parenting career.) Maternal mental health is in crisis in our country. We are down to our last nerve. I’m ready for something to break so it can be fixed.
And often, Mother’s Day will be about the grandmothers. Figuring out how to balance what I want with what grandma wants – or what 2 (or 4!) grandmas want! Can we make Grandparent’s Day a bigger thing so this won’t happen?! And when you have a two-mom household? Then what? Most two-mom families I know have one “mom” who takes fathers day because trying to get two moms cared for while parenting kids is, well, impossible and a recipe for utter disappointment.
Years into this parent gig, I came to find that traveling for work was my “me-time” and so I craved work trips more and more. And more. And then… Covid. All speaking gigs cancelled. Covid: that special time where many of us became impossibly more captive to “mommy. mommy. mommy. snack. snack. snack.” In 2020 my state had already been in lockdown for a while by May. I was parenting 24/7 on my own and it was my best Mother’s Day ever – because I really didn’t think about it or celebrate it. I just enjoyed a nice Sunday at home playing with plastic swords. No thinking about the nature of the day or the exhaustion in this job. No wishes or disappointments. I’d maybe rather not celebrate Mother’s Day at all the way it usually happens. And not celebrating may even be my best way to go forward. But if I do want to celebrate, what would I want it to look like?
I have a friend who says, “Let’s just pick our own day and tell the family that will be the day we get left alone, since we can’t change the Mother’s Day culture.” I love that idea but I actually think we can change the Mother’s Day culture. I think Mother’s Day should be truly a no-labor day. Like Labor Day. Where is our union!? If there are two parents, then two days per year so they each get a day to not labor and both days are national days off of childcare and household work. When folks are lactating, this is all more frustrating (I’m a lactation professional who wishes everyone would start an occasional bottle at 2 weeks for so many reasons). Maybe babies could still suckle boob but someone has to bring baby there and then pluck them off. 😉
Other family members would do the labor that day and instead of brunch and peonies they have to just contemplate the intensity of the job that is mothering; think about feminized labor (nannies and teachers are doing the job of mothering too) and feminized unpaid labor – that 24-hour-on-call job that cannot be compared to any other job on the planet. Then, what if they all also had to LISTEN to us – listen to what it is really like to be us and do our job. Just a vision.
And one last thing: in parenting partnerships, don’t forget that decisions are mental and emotional labor. The very LAST thing I want for Mother’s Day is to be asked to decide what I want to do for Mother’s Day. Either I will ask for a specific want (like a hotel room) or if you want to take care of me, YOU make the decision as if you’ve been seeing me and hearing me and knowing me all year long.
*By “mom” and “mother” I don’t mean to exclude any gender identity or sex but rather to preserve these identity markers and experiences for those who own them. I mean these words for brevity to quickly describe those who identify with the work of “mothering” and do so on a consistent basis. People of many genders do the work traditionally known as mothering.
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