Response: May 2015 Issue

A Day for All Who Mother

Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate all women who mother.

A Day for All Who Mother
A public health volunteer with UMCOR (left) presents a bouquet to South African singer and malaria ambassador Yvonne Chaka Chaka.

Growing up I remember thinking of Mother's Day as a time to make something special for my mother. It was a pleasant day for being with and celebrating my own mother. I later expanded my understanding to include my grandmothers and aunts. After I moved away from home, I marked the day with long distance phone calls and other ways to honor the occasion. Commercials on television touted their wares for "remembering moms on Mother's Day." Many of those pulled (and still pull) at the heartstrings and sought to create an obligatory need to purchase items.

As a young adult, something about this holiday changed for me. Perhaps it was because I was making my way in this world as a single woman. Perhaps it was because I was working to be recognized as a legitimate adult despite not being married. Perhaps it was because the nuclear family I grew up with was far away, and no one in my community saw me in relation to them. I grew keenly aware of my singleness and my childlessness. I accepted, even celebrated, who I was, called by God to do the work I was doing. But casual comments by others created some conflicting feelings.

I arrived at my church one Mother's Day when I was in my 30s and was greeted at the door by a smiling older woman with a carnation on her lapel.

"Happy Mother's Day!" she said. Then, "Oh, I'm sorry. That doesn't apply to you."

I was stunned.

"But I have a mother," I replied. She just smiled and pushed me into the sanctuary for seating.

I sat mulling over her response feeling inadequate and disturbed. I thought this holiday was for celebrating your mother, not about being a mother. Her statement bothered me for weeks, as she targeted me not for who I was but for who she apparently thought I was not.

The next year, I hesitated about going to church on Mother's Day but then decided the previous year's comment was an isolated incident. As I entered the church foyer I approached a different woman with a carnation on her lapel and smiling at the door. She extended her hand to welcome me.

"Happy Mother's Day!" she said. Then, "Oh, I'm sorry. That doesn't apply to you."

Not again!

I did not mumble this year but stated evenly, "I still have a mother" before releasing her hand and walking into the sanctuary. I don't remember anything about the service, just how I felt—in pain.

I did not attend church on Mother's Day after that until 10 or more years later. And to this day I still hesitate.

I wouldn't say these women's comments caused irreparable damage. I attribute it to ignorance and insensitivity and speak to it when I can. Not everyone can "get over it," though. For women who have lost children, for women with fertility issues, for women who have chosen not to have children and so many more categories, these kinds of statements have done real damage.

Mothers are to be honored. But women's worth should not be measured by whether or not they have children. Be aware of the weight of such statements as "God favored" someone with a child. Does this mean a woman unable to have children is proof of God's disfavor? In John 9, the disciples ask Jesus whose sin caused a man's blindness—the man's sin or his parents' sin? Jesus replies, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him" (John 9:3).

My mother wanted so much to be a mother, and it brought her great joy. I treasure her. Mothers play an important role in church, society and families. But not all women who mother have children, yet their mothering helps others just as much. Some single women (and men) without children have been surrogate mothers to young people in ways that helped transform them into mature adults. There are men who have had to be both mother and father in the family. There are women who have sought adoption and been mothers in a way that a biological mother could not. And not all women who do have children are mothers, or at least aren't good ones.

Mother's Day, then, for me, is more about celebrating all ­mothering instincts. It is about remembering my own mother and enjoying her gifts to me even as I miss her presence in my life. It is about thinking of my grandmothers and aunts and other women in my life who helped me along the way. As a single young woman far from my own mother, I had a number of surrogates—and I still do although I am no longer a young woman. I call these women sisters now, but I am grateful for their "mothering." I remember that Mother's Day is about the other women who care for children and youth and marginalized and elderly persons with generosity and joy and compassion. That is what Mother's Day is about.

This Mother's Day, pause for gratitude at what you have received. Let it remind you of those who mothered you. May it be a day you commit to be more compassionate and ferocious in your love for others.

Mother's Day is really not about having children or about the consumeristic celebration that media bombard us with but about something deeper and wider and stronger. It is about the grace of nursing soldiers on both sides of war because they are hurt and need care, as Ann Reeves Jarvis, mother of Mother's Day founder Anna Jarvis, did during the U.S. Civil War. It is about imploring society not to take the call to war quietly because it will mean death and destruction for some people's (and thus all our) children. It is about seeking the attributes of motherhood, like the gift of love described in 1 Corinthians 13. It is about seeking a society in which everyone is nurtured in a compassionate and thoughtful way so that they experience freedom as whole persons through Jesus Christ no matter who they are. It is about being who you are for whatever reasons you have and allowing everyone else to do the same. That is what I remember about my mother—unconditional love, unstoppable love, faithful and ferocious love. I will celebrate that on Mother's Day. Join me.

Julie Taylor served as United Methodist Women executive for spiritual growth.

Posted or updated: 4/28/2015 11:00:00 PM

May 2015 cover of response