Mother’s Day Gets It Wrong

May is a busy month what with the end of school, preparation for summer and, of course, Mother’s Day. Every year I dread that particular day. Our modern culture has twisted the original intent of the “holiday” but my disgust is about more than that. Not only are we ignoring the foundation of social justice from which the original Mother’s Day sprang but, with all the commercialization surrounding it, we’ve turned mothering into a commodity instead of an experience.

Retailers rake in the bucks on this Special Day because it’s all about giving mom a break. And that is what bothers me. The focus is all on the service mothers provide, the work that some of us so willingly give, and not about who we are as people or how mothering has shaped us. Our “Day” is severely shortchanging us!

If I were not a mother myself, I might be tempted to view mothers solely through the lens of “labor” because it’s fairly easy to do. After all, the product of our work is everywhere. We see mothers doing all of the stereotypical tasks that Hallmark cards so love to describe: driving kids to and from school and activities, cooking dinner, cleaning house, arranging schedules, kissing boo-boos and organizing family events. Yet those are just a tip of the iceberg of what true mothering is all about.

Perhaps that is why we talk about mothers so rarely or why, when we do discuss them, we do so in the most generic of terms (e.g., soccer moms, security moms). It’s because mothering can be such an all-encompassing experience that it’s hard to grasp. It is hard to imagine any other role that sucks up your time, your money, your thoughts, your actions, your love and even your very personality, yet can be among the most enriching, fulfilling and frustrating aspects of your life.

For those of us who choose to make it so – being a mother is nothing if not a personalized experience – mothering brings about a fundamental shift in your character and in how you perceive yourself. The person I was before I had my son is not the person I am after having had him. I am no longer just me; I am now something more. I am a protector, a nurturer, a teacher, and someone who loves in a completely different way than I’ve ever done before. Even my name is different. I’m no longer just Misty or Dr. Hook (parts of me), now I am Mom or simply Ian’s mom (parts of him). So who I am now is a combination of both myself and my son.

Learning how to be a mother, how to merge the interests of both Ian and me, has been a constant challenge and helped me grow as a person. I have to think about his development and mine, then decide when to encourage independence and when to protect. I’ve made great strides in learning how to not lose my temper while helping him figure out how to do the same. I’ve had to really consider what my beliefs and values are and then think about how to explain them in a way he can understand. I’ve had to find previously untapped reservoirs of patience and draw upon them without mercy.

But the biggest hurdle I’ve had to jump has been discovering how to mother without losing myself in the process. I didn’t stop being a person once I became a mother. Yes, I did take on additional duties but I never stopped changing, developing and wanting to have fun. And much of this personal expansion and joy has come as a direct result of the experiences I’ve had of mothering. We’ve grown together, my son and I, and I can honestly say that I am a better person because of him. Yet that is not what Mother’s Day in its current incarnation celebrates.

It applauds the tasks, the work, the drudgery of mothering instead of the very real experiences that being a mother brings. It renders invisible the person behind the Mom title, choosing to focus instead on the commodity of Motherhood. Because, let’s face it, all the chores that the commercials, cards and national conversation emphasize could be done by someone else, someone who is paid (poorly) to do them.

Only someone who has taken on the mother role can experience the love, frustration, personal growth and absolute terror that having your heart walk around outside your body can bring. That is what Mother’s Day should be about: the fundamental change mothering can make in a woman. Julia Ward Howe, the originator of Mother’s Day, understood what this day should be. Her intent was to have a day set aside to observe our evolution as human beings, and help us continue to mature by making an even bigger difference in the world than we already have. When we can get back to doing that, then I might look forward to Mother’s Day again.

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