the problem (and the promise) of mother’s day

I am a mother. Mother’s Day is not supposed to be hard.

Glossy ads and glittery cards tell me this. I am supposed to enjoy a light and easy day! Put up my feet and pamper myself! Delight my children’s affection! Bask in my husband’s gratitude! Eat breakfast in bed or indulge in sweet desserts or let the waiter offer me a mimosa on the house because…motherhood.

But the reality? It’s much more complicated.

. . .

Do you know who I think about every Mother’s Day?

I think about my mom, of course. I think about how she still has to pause before answering the supposedly simple question of “How many children do you have?” Because my brother died decades ago, but he is still her son.

I think about a dear friend who dreams of adopting, who has been another mother to my boys, who lost a baby to miscarriage. Because the world would not include her among those we celebrate with brunch or flowers, but she is more mother than almost anyone else I know.

I think about the baby we lost, the life so small that some would never consider it real. Because I am still that child’s mother, but no one sees his or her shadow behind the three bright faces of my living boys.

I think about women I know who have had abortions. Who suffered abuse at the hands of men who were supposed to care for them, or who made decisions that haunt them for the rest of their lives, or whose future families were forever shaped by what came before. I mourn that we do not have good ways for them to talk about their pain and grief and loss.

I think about couples I know who have been trying to conceive for years. Who hate the Hallmark holidays of May and June because they are bombarded with constant reminders that they are still not mothers and fathers. That they might never be. I wish we could remember to pray for those with aching hearts when we bless parents, too.

Every year on Mother’s Day I am tugged in opposite directions. I struggle with how to celebrate such a complicated day.

It is a problem.

. . .

Because Mother’s Day is also a day for the mothers of children who died. Who will not get a homemade painting or a Hallmark card this year or any spring day to come.

It is also a day for the women who wanted to become mothers but never did. The ones who will hurry out of church before Sunday’s final blessing because it’s too painful to stay seated while smiling women stand all around them.

It is also a day for the mothers of stillborn babies, miscarried babies, and children who didn’t even get a dash between dates on their gravestones, whose birthday was their only day on earth. The ones who carry the memories, generations later, of what might have been.

It is also a day for daughters who lost their mothers. The ones who still grieve decades later and who mourn the grandmother their children never got to know.

It is also a day for everyone who had a complicated relationship with their mother. The ones who felt failed or forgotten or forsaken by the one person that we assume was never supposed to betray them.

So whenever May rolls around, I try to hold space for all of these people. I pray for hope and peace to be theirs. I try to love the ones around me, those I have been given to mother and those who teach me how to mother. I try to remember the shadow side of every celebration. I pray not to make assumptions about other people’s lives.

This is the only way I know how to celebrate Mother’s Day.


Because when I think about what we want to celebrate on this holiday – and it is certainly worth celebrating – it is the love and compassion and generosity of the mothering spirits who have cared for us, whether mothers or grandmothers or aunts or godmothers or birth mothers or stepmothers or others.

And here’s the real rub. All those who fit this loving ideal? They would want us to include all those who are hurting and excluded, too. This is what they taught us to do. To live compassionately. To love deeply.

This is the only way Mother’s Day makes sense.

This is a promise.

. . .

This post is full of links (highlighted in pink above) to stories about the shadow side of Mother’s Day. Please take a moment to click and read a reflection or two, and share with someone who might need to know they’re not alone in their struggles.

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18 thoughts on “the problem (and the promise) of mother’s day

  1. Bev says:

    Thank you for once again speaking your heart and wisdom. I see myself and those I love in so many of your references! Blessings to you and your family.

  2. Karen Ganon says:

    Beautiful, thought-provoking message. I believe everyone who reads this, including me, will be more careful, more compassionate, more grateful…. Thank you.

  3. Heather Elliott says:

    Wow! What an incredible article. I have been at two ends of this; I miscarried my first child, and had a mother that felt that her animals and men were more important than her three children. I noticed you do not have any links in that paragraph.
    I am now the very proud mother of four awesome child; 3 boys and a girl. They are my life and the reason I take a breath every morning.
    I am so thankful for ladies like you with the ability of writing something so beautiful.

    • Laura says:

      Heather, I am so grateful that you shared your story and wisdom here. And thank you for letting me know that link is missing – turns out the essay I had linked to there isn’t available now, so I’m searching for a new one to add. It’s so important to give voice to that suffering, too. Thank you.

  4. Liz says:

    Beautifully written and so very true. I have two beautiful living children, one flesh of my flesh and one carried in my heart, then adopted. I have one dear daughter who lived 3 hrs, and 4 miscarried babies. They are all my children, I will just have to wait to know some of them better. I can relate to not having children. That was me for so long. And then losing a child – a mother’s worst nightmare. These experiences have made me a better person, a more compassionate person, a more understanding person. God bless all women. We all share mothing in one form or another. Thank you for writing “The Problem (And The Promise) Of Mother’s Day,”, Laura. Happy Mother’s Day to you!

  5. Kerry says:

    For years, I have gone through Mother’s Day with a heart aching to yell — “Doesn’t anyone know how hard this day is” but not wanting to spoil the celebration of others. I have had five pregnancies and five miscarriages. I, too, pause with that question “Are you a Mother?”. I went to Church with my Mom today and when they had the blessing for mothers, I remained sitting. Yet, I know the ages of each my babies if they would have been born: 1 yr 10 months, 9 years, 9 1/2 years, 10 1/2 years, and 11 years. No, one mentions them to me but years later they are still in my heart and still my children who I have yet to meet. Thank you for keeping women like me in your thoughts and prayers on Mother’s Day. Sending love to all those with the mothering spirit, Kerry

  6. JodiMelsness says:

    I just lost my Mom right before Mother’s Day. She was my heart and soul. I write about her, They Lemon Bar Queen on WordPress. I love what you write. I’m adopted and knowing how much my Mom wanted kids, Mother’s Day was very special to her. I love that you are local, I’m in Plymouth. Thanks for writing.

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