The Evolving Meaning of Mother’s Day

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I spent my mid-30’s to age 40 wishing myself numb on Mother’s Day. All I saw was motherhood being equated to womanhood, and mothers being not merely honored, but elevated to superhuman goddess status, purportedly feeling love more deeply, and glorified as more generous, more selfless, more feminine, more nurturing, more complete. More, more, more. The implicit take-away for me was that women who aren’t moms, regardless of the circumstances, are less.

Yes, it’s true that not having children is a choice I made. Yes, it’s a choice I continue to make since technically, there are avenues for having children that remain open for me. Choosing one thing means not choosing another though. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I had chosen differently – a different college, different career, different partner, different house, different city, or a child. There aren’t true do-overs, and life isn’t as tidy as the choose-your-own-adventure books that I enjoyed reading as a kid, which offered the option of starting over to see where the other choices took me, so I could decide which ending I liked best.

Every time I find myself wondering about the adventure I didn’t choose – the one that requires childproofing our home, a Diaper Genie, little league, Dora the Explorer birthday parties, and college saving accounts – I quickly remind myself of the many reasons I opted to not have children. Concerns about destabilizing my diabetes, possibly exacerbating health issues I’ve finally gotten managed, and putting my life and the life of a child at risk. Yes, I am well aware that women with type 1 have healthy pregnancies all the time, but I wasn’t comfortable with the risks, and that strongly factored into my decision. I also considered my reluctance to pass my disease-prone genetic material to another human. Having a child clearly contradicted my deep concerns about the effects of overpopulation on the environment and society. Even when considering adoption, I admit that my personality and priorities aren’t aligned with parenting. When I get the what-ifs, I review my reasons, and invariably end up at the same conclusion I made 11 years ago when I had my tubal.

Last year marked the first Mother’s Day when I felt at peace with my decision. As I described then, adopting a vegan lifestyle fulfills my longing to nurture, to feel connected to something beyond myself, and to leave a legacy. While I might not have children and grandchildren who will one day remember me fondly, I’m hopeful that humanity will evolve beyond its current consumerist ideology – consuming animals, consuming the Earth, consuming each other. I’m hopeful that Earth’s descendants will live harmoniously with each other and the environment, building on a foundation of conservation, justice, peace, and kindness towards all. I’m hopeful that by living these ideals and sharing these ideas, future generations will benefit. This is how I mother.

I would say that my feelings about Mother’s Day this year are essentially the same, but more integrated and familiar. I relish that I have found meaning in Mother’s Day that resonates in my heart. What I find most revelatory this year is the evolution of meaning, not just for me personally, but what I observe in others’ lives. I have friends who struggled with Mother’s Day in years past, but are currently expecting, or birthed, or adopted children in recent years, and now celebrate as moms or moms-to-be. I have friends who struggle because they’ve lost their mothers. Due to my own relationship with Mother’s Day though, I am especially linked to my female friends without children who are struggling today.

I didn’t really know where I was going with this when I started writing – I just knew I needed to record my thoughts – but I think I most want to make the observation that the meaning of Mother’s Day changes. That seems pretty obvious at first glance since Mother’s Day has a different meaning for people depending on age, gender identity, and life circumstances. However, during the years when Mother’s Day sent me into a tailspin of grief, I was convinced that’s all Mother’s Day would ever be for me. As our circumstances change – and circumstances always change – the meaning of Mother’s Day evolves though.

For anyone who is struggling today, I understand. Our circumstances differ, but I know what it’s like to hurt on Mother’s Day. I hope you get through this one with love, support and validation. I also want to suggest that the meaning of Mother’s Day will evolve for you. There might be years when it feels worse than it does today, although I hope not. There might be years when it feels better, perhaps tolerable. Depending on your circumstances and your journey, the day might come when you even feel good… and rightly so. Your love, nurturance, strength, and generosity towards the world are always valuable and desperately needed.

Grieve if you’re sad, but know that I am celebrating all that you do to mother this world because your nurturing spirit and loving actions deserve recognition. And if the day comes when Mother’s Day has a new meaning for you, meaning that brings peace to your heart, and a smile to your face, we can celebrate together. After all, if motherhood is the epitome of womanhood, let’s not just passively acknowledge the varied ways of being a mother in this world. Let’s explore those ways of mothering, and own them. Don’t let the Hallmark definition of Mother’s Day undermine or deter you. Let’s update its purpose, and give it new meaning, together. The world needs more women like us.

Kisses for Mom
Kisses for Mom

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