It’s Mother’s Day at last! Like all mothers across the land, I’ve been counting down the days (I improvised an advent calendar from a Dora the Explorer Behaviour Chart). Last night I could hardly sleep, what with all that Mother’s Day Eve excitement. Mother’s Day is the best!
Only kidding. I don’t mean to be rude, but the truth is, I never really consented to this day in “my” honour. Much as I appreciate the overall intent, there’s quite a lot that irritates me about the whole affair. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I thought I’d share it. Forgive me, mum-appreciators, but I thought you ought to know.
1. The performance
On no other day of the year are mums placed under so much pressure to behave “like a mum”. Indeed, the whole thing starts to feel like a test. Did I open my card in a sufficiently meek, mum-like manner? Does it look like I am taking a rare “day off” from housework which hasn’t been done since December 2013? Shall I make that extra effort to shed my “mum clothes” and “doll myself up” for that pub lunch I don’t particularly want to eat? How much irritation at one’s own children is permitted on Mother’s Day: as much as you like or none whatsoever?
All these dilemmas and more will haunt you from the moment you wake on your “special day”. By bedtime you will be more convinced than ever that you are just pretending to be a parent while waiting for the real mum to come along and put an end to this whole charade.
2. The forgotten card blame game
If you are a mother yourself, it’s perfectly reasonable to forget that you’ve got a mother, too. Hey, you’re busy, what with all that mum stuff! Hence when you forget to send your own mum a Mother’s Day card, it’s not really your fault. There are several factors you can blame: your children since they’re always distracting you; the fact that your mum is now known as “grandma”, which makes things confusing; the fact that you are now known as “mum” and you’re not going to send a card to yourself, are you? (I realise this is a variation on the previous point; nevertheless, it still counts). You will of course still feel terrible, as you should, but that’s why these excuses are important.
If you have a male partner he will have forgotten to send his mum a card, too. Due to some chauvinist blindspot which permits him to see card-sending as “women’s work,” you will be blamed for this. He will ask whether “we” sent a card and on finding out that “we” didn’t, never mention it again, but do not be fooled: him not sending his own mother a card only reflects badly on him insofar as it’s further evidence of his poor choice of partner.
[See also: Why do hospitals treat mothers like vessels?]
3. The “it should really be called Mothering Sunday” purists
Apparently Mother’s Day used to be called Mothering Sunday. Mother’s Day is an Americanisation i.e. one of those cultural developments which is supposed to make British people shudder and mourn a once-noble tradition that has been sucked of all meaning by the crude, uncivilised Yanks. Personally, I don’t mind Americanisations on the basis that they are bound to irritate a good number of people whom I don’t like. Besides, in this particular case Mothering Sunday just sounds really stupid.
4. The ever-mounting clutter that is precious and can never be thrown out
Don’t get me wrong; I love a good crêpe-paper-and-bendy-straw daffodil as much as the next mum. But where is one meant to put it? I appreciate all these creations but the trouble is, I have an aversion to throwing out anything at all that my children have cut out, glued, drawn or covered in glitter. Discarding my children’s “art” feels like the motherhood equivalent of burning books. I just can’t do it.
This is why I haven’t seen the surface of my kitchen table in months (I ran out of wall for Take Hart-style displays a couple of years ago). And then Mother’s Day comes along and speeds up the mad accumulation of things I can’t do anything with but which are precious beyond measure. I know I should be more discriminating – perhaps chuck out the ones which are literally just a cereal box with a toilet roll mysteriously sellotaped to the front – but the fact that I can’t is one of the few “proper mum” badges of honour I feel I own.
5. The exclusion of non-mothers
This might sound obvious – of course Mother’s Day isn’t for non-mothers! – but I still think Mother’s Day can be incredibly harsh to any would-be mothers it excludes. Perhaps this wouldn’t matter if, as a culture, we weren’t so attached to the whole motherhood morality tale, presenting women who have been fortunate enough to have the children they wanted as having “earned” their happy ending, but the truth is, we are.
If I’d had a miscarriage or stillbirth, or was struggling to conceive, or had wanted children but never been able to have them, or had had children but lost them . . . Well, I’d find the whole thing pretty torturous, far worse than Valentine’s Day is meant to be for those who are unhappily single. Motherhood is hard work, but it is not an achievement in and of itself; however much effort you put into becoming a mother, there will be women who have tried just as hard and not had the children they desired.
Mother’s Day reinforces a skewed narrative in which “becoming a mother” is some kind of pinnacle of success. It is not; there will be mothers who did not want to have children in the first place, and others, like me, who know that they are not special, merely lucky. An overly simplistic celebration of motherhood as goodness, pure and simple, can ultimately cause hurt.
6. The utter absence of ANYTHING to do with improving the social, economic and political status of carers who are also women
For me and millions of other mums, the average Mother’s Day card says nothing to me about my life (I realise I am quoting Morrissey, who is not a mum, but it feels apt in the circumstances).
Celebrating the loveliness of mothers is easy; creating the external conditions which enable all mothers to raise their children in safe, secure homes, free from poverty and abuse, is much harder. Nominally “appreciating” motherhood is one thing; recognising the status of caring work in financial terms is another. Saying “all mothers are heroes” is great; actively combatting the vilification of single mothers, young mothers, lesbian mothers, trans mothers, migrant mothers and disabled mothers would mean a lot more.
Mothers are not cultural objects; we are people, with differing identities and needs. We need a society which allows us to raise our children well, whoever we are. You can spend one day a year telling us we are perfect, but what about all the others?
Personally, my ideal Mother’s Day would involve a lot more booze (not one of those pathetic mini-bottles of Blossom Hill rosé, thanks) and be considerably more political. I’m picturing a cross between International Women’s Day, a Wages for Housework protest and a weekend in Benidorm (I haven’t yet worked out how children fit into this; we’d have a crèche or something). There would be no idealisation of motherhood, just compassion and inclusion.
And crêpe paper daffodils, because I don’t really think we can do away with them. Ever.
This article was originally published in March 2014.