Mother’s Day: breakfast in bed, flowers, a card, perhaps even lunch out with the family. This is my family memory of what happened once a year during my childhood. We may hate the modern commercialisation of Mother’s Day but a version of this is still played out on social media in our respective groups of friends. Facebook posts abound with the sweet messages, and the ‘I love you mum’ cards are shared (rightly) with pride and affection.
But families are a lot more complex and complicated these days, and the Mother’s Day tag feels inappropriate for some family set-ups where the step-mum may do as much heavy lifting as the biological mother. The ‘fixed’ nature of the celebration doesn’t seem to capture the range of mothering that goes on in the world, and that’s often not recognised. How can this annual celebration be as inclusive and as fluid as we need it to be?
Personally, I’m not too keen on Mother’s Day. And for a whole variety of reasons. I’m not that close to my other own mother and so finding a card that captures some sort of emotional connection but avoids any hint of ‘You’re the best mum in the world’ (which would be complete hypocrisy on my part) is an annual challenge.
As a single mother, it’s an interesting kind of celebration. I try to jolly things up for myself by buying a bunch of flowers that I put in my bedroom, as it would be unreasonable to expect a nine year old to do such a thing. And I manage my own expectations by telling myself that it will be a Sunday just like any other Sunday, that the delight and gift of having a child lasts the whole year long, and that as long as I get to do just one thing of my choice at some point in the day – a ten minute walk in the sunshine will even suffice – I’ll have all that I need. And I do have all that I need: a healthy and intelligent son with whom I’m close. But somehow, there’s still something missing – a gap between what we’re expected to feel and do on Mother’s Day, and what actually happens.
And back to all those magnificent step-mums who also do the heavy lifting but who may lack the public recognition and validation. It’s possible to buy (and of course make) a card specifically for a step-mum or other significant person who plays the mother role in a child’s life. But is the binary nature of Mother’s Day sufficient to capture their role? Can we not learn from how we think about gender fluidity to celebrate the spectrum of mothering in a way that’s not bound up in the card + flowers formula?
Rituals and celebrations play an important role in society as they bind a community together and help define it. They lift us, they help us connect, they validate who we are and what we do. But we need also to be sensitive to those who are left out from the celebration or who aren’t able to live up to the rituals of that celebration, as society defines. So, to all those women who in different ways, play a mother role to a child, we celebrate you!