Friday, May 11, 2012

In Defense of Mother's Day

Mother's day is coming up and the women are grumbling. Most of the women I know don't particularly like Mother's Day.  Growing up my mom hated Mother's Day. She would sit in church and hear sermons in which old men talk about their dead saintly mothers who inevitably never raised their voice.  And then on the drive home from church my mom would remind us that the only thing she wanted for Mother's Day was for us kids to get along which was asking way too much. We'd quarrel more than ever and my mom would raise her voice, leaving her feeling even more guilty than she did in church. My mother-in-law cried most Mother's Day's because her mom was dead.

 I too have had Mother's days where I've wondered about the holiday. I remember as a young mom trying to host my mom or mother-in-law for Mother's day and at the end of day feeling frazzled and not too appreciated. There's a long list of other reasons women might not like holiday: she is not a mom and wants to be one, she is a mom and does not want to be one, her kids are failures and she blames herself, her children are successes and have moved far away, she doesn't get a long with her mom, she adores her mom but her mom is dead or living far away, no one appreciates her.  But probably the biggest reason women don't like mother's day is guilt. Like my mom most women seem to compare themselves to an unrealistic ideal and fall short.

A lot of women just skip church on Mother's Day. Some congregations try to downplay Mother's Day. I have a friend who was asked to speak on Mother's Day the topic was prayer. She was told there would be no special musical number, it would be just like any other Sunday.  At some point in my life I might have thought downplaying or eliminating Mother's Day was a good idea.  But right now even as the approach of Mother's Day gives me a heavy heart and dreams of my dead mother, I'm looking forward to a day devoted to reflection on motherhood. I'm in awe of mothers.

As a young woman I did not think much of mother's. They were dowdy women who drove mini-vans and talked about nothing but their kids.  Then I became a mom. I had no idea--no idea the courage, sacrifice and love that beat in the hearts of those dowdy women driving mini-vans. Each stage of raising my kids has been revelatory.  Mothers get up in the middle of the night and clean up poo or vomit or both and then gently put children back in bed. Mothers go with out eating, mothers gain weight. Mothers stay up late waiting for a child, mothers get up early to drive to seminary.  Mothers drive children everywhere. Mothers clean, harder still mothers teach children to clean. Mothers pray for children adrift, mothers yearn for children on missions. Mothers listen to long mind-numbing incoherent play by play accounts of video games.

I am currently in the trenches of Motherhood and I have seen some amazing things.  I've seen a single mother work back to back shifts through the night to provide for her family. I've seen mothers pushed into depression as their children grow up, move out and move on. I've seen mothers helplessly watch on as their children suffer divorce or cancer or both. I've watched gentle quiet women deal with the perplexing problem of angry uncontrollable toddlers.  I've watched women torture their bodies with hormones and procedures all in the hope of becoming a mother.  Almost every woman I know holds some heart ache because she loves (or wants to love) a child so much. I think of this heartache as a mother's heart.

There is a scripture I love in which God gives Enoch a glimpse into His heart. And seeing this the prophet's heart like God's "swelled as wide as eternity; and his bowls yearned: and all eternity shook." (Moses 7:41) As wide as eternity--the perfect description of a mother's heart. No wonder so many women cry on Mother's Day.

Mothers are courageous enough to make their hearts vulnerable. I remember driving home from the hospital with my fourth child and thinking what will happen to this child?  And knowing that no matter what even if he makes perfect choices and lives to a ripe old age, that loving this child will bring me heartache. One more person to love, one more person to miss,  to worry about, to mourn.  Each person we let into our hearts, our hearts swell wider.  No wonder women's hearts are so tender.

So we need to be gentle with each other on Mother's Day and our selves--not compare or dwell in guilt. But acknowledge the beauty of self-sacrificing women.  Mother's day is a day to be in awe of the miracle of mothers--that walking on this earth (or driving mini-vans) are women whose hearts swell as wide as eternity.


Jennifer Hall said...

You always manage to make me think. Thanks Ruth. You're one of the good moms.

Hammy said...

Well said, wonderful Ruth.

As a mother of young children, the years I have not liked Mother's Day, rarely have to do with guilt. Rather they were the times I thought it was my day off from motherhood responsibilities. I thought I should get to sleep in, have the house cleaned, meals prepared, kids ready for and reverent during church, lessons taught--all without me having to do the work to make it happen. My lofty expectations led to tearful, resented days

But the times I use Mother's Day to celebrate my role, rather than resent that no one else can fill it for one short day, have been great Mother's Days. If I lower my expectations and not expect my awesome husband to take care of everything, but instead take the time to remember the things I love about my mother, mil, and grandmothers, and to remember how lucky I am to have beautiful children, and remember how lucky I am to not be doing all of this on my own, then I can do the dishes, and clean up littered toys, and read bedtime stories on Sunday night with a smile.

Hammy said...

Oh, and Happy Mother's Day!

Linn said...

This is beyond lovely Ruth. Thank you so much for writing it.

Brandan and Becky said...

I was put off by a woman's snippiness at church yesterday and then I remembered that this is her first Mothers' Day since her mother passed away very unexpectedly. I'm sure she was doing the best she could on a difficult day.

Such a good reminder to be gentle to each other.

kim said...

Love this. I've always loved mother's day, but I do think it's good to remember that it brings challenges as well as celebration for many. Just like motherhood itself.

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