Honoring the complexity of motherhood

Whistler's Mother Postage Stamp

Here’s the thing about Mother’s Day: it means well. But here’s the problem with Mother’s Day: it neither does justice to the actual people who are mothers, nor captures the complexity of motherhood.

Mother’s Day is like other holidays, in that it captures only a caricature. If you think about it, the 4th of July and Thanksgiving do the same thing. The problem is we’re much more fully aware of the dissonance between the caricature of Motherhood and our experience of motherhood than we are, say, of the caricature of the Pilgrims. After all, we’ve never actually had to live with a pilgrim. Or had an abusive pilgrim. Or mourned the loss of a pilgrim. Or been disappointed in the pilgrim we have. Or grieved that we will never be a pilgrim. Or been asked why we aren’t a pilgrim. Or discovered to our shock that we’ve become our pilgrim.

What I’m coming to realize about Mother’s Day is…is it what it is.  And it’s a terrible day to try to think about mothers and motherhood in any sort of complexity. I think if you want to do any kind of significant program or presentation or activity in your church around the issue of mothers, for God’s sake don’t do it on Mother’s Day. Recognize it for the 2-dimensional greeting card holiday that it is. Keep it simple and watch out for the undercurrents.

But at the same time, I’m glad that Mother’s Day exists, if only to raise this complex topic to the fore once a year. Perhaps it’s there to remind us that it is a topic that’s worth discussing in our churches as a significant part of our life and what has formed us as people. So how are we going to explore that?

This morning on Facebook, Anne Lamott posted an essay she’d written about Mother’s Day in 2008, which would be a great place to start. In it she writes, “my main gripe about Mother’s Day is that it feels incomplete and imprecise.” I guess that’s my main gripe too.

So what can we do to provide some completion and precision? What can we offer beyond the nominal recognition of Mother’s Day to recognize and honor the complexity of motherhood? Motherhood is too important a topic to fob off with flowers. It’s a rich and spiritual topic of power and significance that has been assigned to the Ladies Corner and told to be nice.

As we explore spiritual formation, Motherhood is a topic that deserves significant attention.  Not in a women’s group, but for everyone, of all ages, for more than an hour on a Sunday in May. Because if we do, I suspect Mother’s Day itself will lose some of its powerful and painful artifice.

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