Mother’s Day Celebrates Life, It’s Not An Act of Exclusion

As I was doing research for a piece at HuffPost, I Don’t Care If You Don’t Want Children…Really, I became increasingly dismayed by the bitterness and resentment bubbling under the surface of our current parent vs. non-parent wars. As some in my circle remarked upon reading my article: “Who knew?”

– Passing Down Below
– Passing Down Below

Indeed, who knew that the procreation imperative, imprinted in humans since the beginning of man, had unleashed such competitive envy, defensiveness, judgment, and self-pity? But it seems it has. Reams have been—and continue to be—written on the topic (my mentioned article has links to several), to the point that even the sweet tradition of Mother’s Day has been put under the gun by cultural flamethrowers:

“I did not raise my son, Sam, to celebrate Mother’s Day. I didn’t want him to feel some obligation to buy me pricey lunches or flowers, some annual display of gratitude that you have to grit your teeth and endure.”

* * *

“Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha!”

* * *

“I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure.”

Think those lines were uttered by one of the curmudgeons at Fox News? A churlish blogger with generalized anger issues? Some embittered naysayer who rains on the parade of any holiday celebration? You’d be wrong. They were all part of very gifted writer, Anne Lamott’s, takedown on the matter of Mother’s Day, a surprisingly caustic rant that seemed out-of-character for the usually wise and compassionate author. Not only is Ms. Lamott put off by the singling out of mothers on this special day, she goes so far as to assert that 98% of parents not only feel themselves superior, that same percent believes non-parents simply cannot know the level of love they know. To which I sigh, “Really?? I have not met those parents. Apparently the people I know are in the other, more rarified, 2%.”


happy coupleThe fact is, yes: while everyone has been a non-parent at some point in their life, no one who has not had children can know what it feels like to have children. Fact; not judgment. Just as I cannot know what it feels like to climb Mt. Everest, go hand-gliding, or bungie jump off a bridge. People can tell me the attendant exhilaration is like no other, and I believe them; but I wouldn’t know. That they’ve had that experience does not make them superior; it just means they’ve had an experience I have not.

Maybe it’s a lame analogy, but the same applies to parenting. Whatever that experience is for anyone, it doesn’t make them superior. But let me also add: no one I know feels superior simply because they’re a parent. They may feel superior about other things, God knows, but the mere fact and act of procreating is not something I see anyone hoist as a measure of personal value or worth. It’s just part of who they are and how they’re living their life. Like being a teacher, a doctor, lawyer, or landscape artist.

If those who are childless-by-choice, who have lost, or who cannot have children, feel minimized and/or dismissed by the parents in their circle, either they’re hanging out with the wrong people (who likely act superior and callous about a great many other things as well), or they need to look inward to see why their pain and heartache, or their choice, compels them to judge others so negatively. It’s one thing to step away from a Mother’s Day celebration because it’s difficult to be reminded of what you can’t have, don’t have, lost, didn’t want, or had an unpleasant version of; it’s another to denigrate the holiday and people celebrating it.

I don’t usually get involved in social media hot-topics these day, but frankly, as a mother, a woman, and an optimistic human who believes we each have the power to manage our joys and sorrows, I was stunned by both Lamott’s thesis and the vitriol of some of those commenting. The language of this seemingly metastasizing conflict is counter-productive and presumptuous enough that, ultimately, I felt a need to respond on the thread:

I usually agree with your wonderful posts, Anne Lamott, but find this one sad and oddly cynical. Celebrating mothers is not, in any way, a dismissal of the myriad roles men and women play in making this world go around. Nor is it about “pricey lunches or flowers, some annual display of gratitude that you have to grit your teeth and endure.” That WOULD be a sad thing, and if that’s what the holiday means to you, I can understand why you never celebrate it with your son!

I cannot help but hear a certain victim tone in your assertion that by celebrating one set of people, “superiority” is being asserted over another, the non-parent people in our midst. Not only is that not true, there is narcissism and bitterness in the belief that makes me sad…that somehow you feel the universe doesn’t provide enough joy for us all, so much so that you begrudge the celebration all together. In fact, the day is NOT another faux-separation of women-who’ve-had-kids vs. women-who-haven’t, a construct that seems rampant these days. ANY woman who has been a mentor, a leader; a caregiver, a teacher, or a nurturer is honored on this one little day. Not at the exclusion of anyone else. We’ve got days to celebrate fathers, our God-figures, the birth of the nation—hell, even secretaries; we can surely spare one day for the mother/nurturers in our midst.

Nor do most of us approach the day with a presumption of “guilt” being the driving force behind our children’s cards, our family’s emails of love; our colleagues’ and friends’ hoots of “happy day!” For many of us, Mother’s Day is simply a day to give a nod to the women in our lives who’ve provided nurturance and compassion, whoever they may be and regardless of their parental status. It can be done with a simple hug, a card, a text, a phone call, a warm smile, an “I love you”; maybe a homemade breakfast, a walk on the beach, or shared space on the couch watching a movie. No money has to be spent; no endurance required.

But to say “Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path” is such a sadly negative and ungenerous perception. I don’t know where you get that “98% of people think….” negatively about non-parents, but Anne, none of the parents I know believe celebrating mother/nurturers makes any such statement! Dear Lord, we cannot live our lives so afraid of offending someone or making someone feel left out that we eschew honest, joyful celebration. Even the women who are not mothers were born of mothers, have strong female role models, etc… how about turning the day into a celebration of them!?

Maybe you feel your stance on this is democratizing, but I’d ask that you look at the edge in your philosophy and consider that you might have made some presumptions about those us who’ve had children that simply don’t ring true.

For now, I’m going to go leave for a walk on the beach with my family, to celebrate me, our children, our mothers, our mentors, and our nurturing friends (some of whom are not parents!). And it will be a great day. I hope somehow you have one too.

That pretty much says it all. For me, anyway.


Look, life is short, obstacles are many, and most of us are focused on living meaningful lives infused with as much joy and happiness as possible. When a holiday presents an opportunity to celebrate the essence of love and compassion as symbolized by the life-giving role of “mother”—a title and role that can be applied to any person who nurtures and mentors—the wiser person acknowledges that intent, and either joins in, or steps aside to allow others to join in. The person less wise and considerate makes it about them, about less, about what they don’t have that others might; what they don’t wish to celebrate that others do.

Let’s not do that. Let’s rise above, let’s exude generosity of spirit; let’s allow that each one of us is having our experience and one does not negate the other.

So to my friends and family celebrating: Happy Mother’s Day… said with all my authentic, guilt-free, non-superior, all-inclusive, openhearted love, and good-will!

All photos by or by permission of me.

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Is There a War on Mother’s Day?

Mother’s Day has long been a holiday that required no PC posturing, no concerns about what to call it, how to celebrate it, or who might get hurt or offended by it. Up till now there’s been no “war” declared, no confusion about who gets to partake; even the food shared on this day has no particular tradition or agenda. As it should be. It’s an inclusive holiday; we all have mothers, most of us hold them dear, and the notion of honoring the “one who brought us life” typically engenders some measure of warmth from everyone. Bring on the brunches! 

But as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed a growing sensitivity toward all the unabashed “mother” hoopla. In this life and time of choice — of women putting off families while careers gestate, of couples making decisions not to procreate at all, of older women finding pregnancy more elusive or fruition sometimes impossible — the matter of celebrating motherhood necessitates some nuance. While, certainly, most of us can gather to celebrate our own mothers without concern, what about those whose perspective on being a parent is either bereft of experience or desire? Is greater sensitivity needed in those circumstances?

Let’s start with those who wanted children but couldn’t have them for one reason or another. CBCs, childless by circumstance. I have several people in my life who fall into this category and it’s a tender and sometimes sensitive one. The CBC will cheer, bring muffins to brunch, and spend oodles of time with the kids with nary a complaint, but when mimosas are mixed and glasses are raised “to motherhood,” a shadow of pain crosses those eyes and you can’t help but realize Mother’s Day has a bittersweet and confusing edge for some.

I have a friend who married in her early-thirties while building a successful career and when she crossed the mid-decade mark, decided it was time to start a family. What was expected to be a simple matter of “getting pregnant and having a baby” turned into a several year, very expensive, and emotionally draining project with fertility specialists, repeated inseminations, two miscarriages and even the temporary separation from her husband when the stress caused a wedge they couldn’t overcome. They ultimately got back together and are in the early stages of exploration with adoption but, as she wistfully stated, “We really wanted one of our own.” When Mother’s Day rolls around each year, she sends flowers to her out-of-state mom, avoids all brunch-centric restaurants, and hunkers down in a Cineplex to watch enough action-adventure movies to get through the day without bursting into tears.


Then there’s the childless-by-choice people (CBCP), a hearty bunch with clear minds and no regrets about eschewing the parent track. They love kids, enjoy being around them; are close with nieces, nephews, Godchildren and mentored youngsters, but they had/have no desire to make any themselves. Being social people, however, they willingly spend time with family and friends who do have children and this is where things can get sticky…hands and otherwise. They’re typically outnumbered by PWK (People With Kids) and because the majority steers the theme, the theme usually comes with all manner of happy, messy, usually very loud kids, moms chirping about schools, playgrounds and the most gifted pre-schooler, and distracted parents of either gender who can’t finish a sentence for the flickering of eyes as they follow their little rambunctians (yes, I made that up) around the yard. For even the most patient, most interested CBCP, this frivolity has its limits. They’re supportive, loving, and tolerant but, frankly, they’re not in the club and the jargon and kid-centric focus can hold interest for only so long, like listening to computer geeks discuss HTML.


But MOTHERHOOD (there’s nothing lower case about it) is all encompassing. I know. I’ve been there. And when you’re there, there’s nothing more interesting, more engaging, more emotionally fascinating than not only being a mother, but talking about it. Except to CBCPs, who can find their good sportsmanship wearing thin after the second hour of sand play and string cheese. We’ve seen the glazed eyes and restless leg tapping as childless friends edge toward the door with excuses of meeting “colleagues” at the Formosa for drinks and adult chatter. We know because we used to be them. We sometimes wish we still were. But now we’re wiping snot off the noses of children we don’t even know and, oddly, we’re always the ones with the Kleenex.

Mother’s Day was easier when we were younger; at that point our own parenthood was far enough ahead that categories weren’t yet clear. We could happily make calls and send cards to our own Moms, toast till we were tipsy, and no one had to dab eyes or prevent rolling them. We didn’t have a parental status to talk about so we didn’t have to avoid it. Mother’s Day was simply a day to celebrate our moms. As it still is, with just a little more complication.


According to one friend and hostess, Mother’s Day has become, like so many other holidays, a confused, PC sensitive event rife with wrong turns. “There is a War on Mothers’ Day!!” she declared. “It’s gotten to the point where I want to send out surveys before I invite anyone to brunch! I mean, come on! Let’s either celebrate it or not but we can’t be held responsible for triggering CBCs (she liked my acronyms) or annoying the crap out of CBCPs. I feel for them but whatever they’re going through is their issue. Everybody had a damn mother, how about we just celebrate that?” She’s an excitable sort.

And while I reject the overused war vernacular, I agree with the notion of not losing the holiday to hyper-concern. Sensitivity, certainly, but not war. Making a Mothers’ Day toast in mixed company does require a little forethought and it can’t hurt to limit the poetry to: “Here’s to you, Mom; you’re the best!” or “To all the mothers in the room, cheers!” Probably wise, however, to avoid, “And to motherhood, which is a woman’s greatest gift and most satisfying role!” For your cousin still mourning her second miscarriage, it’s likely cutting; for your friend who decided not to have children, condescending.

So let’s make this clear: there is no war, just consideration. Celebrate the matriarchs in your circle with every bell and whistle at hand, but keep the rhetoric sensitive. We can all find reason to celebrate LIFE…and that, after all, is what motherhood is all about.


Happy Mother’s Day!

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