Sunday, May 9, 2010

On Motherhood

This morning, I read a brilliant piece by my favorite writer, Anne Lamott.  Of Mother's Day, Anne writes:

Mother's Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings...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.

While this may not be a popular sentiment, it's a very real one.  I love my mother and remind her of that as often as I can.  I admire my friends who are mothers.  But I also have friends who are struggling to become mothers and who have lost their mothers, for whom this day is a very painful reminder of that which they have lost and that which they may never have.

I have real issues with the whole cult of motherhood.  Mothers are no more saints or sinners than the rest of us.  And yes, being a mother is a wonderful experience and an amazing endeavor to be treasured and valued.  But not at the expense of those of us who through circumstance or choice are not mothers.  Who never will be. And yet still believe we possess the same grace, selflessness, tenacity, kindess, affection and love that we honor mothers for this day.  Let's celebrate that AND our mothers and surrogate mothers.  Daily.


  1. this is absolutely how i feel. thank you for putting it in words.

    i read anne lamott's piece this morning after you posted it on twitter, and it was so dead on.

  2. I appreciate your thoughts but can't the same be said for any holiday that celebrates a particular role? Fathers day? Veterans Day? Presidents' Day? They are simply roles that people take or don't take (sometimes by choice, sometimes not.)

  3. Hey Laura -

    There are many many other possible complications in the whole setup (I won't go into them here), but applaud your post.

    On behalf of everyone out there, and those of us lucky to know you, we're well aware of, and cherish your grace, selflessness, tenacity, kindess, affection and love as well as friendship, trust and trustworthiness, humor...(and the list goes on and on).

    And so for you -- Happy 2nd Sunday in May :)

  4. Dear Laura,
    I so commend you for saying what is in your heart on this day. SO much of our conditioning is about either/or, good/bad, better than, when in reality both/and is so much more true. The important word I read in your post is AND. Thank you for sharing from your heart.

  5. French Tart: that you so much. It was very much on my mind today.
    Cog: Thanks so much, sweetie. I love you.
    Greg: I very much appreciate your comment. And I'm not really a fan of any fabricated, commercialized holidays, Valentine's Day, Father's Day, etc. And obviously, people are going to feel excluded from any and all of the above, which isn't a reason in and of itself not to celebrate, but why I'm generally not enthused by them. I think what make's Mother's Day stand out is that motherhood is fraught with so many societal expectations and burdens, that no woman--mother or not--could live up to them. Just a complicated day, that's all.
    @Julie: It was very much from my heart, so thank you.

  6. Mother's day used to be such a hard, hard day for me. Especially in the throws of infertility. My son was born 6/5/08, so Mother's day happened before he was born and everyone was saying Happy Mother's day to me, but I didn't know if it was for me. I didn't have a baby, just the promise of one, his birthmother was still his expectant mother, and who knew if she would follow through with her adoption plan. I know people who lost their mother to brain cancer and have witnessed the suffering the mass advertising onslught of Mother's day causes...but I am thankful for Mother's Day. I am thankful for the memories I made today. While I may not have really understood what it meant to be a parent before I was one (who does), I am most thankful for the chance to be parent. I am happy (ultimately) to give my entire self to my son. He is my legacy and the greatest gift I can give to the world is a well raised man.

  7. In that case, I'm with you! :) I'm not enthusiastic about them either...

    I remember living in Ukraine, celebrating "Women's Day" which has an interesting history and a completely different meaning than Mother's Day. Here is a link to a wikipedia article you may find interesting:

  8. Hmmm, I gotta go with Greg on this one. If you take the same basic view toward any other day, you could say the exact same thing... "Veteran's Day is awful, because of all of the people who aren't vets, whether they chose not to - or because they were rejected for some reason - what are they? not as good? less worthy? Not to mention those who have lost loved ones in the service. How dare we remind them of their loss?" Where does this kind of over-sensitivity end?

    For example, I have no father. So, father's day is meaningless to me. I don't get mad or offended or sad or ANYTHING -- it's just a day. What's the point of all the hatefulness? (Because, seriously, Anne's comment was pretty venomous.)

    I'm with you on the holiday sham stuff (I was all over your Turkey Day rant), but this feels like something more.

    What most came to mind when I read your post is that we all need to stop defining ourselves by other people and -- even more importantly -- stop viewing the accomplishments or recognition of others as somehow diminishing to our own value.

  9. @Sarah: So well said, and I'm glad you got the opportunity to be a mom.
    @Greg: Thanks for the link. A friend of mine for Romania said they celebrate something similar.
    @Kristen: It's okay--we don't have to agree all the time. And I actually don't see Anne's comments as venemous at all. She's a proud mother. I think the points she was trying to make were that 1. it's an unnecessary and overcommercialized holiday that can make people who don't have moms or aren't moms feel bad or left out (and yes, you can do that with any and every holiday, but I don't think there's as much sentiment and myth and expectation in those holidays as there is wrapped up in motherhood) and 2. that society in general and many parents and mothers believe that they are superior to non-parents and non-mothers. Not that that's your take on it, but it's a smugness that I have experienced firsthand, and people can be extremely insensitive when it comes to people who are childless, again, either by circumstance or choice. I don't think the point was to diminish the value of others, but to start a broader conversation about the holiday and motherhood in general, which obviously, it did. I've also read several of Anne's books and she's one of my favorite writers, so I probably have a bit more context. And I'm not a mother, so I have no idea if her words sound hateful or not, but I have friends who are mothers who said this post resonated with them. I guess I don't feel diminished or de-valued by recognizing others, but in so doing, we should also be aware that these types of celebrations can be fraught with emotion for many (thinking in particular of two friends going through IVF and another who lost her mom to suicide). Doesn't make them less celebratory for others, but does make it a difficult time for some, just like Thanksgiving or Christmas might be for people who've lost loved ones.

  10. Aah, I see. Actually, Laura we agree about the concept, maybe just not entirely the subject matter - or the appropriate approach to the issue. Of course, I've been a mom from a very young age, so I haven't had the opportunity to experience that same "Why don't you have kids yet, you slacker?" attitude. I have, however, experienced the EXACT same thing for being single. "You're alone, there must be something wrong with you." :) I would say that these two issues (marriage and motherhood) are obviously more equal in weighty expectation than some of the other things mentioned (vet, etc.). So, I get it. But, still I think it's a matter of not judging our lives in the light of others. I also have two friends going through IVF (one of whom is shared with you), and I know for a fact that one of them aches longingly over every woman with a baby (especially if she has deemed them "unworthy" of motherhood - poor, single, teenage), and takes their situation as a personal slap in the face. While the other friend, though devastated by two unsuccessful attempts at IVF so far, never views the other women who have what she wants as a reason to feel sorry for herself. See the difference? The general circumstances are the same, but these are two different reactions. So, all I'm saying is that we've got to be mature enough to accept our circumstances (the good and the bad) and come from a place of contentment (vs. envy or resentment or even righteous indignation) - even as we strive for the things we still long for.

    Having said that, I do think that anyone (man or woman) who has lived through having a teenager (and the million eye rolls, lack of logical thinking, and constant feedback that you're the lamest person in the world that come with it) -- deserves a medal!!! :)

  11. I hear ya on this one Laura, I really do. I also don't believe in these commercial holidays and holidays in general are very difficult for me, especially Christmas. Second favorite - Valentine's Day. Next up, can't wait for Father's Day.

    I used to spend the entire month of Christmas extremely depressed. I still have troubles but what has helped me overcome my sadness on these days is just to adopt a positive attitiude, to be happy for the people who are happy on these days.

    Not everyone can be happy every day, there are plenty of days these people struggle in these situations when I don't, so I try to be happy for them and hope I too will one day have my chance to be happy on this day, or another day, too.

    Hang in there, Christy

  12. @Kristen--I totally agree that perspective, especially when it comes to judging. And you can either let it get to you or move on. Knowing Anne's writing, she'd be the first to tell you she's working on it and trying to move on. Hard to get the context and she probably didn't try hard to provide it, as it was meant to be a provocative piece.

    @Christy-Sorry some days are hard for you, and that's exactly why I wrote this. I know yesterday was a hard day for many of my friends, and even for me, and while I don't begrudge anyone their celebrations, I do think we should always be sensitive to the circumstances of others in our lives. Hugs to you.


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