My first Mother's Day—as a mother, at least—was a bust.

It started out well enough: My husband surprised me with a pair of espadrilles I had admired in the (get this) Neiman Marcus catalog. But somewhere after the shoes, disappointment became the theme of the day. It ended with me in a rumpled mess in my 2-month-old son's nursery, crying. I scowled at my husband: "Today is the day to honor me, and you're not honoring me."

Aah, a shining moment.

Yet in a way, it was. Because as those ridiculous words oozed out of my mouth, my brain and heart took note. And I realized a problem, not only with my attitude but also with Mother's Day. And I've had a problem with it since.

Mother's Day is a day to honor moms. Clearly a good thing. Honoring parents is not only biblical, it's one of the 10 laws God gave to the Israelites and, through them, us. But what's always interested me about the command is that it says to honor your mother, not Motherhood.

While I can look back at my first Mother's Day and blame the tantrum on my exhaustion as a new mama, I realize that part of my tantrum was that I had bought (hook, line, and espadrille) into the expectations surrounding motherhood—and hence, what a good Mother's Day looks like. When neither panned out, I melted.

I bought into these expectations not just because they are touted in the broader culture but also because they are taught from the pulpit. When we celebrate Mother's Day at church, what we rarely honor is our own mothers—persons with specific gifts and talents and passions—but a stereotyped institution. We celebrate and honor the Good American Middle-Class Mother, or, as we like to call her, the Good Christian Mother.

We usually plan our honoring in church ...

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