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 accordingly. We give flowers and pass out chocolate. We show video montages of wild soccer-gear-clad kids, leaping border collies, and frazzled moms. Over it all, a 5-year-old lisps out a sappy-sweet thank you for all her mommy does. We preach on Ruth (without mentioning that she wasn't exactly the Good Christian Mother) or from Proverbs 31 (but leave out how little time this mom seemed to be on active mommy duty, at least as we know it). And we probably encourage taking Mom out for brunch so she "doesn't have to cook."
Through it all, we have often failed to actually honor moms. All we have done is uphold cultural stereotypes, the kind that dishonor moms (and God, I think, but that's another post) more than anything else.
Maybe I'm being harsh—and I know plenty of moms who enjoy any one of these things (I love border collies!). But given the way many churches honor moms on Mothers Day, I would assume I'm not the only woman who has ended up a rumpled mess at the end of it.
We also know (and to be fair, many churches recognize) that Mother's Day is brutal for women who long for children. We know that it's hard for a child of any age whose mother has died. And we can understand that it's difficult for those whose own mothers are not exactly easy-to-honor women.
It's probably too late to change sermon topics or to call off the "mom-tage" video tribute. (And who really wants to cancel the chocolate?) But it's not too late for everything. If churches really want to honor moms on Mother's Day, they can encourage moms to be individuals, to be helping them shed their facades, to step out of cultural assumptions and to live and take on duties and demands in accordance with who God made them to be.
How do we do this? First, we need to get over the thought that honoring moms needs to happen just one Sunday a year. Why not carve out times to hear stories from mothers in your congregation or community who are living out a calling that looks very different from the stereotypes? Listen to and learn from what these women have to share. Or, how about taking time to hear stories of mother-child reconciliation? Let's start looking for examples of a mother's unrelenting love, something that's closer to the heart of God than most other things on earth.
When it comes to honoring our moms or any mom, churches should just remember that while we share many things in common, each mom walks her own road—with her own purpose and mission. The best thing a church can do is walk along that road with her, encouraging her at every step.
Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of Mama's Got a Fake I.D.: How to Reveal the Real You Behind All That Mom. She lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband, three kids, and newly adopted pit bull. Visit her at CarynRivadeneira.com.
Her.meneutics blogger LaVonne Neff wrote about her late mother last Mother's Day.