Family Life

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Why Mother’s Day Isn’t a Measure of Worth or Love

Mother nose to nose with a child, while drinking a cup of coffee in the kitchen

For so many families, Mother’s Day is complicated and rife with emotion. But should it be? Writer Katie Smith reflects on how her family has chosen to shift the narrative to a kinder, more inclusive celebration.

This week, as I enjoyed a Mother’s Day tea at my youngest child’s school, I couldn’t help but feel a range of emotions. As a family built through adoption, days like Mother’s Day are complicated. I can’t separate my motherhood from the fact that, in order for me to be Mom to my kids, both their birth mothers and my children had to experience loss and trauma. I can’t erase those very real pains, nor minimize their impact.

Because my children experienced prolonged time in foster care, there were also temporary moms. Our very first Mother’s Day, my then nine-year-old counted out her “bonus moms” and made me a card saying, “Happy Mother’s Day to My 5th Mom.”  After I opened it, she whispered to me that she wasn’t sure if there were more. There were, in fact, a dozen more temporary moms.

I don’t think we are alone in finding celebrations that come with hidden hopes and high expectations to be difficult. For so many people, these days are reminders that life is not what they expected it to be. For others, they are reminders of painful, broken or missing relationships.

As I sat at that Mother’s Day tea this week, I thought about the kids there who didn’t have a mother present for whatever reason. I thought about the school-aged children of one of my closest friends, who spoke bravely at their parent’s funeral last week. I thought about my own nine-year-old self, who was sent out of the classroom by a teacher because I didn’t have a dad to write a Father’s Day card for. He’d died not long before.

In our home, I’ve learned that—when it comes to choosing how to celebrate days like Mother’s Day—it’s more inclusive and kinder for everyone when my kids feel they have choices, and that no feeling or decision about how we spend the day is wrong. Sometimes, that means treating it more like a family fun day with no mention of what day it is. Sometimes, the kids want to include other moms who deserve to be recognized just as much as I do. Sometimes they want to bring me a delightful breakfast in bed with admittedly cold tea and cute homemade cards.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned, though, is that I need to work hard to shift the discourse for myself around Mother’s Day, and not see it as a day that in any way measures my worth or how much my family loves me. I have the immense privilege of parenting my children 365 days a year, and our relationship and my experience of being their parent doesn’t need to be summed up by how we spend a day in May. There are other days for homemade art, special meals and whatever else we have come to see as synonymous with celebrating Mother’s Day. By learning this, admittedly the hard way, I’ve freed us of expectations that do more harm than good and set me up for disappointment. Instead I’ve learned to let us just be a family on that day.

I can’t change the fact that my kids will experience what society thinks Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is and should be, even though that doesn’t work for so many incredible people and families who deserve a different narrative. I recently heard of a school that has special days where students celebrate a “great grown-up” in their lives. I thought of how much better that would have been for myself as a grieving child, my kids and so many others.

What I choose to focus on now is creating a space in our home that acknowledges that life is full of multiple truths, and that no day on the calendar requires us to be anything other than what we are—a family with complicated histories who needs and deserves grace, compassion and gentleness.

This year we’re doing something my children have enjoyed in the past. We plan to write all the things we love about each other and our family on heart notes. We will include things we love and appreciate about their original and other moms, too. Apart from that, my kids had one more important request: Ice cream and lots of it. How can I say no to that?! And if I can get a quiet hour to read, that’s all the celebrating I need.

a man carrying two children

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