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Mothering, or Who Gets to Celebrate Mother’s Day?

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    For my first Mother’s Day Sunday as a Director of Religious Education, I was asked to choose and tell the Story for All Ages.  As I sorted through the many books written for children around Mother’s Day, I realized that these books – lovely though they were – did not represent all of the families sitting in our church sanctuary.  The typical stories for Mother’s Day left out families with two moms or two dads, parents who were grieving the child they’d lost, people who had wanted to conceive but hadn’t yet been able to, youth and adults who had a difficult relationship with their parents.  The pictures in most of those books left out people based on sexual orientation, non-binary gender, race, income, and more.  Mother’s Day, displayed in microcosm in that shelf full of children’s picture books, looked more like a holiday that left people out than a holiday that brought people together. 

    Over the years I’ve come to view Mother’s Day as a day to celebrate the act of mothering, rather than any one physical description of who a mother is.  I’m grateful to the unknown Unitarian Universalist minister whose sermon helped to change my thinking, though their sermon (titled Mothering is a Verb) has been lost in the mists of Google.  She spoke of her struggle to understand gender as a spectrum, but more important, of her belief that Mother’s Day should be about the people who are nurturing, guiding, mentoring, and loving children, rather than focusing on cisgender women who are “picture-perfect” mothers. A few years later, I learned of the campaign for “Mamas Day Our Way”, a call to honor all mothers, especially those who are weighed down by racial bias, stigmatized, or ignored, and to work to create a society where all mamas and their families can thrive.

    As we approach this Hallmark holiday, too, I remember that the original creator of Mother’s Day was Julia Ward Howe.  We often remember her as the writer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, and forget (or never learn) that in her later years she became a staunch advocate for peace.  She wrote, “Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be of water or of tears! … our [children] shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience.  We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our [children] to be trained to injure theirs.” 

    Mothering.  Our popular culture has so limited our view of what it is, or can be.  This Mother’s Day, I hope you are able to reach out to those who’ve mothered you, or those you have mothered yourself, in any one of the myriad ways mothering happens. May you, and they, feel the blessings of Love. 

*You might want to check out the website, with its blogs and social action, artwork and cards that celebrate “Mamas Day Our Way” – beautiful portrayals of all, not just some, of the people who mother the children of our collective communities.  More resources are available at the UUA website – search for Mamas Day, Black Mamas Matter, or Julia Ward Howe. 

By Kathy E. Smith, Director of Family Ministry