“Happy Mother’s Day!” It’s a cheerful saying for some. But for others of us, it can elicit an array of emotions.
Especially when you’re a woman and you don’t have kids.
In the stage of life I find myself right now– though I have aspirations of one day being a mom– right now I am not. Maybe you are like me. Or maybe you’re not like me but know someone in a similar position– the position of a non-mom.
A single woman with no kids.
A married woman with no kids.
A woman who can’t have kids.
A woman who has lost a child.
Of course, different places and people all have their own landscape of real struggles and ups and downs and hopes and dreams and feelings to go with. Some can harbor deep pain But what they do have in common is they can make the second Sunday in May feel a bit awkward.
When someone joyfully wishes you a “Happy Mother’s Day,” what do you say?
When you can’t get together with your own mother, what do you do?
When you see your social media explode with pictures of children with their seemingly “happy” families, what do you feel?
Mother’s Day can be an interesting annual experience if you’re not a mother. On one hand, sometimes people to use Mother’s Day to place mothers on a pedestal above the rest of us (I remember a church service I attended years ago where women were given gifts according to the number of kids they had) Other times, people smooth over the whole “mother” thing and honor women in general—which makes those of us non-mothers feel especially weird, like being given a participation trophy for sitting the bench in a sport we did not play.
But if we go back to the roots of Mother’s Day, we see something entirely different than a holiday about gifts and cards and dinners and posting selfies with mom.
All of us can probably use a reminder of where Mother’s Day actually came from.
The ancient roots of Mother’s Day actually have nothing to do with mothers themselves and everything to do with community. And the Church. The ancient roots of Mother’s Day actually have nothing to do with mothers themselves and everything to do with community. And the Church. Click To Tweet
Early Christians celebrated a festival known as “Mothering Sunday,” which fell on the 4thSunday in Lent. This holiday had once been a major celebration in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe. It was originally a time when Christians would return to their “mother church”—the main church in the vicinity of their home—for a special service. “Mothering Sunday” was less about the woman who gave birth to you and more about the call to return to what is known in the Bible as the “Bride of Christ”– the Church– a Christian community– a family not marked by blood.
Hundreds of years later, in the years before the Civil War in America, a woman named Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia started what she called “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to teach local women how to care for their children. Following the Civil War, these clubs later became a unifying force, especially when Jarvis organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day” in 1868, where moms gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote unity and reconciliation. This “Mother’s Day” was about admitting the relational rift between the sides and bringing together what war had separated.
Decades later, the mother of the “official” Mother’s Day national holiday we celebrate today was actually a woman who was never a mother herself. Her name was Anna Jarvis. In the early 1900’s after her mother’s death, Anna, the daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, sought to commemorate the sacrifices mothers made for their children. There were always military parades and celebrations for men who sacrificed—so why not the women who gave up much for their kids? After a marketing opportunity involving her Methodist Church in West Virginia and Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia, the holiday took off—even to Anna’s dismay when it later became too commercialized. But Anna herself, the Mother of Mother’s Day, never married and never had children. Yet, she honored the sacrifice of mothers because she had a mother (and probably knew what kind of kid she herself had been!).
So what do the roots of Mother’s Day mean for us as we celebrate Mother’s Day– especially for those of us who are not mothers?
1. Mother’s Day points to our need for community.
Ancient “Mothering Sunday” reminded people of this and the unique Body of the Church that unites people across ethnicity, race, relationship status, or parenthood status. Whether your kids are biological or whether they have been adopted, whether they have passed away or whether you do not have kids of your own, we all need community. If you’re a non-mother, you need community. If you are a mother or part of a family with a mother, you need community outside your family. As a non-mother, I have realized it’s important not to cut yourself off from moms and families, even if they talk about their kids a lot and make you feel awkward at times. We need them, and they need us. Those who are moms or parents or families with children, you too need to associate with people beyond those who share your place in life. You can learn and gain a lot from those who do not have kids. Invite them in. We appreciate it. On Mother’s Day, be together, celebrate together, and grieve together as the Body.
2. Mother’s Day brings out honest feelings as well as healing.
Ann Reeves Jarvis brought out in the open what others assumed would be smoothed over in the aftermath of war, and this brought about healing and unity. Mother’s Day may be especially hard for you this year, and sometimes others make that difficult. Sometimes people make comments or assumptions they don’t understand can be hurtful (“Why hasn’t a pretty girl like you gotten married yet?” “When are you guys going to start a family?” “Hasn’t it been a few years already since your baby passed?” But we can be honest with ourselves and with others about where we are and what battles we have faced. Churches need to simply acknowledge the array of people and life experiences in their midst, without attempting to tell them what to feel or how long they should be feeling it. For those of us who are not mothers yet long to be, we need to recognize that the moms we see celebrating with their seemingly happy families are not the enemy. And to the people with kids: don’t assume you know everybody’s situation. All of us can be honest about where we are, what we do or do not understand, and our desire to walk together so that no one is alone.
3. Mother’s Day is not about elevating women with children above others.
Mother’s Day was never meant to affirm that motherhood is the mark of “arriving” in life, or to make other women somehow “less than.” It’s about acknowledging that all of us had a mother who made a sacrifice for us. For some of us, that sacrifice simply involved carrying us for nine months and nothing more. For others, that sacrifice involved time and money and self, and whether in person or in memory, we thank her for that. But Anna Jarvis also demonstrates that calling and impact and service are not correlated to reproductive history or capacity. Historically, God has used non-moms in some of the most fruitful ministries and movements around the world.
Of course, I anticipate there still will be awkward moments and conversations for non-moms on Mother’s Day. We cannot and should not dismiss the real pain that some are experiencing. But the history of Mother’s Day points us to more than a holiday involving expensive cards, gifts, and dinners. It demonstrates our need for genuine community in the Church. It shows the power of sharing and healing together. And it reveals how a single childless woman can wind up giving birth to a movement that honors others. So what do the roots of Mother’s Day mean for us as we celebrate Mother’s Day-- especially for those of us who are not mothers? These 3 things. Click To Tweet
Looking to encourage and support women in your life this Mother’s Day? This e-book is a tremendous resource!
Unfortunately, the question of whether or not women and men can lead together with equality and mutuality in the body of Christ is still a front-burner issue in the church today. As the authors and collaborators of this work point out, women are still underrepresented in senior levels of leadership which means that the kingdom of God is robbed of half of the solution for the missional task at hand. In response to this reality, they cast a compelling vision for gender-balanced leadership structures in churches and organizations by offering real-life stories and case studies that illustrate how this is already being done today. I am grateful for ANY and ALL efforts to keep this issue at the forefront of leadership conversations and to present practical strategies for moving forward.