Writing and Mother’s Day

I’m a writer in a writing rut. I’m feeling myself lose interest in my blog, in my journal. I’m having trouble focusing; I feel like I have nothing worthwhile to say. It’s not a new feeling. I’ve had it before. But this time I feel like I have something to blame it on: I’m pregnant.

I’m very largely pregnant. My house is cluttered with baby gifts that haven’t yet found a place to belong. My last month’s calendar was full with showers, midwife appointments, and family visits. The little person inside me makes sitting (or standing or lying down) for long periods uncomfortable and distracts me by kicking painfully at my ribs. If I went into labor today, the baby wouldn’t be considered premature.

So I kind of feel like I can let myself off the hook. It’s only natural that I turn inward and focus my attention on the life that’s growing inside me, on the ordeal I’ll soon endure giving birth. No need to wallow in non-writing-writer guilt like usual. This is one time it’s ok to be lazy. One thing that I think will help me to survive motherhood is being kind to myself, and I know I should start that now.

But I also want to resist that urge to slow down. My biggest fear in becoming a mother is losing my identity, losing the things that are most important to me. In order to avoid resenting my child, I know I’ll have to hang on to the things that make me who I am. So I need to keep writing. It’s more urgent now than ever.

One comforting thing that I’ve heard from other young mothers I trust who have an outlook similar to mine is that when you have a child, your priorities do shift, but you can still make time for the things that are truly important.

I’m making time for other things that aren’t writing. Easier things, less mentally draining things. I’m still going to the gym about five times a week, for example, though my pace on the elliptical machine has significantly slowed. The choice to prioritize gym time probably has more to do with my poor body image than with my love for exercise.

Part of it may be that I’m afraid of writing. Afraid of reflecting. Afraid of what I’ll discover if I think deeper about this transition and go beneath the surface of onesies and diaper bags. But I need to face that fear. It’s important for women to write about themselves and to make their struggles public if they can take the heat. Letting others in can make all of our struggles a little more bearable because they feel less solitary.

So I want to make writing a priority, while also being kind to myself when it doesn’t go well. That’s kind of hard when my main source of motivation in life has been the conviction that if I don’t accomplish X task then I’m worthless. I need to balance that motivating writer guilt with the need to be kind to myself. Balance–as elusive as that concept is–is the goal, and it begins not just with my actions, or how I spend my time, but with my thinking.

I guess this is my pep talk to myself as I face the biggest change in my life so far. To put this new focus into action, I feel like I need to inject some life into this blog. One thing I’d like to do in order to keep the blog going and make it fun, sustainable, and engaging, is expand somewhat beyond book reviews to repost articles that I read online. A good amount of the reading that I do is online, and I believe this is the case for many, many people I know too. I like it when facebook friends direct me to interesting articles, so hopefully my audience here will appreciate these links as well. These posts will be similar to the “internet roundup” posts that I’ve done a couple times and similar to what I’ve seen on blue milk, a feminist blog on parenting that I admire. I’ll offer a quote from an article I’ve read online, with or without commentary. I’ll keep using the internet roundup tag on these posts for organization and clarity.

So, since it’s the season, I wanted to make my first internet roundup post in about a year about Mother’s Day.

“Why I Hate Mother’s Day” by Anne Lamott

Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult, and many mothers were as equipped to raise children as wire monkey mothers. I say that without judgment: It is, sadly, true. …

I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure. The non-mothers must sit in their churches, temples, mosques, recovery rooms and pretend to feel good about the day while they are excluded from a holiday that benefits no one but Hallmark and See’s. …

It should go without saying that I also hate Valentine’s Day.

Mothering has been the richest experience of my life, but I am still opposed to Mother’s Day. It perpetuates the dangerous idea that all parents are somehow superior to non-parents. …

Don’t get me wrong: There were times I could have literally died of love for my son, and I’ve felt stoned on his rich, desperate love for me. But I bristle at the whispered lie that you can know this level of love and self-sacrifice only if you are a parent. We talk about “loving one’s child” as if a child were a mystical unicorn. Ninety-eight percent of American parents secretly feel that if you have not had and raised a child, your capacity for love is somehow diminished. Ninety-eight percent of American parents secretly believe that non-parents cannot possibly know what it is to love unconditionally, to be selfless, to put yourself at risk for the gravest loss. But in my experience, it’s parents who are prone to exhibit terrible self-satisfaction and selfishness, who can raise children as adjuncts, like rooms added on in a remodel. Their children’s value and achievements in the world are reflected glory, necessary for these parents’ self-esteem, and sometimes, for the family’s survival. This is how children’s souls are destroyed.

I guess I’m about 96% done with my pregnancy, so I guess that gives me about 96% of a right to celebrate Mother’s Day as a mother and expect others to shower me with flowers and greeting cards. But Lamott’s article really makes some great points that I totally agree with. Mother’s Day celebrates the ideology of total motherhood that frightens me so much. It excludes childless women and men in the same way that Valentine’s Day excludes the uncoupled. It’s not an equal opportunity holiday. Lamott makes me want to boycott Mother’s Day forever.

The problem is that I would feel horrible explaining these objections to my mother, mother-in-law, and my husband’s grandmother when they wonder why I’m not giving or accepting gifts on Mother’s Day. I don’t want to insult them or the sacrifices they made to raise their kids. At the same time, though, I think I will make a point of honoring my husband’s childless aunt, who is like a second mother to him, and I might bring up Lamott’s main points if the opportunity arises. I will probably celebrate Mother’s Day the same way I celebrate Valentine’s Day: tongue-in-cheek, fully aware of its problematic exclusionary nature, with no sense of superiority, and most of all privately. I hated Valentine’s Day growing up, because I spent all of high school single, and that experience still colors my feelings about the day. The only reason I celebrate Valentine’s Day is because it happens to be the anniversary of the beginning of my relationship with my husband, but I still feel sympathy and solidarity with those who find the holiday annoying or depressing. Personally, I don’t have any similar baggage with Mother’s Day because I didn’t struggle with infertility and have/had good relationships with my mother and grandmothers, but in the abstract I definitely see how the two holidays are comparable in the way they enforce traditional gender roles through celebrating them.

I think social media makes holidays like these even more oppressive than they have to be through the relentless sharing of pictures of flower arrangements and the competition to have or be the best partner. The comparisons that these joyful status updates engender in those who are excluded from the holiday are what make the celebration’s exclusionary nature so oppressive and hurtful to them. Resisting the urge to show off how loved I am is the best I can do to keep my celebration from hurting anyone else.


11 thoughts on “Writing and Mother’s Day

  1. Love it! You express so many things that I feel! And when it comes to my first Mother’s Day, I’m very torn about being involved with it. I’m never someone that likes to have a big deal made over me, and I don’t go all out for celebrations (except for Christmas, and that’s a totally different post!). And, I do have some “problems” with Mother’s Day as well, and Father’s Day for that matter, but I can also think of it in another light. Nearly every “hallmark holiday” is exclusionary in some way…if it is Somebody or Something’s “day.” I try think of it less as a day to elevate the role of mother to a pedestal and more of a day where one shows appreciation for what a parent has done and how they been an influence.

    All that aside, keep writing! Even if it has to briefly be set aside in the coming weeks, you’ll re-find it and it will make its way back into your daily life.

  2. Are there such things as equal opportunity holidays? And should there be? I think it’s great to have certain days to celebrate the mother and father figures (not necessarily the people who birthed us) in our lives. I don’t think that one has to read into it so deeply as to say that anyone without a child is not as good as someone who does have a child. I have never thought that idea is an underlying tone of Mother/Father’s day….such a pessimistic way to view the world! I think it’s nice to have a special day to show that we are grateful for these figures in our lives. Without these holidays would a majority of people actually take the time to show their appreciation in a meaningful way? Maybe it comes off as a little forced- to have a day that you feel you must do this whether you want to or not…but I would say that is better than the alternative. Think of all that parents sacrifice –the things that you yourself worry about and that are scary to you as you make that transition. Don’t you think you will appreciate hearing from your children and your spouse that they truly appreciate and are thankful for all you have done and sacrificed for them and your family? Won’t that help make it seem more bearable or worth it in some way? At least hearing some token of thanks is better than hearing nothing and then feeling as if you were taken for granted and all those sacrifices you’ve made were never even acknowledged over the years. I think that’s what these days are about. And I definitely don’t see that as oppressive.
    Of course there is the other side and there are people who mourn the loss of these figures in their lives. Or maybe these figures weren’t anything to appreciate in the first place. But, it is up to them to decide to spend these days focusing on something more positive….celebrating the life that was or focusing on the other positive influences in their lives.

    • Maybe you’re right that “equal opportunity” isn’t a great way to think about whether or not certain holidays should be allowed. Either it results in abolishing every holiday, because someone is bound to be excluded, or a meaningless proliferation of minor celebrations like Salesman’s Day and Pet Owners’ Day, and even Unemployed Couch-sitter Day, in the vain attempt to cover everyone. So maybe instead of calling for the abolishment of a holiday (which I certainly didn’t do, and which I don’t even think Lamott does) it’s best to just be aware of the way that certain holidays inherently exclude some people and to do our best not to hurt others in the way we celebrate. For example, by not posting self-congratulatory memes that aggrandize parents at the expense of non-parents. I mostly saw my post and Lamott’s as a way to raise awareness of a new, valid perspective on the holiday, so that we can all be sensitive to the people who find it a burden in some way.

      I think Lamott is responding to the attitudes of “sanctimommies” as much as to the holiday itself. Surely you’ve seen facebook memes that say things like “You don’t know what love is until you hold your child in your arms.” Statements like that do indeed put forward the idea that childless people are inferior to parents, because it implies that childless people are more selfish, or are incapable of real love, and that is offensive and hurtful. Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day) as an institution can easily feed into that mentality, though it doesn’t necessarily have to. Observing that pattern is not reading into things. It’s being aware of the larger web of ideas underlying the things we do and say every day.

      All the nice things you say about showing gratitude for others and being appreciated are among the reasons why I’m not actually going to boycott Mother’s Day. I can enjoy the nice, loving side of the holiday while also being aware of its problematic side. I can hold both of those things in my mind at once without being too terribly troubled by their contradicting each other.

  3. Childless people are not inferior by any means. You can love a real love in many different ways to many different people. A love for a spouse is a different love you will have than a love for a mother etc etc. And a love for a child will be the same way, but if you let go a bit and dont hold back a love for your child will melt your heart, watch and see. For you MJ, maybe not in the first few months becuase it is hard, no sleep, lots of feedings and diaper changes (it was hard for me x2)…but the first time he smiles at you when you walk in the door from a long day at work….he will melt your heart, promise. Your almost there….! Keep strong, get rest, and Happy Mothers Day.

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