Moms should be celebrated, and they deserve all the flowers, spa days, pampering, and gifts given to them. I love my mom and I can’t thank her enough for all she has done for me and my family — Mother’s Day doesn’t even begin to cover the gratitude I have for her.
But for many, Mother’s Day is the most painful day of the year. For women who have experienced miscarriages, have had children die, have had abortions, who want to have kids but are struggling or unable to, have had to give up their children or currently have broken relationships with their kids, the holiday serves as a stark reminder filled with personal sorrow.
Christian communities can be especially harsh because of their tendencies to show favoritism to the idea of motherhood — as if mothers are somehow more holy and righteous than non-mothers. In an effort to praise and empower marriage, healthy parenting, families, and the sanctity of life, Christian subculture often mistakenly and unintentionally alienates those around us — especially women.
We jokingly ask our friends and relatives “So, when are you guys going to have kids?” Grandparents chide “Hopefully you’ll have some little cousins to play with soon!” We tell people to “enjoy the sleep while you can, because once you have kids all your freedom is gone,” as if having kids is a pain. When we do this, we attach negative stigmas on people who don’t have children, and individuals can feel debilitating amounts of pressure, guilt, stress, and worthlessness when they’re expected to have children but don’t — or can’t.
It’s easy to glorify the concept of parenting and see it as a superior social status — it’s not. We often assume that people without kids surely want to have them, and even if they don’t, we reinforce the idea that theyshould want them. For those who do want kids but can’t, the pain of Mother’s Day is often unbearable.
The guilt even transcends to people with kids. Parenting advice is freely given, sometimes condescendingly, about what worked — and didn’t — with our children, and parents are often quick to judge others who are “doing it wrong” or whose kids have “struggled in life.” This can quickly cause parents to blame themselves for their children’s shortcomings.
Before long, parents are analyzing all of their children’s actions within the context of parenting skills — or lack thereof. Did we do this right? Did we do that wrong? How do we make our children successful for the next stages of life? What food should we give them? Should we vaccinate? What school should they attend?We buy books, watch podcasts, browse blogs, and excitedly read Facebook posts about the newest parenting fads. The reality is that parenting is hard. There is no magic bullet.
But we hide parenting’s difficult aspects and whitewash rough experiences to reaffirm the stereotype that we’ve been taught to believe: that parenting is blissful. We romanticize parenting. We start to worship it. We say things like: “I love being a mom!” “Parenting allows you to understand what true love really is,” “We wouldn’t trade our kids for anything in the world!” And while we sometimes wholeheartedly believe this, these chirpy saying can quickly devolve into idolatry.
Sure, these expectations can be self-inflicted and inadvertent, but we need to be better about recognizing the pain of others. Should we cancel Mother’s Day festivities? No! Should we stop celebrating our mothers? No! But we need to be more careful about how we talk about parenthood, and we need to start recognizing the very real pain and suffering that parents and non-parents alike are experiencing.
For those who are suffering this Mother’s Day, Jesus suffers with you. In the New Testament there is a relatively unheralded story within Luke 7 about a weeping mother who has just lost her only son. The Bible says that Jesus felt compassion for her, and he miraculously raises her son from the dead. With Jesus there is hope, and even though it may be hard to see or admit now, the gospel promises that he will ultimately bring restoration, and our sadness will transform into joy. Amen.
Stephen Mattson has written for Relevant, Red Letter Christians and The Burnside Writer's Collective. He graduated from the Moody Bible Institute and is currently on staff at University of Northwestern – St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.
Image: Couple with negative pregnancy test, Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com