Thoughts About Mother's Day
I was all prepared to write about something else this morning when I read an article in The Toronto Globe and Mail reminding me that today was Mother's Day. The one day a year in which we are supposed to celebrate the indentured servitude of the majority of women. Of course there's more to it than that, but that just popped out of my head so I'll just let that stand as an opening. This holiday blithely perpetuates the stereotype of the happy family, Mom, Pop, Dick and Jane that we have been force fed since grade school. Happy folk in some happy non-existent world dreamed up by the marketing executives of Hallmark and Procter and Gamble.
Mother's Day implies that the ideal for a woman is to produce children. This is the pinnacle of achievement, where they fit into our lives. For some women this may be true, and that's wonderful, but others may not feel that way. When my wife and I first got together she told me of how a good portion of her extended family was aghast at her for not producing progeny. She was made to feel guilty and different. What I said to her at the time was that people think that creation is limited to the creation of life, but that a woman can use those creative powers bestowed upon her for whatever purpose she deems most fulfilling. She can "mother"" a painting, poem, business idea, or career if she wants. Just because men can produce sperm doesn't mean we're put out to stud so why should a women's ovaries define her role?
Examine the rhetoric of most social conservatives and you will see that their endorsement of family values usually defines a women's role as baby producer. As these are the same people who seek to control her bodily functions through anti choice legislation the linkage between the "traditional" family values represented by this holiday and repression becomes even stronger. (The traditional family is a subject for another day) Curtailing a person's power is much easier when they are incapacitated for nine month periods, so why not make alternatives socially unacceptable and legally difficult.
For a number of years I had a difficult relationship with my mother. The transition from mother and child to adult and adult was trying and we fell into a pattern of reacting to instead of being with each other. What made it especially difficult was my need to recover from the abuse suffered at the hands of my father and to get over my anger at her not protecting me from him. Once I was able to realize she was as much a victim as I had been it was easier to treat her as a person rather then a mother.
Mother's Day only serves to exasperate one of our society's biggest failures: the need for labels and everyone to fit into a role. It is assumed that because a woman gives birth to a child that some sort of maternal instinct will emerge allowing her to cherish, love and nurture. In turn the child is supposed to reciprocate. No room is left for their lives as individuals. Sure in the formative years children are no more then nipple suckers and waste execrators, but once they are beyond the simple dependency stage they start to develop as independent beings. Why is it assumed that a mother and child must love, even like each other. In any other relationship wouldn't we expect a person to have to earn that right, to love and be loved by us? There is only so far that gratitude for food will take a child, or wonder will carry a woman. What happens, if as the child starts to grow, they discover they have nothing in common and don't like each other? Does that make either of them bad? Of course not, they are independent human beings.
Just try telling that to most people though and they would think your speaking heresy. But I think there would be far fewer cases of abuse and neglect if people were allowed to be honest with themselves about their feelings. Why shouldn't a woman resent the amount of time it takes to raise a child, but instead she's condemned for being heartless and going against the natural order of things. Conversely why should a child be forced to love someone simply because they gave birth to them? Does this mean that the child of a woman who had someone else's fertile eggs planted inside of her has to love both mothers? Woe betide the child who admits to having problems with a mother, she or he is viewed as ungrateful and selfish and generally unsound.
It's a running joke in my family that my mother manages to be out of the country more often then not on Mother's Day, relieving my brother and I of any sort of pretence of filial duty. It doesn't hurt that she views it as the creation of Hallmark cards and with a healthy dose of scepticism. Perhaps I would feel differently if she held different opinions, but her values and ideals are two of the things that I appreciate and love her for as a human being. My mother and I have had a relationship that lasts longer then a lot of marriages and there have been ups and downs over the years. But after 44 years we treat each other as individuals above and beyond the roles defined for us by society. The highest compliment I can pay her is that she is someone I'd want to spend time with even if she wasn't my mother.
Holiday's like Mother's Day enforce the stereotypes of society and prevent us from breaking through artificial barriers that recognize individual feelings and ambitions. As long as we continue to celebrate artificial sentiment we will continue to negate genuine emotion.