Complete Without Kids

Exploring all facets of childfree living.

Not-So-Happy Mother’s Day

For many women, it's no holiday.

This Sunday is the special day when women are told over and over, “Happy Mother’s Day!”

I myself get the greeting all through the week leading up to that most special day of recognition and gratitude, and I find myself saying, “Happy Mother’s Day” to other women as well. Since I’m not a mom, my personal response is to chuckle and move on with my life, but for so many thousands of women, there is a stabbing in the heart when they hear those seemingly benign words.

These are women who yearned to have a childand perhaps are still tryingbut have been unable to make it happen. I read their stories on the Internet, and I interviewed Miriam about this very topic when writing my book, Complete Without Kids. Miriam was 90 years old at the time, and she had never gotten over her grief of not being able to become a mother. She had tried without success to get pregnant and she was married to a man who refused to consider adoption. Miriam told me that she had always felt like a flawed woman who never fit in with others who were mothers. She felt a deep sense of loss in not being a mom that she was unable to fill with other elements of her life.

Miriam is not alone. There are so many other women who will avoid going to church or the supermarket this Sunday because they cannot bear the pain of hearing yet another Mother’s Day message or being given the complementary flower offered to moms on their special day. They will feel sad when they’re out shopping this week because everywhere they go they’ll see the flower, chocolate, and card displays. They will wake up on Monday morning feeling relieved that it’s over for another year.

Even women like me who are either childfree by choice or who feel mostly content with not having kids may experience sadness on Mother’s Day. After all, it’s a classic Hallmark Holiday and mothers are treated like celebrities. Mothering is portrayed in the most positive light on this day with images of children preparing breakfast trays for their moms and making handmade cards and presents. When we go out, we see the special women surrounded by their families and lavished with attention. Witnessing and imagining these warm, loving mother/child interactions sometimes causes me to feel tinges of grief for the children I never had.

So What’s the Solution?

First of all, let’s keep all of this in perspective. Remember that Mother’s Day was deemed an official holiday by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914, and this started the commercialization of the day that we now enjoy. Prior to that, Mother’s Day was celebrated on a smaller scale all over the world. Today, it is the busiest day of the entire year for restaurants, so big business makes sure to reach out to consumers. They have done a super job of getting us to all jump on the bandwagon!

I think it helps to keep in mind the most basic definition of mothering as an action that is nurturing, supportive, and comforting. Think of all the women in your life who have provided these elements for you, and thank them on this day for mothers. Honor yourself as well, whether or not you are a mom, for what you have given and continue to give to others in your life.

Treat yourself to something special on Mother’s Day, and if going out to witness the mother/child parade does not feel good, give yourself permission to avoid it. Remember, it’s just another day, and in a few days Monday will come, and we’ll be back to the routine.

For those of you who like to throw out "Happy Mother’s Day" greetings, try to control yourself. Many childfree women will respond with annoyance. Some of them take great pride in their choice to not have children for personal/social consciousness/environmental reasons and they perceive Mother’s Day as a celebration of breeding. For others, your words may be hurtful rather than cheerful. In addition to those who have not been able to have children, there are many whose mothers have died or who do not have pleasant memories of their childhood experiences. Don’t simply take it for granted that every woman you run into on the street or where your work is a mom.

And for women everywhere, celebrate yourself on this special day!

Ellen Walker, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and the author of Complete Without Kids: An Insider's Guide to Childfree Living By Choice Or By Chance.

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