Growing up in a small church in the Midwest, our congregation had the traditional Mother’s Day Recognition, or as I call it, Parade of the Queen Mothers. These ladies were asked to come to the front of the sanctuary during our worship service, where they stood in a receiving line and accepted gifts and applause for being a mother.
As a child I thought this was fabulous, never realizing that what women want is not a carnation and a pat on the back, but a real I love you and a thank you from their families. A day off from doing dishes wouldn’t hurt either.
My mother, in fact, hated this tradition. She disliked public recognition on Mother’s Day and for many years, threatened not to go. What I didn’t know was there were probably many more like her.
It never occurred to me, not once, to ask why we did this. When you grow up with a tradition, it is easy to absorb these habits without ever questioning their purpose.
We should ask. In return, we should be given an answer–or at least, discuss how we can best support the people who are part of our community.
I have a feeling that “gifts” and “applause” really aren’t that helpful and cause more hurt than help.
Years ago, when we were trying to have children, I struggled to go to church on Mother’s Day. This was a problem because I not only worked at the church, but my husband was the worship pastor, so I really wasn’t allowed to skip or sleep in. I thought I was the only one who struggled and wondered why I couldn’t just ‘get over it.’
We are so nice to ourselves in pain. We tell ourselves to “get over it” and “pull up our bootstraps” and so many other things that are incredibly helpful.
So on top of our pain, we shovel heaping doses of guilt and shame, because we don’t know how to pull up our bootstraps. We don’t even know what a bootstrap is.
It wasn’t until I became a mom that Mother’s Day changed for me. It was like someone had finally given me the secret knock and told me, “Good job—you’re in the club now!”
But because my entrance into the motherhood club was a bit nontraditional, I felt conflicted about my feelings. Although I was happy to be mom, I couldn’t forget how I felt on past Mother’s Days and I began to wonder if others suffered too.
Over the years, I started hearing from women who struggled to attend church on Mother’s Day. The group was bigger and more diverse than I realized: Women who were single, childless, or grieving a loss—a mother who died, a miscarriage, a stillborn birth, or the death of an adult child.
It’s not that these women didn’t want to celebrate motherhood. Most of us agree, moms do thankless work every day and rarely get the appreciation they deserve.
It’s just that tradition had made a spectacle of one group and not another, and these other women felt invisible. Left out. Forgotten.
The message was sent, whether we intended it or not, that mothers were more important than the women who were not mothers. Fathers more important than childless men. Married couples more important than the single person.
Any time we put one group on a pedestal, we alienate another group. When we send those kinds of messages, we begin to create divisions and hurt feelings, instead of unity and community.
When we focus on public recognition of people, it obscures what we really come to church for—to focus on Christ. We’re there to worship Jesus, not ourselves.
So how did a secular holiday end up so entrenched in our church traditions?
The problem with separating Mother’s Day from our church worship is difficult. Our deep-seated traditions have entwined secular holidays with the religious calendar, giving it added importance.
Then there’s the problem of it falling on a Sunday–with Mother’s Day documented as the third largest attended church service of the year.
My church typically downplays Mother’s Day because we are so large, but in some smaller churches, where the prevailing attitude is we’ve always done it this way, it’s hard to get away from established traditions without offending someone.
It seems like the whole subject is a messy business. Those of us who’ve seen both sides—the value of celebrating our moms and the despair of being left out—are caught in the middle, with a desire to find some middle ground.
A Revolutionary New Mother’s Day
So what if instead of buying Mother’s Day corsages and planning Mother’s Day recognitions, we turned the whole thing upside down and reimagined it?
What if Mother’s Day was about helping the mothers who have the most need—the mothers who are poor, or single, or have a terminally ill child?
What if we focused on the grieving mothers, women who’ve suffered huge losses and are depressed or struggling to find their worth?
What if Mother’s Day wasn’t about recognizing who’s in and who’s out and instead was about lifting up the head of those who are often forgotten?
What if we took this event and made it something all women, including those who aren’t mothers–could get behind?
Instead of spending our funds on pink carnations, why don’t we join together and bless a mom whose needs are far bigger than our own—a single mom who’s struggling or teenage moms at a pregnancy center?
Instead of asking what we should do on Mother’s Day, we learn to ask, What would Love do?
Because as much as I love being a mom and celebrating the moms in my life, I like helping women even more. I want to help lift the heads of those who have been crushed by the pain of life, because that is what others have done for me.
They have taught me what love does.
Maybe this is the way we, as a community can come together—men and women, single and married—all in a common goal.
Let’s love each other well.
Because Love is something I can get behind.
Love is revolutionary.
Other thoughts for the hurting mom on Mother’s Day:
The Biggest Mistake the Church Makes on Mother’s Day
When It’s Hard to Get through Mother’s Day