It was Saturday, the evening before Mothering Sunday and I was chatting to my husband as we ate dinner. We were discussing the Mothers’ Day tradition of handing out posies of flowers to all women at church.
“I really don’t think it’s a good idea,” I explained. “I worry that the positives about giving flowers to mothers is massively outweighed by those for whom the ritual raises painful negative emotions.”
I was thinking about those women sitting in church who desperately want to be a mother but aren’t.
Or those who are grieving the death of their own mother.
Or those who have lost a child or are estranged from their children…
“I think that these things are difficult because they highlight to us the world’s romantic ideals of motherhood and families. But our lives are not romantic ideals, they are real and messed up.
“Church should be the safe place to be honest about these sadnesses, not the place where you have to smile and pretend a bunch of flowers makes everything okay. If I were struggling with infertility or bereavement, I think I just wouldn’t show up that day. There’s just no way that I’d even come,” I went on.
“And after all,” (and this was my piece de resistance, the indisputable truth), “the whole point of Mothering Sunday wasn’t to make a fuss of mothers. It was a tradition where the smaller ‘daughter churches’ went back to the local cathedral, the ‘mother church’. It wasn’t supposed to be a festival celebrating mothers, or even the nuclear family.
“It was supposed to be celebrating the wider church family – remembering that as Christians we have spiritual brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, all over the world. We shouldn’t be handing out flowers to mothers, we should be ditching our service and getting together with all the other local churches to worship God together and remember the worldwide family of God. That’s surely the point of Mothering Sunday, and decidedly more biblical than just celebrating mothers. Don’t you think?”
Jon spooned some pasta into our boy’s mouth and paused.
“Some people like to get a bunch of flowers,” he replied.
I sighed. I guess it’s hard, even for vicars, to challenge tradition.
Later that evening, a while after we had finished the topic and had been talking about something else, Jon turned to me.
“You know what?” he asked, in a slightly defensive tone.
“What?” I replied guardedly, waiting to be corrected about something I had said on some topic or other.
“I think we should celebrate you tomorrow anyway,” he said.
I was overcome by the flood of emotion that unexpectedly burst through me.
I sobbed. I was reeling; I had to sit down on the bed. I cried and cried. I didn’t realise till that moment: I wanted to be celebrated.
But then – “No – you can’t celebrate me.”
“Why not?” Jon asked.
Because – because – Mothers’ Day is a day when mothers who have been hardworking get a break. Dads who feel grateful and a little bit guilty take their wives out for lunch to say they’re thankful for all the cooking they do. Children thank their Mums for all they do for them.
“I don’t DO anything.”
Jon can’t bring me breakfast in bed as a treat – he already does that every day. He does it because he has to, because I’m not well enough to do it myself or to eat breakfast downstairs. He already does all the cooking – and everything else in the house as well. He changes the nappies, he dresses the baby – it’s all him. It feels like he’s father and mother.
“I want to celebrate you.”
I wept at the kindness of a man who was not looking to be repaid for all he did but who loved to carry on giving.
I wept at the kindness of a man who reflects the character of the God he worships.
And so it happened that on Mothers’ Day this year I was celebrated, despite my protestations. I was not celebrated for the things that I do but for the fact that I am a mother and that I am loved.
And it was kinda nice to have my boy bounce on my bed and hand me a single daffodil, given to him by his father.
I don’t really know now what I think about the pros and cons of handing out flowers to women in church on Mothering Sunday. It’s hard enough to navigate my own complex emotional responses, let alone having to second-guess what others might be feeling on these occasions.
But I do know one thing: it is an amazing feeling to be celebrated, just for who you are. I hope everyone gets to experience that.
Over to you:
- How do you feel about Mothering Sunday and its traditions?
- Who in your life celebrates you for being you?