Flowers and Tears and Mothers’ Day

Photo Credit: Dendroica Cerulea (Creative Commons Licence 2.0)

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?

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31 Responses to Flowers and Tears and Mothers’ Day

  1. Stephanie 19th April, 2019 at 11:00 am #

    I had a miscarriage last year and my due date would have been around Mother’s Day. I intentionally chose not to go to church that day. I couldn’t bear another Mother’s Day sat in the pews empty-handed’. However, I am still an advocate of all women receiving flowers on the day and I don’t feel that the celebrations should stop because of my pain. I guess we all have our hearts and pains. It would be great if we could accommodate for all, but not sure how realistic that is…

  2. Sarah 25th March, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    My church always gives a flower to every woman in the church on Mothering Sunday regardless of whether they are mothers or not. Although it is unlikely I will ever get the chance to be a mother myself (however much I would love to) I personally grew to love the tradition having grown up in a church that didn’t mark Mothers’ day at all. I can understand why many women would find it difficult, but I find Mothers day difficult anyway whether churches choose to celebrate or not and reminders of my childlessness are everywhere I look every other day of the year as well. Our pastor was always very good at recognising that Mothers’ day is a day of mixed emotions and the emphasis was always very much on every woman being a valued part of the church family, whether or not they have children or a mother of their own.

    • Tanya 26th March, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

      I’m so glad you had such a positive experience of Mothers’ Day and that you are able to reclaim it somehow, even while being sad at your own childlessness. I’m really glad that your pastor is so good at recognising those who struggle on Mothers’ Day. I’m hoping that you really enjoy that daffodil this week, and all the hope and happiness that flower conveys. Thinking of you.

  3. Elizabeth Harrison 25th March, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    Hi Tanya,

    I’ve had mixed treatment on Mothering Sunday. As a single, childless woman (I’m only 27, that’s not in itself a painful thing…) the church doesn’t really know what to do with me.

    There are the ones who say that the flowers are for the mums. Then afterwards I’m handed a left-over bunch, or worse “when you’ve picked out the best flowers you can see, give them to your mum. Then come back, it would be very kind to give some to somebody who *pitying voice* is all alone” – being purposefully given the second-rate flowers. Or not given anything, which makes one feel prepubescent.
    I’m single. I have disposable income to buy myself flowers and I frequently do. But to be told I’m lower in a pecking order for my lack of children if just mean, and I don’t even have fertility issues.

    I’m going to say here at the start how I’d like it to happen. But it’s not something you can fix in a week. I’d like the church to be a place where single people are put in families. Where there are married couples with kids, who scoop up the non-nuclear family types, and week to week we’re part of a happy conglomerate – where old ladies share their parenting tips, where old men can talk about DIY, to young parents who’ll listen. Where my singleness is a blessing to a family, because I can babysit, or take mum out for girly coffee when she needs a break, and where their kids have an older auntie who’s around for them. I want to be that trusted adult who the teenagers call to moan that their parents are so unfair. To be allowed to arbitrate in sibling battles every now and then. To get some of the scribbled pictures and have stickers carefully shared with me. To have a panel whose opinion matters on who I’m dating, who will ask the right questions about whether he can join our family.

    When I have that sort of church family (and I’m getting one, don’t worry), then the kids won’t have to be told to bring flowers to the single person. It won’t occur to them not to.

    But back to the churches’s other approaches:

    There are the ones who say the flowers are for all women. That’s probably a fairer way to do it. But then I see the families where, for whatever reason, Mum isn’t around. Where Dad is the Christian parent, or the weekend parent due to divorce, or Mum has died. Those children are lost, standing in an aisle with a daffodil not knowing what to do with it, while all around them the “normal” families look on. At this point, I see lesbian friends given flowers, and gay friends not, when neither will enjoy an easy cosy nuclear family. And children look at a transgendered person and hesitate, or even just the woman wearing trousers or no make up.
    I see Dads disempowered, and the seeds of that comment “I can’t come out to the pub, I’m babysitting because my wife is out”. The world doesn’t have enough good fathers, and to say the mother is the only one that needs celebrating by the church is ridiculous.

    Then there’s the “celebrating parenting” model, which is actually ok. But there’s never a “celebrating singleness” week. Or we’re told that we’re all “spiritual parents” to somebody, an idea that begins to get somewhere. I feel, as a godmother, and someone who’s led others to faith, that this sort of parenting is something the church could cherish.

    Then there’s the “Mother Church”. I definitely have one – I started there when I was a bump and only left when I went to uni. But going back, specifically on Mothering Sunday, with my mum, was very odd. I was asked if I was new, I was asked why I was visiting by some, and why I hadn’t shown up for a while by others who hadn’t noticed I’d been missing from home for six months. I was deemed too old to give flowers to my mother, who found that very hard as in the first year she had an “empty nest”, the church was now saying she wasn’t our mum. Sure, generic children gave her flowers, but her own children didn’t. I took home the message that church is all about the newcomers – my attachment to that baptismal font, that church, those secure walls, was meaningless to them, when I cried for it in those first homesick months away.

    And from a pastoral perspective, having spent a few years working for churches, it’s an emotional minefield. Being on the prayer team is harrowing stuff. Bereavement, estrangement, domestic abuse, or simply being always far away from the child you love.

    I don’t know any mum who finds it easy to be a parent, but somehow it’s romanticised to be this goal of all womanhood. As if having a rewarding career isn’t a valid choice, or being happy without children. As a feminist this makes me angry. As a disabled person, it makes me feel abnormal – not all potential husbands are as willing to be “father and mother”, as you put it – I’m acutely aware that my disability is a barrier to that deified nuclear family.

    And the mums who already have it all – the secure home environment, stable marriage, brood of happy, healthy, smiling kids – get to carry home a trophy of four daffodils, while we all look on in ironic admiration. I know women shouldn’t compete, but this festival does a pretty good job of making nearly everyone feel inadequate.

    • Tanya 26th March, 2014 at 1:59 pm #

      Wow – I reckon this should be a blog post! Thank you so much for sharing your various experiences of Mothers’ Day. Like you, the feminist in me rankles at the implication that being a mother is the goal of womanhood, and sometimes the ways in which the church tries to get round the awkwardness (eg celebrating parenting, or our own mothers) is just really clumsy and hurtful.

      I love and echo your vision for the church to be one happy conglomerate, a family together. Thanks so much for these thoughts.

  4. Helen 25th March, 2014 at 8:49 am #

    Oh gosh, I remember this post and have always felt sad for those who can’t be Mothers or don’t have their Mums any more. This year I’m that one, the one who lost her Mum since last Mothering Sunday and who will sit and try very hard not to cry buckets while everyone else is celebrating.

    • Tanya 26th March, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

      Oh gosh, Helen. Praying for you for this Sunday. Praying it will be cathartic and healing, somehow.

  5. Katy Kennedy 7th June, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

    Hey Tanya,
    Appreciate the way that you feel deeply – I seem to spend a lot of my time reacting strongly to things and then wondering why everyone else isn’t doing the same.
    Mothering Sunday in the life of my family is hard because we lost Mum when I was 10 (my brother was 3) and Dad remarried when we were 12. So, mother’s day brings heartache but I think it also teaches us to be thankful for what mothers have done for us, after all, we can still appreciate what people did. The hardest thing about it is not being able to tell Mum that we appreciate her. I went through a phase of thinking that the hardest thing was that other people had mothers and that I didn’t, but I think I’ve moved towards, particularly on mothers day, feeling sad that I can’t show Mum the appreciation that she’s due.
    That was a bit of a ramble, but I’m sure you get the drift!
    I do appreciate that the church gives us family that we can appreciate as mothers, and some years I have been able to show the appreciation of mothering that I’ve had from other women in a way that has helped me to cope with not having a Mum to show it to. Some years that helps, other years it feels like salt in the wound.

    Thankfully I have a very patient husband, who isn’t afraid to listen and to let me cry. He’s also very good at celebrating me in the small ways – the complimenting of the outfit in the morning when you’ve got changed 10 times whilst he’s been snoozing, the holding of your hand when you sing *that* song in church again that was at Mum’s funeral… little things, as well as beautiful flowers and quality time.

    Thanks for provoking thoughts, and for providing my Friday night reading!
    Katy

    • Tanya 9th June, 2013 at 8:41 am #

      Thank you so much for this lovely comment, Katy. Thanks for your comment on feeling deeply – YES! It’s hard when you feel things deeply, and so often it feels like they’re not validated because others don’t experience life in that way.

      Thank you for sharing about your process in grieving your Mum. 10 is such a young age to lose your Mum – that’s really sad. “Some years it helps, other times it’s like salt in the wound’ – I totally get that. It is a long old process, and it evolves over the years. I think it’s really healthy the way you are grieving, and I’m so glad you have such an understanding and supportive husband.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment so thoughtfully – I really appreciate it.

  6. sandra delemare 13th April, 2012 at 7:56 am #

    Thank you for this.
    Reminds me of the turning point moment when I realised that God loves me – not for what I do – he accepts me as I am, I don’t have to DO anything.
    Bless you, Tanya

    • Tanya 2nd May, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

      Thank you for this. Yes – it is really amazing to be so loved by God, isn’t it? I’m so glad it reminded you of that key point in your life.

  7. Val 30th March, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    I love this post… I just love it. I have struggled with Mother’s Day since I lost my Mom seven years ago. I DO avoid it. I DO hate standing up and being recognized. I hate the mother/daughter banquets because they just make me feel so ‘other’ even though I love being a Mom to my three sweet girls.

    And the gift of your husband–the gift that he recognizes and realizes and celebrates in you for who you ARE and not the things that we think we are supposed to DO.

    This just touched something deep, deep within me, and stretched in a little bit and gave me spaciousness there that wasn’t before.

    I’m so glad you were celebrated.

    • Tanya 9th April, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

      Thank you so much for taking time to comment and for sharing a bit of your heart on this. I’m so glad that it moved you and spoke to you.

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  1. At least 8 Mother’s Day Resources for Churches and {and you} // The Messy Middle - 6th May, 2014

    […] 7. Tanya Marlow reminds us the importance for celebrating mothers for who they ARE and not just what they do. […]

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