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between our steps 05 15 19 doubleWhile marking Mother's Day is a strong tradition in our family, I have ambiguous feelings about the day. I am just not sure what is being praised or celebrated. Yes, I appreciate that both my kids called that day. Yes, I have good memories of the many family meals when we took our mother out for dinner. Yes, it was good to say thank you to her, and I appreciate the thanks as well. But.

I am expected to say a public "Happy Mother's Day," but when I look out at who is gathered before me on a Sunday morning, I need to nuance the sentiment. Some people have a difficult relationship with their mother. For some, there is a lot of accumulated pain in that relationship. It is not a happy day for them.

And some mothers have a difficult relationship with their children. Despite love and care and effort, the relationship twisted. There is more pain than celebration for these mothers.

And some have lost children. Grief endures when the unthinkable happens, when we lose a child. Many women have experienced miscarriage or still birth, carry the pain of loss that is not much talked about in our culture. Even with other living children in their lives, being named as "mother" can bring back grief and pain.

And not all women are mothers. Some choose not to have children. Some tried hard to bear a child without success. Mother's Day is not easy for these women. The societal celebration of mothers pushes them aside, questions their worth.

And as a feminist, I am uncomfortable with the celebration of woman as mother. We praise our mothers who through the fifties and sixties stayed home and made a home and raised kids, not by choice but because that's what society and their family expected. I am impressed by the stay-home moms I know, women who have chosen to focus on children for a period in their lives. But for my mother, it was not really a choice. And for women who work outside the home and are mothers, it can be tough to balance job and family. Stats tell us that women still carry more of the burden of home-building. The festival of Mother's Day ignores the work and the history.

And, there are men who perform the work of mothering as well. There are nurturing men and men who raise children by themselves or with a male partner.

There is an older British tradition of marking "Mothering Sunday" in the lead-up to Easter. I like the verb, because it acknowledges that we all need to be mothered, to be nurtured and cared for.

A few decades ago, churches came up with the idea of "Christian Family Sunday" instead of "Mother's Day." Again, I put that on the bulletin, but I have a strong dislike of the phrase. What makes a "Christian" family? If it was just "Family Sunday" I'd be okay because we could talk about all the different shapes that family takes. But adding the word "Christian" implies that some family shapes are more right than others. And that is wrong.

Which brings me to the issue that is really disturbing me. In a former job, I used to drive through a town in our area where on Mother's Day people lined the streets with anti-abortion signs. I found the drive deeply disturbing. Though the people were silent, their signs tended to be aggressive, even violent.

And this year, in the lead up to Mother's Day, the question of the legality of abortion has heated up. Recent health care cuts in Ontario have put access to safe abortion at risk. The woman's right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy is being seriously questioned again in this time and in our province. It feels as if our society's praise of mothers motivated a political scream that every woman should be a mother whether or not they are ready, even if they were raped. The right to choose has been lost in places in the United States. We need to actively defend that right here.

Mother's Day could be a time to talk about adoptive mothers and foster mothers. It can be a time to talk about the loss of miscarriage and still birth. It can be a time to look at our families and who picks up the work of child care and home-building. But until it becomes a day when women's needs and dreams are openly heard and discussed--and men's family options are recognized--I will struggle with it. 

Cathy Hird lives on the shore of Georgian Bay. 


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