It is easy to be cynical about Mother’s Day. Many older people grew up seeing it as a foreign import, introduced by big businesses in the United States to fill their own pockets. That view might gain support from the way in which Mother’s Day is marketed. But it is an important day because it offers an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the lives of people who are often forgotten.
Underlying this neglect is the human reality of self-centredness. We all stand at the centre of our relationships to people and our world. It takes effort and training to see other people as their own centres rather than by reference to ourselves. We see waiters and doctors as just waiters and doctors, not as persons with their own wives or husbands, their own children, their own enthusiasms. In the same way it is also easy to see our mothers only as mothers and not as persons with their personal lives and other connections.
Mother’s Day reminds us of the many and varied shapes of relationships that make up women’s lives. It honours their work in business, in music and other creative fields, their contribution to public life through committees and political allegiances, their sporting interests and all the trying, achieving, relaxing, enjoying and grieving that make each person’s life distinctive.
By definition, of course, the Day focuses on women as persons who are mothers. In doing so it also honours all the relationships which through their motherhood shape their lives. These include the relationships to their children as babies, children, adolescents as adults, moving from relationships of dependence to mentoring and to equal friendship, and perhaps towards the end of their lives to accepting care and mentoring from their children.
Associated with these relationships, too, are those made through their children with other mothers in kindergartens and schools and so with their families, and the relationships they form through their workplaces and care of the household budget, and in the local campaigns to demand a more just society. Mother’s Day celebrates the ways in which women grow as persons through their relationships as mothers.
As with all relationships, those of motherhood make their own demands and these demands are primarily of love, moving from the protective and all-embracing love of very young children, to the mentoring love of older children and the freeing love of adolescents. Each stage of love involves sacrifice. The personal sacrifice of the gradual separation of the child into an independent adult, and the sacrifice of other possibilities that they might relinquish when taking on commitments in the home. The maternal love celebrated on Mother’s Day is not automatic or cost-free.
Ultimately, however, the significance of Mother’s Day is not confined to women’s lives as mothers but extends to the persons who are mothers and to the gift they are in themselves and with all their other gifts. It reminds us and pays tribute to the commitments that women make in their professional life, their interests and in their commitments to public life. It invites us to see our mothers’ lives not just in their relationship to ourselves as their children, but in all the wider relationships in which they are the centre.
Mother’s Day is worth celebrating. It may be best celebrated by spending time in exploring the larger world of our mothers from their own perspective.
Reproduced with permission from Madonna Magazine, a publication of Jesuit Communications Australia.