So we’re on the other side of Mother’s Day. This year I felt pretty equanimous, which was nice. I enjoyed the day with mum, having pancakes for brekkie together, going to church in the morning and being asked unexpectedly by two different people at church to lunch and to supper in the evening. So that was company and meals sorted (It was really nice to be asked; it’s taken about this long (almost eight months) for people at church (other than in our Bible study group) to start doing that, but we’re starting to form relationships! Hooray!). Lunch was with a family of five, who didn’t wait until everything was perfect before inviting us round, and also didn’t disappear into a ‘it’s Mother’s Day so we have to be an exclusive family unit’ bubble. Supper was with a lovely friend whose husband is away for work, and whose children are grown and no longer at home. At church we prayed for mothers and women who wanted to be mothers but couldn’t be, for so many different reasons. I don’t know what mum thought of the day (other than missing my brother desperately), but from my perspective it was a lovely day, being part of familes in all sorts of permutations.
I’ve been tossing it around in my head all weekend and thinking about why Mother’s Day is such a hard day for so many people. I think it’s probably worse than Valentine’s Day. Basically, for anyone who hasn’t been able to be a mother for whatever reason, for anyone whose experience of motherhood isn’t bathed in a soft-focus rosy glow of love and delight, and for anyone who has a difficult relationship with their own mother or children, Mother’s Day kind of sucks. And for anyone who does celebrate it with joy, perhaps there’s a growing feeling of guilt that maybe, because others don’t share their experience, they shouldn’t be ostentatiously happy (or maybe not, I don’t know).
I don’t know whether it’s because I’m part of the potential target audience so pay more attention to it, but Mother’s Day seems much more emotionally fraught than Father’s Day. Or maybe Father’s Day is difficult for guys but they aren’t encouraged to express their feelings of grief around the topic. Or maybe it’s less loaded because their identity as humans isn’t inextricably tied to whether they’re able to successfully produce progeny or not. I suppose they have their whole lives to get around to it, whereas women feel the pressure a lot more keenly. [Sally: And it’s not the same for men – Charlie Chaplin had babies when he was 73. Harry: Yeah, but he was too old to pick ‘em up. (one of Nora Ephron’s best scenes)]
I suppose where I’m at right now, having reached the age where it’s becoming less and less likely that I will have my own biological children, I have recognised much to be grateful about the current state that I’m in, being a single woman with no children. Of course that doesn’t mean that I’m entirely okay with it; sometimes I’m still blindsided by grief that shocks me, by a longing and a desperation that threatens to overwhelm me. My life has definitely gone in directions that I didn’t expect, and sometimes not hitting the milestones of life that the majority of the population manages to hit with seemingly little effort makes me feel like a complete failure. Those are definitely Why God? kind of moments.
But I also know that I am very lucky to have the life I have, to have freedom of time and money that are my own, to not have to deal with the wellbeing of a family while struggling with my own mental health and exhaustion, to not have to go to parent-teacher interviews, or worry about the bullying of my child, or sit in the emergency room while my child struggles to breathe, or to worry about how my own neuroses will impact the life of a human I’m responsible for shaping (I salute all you parents who do all these things!). Those are the Thank you God! moments.
When it comes down to it, although there are many joys to be had, life is hard no matter what state we’re in. Marriage is hard. Singleness is hard. Parenthood is hard. Childlessness is hard. Sometimes we’re surprised by these hardnesses, but I think that’s more a result of the world we live in, and the deceiver who tells us that life would be so much easier if life was different. Our dissatisfaction is fuelled and stoked by advertising, traditional media and social media that hold up a stereotype of what we should aspire to, whether in relationships or parenthood (or, indeed, any other area of life).
And, sad but true, within our churches it can sometimes feel like marriage and parenthood are the goal, and singleness and childlessness are to be scorned (sometimes it’s not just a feeling, sometimes it’s rather overt, which is a little terrifying). But each of us has her own battles to fight, and because of all the variables that make up our lives, the things we’ve done and had done to us, the opportunities that have or haven’t materialised, each of our battles is different.
So how do Christians live with each other, when the world is trying to tell us to be jealous, to covet other peoples’ lives, to wish things were other than they are, when we don’t really know the depths of the struggles each of us is facing? Excuse my cherry-picking of this passage, but among other excellent things, Romans 12:9-18 (ESV) says:
Let love be genuine…Love one another with brotherly affection…Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer…Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality…Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep…Live in harmony with one another…If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
I guess this means that we should all be looking out for one another, regardless of what state we’re in. Love, love, love…genuine love. Rejoicing and weeping and being patient with one another, and praying for each other – it’s hard but worthwhile work. So married people, love your single friends. Parents, love your childless friends. Singletons, love your married friends. Childless ones, love the parents around you. Ask God for the help to do it; because we’re all damaged human beings, sometimes that’s the only way we’re going to be able to manage it!
…I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances may be. I know now how to live when things are difficult and I know how to live when things are prosperous. In general and in particular I have learned the secret of facing either poverty or plenty. I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me.
I pray for contentment every day. And I am grateful that God has shown me that the secret lies in his strength and not with me. Hallelujah!