Like so many holidays celebrated in the United States, Mother’s Day seems designed to make parents and children alike feel guilty, overwhelmed, or just plain unhappy. The greeting card industry and the sellers of chocolates, jewelry, and trinkets seem to have convinced us that he who loves his mother the most, spends the most money.
Then into this commercialized climate comes the recognition that not everyone has a mother in their life (through choice or circumstance) and not every person who is biologically female wants to give birth or raise children. Many women struggle for years through infertility and frustration to become (or not become) mothers. As Unitarian Universalists, we value honoring diversity, but sometimes we can find ourselves at a loss as to how to celebrate some while not excluding, hurting, or offending others.
This year the Unitarian Universalist Association has become the first religious organization to partner with the Strong Families Initiative, offering liturgical resources such as prayers, meditations, and readings for Mother’s Day that stretch our thinking to include motherhood in all of its forms. The initiative reminds us that not only are women who have adopted children mothers; so are women of all colors and ethnic backgrounds, women trapped by systemic poverty, and women who are legally separated from their children or incarcerated. Likewise, many of those who identify as transgender, gender-queer, or lesbian are also mothers.
Jessica Halperin, the women’s issues program associate and Clara Barton intern with the Unitarian Universalist Association, explains that this is a natural and helpful framework for Unitarian Universalists to celebrate Mother’s Day and bring forward the legacy of Julia Ward Howe. She says, “Strong Families is a national initiative to change policy and culture in support of all families. Their annual Mama’s Day Our Way campaign lifts up and celebrates the magic and heartbreak of being a mama and honors the experiences of motherhood that often don’t fit ideas of a traditional Mother’s Day.”
Essentially by lifting up this idea of diversity in motherhood and extending the very idea of mothering (or being a mama) beyond the idea of femininity or biology allows us to truly celebrate and honor all those who “mother” us in our lives. This may be an aunt who never gave birth to children (by choice or not) who serves this important role in your life, or the father who held your hand through life’s difficult moments (either in absence of a mother figure or as part of a family with two loving dads).
So, this Mother’s Day, remember that you have the awesome responsibility to help the next generation understand that in celebrating motherhood, all who mother deserve to be celebrated—including those who are lesbian, transgender, gender-queer, disabled, have adopted, are of questionable legal immigrant status, or are incarcerated. Remember the many different ways people can come to be “mamas.” You might even find a beautiful e-card that speaks to your heart on the Strong Families website to send to those very important people in your life. And have a happy Mother’s Day the UU way!
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Michelle Richards is the author of Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting (Skinner House, 2010).