It has been said that, back in the day, Mother's Day was the third highest day for church attendance, after Christmas and Easter. Part of that was the idea of giving good 'ol Mom whatever she asked for on Mother's Day. Breakfast in bed? Pancakes? Sure. Church? Well, okay, Mom, but only because it's Mother's Day. (On Father's Day, one wonders if church attendance isn't a bit lower).
This speaks to a powerful truth: We may sing hymns like "Faith of our Fathers," but, for most of us, it was, or is, our mothers, grandmothers, or other women in our lives who introduced us to the church; to Christianity; to Jesus. This is the case with my own mother, who was an early female Deacon in her UCC Church in Bath, but, before that, who taught Sunday school, worked on church suppers, was part of Women's Fellowship, and did most anything else you could think of in the church.
Mother's Day started in the church, as a day to remember one mother: Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis. Ann was a blessed peacemaker, during and after the Civil War. Both her daughter Anna and Julia Ward Howe (author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic) were moved by Ann's witness for peace. On what became the first Mother's Day, carnations were handed out: red if your mother was living, white if she was dead. This tradition lasted, well, past the year 2000 in this church.
Here's why we don't do Mother's Day like this so much in the church anymore . . .
First, while it is certainly a fine thing to lift up those women in our lives who have given us so much, even introduced us to God, we would do well to remember that not everyone had a good mother - whatever that means. We can't assume June Cleaver or Carol Brady or Marge Simpson was a universal norm. She wasn't. For many, Mother's Day was, and is, a cruel reminder of a person the world and the church told children they should love, but couldn't, because they weren't being shown love by their mothers. Instead, they were being abused, or neglected, or forgotten. Mother's Day, for these children, wasn't something to celebrate: it was a day to run out the clock; to avoid if at all possible.
Next, there may be some in the church who are trying to become mothers, but, for whatever reason, that's not happening. Mother's Day, for these folks, shines a light on what they want, but, as yet, cannot achieve, causing more pain than hope. Also, not all of the women we look up to were, or are, mothers. Being a mother is a choice, and one that not all women make. We need to respect and honor that while some women find life's greatest fulfillment bringing new life into the world and being in the role of "mother" to their children, not all women are in that place. And there are many, many ways to be a positive force for children in the world, besides being a mother: by becoming a doctor, or judge, philanthropist, or President; or a mentor, or foster parent, or other role model, for instance. There is more than one way to be a mother, a woman, a human being.
Also, as an Open and Affirming Church, we are very much aware that to split parenting roles into Mother and Father is also to split the world into binary, either/or, male/female roles. For many families, this isn't their truth. I was once what the world still calls a "Stay at Home Dad," as if the default for being a "Father" was to be the (male) breadwinner, and "Mother" the (female) child rearer. That wasn't my lived experience. Some kids have two mothers. And for some parents, their parenting and their gender identity or expression are also not the female/mother "norm." There are many "Trans/Parents" in our community, Jennifer Finney Boylan perhaps the most famous of these.
Finally, to take one day to celebrate one way (as mother) women contribute to the world is both to reinforce traditional gender roles for women and to minimize the impact of all women - however they express what that means for them - in our churches, our communities, and our lives. To take one day for "mothers" is like checking a box, saying, "Yep. Thanked them again for another year. Had your day off. Back to work tomorrow. Oh, and the dishes need doing. Burned pancakes, you know." For so many women in the world, perhaps for most, there's no such thing as a "day off" from work, exploitation, abuses, or discrimination.
There is more than one way to be a mother; a woman; a human being. Not only on one day, but every day, we can lift up - with thanksgiving! - the many ways women (however they name being women) positively influence our lives. My grandmother, Dorris, who worked, as they used to say, "outside the home," (as if staying home with the kids isn't work - it most certainly is!)? She liked carnations: red, and white.