|The first fruits of this year's Mother's Day |
school crafts, from Boy 1
And just the other day, I had the kind of conversation that only we 21st-century folks can have – exchanging comments on a Facebook status – with my friend Sandy, who now lives in Germany. It started when she asked this question about the culture she’s still getting to know: “So, Men get Männertag, which is also Vatertag (and Himmelfahrt), but it is specifically not just about fathers...so is there a Frauentag that is not just about mothers? Or is Muttertag still pretty much Muttertag?” I chimed in with my personal frustration about Muttertag really being just another Kindertag (I don’t think you need to know German to get that). She shared some of her difficulty in dealing with Mother’s Day both as a non-mom and as a person whose relationship with her own mother, well, Hallmark doesn’t make a card for that. Our serious thoughts gave way to more jovial ones when I Googled “Männertag” and found this article which sent us all into hysterics: “Pints for Papa: Father’s Day in Germany is One Big Booze Fest.” My favorite line from the article explains, “By no means limited to fathers, Männertag or Herrentag, which translates as ‘men's day,’ is open to any male who wants to demonstrate his loutish, caveman side.” So we had fun speculating what a real Women’s Day, just plain celebrating womanhood (without feeling obliged to tie that to biological functions), would look like.
So, you see, I’ve had a lot to think about regarding Mother’s Day lately. And this is, at least so far, what I think of it – as a mother, as a daughter and granddaughter, as a friend to many women for whom this day is painful (for many different reasons), as a person who has my own Mother’s Day pains, as a Christian, and as a churchgoer:
(I’m breaking up my thoughts into three parts…)
What does motherhood mean to me?
Motherhood means having a child and then doing whatever you can to give that child a good life. Not all mothers get this right. None of us do it perfectly. “Having a child” doesn’t necessarily mean “birthing a child.” It can mean adopting or fostering a child. It can mean loving on a niece or nephew or a friend’s child. It can mean volunteering to teach children’s Sunday School or Vacation Bible School year after year after year. It can mean sponsoring a child that you’ll never even meet. And yes, motherhood and fatherhood have a lot in common.
Of all the mothers in the Bible, the one who is the best role model is God. Earlier this week, I found my old prayer journal from May, 2010. Two of my friends had children who were deathly ill at that time. (I have written about one of them before, here; on February 18 of this year, he earned his wings.) I had written: “I look at Boy 1, building an elaborate train set all over the living room. I think of Boy 2 – I see him in my mind’s eye – asleep in his bed, growing and thriving even at this very moment. I think of J and little K, praying for answers (I pray for them too!) in the hospital. And I think of Vinny as S found him earlier this week, crying and bleeding in the bathroom. There is, I think, nothing scarier than being a parent. I would rather go to hell myself than see my child suffer. Not even just my child – if, at this moment, I could make V or K better by going straight to hell, I would. But that is not an option for me. Only you had that option, and as a parent I can see just a glimmer of why you did it. Earthly life is not without suffering, but because of you, we can live our earthly lives knowing that our eternal lives will be completely free of suffering.”
So I say God is the best role model for mothers, not because we need yet another unattainable standard of perfection, but because God saw her children suffering and did all she could. God just happens to be able to do more than the rest of us. And furthermore, God models mom friendship for us by standing by us, listening to us, not belittling us for our mom fails but lifting us up when we’re down, telling us it’s going to be okay, telling us that even these mistakes we make on a daily basis don’t make us bad mothers, and yes, praise God, stepping in and filling in when we need help.
And for those who find Mother’s Day painful because they’ve lost a child, God knows what that feels like, too.
How would I like the church to treat Mother’s Day?
Really, I don’t mind if the church does nothing for Mother’s Day. I don’t need to stand and be recognized for being a mother. Everybody who has seen me in the church’s halls with my children (usually calling after them not to run in those same halls) already recognizes that I am one. I don’t need or expect the church to give me a flower or some other gift. And I really don’t want to stand or receive a Mother’s Day token while knowing that causes great pain to many of my fellow women.
What I, specifically as a mother of young children, need from the church is:
● Quality Christian education for children. Even though Big Boy and I both have B.A.s in Religion and have both been to seminary, we can’t do this Christian formation thing alone. Our kids need to know other adults’ stories and perspectives, they need to know that other adults in the church love them, and they need a chance to learn alongside their friends.
● Child care. Beyond Sunday morning, I need you to recognize that there are some church events I can’t take part in without child care. Bible studies, committee meetings, choir practices – believe me, you do NOT want my children sitting in a corner looking at books while I try to do these things. Because that trick only works for about 2 minutes. And I need you not to assume I want to work in the nursery (or teach children’s Sunday School or choir, etc.) or that I somehow owe it to the church to take my turn doing so. Just because I’m a mom doesn’t mean I just loooove taking care of everybody’s children at every single opportunity. My heart and God-given gifts long to serve the church in other ways.
● Support and help for my parenting. I don’t mean yet another set of “how-to” rules to follow. I mean compassionate, listening ears. I mean sound advice, carefully given. I mean the chance to get away from my kids once in a while. I mean opportunities to learn and grow with my children. I mean a parenting discussion (or perhaps venting) group. I mean things that remind me I’m not alone, I’m not the only one who feels overwhelmed and in over her head with this whole motherhood thing.
● Some “God our Mother” language to go along with all the “God our Father” language. Remind me that God is my role model in mothering as in all else. Remind me that God is MY mother. Remind me that mothering is a godly calling.
● Opportunities for all the women in our church to shine. Mothers are not the only women doing hard, important, godly work around here. Not only do I want this for my fellow ladies, I need it for my children. I need my children to see that women are empowered and appreciated in and by the church.
● Care and support for the mothers in our community and around the world who do not have the resources to care for their children that I do. Even though it means making sacrifices and often squeaking by, I am able to give my children a home in an area with clean water, good schools, and safe places to play. I am rich in family who are able and willing to help me provide my children with plenty of clothes, food, enriching experiences, and more books than some school libraries. I want those things for all moms, everywhere. Help me to lift up my fellow moms. Lead the way in following God’s example as a good mom friend.
● Support and recognition (but not necessarily the stand-up-on-Father’s-Day kind) for all the fathers, too.
(By the way, this isn’t a critique of my current church, but more general thoughts. My church is good at some of these things already, although I would like to see us develop along some of these other lines.)
So that’s my contribution to the Mother’s Day shelf in the Food for Thought Pantry. What are your thoughts? Does your church “do” Mother’s Day? If so, how?