Happy Mother’s Day, dear readers. I know this day is tricky. I wrote a post several years ago about how complicated and raw and sometimes painful this day can be, and every year it gets a bunch of new shares and comments because it is still all true. If you are hurting today, be good to yourself. And if you are leading worship today, please be sensitive and know that women (and men) are carrying all sorts of heavy burdens today.
That’s the thing about mothers though… we carry heavy burdens every day.
We carry actual children, and giant bags of toys and diapers and snacks. We carry groceries, and giant bags of dance/sports/music equipment; we probably haul around the neighbor kids sometimes too; and then we lug home giant bags of work to finish at night, because we inevitably had some kid thing come up during actual work time. We carry the loss of sleep because a kid woke us up for the umpteenth time with a runny nose/sore throat/monster sighting/just-wanted-to-see-your-face-at-3am emergency; and we carry the loss of sleep because we were up again last night, worried about that thing that our kid is facing that we just cannot fix for them. We carry the weight of the world; the weight of our family’s expectations; and –this is the heaviest one of all– the weight of others’ expectations.
As though we don’t have enough dang things to carry… somebody, somewhere decided that we should also wage a war each other, fighting over what path of mothering was ‘best.’ We found ourselves caught in the crosshairs of a culture war over every point of parenting imaginable. Bottle or breast? Public school, private school, or homeschool? Conservative or liberal values? Organic milk, or whatever’s cheapest? Discipline or free-range? And the worst, most losing battle of all — work or stay home?
If you are a mother and you’ve never found yourself struggling in the liminal spaces between some of these issues, then you are wise beyond all of our collective years, and you must teach us your ways. But I’m guessing all of us, at some point and no matter what our family looks like, has felt the sting of some judgement, some shame, some “you are ruining your child’s life forever” kind of side eye from someone on the opposite end of one of these choices.
But you know what I’ve noticed? There is not nearly as much of that shame and judgement going around these days. I think we can come out of our bunkers now. I think we have finally evolved enough past first wave feminism to realize that the LAST thing on earth that any woman needs is the judgement of another woman. Look at all these things we are carrying. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
I don’t know that women even meant to wage this war to begin with. I blame the patriarchy. It’s a typical maneuver in the fight to protect male power and privilege– control the narrative, turn the women against each other; divide and conquer.
Too often, it works. Politically speaking and otherwise. But something has shifted. Everywhere I look now, I see women supporting each other. I see working moms turn to stay-home moms, and stay-home moms turn to working moms; and instead of saying “how could you do that?” everybody says, “I don’t know how you do it!” As though we are all amazing. Because we are.
The mommy wars were a product of the economy, as much as anything. You can read more about feminism and the evolution of the workplace (or lack thereof) in my book, but the short story is– women’s roles and presence in the American workforce have changed significantly over the past few decades. But many things about the workplace itself remain the same. Expectations of production, resources available for childcare, lack of flexibility, family leave… all of these parts of work life have remained remarkably rigid. And all women suffer for it.
Whether you consider yourself a feminist or not, feminism has always been about choices. It was never meant to be about insisting that “all” women choose a career outside the home. Despite what some of the culture war rhetoric has claimed, feminism has never been about devaluing the roles of wife and mother, or the importance of the home. It has always been a matter of creating paths for those who want other things. But the inevitable tensions that emerged from women’s growing voice in public life meant that inevitable tensions arose between women– again, the patriarchy saves itself by turning us on each other.
I’ll not pretend for a minute that women agree on everything now. I’ll not pretend we all vote for the same people to protect our interests, or that we understand each other’s choices all the time. Maybe it’s the evolution of social media, or the growing number of women in leadership, or just a culture shift that comes with time– but some things have shifted in the past decade, and I think we get it now. Other women are not the enemy. I mean, just look at what we are carrying. How do we possibly have time left to fight each other?
It is a powerful thing, to look another woman in the eye and say simply: “I see you.” So, I see you out there, mamas. I see you who get to spend every day with your babies and love every minute of it–even if the house is a wreck. I see you if you love the work you get to go do every day, then come home and wonder how in the world you’ll find the energy for dinner and homework and sportsing–but you do it anyway. I see you, working three jobs you hate just to make ends meet, when really you’d rather be home. I see you if you are home with the kids but feeling a little isolated. I see you single moms who somehow, somehow keep it all together and hold up the world with your tired arms. I see you, family with two moms, helping your kids learn to navigate their out-of-the-box family in a world that is not always kind. I see you, mother of a special needs child who has had to become a full-time advocate on top of your day job.
Maybe I missed your thing. But I see you, too.
Celebrate Mother’s Day by smashing the patriarchy –tell another mom that she is killing it out there, however she might be struggling. When we do that, everybody wins. Our kids win when we do this our own way, and they get to see us follow whatever dream gives us life. Our communities win, because each of us contributes the best gifts we have to offer. Most importantly, WE win by lifting each other up, and helping to carry some of this heavy load that we bear together.