I first want to say that I think Mother’s Day is a fine holiday and that mothers often play one of the most important roles in the lives of their children. That being said, I do think that Mother’s Day can become a time when we see the expectations of women limited to child bearing and child raising and women are more than that. What got me thinking about this was an exchange I overheard between a mother and her grown daughter with another woman. After wishing a happy Mother’s Day to the mother, this woman turned to the daughter wishing her the same, and when the daughter replied that she isn’t a mother the woman’s response was, “Oh, but you will be someday.” I have no idea if being a mother is a part of this young woman’s hopes and dreams for her future, but she is very successful and gifted in her own right. In her late twenties she is both working and working towards and advanced degree in the medical field, continues to remain active within the church and I am sure is active in many other things. I would hope that we can value her, and many other women for who they are as individuals.
There was a time when a woman’s value was tied to her ability to bear children. Countless stories in the Bible rotate around the struggle of women who are barren and have their shame removed through an intervention of God: think of Sarah who in her 90s finally bears Isaac, or the struggles between Rachael and Leah, or Hannah, or Elizabeth just to name a few. Yet even in each of these ancient stories, with a worldview over two millennia old, these women did have value both to God and the people most important in their lives well before they bore children. It was society that placed the expectation upon them that their worth was tied to the future they ensured through children (and in particular male children). I chose the image of Mary Magdalene to start this post because she is one of the women in scripture and tradition never mention bearing children and yet she is valued as one of Jesus followers and becomes one of the first witnesses of the resurrection. One of the gifts of our time has been the greater opportunities afforded to women to define themselves in ways that wouldn’t have been allowed a couple generations ago. I look forward to my own daughter being able to make choices that will help define the life she will live as she grows and to carve out her own role within the world.
One of the gifts of my vocations is getting to know and be a part of people’s stories and valuing people as individuals, for who they are. I do think it is important to value mothers, but I also think it is important to value the 97 year old woman who never had any children of her own, or the fromer teacher in her late 80s that never had a family of any type, the women I know who never wanted to get married or have children, those who may want to have children but infertility or miscarriages have prevented this from becoming a reality, those who at this point in their lives are dedicating themselves to their education or their career, or those who gave a child up for adoption for whatever reason or lost custody of their children. I do think this is an issue where we still treat men and women a little differently, but my plea in the midst of all of this is can we value people first and foremost for who they are, and on days like Mother’s day if they happen to be a mother then celebrate that and if not please don’t make them feel guilty for not being one.