Facebook has this new timeline feature which by you can see what you posted on that day, years in the past. Since Mid April, I've been reliving G's impending arrival, his birth, his hospitalization, and today, his release from the hospital to head home. His first day home was Mother's Day, which seemed appropriate. That was a happy Mother's Day, uncomplicated by background grief. It was the last Mother's Day that would be so. The next year, we were all under the shadow of Cliff's impending trial and the year after that was my first (Single) Mother's Day. I've got to tell you, being in charge of your own Mother's Day is not awesome. This Mother's Day will be much more joyful than the ones before: I'll wake up alongside my husband and I'll listen to the early-morning ramblings of 3 boys playing.
But that doesn't make Mother's Day less complicated for me. And I'm not the only one for whom that is true.
There's this idea called the "Platonic Ideal" in which an abstract concept underlies our ability to categorize things within that abstract. That sounds obtuse, but here's an easy exercise to explain it. Imagine a tree. Did the thing you imagine have a trunk, branches? Did it grow out of the ground? I'm betting that a room full of 10 people could all say yes to that. But those same 10 people would have differed on some details - whether their tree had fruit, flowers, leaves, or animals in its branches. They probably look different, but all are "trees." They all fit within the concept of "tree" while not being "THE TREE" or the "PLATONIC TREE". There's an ideal form, and then there's the diversity of forms that make up that form.
I think Mother's Day, at least in America, worships the Platonic Ideal of Motherhood. This Platonic Mother looks like this: She's white, she's happily married, her house is clean, her clothes are trendy, her children are obedient, she's got no financial struggles, the yard is mowed by a service, pinterest copies HER. If you don't believe me, go to: http://itsliketheyknowus.tumblr.com/ and there you'll see the Platonic Mother in all her glory. It's funny, I promise.
But she's not real. She just isn't. Even if someone you know fits this EXACT DESCRIPTION, she's not the Platonic Mother. Because lurking in the background of your first impression is reality and that reality is:
A woman with kids could have a terrible relationship with her own mom
A woman with kids could actually be the aunt and struggling with infertility
A woman with kids could be depressed and regretting having those kids
A woman with kids could be raising those kids alone and is TIRED of all the shit-talking about single moms
A woman with kids could be grieving the miscarriage she just had. Or the anniversary of her oldest child's death.
The Platonic Mother doesn't exist but this upcoming holiday worships her and left in the dust are all of us, not just women. When we worship the ideal, we lose our ability to have compassion upon those who don't fit it. When we enshrine the ideal, we create a game that no woman could ever win. When the ideal trumps the actual, outliers become pariahs.
Let's kill the Platonic Mother.
The only way to kill her, though, is to start telling the truth to one another. Women talking about how mothering is difficult. Women talking about the grief of infertility. Women talking about (and not being shamed for) their happiness WITHOUT children. Women talking about their flawed (or even BAD) moms. Women speaking up about the real cost of parenting. Women speaking anger, grief, joy, TRUTH.
This holiday isn't going away. But together, we can make it something better, something more true, something more reflective of the diversity of what motherhood ACTUALLY IS. We can change the narrative about mothering, so that no more women have to wake up on Sunday morning and wince.
PS - Go here to learn more about how Mother's Day began. Spoiler Alert: It's about protesting War.