I’m starting to loathe Mother’s Day

Guest post by Julia Renee
By: lindsaydeebunny – CC BY 2.0
By: lindsaydeebunnyCC BY 2.0

It’s not because I don’t appreciate my mother, my sister, my aunts and grandmothers (because they’re awesome and superheroes), and not even because it generally means that we have to spend mornings with one family and afternoons with another family (even though said families are 50 miles apart). Mostly, I loathe Mother’s Day because it is a reminder that I am not and likely never will be a mother.

I’ve started becoming a recluse on Mother’s Day weekend. I’m of an age where it’s assumed I am a mother and am generally given a cheery “Happy Mother’s Day” by every retail clerk with whom I come into contact (yes, even though there are no children with me). The issue is that I am not and I, in my over-abundant need to be truthful, feel uncomfortable allowing it to slide with a simple “thank you.” But I don’t really want to break into tears and shout that I don’t deserve this particular salutation.

If I were one to characterize myself as “child-free” perhaps I could go on a rant about sexism, ageism, and the societal norms involved in assuming I’m a mother because I’m of a certain age or I can quote Anne Lamott, and state that “Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path.” But the poor schmuck behind the counter at Target who is just trying to be nice doesn’t deserve that any more than I deserve to feel shame because I am not a mother.

But I’m not there yet. I’m not at that point where I’m content in the knowledge that I won’t have a child of my own. I’m still blindly hoping that I’ll get pregnant by a miracle. In the meantime, I’m trying to acknowledge all those feelings that come up and deal with them as they appear, which includes the gratitude for my family for acknowledging me for my role as “aunt.”

It’s rough, though, because mourning the loss of what isn’t, and will likely never be, is something that’s hard to explain to others, and harder still when it’s been going on for years.

Until I can get to the point where I can appreciate my childlessness or see the Universe’s higher purpose for not giving me children, Mother’s Day will be difficult. In the meantime, I can only hope that I can continue to hold my tongue when some well-intentioned retail worker wishes me a Happy Mother’s Day.

Either child-free by choice or not, how do you deal with being told “Happy Mother’s Day” when you’re, um, NOT a mother? Awkward…

Comments on I’m starting to loathe Mother’s Day

  1. It is so odd that strangers wish each other “Happy Mother’s Day.” I do have a child, but even feel uncomfortable responding “You, too” when the sentiment is directed at me by someone I don’t know. I was just wondering that this morning, after the third time someone wished me a “Happy Mother’s Day”– do I somehow project motherhood, or are we acknowledging that we all have mothers who we might be celebrating? Do people wish male strangers a “Happy Mother’s Day”? And, of course, my confusion and feelings of awkwardness are mere inconveniences compared to those, like the author of this piece, for whom Mother’s Day is particularly painful. With all the raw feelings that people can have about motherhood, I just don’t understand why people think that it is appropriate to assume that anyone is a mother.

    • Can’t remember if I’ve responded to any random dudes who wish me “Happy Mother’s Day” with “You, too” yet or if I just think it would be a great idea. I wind up working a lot of Mother’s Days, probably because the women with kids specifically ask not to be assigned it, and therefore I’m usually in a position to have a lot of conversations with strangers.

  2. It’s just as awkward when your belly fat makes you look pregnant and you get “Happy Mother’s Day – you’ll get used to hearing that soon.”

    • Yes! Especially when people rub my belly fat while asking if I am pregnant. “Nope, not pregnant, just mortified.” This has only happened once, but I am still not done reliving it.

    • A few years ago my then boyfriend now fiancé and I were at Disney over Father’s Day weekend (and my birthday) and a few employees wishes us happy Father’s Day.. We just laughed it off and enjoyed our weekend, but having people assume I was pregnant at Disney world on my birthday is up there with most embarrassing public moments. I’ve made a lot of progress with not hating my curvy body and tubby belly, but rude strangers who feel the need to comment on their assumptions is the worst.

  3. I dread Mother’s Day for a different reason- my relationship with my mother turned toxic and we’re now estranged. Thinking of her, I feel nothing to celebrate, only a profound relief I escaped. But I’m glad to know that other people have mothers in their lives that are worth honoring and I’m trying to focus on my future mother-in-law and sister-in-law instead.

    “If I were one to characterize myself as “child-free” perhaps I could go on a rant about sexism, ageism, and the societal norms involved in assuming I’m a mother because I’m of a certain age…”

    I haven’t experienced the random “Happy Mother’s Day” yet and now I’m wondering if I will this year because I’ve recently hit the point where people call me “ma’am” instead of “miss”, but this would be my personal reason for being infuriated by it. However, you’ve given me a much better reason: this assumption can be downright cruel and thoughtless.

    If this happens to me, I will say something. Not anything mean or snippy, but I think a confused look and response of “Why?” will serve well. The goal isn’t to make anyone feel bad, it’s to make people realize their assumptions- no matter how well-meaning- can be incorrect and they need to be more thoughtful before speaking.

  4. It wasn’t Mother’s Day but I recently had the bizarre experience of someone assuming I’m a mom. Never happened before and I didn’t know this was a thing!

    I was picking up my car at the shop and the guy was being nice but said something about, “you deserve the rest of the day off. Tell the kiddos they have to make you dinner tonight!” ?!? Thanks?!?

  5. Thank you for this! I am in the middle of sorting out my fertility and starting IUI again next year (after a two year break due to finances). This is year is particularly difficult as two women at work just had babies. Mother’s Day feels particularly difficult this year. It is good to feel like I am not alone.

  6. It’s still somewhat mindboggling to me that this happens. If you don’t see a child with me (or standard mom garb, like a pin with my kid’s hockey picture or something), why would you assume I’m a mother? Use the pregnancy rule: unless you can literally see the baby coming out, do not assume someone is pregnant.

    • Even if someone has kids with them, it’s problematic to automatically assume that this person is in fact their parent. My niece and nephew lost their mother some time ago and I take care of them a lot. Every single time we’re out together some well-meaning clerk or stranger in the streets will say things like “ask your Mummy if she’s okay with that” because they have no idea about our situation and family dynamic. I don’t take offense because they couldn’t know, I’m the responsible female with the kids after all, the family resemblance is there and I’m old enough to be their mother, but it’s really hard on the kids and I feel so sorry for them. Their grief is still very fresh, so comments like these will give them huge meltdowns and crying fits every time, and understandably so.
      I also remember when I was a kid … my father was already in his early sixties when my parents had me, so nearly everyone incorrectly assumed that he was my grandfather babysitting for the day, and it annoyed me to no end. But it’s so much easier to politely correct someone and say “he’s not my grandpa, he’s my dad” than to say “she’s only my auntie, my mummy’s dead”.

      To be honest, I have no idea how one could tactfully navigate a situation like this and use inclusive language … I just wanted to point it out and raise awareness, for all it’s worth.

  7. This is the first year I’m having to deal with this (estrogen-sensitive tumors = I can’t even try to get pregnant) and it’s very painful and upsetting! I’m following this to see if anyone has any good tips, because breaking down crying in the grocery store isn’t really working for me.

  8. When I moved back to the South as an adult, the friends I made were moms and (being well aware of my lack of kids), they all called me “mama.” As in, “hey mama, what are you doing tonight?” It was like a trade for “girl.” It was weird at first but then I decided I liked being recognized as a mama-energy in the world, regardless of whether I have kids of my own. I consider mamas and their kids a big part of my tribe, so it feels good. The way it is shared with me, the implication seems to be that mamas are grown women who have a certain weariness from real experience in this world–and continue to love anyway. I know this does not begin to solve the original poster’s pain in her struggle to have kids. While deeply honoring that pain, might I toss out the idea that mother or mama is a title that is yours to claim or reject as you wish. Any of us can have fierce mama-energy in our heart whether or not we’ve ever had a baby in the belly.

    • I love this.
      For the last few years I have been making an attempt to embrace my feminine and motherly energies. I have been providing care to others…and animals…and plants…and projects for most of my life. My motherliness comes out in many ways, but I may never be a mom (I have no idea how I feel about that). I try to humbly hold that when I receive these well-intentioned wishes. It doesn’t remove the sting completely, but it helps.

  9. I hate mother’s day because I no longer have my mom and I am only 29. My mom died in 2011 and these past 4 mother’s days have wracked my heart more than her birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays without her. On those days no one knows that you are grieving and you can try and forget the pain for a bit with the normal hustle and bustle of life, But oh boy do I hate mother’s day, and the push for you to buy everything. Every email, advertisement, store has some sort of promotion for mom. I know that my mother knew that I loved her, we were close and I called daily. Told her I loved her and constantly showed her that I cared. I now hate of Mother’s Day because to me, every day with her was “mother’s day” and now I have to bear a day where my loss is seems very visible and apparent to the entire world. This is why I will be hiding under my blanket fort on my bed all day on Sunday.

    • Two of my closest friends have lost their moms in the last two years. I have seen them suffer on those same anniversaries. It reminds me of my biggest fear, because my mom is the most important figure in my life. I doubt any of that helps; my goal is to say you are not alone. I am sorry the world has not been more sensitive. Whatever you have got to do to get through these days, more power to you.

      • Thanks I wish I could say it gets easier with time but I think this is one thing that I will dread every year. Right after my mom died, I couldn’t look/be around/or hear about mothers and children (of all ages) it just hurt so much to see/hear these tableaus without crying or getting angry for losing that love. Please note that it was anger over my situation not at those I saw. Thankfully that has passed.

        I have added new traditions to take out and celebrate those women who are my mother figures. My aunt and my moms bffs help me to remember her and the wonderful person she was. Plus they have also lost their mothers.

        One question of advice, as I get to know my MIL to be, I really like her but she’s not my mom. It’s such a hard balance to walk because I don’t want her to eclipse my mom but I can see that she will be an important part of my life. Any advice?

        • Heather, I feel for you. My father passed away when I was a teenager, and (as strange as it might sound) I have always felt some relief that Father’s Day isn’t as big a thing where I live, for the reasons you mentioned. More than a decade later, it doesn’t get easier, but happy memories outweigh grief and anger.

          I wish I had some sound advice regarding your relationship with your mother-in-law. My bloke’s father is not in the picture, so I can’t speak from in-law experience and I’ve never had a new stepfather either … Maybe just talk to her and honestly explain your conflicted feelings? From what you’ve said it sounds like the two of you have the kind of relationship where a heart-to-heart conversation is a good idea. Since my father passed, an uncle of mine has become an important part of my life, a fatherly figure whom I turn to for advice and whom I love dearly. It might be easier because he, being my mum’s big brother, knew, loved and misses my father … I know that he could never replace my father, and he never tried to do so, and I know that he has children of his own who will always be closer to him, but we do have a relationship of mutual respect and love that doesn’t need a label.

          • Thanks! Fiance’s mom is great and sweet and she understands that it’s hard for me. I ended up spending some time with them and then napping to get away from everything for a bit. There were tears and hugs/cuddles from the Fiance that made things better. At least things are passed again for another year.

    • I was just about to write the same thing. Even though I am a mom (and currently pregnant with my second) I don’t feel like mother’s day is about me yet. My daughter is only 4 so I don’t expect anythin from her. So mother’s day us still tied up with my mom who’s been dead for two years. I would honestly just like the day to go away. Just shopping yesterday was hard with all of the ads and special gifts for moms that I can’t buy for mine. At least her birthday and anniversary of her death are private, this feels so open.
      I’m glad for the post though, because I didn’t realize that all the flower shop signs around town and never ending ads have actually been bumming me out. :/

      • Yeah, I would have never guessed it either but the first Mother’s Day after my mom passed I worked night shift and ended up watching a lot of day time TV and the adds started and I could feel this irrational anger and frustration at all of the companies having sales. When the random show came back on I would calm back down. So now I know that those things make me angry and I avoid media for the beginning of May until it passes

  10. As a child free feminist OP allow me to rant on your behalf. I work for a lovely couple, they want children but they can’t have them. Every single year I watch idiotic customers both male and female come in and wish her a Happy Mother’s day. I see her smile and say a quiet thanks in return but I can see behind the smile because I know her so well, it hurts her so deeply. This assumption that every woman must be a parent, that somehow women are not complete creatures if they don’t, that no woman of a certain age could show her face if she did not have children is what causes this situation. Not everyone can have children

    • Gah, I’m having phone issues here. Not everyone can have children and not everyone wants children so unless you personally know the person then keep your assumptions to yourself. How hard is it to talk about the weather or just wish a customer a nice day? The only person I wish a Happy Mother’s day is my own mum. Until women are recognised as whole beings of worth just as they are in our society painful assumptions and situations like this will continue to arise. I make a point to mention this to anyone I know who wishes happy mother’s day to random strangers because I have seen the hurt it causes and that makes me angry.

      • From what I’ve read, your approach (only wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to your own mother), is actually more in keeping with the intention of the holiday. If I’m remembering correctly, the creator of the holiday actually got quite upset when the focus shifted away from individual familial relationships- Mother’s Day- to a more generalized approach- Mothers’ Day.

  11. I’m having a rough time thIs year too. After 3 years of trying, I got pregnant, but ended up having a miscarriage. Mother’s day is hitting me a lot harder than I ever thought it would. Like I criesdin the middle of walmart yesterday after someone asked me what my plans were for Mother’s day.

  12. Well, I was *going* to write: “My god, you poor ladies. Where on earth do you live that people actually say ‘Happy Mothers Day’ to people they don’t know?”. But as I was typing that, my office’s social committee started handing out chocolate tulips for Mothers Day! (And I got one, despite not having any kids.)

    I work surrounded by women, so I’ll be interested to see if nearby blokes got a chocolate too. If they didn’t, I am going to kick off 🙂

    • Yes, I was going the say the same thing – in the UK people only actually wish “Happy Mother’s Day” to, you know, their own actual mothers – but then a friend just complained on facebook about getting a “Happy Mother’s Day” email from a colleague in the US…

      In Italy, Mother’s Day is just part of International Women’s Day, which I think is a nice way of celebrating it, and means all women are included.

  13. I feel like when people say Happy Mother’s Day, they aren’t referring just to you having a child, but that everyone does have a mother. That’s still extremely problematic because not everyone has a mother who is living, and not every has or had a good relationship with their mother. I refrain from saying it unless I know the person’s circumstances.

  14. Julia. You are a beautiful soul, thoughtful and caring human being. I love that you stepped into others shoes. It is easy to react with anger or act out. I want you to know that I view many people in my life to be mothers even if they do not have bio or adopted children. I have always played the “den mother” role in my family. I imagine you do as well. Especially if people want to honor your role as “aunt.” You deserve to be celebrated. It breaks my heart to think you hide out on this day because you don’t have a child. Buddhism believes we have all been mothers in past lives and should treat and respect each person as such. For you are a mother who offers advice to a community of followers. While your current version of motherhood may not be your ideal I hope you are able to find peace with where it is now.

    • Oh, yes! As an infertile woman with a toxic mother, I have had many a painful Mothers’ Day. Peace came from a 6 year old boy who was visiting my neighbor’s children. They were all picking flowers (with permission) for their mothers. When he heard that I didn’t have children, he picked flowers for me also and wished me a happy day. He said he was sad there was no one to do that for me so he did. I was never able to have children, but I realized that I was part of a community and I could be a part of other children’s lives. I never saw him again, but that was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.

      It makes me sad to read comments from folks who are responding with anger and feel that it is rude of someone to wish them happiness. Even if the other person is only doing it by rote in a store or if their version of happiness doesn’t work for me, I find that if I can receive it with gratitude, life is so much better.

    • Thank you for this, Jadeabee. It is so beautifully stated. It is something I’m working through and I like being an aunt to my nieces and nephews and a mother figure to others. I like this way of looking at it. Blessings to you.

  15. People don’t usually assume I have children, but sometimes it happens. Once, I was buying some food and holding my (bright pink) bicycle helmet. The cashier assumed that the pink helmet belonged to my child playing outside. Haaa. Nope, it’s just the helmet of an adult who loves bright pink.

    Because having children is often seen as carrying a lot of significance in someone’s identity (whether or not it should), it is very destabilizing for me to have someone mistakenly think I have children. It makes me feel like I’ve tricked or misled them, even though I haven’t. It is similar to how I feel when someone thinks I am from a different country or state than where I am actually from. Of course, all of this is easily corrected with friends and acquaintances and isn’t so serious for me, but I still experience that initial destabilizing moment.

    • I frequently buy pedialyte (dilute it with a lot of water and it actually makes a really great general “I’m thirsty and need electrolytes” gatorade-type drink) and used to keep applesauce and babyfood squeezy packets in my purse to snack on. Only once did a cashier ask if they were for a kid or not…and he was super excited when I said they weren’t, ’cause it turns out he liked ’em too.

  16. I loathe all “Happy____” – type statements from people who don’t know me (retail, co-workers I only see at work…etc.) Nobody should be assuming others celebrate what they celebrate. It’s an infringement on personal things, from religion, to family history, to reproductive status, it just seems so inappropriate (good intentions aside).

    I would LOVE to see the day when people stop thinking of “holidays” as a common thread, and recognize that it’s not cool to assume. You see that a little with Christmas (people now trying to be “PC” by saying “Happy Holidays” – but even that is so presumptuous).

    I want to live in a world where it’s not expected that I’m celebrating the same occasions as the masses. “WHY?” as someone said above, is a great response. It will stump the greeters, but it makes the most sense; “WHY Happy Holidays??” “WHY Happy Mother’s Day??” “WHY do you think you know me?? Have we met? I’m the customer whose arm is being twisted into Hallmark celebration submission. Yeah I didn’t think we’d met…”

    Really, these greetings from retailers just speak to the fact that holidays are largely manufactured simply for consumerism. It suits their whole reason for existing; to sell you shit for the next holiday and make you feel warm and fuzzy about having bought it.

    That aside, “Happy Mother’s Day” specifically, should be said only to your best friends, your mother, your grandmother, mother-in-law, or other mother figure in your life. I don’t see why a stranger would feel the need to get up in your biz like that. I think if someone said it to me, I’d reply simply “That’s a pretty personal statement…” and make a face.

  17. As the mother of a son who died at birth, Mother’s Day is really difficult. Being “acknowledged” by complete strangers is weird, but not being “acknowledged” by those in the know is weird, too. I don’t know where the fuck I fit, even nine years later.

    • As the mother of a son who has passed on- I agree. The day has changed in my world. It becomes another reminder of the void in my heart. And all the
      moments he’s missed with his girls. I start to remember some of the sweetest moments when he was a baby. I remember the laughs and smiles, the good times. Then I realize everyone has started to remember and the silence is so overwhelming sometimes. So, I think using the day to reflect and accept the wishes from those who don’t know and apply those wishes to the children that are still in my life. Comes out to a positive thing. My role with them is a little different. But the love comes from a mothers heart.

  18. At the last place I worked, I was one of the only people who worked Sundays, and the only female who did so. Every year I’d get a barragement of customers wishing me happy Mothers Day. One customer even brought me a candy bouquet every year. My coworkers found it hilarious, since I have always been pretty blatant about my preference for pets over children. Every time someone assumed I had kids, it was awkward and I never figured out a proper way to respond. Simply stating that I had no kids seemed to spark a sympathetic response, saying it was by choice seemed to not make sense to the older clientel, and truly, I just shouldn’t have to explain myself to someone and I doubt they care either.

    I kind of realized later that because it was very well-known that all of the other women I worked with were pursuing degrees, and we were all in our 20’s, all those baby boomers probably just figured the only reason I would not be in school wouod be if I had a family.

  19. I guess I waffle, and I’ve always waffled, depending on where I am in life. While at some knee-jerk level I find it offensive that there’s an underlying assumption that a woman isn’t a real woman without being a mother, I’ve chilled out a bit and started defining motherhood/parenting differently.

    As a graduate student, I’ve been TAing for college-level courses, and I’m about to start teaching my own coming this Fall. I get invested in the performance and accomplishments of the undergrads whose work I grade – I cheer for them when they do well, and I’m sad when they just don’t grasp the concepts they need. I refer to them as my “children,” and I know I will feel that way even more so when I have classes of my own that I’m teaching. My partner and I have cats, and we are definitely pet “parents,” and love those fluffy butts like our own flesh and blood children. I’m a “cat mom.” Many of my friends have children, and while I’m not the “oh my goodness a baby I want to hold it pleeease” type, I’m happy to have conversations with the older children. I remember how validating it was when I was that age to have an adult LISTEN to me, think about what I’m saying, and hold an intelligent conversation with me. To me, these are all “mothering” or “parenting” actions.

    I guess what I’m saying is that there are ways to be invested in the health, well-being, and development of small humans and animals without being their physical progenitor, and that spirit is part of what we honor on Mother’s and Father’s day (sans Hallmark cards and other trappings of commercialism). It’s that investment, that inclination toward generativity that is what is important beyond the physical yes/no of “have you borne a child?” If someone wishes me a “Happy Mother’s Day,” I’ll thank them and smile. I may not have borne a child, but I am invested in the growth and development of the next generation, and that’s good enough for me.

  20. Agreed- it is awkward when I hear people randomly wishing strangers happy mothers day.

    I personally don’t like this holiday because I have a terrible and unhealthy relationship with my mother, which I basically have to keep appearances up in or the rest of my family flips their shit.

  21. I realize that I am privileged that Mother’s Day does not represent anything painful or sad for me. I do not have children, but I have many nieces and nephews, and many friends who are parents. I enjoy sending cards or calling the women in my life who are mothers, and making the point to them that I appreciate the work they do, and that I take great joy in their children. For me it is a fun way to stay connected with the mothers in my life that I really respect and appreciate.

  22. Mother’s Day is hard. I have a very complicated relationship with mine and my only child is a furry one. I am queer and can’t just “have a kid” and so my usual back-of-my-mind envy blows up into a jealous angry sad fit around this day. (I am well aware that there’s no zero-sum in parenthood but envy is not rational.) I work retail and tried to only say “happy mother’s day” when I had confirmation that said customer was, in fact, a mother. I don’t know if that helped or hurt.
    What made me smile today was a picture someone posted of an adorable dog saying, “Dogs treat you like every day is Mother’s Day!” It’s true. Every time I come home, I get a dog doing hover-butt from the vigorous tail-wagging of joy.

  23. All of the previous posters have had great points. I’m an engaged woman in her thirties, and often I get mistaken for my nephew’s mother when I take him on outings, but no one’s ever wished me a Happy Mother’s day (that I can remember). I’m not trying to get pregnant, but I don’t particularly fear that I couldn’t have kids when/if I want them. And my mom and I have a great relationship, so there’s no issues there.

    All of that to preface the following: I like my father’s philosophy on greetings. All greetings mean the same and are interchangeable. For example:

    Me- :sneeze:
    Father- “My condolences!”

    Me- “Happy Father’s Day!”
    Father- “Happy Father’s Day to you!”

    Cashier- “Merry Christmas!”
    Father- “And Happy Easter to you!”

    And my personal favorite:
    Father- :large burp: “GREETINGS from the inside!” (instead of the expected, “excuse me,” for those who are confused)

    Not to diminish your extremely valid and personal feelings on the matter, but when you think of all greetings as the same and interchangeable, it’s not as weird when someone directs one to you and gets it wrong. And it’s fun to react with an equally absurd response.

    • Update: I was just telling my patents about this thread, when my father laughed and said, “Look at what I wrote in your mom’s mother’s day card.” He’d written, “Happy Birthday!” Her birthday is in December, lol.

Read more comments

Join the Conversation