Friday, 28 March 2014

Mothering Sunday Thoughts

I have to think about Mother's Day twice a year because British Mothering Sunday is on the fourth Sunday of Lent and North American Mother's Day is the second Sunday in May. Mothering Sunday seems more low-key than North American Mother's Day, and in fact its historical roots do not wind around mothers but the practice of visiting one's "mother church" or Cathedral that day. Visiting ol' Mum and bringing her a nice treat (like a simnel cake) sprang up around that, and was revived in the 1920s.

I do not know if parish priests in the UK ever pull the "All mothers stand and be applauded" nonsense because I am always at the FSSP Mass on Laetare Sunday, and homey don't play that. I hope ordinary parish priests don't either. But if they do, I hope one day all British Catholic women over 25 get so sick of it that they ALL stand. John Paul II wrote that all women are called to be mothers, physical or spiritual, and so, really, clerics should not be making such a obvious distinction between biological mothers and all other women. Incidentally, I wonder how the bereaved mothers feel when the priest cheerfully "invites" them to stand. Or mothers with children in JAIL. Or mothers whose children have been taken from them by the courts or runaway husbands. Or women who have had miscarriages. Or women who are grieving ab*rti*ns. Mother's Day must be hard enough for them without tacked on cheer and clap-clap-clap.

Have I mentioned how much I hate it when pastorallytone-deaf silly people add all this made-up stuff to the liturgy? I have?!?!

I wouldn't mind a prayer for mothers at the end of Laetare Sunday Mass, if said over the entire kneeling congregation, especially if it mentioned all the horrors that attend maternity--the physical pains, the emotional pains, the social difficulties, the dread of what the world might do to their darlings, the anger at what the world has already done to their darlings, etc. No, what I principally object to is the mothers being invited to stand while the childless sit dumbly and are forced to applaud with everyone else their fecund (or richer, adoptive) sisters' gift of children. I do not at all blame these mothers. I blame the priests.

Poor old priests. I probably tell this story every year, but back in Toronto around 1997 or so, a priest gave a Mother's Day homily on the wonder of MOTHER. Ah, our Mothers, our sainted Mothers, ah to be sure, too-rah-loo-rah-loo-rah. After Mass, as he was talking to a male classmate of mine, a furious woman stormed up with tears in her eyes and told him that he didn't know anything about mothers and his homily was insultingly sentimental nonsense. On she raged, and the priest and my pal were petrified before her inexplicable female anger and I HOPE, although I don't know, that the priest said, "I am so sorry you are upset. Please come and talk to me in my office."

"My goodness," said my friend, who thought I would join him in marveling over this "crazy" woman, "if you can't preach a sermon on mothers, what CAN you preach about?"

Listen, chaps. Not only are women sensitive about whether or not we are mothers, we are also sensitive about our experience in being mothered. And an overfed priest rabbiting on about how proud his mother was the day he got ordained is not going to go down well with the generations of women who grew up playing second-fiddle to their brothers, or who found themselves horribly thrust in the position of rival for their father's/stepfather's attention. There are even mothers who will sacrifice their children--who will turn a blind eye to their daughters'/granddaughters' sexual abuse--for their own sex lives. Homilies on that would be great. Heavens! And wouldn't I love to hear an [X]-Canadian priest demand of [X]-Canadian women (for example) if they work their daughters too hard and pamper their sons too much. (Fill in the [X] however you like.)

Anyway. Mothering Sunday. When I don't think about it in detail, I feel more tranquil now about being childless that I have been since I married. The answer to "But does the pain of being childless ever go away?" is YES--at least in my case. Since the bitter heartbreak of the Insensitive Doctor's Phone Call, I have been feeling a lot better. The worst--and that was the worst--is over, and I can get on with my life. I am answering the question, "What would you do if you were reasonably sure you could never have children?" by praying, "God, You know I want children. Send me whichever children You think I should mother."

And lo! In the post yesterday, Mothering Sunday greetings from Seminarian Pretend Son to his "Canadian Pretend Mother"! Yay! My first authentic Pretend Mother's Day card! Such a good boy. He's in the seminary, you know.

So that is my advice to women, single or married, who terribly want children, but don't have them. Pray hard, not for children, but for whichever children God wants you to have. These could be natural children of the body, or they could be children of the spirit. They could be foster children, or they could be foreign students. They could be your own elementary school pupils. They could be, if you become a nun, your novices. (And what a shame so many orders have dropped the title of "Mother" from older nuns!) When it comes to motherhood, we need to think outside the box. If all women are called to be mothers, then motherhood is not just a biological reality, and motherhood is something more than giving birth. It is a many-splendoured gift from God to us all.


Julia said...

This is a touching post.

Yes, I think that every single Mothers' Day Sunday Mass I've been to has featured the 'all mothers stand' ritual. I've always thought it dumb - kind of on the same level of dumb as the bouquet toss.

A friend's older single aunt was once snubbed at their Orthodox parish on Mothers' Day. Flowers were being handed out to the mothers, and the aunt was pointedly excluded. My friend was very annoyed, as she is very close to her aunt.

Sara said...

I am quite the opposite.... I want very much to be married (with reservations of terror, however, since my parents have a dreadful marriage and I come from a very dysfunctional family) and to give of myself, but I NEVER want kids. Is that bad? When I read the comments on here I start to think I'm insane for not wanting children. And I know I can't use birth control, so what to do....?

Kels said...

The all mothers stand thing is dreadful although I haven't had it happen in a while. My own mom is mentally ill and unfortunately this results in her being a very difficult and dangerous person. I very much would like to be married someday and have children. But honestly I am terrified I will become my mom and sometimes wonder if staying single would be better.

Last year on Mothers Day, my parish priest did give a homely on mothers, although it was mostly Marian in focus. He did included a section mothers who have failed their children, or have died. I think he also brought up the childless and spiritual mothers too, and acknowledge that the day is difficult for many people. At lest is wasn't the normal, Aren't Mothers Grand!? speech, for which I was very thankful.

Nzie said...

That sounds like a better way to handle it, Kels - cover everyone. My dad I think sometimes overdid mother's day gifts for my mom to try not to focus on how horrible his own mother was.

Nzie said...

Also, I LOVE that Mothering Sunday meant mother church. :-) How lovely!

Anonymous for this post said...


I am going anonymous for this one because people who know me in real life know or would recognize my normal user name, and I don't want to cause any hurt feelings.

I don't think you're insane for not wanting children. I come from a very dysfunctional family as well, and for me marriage seems like enough of a challenge. The idea of having kids terrifies me (although I have softened to the idea in recent months) because, unlike many women, I don't have an example of how to be a good parent, or even of how to work with my spouse to become good parents together. I worry that I would be a horrible mother, and as a result I am very content not to have children. That may change if I get married.

Also, keep in mind that just because you feel that way now doesn't mean you will always feel that way. I used to be so afraid of marriage that I never ever wanted to get married. I am kind of the opposite of many who read this blog because my problem is not so much being content with being single; rather, I need to appreciate marriage as a good thing so that I can desire it in spite of the fear. I am getting there: I now have a desire for marriage that accompanies the fear. I can imagine that in the future I may start to have a desire for children that accompanies that fear, too.

Anne said...

Someone said to me once "a home without children is a home without light!!!" (they had no idea of my background and no intention to hurt me). I just said "my house has plenty of light". Thanks for a very touching post Seraphic with some very wise words about acceptance and embracing what life brings to us. I found it very helpful.

Sheila said...

I don't stand for the clappity-clap thing, simply out of protest. Until the priest has ALL women, or the whole congregation, stand for a blessing, I see no reason why I should get more praise than anybody else.

I wish they'd just do sermons about Our Lady. EVERYone has her! When I was in boarding school, every Mother's Day we all went to the courtyard Mary statue and sang her Las Mananitas, the traditional Mexican birthday-and-feastday song. It was a lovely tradition, especially with all of us being so homesick that day.

At my wedding, the priest did a schlocky sermon about motherhood which left my grandma thinking he was dropping a hint that I was pregnant already! It turned out he was trying to make a point to my mother-in-law, whom he had a quarrel with. Sigh. No good can come of sappy "ain't mothers great" sermons, in my opinion.

Leah said...

That is so awkward, Shelia! Ugh!

Sara, from your comment on birth control, it seems like you might be Catholic? If you are, maybe you could talk to a good priest or a Catholic counselor of some kind? I don't think you are insane at all, especially considering your background, but in order to contract a valid marriage in the Catholic Church, you do have to be open to having children. There may be various medical reasons why a couple can't have children (either infertility, serious health risks to the wife, etc.) or they may use NFP to postpone pregnancy for a serious reason, but they cannot use it forever just because they don't want children.

I'm sorry if this sounds harsh; I don't mean it to! I just think it is an important thing that a lot Catholic have no idea about.

If you aren't Catholic, maybe you could still talk to a pastor or counselor? Assuming you have a good person to talk to, it never hurts to try to heal past pains.

Leah said...

* I just wanted to clarify that I mean the story about your wedding, Shelia! Haha! I think your idea about Our Lady is wonderful!!

Seraphic said...

My Pretend Children aren't actually, er, children. They're in their 20s. I think the youngest Polish Student With a Housing Crisis who stayed with us for a bit was 19. Maybe one of my Temporary Daughters was 18....

At any rate, I haven't been called upon to take care of any child-aged children.

I'm putting that out there. Those of you who want to get married but don't feel ready for children, or are doubtful about every having children, your fertility will take a nosedive at thirty-five, so if you put off marriage until you are forty, chances are, you won't be called upon to HAVE children.

That said, God might ask you to have and raise children anyway. But I wouldn't panic about it. Babies and children are just people. And none of us are our mothers. Sure, sometimes we may sound like our mothers, and sometimes we need to discuss our mothers in therapy for years on end. But if you are a kind, patient and compassionate person who is moved by weakness now, then you would still be a kind, patient and compassionate person moved by weakness if you have a baby.

One (more) beautiful thing about the Catholic tradition: it recognizes that marriage-and-babies is not for everybody. But this does not let you off the hook. You're asked not to despise or fear all humanity under age 18.

Sheila--ICK! Priest using homily during your wedding to get at your mother-in-law! ICK! And thanks for sitting in solidarity with women-without-children. The more I think about it, the more touched I am. If ever I am feeling bad on a Mother's Day (UK or Canada), I will remember that.

Kels, that sounds like a great Mother's Day homily--very honest and telling it like it is!

Anamaria said...

In my twenties, when I felt somewhat lost and unsure of my place in the world, I received a mother's day card from my friends' children (who I spent countless hours mothering). It was very touching.

Your prayer for God to send you the children he wants you to have is beautiful. I think that applies to all women, including biological mothers. Throughout my pregnancy I read about colicky babies and sleep. I prayed and prayed that I wouldn't have a colicky baby, but I do. My sister-in-law wanted so much to conceive, had a hard time, but had a daughter after five years of marriage. Then she had twins. Now she's pregnant again, and will have four kids under four for a few months. Another friend's son is mentally ill. St. Monica's son strayed far from the Church, causing her much grief. Few of us get the children we want, whether we are biological mothers or not.

As a new (biological) mother, I am more and more grateful for spiritual mothers- my own and those who will mother my children in the future. When my daughter is screaming/up every hour all night/won't sleep, I make a special prayer for all women who aren't biological mothers, especially those who yearn for babies of their own.

Anamaria said...

Incidentally, I've thought a lot recently about biological mothers who give up their children for adoption. I once heard an adoptive mother object to someone calling her son's biological mother the "real" mother, saying "All she did was birth him. I'm raising him."

After having a rather rough pregnancy (excessive vomiting, which used to be much more dangerous than it is now but still required a trip to the ER for IV meds and fluids) and as good of birth as anyone could hope for, I think that's rather a lot. That alone is a huge gift to a child, not to mention the pain of giving up a child, knowing that someone else would better care for her.

Both the adoptive mother and the biological mother are the child's "real" mothers.

It seems to me that both those who bring another into the world but do not raise him and those who are spiritual mothers but do not raise children share a pain- lack of appreciation/recognition?

Julia said...

I actually think that my mother does not really like Mothers' Day. In our family, the day centres around my Babcia, who is not my mother's mother, and who my mother doesn't like. To top that off, I think Mothers' Day probably reminds my mother of her own mum, who died when my mother was a child. So I think that Mothers' Day can be a source of pain for all women, be they biological mothers or not.

Seraphic said...

Indeed!And thus keeping it a private family celebration beats the dumb new made-up ritual.

Seraphic said...

Indeed!And thus keeping it a private family celebration beats the dumb new made-up ritual.

Domestic Diva said...

Anamaria, many many thanks for your middle-of-the-night prayer and offering up for those of us who yearn to have children of our own. That is a huge sacrifice, and I am touched and grateful.

Betsy said...

Last Mother's Day I was grieving the child (my first) who I lost through miscarriage. I knew Mother's Day would be hard, and I was really hoping the priest wouldn't tell all the mothers to stand up. He did, and I cried. I understand that he was trying to "recognize" the mothers for their hard work or something, but this practice is hard on SO MANY women!! Whether you're single, struggling with infertility, or you have lost a child, it hurts, because it just highlights what you don't have and desperately want. Also, it always made me feel ashamed that I couldn't stand with all those other women. It felt like I wasn't good enough to join them just because I didn't have any children. And, honestly, when you're single, I think YOU should be applauded for following Catholic teaching and not having babies outside of marriage!

Thank you for that, Sheila! That's very sweet.

Sheila said...

Maybe all the mothers who read this blog should join me. We could make it a Thing, until the priests notice how dang hurtful it is. Church is not a place to single out some people for applause! Church is a place for us to NOT be noticed so that GOD can be noticed.

About adoption, I dreamed last night that my first son was adopted. I had his birth mother over for the first time and the two of us held each other and cried together, her because it had broken her heart to give up her son and have him now not know her, and me because I was so grateful that she had given me this beautiful child I feel so privileged to raise. Adoption is beautiful, but it's heartbreaking whichever side of it you're on.

That dream made it easier to put up with that special child today, when he hadn't slept well and spent all day falling apart over the most insignificant things, like being asked to put on clothes before breakfast or seeing a bug on the porch. I just remembered how very privileged I am to have him at all, not in the sense of it being fun to be his mother (though it sometimes is) but that it's an honor that God TRUSTS me with this very difficult child! After all, aren't all our kids "adopted"? Seraphic's "pretend" children were sent to her by God, and mine were also sent by God, and none of them are OURS.

Sherwood said...

Wow, I had no idea there was so much pain caused by that well meant but evidently ill thought out "please stand mothers" tradition. I like the idea of all women being asked to stand in honor of their universal call to motherhood, spiritual, adoptive or biological. (if they must be asked to stand at all, which seems kind of not Mass appropriate, now that I stop to think about it.) It seems that the singling out causes more pain than celebration, and that's not what Mother's Day is about. It's about celebrating ALL motherhood, all women who nurture physical or spiritual life in any way.
With that in mind - Happy Mothering Sunday to all!

Sherwood said...

Sheila, that's deep. And true.

Betsy, you are a mother and you have a true mother's heart. God bless you.

jromeo said...

Thank you for writing this. I know when I was growing up, I hated going to mass for mother's day. My mother passed away when I had just turned 11, and it was so difficult to see all these mother's standing when I missed mine so much and wanted her to be there standing with me. I remember once in high school, I started crying so hard that some people around me looked at me oddly. Now, I'm afraid such actions do sometimes bring up jealousy still, about those who still have mothers, and those who also have children when I don't.

Seraphic said...

I am so moved at the idea of ladies who gave given birth sitting in solidarity with the other women. The next time any of us have to sit through The Mother Clap, we should think of rebel mom Sheila!

I'm so sorry for all those who lost their mothers. Truly this is a vale of tears, and Mass should acknowledge that. (The EF sure does!) Some of us go to Mass in part to be comforted.

Seraphic said...

Betsy, I'm so sorry for your loss.

Betsy said...

Thank you for your understanding, Sherwood and Auntie Seraphic. He'll always be my baby, and I'll always love him.

On the subject of spiritual motherhood, one of the best influences in my life is my aunt. She never had biological children, but she has always been there for her nieces, and I owe her so much! I don't know where I would be without her, and I think people like her (and Auntie!) should have recognition for all they do as well.

Anonymous this time said...

I have to comment on what Sarah and "Anonymous for this post" because I identify with it so much and often feel like some kind of "unnatural woman" for not feeling attracted to the idea of having kids. It's strange because I had a really great relationship with each of my parents growing up, but my parents' relationship with each other was kind of horrible. Yet, I feel like marriage could totally be for me, but the idea of having children does not appeal to me AT ALL. I also think it seems pretty terrifying--the vulnerability to suffering through what happens to your children/what they do. I realize my feelings may change, but it makes me feel really nervous about my current (semi-serious) relationship with a man who really wants kids. Anyway, its comforting just to know there are other people here who feel this way. Sometimes I feel so out of place with my "religious" friends who all yearn for babies one day.

TRS said...

Anamaria, as an adopted child myself, I am a bit defensive about who is my "real" mother, my "real" parents.
They are the ones who raised me, loved me, comforted me when I was sick or sad.

I will say your thought that my birth mother is my real mother too well, I never thought of it like that. I just hated the suggestion that my parents were somehow stand ins, although they are the ones who did all the work. (Same as I hate they suggestion in America that I'm not a "real" woman because I'm thin and not curvy!)

You do make a great point. I just wanted to point out the perspective from someone with a real mom.

Anonymous said...

I opened the comments for this post expecting to see a round of celebrations of mothers and motherhood. So it was surprising and touching to read the stories of many other women who have had mixed feelings about it.

In my own case, my attitude was the result of my family history of mental illness. When I felt mature enough to look for a man who could become my husband, my brother was stricken with schizophrenia. His suffering, and that of my parents in witnessing it, terrified me. It was hard for me to believe that life was worth living when it could send such pain. My faith was weak and I had not been well-catechized, so I fell into a kind of despair.

The paradoxical effect of that, though, is that I now feel no pain at the mention of mothers or children - just a deep delight that it turns out I was *wrong*, after all. My sister-in-law once asked me, well-meaningly, if it upset me to hear about the imminent birth of her children; I think my enthusiastic 'Not at all!' convinced her, especially once I had explained the history behind it. Some things do become easier with age, or at least, I have been blessed enough to find it so.

Alias Clio

Anonymous said...

(Anonymous for this comment, if that's all right with Auntie S.)

This is in response to Sara's comment about wanting to be married yet being afraid of marriage, and not wanting kids. I can't tell you the relief I felt when I read it, because I have believed for years that I was the only one! So Sara, I'm sorry you're going through this mental/emotional discrepancy, but I am the same way. Also worth noting that I too come from a dysfunctional family environment ("dysfunctional" is putting it mildly).

Auntie S, perhaps you could address this in a post? I am Catholic, and I want to embrace Church teaching in all aspects of my life, yet I know that my apprehension (ok, I'll just say it... it's not apprehension, it's FEAR) about getting married and having children is contrary to everything I believe deep down. I tell myself that part of it is fear of the unknown. I'm a couple years away from turning 30 and have thus far never had so much as a date, let alone a boyfriend. So I try to tell myself that it's ok to not want "marriage" and "kids" in the abstract sense, because if and when I meet the right man for me, I will want the whole marriage and kids package with him specifically. But I don't know if that's true, and time is going on and I feel so conflicted. I can't bring myself to try meeting nice Catholic men because I'm afraid that at my age, the sort of nice Catholic man I'd find would be ready for marriage and kids, and I can't even imagine that being my life right now. I'll be honest, it terrifies me. So I settle for being somewhat lonely, which on the one hand isn't so bad because well, I'm quite used to it and I like being by myself to a certain extent. But part of me is so desperate for companionship, loyalty, a capital-R Relationship. I feel like I'm stuck in a no-win situation.

Sorry this is so rambly, I just felt like I had to chime in because Sara's comment really hit home with me. But what to do for a girl who's trying so hard to be a nice Catholic girl, who wants a nice Catholic boy... but who can't seem to want all the things that go along with that?

Seraphic said...

Okay Anonymous, I will think about your comment and what I could say in a blog post. For now I will say that you don't HAVE to get married. We all understand that, right? We don't HAVE to get married. We don't HAVE to have a "special man in our lives." We don't HAVE to assume we will be overwhelmingly lonely until we meet the "Right Man." We are not defective if we don't want to marry although we are on shaky moral grounds if we want the sexual intimacy of marriage without marriage itself.

The entire monastic tradition stands as a wonderful proof that we can have holy, happy, fulfilled lives without spouses or so-called "partners" and children. And I know middle-aged and elderly Singles who are deeply contented with Single Life and satisfied with friendship.

Heather in Toronto said...

Looking at your different kinds of spiritual children, I came to the happy realization that as a catechist I too have Pretend Children!

I love my RCIA "ducklings" and watching them grow in faith and understanding is incredibly rewarding. And my friend and I certainly would not have the time to run the program if we had physical children of our own.

Seraphic said...

Aha! Exactly so.