My Relationship with Mother’s Day

“Mother” by Dalal-Al-Wazzan Photography

By Jenny

My relationship with Mother’s Day has evolved over time.  It started off as an awkward sort of relationship in college when I was immersed in a culture that suffocated me with the idea that motherhood would be my crowning glory, but that I was nothing until that moment came.  I was in the in-between state where all of the pursuits I was working on were merely side things to keep me occupied and help me to meet boys so that my real work and glory could begin.  So when a congregation of single women at BYU stood up to receive their Mother’s Day gift after Sacrament meeting, we all did so with obvious awkwardness.

Soon my relationship with Mother’s Day turned to bitterness. As a young bride at twenty-one I finally had what I needed to make a baby and to be rightfully showered with Mother’s Day approbation.  Except every month my period came with a fury and left me feeling hopeless and worthless.  When you’re given messages your whole life about worthiness and how worthiness is tied to being a mother, it’s hard not to feel like God sees you as unworthy when you are incapable of producing children and joining the ranks of other women in their highest and holiest callings.

At twenty-three I proudly carried a car seat with a chubby little baby to church.  I thought, finally, I will love Mother’s Day.  But my relationship with Mother’s Day did not improve.  It was no better when my kids were old enough to be in primary and sing to me from the stand.  It was horrific when I struggled with post-partem depression after my son was born.  It was agonizing after I nearly lost my third baby due to a nervous breakdown while I was pregnant with her.  I remember with perfect clarity the Mother’s Day when I was nine months pregnant with my fourth and last child.  I was big, and hot, and tired.  The house was cluttered with toys and clothes and construction mess.  My body ached too much to bend down and pick up one more thing off the floor.  I spent sacrament meeting scrambling with an unruly two-year old.  I have no idea what was even said at church.  I was just beginning to question the paradigm of womanhood and motherhood that I had always known.  I had had a second nervous breakdown with this pregnancy, which had almost caused the delivery of my child at 23 weeks.

I looked into the mirror that Mother’s Day and saw a sad, swollen, tired face.  I felt angry at my family for not even recognizing my special day as a mother.  It was just another day to throw tantrums, expect me to do everything, and not appreciate anything.  I was angry that there was even a holiday to make me feel like I needed to be celebrated.  Who were they (the card and flower companies, the church, the internet) to tell me that I needed a special day to celebrate my motherhood, when everything about motherhood was breaking me down, body, mind, and spirit.  What I needed was support.  What I needed was not to be told, “Hey you have the hardest, crappiest, most thankless job in the world.  Congratulations!  You were divinely created to do this job and we celebrate you for that.”

What I needed was not to have to do the hardest, crappiest job in the world on my own.  What I needed was not to have my worth tied to motherhood.  My relationship with Mother’s Day was showing its abusive colors at that point.  Now, after six years of working through a lot of pain, and shifting my entire worldview, I have come to a new place in my relationship with Mother’s Day.  I avoided Sacrament Meeting four years in a row since that painful day before my daughter was born.  I had no desire to listen to men put me high on a pedestal of unhealthy motherhood ideology.  Last Mother’s Day was my first back at church in five years.  I went to sacrament meeting in my parent’s ward.  I looked at all the men on the stand, four of whom were going to talk about motherhood.

Through some of the meeting I was pleasantly surprised to hear the words, “I am a feminist,” and to hear someone invoke the name of female deity.  I loved hearing a man describe the birthing of his daughter.  His description was beautiful and real.  I thought, it’s not really the celebration of motherhood that I hate, so much as the old patriarchal way in which we do it.  I’ve been in countless conversations with women in which we shared with great clarity, every detail of our birth stories with each other.  It’s a topic that comes up often among my “mom friends” because birthing a child is a poignant and deeply corporeal experience.  I find it really beautiful to also hear men describing with detail the birthing of their babies without getting squeamish about the female body.

Then there were other things said during sacrament meeting that followed the old patriarchal way of celebrating motherhood.  I heard many quotes by general authorities along the lines that mothers are so hard on themselves and that they need to know how good and divine and special they are and not be so hard on themselves.  I know how quotes like this can help the burdened women of the church to feel -better or to feel understood.  I used to find comfort in quotes like that too.  But now I realize that I was only hard on myself because I was supposed to be so good and divine and special.  You can’t give someone a gaping wound and simultaneously hand them a band-aide thinking you’ve done your good deed for the day.  Listening to patriarchal dogma on Mother’s Day was always a little like drowning while someone was pushing my head under, and yet also saying “Here, just reach up and take my hand.  I’ll help you out.”

One talk in particular last Mother’s Day stood out to me.  A young married man who had just become a father was talking about his older sister whom I had grown up with in young womens.  He mentioned the pain she felt at not being married and not being a mother.  After sacrament meeting I saw this woman’s mother sitting behind me and I asked her about my friend and what she was doing with her life.  I thought, still being single, she must be doing amazing things in the world.  Every question I asked came to a dead end and I realized with sadness that my friend in her early thirties, was living in the limbo phase that I experienced briefly in college.  She was working and waiting for marriage and motherhood to finally make her life real and meaningful.  I left church that day raging in my heart for the horrible message that young women are given, that life doesn’t start until they are wives and mothers.  I wished I could tell my friend and my twenty-year-old self that the world has great needs and there is so much more to be done than bearing and raising children.  There is no one divine purpose for every woman and we need so much more from women than motherhood.

I spent twelve years in an emotionally abusive relationship with Mother’s Day, believing falsely that my worth was tied to motherhood.  For the last six years I have worked through all of the unnecessary suffering that bad messaging has caused me.  I am happy to see that some of that messaging is changing.  It’s not changing fast enough for me or for my daughters.  If there is one thing that I want them to know that I didn’t know, it’s that their path is their own and the time to live it is now.  There is nothing about motherhood that finally makes a woman worthwhile to society.  I want them to celebrate their personhood, not a role that ties them to someone else.  I want them to feel worthy in whatever their pursuits are, so that they don’t overburden themselves trying to live up to someone else’s ideals.  And I want Mother’s Day (at least the Mother’s Day that I have known) to stay as far away from them as possible.

Jenny graduated from BYU with a bachelor degree in humanities. she teaches yoga classes and spends her time hanging out with her four kids, reading, writing, and running.


  1. Fantastic post. I love it.

    The limbo is real. I’m not married and have no children, and I feel like church folks expect me to be in the limbo you mentioned, waiting for “real life” to start, and I’m simultaneously pitied and judged for not being in that limbo – pitied because people think it’s just so sad that I’m not able to live up to what they believe is the only reason I’m here on earth, and judged because leaving the limbo is a threat to the whole order because I’m living proof that there is life without motherhood.

  2. I’m single and childless and I contribute to my ward and my community in ways that have nothing to do with mothering. I’m not sure I’ll ever be a parent, and while that’s something that I feel a bit ambivalent about, it’s no great tragedy. I don’t especially appreciate standing to be recognized as a “mother” or having deacons push candy or flowers into my hands. I can buy my own candy, thanks, because I have free time and an income. Let’s recognize the real mothers for what they do, and maybe give them a hand on a regular basis instead of spending a day gawking at how amazing it is that they deal with so much crap, thanks to females’ supposedly God-given desire and ability to deal with crap. And maybe let’s recognize women, mothers or not, for the diverse ways they do good, instead of trying to bundle all of women’s work and value under the label of “mothering.”

  3. Thank you for your wonderful post. do think change is slowly coming. I wonder what messages my girls will receive as they enter young women’s soon. Our bishop’s entire talk was about Heavenly Mother yesterday. It was refreshing.

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