What are the most controversial days of the church year? In my experience, Mothering Sunday is certainly one.
This is not because people disagree violently about the importance of mothers, or of motherhood. It’s not even (or at least not very often) because people feel that it’s unfair to have a Sunday on which we give thanks for mothers when there is nothing quite the same for fathers.
The real reason for the controversy is that very few people have had straightforwardly positive experiences in this area of their lives.
Some have (or had) difficult relationships with their own mothers and still carry the wounds. Others lost their mothers in traumatic circumstances. Many have very happy memories of childhood, but most of us also have regrets and resentments that shape our entire lives.
If having a mother isn’t always easy, it’s also true that being a mother is rarely plain-sailing. My knowledge of this is, of course, indirect, but in my life and ministry I have met many women who want to be mothers who struggle or fail to conceive, and others who have faced the devastating choices of unwanted pregnancy. None except those who have themselves experienced it really understand the agony of miscarriage, or the grief of out-living a child they bore.
There is a way of keeping Mothering Sunday that keeps its eyes and ears resolutely closed to all of this. It wraps motherhood and mothers in a satin box tied up with a silk bow and makes everyone whose experience doesn’t match that (suffocating) illusion feel there’s something wrong with them.
The truth – and as Christians we ought to care about truth – is that this joyful Sunday in which we rightly give thanks for our mothers and celebrate motherhood represents a lot of pain to a lot of people. And if we deny that pain, we perpetuate it.
The good news is that if we use this opportunity to bring the full reality of our experiences of mothers and motherhood to God we can receive the comfort and healing that only God can give. We give thanks for our mothers, but our thanksgiving is at its best when it is honest, when it recognises the complexity of this most basic of human relationships. Yes, we celebrate motherhood, but our rejoicing is at its best when it is compassionate, when it honours the delight and the disappointment, the joy and the suffering of real women rather than idealising and sentimentalising their experience and the persistently under-valued contribution they make to the world.
May God bless you all,