A couple of months ago, as I scrambled out of a restaurant with my two cranky kids, leaving behind a table of flung food and spilled milk, a woman stopped me. “You’re a great mom. You’re doing a really good job.”
I looked back at her speechless, searching her eyes for a clue. What Jedi master parenting moves had she seen? With increasing despair, I had been bribing my three-year-old to eat a bite of grilled cheese, while his little brother nearly choked from shoveling fistfuls of pasta into his mouth. All three of us skirted meltdowns. As I wrestled the boys into their car seats, I wondered if she saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.
I feel very privileged to be a mom – after three rounds of IVF, it is literally a privilege – but Mothers Day has never resonated with me. Growing up, I was taught it was a capitalist creation, and I was relieved to have them out. I know that I’ve lost my patience too many times this week alone to be in the running for a “Best Mom Ever!” greeting card.
Perhaps that’s because these days, being a “good mom” seems less like a personality trait than a standardized test score. The “Mommy Wars” – the endless, useless battle to decide whether stay-at-home or working moms are doing better by their kids — only feed the notion that there is a right way to do this mothering thing: there are winners and losers, good moms and bad moms.
If you read the New York Times, live in a child-centric community, or have a child who attends a school with a Parent Education series, then you have felt the impossible level of expectation and judgment I’m talking about. I don’t need to read that French parenting book to internalize the message – I’m not parenting as well as the French.
But when that woman spoke to me, unprompted, I felt that we were on the same side. We were both just moms. In that moment, being called a “good mom” was not an assessment of my achievements, but an acknowledgment of me as a fellow human up against a common challenge. Since then I’ve been thinking, what if mothers reaching out to other mothers was what we celebrated this Mothers Day?
We were on the same side. We were both just moms.
As it turns out, such an idea would not reinvent the holiday, but reclaim it. The roots of Mother’s Day date to 1870, when suffragist Julia Ward Howe, sick of the carnage from the Civil War, made a Mothers Day Proclamation to rally pacifist mothers to take a stand for peace.
A generation later, activist Anna Jarvis launched the first Mothers Day to honor the memory of her mother, who cared for the injured soldiers on both sides of the Civil War. Anna had a clear vision for what the holiday should be: handwritten cards expressing sincere, personal sentiment. Anna became so upset at the later commercialization of her holiday that she crashed a confectioners convention and landed in jail. Our current “tulips and brunch” holiday was started by a woman flipping over tables in the name of authentic communication!
After receiving the compliment from the mom in the cafe, I’m joining Anna. This year, I’ve made and shared short video clips to some of the moms in my life, expressing the simple ways I admire them — a kind of modern take on the handwritten note.
I’m challenging these moms to make two #mom2mom video clips to celebrate the moms they know and admire. On Mother’s Day, we can celebrate each other whether we work inside the home or out of it; whether we breast or bottle feed, microwave nuggets or make them from scratch. We can support each other for the individual, powerful and, yes, flawed forces that we are.
It’s not just mothers who will benefit, either. When girls hear women supporting each other, they will get permission to do the same. Maybe Mothers Day can be as Julia Ward Howe first imagined it, a day for women to come together and take a stand for peace, the beginning of the end of the “Mommy Wars.” This isn’t a zero-sum game. We can all win – crumbs on the table and all.