For the first time in some years, I got through a Mother's Day mostly without feeling bad for not being a good enough mother or not being appreciative enough of my mother. I did this by listening to other people talk about mothers and "translating" what they said into what made sense to me.
The main problem with "Mother's Day" is that mothers are so under-appreciated, unpaid, and badly treated most of the year. Women in general have much less power than men do in our culture, and Mother's Day is part of the cycle of pretending that women are valued, while at the same time pushing them under the bus. On Mother's Day there is this pressure to talk only about how perfect our mothers are. This makes even the mother being praised uncomfortable, and it makes other mothers start looking around thinking, is that how I'm supposed to be? Of course, they aren't. Every mother is different, just like every person is different, male or female. All have different flaws and virtues that are unique to them, all for most of us, the flaws and virtues are actually two sides of the same coin.
When we say that we think mothers are the most important people, that without our mothers, we would not be where we are in life, that our mother is an angel, what we are actually doing is taking away the person-ness of the person who is our mother. Becoming a mother does change a person, but this change happens because we are willing to be changed by a particular relationship. All our relationships change us, and I am not convinced that motherhood really needs to be held separate from all other relationships.
And yet, as soon as I start saying this, I end up feeling the need to say, but I love my mother and think she's great. This is part of the patriarchy that oppresses women and mothers in particular. If we really think mothers are great, then why is there a Mother's Day? We don't have a brother's day or a sister's day. We do have a father's day, but I don't know many fathers who seem to have particular feelings for Father's Day, and I don't think it's just because men are less "emotional" than women are. It's because men have other identities besides fatherhood, and those identities give them money. Money is the way that our society shows that it values things. Sorry, but it is. I say sometimes that I don't care about money. I care about being valued, but culturally, this is a non sequitur.
I am not even arguing that mothers should be paid. Fathers are not paid. But the difference is that most men have other identities for which they are paid, whereas so many women end up having one identity or a primary identity as care giver for children for which they are not paid, and are not really valued. It is true that we need mothers as a society. That is, we need people to care for children. I personally think that it's good for children to spend a lot of time with their mothers or other primary caregiver because it builds lifelong bonds that are healthy (generally). But the overcompensation and over-idealization of mothers that happens when society looks back at them, is harmful. It actually continues the oppression by making it seem as if it's OK to not value mothers the rest of the year, so long as we give them Mother's Day and go way overboard and idealize them.
In fact, in my mind for Mother's Day, what I did for myself and my mother was to think of all the quirky things, good and bad that she did for me and that I do for my kids. I remember my tiny mother (under 5 foot) chasing after all 6 of my brothers and some of the sisters with one of those orange plastic racing tracks, threatening to whip us with it while we all laughed because A) we could outrun her and B) she had not much strength to hurt us with in the first place. I also remember my mother reading to me for hours on end as a child. I remember when I reached the age when I began to disagree with her taste in books. I remember her "leftovers," which were a great way to save money because the kids decided they weren't that hungry, after all. I remember her making waffles for us every Saturday because we had a full day of outdoor chores to get done and needed every calorie. My mom was not some angelic person who did all good in the world. She was just herself. She was a mother. She loved me and I loved her. But we were neither of us perfect, and in a way, to me that makes the love even sweeter.For me as a mother myself, I force my children to write me sappy cards saying they love me. Nothing else is good enough for Mother's Day because I figure I get to hear it once a year. But my children also do not lie to me. My son who hates my vegan cooking does not tell me I'm a good cook. He tells me he appreciates the training plans I write for him, and my help on writing essays. My daughter who is going to MIT says she probably would have gotten into MIT without me, but that she is a happier person with me in her life. I know very well that I do some things sloppily, some things obsessively well, and that I have trouble enjoying the moment. I don't mind that my kids know this. Loving me is loving a flawed person and on Mother's Day, when they tell me that they love me, I don't believe them if they pretend they love a perfect angel. What I find beautiful about Mother's Day is them seeing me in all my flaws, and loving me because of and in spite of them, just as I love them.