What I Wish We Understood When It’s Not Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is hard for a lot of people. For birth mothers, for mothers who’ve lost children, for children who’ve lost mothers, for those who long to be mothers, for people who love any of the above. And you know what? The world seems to have figured this out.

Maybe I just have particularly kind and sensitive friends, but my news feed yesterday was filled with words of encouragement for those who struggle with Mother’s Day, with affirmations of spiritual motherhood, with acknowledgments of women who aren’t mothers in the traditional sense. It was beautiful. Women seeing other people’s pain through their joy and other people’s joy through their pain. And while Mother’s Day can be tough for an unmarried woman in her 30s, my heart was full with all the kindness I saw.

But today isn’t Mother’s Day. Or tomorrow. Or the next 362 days. For the next year, we go back to our own lives, where sometimes it’s hard to see any cross that isn’t similar to our own. So we complain about our overly-attentive mothers to people with absent and abusive mothers. Or we gush about the beauty of breastfeeding without noticing the tears in the eyes of a woman struggling to conceive.

I’m not saying don’t be real, don’t share your joy or your suffering. I’m saying remember that your way of being a woman is not the only way, your cross is not the only cross.

Let me come to you from a place of being single and childless. I am very blessed in that I understand kids and I’ve been a foster mother and I live in people’s homes surrounded by their children all the time, so in many circles I get a pass. I’m allowed to participate in the mom conversations that most childless women are excluded from. I manage, as a friend recently said, to “walk in every world,” so people talk to me about mastitis and let me discipline their kids and listen to my marriage advice. To the many, many married women who love me and let me share in your lives, thank you. I can’t imagine the mess I’d be if you didn’t look so thoroughly past the label and let me walk this with you.

But.

I’ve been told they’d never ask me to speak at a mom’s conference because I’m not a mom. Never mind that I’m a Christian and a woman and a spiritual mother and deeply involved in the lives of countless mothers and free of charge, I don’t count.

I’ve been told all people are selfish until they have children.

I’ve been told you can’t know love until you’ve had a child of your own.

I’ve given talks to women’s groups–more times than I can count–where there was not a single unmarried woman in the audience. Not one.

I’ve been told I can’t come to a particular women’s group–even once–because I’m not married. I’ve been told I can come to another just this once, “even though you’re not a mom.”

I’ve gotten blog comments (on a party about neither marriage nor children) saying, “I’m so sick of this author. She’s not married and doesn’t have any kids, so who is she to be telling anyone how to live?” Lady, if you don’t want to get advice from unmarried and childless people, you should probably pick a new Church because 95% of the priests and 95% of the Saints in the Catholic church have been childless and unmarried.

When people have found out I’m single, they’ve rushed to reassure me that they were single once, too, when they were 22, and they were so unhappy until God finally gave them their perfect husband, so don’t worry–he’s out there!!!!!

I’ve listened to platitude after platitude telling me it’ll be okay and God’s got a plan and you’re praying that I’ll get my happily ever after and I’m sorry did I tell you that I’m wasting away desperately longing for a man to fill my empty life? Did you think you needed to tell the missionary that God’s got a plan?

I’ve been told, by people who are evidently sure that they’re letting me in on a secret, that I shouldn’t pin my hopes on marriage because “marriage is hard, too”–which is good to know, because I definitely don’t know anyone who’s married, so I thought it was a 50-year romantic comedy.

None of it’s terrible. I know people who’ve heard much worse. I’m sure I’ve heard much worse, honestly. But the sum total of it all is that when you are an unmarried Catholic woman in your thirties, you feel very much as though you don’t count.

When you’re a single mother, you feel the same. When you’re a married woman in college, when you’re infertile, when you have so many kids you can’t volunteer at preschool, when your husband isn’t Catholic, when you’re an early empty-nester, when your kid has special needs, when you’re a working mom, when your kids are in public school, when you’re widowed young, when you’re raising grandkids. I expect that every one of us feels, at one time or another, that we don’t count because we don’t match the model of Catholic womanhood that our friend group (or the internet) presents us with.1

We often don’t say anything because it sounds like bitterness, to find pain in another’s joy. So we build walls of resentment between ourselves and the very well-meaning women who love us. We feel guilty for our selfishness and berate ourselves for not being happy for them.

I’ve spent more than a decade looking with great gladness on the beautiful lives of my beautiful friends thinking in the words of L.M. Montgomery (about an unmarried Anne Shirley visiting Diana and her sweet baby): “it is sometimes a little lonely to be surrounded everywhere by a happiness that is not your own.” I rejoice in the good things in your life. I grieve over your deep suffering. I want to share in what I understand and in what I don’t. I don’t want to compete over who’s more tired or who’s bearing more fruit. I envy you, but I try not to. I sometimes gloat internally, but I try even harder not to do that.

All I’m saying is this: it’s hard. Being a mom is hard. Being childless is hard. Being in an abusive relationship is hard. Being trapped in a small town is hard. Being completely unrooted is hard. Having a job is hard. Being unemployed is hard. It’s just hard. All of it.

One day a year, many of us have learned to consider what might be hard for other people, how different lives involve different crosses and how we can respect that. I’m just wondering if we can be more mindful of the way people are different from us.

  • If your girlfriend has a pack of kids ask if you can bring ice cream after bedtime or get a sitter so the two of you can grab coffee.
  • If you’ve got a close friend struggling with infertility, ask her if she wants to come along for ultrasounds or would rather have you talk as little as possible about pregnancy stuff around her.
  • If your friend is divorced, consider that your moms’ group shouldn’t read a book about marriage.
  • If your friend is single, either find someone great2 to set her up with or shut your mouth about how “fun” it must be to be single or about how she should really try Catholic Match.
  • Ask advice of a friend who “shouldn’t” have any–parenting advice of the childless, dating advice of the long-married, career advice of the stay-at-home mom. She may not have much input, but actually she may. You don’t need to have experienced something firsthand to have wisdom on the matter and often being well on the outside of a situation can give you some perspective.
  • Cultivate friendships with women in different phases of life. It’s unnatural that nearly all of our friends are living just as we’re living–it was never that way in the village. The more varied your relationships (widows, young moms, moms of teens, consecrated women, young professionals) the harder it is to be insensitive to struggles that are not your own.
  • When your friend shares her deep pain with you, DO NOT respond with, “Yeah, well, at least you don’t [have the cross I have that you would love to have/have the cross I have that’s so much worse than yours and so your pain doesn’t count].” Do not use your cross as a bludgeon against those who carry a different one.
  • Don’t try to fix it.
  • Don’t feel you have to give advice or say anything other than, “Oh, friend. I’m so sorry. That’s really hard.”
  • Listen and love.

I don’t want to feed into a culture that delights in getting offended.3 But when we surround ourselves with people who are just like us, it becomes very easy to alienate and to begin to mold the Gospel in our own image. You don’t need to censor everything you ever do for the sake of some woman who might be hurt by your joy. Just consider that in your happiness, there may be someone lonely. Do what you can to build bridges, not walls.

 

(Before you comment, will you please just ask yourself if it’s a platitude? Nobody needs to hear, “God’s got a plan” or “You’re still young.” Thanks.)

  1. Forget the fact that female Saints run the gamut from scholar to harlot and working mom to homeschooler to single mom. We ignore the Saints and see only the alienation the Devil wants us to see. []
  2. Not just the only guy who’s left. []
  3. I’m generally rather hard to offend unless you’re actually attacking me personally. But I write on the einternet, so that’s a lot. []

About Meg

I'm a Catholic, madly in love with the Lord, His Word, His Bride the Church, and especially His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. I'm committed to the Church not because I was raised this way but because the Lord has drawn my heart and convicted my reason. After 2 degrees in theology and 5 years in the classroom, I quit my 9-5 to follow Christ more literally. Since May of 2012, I've been a hobo for Christ; I live out of my car and travel the country speaking to youth and adults, giving retreats, blogging, and trying to rock the world for Jesus.
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40 Responses to What I Wish We Understood When It’s Not Mother’s Day

  1. Angela says:

    This is so important. We’re not “broken” because we’re unmarried/childless/unemployed/whatever. We’re all living the life we’re meant to live, and that doesn’t always mirror the lives of those around us. Nor should it.

    Thank you.

  2. Ari says:

    Thank you. Yesterday was so SO hard. I’ve always had a hard time with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, due to my very difficult relationship with my parents. I married “late” (33), and heard all of the well-meaning, yet hurtful comments about being single.
    I always felt left out on Mother’s Day due to those reasons Then, this year, we experienced a miscarriage. So, I stood up for the Mother’s Day blessing at Church. How I wish it had just been a blessing for all women, and the varied ways we mother. My standing up invited questions. (Again, well-meaning.) We had told so few about the pregnancy that we didn’t tell many about the miscarriage. I had to say it out loud again, to people who didn’t know. And, I lost it. If we can’t take this pain to Church, then where can we take it? And yet, for such a common experience, there is so much silence. I agree, we have to stop comparing our crosses and create authentic community. I know you get it. Thank you.
    Ari recently posted…TruthMy Profile

    • Sue K says:

      Why are priests still asking mothers to stand for a blessing? It’s such a minefield.

      • Melia says:

        Yes, and no. I’m torn on this. My priest did not do a blessing, and I felt that I so desperately needed one, because I feel as though those graces are needed in our family. We’re having a lot of parenting woes, and little household peace, so I was hoping a blessing would help. That said, I still prayed for extra graces. My cross is my own, but still exhausting nonetheless. (And I’ve had 4 miscarriages, so I get that pain, too…)

        • Sue K says:

          How ’bout having all women stand for a blessing that they could better live out the details of their vocation? I am a mom and will take all the priestly blessings I can get, but the exclusions just causes so much awkwardness and hurt feelings.

          • Kate says:

            Our priest did it perfectly, I think — he said a blessing for mothers as part of the general blessing at the end of mass, so everyone was already standing. It still felt special and the blessing was much appreciated, but thankfully avoided any awkwardness.

            Ari, I’m so sorry for your loss, and for the added sting of that situation at church. May God comfort you. (I have had two miscarriages as well, and it never failed that well-meaning people would ask about when we planned to grow our family just as we were in the midst of losing a pregnancy.)

      • Meg says:

        I’ve been to Mass where a priest said something like, “Before I ask all mothers to stand, let me explain what I mean. If you have raised children, you are a mother. If you have offered children for adoption, you are a mother. If you have lost children before or after birth, you are a mother. If you’ve adopted children, you are a mother. Godmothers are mothers. Aunts are mothers. Teachers and nurses. All women are called to be spiritual mothers, so if you are a woman, you share in the gift of motherhood. I would like to invite all women to stand for a blessing. We thank you for your motherhood, physical or spiritual.” I found it quite beautiful to be recognized. I expect that some physical mothers felt that their sacrifice was being denigrated, but I hope that most thought of childless aunts and loving kindergarten teachers and Sisters and agreed.

      • Ari says:

        I know. It was awkward because I didn’t stand at first. I couldn’t (I really should have left early or gone on Saturday). Then, our priest from the altar pointed at me and did a “stand up” gesture (kind of a thumbs up) to me. He knows about the miscarriage and even did a graveside service for us. I think he was trying to include me. It just felt like a spotlight.
        Ari recently posted…TruthMy Profile

        • Meg says:

          Oh, goodness. I’m so sorry for your loss and so sorry that you were compelled to share your pain with people who didn’t have a right to it. I’ll pray that God used that situation to bring healing to someone else who was suffering loss–and that he’ll keep healing you.

      • bec says:

        You are missing a point, just because youre not included doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate those who are. It was very painful for me for many years, but I always celebrated the blessings others received. Only our will Lord….

  3. Melissa says:

    Good job, honey. {{{{Meg}}}}

    • Shelley Knoll-Miller says:

      Can I just say, Melissa, that both of your daughters are fabulous? They live completely different lives but they both have similar qualities of intelligence, grit and humour that I really enjoy.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for this. Thank you so much. I’m a 30-year-old unmarried Catholic woman, and even though none of my friends are practicing Catholics, they’re almost all in committed relationships and having babies and feel the need to console me all the time about how “It’ll happen when you least expect it!” and “Don’t worry, he’s out there!”

    My particular cross–bipolar disorder that can be very difficult to manage–has given me reason to believe I’m probably going to remain unmarried and childless, by choice, as it’s the healthiest thing for myself and others (for example, I would have to go off my meds to have a baby, and the meds keep me alive). And that’s okay. I’m still going to have a happy, full life, one that I’m sure God has better plans for than I do. Yet even this explanation leads to a chorus of “Oh, you’ll change your mind someday!” Maybe, maybe not, but I loathe being the object of pity when I certainly don’t feel sorry for myself. Not every woman’s life needs to look the same. So thank you so much for all of this, from the bottom of my heart.

  5. Broke says:

    It’s not only different vocations or seasons, it’s stations, too. Our financial situation is very different from nearly all our social/parish connections. And it’s very hard to participate sometimes, often…we don’t have the same resources – money, time off, transportation, budget flexibility,…but you hit the feeling square on the head…I want to be happy when a friend takes her kids to the beach, or the concert, or the field trip…but it gets harder and harder…and it’s not something I can just snap my fingers and change, we can do “everything right”, but it’s still where we are…and the things I get judged for – no one seems to connect it to money – I’m just lazy or anti social or frumpy or not pious enough…

  6. Connie says:

    Slow clap from the back here.

    Thank you for writing this! I can’t tell you how many platitudes I’ve heard in the last 13 years with my particular cross. I have MRKH – my uterus never formed. I found out at age 16 and have spent the last 13 years trying to figure out what it means to be a woman, a daughter of the Lord, in light of something like this. And now as a married person, what does it mean to have a vocation to marriage with full knowledge of permanent infertility?

    There are so many different ways of being a beautiful Catholic woman – as many as there are women themselves. God has a calling for all of us.

    I’ve read your blog a little and I think you have one of the most beautiful callings I’ve ever seen.

    Thank you for your “yes” to God in all of this. <3

  7. Teresa says:

    This is a wonderfully-written post, thank you so much for sharing! It is very true and you expressed it beautifully. Between platitudes and trying to one-up each other, lack of empathy is often so isolating!

    I just wanted to suggest an edit: “kid is special needs” to “kid has special needs”. So often others see our children as only their diagnosis or need so for many of us the wording makes a (painful) difference.

    Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day!

  8. Spot on, Meg! Spot on! Thanks for sharing your deep insights with the world!

  9. Broke as well says:

    Whenever I feel this disquietude, which is far more often than I care to admit, I see it as prompting to do what you listed there. Reach out, love, do as He would have me do. It really doesn’t take much. We are the Body of Christ, and we all have our unique roles. If we were all one thing we would not be at all. I have no idea if this is any help, but Christ said He could raise up followers from rocks. That to me puts it all in perspective. I am a rock and He’s doing the polishing. It also means to me that if I have no children or if I have many but do not see the dreams fulfilled here that I hope, that in the new heaven and earth, all will be as it should and there is Peace. I do consider the countless souls that were supposed to have lived but were either denied existence completely or were snuffed out before they had a chance. I figure when I feel such pain as you describe, that’s basically aching for them. But we’ll see them.

  10. Katie Boyle says:

    Love you, sweet friend! Holding your heart in mine.

    I was lucky to hear from Evey and Auryn’s mom this weekend how they still love me, and how she knew 3 years ago I was the right one to be a ‘surrogate mother’ for her babies. Having helped raise those kids was the greatest blessing, and I can’t wait for the day when you and I will get to raise our own little ones!

  11. Elizabeth Vetter says:

    I appreciate this so much. I have been on several sides of this story. We had nine years of fertility struggles and 5 miscarriages. I did have a wonderful group of friends who shared their children with me and never made me feel less than them for not having my own. I went to school plays, sporting events, play dates, birthday parties, and was asked to be God Mother many times. So many people wanted to “help” by telling me not to think about it or that my time would come or that God had a plan. The worst were the people who had also struggled and then finally had a baby. I hated those stories and promised myself that if I ever had a baby I would never tell a story like that to someone struggling to have a baby. Well, we now have four beautiful children and I have told people my story. The joy I have in our answered prayers is almost impossible not to share! I understand both sides of the story now and I try to be sensitive to where people are and I never say “don’t worry I’m sure God has a plan for you” even though I believe He does.

    • Meg says:

      There is something powerful in hearing about answered prayers, especially when someone acknowledges how hard it was and offers hope. Recently (as often) someone asked if I want to get married and I said something about the shortage of single Catholic men my age. One of them responded, “Well, I got married at 36 and I’m pregnant with number 4,” and I found it so encouraging. Very different from, “Well, my friend couldn’t find anyone for years but finally when she was 28 she stopped looking and found the perfect man!” 1. I’m not interested in the one person of your acquaintance who suffered. Tell me your story, but don’t grasp at straws to try to find someone else. 2. I’m way older than that. 3. Not looking anymore isn’t a magic trick that makes God give you a husband. 4. If it were, that probably would have happened when I entered the convent. 5. Who said I’m desperately looking? I sure didn’t.

      Maybe I’m just expecting people to be more perceptive and thoughtful than people generally are, but I think most of this is obvious. Anyway, I’m sure you’re sensitive enough to how success stories can often be hard to hear that you know how to tell yours in a way that offers actual hope. Also, your kids are adorable 🙂

  12. Jeanne says:

    Beautiful reflection! Thank you for your witness!!!

  13. Catholicmutt says:

    This is a fantastic post. I agree that we don’t want to be offended all over the place by everything. But as someone well into my 30’s, who is single and childless and who has always wanted to be married, Mother’s Day hurts. And there are many for whom Mother’s Day is painful. I don’t know all the answers, because I do think that it is beautiful and right to bless the mothers (and I love the ones that include those who mother in many different ways). Yet, I hate on Mother’s Day when someone asks “are you a mother?” so they can wish me a happy day, and then get all weird when I have to say, “no”. Also, all the comments that you get from people? Absolutely! Every. Single. One. Been there and back a number of times!

  14. Diane says:

    Thank you so very much for this. As a woman struggling with infertility, desiring to one day have children and in a long engagement, I feel like there’s not a good “home” for me. I’m not married nor single. I’m not a mom. It’s all a mess, and I truly, honestly, thank you for acknowledging that mess and that we all come before God with our crosses and burdens. No one cross is better than the other. This was a beautiful blog post. Prayers to you on your journey.

  15. Christina says:

    You know what’s funny, I ENVY YOU! I can’t imagine anyone who’s heard you speak not want you to speak again. I find that very odd. You know what I like most about you? You keep it real! That’s refreshing. My favorite part is the part about a society that delights in being offended! Girl! I know! I’m rambling cause I’m trying so hard to stay away from platitudes…Take Care, Meg! You’re in my prayers!!!❤️

  16. Catherine says:

    May I also add, falling under the infertility aspect, please don’t tell someone to “pray for a miracle” because maybe you just need more faith. Some infertility is irreversible and the pain of that is intensified by people making assumptions. It doesn’t mean you know nothing about kids and can’t have an opinion. So much of what is in this article I have experienced and still do.

  17. Anne says:

    This was so very beautiful, thank you. I definitely don’t fit in at my parish — home to families and, mostly, retirees — either. As a woman who isn’t married, is pushing 40 and has never had so much as a boyfriend — but has always felt called to marriage — there are days (it isn’t always Mother’s Day; one July 4th hit me surprisingly and particularly hard) when I absolutely struggle with these feelings. I have been wished a happy Mother’s Day and have been faced with the awkwardness of the other person when I told them I wasn’t a mom (one odd response was, “Well, maybe next year.”).

    And I have so many good friends who have miscarried, or lost children in infancy that I can’t fathom how hard Mother’s a day is for them.

    While it’s still possible for me to have children (and I’d absolutely adopt, too), I have to realistically face the fact that it may not happen. I have zero dating prospects (and trust me, I’ve tried Catholic Match, and it hasn’t worked, either. Men my own age always seem to want someone younger, and I have no interest in the 50 and 60 year olds who seem to flock to me) and, while not desperate — I have a good life, and am very blessed — sometimes it hurts to think I may never have the opportunity. I know our worth in God’s eyes — or in the eyes of the friends and family who love us — isn’t based at all on our relationship status, or whether we have kids, but that mean little voice of the devil that whispers otherwise, that we are somehow not deserving, can be so invasive sometimes.

    While my journey thus far has been so different than the one I imagined for myself, fortunately, I have also have been gifted with some amazing friends who have made me godmother to their children. They have included me in their families, and that helps so much. I get to hug and help their kids, have taken vacations with them and seen the beauty and the struggle and the reality of it all. They let me in the “mom conversations,” too. 🙂

  18. Lizzy says:

    You are right. It’s all hard. But OMGosh can we not have a day honoring mothers without being all angsty and diminishing about it? Yes, all vocations are worthwhile. Yes, all vocations – every individual – has a cross that is hard to bear. Yes, we all need to be more sensitive. Yes, we live in a broken world with broken families etcetera and so forth. But can we not just honor mothers? Can we not just acknowledge that motherhood is special, that mothers sacrifice, that having children is worthwhile? Especially in this world we live in, where the UN is trying to do away with Mothers’ Day b/c SAHMs are deemed unproductive to society? Do we *have* to make a Thing out of **everything**?

    • Micaela Darr says:

      I’m a mom of many, and this in no way diminishes my motherhood. Meg is encouraging us all to do what she herself admits to struggling with: getting outside ourselves. I’ve shared my home with her on several occasions and she is nothing if not aware of her own shortcomings. She’s not getting angsty or asking us all to be sensitive to her. Meg’s asking all of us, herself included, to look more kindly upon others.

      Big hugs, Meg. You are loved. You are enough.

      • Lizzy says:

        I have no doubt that Meg is a wonderful person. I have never heard of her before or read any of her posts before. I heard that point, of looking outside ourselves, which I get, but there is also an undertone here that … let’s just say that it hit me the wrong way. If I listed all of the ways that I am slighted and excluded because I am a mother of several young children, or how insensitive people were to me for whatever reason, people would accuse me of whining and bitterness. I have dear friends in similar positions to what Meg’s appears to be, and I do understand where they are coming from. I do not get praise for being a mother, except for one day a year, which the general culture also has us for apologizing for, apparently. Of course Meg is enough. I hope I am, too. And I would hope that sharing my struggles with a single friend would not be conceived as “bashing” her with my cross.

        • Caroline says:

          I don’t know if it’s a certain 20s/30 something’s age group, perhaps because they’ve spent most of their teenage/early adulthood surrounded by the PC culture- but it seems that now, in the general culture- that there is a lot of over sensitivity, so that part of the culture has become ommisive- we now have “safe spaces”. We better not say anything, for fear of offending. Yet on the other hand, and with the advent of the ever-powerful social media, people see the need to air out their upset feelings. If we are slighted or insulted, or genuinely hurt by someone’s comments, whether well-intentioned or not, it’s an opportunity to practice patience and love for our fellow neighbor. We don’t have to go out and complain about it on social media. Everyone has their cross to bear. I compare these days with the older generations (prior the 60s era when society started falling apart rapidly) – were there really this many hurt feelings over someone being wished Happy Mother’s Day?

  19. Laura says:

    YES. Just yes. I so appreciate this as a fellow single Catholic woman. It’s SO hard sometimes being surrounded by joy that isn’t mine (even though yay for them!). But everyone has something hard. That was so nice to see some people recognize! I feel out of place sometimes being single and childless, and I’m glad some people are realizing we’re better off including all different people in all different situations. This just really resonated with me. Thank you.

  20. Emily Hubbell says:

    I sooo needed this! It’s so much what I needed to read and what I’ve been feeling.
    Please keep me in prayer. I’m starting to consider that the sacrament of matrimony might not be what God wants for me (I’ve been struggling with growing my relationship with Him over the pay couple of years, during which time my first breakup happened). I feel so not in control (which I’m sure is His plan) and just at a loss for how to proceed in discerning a vocation. Advice is appreciated, but prayer above all!
    Thank you again for writing and sharing this, Meg!

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