This year, I asked my family not to celebrate Mother’s Day. I didn’t want gifts. I didn’t want a sweet homemade card. I didn’t want breakfast in bed. I just wanted to forget about it.
Initially, it was a practical request. Mother’s Day fell on the same day as one kid’s birthday this year. The prospect of managing both was… unappealing.
I don’t have an ideological opposition to Mother’s Day. (Valentine’s Day can burn in a dumpster fire, though.) The idea of honoring caregivers resonates, even if my relationship with my own mother is sometimes challenging. I like certain traditions, including brunch. Any day when someone serves me a waffle topped with whipped cream is an awesome day.
But the reality of Mother’s Day is this: it’s just not enough.
It was never amazing.
Maybe my lack of enthusiasm comes from my own comically bad experiences with Mother’s Day.
One year, I ran a 5K on Mother’s Day. My family didn’t participate with me. They didn’t come to cheer me on. They didn’t have a nice breakfast waiting for me afterward. I cried, sitting alone in my car. That same year, my oldest child (then 11), didn’t give me anything. Not even a hastily-made card or a gift certificate for free hugs. When I broke down, sobbing, in front of my confused family, she explained that her gift to me was to do chores. Not something extra like dusting the ceiling fans or cleaning the cabinets… just her own chores. And she didn’t even finish them.
After that year, I explained to my clueless partner that Mother’s Day is his responsibility. Since then, things have improved.
But then, a pandemic.
What did I do for Mother’s Day in 2020? I have no idea. There were gifts, I think. The specifics are gone, washed away by a year of anxiety, grief, and frustration. Whatever happened, I recall that I appreciated my partner taking the lead with our kids, making sure they did something.
This year, we are still in that pandemic. We’ve made it through our second pandemic Mother’s Day. Honestly, our Mother’s Day celebrations wouldn’t have been changed much by a pandemic. I don’t love fighting the crowds to have brunch at a restaurant, even without the fear of airborne illness. My own mother lives too far away to see on Mother’s Day. We’ve never celebrated by travelling or gathering with friends.
So, how is Mother’s Day different in 2021?
Mother’s Day 2021 came 424 days the WHO declared a global pandemic. It’s now completely obvious that my own personal frustrations are part of a broader system in which our society just does not give a shit about moms. In 400 days, that system has not figured out how to ease the caregiving burden.
I’m a parent to two high-needs kids. I also live with depression and anxiety. Balancing parenting with a career was never easy, but in August 2020, I gave up. I quit my full-time job. The company I served for eight years failed me. Employees at my company received instructions to “be flexible and understanding,” but no actual policy support. From March 2020 through August 2020, I effectively worked half-time. My manager was “flexible and understanding,” but I was terrified that I’d get fired because I couldn’t get everything done. “Flexible” did not mean that deliverables stopped or slowed down. I wasn’t even eligible for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) because of the size of my company.
I emailed HR, asking if there were any options. Their only suggestion? That I work once my kids are asleep. Never mind that good sleep is a critical part of my own self-care and especially important because of my mental health challenges.
Since the start of the pandemic, my former company’s stock price has doubled, but (to my knowledge) they have not stepped up with real policies to support employees and their families.
There’s no bouquet big enough to make up for this.
In the first few months of this pandemic, I had this naive glimmer of hope: maybe this mess will be the hot poker we need to force change. The powers that be won’t be able to stand by and watch this unfold; they’ll have to provide an effective childcare system, better paid leave for caregivers, and universal health coverage.
None of that has come to pass.
Millions of women in the US have left the workforce entirely, taken unpaid leave, or reduced their work hours. Millions more (and especially paid caregivers) have continued to work jobs where they’re paid less than a living wage and exposed to increased risk. Our political system has completely failed to address the real challenges facing mothers. While a few individual employers have stepped up, most have not.
This Mother’s Day, I didn’t want anything from my family. They’re doing what they can, and no mom really expects a 13-year-old to appreciate her. I didn’t want flowers or waffles or jewelry to make me feel better. None of it is enough to make me forget how our system failed us all, again.
What do I want for Mother’s Day? I want a system that supports caregivers. Since I can’t have that, I’ll just skip it.