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Margaret Heffernan

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Why We Don't Celebrate Mother's Day in our Home

Posted: 05/08/2012 1:07 pm

Everywhere I look, there are ads marking Mother's Day. Mostly they conform to stereotype: flowers, jewelry, perfume. Not a lot of books. Not many computers. Few tools. Little that's useful.

We don't go in for this nonsense in our household. Why? Because one day to celebrate mothers is ludicrously inadequate. In our house, mother's day is every day. Father's day, too. In our house, parents count. They do important work and that work matters. One day just doesn't cut for us.

As a mother, I work hard every day and I expect that work to be recognized and appreciated. Because I work for and with human beings, sometimes they're grateful and sometimes they aren't. That's okay -- because some days I do a great job and other days I'm not so brilliant. But I expect my kids to appreciate me, not least because if they don't, it's hard to imagine how they will ever appreciate anyone.

And yet today I'm sitting in a restaurant surrounded by families and I don't see many kids thanking their server. Pampered and cajoled, they sit like minor royalty, accustomed to being waited on. I can only imagine that that is how they behave at home. It irks me to see women treated like menials -- at home or restaurants -- and I can't think of anything that could happen on one day a year that would make up for it. It is nobody's right to be waited on and nobody's fate to do the waiting.

As much as our society pays lip service to the importance of family and the moral purpose of mothering, the truth is that we don't really take it seriously. If we did, the United States would join the other 170 countries that offer statutory maternity leave, instead of languishing with the likes of Swaziland and Papua New Guinea -- the few that don't. If we really took mothers seriously, we wouldn't gush over the fact that Sheryl Sandberg can work AND be a mother; we would be active instead in insuring that every mother can do that, even if she doesn't earn millions every year. If we really took mothers seriously, we wouldn't even be arguing about whether or not women have the right to choose to be mothers. And if mothers had the status they deserved, we wouldn't find their sons at Harvard Business School playing games like "Kill, F*** or Marry," in which male students name the women in their classes that they would most like to murder, have intercourse with or wed.

One day a year isn't even a decent start on eliminating the misogyny and marginalization that women in the United States endure daily. To me, all that Mothers Day says, loud and clear, is that women are so foolish and sentimental that they will be satisfied with something crass and half-baked. I work hard for my family because I love them. I expect -- and get -- love and recognition in return. That happens in a space and in a relationship that is richer and more complex than any marketplace and where commerce has no role. My reward is seeing them grow up with vigorous respect for women and mothers in every walk of life. If my kids aren't thankful throughout the year for all I do for them, one day won't make up for their failure -- or mine.

 
 
 
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