05/10/2012 02:34 am ET Updated Jul 08, 2012

Mother's Day: Can Divorced Mothers Be Heroes?

Mother's Day is fast approaching and it can be an anxious time for divorced moms -- who's going to remind the kids to make a card for us or help make us breakfast in bed?

Even if we consider it a Hallmark holiday and would prefer to totally ignore it, as I do, the world wants to thrust it in our face with advice on how to "cope" post-split, just like on Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve.

What makes it troublesome is that no one really knows what to do with the state of motherhood today anyway, especially not mothers -- single, divorced, married or otherwise. We're constantly hand-wringing and second-guessing ourselves.

Single and divorced moms are especially fretful; we know we can't always do solo what even most couples struggle with. We know that being divorced adds another layer of complications for our kids and us. We often have some guilt about being divorced, even if it was the right thing to do. After all, we live in a world that still sees divorce as a "failure" and that still tends to blame women for the divorce in the first place, especially since we ask for the divorce more often than men.

Still, we're moms first and foremost, and mothers are all about selflessness and sacrifice. OK, but does that mean all mothers are heroes?

There's always some sort of effort to make us out to be. "MSNBC Today" is soliciting essays to "celebrate mom heroes," one of dozens of contests honoring moms -- of all types -- for Mother's Day this year.

"Motherhood is a thing that can be terribly underappreciated," actress Uma Thurman said when the divorced mom of two was touting her movie "Motherhood." "You don't hear that much about the successes of mothers."

So, it's easy to get swept up in all that hero talk and declare, "Yes, damn it! I am a hero!" Except we don't enter hero status just because we made a lifestyle choice.

But special kudos are being thrown about anyway. A few years ago, former White House and Pentagon official and author Douglas MacKinnon suggested a Single Mother's Day because "these true American heroes have nothing and will never have anything."

That was nice -- I think -- although anyone who has a kid certainly has a heck of a lot more than "nothing." But at least he's kinder to single moms than fellow conservative political commentator Ann Coulter, who calls single motherhood "a recipe to create criminals, strippers, rapists, murderers," and bemoans the cult of the single mother hero: "There are more books on the heroism of single mothers than there are books on the heroism of the U.S. Marines."

Yeah, well, what does she know -- she's not a mother!

It would be easy to dismiss her views on that fact alone, but let's not forget last year's Pew survey in which an overwhelming number of people said they believe single motherhood is bad for society. Although the study didn't look at how women became single moms -- Were they financially independent choice moms? Divorced moms? Widowed moms? Teen moms? -- I'm guessing those who feel that way aren't going to be pinning hero badges on any of us any time soon. Especially not if we arrived at single motherhood via divorce.

Since so many people consider divorce a "failure," I have to wonder if we divorced moms can be a failure and a hero? Probably not.

And if we can't, then what are we to make of women who choose to be childfree and get divorced because of it, like "Eat, Pray, Love" author Elizabeth Gilbert? It's interesting; no one called her a hero for making that decision. Not everyone is cut out for motherhood, and that's OK. Was it wrong of her to divorce because of it, allowing her then-husband to find someone else to knock up?

So as we slide into Mother's Day, it's clear that we're somewhat murky on what we're celebrating. Somehow, we moms are revered and problematic at the same time, and some are more problematic than others.

Mothers who choose whatever classic heroic journeys might be available are often seen as selfish, especially if we choose ambition, career or causes over our family.

Single, divorced or choice mothers? We're obviously damaging our children and all of society to boot, all because we're allegedly putting our own happiness before anyone else's.

Stepmoms may have it hardest of all -- could you easily raise another woman's kids? -- but no matter what they do they are dogged by one adjective: Evil.

Childfree women aren't even deemed worthy of a day of celebration.

It's easy to give birth; not everyone can do the mommying thing well. Still, the late mythologist Joseph Campbell believed anyone who is willing to sacrifice, to face life with courage and strength, can be a hero -- although even he admits motherhood "has lost its novelty."

It takes a certain amount of sacrifice, courage and strength to be a mother of any kind -- married, divorced, single, choice, widowed, step -- just as it takes a certain amount of sacrifice, courage and strength to acknowledge that being a mom isn't your thing.

We're just going to have to earn the hero part.

A version of this story ran on Vicki Larson's personal blog, the OMG Chronicles.