I only realised that it was Mother’s Day this week when Kitty came home from school absolutely bursting to tell me big secret that she wasn’t allowed to tell. I suspect that if H had been canny about it he could possibly have got away without us marking the day at all, at least where I’m concerned, although the Brownies at church proffering the traditional three daffodils might have given the game away.
But it’s made me think perhaps a little bit more than usual about Mother’s Day, and its origins, and why we’re celebrating.
The roots of Mother’s Day seem to be buried in Ancient Greek and Roman festivals to celebrate goddesses of motherhood, and their focus was clearly fertility and the miracle of birth – always a great idea but we’re a few millennia further down the line from that and I don’t think that motherhood is or should be quite so tightly bound to actually giving birth; while giving birth will make you a mother, not all mothers have given birth. It’s like a lovely little venn diagram where one circle sits neatly inside the other. So what does the modern incarnation (circa the last hundred or so years) celebrate? If you believed the hype and the greetings card industry it’s an opportunity to thank your mother for all the hard work she does in bringing you up; all the washing and cooking and cleaning and shopping, baking cakes for the school fete, looking after you when you’re sick, all the times she is simply there when you need her. The cynic in me would say that it’s one lovely giant pink, purple and pale blue stereotype bound up in chocolate and overpriced flowers, but commercialisation aside, that’s a lovely thing to celebrate; to say thank you for the tasks that never stay done and that go unnoticed in the everyday ordinary chaos of life.
Except … in our family, the person doing most of those tasks isn’t actually me any more. I’m not saying I do nothing; I cook and clean and play silly games, and look after cross and poorly children, and hug and kiss and tuck little girls into bed and cuddle and nurse a little boy each night until he falls asleep, but the primary childcare in our house is done by H. It’s H who does most of the cleaning, H who shops and who cooks every week night supper, H who does school runs and playgroup and gym class and tries to track down missing library books and encourages Kitty in her reading homework. So should it be H who we spoil, H who gets the praise and gratitude for the things that he does to keep this family sailing through calm waters?
I am a mother, and becoming Mama to these three completed a part of me that I didn’t know was missing. I truly don’t believe that I am any less of their Mama or any less of a mother because I work, and because a lot of the stereotype is picked up by H and not by me. Nor do we feel particularly odd or out of place; I’m not the only woman in my office with a stay at home husband, and while the parenting groups H takes the littlest two to are mostly mothers, he’s not unique or even considered a novelty. It’s interesting though that in all of the “thanks Mum for doing my stinky laundry” cards around, there isn’t a “thanks Mum for bringing home the bacon” or a “thanks for being a feminist role model” (I’m feeling a business opportunity coming along here).
It got me wondering though, if we’ve already swapped all of the traditional roles in our family, should we be swapping this one too? Should we be buying H flowers and a smelly candle and sending him off to have a bath on Sunday for some “me time”? (he says yes please!) And then in June do I get slippers and a tie clip and sent out for a round of golf?
But most importantly, and I think this is the crux of the matter, who gets the lie in on Sunday – H or me?*
Answers, and fully reasoned arguments as to why the answer is me, in the comments please!
*Note: I should point out that this question is purely rhetorical because (a) I’m a morning person and H isn’t and (b) if Kitty has to wait one moment past dawn on Sunday to spring her surprise I think she might just burst.