A Menopausal Mother’s Manifesto on Mother’s Day
Today is the officially sanctioned celebration of “Mother’s Day” in the U. S. of A., and in Greece. Sidenote: The American holiday started out by Anna Jarvis from West Virginia in 1908 to honor her mother in a personal memorial but lobbied the idea through Congress until it became an official public holiday in 1914 by Woodrow Wilson as the second Sunday of every May. However, in the Greek Orthodox tradition, February 2nd, the Presentation of Jesus to the Temple, is someway considered the sacred celebration of Mother’s Day.
I will be touched once again with the commercial displays of love and honor for my motherly role: the hand-made creche crinkly flowers, potted plants and photo frames bordered in child prints, the Sunday brunches where I do not have to do the dishes, the corny Hallmark messages about love and the indispensibility of my person to the essential well-being of healthy children and well-greased families and by extension functioning societies. The entire world will bow to the absolute regard for and admit to the tantamount importance of a mother. “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world” you will all say. “The home is a mini church and the mother the minister” goes another. “The family is the cornerstone of society: a healthy family shows a healthy society.” Anna Jarvis, bless her heart, pressed for the holiday to publicly recognize “the person who has done more for you than anyone else in the world.”
Yes, children, I will humor my family and both my cultures by accepting their offerings of pancake brunches or breakfast in bed, their cheesy paper mache pinky objects of love, and all the other offerings of scripted kisses and “thank you” cards.
And the next day, I will explode in a rage. A brutal all-out ferocious rage, at the core of which this sham of a holiday is. Because, paidia mou, my doting husband, my America and Greek city-state, you DO NOT value me. Not in the way that matters. You cannot make up for years and years of self-sacrifice, the juggling act of job and home, the drudgery of the 2nd shift, the endless piles of laundry and dishes without help, the expending of vital energy on other people’s concerns, the putting yourself second or third or last in most cases, the disappointment of giving up on your own dreams and ambitions, the loss of self. You can’t make up for all of that with a dozen red roses. You cannot make up for the time I put my dreams on hold so that your spoiled fat asses could grow up comfortably without having to struggle. You don’t really value your mother, you have gotten so used to her pampering you, and expecting her to be your door mat that you cannot understand that she exists as a person in her own right and not an appendage of you.
My culture(s) might give lip service to my value as a mother and a woman whose primary role is to nurture, but in its actions, it does not. How does it value me if I STILL get paid less for doing the same job as my male counterpart (which I perform better thanks to my attention to detail)? How am I valued when there STILL remains a dire scarcity of institionalized child care systems that will give me the structure and the peace of mind to fully realize my professional and creative pursuits? How does my culture value me when I disparages traditionally “feminine” caring professions–teaching, nursing, social work–by paying them less than more traditionally “masculine” ones–engineering, construction, etc. (In my 40s, now, I look back at all the energy expended in the classroom educating other people’s children and my own, to what end? I think back to the voraciously ambitious and intellectually powerful young college grad that I was and lament–what have I done with my life? To have spent my life in a thankless unassuming profession that has barely allowed me to eek out a living. With the intellectual potential I had, I could have blazed a much more illustrious trail. But, alas, I was doomed to become a mother in my early 20s and so had to put my professional pursuits on hold. Was that really my choice or was it the choice of my culture for me, that I internalized early on so that I could don the badge of “good girl.” The truth is my cultures, both Greek and American, do not value mothers; they acknowledge them in the same way you would give a good tip to a waitress or a servant who has released you from doing the grunt work and drudgery of a disagreeable job.
Dr Christiane Northrup in The Wisdom of Menopause writes, “When we look at the typical dynamics of intimate family relationships in this culture, it’s reasonably safe to say that the vast majority of the nurturing, supportive, subrordinate roles fall to the women, as does most of the self-sacrifice . . . whenever career concessions must be made for the sake of the family, it’s still likely to be the woman who steps down or cuts back; that’s why we have the term “mommy track.” It’s true that a woman’s biology tends to encourage her involvement with her family at the expense of other interests during the childbearing phase of her life. But it’s also true that the culture’s atmosphere of gender inequity exploits this tendency to an extreme. This can lead to an incredible surge of pent-up resentment when the hormonal veil lifts and a woman suddenly sees with clarity what has happened in her life” (16-17).
As a mother undergoing menopause this Mother’s Day, I say ‘To hell with it! I don’t need no freakin’ Mother’s Day. I need my life back. I need me to be free to live my life and realize my true potential, children, husbands, culture be damned. So you can take all your sappy Hallmark greetings, you can take your hand-painted mug and stick it where the sun don’t shine. You can take your potted plants and learn to water and tend them yourself. I refuse to be someone else’s servant, someone else’s nurse, someone else’s confidant at the expense of my own self-worth.
The best gift I can get this Mother’s Day is the freedom to be me. The right to live my own dreams. To not get a guilt trip when I am realizing my own potential and working on my own dreams. And that you, children, husbands, cultures, do not hate me for it.