Caitlin Childs / Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
Mother’s Day is celebrated in many countries this Sunday, and we ought to make it a very special one. For some of us it may be the last, at least as a public celebration.
As a result of a referendum this month, Ireland could change its Constitution to protect same-sex marriage. By the end of June, the United States Supreme Court could find that such protection already exists in the US Constitution. Other countries and states have changed their laws, if not their constitutions, to permit same-sex marriage. These changes mean that the situation of children growing up without a mother must be accepted as normal.
Can Mother’s Day, a tradition intended to recognise the unique role of the mother in a family, survive this revolution? And what do we stand to lose if it sinks out of public view?
Already the day is fraught with difficulties for same-sex families. A British advocacy group for gay adoptive and foster families, New Family Social, used the occasion two years ago to highlight the problems – including negative reactions — gay couples face once the children they are raising start school or kindergarten.
Talking to The Guardian, Fernando said that he and his male partner did not realise how big Mother’s Day assembly would be at their adoptive son’s school. The children sang about their mothers and “every child had to stand up to say something good about their mum.” The couple solved that problem by having the child excused from that assembly. While the other kids made cards for their mums, this boy would make cards for his godmother and grandmother.
I wonder how good he felt the following year when all the other kids went to Mother’s Day assembly and he made cards in the classroom. I also wonder what steps New Family Social will take to make such children feel more comfortable in future. No Mother’s Day assemblies, perhaps.
In the United States a couple of years ago the adult daughter of a woman with a lesbian partner started a petition to get Hallmark to create Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards for same-sex parents. After all, it had already rolled out a series for same-sex marriages. But the famous greetings card company was more cagey on this occasion, telling the Huffington Post, “we believe that among the 2000 different cards available shoppers will be able to find one that is right for each of the individuals someone wishes to acknowledge on either of these days.”
Will that explanation be good enough for the same-sex parent lobby as time goes on? Bakers and florists who turn down requests to practise their arts on a same-sex weddings have been taken to court and fined, their businesses ruined, because of alleged discrimination against gay and lesbian couples. Hallmark may find it easier to protect their brand by producing a line of two-mommy and surrogate and egg-donor day cards.
Some may argue that there have been same-sex couples raising kids for decades and we still have Mother’s Day, so what’s the big deal?
The deal is this: according such couples the legal status of marriage changes everything. We have already seen how freedom of expression and conscience have taken knocks from this trend. And the more jurisdictions that do this — the more critical mass there is for same-sex family normalcy – the less sense any special recognition of mothers and fathers, as such, will make, and the more pressure there will be to drop any public celebration of these natural and fundamental vocations.
This is a very negative move for women at a time when motherhood is already undervalued and mothers feel obliged to put paid employment ahead of nurturing their young children. Growing numbers miss out or turn their backs on motherhood altogether. Many mothers are struggling on their own, because the last time we messed with marriage – with the introduction of no-fault divorce – it was women and children who came off worst. And the time before that – the introduction of the Pill – gave us an epidemic of single and cohabiting mothers who live in the shadow of insecurity.
But it’s the children who are getting the worst deal of all. The following frank admission by a gay man brought it home to me like nothing else:
As one of two fathers of an adopted son, my thoughts about Mother’s Day — and my son’s lack of Mom — have ranged over the years from gut wrenching to indifferent and everything in between. When our infant would make the sound “mama,” we would quickly and (half) jokingly correct him, “No… it’s ‘O-bama!'” Wasn’t there a way we could keep him from ever learning “the M word?”
He came to us through an open adoption, which meant our son would be raised knowing who his birthmother was. It also meant it fell to his Papa and I to communicate with the birth mom several times a year, and even plan annual family visits.
The first couple of visits were some of the most difficult days of my life. Every bit of my insecurity was on the surface, watching and waiting for this woman to do or say something I would take as a sign she hadn’t let go. Or worse yet, that she was somehow planting seeds that would someday cause my son to want her back.
By loving my son and simply being his Dad on a daily/weekly/yearly basis, those fears have dissipated. And while I’m sure there are challenges ahead (my son’s not yet five), I now stand secure in the fact that I am his parent and nothing can change that. This confidence and security has allowed me to help him know of and celebrate his birth mother in new and ever-evolving ways.
So while she is certainly his biological mother — and we are eternally grateful to her for choosing us as his parents — she is not our son’s “Mother.”
“Wasn’t there a way we could keep him from ever learning ‘the M-word’?” Yes there was, but doesn’t it break your heart to read how it was done — not for the child’s sake but to make a couple of adults feel secure in their chosen, engineered roles?
Is it too much of a stretch to see the words “mother” and “father” following Mother’s Day and Father’s Day into banishment from the public square, freighted as they are with meaning from an era when marriage was about a man and a woman generating children in a loving embrace, focusing on their needs, sacrificing for them, melting at the love they returned, teaching them in turn to see marriage as an opportunity to give oneself and not just satisfy one’s own needs?
Most of the world still does not recognise same-sex marriage and all that it implies about families, parenthood and the place of children in society. Let’s keep it that way, and begin to celebrate mothers and fathers with greater appreciation than ever before.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.