The myth of Mother's Day: It's not all happy families

The myth of Mother’s Day

Unless you have been living under a rock you are likely to be aware that Sunday is Mother’s Day. Depending on your circumstances the occasion may well trigger myriad emotions ranging from visceral grief to seething resentment to utter melancholy to unbridled joy.

Even though this spectrum will be endured by hundreds and thousands of Australian women, with the exception of the latter none of the many emotions experienced on Mother’s Day are depicted anywhere.

The ads, cards and images that have been flooding television commercials, catalogues and social media feeds in the lead up to the day, in which mums the world over are pampered, tell a single compelling story.

In this story mums are beautiful, loved, appreciated and fond of all manner of consumer goods from scented candles to foot baths to slippers to coffee machines.

On Sunday every mother in Australia will sleep in and have breakfast delivered to her in bed, in an immaculately styled and impossibly tidy bedroom, while her children gently hand over cards and gifts. Her co-parent – and there will always be a co-parent in this tale – will be facilitating the glory, helping the kids, handing over gifts, cooking the breakfast.

There will be brunches and lunches and dinners attended by entire extended and exclusively happy families convened to shower mums with adoration. She will be blissfully happy and grateful to spend the day with her family.

In this story relationships are never strained or toxic or difficult. In this story women pining for children they can’t conceive, or children they have lost, don’t feature. In this story single parents don’t exist, children don’t fight and no one experiences anything other than joy and gratitude.

This story is, of course, an illusion. But even still Jenny Davidson, the CEO of the Council of Single Mothers and their Children, says it can make Mother’s Day tricky for the 765,000 Australian families headed by single parents.

“Mother’s Day can be really lovely for single parents but it can also heighten the feelings of social isolation that are felt by lots of single mums,” Davidson says. “It can be tough to see lots of happy families all out together.”

While families in Australia are actually very diverse in composition, the idea of the perfect nuclear family persists as the accepted norm.

“It means single parents can feel very excluded on Mother’s Day,” Davidson says.

The truth is there are lots of women who can feel very excluded on Mother’s Day. Women who don’t have easy or loving relationships with their own mothers or their own children. Women who desperately want children but can’t or don’t have them. Women who have lost their own mothers. Women in abusive relationships or miserable marriages.

The prevailing Mother’s Day narrative tells one story that rings true for some mums, but for plenty of others it falls flat. However you feel on Sunday, take heart in the fact there are likely many many others who feel the same way you do, even if it’s not immediately visible. Sad. Jealous. Angry. Happy. Grumpy. Maybe all of the above.

There is no one-size-fits-all for women and certainly not when it comes to motherhood.

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