When Mother’s Day Becomes a Trigger Alert

I remember when Mother’s Day was uncomplicated and provoked no more reflection than which card to select for my mother. I took for granted that I had a loving mother who was living; I assumed one day I would join the ranks of motherhood. I realize now how oblivious I was to the pain so many others experience on this day—those who have lost mothers or are estranged from them; those women who have lost children to an early death, miscarriage, or abortion; and those struggling with the deep unmet desire to become mothers themselves on account of an inability to become pregnant or carry a child to term or just not having met the right guy yet (with the added pressure of a biological clock that continues to tick). 

The first year that Mother’s Day became a struggle for me, my husband and I had been married for almost a year with the hopes of getting pregnant, but no baby had come. Here I was longing more than anything to become a mother and realizing that this day set aside for celebrating mothers did not apply to me. I was grateful, of course, that I still had my own mother, but this did not diminish my longing to become a mother myself. As the oldest of four children, I had grown up mothering my younger siblings and had just assumed one day I would have several children of my own. As each one of my siblings became parents themselves, I realized that I might never share in that experience. Mother’s Day soon became an annual reminder that my impending motherhood was not assured. And the very thought that I might never have children threatened to send me reeling into despair.

What made matters worse was the practice of many parishes to ask mothers to stand at the end of Mass for a special blessing. Many childless women say they consider avoiding Mass that day or slipping out before the final blessing to avoid the humiliation of being one of the few who remain seated while the majority of women stand. On a recent Made for Love podcast interviewing Catholic couples struggling with infertility, the women all unanimously affirmed that the most difficult day of the year for them at church was Mother’s Day. Even if a priest attempts to be more inclusive by asking “spiritual mothers” to stand, a woman without children often feels awkward standing, especially when the rest of the congregation knows she has no children. One woman from the podcast discussed how graciously her priest had handled the complexity of emotions elicited on Mother’s Day last year by giving this beautiful tribute during Mass.  

A TRIBUTE HONORING THE EXPERIENCE OF MOTHERS

*Adapted from, A Litany for Mother’s Day, Amy Young

Following the prayer After Communion, the presider says the following:

Presider: St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” On this day, when we acknowledge the importance of motherhood, we are grateful for all who have shown us a Mother’s love, and grieve with those who are experiencing pain and loss.

  • To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you.
  • To those who lost a child this year—we mourn with you.
  • To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions or running away—we mourn with you.
  • To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears and disappointment—we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make things harder.
  • To those who are foster moms, mentor moms and spiritual moms—we need you.
  • To those who have warm and close relationships with your children—we celebrate with you.
  • To those who have disappointment, heartache and distance with your children—we sit with you.
  • To those who lost their mothers this year—we grieve with you.
  • To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother—we acknowledge your experience.
  • To those who have aborted children—we remember them and you on this day.
  • To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children—we await the fulfillment of God’s plan in your life with you.
  • To those who stepparent—we walk with you on these complex paths.
  • To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren, yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you.
  • To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year—we grieve and rejoice with you.
  • To those who placed children for adoption—we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart.
  • To those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising—we anticipate with you.
  • And to our Blessed Mother, we thank you for your example and motherly love, which leads us always to the divine love of your Son.

This tribute can help remind those celebrating and suffering that the Church is the place where we are to truly feel comforted, supported, encouraged, and cared for in our joys and sufferings. Another opportunity to exhibit sensitivity to those who might be hurting is during the blessing for mothers (and fathers on Father’s Day) at the end of Mass. Instead of singling out mothers or fathers to stand, perhaps a special blessing can be given at the end of Mass when the entire congregation is already standing so as to not draw attention to those who remain seated, grieving anew – and publicly – that they have no children. It can be an opportunity to honor the good of parenthood, acknowledge the struggle with infertility, and affirm the spiritual parenthood to which all are called. Here is a sample prayer that might be said on Mother’s Day:

This Mother’s Day, we give thanks for all women who have been called to motherhood. Let us remember with gratitude and joy our own mothers and grandmothers, our godmothers and those women who have been spiritual mothers to us, as well as the poor and vulnerable through personal charity and service to the Church. We pray for hope and healing for mothers who have lost children and for those struggling to become mothers. We entrust all of these women to the hands of Mary, Blessed Virgin, and ask God’s blessings upon them this day and always.

After many years of childlessness, my husband and I were blessed to adopt several children. That first Mother’s Day when I was able to stand for the blessing, I felt like the girl who had always been on the sidelines finally being invited to join the exclusive “moms only” club. While I was overjoyed at being a mother, the act of being set apart from those who were not mothers merely exacerbated the sadness in my heart for those women left sitting. It is time for us to consider if we are truly honoring mothers by singling them out to stand while their daughters, sisters, and friends are left sitting in pain. Because the Church is the place where we are to find healing and comfort, it is important to both honor and pray blessings over mothers while ministering to those for whom Mother’s Day elicits sadness and feelings of brokenness. Let us see Mother’s Day as the perfect opportunity for the Church to mother all of her daughters.

Kimberly Henkel, Ph.D. lives in Ohio with her husband and four young children (three adopted and one sweet little foster baby).

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