Opinion

On Mother's Day, let's celebrate all mothers — not just mothers with male partners

From breakfast in bed, to bouquets of flowers, to jewelry commercials encouraging men to buy their wives a necklace, ideals presented by the media for Mother’s Day are often linked to a husband treating his wife, writes Natasha Steer.

It's harmful when the focus is on women's relationship to men, instead of their relationship to their children

Despite the ways in which our Mother’s Days don't match up with popular portrayals, I find incredible joy in the days that are ours, writes Natasha Steer. (John Fraser/CBC)

This column is an opinion by Natasha Steer, an educator and writer. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

I've always been empowered by my single-lone motherhood: deliberately raising my son as a feminist both at home and abroad, taking him to visit his 50th country at the age of 15. 

The world doesn't see a female-headed household as empowering, however. As Rebecca Solnit notes in The Mother of All Questions, "Too many in this society are entrenched in the devout belief that there is something magically awesome for children about the heterosexual two-parent household."

This means that my son and I are constantly navigating preferred family structure ideals presented by the patriarchy. Mother's Day is no exception to this. In many ways, it's amplified. 

From breakfast in bed, to bouquets of flowers, to jewelry commercials encouraging men to buy their wives a necklace, ideals presented by the media for Mother's Day are often linked to a husband treating his wife. 

It's harmful when the focus of Mother's Day depends on women's contextual relationship to men — instead of their relationship and connection to their children. 

Feeling unseen

Though representations of Mother's Day have, thankfully, evolved over the years, nuanced and diverse representation remains especially low for single-lone mothers. When was the last time you saw a commercial boldly featuring a happy single mom and her son? I'm frustrated that mothers outside of heterosexual two-parent households often feel unseen and excluded from mainstream narratives. 

Perhaps Mother's Day focuses more on husbands celebrating wives because motherhood has often been left out of feminist conversations. As Andrea O'Reilly notes in "Ain't I a Feminist?", "feminist theory and women's studies [has] grown and developed … [but it hasn't] recognized or embraced a feminism developed from the specific needs or concerns of mothers..."

Mothers, and all mothering humans, are the people this day is meant for, regardless of their family structure. 

It's a day to celebrate all mothers — not just mothers with male partners.

Problematic narratives

Such a narrative is problematic for many, including mothers in heterosexual relationships who don't get treated by their partners. Such women often speak to the disappointment that comes from expecting this will be the one day they're adequately acknowledged for the work they (often disproportionately) do throughout the year. 

It's problematic for mothers in LGBTQ2+ partnerships, and others who are doing both the giving and receiving, yet are surrounded by messaging that doesn't reflect such realities. 

And it's problematic for single-lone mothers like myself who don't have another person to plan and facilitate a special day for us. Lone moms represent a significant amount of the population. According to Statistics Canada, over 81 per cent of the over one million children in lone-parent families are living with their mothers. 

Yet, nuanced and diverse representation — both in general and on Mother's Day — remains woefully lacking. 

And so, my Mother's Days have been complicated by cultural and societal messaging, by mainstream and social media depictions of what Mother's Day should look like. 

Over the years, I've pushed back against these narratives, wrestled with their erasure of our family unit, and tried my best to protect my son from their complicated nature. I've treasured my son and celebrated myself, because for me, the day is about appreciating that I'm a mother to the most incredible kid. 

I engage in this work yearly, an ongoing effort to ensure we get the day we both deserve. 

Finding joy

I've loved our Mother's Days. Whether playing tag at the park, savouring a treat together on a patio, or enjoying dinner with my mum and grandad, I'm present for the good things, the tender things, the beautiful things. Despite the ways in which our Mother's Days don't match up with popular portrayals, I find incredible joy in the days that are ours, striving to reclaim them authentically from popular depictions that so often serve to diminish them. 

It's ironic that on a day meant for us, many of us have to work so hard to feel seen. 

The reason I love Mother's Day so much is because it's a day to celebrate the fact that I'm Zac's mom. It's a day to celebrate our relationship, our bond, and all of the experiences and memories we've shared together. It's a day about celebrating the deepest love I've ever known, for my absolute most favourite person on this planet. 

It's a day to celebrate what I as a lone mother have accomplished — for my son, and for myself. 

One of the benefits of being a single-lone mother is having the freedom to throw a lot of the so-called rules out the window.

We can do the same with Mother's Day. We can refuse to be swayed by popular narratives, share our own stories, and instead craft a Mother's Day that feels authentic to us. Whatever that may look like.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Natasha Steer

Freelance contributor

Natasha Steer is an educator and writer who lives with her son in the Greater Toronto Area. She writes about the intersection of feminism and motherhood, creativity, and travel.

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