Thanks to President Woodrow Wilson, Mother’s Day is just around the corner. In 1914 Wilson signed a proclamation making Mother’s Day an official holiday held annually on the second Sunday in May. But it wasn’t his original idea.
What started as a campaign by Jarvis to honor mothers in 1908 has turned into a massively commercialized holiday, despite Jarvis’s work to prevent it. And when cardmakers, florists, and gift-sellers are involved, the pressure of selecting the perfect item to honor a mother becomes intense.
For many of us, it’s more than just figuring out what to buy or if we ought to purchase anything. Mother’s Day creates all kinds of dilemmas that have nothing to do with how much money to spend.
My parents adopted me as an infant and divorced when I was six or seven. Both of them remarried, so I ended up with a bucket full of parents: birth parents, step-parents, and good ole mom and dad parents.
At times it was uncomfortable acknowledging step-parents on holidays designed for mom or dad. If I listened to my heart, I was likely to get it wrong and get called out for not doing anything/not doing enough.
But when I did what someone else thought I should do, it didn’t feel genuine.
Mother’s Day can be a complicated and emotionally challenging holiday. And when you’re an adoptee who doesn’t even know the names of your birth parents, the holiday can feel like a loyalty test of the worst kind.
The expectation to honor a step-parent, while all the adults failed to acknowledge my pain over the missing mother, my birth mother, felt like a cruel joke that only I was privy to—punishment for failing the test.
Even if we don’t know our birth mothers, we know we have one, and she’s not the woman who raised us. So we outwardly honor the mother who raised us while our insides are in turmoil. And the added pressure to acknowledge a step-parent in a certain way only makes the pain worse.
It can feel like a loyalty test even if you’re not adopted, so please, if you have step-children, cut them some slack if they don’t do things the way you want.
2016 was the last time I had a real celebration of Mother’s Day for my mom. I gathered my children and Big D together for a family meal, with my mother’s favorite vase of brightly colored fake flowers in the center of our little table. We celebrated mom’s life that Mother’s Day in a way I had never done before and never will again.
We spread her ashes over the water with the sun shining down on all of us.
I think of my mom and miss her presence every day, not just on Mother’s Day. There are so many things I’ve wanted to share with her. So many milestones she’s missed. But I know she’s smiling down on me, still desiring only the best for my life. She couldn’t give me the answers I needed about my birth parents because she didn’t have them to share.
She gave me a wonderful life, and I am eternally grateful for all that she taught me. I also know she will be smiling down on me this Mother’s Day because there are no longer any dilemmas on what to do for the day.
It’s been 54 years of not knowing, but this year is different. On May 9, I will celebrate Mother’s Day for the first time knowing my birth mother.
For Rae Ellen in heaven and Janice on earth: Happy Mother’s Day, Moms!