“All the greeting cards are about sacrifice. Have you noticed that? ‘Mother you gave up so much for me. You worked so hard for me. You sacrificed so much.' ... I don’t want my daughter to grow up and think ‘I should shrink and be in the background. I should be selfless. I should be sacrificing. I should be silent.'" – Shonda Rhimes in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.
While many celebrated Mother’s Day this weekend with glee, Mother’s Day is a challenging day for others – it reminds us about the loss of a parent or child, toxic or abusive parents, and infertility or miscarriage. Some disappear to avoid the grief that comes with the holiday. Some write or spend the day honoring the “other mothers” in our lives. And some celebrate our mothers while understanding that the day isn’t so rosy for our friends and loved ones. There are many intricacies and social stigmas that surround the celebration of mothers. We might feel pressure to have children or feel guilty for not celebrating a mother who was unavailable or abusive. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, author of Revolutionary Mothering reminds us that "mothering" is not about birth or gender; it includes aunts (or as Elizabeth Gilbert calls it – the Auntie Brigade), uncles, friends, and anyone else who has “mothered” us throughout the years.
Yesterday many of you celebrated the mothers in your life by going to brunch – honoring a tradition borne from the women’s liberation movement at the turn of the 20th century. In those days, dining in public in daylight without a male chaperone was considered scandalous (never mind dining at night, which was only for women of "ill-repute"). Although wealthy women could dine discreetly in tearooms or shopping malls, working class women had few options other than bringing their lunch from home. And if you were a woman of color, no doubt you had even more restrictions. Feminists of the era worked to establish the idea that women could be public people, and by 1908, the ban of women from restaurants without escorts began to be seen as a preposterous custom. By the 1930s, the US saw the rise of brunch – unequivocally tied with women’s liberation – and by the 1960s, working women were using the money they earned during the week to socialize over brunch on the weekends.
In short, spellbinding essays, Maya Angelou tells the story of her life and the lessons she’s learned to the daughter she never had in Letter to My Daughter. She recalls being raised by her grandmother in segregated Arkansas, living with her nonreligious mother in her teens, giving birth to her first son at a young age, ending a relationship with a man that nearly killed her, and working desperately as a prostitute to remain independent. She says, “I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters. You are Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asian, Spanish speaking, Native Americans and Aleut. You are fat and thin and pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you all. Here is my offering to you.”