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Seeing Mother’s Day Through a New Lens

When I was a child, Mother’s Day meant Mom wore a corsage to church, and later we gathered for a special lunch with both of my grandmas and great-aunts who lived in our same small town. Around our oak farm table, we’d share a meal with constant conversation followed by plenty of dessert and coffee. These women taught me to bake and crochet, wiped my tears, and listened knowingly to my complaints about boys. Whether it was a safe place to land at the end of a school day with the promise of my favorite sugar cookies or a warm cup of tea at the kitchen table, the women in our family made sure I knew I was loved, and I was lucky to have them around me.

My relationship with Mother’s Day grew more complex after I married.

My husband and I watched our college and high school friends start families long before the idea of becoming parents crossed our minds. On Mother’s Day, when our church invited mothers to stand and be celebrated, I half heartedly clapped for the women standing and avoided eye contact with the others, like me, still seated. Was there something wrong with us because we weren’t mothers? I didn’t think so.

Some of us were like my great aunt Marian. Aunt Marian never married and had no children of her own. Still, she was an essential part of my growing-up years. She played Uncle Wiggily with me, made the best toast with jam, and carted me to the quilting circle she shared with Aunt Irene in the church basement. Aunt Marian was, in a variety of ways, an extra mom and grandma to many of us in the family. I think she and countless other aunties and teachers and godmothers deserve to be recognized for helping raise our children, too.

My feelings about this holiday grew even more complicated after adopting our 7- and 8-year-old sons. Gifts they crafted in school to celebrate Mother’s Day brought home a side of heartache. I was my children’s second mother. It didn’t seem right to make them celebrate a day filled with heavy and mixed emotions.

Later, I discovered I wasn’t alone in my discomfort around traditional Mother’s Day celebrations. People on social media express their own complex feelings about it, too. Earlier this week I received a promotional email with this subject line: “Want to opt out of Mother’s Day emails?” One click later, I opted out. Heck yes, I thought. Finally, people are starting to get it. 

In our family, Mother’s Day is a container for mixed emotions.

Joy and heartache, regret and humiliation, tenderness and envy. Sometimes we juggle all those emotions in our bodies at the same time. It’s a lot to handle. What makes it easier is knowing that it’s a shared experience. There are lots of other people in the world who feel the same way.

So I propose a bigger celebration. Let’s keep celebrating women, throwing parties for the hard-working moms and make a point to include the Aunt Marians. Let’s celebrate the teachers and coaches who acted as surrogate moms during long school days. We can celebrate the dads, older sisters, step-moms, aunts, and cousins who stepped in when a mom wasn’t around. Let’s give a shout-out to the mentors, role models, and bosses who look for teachable moments to shape our teens into young adults. Let’s cheer for school nurses who put bandaids on ouchies and sweet neighbors who show up with baked goods and comfort foods when our hearts need them most.

And while we’re at it, let’s include holding space for those who don’t want to celebrate, too. That means holding space, for example, for the mom who lost her only child. For the young adult working through complicated feelings in therapy about a narcissistic mom. For the childless middle-aged woman annoyed by the commercial reminders. And for the grieving adult whose mom just died.

This Mother’s Day, I plan to celebrate ALL those who serve the role of a mother, and I’ll be gentle with those who don’t want to celebrate, too.

Kimberly Witt is an Iowa transplant placing roots in St. Paul, Minnesota. With the help of her husband, she is raising two amazing teenage sons who were born in Ethiopia. She enjoys writing, running, and (surprisingly) helping her sons with math homework. Find her at