Many Australian families will be marking Mother’s Day this coming weekend. It can be a day of celebration, but it can also be a challenging time for those who have lost parents or children, have difficult relationships with family, or may not celebrate Mother’s Day for a myriad of reasons.
At DCA we take the opportunity to mark the date by gaining a deeper understanding of how mothering relates to issues of gender equality, and inclusivity.
In the past, we considered how women’s disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work, lack of workplace flexibility and time out of the workforce are key contributors to the gender pay gap. This is documented in DCA’s report Let’s Share the Care: A Call to Action to Reduce the Gender Pay Gap.
This year, we look at multiple perspectives on mothering. From rainbow families, bereaved families, and childless families.
Here is what Mother’s Day means to our contributors, who see the day from another, equally tender perspective.
Liz Campbell, Founder of Redefining My Plan A
“I’m a childless woman of colour who failed to meet my cultural expectations by being unable to give my mother a grandchild (as she comes from a large family with lots of grandkids – with only 2 females in her generation who haven’t had kids)
“To me, mothering is a verb and not a noun – I am a mother to my two dogs who provide me with unconditional love and the opportunity to look after them in every way that a parent does for their child – feed them, bathe them, look after their health and when they’re sick. As humans, we all have mothering qualities that nurture people, animals or plants (and the planet!)
“For years, I felt I had failed as a woman for “not getting married & having kids” by a certain age like most of the other women I knew both in my personal and professional lives. It was very isolating and I had to work hard to find new friends. It wasn’t until August 2017 when I discovered the blog by Not So Mommy that I first learned that I was Childless Not By Choice (CNBC) – discovering that was nearly 2 years after my infertility journey had ended!
“In this position, I didn’t appreciate the sentiment/perspective of society that without having children, I didn’t have much to offer the world. I have learned a lot more about how to deal with this personal and societal grief, and how it’s possible to move forward in life by accepting a different way to live life, by Redefining my Plan A. (I know there are 26 letters in the alphabet but I’m sticking with A!)
“For me, there are three things that would make this Mothering Sunday more inclusive:
“To be cognisant and respectful of employees without children who may seem a little quiet or withdrawn in the lead-up to Mother’s Day.
“To acknowledge that not everyone will be getting excited about making Mother’s Day plans and that not everyone will be gushing about their kids making Mother’s Day gifts at school
“Finally, to understand that everyone has the capacity to be a mother – especially to the child(ren) that are in their hearts (or the ones that never got to be born).”
Cathy Brown – DCA Communications and Advocacy Director
“I am mum to a 7-year-old and 10-year-old. My kids have two (lesbian) mums and two (gay) dads, one cat, one dog and two guinea pigs.
“That’s a lot of love, but a lot of logistics for our family to manage.
“There are also grammatical challenges: My kids celebrate Mothers’ (not Mother’s) Day.
“When I was younger, I never expected to be a parent. At the time I didn’t know why I felt this way, but I think the penny dropped for me when I realised I was gay. In the 90s there were very, very few gay people with kids.
“Also, until 2008 same-sex couples couldn’t be legally recognised as parents in NSW. It was when the laws changed for lesbian mums in NSW*, and working with some of the people who were key to those changes happening, that got me and my partner thinking about becoming parents.
“Gay parents have all the same challenges that other parents face: sleeplessness, juggling school and extra curriculars, and all the gross illnesses that children get.
“But as a rainbow family there are a few more hurdles. Starting a family isn’t straightforward (not that it can’t be difficult for other families too). There’s also a lot of questions about where the kids come from, and “who’s the real mum?”, although this is getting less frequent. And homophobia is still an issue. It can be subtle or overt, but as a parent you have the added issue of how it impacts the kids.
“I am lucky that I have always had an accepting and supportive family. But for a lot of LGBTIQ+ folks, that’s not the case and Mother’s Day can be a difficult time. Mother’s Day can also be tricky for kids (and adults) that don’t have a mum, or don’t live with their mum.
“There are lots of great resources around for making Mother’s Day inclusive for different types of families. But if you’re not sure how rainbow families celebrate Mother’s Day, just ask.”
*It’s still the case that not all same-sex parents are legally recognised as the parents of their children.
Catherine Petterson – DCA Operations Director
“My much-loved mum died 13 years ago, not long after Mother’s Day. She was my best friend, had a wicked sense of humour and was the most kind, loving and supportive mother (and grandmother) anyone could want. Although she had hardships in her life, she never complained and always looked forward. She was 75 years old when she died – and I know that’s not exactly young – but I still feel I was robbed of at least another 10 years with her. What I wouldn’t give to have one more day with her!
“Life has not been the same since she’s been gone. Whilst the raw grief subsides, I miss her every day. Her passing has made me reflect on how much she did for me and what kind of mother I want to be. I now understand what she must have felt losing her mother quite young. And it has made me acutely aware of others who have lost loved ones and how hard that can be.
“Mother’s Day is still bittersweet for me. For many years after her death, I struggled celebrating the day. I envied anyone who was lucky enough to still have their mother with them.
“As time has passed, I’ve tried to be happy in the moment on Mother’s Day, and to appreciate the love and support that my family gives me now. I also take the opportunity to remember how wonderful my mum was.
“I think the best way to be inclusive on Mother’s Day is to be sensitive to those who might be experiencing grief over the loss of their mother (or indeed a mother figure), and to acknowledge that loss. This doesn’t just apply to Mother’s Day, but to the many other significant days throughout the year that are often spent with loved ones.”