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Mother’s Day hits my inbox

When the first influx of sales promotions reminding me of Mother’s Day hits my inbox, I begin to get annoyed. How had I transformed from a young woman with a baby in her arms, eagerly anticipating a big fuss to be made over her to this cynical middle-aged woman questioning this annual celebration of motherhood? 

I remember admiring the shiny gold watch that had been my first Mother’s Day gift with a silent prayer that I would accumulate not just trinkets but a treasure trove of memories in future years to cement my status as a good mother who was appreciated by her family! 

Yet, as the years went by, I found that while the joy of motherhood was real, so was the labor. A mother’s life was not really her own. The one burden that both stay home moms and career-oriented moms shared was the weight of socially sanctioned expectations and guilt. 

Valuing motherhood

Not surprisingly, I began to have mixed feelings about the one day each year when a mother was allowed to sleep in, was treated to brunch, and showered with flowers to show her that her family valued her.

Now with my children grown and gone, I know that insincere, saccharine Mother’s Day messages (like this caption in a 2022 calendar) will make me furious:

“DO NOTHING DAY – Moms are always there to shower us with love and care every day whether we are 6, 18 or 30. Let’s do the same, starting with giving her a well-deserved day off on Mother’s Day and treating her like the queen she is.”

A day off from the job

Spurred to action, I posted this rant on social media.“So moms get sanctioned a day off’ once a year for a job well done? A few hours to be elevated to ‘queen’ status as a token of appreciation for a lifetime of labor (not just the part in the delivery room)? Who gets to decide that the attention is “well-deserved”? If this is an annual appraisal, what about bonuses and equitable pay for all the hours and energy that mothers pour into their families and raising children?”

When I remorsefully revisited the post a few hours later to delete it, I discovered that many women had left comments saying my words had resonated with them. I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. And I certainly wasn’t the only woman writing about this.

About mothering

From Megan Stack’s “Women’s Work – A personal reckoning with labour, motherhood, and privilege, ” in 2019 to recent books like “Mothering as Social Change” by Angela Garbles and “Emotional Labor” by Rose Hackman, women writers have been trying to use hard facts, statistics, and personal stories to draw attention to how women’s work largely goes unnoticed and unacknowledged.

And sensitively written fiction was gently squeezing your heart by highlighting the often-forgotten truth behind ordinary lives. In Anna Quindlen’s “Still Life With Bread Crumbs“, the protagonist, a photographer who is also a mother, captures on film the quiet clutter of a house that has not been spruced up to make it photo-worthy. “Funny, that no one had ever asked what had happened to the dishes, the scraps, the crumbs in the photographs, on the poster,” she observes, when the picture becomes famous. 

In the award-winning million-copy bestselling Korean novel “Please Look After Mom”, the main character Park So-nyo, says “If you do only what you like, who’s going to do what you don’t like?” This solitary sentence captures the reason why mothers the world over end up doing all the chores that no one else picks up. Only after the sixty-nine-year-old mother of four adult children disappears from a busy train station does the family become aware of her contributions that have led to their successful lives in Seoul.

Working moms matter

In the post-pandemic world of work, phenomena like the great resignation and quiet quitting are deeply dissected and discussed in newspaper editorials and magazines, yet no one talks about the impact of workplace changes on the already overburdened and thinly sliced attention of working mothers.

A recent article in Forbes magazine titled “Mattering is the top leadership skill for retaining employees,” mentioned that employees feel they matter if they are recognized and valued at work and when employers appreciate their contributions. Mattering naturally leads to less stress, burnout, and mental health issues. 

In the case of remote workers who feel unseen, and experience inadequacy and loneliness, there is a consequent loss of productivity. When the bottom line is impacted, companies take action. The article advises employers to create a visibility strategy, to focus on small details, remain sensitive and offer assistance when an employee’s workload increases. There is no suggestion to offer a once-a-year brunch as a viable retention strategy for disengaged or overwhelmed employees.

Moms on the home front

I am not aware of any surveys that reveal how a woman (usually a mother) who works a second shift at home feels when all her unpaid emotional and invisible labor which holds the family together goes unappreciated and unacknowledged. Since there is no overt employer-employee relationship and therefore no concern about resignation, there is no discussion about how to reward, recognize, and retain this key family member and show her that she matters. 

Motherhood is difficult and messy and hard to manage on most days. The thankless job of clearing away toys, handling doctors’ appointments, attending meetings at school, organizing birthday parties, and supervising exam schedules falls on the mother whether or not she is willing, or even the best person to do all of it because no one else picks it up voluntarily.

The second Sunday in May

Unlike annual appraisals at work, there is no tracking of extra hours, no bonuses for exceeding expectations, and no accounting for the unending, invisible emotional labor that keeps a family healthy and a home run. While the gender pay gap in the workplace has received attention, the difficult reality of women’s lives within the home remains completely ignored. And this situation is not restricted to a particular country or culture. It is ubiquitous.

What can we do then? Perhaps one small step in the right direction would be to ask your mother (or the mother of your children) what exactly she needs – not just once a year but once a day. Unless we first observe and acknowledge the inequity within our homes, we cannot build a fair world. Don’t just buy flowers occasionally, do the dishes every day. Give her periods of solitude to recharge herself on a weekly basis. Ask, acknowledge, appreciate her efforts often. And when all this is done, there may not be a need to make that annual reservation for an expensive brunch on the second Sunday of May. 

Image by shurkin_son on Freepik

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of India Currents. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, organization, individual or anyone or anything.

Ranjani Rao is a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, and a former resident of USA, who now lives in Singapore with her family. Ranjani Rao is the author of Rewriting My...