Mothering Sunday

Mothers. We all have them. Even if we have never met our biological mother, she is still out there somewhere, whether she’s alive or not. Some of us are mothers ourselves, or grandmothers. Being a mother entails coming to terms with having had a mother of some sort, adopted or biological, present in varying degrees, or completely absent, loving or indifferent, or a mixture of both, depending on how she herself was coping with being a mother to any one child at any one time.

The mother daughter relationship is not the same as the mother son relationship. Both are subtle and variegated. Either way, the relationship plays into all our emotions, almost without exception. My relationship with my own narcissistic mother has been the defining bench-mark against which I judge myself as a mother and in which I take responsibility for the way my daughters are themselves mothers, both of them being, as mothers, a world away from anything I was or experienced, both as a mother and as the daughter of a narcissist. I have four talented and much loved grandchildren. They have had good mothering or, as I occasionally remind my daughters, ‘good enough’ mothering which is better than just good. The ‘good enough’ mothering they have received will give my granddaughters something to do differently when their time comes, if they want to.

This Sunday is Mothering Sunday. As always, it will be overlayed with sentiment, especially if it is a beautiful Spring morning and the church is full of posies for children to give to their mothers. But how many of the children collecting these posies do so feeling puzzled, if not for themselves, then perhaps for a friend? When they visit their friend’s house, things are not the same as they are in their own homes. It is hard for them to give a name to what they feel about what goes on there, or by the repeated absence of the person their friend refers to as Mum. She never seems to be there and yet she is much talked about. She is not in church, but the child whose mother she is will take the flowers home all the same. Who will he give them to? Perhaps he will throw them away, angrily, before he even gets home. If she does happen to be at home when he gets back from church, he won’t tell her there were flowers to be given to her this Mothering Sunday.

For those of us who did not have ideal relationships with our mothers, the Church, on Mothering Sunday, often presents us with hymns and prayers that don’t fit the emotional scenario we ourselves grew up with, so we try to sublimate them into vague ideas of Mary and her relationship with Jesus. We forget that she was a mother like any other mother and he a quite ordinary little boy, though exceptionally gifted, who, from the age of about twelve, was given to having profound theological conversations with the religious teachers of the day. This is guess work, of course. He could have been younger, but it is not a bad age for picturing the moment when his desperately anxious parents, who had been looking for him for a whole day, and were now having to retrace their steps, spoke to him quite sharply. Who wouldn’t? And then there was the time when his adoring fans were blessing the mother who bore him and he appears to deny her altogether. We have to take such moments as they are, without embellishments.

Perhaps it would be helpful if churches were to treat Mothering Sunday in this way as well. How many preachers are brave enough to talk about mothering as it all too often is for many people? It shouldn’t be all that difficult to do, if you look at it from the mother’s perspective as well as from the child’s. If the congregation is an older one, there will be women there who love their children and grandchildren but know that their own lives were seriously curtailed by the expectations in regard to motherhood that they grew up with. They may have been faced with agonising choices, the forfeiting of careers and with them financial security, the making do with what was on offer because they had little choice. They resent being made to feel guilty about not having been ‘better mothers’, whatever that was supposed to mean. They did their best but there were times when, if they are honest with themselves, their best was not enough, especially when judged by today’s standards. They think of their own mothers. Some of them may be in the congregation. Were they any better, coping as they may have done, in the context of a war and the blitz? Added to this, these grandmothers, or great grandmothers, may have had to foster other people’s children and resented it. The emotional demands made on them were perhaps just too great. They would be re-visiting those feelings right now, during one of the hymns, perhaps. They probably don’t feel like singing hymns. Life has not treated them fairly. They would rather go home and quietly curse God for placing them where he did in history and in the social context they inhabited. But they are here all the same in what has come to be known as Mother Church.

The Church is, or ought to be, the model of God’s mothering of his children, a place where all are loved and valued for who they are and for what they have brought to society, to a particular community, to a family. As with all mothering, this is an ongoing task for the Church, one that has to be undertaken day by day, and not only on Sundays, with special efforts made on those big Sundays when a local church can expect more than its customary single figure congregation.

 If the Church is to be true to itself on Mothering Sunday, it must focus outwards throughout the rest of the year, day in day out, embracing all those mothers and grandmothers who society may have failed in the past, through sheer ignorance as much as anything else. On this particular Sunday, a public thank you to all the mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers who tried to do their best, but didn’t always manage it, along with a sincere word of sorrow and repentance for the children who, as a result of their own mothers’ unhappy stories, were neglected or abused, would be in order.

This might be a new beginning for the Church itself. So if you are in church this Mothering Sunday, just give the posy to the woman sitting nearest you. Look at her with empathy and gratitude. She’s someone’s daughter and quite likely to be someone’s mother too.

Author: Lorraine Cavanagh

Anglican priest living in Wales, UK. Author. Books include 'In Such Times - Reflections On Living With Fear' (Wipf and Stock 2019), 'Waiting On The Word - Preaching Sermons That Connect People With God' (DLT 2017), 'Finding God In Other Christians' (SPCK 2014), 'Beginning Again' (Kindle e-book 2015) All books available from Amazon

One thought on “Mothering Sunday”

  1. Fathers, sons, brothers, husbands? Oh, No! No-one has anything positive to say about those Earthly encumbrances!


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