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Celebrating all women for Mother’s Day

Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson

May 8, 2019

As we prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day, my thoughts are drawn to Genesis 11:30, which tells us, “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.” (NRSV) I know that is an odd sentiment, but I understand that the Mother’s Day observance can create some ambivalence.

My mixed feelings started years ago after what should have been a thoughtful gesture by my church. On that Mother’s Day Sunday, roses were being distributed to mothers after the morning worship. The ushers were stationed at the aisles to extend flowers, ensuring that no one was forgotten. But when an usher extended a rose to me, another quickly interceded saying, “Not her; she’s not a mother.” I was embarrassed, of course, but I was also hurt. While it was true that I was childless, I also believed that I was unable to have children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 percent of women in the United States between the ages of 15-44 have difficulty getting or staying pregnant. Of that number, up to 50 percent of infertile women suffer with endometriosis, a painful condition in which the endometrium, tissue that lines the uterus, grows outside of the uterus. This was my issue. Because of it, doctors concluded that I was unable to conceive, and as such, Mother’s Day was difficult.

My perceived commonality with Sarai notwithstanding, I recognize that not every woman dreams of children or marriage, which also puts a new stress on the church’s traditional Mother’s Day observances. Using 2012 census and survey data, the Pew Research Center determined that 20 percent of U.S. adults over 25 have never been married. While that number may not seem dramatic, only 10 percent of U.S. adults over 25 had never been married in 1960. So, the change is significant.

Such societal trends are also driving choices for childbearing. The fertility rate in the United States is at an all-time low. Demographers are at a loss to explain the declines based on the growing number of women in their childbearing years. Yet, women are postponing marriage, pursuing educational and career opportunities. In many cases women have become the primary breadwinners for their households. These decisions weigh heavily for women and factor in childbearing choices.

Then let us not forget the children and mothers who have challenging relationships. Not every family situation is one worthy of a Hallmark greeting card. And for them, the day may be a distressing reminder.

Thus, be it voluntary or involuntary childlessness or the result of strained relations, Mother’s Day is not always easy. So why do we persist in churches with our Mother’s Day observances? Now I recognize that such a statement borders on sacrilege. I grew up in the Black Church and am quite familiar with the CME holidays – Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Easter – when attendance is increased. But given the potential for pain, is it possible that we could seek another way?

Be it voluntary or involuntary childlessness or the result of strained relations, Mother’s Day is not always easy. On Mother’s Day, why not celebrate all women?

Specifically, on Mother’s Day, why not celebrate all women? I had the privilege of preaching and teaching for a Woman’s Day weekend in a church that honored all women on Mother’s Day and it was a beautifully inclusive celebration. It was also fitting given my experience. The doctors were wrong about my condition, and I delivered a healthy baby boy in 2003. However, when I became the senior, solo pastor of my church the next year, I came to know the truth of the African dictum, “It takes a village to raise a child.” My husband and I were greatly aided by the women of the church, many who never had children. They were the ones who babysat while I was in the pulpit or entertained while I conducted church meetings. They were the village surrounding us and helping to guide our child in the way that he should go. They made it possible for me to serve as a pastor and a mom.

For Mother’s Day, these are the women that I want to celebrate. They are the mothers and mother figures who have played formational roles in the lives of children. They are the ones who made a difference by being present. They led, helped, and welcomed, like midwives who skillfully brought forth those under their care. I played such roles before I had children. I continue these roles even more after having a child, because I know the value of supporting women in community. So, to all the women, I thank God for you. The calendar may say that it is Mother’s Day, but in my mind, it is Women’s Day and I celebrate you.

The Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson is director of Lifelong Learning at Yale Divinity School. Her book “Spiritual Practices for Effective Leadership: 7Rs of SANCTUARY for Pastors” is available through Judson Press.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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