Mother’s Day was on Sunday. It’s the Sunday where all of the mothers are asked to stand up at Mass, while the non-mothers sit awkwardly in their pews, praying the whole thing will end quickly.
When I was younger, I heard other single women complain about this practice and I thought their complaints seemed a little silly. After all, motherhood is really important. It should be honored as much as possible. And I can certainly join in honoring motherhood even if I’m not a mother myself.
All true enough. But I have to admit that, as the years have gone on, I have grown less and less enthusiastic about sitting in the pew while the women around me stand. This year I made my Sunday Mass plans based primarily on which parish seems least likely to single out the mothers.
Honestly, those Sunday sitting-in-the-pew sessions have grown more difficult in the years since my failed adoption attempt. I was a mother — if only briefly— and that has made me more aware of the other women sitting in the pews. The women whose non-motherhood may come with stories far more painful than mine.
How does a woman who has struggled for years with infertility feel when the mothers around her are asked to stand to the receive the applause of the congregation? What about women who have lost multiple pregnancies to miscarriages? Women who were widowed before they could become mothers?
I ran across a blog post on this topic by another single woman. Like me, she hadn’t been bothered by the practice in her younger years. But, describing her experience recently, she said, “A pastor asked all mothers to stand. On my immediate right, my mother stood and on my immediate left, a dear friend stood. I, a woman in her late 30s, sat. I don’t know how others saw me, but I felt dehumanized, gutted as a woman. Real women stood, empty shells sat. I do not normally feel this way. I do not like feeling this way. I want no woman to ever feel this way in church again.” She was so bothered by the experience that the next year she stood, even though she has no children.
Good bless her. I’m all for honoring mothers, but I agree with her that it’s time for us to “tweak” the practice a little bit, so that we can honor them in a way that doesn’t so blatantly single out those women who haven’t borne children.
Yes, we should honor and thank mothers. It’s very important. But perhaps we should do so more mindfully and specifically, acknowledging the various situations women find themselves in vis a vis motherhood — the infertile, the widowed, those who have lost children to death, the step mothers, the spiritual mothers. That could be done very prayerfully and sensitively, in little more time than it now takes to stand the mothers up, pray over them and applaud.
And it could be done without anyone having to stand up — or to remain conspicuously seated.