Mother’s Day. A day synonymous with macaroni necklaces, heart shaped pancakes and jewellery commercials that always make us tear up, swearing we just have allergies. However, the day’s roots are purer than its present-day commercialized state may imply. Mother’s Day originated in 1908 when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her peace-activist mother who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. She lobbied for it to become an official day to honour all mothers because it was her belief that mothers do more for us than anyone else in the world. In a job that offers no year-end reviews, no monetary incentives for increased output and little in the way of external validation, Anna Jarvis fought tirelessly to establish this day.
There’s a time old adage: if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Or the modern take: if a man speaks in the forest and there is no woman around, is he still wrong? The underlying point is the same. Is it possible for something to exist without external recognition? Does wrong exist without right? Does love exist without hate? Can Mother’s Day truly be celebrated without someone extolling your virtues as a mother?
For the single mother, there is no husband to lavish her with praise (and let’s be honest, many married women don’t receive that either). There is no one to bring her flowers and reassure her that the days and nights she spends worrying about her children count for something because they are becoming amazing human beings.
We put so much power in the hands of others. We give them the ability to make us feel pretty when they say, “Hey you look great.”We give them the opportunity to boost our self-esteem when they tell us, “You’re doing a great job.” Anyone who has spent hours getting ready to go out or hours working on a project only to hear the silence of praise can attest to this. We allow other people to be our mirrors and only see ourselves as a reflection of how they see us. If we are good in their eyes, we are good in our own but more dangerously, if we have failed in their eyes then we have failed in our own. Motherhood is the hardest of jobs and with no one to recognize our efforts, can we as single moms do this for ourselves?
Let’s be honest, we all want flowers and a heartfelt card and maybe chocolates and a Pandora charm and Loubiton shoes and for lack of a more articulate phrase, it TOTALLY SUCKS not to have any of that. It totally sucks to watch your friends being appreciated for a job you do thanklessly every day. And if all that weren’t bad enough, the #mothersday #bestmomever #blessed hashtags that flood our Instagram feed are enough to induce vomiting and make you swear off social media forever (and by forever I mean until midnight and by midnight I mean bedtime). All the suckiness aside, this is the reality of single moms, so we either live as bitter old shrews or embrace it as best we can. We replace flowers with the joy of watching our kids grow and blossom into individuals of their own. Instead of chocolates, we are blessed with those little glimpses that show us we’re doing something right—the moments they hold the door open for someone, rush to help someone with dropped groceries, or stand up for someone on the bus. Those moments aren’t by chance, they are the fruit of our tireless efforts. But as altruistic and beautiful as this sounds, it still places our validation in the hands of our children and not our own.
How do we look inside ourselves and determine we are kicking butt at motherhood? They say that happy and fulfilled people make for great parents, so perhaps if we want to measure our success as parents we must first examine ourselves as individuals. Are we living our potential? Are we living the life we fought for? Are we really living at all? Being a mother is about giving our kids the best of ourselves, but we cannot give to our kids if we don’t give to ourselves first.
Anna Jarvis had it right all along, Mothers Day is to celebrate the women who do more for us than anyone else. The women who work relentlessly to make their kid’s lives better, the women who understand that their success is a positive reflection of them as a mother, the women who speak to themselves with the same love and kindness they afford their children. But as single mothers, we are the ones doing more for ourselves than anyone else. This Mother’s Day, instead of relying on the gifts and the love of others as indicators of our success, look inwards. Measure your growth and success, not in the long stems of a dozen roses but in reflecting on this time last year. How have we progressed? How have we thrived? Have we given to ourselves? Have we lived life or have we let life live us?
Recently, my son had a class assignment in which he was asked the following question. “If you could be anyone in the world, who would you choose to be and why?” My ten-year-old son responded, “If I could be anyone in the world, I would be me because I think I have a pretty good life.” After I went through three boxes of tissues, tears streaking my face, I realized this is my prize. My beautiful boy who has had to sacrifice so much in his short life—his home, his family as he knew it, his toys and own bedroom—still believes his life is pretty good. That’s not chance or luck, that’s all me. And this Mother’s Day I celebrate just that. Me.
Daniella English, author of The Not So Single Life, is a single mother of four and a communications student at York University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and thenotsosinglelife.ca