Few harp on Mother’s Day. I have yet to hear holiday critics deconstruct the celebration as a consumerist ploy to further capitalism. But it is, and marketers will exploit every American holiday to boost sales. The question is why isn’t it critiqued in our national narrative like Valentine’s Day?
I have an international group of social media friends and I saw the rants on Valentine’s Day. “Why is there one day to celebrate love,” one male friend from New York wrote. “Love should be celebrated every day.” Then on International Women’s Day, which has particular importance in countries with a high rate of domestic violence, like Afghanistan, it was my male Afghan friends who scoffed at the idea of celebrating one day for women. “What’s the point? It’s just a reason to use women for political agendas,” wrote one male acquaintance who grew up in the U.S. and lives in Afghanistan. I don’t disagree with those critiques but I have yet to read the same men comment on Mother’s Day. Why not celebrate motherhood daily?
Instead, they’ll post photos of themselves with their mothers glorifying women’s sacrifices for their children.
Sacrifice is the key word that gives Mother’s Day the stamp of approval from the majority. Good women are supposed to sacrifice and give without asking anything for return. For sexists, feminism and motherhood are an oxymoron. One man in the Fremont, California gym where I exercise told me his dream wife must believe in male superiority. She would have to stay home with her kids. He didn’t understand how mothers could be feminists because feminists are selfish and mothers are selfless.
Mother’s Day is the epitome of womanhood for many communities. The underlying message in our approval of the holiday is if you haven’t given birth and survived sleepless nights breastfeeding, you’re not worthy of a celebration. Motherhood is seen as the beacon of selflessness.
But it isn’t. It’s one of the most selfish acts we commit.
We’re contributing little to society by having kids, especially in overpopulated communities. We turn inward and focus on one family instead of community. We’re producing offspring for ourselves, to spread our genes to the next generation, to find meaning in life. I’m not dismissing the selfless skills parenting teaches, but becoming a parent has nothing to do with a good deed.
I have two daughters, ages 4 and 7, and my choice to have children was selfish. If I wasn’t a mother, I could be a more active journalist revealing corporate and government corruption. I could be a more effective activist fighting for women’s rights. I would have more time to care for my elderly parents. I wouldn’t have added statistics to overpopulation and environmental degradation.
But I became a mother regardless for the sheer reason that I yearned to have children, and I enjoy them immensely despite the sleep deprivation and so called sacrifices women make as mothers. My celebration of motherhood occurs daily when my 4-year-old wakes me up with kisses on my cheeks and my 7-year-old hugs me before she goes to school. I don’t need anything else.
My intention for writing this is not to be a Scrooge on Mother’s Day but to shed light on why other holidays aren’t as accepted and celebrated, like International Women’s Day, which is more inclusive and less patriarchal.
I’ll spend Mother’s Day with my 79-year-old mom like I do one day of every weekend, and I’ll celebrate all my women friends who aren’t parents yet because they’re working hard to fight misogyny in Kenya, researching a cure for cancer in the U.S., housing the homeless in Nepal and feeding the hungry in Afghanistan.
About the author: Fariba Nawa, an award-winning Afghan-American journalist, covers a range of issues and specializes in immigrant and Muslim communities in the United States and abroad. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area but has traveled extensively to the Middle East, Central and South Asia. She is the author of Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords and One Woman’s Journey Through Afghanistan.