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The complexity of Mothers’ Day

Mother's Day may be a point of celebration for most, but not all mothers deserve it.
Author: Ree Ntuli
Sun, May 14, 2023

Image: Alice and Rebecca Walker photographed by Steve Jennings/Corbis

Mothers' Day is yet again upon us and mothers the world over will be celebrated for the many significant roles they have played and continue to play in the lives of their loved ones and society at large. For some, however, this day serves as a painful reminder that they will never get to celebrate their mothers in person because of death.

Another aspect of this special day that seldom gets spoken about is the impact that Mothers’ Day has on people who are either estranged from or have strained relationships with their mothers, a difficult thing to reconcile with in a society that places mothers on a pedestal. Being online during remarkable days such as this can be particularly triggering because society is yet to fully grasp the complexities that often exist between mother and child. These relationships are expected to not only be functional but also thrive because the idea of not getting along with one’s mother is regarded as absurd.

Some of us may have witnessed the onslaught of a Twitter user this past week who frustratingly shared a WhatsApp screenshot where she decided to block her mother from gaining access to her because she felt she had endured enough. It was interesting to note how many people judged her for the personal decision she made even though they have zero knowledge of the inner workings of the kind of relationship she shares with her mother. People did not hold back on their uninformed opinions – which is typical Twitter behaviour – but also reflective of the kind of society we live in.

Celebrity children such as Feminist Author Alice Walker’s daughter, Rebecca, and musician, Angie Stone’s daughter have spoken out for years of the strained relationships between themselves and their mothers. In the case of Stone and her daughter things were so bad that allegations of physical abuse were brought to the surface and yet, society continues to consume hers and Alice Walker’s art despite these damning revelations. While Walker is said to have completely disowned her daughter at some point in her life because they held different opinions on motherhood. You don’t need to be pro-cancel culture to acknowledge the reported harm that these public figures have inflicted on the people whose care they were entrusted with.

Image source: Alice Walker's Garden

There is more than enough evidence around us supporting those who claim to have suffered in the hands of their mothers. They deserve as much empathy as everyone else who has suffered loss because while others are fortunate enough to mend these broken bonds, some may never get such an opportunity and their loss is as permanent as death.

As we celebrate this Mothers’ day in various forms, may we hold space for those amongst us who aren’t as fortunate to share special bonds with their own mothers. Rather than invalidate their experiences and pass judgement, may we hold space and acknowledge their pain and suffering as we would for those whose mothers have transitioned to the other realm.

A happy Mothers’ Day to all who celebrate and are worthy of being celebrated.