Mother’s Day for the Rest of Us: What Mamas Need Can’t Be Found in a Greeting Card

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Commentary Family

Mother’s Day for the Rest of Us: What Mamas Need Can’t Be Found in a Greeting Card

Strong Families & Shanelle Matthews

The mothers whose lives are not being reflected on greeting cards are in need of something that can’t be delivered, worn, or eaten. They need policies that accurately reflect the reality of their daily lives. 

This article is one in a series published in collaboration with our sister organization, Strong Families.

I dread it. That uncomfortable, anticlimactic moment I enter the drug store and begin to comb through their dismal shelves for a Mother’s Day card. The stale smell of freon and fluorescent artificial lighting assaulting my senses as I listlessly pace the aisles looking for a sentiment that speaks to me — one that fits the unique experiences I share with my mom. Like the year before, I am underwhelmed with the choices. No brown faces; no candid, raw emotions that illustrate the complexity of our relationship; no culturally relevant jokes to make us laugh — and I think, who writes this shit?

I rummage through the picked over, paisley prints desperate for something — not just for my mom but for the millions of moms who are rejected by corporate greeting card companies because they don’t fit. They don’t fit in the neat, compartmentalized space they’ve created for them. They don’t fit the policy-driven normalization of hetero adulthood. They don’t fit the refined cages of traditional motherhood, the standard and guided parenting norms, the customary ideology of motherliness depicted on television and in the mocked up, caricature-like magazines. They don’t fit—we don’t fit.

The landscape by which we are portrayed every Mother’s Day dismisses us if we’re not white, rich, hetero, able-bodied, nuclear, thin, married, English-speaking, citizens. The occasional tokenizing card in Spanish or the mahogany line picturing a black hetero couple hardly acknowledges the multifaceted nature of our motherhood. Moms are so varied but we still see only one kind of mother portrayed each year. The commercialization of motherhood not so subliminally shames moms on the periphery by not acknowledging their existence on the one day devoted to celebrating moms.

Roe is gone. The chaos is just beginning.

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If Mother’s Day is about celebrating motherhood, don’t queer moms, immigrant moms, moms of children with disabilities, and moms with disabilities deserve to be celebrated? If Mother’s Day emphasizes the importance of the maternal bond, don’t genderqueer moms, adoptive moms, foster moms, trans moms, grandmas parenting grandkids, and single moms also experience that same bond? If the purpose of Mother’s Day is to highlight the influence of mothers, aren’t stepmoms, incarcerated moms, young moms, refugee moms, low-income moms, and moms living on sovereign land also influential?

It’s not new news that greeting card companies aren’t in the business of celebrating the marginalized — after all, who wants to read a greeting card that says, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I’m sorry you got deported.” But whether they highlight our stories or not, we exist. Our experiences are real and as long as policies are in place to dehumanize, shame, and ignore us, holidays like Mother’s Day won’t accurately illustrate how we move through the world.

As happens on most holidays, mothers and those of us who love them are exploited for profit. We’re convinced that those with maximum purchase power love our moms the most, and unfortunately many of us, myself included, internalize that propaganda. So we go to the drug stores, the jewelry stores, the chocolate shops, and we search.  We search for something that shows the mamas in our lives how much we love them, how much they’re appreciated, needed, and wanted. But these things that we’re told are important don’t hold a candle to what many mamas really need: change.

The mother’s whose lives are not being reflected on greeting cards are in need of something that can’t be delivered, worn, or eaten. They need policies that accurately reflect the reality of their daily lives. They need affordable health care, citizenship, access to healthy foods, transportation, birth control, self-care time, and support. They need second parent adoptions minus the red tape. They need safe spaces from domestic abusers, visitation rights, affordable and safe housing, and culturally relevant education in languages their families understand. They need less shaming and more policies in places that make it safe and secure to be the kind of moms they want to be.

Every one of the aforementioned mother’s experiences are nuanced and complicated by a number of variables, but in the end they all share the common need for support. With that I say fuck you corporate greeting card companies for rejecting the lot of us (75 percent to be exact) who don’t match your illustrations on the front of your cards, but we’re not waiting for you to represent us! We will continue doing what we do best: mothering with our whole selves and avoiding your exclusive, capitalistic messages.