Mothers are celebrated every year across the world, on a specific day set aside for the occasion. The US has had an official Mother’s Day since 1914, with other countries joining in gradually within a fifty year span. If you live in the US and other countries that follow its lead, Mother’s day falls on the 2nd Sunday in May. If you grew up in the UK and countries that follow the British holiday calendar, the equivalent is Mothering Sunday, and it is assigned to the 4th Sunday of Lent each year typically occurring in March. Apart from the monetizing and commercialization of Mother’s Day, the fact that there is a dedicated day is a fitting homage to mothers everywhere who with or without partner or social support, are tasked with raising each new generation by dint of Nature and cultural tradition, with or without thanks.
There is a general joyous acknowledgement of the saintliness and sacrifice of mothers. Traditions in that regard still hold strong for families whose members are emotionally and geographically close. You may belong to such a family that hosts home-based gatherings or be one of the large family groups vying for a table amidst the crowds at your favorite restaurant on Mother’s Day. If, however, your family members are scattered far and wide across states or continents, you may employ the virtues of Zoom (What’s App or Skype) to share your virtual celebrations. As women in the 60-and-over age group, it is assumed that you are the focus of attention on Mother’s Day, feted by your children and grandchildren. But what if you happen to be one among millions of women over the age of sixty for whom that assumption is wrong? And what if you are being celebrated while there are other women in the room with you, or alone in the house next-door, forced to stifle unwanted emotions associated with motherhood itself, rendered raw by Mother's Day that ignores them?
Many women feel invisible and depressed on Mother’s Day for compelling Reasons
There are compelling reasons why many women feel invisible and depressed on Mother’s Day. Let’s for a moment consider that in the same way that parenthood is not blissful for all parents, and the outcomes of parenting have been known to miss the mark from time to time, Mother’s Day may not be a universal day of delight. In the midst of a month of relentless reminders about motherhood, there exist many women in our age group who are in a justifiably different head space – possibly grieving about their own childlessness; maybe some lost opportunities for adopting or mentoring a child; perhaps massaging an empty spot over their heart for children lost through death in the early years of life or who didn’t make it into the world. Then there are far too many mothers who are struggling with the emptiness that is the consequence of parent-child estrangement, or painfully trying to make sense about the lack of contact with adult children who seem to have dropped into the murky pool of casual acquaintances whose names you can no longer remember.
Childlessness is an unwelcome topic in may circles because it can be a source of profound pain, callous ridicule, or dismissiveness about the choices of women. Since the 1970s, a growing number of couples have chosen not to have children (57% of US couples are childless: census.gov; ifs.org; forbes.com). Childlessness when women are young correlates directly with childlessness in the older years. Nonetheless, emphatic choice against childbearing is only one of the reasons why a woman in her sixties and seventies is childless. Infertility has had an impact on many married women. And until this current era where the stigma has lessened, single women had to go against the grain of society to have a child while unmarried, or even to adopt a child. As a result, more often than not, the majority of single women who came of age in the1960 era have arrived at this juncture of their lifespan, childless. And then there are women among you who have already outlived their children.
Parent-child estrangement carries its own brand of Pain
Family estrangement carries its own brand of pain for mothers affected by this relational malfunction. In such situations, parent-child contact is consciously severed and replaced by a residue of ill feelings. What fills the void is a lingering wall built by a lack of goodwill between parent and child, sometimes mutual sometimes one-sided. Regardless of statements to the contrary, neither parent nor child feels comforted by lack of contact. From a therapeutic standpoint, without efforts at resolution, it is a lose-lose outcome for both. There isn’t an estranged mother who is happy and contented in her heart when Mother’s Day rolls around. It’s a toss-up about which carries the more burdensome pain – having a child who has severed ties with their mother because of specific reasons, or having a child somewhere out in the world, who has not declared estrangement, but who simply stays out of contact for unknown reasons.
It's ok for women in their 70s to ask “Who will take care of Me?
The seventh decade of life is usually the signal for both men and women to start being concerned about a critical question: “Who will take care of me in my old age? A married woman in her seventies, who is in fairly good health, who has a spouse or partner, sufficient resources, and children with whom she enjoys an excellent relationship, seldom walks around with such a concern uppermost in her mind. On the other hand, a woman without children, or without contact with her children, definitely worries about that question. Same goes for a man. Even if you have sufficient economic resources set aside to pay for care, it is a sorry end-of-life scenario to be abandoned in a care facility without family oversight or visits. Some of us will live longer than others depending on the way the cookie crumbles. Some of us will also have more or less economic resources than others. Regardless of those differentials, the longer one lives means that social and familial support, many times combined with economic support, become necessary for a longer span of time. If you can’t drum up visions of such support, worrying is real and leads to severe anxiety and depression. What should you do instead of worrying?
Plan as we might, we can’t control all the Outcomes
I recall a now deceased male relative who was a happy-go-lucky charmer deep into his seventies. As a younger family member armed with academic credentials in Psychology and Family sciences, I confronted him with questions about health, relationships, illness and death and eventually possibilities of needing care. His response was that he would live life on his own terms and let others worry about what to do with his body when he dies. Unfortunately, we don’t get to set all the terms. He was stricken with a debilitating illness soon afterwards and lingered in a totally dependent condition for many years. Fortunately, a previously estranged adult daughter stepped up to the plate to take care of him to the end. Deciding what to do with his dead body was the least of the problems. A different kind of tale involves my family of origin, in which my brother, youngest of eight, happily gave his blessing to all his older sisters to go off and live their lives, promising to stay in the family home and take care of our parents. After my father died, my brother made good his promise to remain and take responsibility for the care of our aging mother. That promise dissolved when he died unexpectedly in a tragic accident at fifty years of age. My mother had just turned eighty-five. Some outcomes we can’t control.
Widen your circle of contacts and friendship to offset childlessness in your older Years
There is no guarantee that either social or familial support will be available to you in your older years, whether or not you have loving supportive children, estranged children, or no children. It will be helpful though to parlay worry and concern into action-oriented scenario planning, visualizing two or three alternatives and potential decisions. Make an inventory of the human, familial, social and economic resources that are available or will be available to you when needed. Include your children if you have. If you don’t have children, seek to make connections with other relatives you can trust – nieces and nephews, or siblings for example. Widen your circle of contacts and friendships to include younger friends and work colleagues, or children of friends. Cement a trusting relationship and have the conversation with one or two of them. Its mind-relieving to develop a network of care.
If you happen to be a mother and you have the opportunity, enjoy Mother’s Day with a celebratory group of family and friends. Great if you are on the receiving end of accolades, gifts, and super-mom status. Wonderful if your mother is still alive and you wish to honor her. You may even choose to lift up other individuals in your life who are mothers even if you are not. At the same time, you are also free to blank out Mother’s Day from your calendar, skip celebrations where other attendees make you feel uncomfortable with needling remarks, and instead do something that makes you happy rather than depressed. At your age, you have permission to choose 'Never Mind.'