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“All Women Are (Not) Mothers”: How Churches Can Overcome the Awkwardness of Mother’s Day for Childless Women

by Karen Swallow Prior

“All women are mothers,” someone recently posted on Twitter, a statement that struck me immediately as well-meaning but misguided.

All women are not mothers, just as certainly as all men are not fathers. And I say this as a childless woman who occasionally finds Mother’s Day uncomfortable since I very much wanted to have children.

Yes, I understand the idea uses the term “mother” metaphorically, in the general sense of someone who is nurturing and creative. But I think that’s a problem, for at least two reasons.

First, saying that all women are mothers minimizes the significance of, well, actual mothers. Even using that term loosely — as a professor, I embrace the mothering role I sometimes play in the lives of my former students, for example — but mother” simply is not synonymous with “woman.”

Second, it threatens the notion that women can contribute significantly to the world in ways other than being a mother. And the women who feel the pain of childlessness more intensely on Mother’s Day need to be encouraged that motherhood is not the only way to an abundant and fulfilling life.

Things can get a little sticky for some of us when Mother’s Day rolls around, a tension that increases within contexts that emphasize the role of motherhood as part of a religious tradition, especially my own evangelical tradition, which particularly cherishes the role of motherhood. As a woman who desired children but was unable to have them, I want the church to honor mothers in many ways, not just by handing out carnations on Mother’s Day. Likewise, because not all women are mothers, perhaps churches could find ways to honor these women on other days, in other ways for the contributions we make to the church and the world.

In fact, a brief look at history shows that childlessness can be used by God for significant contributions to Christianity. I have only recently come to see that childlessness can be for some women a calling, and I look to the example of seven childless women who were important to the Christian church and to the world.

For example, most Jane Austen fans know that she was the daughter of an Anglican clergyman and never married. Less understood is how Austen’s solid and ever-increasing Christian faith heavily informed all of her works. While the surface concerns of her novels are love and romance, the worldview underlying Austen’s views on marriage, family, and society is thoroughly Christian, grounded in the conviction that there is such a thing as objective truth that we should all strive to know while exemplifying Christian virtues such as patience, humility, and kindness.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post