Being ‘Triggered’ By Mother’s Day Proves The Irreplaceable Role Of Moms

Published May 9, 2024

The Federalist

Mother’s Day seems as American as apple pie. It used to be the biggest day of the year for telephone companies, with many calling their mom only to hear: “All circuits are busy. Try your call later.” Of late, however, it has become controversial to even talk about Mother’s Day. The cancel culture has come to call.

The difficulty with Mother’s Day isn’t new, as Catherine Newman wrote in Salon back in 2015: “Like a lot of you, I have friends who have tried desperately and unsuccessfully to become moms and carry a great deal of pain and shame associated with that, so for them this holiday silently burns.”

A new retailing trend, considering the struggle of women like Newman, allows women to opt out of marketing emails about Mother’s Day. Perhaps it is a generous way to help women, but maybe it also speaks of a larger culture-wide problem. Not unrelatedly, for example, the CDC just reported that the U.S. birthrate is at a historic low. Motherhood is in serious peril on several fronts.

How, then, did we get to this place where fewer women are having children, and the mere mention that other women have children is triggering? As I explore in detail in my book, The End of Woman, Americans adopted five basic second-wave feminist pillars, marketed to appeal to the independent spirit of the American woman. What is generally not known is that these ideas were perpetuated largely by the Communist Party, which was trying to use the angst of women to achieve its own specific goals for a cultural revolution.

Slowly, but surely, and most unwittingly, we have adopted and adsorbed them wholeheartedly, on the left and the right. The culture went from understanding that motherhood was about loving and serving others (however imperfectly) to an ethos of power and control. These pillars are:

  1. Home is bad. Betty Friedan called it a “comfortable concentration camp.”
  2. Men are bad. The patriarchy is the source of women’s oppression.
  3. Women are good and are victims. They must always be believed.
  4. Work makes us free and independent. (Sound familiar? Arbeit Macht frei is emblazoned over the gate into Auschwitz.)
  5. Children inhibit work and make us dependent.

These new cultural orthodoxies have created the perfect storm to crush the traditional family. Men and women don’t trust each other, with marriages strained or simply not happening; women leave the home for work to achieve financial independence; children are frequently abandoned, aborted, or insufficiently cared for. And all of this happens under the mantle of a belief that women can never be wrong, so these orthodoxies can never be questioned. The cycle seems endless. But there might be just one thing stopping it: the pain it inflicts upon just about everyone.

For conservatives, the feminist orthodoxy has created an odd intellectual disparity where, on one hand, the family is valued and recognized as the fundamental cell of culture, but on the other, the cause of its destruction is generally ignored. Conservatives tiptoe around women’s contribution to the problem. We speak easily of the wrongs of men, with a bevy of voices toning in about how unmarriable men have become. We also discuss sweeping government reform related to women and children in hopes that we can institute just the right policies to incentivize and facilitate child raising. But correctives addressing the often egregious and narcissistic behavior of women are difficult to find.

As Satan knew back in the Garden, if you get the women, you get everyone. Women’s behavior, Archbishop Fulton Sheen observed decades ago, is the means by which a culture can be measured.

Cracks in the Narrative

We are now well into the third generation of women told that motherhood is nonessential to who we are. The original zeal for the shoulder-padded, briefcase-carrying workaday woman is waning or nonexistent. Many women are beginning to notice that doing things that don’t conform to human nature is painful. In her recent MSN article, “Feminism Has Left Women Like Me Single, Childless, and Depressed,” Petronella Wyatt writes that “Feminism made the error of telling us to behave and think like men.”

“This error was a grave one,” Wyatt explains, “and women like myself are paying for it, like gamblers in a casino that has been fixed. We are not men, and in living the single life, with its casual encounters, we play for much higher stakes and have more to lose. I wish I had not been taught to throw the dice so high.”

Wyatt isn’t the only one recognizing feminism’s failure by pushing us to become like men. The guilt, estrangement, and grief many women feel around Mother’s Day arise from the rich realities of physical, psychological, and spiritual mothering that women are meant to offer to those around them. Try as feminism might to deny it, motherhood as a general attitude to care for others whether one has biological children or not is vital not just to the broader culture but to the lives of individual women. The triggered pain that so many experience is nature’s way of telling us how crucial a mother’s role is for everyone involved.

What we are watching are the self-inflicted wounds of a culture that has been trying to erase motherhood for five decades, and the results are not pretty. Bad mothers, absent mothers, women who long to be mothers, a rise in loneliness, depression, and anxiety all bring into stark relief the unconquerable truth that women’s lives are generally made richer and fuller with husbands and children. Whether we have a family or not, our lives are richer when outward-focused and not centered on self.

Certainly, women have and always will work, but making a career our narrow focus will never satisfy the female heart. Marriage and family are also not meant to be an idol, for there will always be pain and suffering in life. But what family offers is purpose, focus, meaning, and a reason to grow up; it requires parents to put aside their own desires to meet the needs of others.

The sometimes-terrifying vulnerability of giving oneself to another, of risking heartache or abandonment, lends a strong appeal to the call to be an independent woman and to prioritize work over family. The ideal of independence does not require waiting for someone to ask you on a date; it doesn’t depend on a proposal of marriage or a positive pregnancy test. It allows women to live with the belief that we are in control of our destiny and don’t need another soul to complete us. But no woman is an island. The decisions made when we are least vulnerable radically affect the outcomes later in life when we are the most. Being unencumbered comes with its own hidden costs. The power and control that have been preached to women can never love us back. In their very essence, power and control are not love.

The response to women triggered by Mother’s Day should not be the muting of corporate emails or changing its name to Primary Caregiver’s Day. It should be what we give to anyone in pain: charity, patience, and love. It should be a listening ear. It should be trying to help women work through their struggles and seek solutions, solace, and healing. It should be the very things that women who understand themselves to be mothers do for those they love. This isn’t the time to get rid of moms but to get rid of the lies that have taken motherhood from us. 

Carrie Gress, Ph.D., is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where she co-directs EPPC’s Theology of Home Project. She earned her doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of America and is the co-editor at the online women’s magazine Theology of Home.

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