Rethinking Mother’s and Father’s Day

Emily Wolf
5 min readJun 25, 2023

My mom, dad, husband, and children are alive and well, and I have good relationships with each of them. [KNOCKING ALL THE WOOD.] But I think Mother’s and Father’s Day need complete overhauls.

I am close to people who have lost parents and children; who mourn parents and children; who mourn co-parents; who have struggled with whether to become, or with becoming, a parent; who have painful, complicated relationships with parents and children; who, as stepparents, spend holidays feeling awkward, othered, or less-than; and whose families simply don’t include the mother/father stereotypes portrayed in greeting cards.

I spent most of Mother’s and Father’s Day thinking of the people I love for whom these holidays cause pain, and to whom they seem unnecessarily cruel, rubbing salt in raw wounds or ripping open old ones. And for what: Brunch?

The juice ain’t worth the squeeze.

Also? I don’t want my husband racing to CVS on an arbitrary day to spend twenty minutes (and twenty bucks) on greeting cards. I don’t want my kids feeling badly that the thing they made for me at school broke in the kiln. I just want to grocery shop and do all of my usual Sunday chores because — I’m saying it — if I don’t do them, they won’t get done right!

I’ve been wondering what we really crave from Mother’s and Father’s Day and I believe it’s two things: (1) Appreciation and (2) REST. If we can fulfill these two needs in less painful, stressful, and more inclusive ways, wouldn’t that be better?

Like eleventy bazillion other women, I do a *lot* of uncompensated caretaking and give an undoubtedly unhealthy percentage of my energy, time, and self to other people. So, sure — I’d like to feel appreciated, and I am tired.

(Now, the government could make caretakers feel valued, appreciated, and less exhausted by compensating them with social security benefits, high-quality, low-/no-cost childcare, paid family leave, etc. But I could really go off on this and will therefore leave it — FOR NOW.)

I’m not sure it reflects so well on society that we designate one measly day a year to recognize only the mothers who are a) cis-women and have b) birthed or adopted human children and only the fathers who are c) cis-men and have d) sired or adopted human children. This is super-lame.

First, I will die on this hill: All women are mothers. Name one woman over 35 who isn’t caring for someone on a distinctly pro bono basis. Yeah. I can’t either.

Second, humankind would not survive on the caretaking of the a/b/c/d’s denoted above. We depend on the aunts, uncles, cousins, stepparents, neighbors, mentors, friends, teachers, and other community members who show up, support, and shape us. They may not golf, grill, cook, remind us to clean our rooms, or have done our 2:00 a.m. feedings, but they too deserve brunch.

Third, forced appreciation sucks. I mean, one of my kids is an adolescent of few words; he signs cards with a dash followed by his name. It doesn’t seem fair for him to have to emote on command in ways that aren’t authentic to him while I scroll through Instagram photos of smiling families in their Sunday bests captioned “#Blessed” and wonder fleetingly whether I’ve raised a sociopath.

Because he isn’t! This same kid, just weeks earlier, when the dog was puking and a biker dinged my car and something else terrible that I’ve since blocked out happened on the same morning (*as per usual, when my husband was out of pocket), decided to buy me a BlendJet so I could take my morning smoothies on the go. He smiled when he gave it to me, along with a hug. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to.

It’s a lot more complicated than stamping two Sundays on the calendar and walking endlessly up and down the greeting card aisle looking for something that feels real (although this is not easy), but can we raise humans who think and talk about gratitude and appreciation instead? Can we encourage them to recognize opportunities to show gratitude and empower them to express it in ways that feel aligned?

As for rest: I won’t dwell on how American productivity ideals have done us oh-so-wrong in today’s global, digitized, 24/7 world. When Father’s Day and Mother’s Day became national holidays in 1910* and 1914* respectively (*because OF COURSE), the average American adult was sleeping more than eight hours a night, the work day was markedly shorter, and forget email, computers, and smartphones — fewer than a third of American homes had a telephone. So, a “work emergency” was an actual emergency.

Now, of course, we are chronically exhausted. This makes us less productive and more miserable, none of which sets the mood for expressing gratitude or appreciation.

We seem a long ways from acknowledging this, much less doing anything meaningful about it as has, say, Iceland.

So, let’s start small. What if we scrap Mother’s and Father’s Days and the mine field of angst they cause literally millions of people…and lean into rest and gratitude instead?

Canada gives people the first Monday of August off just to enjoy the well-earned nice weather and HANG OUT. What if we take a non-specific, once-a-quarter hang out holiday? (And not on a weekend because that does not count.) When these catch on — which they will, DUH — let’s make ’em monthly.

What if we also thank *one* person who’s shown up for us in a way that feels good to both them and us each month? And, challenge question: What if this isn’t hurriedly tacked onto the end of an impossibly long day so that it feels like a task, but instead stems from a little designated time built into the school- or workday? Ooh, another challenge question: Can we make it socially acceptable to tell the people we support what we need to feel appreciated? Can we ask for what we need and encourage others to do the same?

If Mother’s Day and Father’s Day work for you, or you’ve adapted them to to work for you, awesome. Keep that shit UP.

For those for whom these days don’t work, though, I see you, I care about you, and I’d love to figure out together how to replace painful Mother’s and Father’s Days with days that focus on rest and appreciation, and that make us feel free.

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Emily Wolf

Author, worker, woman, wife, U2-loving frazzled mama.