This year, Germans are experiencing the fairly unusual constellation that Mother’s Day (May 13) and Father’s Day (a.k.a. Ascension Day, which is on May 17) take place in the same week.
Now I’ve never been a big fan of Mother’s Day, because it reduces women only to motherhood and totally ignores all those women who aren’t mothers. If you want to celebrate women’s contributions to society – which I’m all for – why not do so on March 8, i.e. International Women’s Day?
As for Father’s Day, in Germany it has become little more than an excuse for young men (many of whom don’t even have children) to go out and get drunk. If it’s really supposed to be Father’s Day, shouldn’t those fathers be spending some time with their families? And why do they have to co-opt a religious holiday for Father’s Day?
Finally, if you really want to celebrate your parents, wouldn’t it be much better to be there for them on the other 364 days of the year rather than give them an overprized flower bouquet or an ugly tie on one day of the year?
However, today a discussion at school very sharply brought it home to me how celebrating Mother’s and Father’s Day excludes kids living in non-traditional families.
One of my eighth graders was trying to borrow some money from his classmates to buy an ice cream. He was broke, he said, because he spent his last money on a Mother’s Day present for his Mom. Other kids chimed in about their Mother’s and Father’s Day presents for their parents. Then a girl said, “I’m not buying any presents for Mother’s or Father’s Day. They can all go fuck themselves.” And a boy said, “I don’t even have a mother.”
Now the girl is in foster care and doesn’t get along with her foster parents. The biological mother was unable to care for her kid, the father took off ages ago. The boy is being raised by his much older brother – the mother was apparently so inadequate that the kid literally struck her from his life. Nor are these two kids the only kids living in non-traditional families. I have lots of students from single parent families. I have students where the primary caregivers are the grandparents rather than the parents. I haven’t had any students from gay or lesbian families yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time. Celebrating Mother’s and Father’s Day in the traditional way excludes all of those kids.
Now I teach at a secondary school and Mother’s and Father’s Day aren’t a big deal here. In fact, I did not mention either holiday in my classes at all – the kids brought it up themselves. However, in kindergarten and in elementary schools, it is still common for kids to make Mother’s and Father’s Day presents in arts and crafts classes or to write essays and poems about their mothers or whatever. Regardless of how these activities make kids from non-traditional families feel.
So why not designate a general day to celebrate loved ones and caregivers instead? Because the grandparents taking care of their grandchild while the parents are off working in a foreign country or the young man raising his teenaged brother because there is no one else sure deserve the appreciation as much as regular parents.