I’ll confess right up front, I’m a mother, and I’m likely a sap. I did actually dab my eyes while watching the online ad extolling motherhood as “The World’s Toughest Job,” because I believe it is. (If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it here then come back.) The backlash against the heartwarming ad which has more than 17.5 million views by last count, has taken many by surprise.
Not me. Predictably, wherever emotions are evoked, cynicism and all manner of sentiment against sentiment will follow. And, predictably, whenever motherhood is raised, a firestorm will ensue. Here’s a taste of it.
Smriti Sinha at Policymic declares it “a little silly to objectively argue” that motherhood is “the toughest” job.
Many others chime in here, ridiculing the superlative “toughest” and the extremity of the described working conditions: no breaks, no rest, no sleep, no time off, no pay, etc. And---suddenly on Mother’s Day we demand literalism from our commercials?
For me, as a mother of six, this is not terribly far from the truth, but can we remember the genre here?
This is a commercial, not a college essay. And it’s a tribute, not an argument, using hyperbole, deliberate overstatement to make a larger point.
Did we miss the larger point, and is it really controversial---that mothers work very hard, that they’re often insufficiently recognized and compensated and they should be appreciated more?
Do we really disagree with this?
Mary Elizabeth Williams in Salon.com titles her piece, “Motherhood Isn’t ‘World’s Toughest Job.’” She complains not because the ad went too far, but because it didn’t go far enough: "You want to thank women, want to show women they have value? Close the wage gap. Challenge the insidious rape culture that exists in the military and in our colleges. Join the fight for our reproductive rights.”
Yes, Dear Card Company, what were you thinking? Why are you making cards and ads that express love and appreciation for mothers instead of battling Congress to fix these national woes? Do it big, do it all or go home, her message reads.
This all-or-nothing thinking continues in Charlotte Alter’s piece in Time. Alter complains that the ad says nothing about fathers or stay-at-home dads. “This ad shouldn’t be about motherhood, it should be about parenthood.” A blogger, a father of twins, also complains about the exclusion of dads.
How welcome to hear a man weighing in and a woman asking for the inclusion of men, but the exclusion is obvious and simple: it’s Mother’s Day this week, not Father’s Day. Don’t worry, Dads. Your day, and ad, is coming!
But these complaints are only the latest in a growing grumble against the day itself. Even the gentle practice of handing out flowers to mothers in church has come under attack recently. (I fought vigorously for my flower here).
We are asked by sensitive dissenters, what about the millions who want children and cannot have them? What about those whose mothers have died? What about those whose mothers abandoned or abused them? A dozen other scenarios are trotted out to dampen the day. Truly, I don’t deny that both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are emotional minefields for most of us, for myself perhaps even more than others, but may I also say, Welcome to Life?
Here’s part of what’s wrong. Our insistence upon inclusion has become a kind of exclusion. It’s all of us, apparently, or none of us. When celebrating mothers, we can’t exclude women who aren’t mothers. Heck, when celebrating mothers, we can’t even exclude fathers. So, the reasoning goes, let’s either celebrate everyone, or ditch the holiday entirely. This is familiar territory in a culture where children can’t lose and everyone gets a medal, a kind of equality where everyone ends up losing.
Here’s another part related and less sung: Our culture has a dangerous intolerance for pain. We’re so focused on happiness, we’ll do anything to avoid pain, especially on a holiday. But let’s face it, imperfection and pain is an integral part of mothering and it always will be. Nor does pain come to us equally or fairly. I fear that we’ve become so happiness-driven and so self-focused we’ve lost the ability to “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.”
This Sunday, I hope we can reclaim Mother’s Day from selfishness, politics, cynicism and illogic to do something simple: to rise and bless those women who have loved and raised us, however imperfectly. That celebration may include tears, and it may or may not include flowers and gifts. But loving and raising human beings, by any calculus, is a tough job that deserves at least a sentimental card, even a whole commercial. Maybe even a whole day.