If you're like me, and always aspired and expected to be a mother, Mother's Day, and the days that precede it, can be a heavy time. With continuous Mother's Day promotions and news stories featuring moms of all ages, shapes and sizes ("It's the hardest job in the world!"), the day can make us feel left out and less-than. For some, Mother's Day is a harsh reminder that the dream of motherhood has not (yet) come true.
I recently asked the Savvy Auntie® Facebook community how Mother's Day makes them feel. Some of the honest and heartfelt responses included: feeling empty, incomplete, sad, lonely and left behind; unimportant, neglected, "anxious about my ticking clock," "not in the club that I assumed I would be in" and "like I'm sitting in a great cloud of sadness -- it's just the most awful day."
There's no doubt that mothers deserve their day to be celebrated and honored. I think of my own late mother on Mother's Day and how I am still grateful 23 years after she's gone to have had such an amazing mom. But for the nearly 50 percent of American women who are childless, especially those who desire motherhood, Mother's Day can feel like our contributions to the children in our lives -- and for some, even children around the world -- are overlooked and unacknowledged.
Being a mother and being maternal are not always the same thing. As one Savvy Auntie commented, "On one hand, I would have loved to have had kids, but on the other, I'm very blessed that the five kiddos who call me aunt are very much a part of my life." And we all know mothers who would rather not have had children (or should not have had children). Still, the former group aches with prideful love with the birth of a niece or nephew -- or any child born to a close friend or relative. They care for these children as they grow and develop with unconditional love and support. I even came up with a term for the value of the time a childless aunt spends with a child. I've dubbed it "QualAuntie Time" because the uninterrupted playtime during Auntie's visit has been proven to support the emotional, social and intellectual development of children.
Every moment an aunt by relation or aunt by choice spends with nieces and nephews is filled with her generosity of spirit and devotion. After all, unlike parenting, there is no legal obligation to "aunt." Every little boo boo she kisses, every little hand she holds, every word of advice she offers, is done with maternal love and is a gift.
In the spirit of Anna Jarvis, the childless aunt of many nieces and nephews, who founded Mother's Day in 1914 in honor of all mothers, living or dead, I hope all the maternal women in children's lives - all the aunts, great-aunts, godmothers and women in general who offer their love to children not-their-own -- are remembered this Mother's Day.
Babies are born from the womb. Maternity is born from the soul. There are many ways to mother.
As the founder of Savvy Auntie, the lifestyle brand for all the cool aunts, great-aunts, godmothers and all women who love kids, I founded Auntie's Day® in 2009 to honor and celebrate all that these women do for the children in their lives. Occurring annually on the fourth Sunday in July, the fourth annual Auntie's Day will take place on Sunday, July 22.
Melanie Notkin is the national best-selling author of Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids (Morrow/HarperCollins)