Do we really need a holiday to celebrate parents, especially one that is divided along gender lines? Mother's Day and Father's Day surely were not invented by children. Are parents so insecure that they devised a holiday for their children to honor and celebrate them? Is there something so different between a mother and father that they each need their own day? Aren't we beyond this?
I ask these questions as a father, along with my husband, to our 7-year old daughter. The week of Mother's Day is complicated for us. The other 51 weeks of the year are fine but when our child is confronted with having to make cards and gifts her 'mom' in public school, she is faced with having to make public her personal, private life. When Father's Day comes around, my child's private life is forced public again and she is burdened with having to do twice the amount of work because she has two fathers.
Mother's Day and Father's Day celebrate families that have both a mother and a father. The mother and father should be living and present. The child should also have a good relationship with the parent in order to celebrate them. Take a moment to consider how a child with a dead mother might feel on Mother's Day. Or how a child with an abusive father feels when they have to make a card telling him how much they love and appreciate him. Or a child that does not live with their parents and is in foster care. Heterosexual, cisgender, two-parent families are celebrated every day and everywhere, through books, television, ads, religion, doctors, teachers so forth. Children that do not fit normative ideals are challenged daily – a day that reinforces their difference is simply cruel.
If people want to celebrate these holidays, do so outside of school and public institutions. Children should feel supported by their teachers, not singled out. They shouldn't have to accommodate the parameters of a school project because their personal life doesn't fit. When our daughter started public school, we did some research about how gay and lesbian parents deal with Mother's Day and Father's Day. One popular remedy was to have the child create a card for someone in their lives that is a mother or father. So, in the past, we suggested our daughter make a card for her grandmother or aunt in an effort to protect her and provide a sense of belonging. However, our tricks are not working as she gets older and smarter. We've realized that band-aid solutions are confusing and not productive for anyone. In fact, they only teach her to be complacent and reinforce a system that excludes her family.
Mother's Day and Father's Day reinforce gender binaries by virtue of being separate days. In order to differentiate the two holidays, we are offered products that symbolize gender stereotypes such as flowers, jewelry, and spa treatments for moms (home, adornment, passivity) and ties, tools and barbecues for dads (work, productivity, activity). As gay fathers, we constantly subvert stereotypes associated with 'mothering' and 'fathering' – we know these terms are not exclusive of one another and don't rest with a particular gender. We perform every role and our children are well aware that parenting is about love and care and not about acts typically associated with female or male, mother or father. So, why should we support days that reinforce gendered ideas about parenting that are detrimental to our families?
There would be no harm if Mother's Day and Father's Day disappeared. Children would continue to love their caregivers, if warranted, and show their love in meaningful ways including through words, hugs, and kisses. Eliminating Mother's Day and Father's Day would open up new, nuanced and creative ways to celebrate a multitude of family relations. It is exciting to imagine the possibilities.
So, fuck Mother's Day and Father's Day and don't substitute them with Parent's Day. I don't need reassurance that my daughter loves me and respects our relationship at the cost of another child's pain. We don't have to fit in, we don't have to apologize, and we don't have to support a system that is oppressive to us and many people. We have an opportunity to reject these days, not only for our own interests but also for others.