Today, we honor moms everywhere for all the hard work they do. We shower them in love and presents. It’s all well and good. But for many trans moms, Mother’s Day carries a heavier meaning: This is their chance to be — both privately and publicly — acknowledged as women and as mothers, in a world that didn’t always see them that way, and may not still.
After all, how would you feel if your kids refused to call you “mom”?
Jodie, who came out as trans to her 11-year-old son when he was just five, says she still doesn’t get a Mother’s Day card from him — or any acknowledgement on that day, in fact. “I don’t get Mother’s Day. I’m not allowed. His school won’t accept my existence or that of same-sex couples,” Jodie says. “I even got asked not to pick him up from school.”
Jodie’s son has even come home with Father’s Day gifts a few times over the years; she says it’s hard to know whether her invisibility as his mother is due to his transphobic school, the influence of her child’s other mother (who continues to disregard Jodie’s transition), or because her son himself doesn’t view Jodie as his mom. “He still calls me Dad,” Jodie says, “even though he refers to me as his mom. I don’t know why.”
Mother’s Day, understandably, remains a source of deep anxiety for Jodie, who finds herself dreading the day as it looms ever closer.
“I hate Mother’s Day. I get so depressed about it,” she says. “Every other day of the year, our relationship is fantastic, but this day rolls around, and I just start to get really stressed out. It makes me feel like some kind of dirty secret. Something to be ashamed of.”
Of course, not all trans moms invest so much importance in Mother’s Day. Sarah, who is a parent to five children between the ages of 2 and 17, and who only came out last year to her family, will also not be getting any cards this Mother’s Day.
“I’m just ‘Sarah’ to my kids. They don’t regard me as any kind of maternal figure, so no, I won’t be celebrated.” This might sound concerning, but Sarah is adamant that it’s ok. “It’s fair enough,” she says. “I didn’t rear them in the way a mother does, because I wasn’t out yet.”
However, now that she is publicly identifying as a woman, Sarah has hopes to expand her family even further in the coming years. When pressed, she explains it as her chance to finally become the mother she always wanted to be. “And for any future kids, yes, Mother’s Day would mean the world to me.”
Ashley, who came out as being trans when her children were in their late teens, says her kids still call her ‘dad’ and she’s ok with that. “I respect their mother too much to take that title from her,” Ashley says graciously. While her kids are very accepting of Ashley’s transition, the family has felt no need to change her title; Ashley describes herself as a “kind of a mom who isn’t.” They still celebrate her on Father’s Day, though as Ashley notes, card selection has become very tricky for them!
When asked how all this makes her feel, Ashley has an unexpected reply: “I have come to consider the words ‘mother’ and ‘father’ non-gendered.”
In a quick survey of rainbow family groups in my community here in Australia, it’s heartening to hear how many positive experiences there are around Mother’s Day. Many lesbian parents say their schools or daycare centers always send home two cards for them, and many queer dads say they have never had an issue either way. However, stories of Father’s Day cards arriving in lesbian households, and letters home addressed to “mom and dad” still abound. (A lot of this depends, of course, on how close to a major city you live, as LGBTQ people in regional and rural areas often experience more challenges and discrimination than those in diverse urban areas.)
But thankfully, in a similar vein to Ashley’s attitude to the titles “mom” and “dad,” many schools and daycare centers are now choosing to do away with Mother’s and Father’s Day activities altogether, to avoid anyone being alienated or left out. Some schools are now celebrating a non-gendered day such as “Love is Love Day” or “Special Friends Day” to make it inclusive for all types of families. One center told SheKnows that this attitude is “not because we want to deny the importance of moms and dads but because we want to celebrate and foster relationships that are welcoming, inclusive, and culturally competent about different family makeups.”
After all, consider how Mother’s Day or Father’s Day feels for the child who is in foster care, the child who has two moms or two dads, the child who has been raised by their grandparents, the child who has a solo parent, or the child who has a parent who is incarcerated or otherwise currently estranged. No child wants to feel different from all their peers. Inclusivity is an essential part of any education system, and steps to move beyond traditional Mother’s Day and Father’s Day expressions and celebrations are a positive step forward for all families. And for this reason, perhaps doing away with Mother’s and Father’s Day altogether is the best idea after all?
A version of this story was originally published in May 2019.
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