Childless on Mother’s Day


Mother’s Day was on Sunday. It’s the Sunday where all of the mothers are asked to stand up at Mass, while the non-mothers sit awkwardly in their pews, praying the whole thing will end quickly.

When I was younger, I heard other single women complain about this practice and I thought their complaints seemed a little silly. After all, motherhood is really important. It should be honored as much as possible. And I can certainly join in honoring motherhood even if I’m not a mother myself.

All true enough. But I have to admit that, as the years have gone on, I have grown less and less enthusiastic about sitting in the pew while the women around me stand. This year I made my Sunday Mass plans based primarily on which parish seems least likely to single out the mothers.

Honestly, those Sunday sitting-in-the-pew sessions have grown more difficult in the years since my failed adoption attempt. I was a mother — if only briefly— and that has made me more aware of the other women sitting in the pews. The women whose non-motherhood may come with stories far more painful than mine.

How does a woman who has struggled for years with infertility feel when the mothers around her are asked to stand to the receive the applause of the congregation? What about women who have lost multiple pregnancies to miscarriages? Women who were widowed before they could become mothers?

I ran across a blog post on this topic by another single woman. Like me, she hadn’t been bothered by the practice in her younger years. But, describing her experience recently, she said, “A pastor asked all mothers to stand. On my immediate right, my mother stood and on my immediate left, a dear friend stood. I, a woman in her late 30s, sat. I don’t know how others saw me, but I felt dehumanized, gutted as a woman. Real women stood, empty shells sat. I do not normally feel this way. I do not like feeling this way. I want no woman to ever feel this way in church again.” She was so bothered by the experience that the next year she stood, even though she has no children.

Good bless her. I’m all for honoring mothers, but I agree with her that it’s time for us to “tweak” the practice a little bit, so that we can honor them in a way that doesn’t so blatantly single out those women who haven’t borne children.

Yes, we should honor and thank mothers. It’s very important. But perhaps we should do so more mindfully and specifically, acknowledging the various situations women find themselves in vis a vis motherhood — the infertile, the widowed, those who have lost children to death, the step mothers, the spiritual mothers. That could be done very prayerfully and sensitively, in little more time than it now takes to stand the mothers up, pray over them and applaud.

And it could be done without anyone having to stand up — or to remain conspicuously seated.



  1. Mike-1213837 July 3, 2016 Reply

    I agree with Ms. Judith S. and the others who voiced similar statements.

    This sort of self-concern isn’t right. What if a man complained that he didn’t like the idea of honoring mothers in this way? After all, men naturally incapable of bearing children, so it’s not nice of women to rub it in our faces, right?

    No. Charitably honoring others for the good they have done is all the honor a Catholic should need. Making it about “me” is humanism at its worst.

  2. Marina-1024960 December 27, 2013 Reply

    How is it that women think of themselves as “empty shells” if they are childless??
    This thought frightens me a great deal, as it was the current train of thought throughout history and led to the enslavement of women for millennia. Try this one on for size and see if you like it – the thought during the Middle Ages was that the more a woman was educated, the smaller her uterus became!!!!! The SCHOLARS came up with that one………….
    That said, compare the lovely honoring of mothers at Mass on Mother’s Day with the honors bestowed on couples celebrating 25 and 50 years of marriage. I can and will stand up for the blessing of being a mother, whether the holiday comes from Hallmark or not
    ( and what a sour way to look at Mother’s Day!! – why do you think it came about? Perhaps because women and mothers are NOT respected “on a dialy basis”.) My ex-husband decided that there would be no honors for us a a couple celebrating either 25 or ANY number of years married by abandoning his family and finding a new wife. I don’t get to hear any praise when the couples are honored, and as agonizingly hurtful as it is, I can muster up enough charity to wish a long-married couple well, even though I will never be one of them. And if the dailiness of life is not taken up and transformed in Mass, where best is it to be taken up? Christ Himself had a daily life.

  3. Jessica-930268 June 13, 2013 Reply

    Every year I celebrate a little “Never-Gonna-Be-A-Mother’s-Day”.

    I think the ritual where the mothers stand up is goofy but if it makes the women feel good about themselves, great. I have no problem taking three minutes out of the end of Mass to do this.

    Then they have another 364 days in the year to deal with feeling unappreciated by their families. I see how tired the mothers in my parish look, and how they don’t smile.

    • Jessica-930268 June 13, 2013 Reply

      “For behold, the days shall come, wherein they will say: Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the paps that have not given suck.”

      Luke 23:29, Douay-Rheims Bible

  4. Gabriela-679197 May 22, 2013 Reply

    For me, as a woman who lost a child, it is a painful time. However, I try to focus on our Blessed Mother and thank God for having experience the joy of motherhood. I truly believe my son is an Angel in Heaven and I want to be a better person every day of my life on this Earth so I can see him again.

  5. Diana-877078 May 19, 2013 Reply

    I too have no children, but I think it is wonderful to honor mothers during Mass, our priest gives out carnations at every Mass for mothers. It doesn’t bother me. I am who I am and I am always happy for others. I find it more of a blessing that our priest remembers mothers, then to worry about myself as a single person with no children.

  6. Michael-949579 May 17, 2013 Reply

    Isaiah 56:3 Seems to me to apply the possibility of salvation to both single men & women. Also as one touched by abortion, I want to write on Catholic Match that I learned from Life Decisions International that abortion impacts at least two human beings. But it is not as “complex” as Planned Parenthood would have people believe. The question that must be answered by a mother whose child is in her womb is actually quite simple-Should I pay someone to kill my baby or should I allow him or her to live? There is nothing particularly complex about it. When it comes to a choice between killing and accepting a child, Planned Parenthood believes no one should speak for the one human being facing the greatest impact.

  7. Angela-890003 May 17, 2013 Reply

    We’re women. We’re prone to insecurity on five-thousand issues. It’s still our responsibility to manage our own state regardless of the source of the trigger (by the grace of God). This insane comparison/self-pity/envy is pure evil.
    I have yet to understand the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:15, but I think it may have to do with our innate qualities of being conduits of life. This could be a physical, actual child, or it could be some ministry God has “planted” in you which you are bearing to fruition. Why must we hold such a narrow view of our femininity?
    This year when I called to honor – deservedly so – my mother, she told me I WAS a mother, too because my hands and heart create met needs in the lives of the sick and elderly as a nurse. I was shocked, but I think she’s on to something.
    Cross-referencing with Proverbs 30:15-16 tells me that when we, as women, are unsatisfied and in the dangerous place of comparison, it’s time to produce or birth some fruit or talk to God about why we can’t.

  8. Kathy-730470 May 17, 2013 Reply

    Why should women who are mothers be made to feel badly by those who wish to have children and do not? Being a mother is a vocation and a mother love for her children is very strong. Mothers are important. By honoring mothers no one is saying that anyone who does not have children is any less of a person or less important. God loves all of us. Mothers, fathers, widows, widowers, single people, divorced people, priests, nuns, children, teens, etc. Why can’t people be happy for others even if they wish they were the ones being celebrated also ? If I am divorced it is not the married people who are at fault. Should I be offended when in church the priest congratulates a couple that is celebrating their 40 th wedding anniversary? Should I tell the priest he is being insensitive to me because I am divorced and find it offensive he is drawing attention to marriage when I am not happy to be divorced?? Of course not !!! I should be happy for the couple who have been married for 40 years and I am !!! I think it is wonderful !!! Everyone has crosses to bear but we cannot be jealous of others who have what we wish we had. We need to be grateful for what God has blessed us with in our lives and we need to love our neighbors. We need to be happy for others even if what they have is something we would like to have ourselves.

  9. Pedyne-248823 May 15, 2013 Reply

    I agree with Kathy-730470. Mothers should be honored. I too do not have children nor have I ever been married and I was a little sad on mothers’ day but it doesn’t mean that I think honoring mothers in church should not happen. The church honors marriage milestones too! I’m not filled with the warm fuzzies on those occasions either! But should we not honor marriage which is so very important because we have singles who desire holy marriages or divorce or widowed individuals? Of course not!

  10. Joan-461057 May 15, 2013 Reply

    There are foster children waiting for homes, and many are adopted by their foster parents if the courts decide their parents should not have them back. There are children in Haiti and Africa that may starve to death if they cant find an adoptive home. There are children living on the streets in South America. Its true that the adoption process in the US is way to skewed against adoptive parents. It is true that adopting a healthy white infant is difficult to almost impossible, but being a parent is not. If someone wants to be a parent and is suitable to the Social Service agencies (which is not difficult) you can be.
    I agree that the growing practice of never honoring anyone because someone’s feeling might gets hurt is wrong and dangerous. Mothers should be honored. Priests should be honored (will the married men get their feelings hurt?) Nuns should be honored. People who volunteer to help the aged, infirm or hungry SHOULD be honored and others should not view that as if they were being dishonored. The pain of wanting a child is real and severe, but honoring those who are doing the hard work of raising a child should not be viewed as a personal affront.
    Instead use that energy to determine if God is calling you to raise a child that is already in this world and needs a parent, even if that child is older, less cute and a different color.Use the pain rather than deny a tiny bit of pleasure to someone else who may just be in dire need of a pat on the back.

    • Kim V. May 15, 2013 Reply

      Wow, sanctimonious much? If people aren’t out adopting brown children from other countries, it’s not because they’re brown – it’s because anywhere outside of the US the process is just as difficult and costs tens of thousands of dollars with no guarantee that the couple will actually receive the child. As for children in the foster system, well that’s a whole other animal. The incidence of those children having very complex and severe emotional, psychological, or behavioral problems is incredibly high. Not every young couple is equipped to safely help such children or provide the proper care. I’ve known couples who’ve tried adoption via this route, and let’s just say it did not end well. Good intentions don’t fix everything. Not everyone can so simply achieve motherhood, as you say. You are wrong and misinformed on this.

      No one is saying that mothers shouldn’t be honored. But this situation is not analogous to priests, nuns, or people who volunteer being honored (and married men being offended at priests being honored is a ludicrous comparison because they CHOSE not to be priests!). No one is saying that we should honor everyone or honor no one. What we are saying is that there are a myriad of ways to honor mothers that don’t involve publicly humiliating those women who can’t be mothers, communicating to them that they are basically useless in the eyes of the Church. And take my word for it, if this stupid, liturgically-abusive practice continues – it’s going to drive a lot of people away from the Church for NO. GOOD. REASON.

      • Joan-461057 May 15, 2013 Reply

        Wow! Angry and bitter much? I am aware of how difficult children from foster care can be. I adopted 12 of them and helped raise 125 more. Children, even babies from foreign countries are just as diffucult due to lack of focused attention in infancy which is critical to normal development. My point was twofold; many foster parents I have counseled said that their lack of children, due either to infertility or unmarried status, caused them to eventually believe that God called them to the special task of parenting those who needed it most, by not giving them children the usual way. The second point was that the childless women who were taking it as a personal affront, as you seem to be, that mothers were honored on Mothers Day need to get outside their self focused attitudes and let those who are due honor, have honor, and that if you trutly want to be a parent, perhaps God wants you to become one, just not in the way you want to. Is that sanctimonious? Not any more than denying mothers who are raising children their once a year recognition, just because someone might have their feelings hurt over something thats not about them in the first place.

  11. Nicole-6212 May 14, 2013 Reply

    Another thought has occurred to me, in regard to an earlier post about how this Mother’s Day “singling out” only emphasized what singles can feel even on a regular basis attending mass solo, surrounded by couples and families. I shared this concern with my mother, happily married for several years with three children and 12 grandchildren, assuming she could not relate. She basically told me to get over myself (:-) as she had spent several years attending mass alone after her children moved away, married to a non-practicing (but good) husband. Her point was that there are so many bigger, more important things about which to concern oneself as it is Jesus’s home, who graciously comes to life and more than welcomes our presence and reception of his body and blood, and we are all in it together no matter our station in life. It truly is all that matters. I love the stories I read of above, where the local parish was more sensitive (and reverent) and handled honoring mothers more delicately and thoughtfully.

  12. Judith S. May 14, 2013 Reply

    I’m just not on board with this column. It sounds so much to me like a common refrain in our culture: we can’t single someone out for honor because someone else may feel bad.

    We all understand that there are many reasons why a person isn’t a mother and that this is no reflection on their dignity as a person or whether God loves them, etc., etc. It’s a reflection and validation of people who have been called to a challenging vocation and are living it (we hope) to the best of their ability. No one is “being made” to feel bad, although it may be an occasion which reminds some of us of loss or deprivation.

    For others, this blessing and vocation has not been possible, at least in the obvious, physical sense.

    I am older. I am not married nor do I have children. I went to Mass Saturday – not one of the women who stood. I felt a bit sad – I have my own history in regard to this. I know it, God knows it and I’m very secure in that. I’m not worried if someone else thinks I’m “unworthy.” That’s their problem and they can explain that judgment to God however they think they can.

    But, can we please, please, please as a society take the responsibility to handle our own feelings in a way that does not require us to diminish the honor to others?

    My concern is that this unhappily another example of our society turning into a competition between who is the most sensitive and offended by _ (fill in the blank) and so everyone must bow to their sensitivities. Who is going to carry the heavy load when everyone is competing over being the most sensitive? Please note, there’s some heavy lifting to be done on the way to Golgotha.

    P.S. Jim @ 7:15 makes a very valid point that the Mass shouldn’t reflect Hallmark holidays – that’s fair enough. I’m no expert on the liturgy, but I’m fine with observing the rubrics more strictly and, if that means no singling out of a population, fine.

  13. Suzanne F. May 14, 2013 Reply

    Even for those of us blessed with children, the sappy tributes can be difficult. I can recall crying for an hour after a Mother’s Day Mass, when my oldest was 9 and my 6th child was a baby. I did not feel like the sleep-deprived “drill sergeant” home schooling mother in my house measured up to “what a mother is supposed to be.” I felt like a failure all day. I agree with your assessment of how Mother’s Day would better be addressed in church!

  14. Kim V. May 14, 2013 Reply

    Thank you, Mary Beth!!! This has become a source of deep dread and angst every year for me. And this year, against my better judgement, I skipped mass all together. I know – not good. Obviously I need to repent.

    But aside from the fact that it is hijacking the Liturgy and breaking rubrics when priests do this; it is also ridiculously insensitive. It’s basically saying that because some women have functioning ovaries or tens of thousands of dollars for adoption, they are deserving of blessings and praise – while those of us who suffer from infertility or simply haven’t met a spouse yet are made to feel unworthy of any acknowledgment of even spiritual motherhood.

    I just wish that priests and those who feel entitled to this practice could realize that we who aren’t physical mothers are reminded of the pain of it in every mass as we are surrounded by babies and baptisms and big happy families. But it’s when we’re made to stay seated, as those who’ve been spared this cross are called to stand, that we are most reminded of what we aren’t. For me it is an immutable characteristic that I physically cannot conceive – like the color of one’s skin – yet it is used against me every year to communicate how much I fall short of the Church’s ideal woman.

    For the mothers who like this practice and think people like me are just whiners, I would wonder how they would feel if the practice were only reserved for calling those mothers to stand who managed to actually raise decent, kind, productive members of society who never leave the faith. Would those mothers who fell short then understand the needless separation of the sheep from the goats? Would they then have more compassion for those who are made to sit? I imagine the needlessness of the practice would be more clear.

  15. Shelly L. May 14, 2013 Reply

    The pastor at our church had everyone stand at the second communion hymn facing the Blessed Mother while we sang a Marian hymn. Then at the closing blessing while everyone was standing, he simply said happy Mothers day to all mothers and concluded the mass. It was simple and brief, keeping the focus on Our Lady. I thought it was well done. I, too, have felt uncomfortable when they have the mothers stand as I suffer infertility also, so this was a pleasant surprise this year. I, however, have grown in my spirituality to understand that all women are called to be spiritual mothers to all we encounter. Studying JPII’s Theology of the Body has helped tremendously. Peace to all! <

  16. Audrey Z. May 14, 2013 Reply

    Accept and be peace with your single life as a gift from God, and love yourself for that. There is no shame you should feel. You have many spiritual children from your beautiful ministry!

  17. Heidi S. May 14, 2013 Reply

    I’m sorry to hear of your failed adoption, Mary Beth. I do understand how painful that can be. In some ways, I think you hinted at one solution for women who feel singled out — to “broaden” their (internal) definition, and STAND with the others. All women are, by nature, called to nurture life — whether biologically, or spiritually. The single catechist, infertile godmother, maiden aunt, etc. all play a unique role in the lives of children, and are rightly honored as mothers. I’m not a biological mother, but as the adoptive mother of two special needs children I know only too well how I would have failed at MY vocation if I had not had the unfailing love and support of women in my life who had no children, but who in a very real way “mothered” both me and my kids. When we all get to heaven, I do not doubt for a moment that the angels will clap for these dear friends.

  18. Nicole-6212 May 14, 2013 Reply

    *was most likely

  19. Nicole-6212 May 14, 2013 Reply

    I completely agree, MaryBeth! Of course mothers should be honored, but that whole standing thing is beyond awkward and humiliating for non-mothers. What could be more appealing than having to remain conspicuously seated next to one’s standing sister and expectant niece? Pretty much anything! It further distracted me, as I sat and contemplated the seated women in front of me, wondering about their circumstance, pity welling up within me. I was overcome with horror when it suddenly struck me that most likely someone behind me were most likely wondering about and pitying me! This distraction really should be eliminated. But for now, I agree with the blogger you referenced and plan to stand next time. As my encouraging brother in law said, “You’re a Godmother. You should stand too!”.

  20. Jane-933948 May 14, 2013 Reply

    Mother’s should be honored of course. And being a Catholic they are, and if you are single or childless they don’t know what to do with you. There could be a wonderful homily and a blessing and roses handed out over at cookies and coffee. But the standing and applauding gets painful. And if you have never had this pain, then you don’t know what it feels like. Thank you Mary Beth for this article came at a perfect time. You are in my prayers.

  21. Pat-5351 May 14, 2013 Reply

    Mothers should be honored, by their families every day. There should be a Mother’s day too. What there should not be is the public standing blessing. The priest can bless all the mothers, but let them sit, so it is not such a public display. And the intercessions for the mass could be directed to all the experiences of motherhood, (per the OUTSTANDING blog that Mary Beth referenced), not to just the “gave birth to them and they are sitting here beside me” experiences (i.e. lost motherhood through death, estrangement, infertility, fallen through adoptions, miscarriage, never married/no opportunity). This prayer over the entire community concerning motherhood might make a difference to all not just to the some.

  22. Jennifer-939674 May 14, 2013 Reply

    I am not presently a mother, I choose to wait until I am in a loving marriage.. many these days do not. Anyone can birth a child, create human life, it takes those of us with love and compassion, to mother… I am a Godmother, I mother many people. I pray one day I will be a mother, or a stepmother, yet I know I am a Mother, and I will not allow society to say I am less of a woman because I do not have children. I know so many who HAVE children and they are poor examples of mothers… they do not deserve the title… a Mother makes sacrifices… I know I do that for many… I am grateful in my church my Priest included aunts, Godmothers… Often those are the true mothers I see in children’s lives.

  23. Brian-278516 May 14, 2013 Reply

    I think Mary Beth’s main point was to consider the way we honor mother’s not that we ought not honor them. Anytime you honor a group or person there is likely to be some people that might feel bad about their situation or something they have gone through. That does not mean that we should not consider how we honor people if it can reduce or eliminate the sadness felt by others.

  24. Rebecca-963882 May 14, 2013 Reply

    This reminds me also of a time when married couples were asked to stand in church to be praised. I remember my recently divorced mother having to remain seated, feeling very uncomfortable and hurt.

  25. Rebecca-963882 May 14, 2013 Reply

    I have a close friend struggling with infertility, who was very anxious about attending church on Mothers’ Day because of the very reason mentioned above. Personally I’m not sure if it is an appropriate practice. I do think it would be better to not ask mothers to stand. I understand many people will have varying opinions as some people are hard working mothers and some are longing to be a mother.

  26. Kathy-730470 May 14, 2013 Reply

    I disagree with this article. Mothers should be honored. To be a mother and raise children is a great task. It is very sad and unfortunate that those women that long to be mothers sometimes do not get to be one. However, Mothers Day can also be very sad and painful for those who have lost their mother, those children who are motherless because their mother has died, those mothers who have problem children who do not talk to them, mothers who have children in jail, mothers who have lost a child ( perhaps their only child) to illness, crib death, miscarriage, or an accident, those that are mothers and are divorced but their spouses keep their children from them by parental alienation, mothers who have children who do not talk to them because of arguments or disagreements etc. There are many reasons why Mothers Day can be painful. Does this mean that mothers should not be recognized on Mothers Day? No it does not. Saying that because there are women who want to be moms and unfortunately are not therefore mothers should not be honored in church is wrong. It is the same thing as saying so and so who was promoted at work and honored for the work he did should not be because it is unfair because you wanted that job !!! You didn’t get promoted so he shouldn’t be honored. Sometimes things happen for a reason and that reason is unclear. However, just because you wish and desire to be something you are not does not make those that are any less worthy to be honored. Mothers should be celebrated for the women they are !!! God bless mothers for the role they have raising children.

    • Tanya-63933 May 15, 2013 Reply

      I do not think that was Mary Beth’s point. She clearly stated that mothers should be honoured.

  27. Jim-873983 May 14, 2013 Reply

    Speaking as a traditional Catholic: to paraphrase your earlier statement, “Real Masses honor God, empty shells of Masses honor the community.” In Masses where God is honored singularly, there would perhaps be no acknowledgement of members of the community at all, save at the Homily. The only attention paid through the majority of it would be to the King of kings and Lord of lords. The order of the Mass should not kowtow to a holiday manufactured by Hallmark.

    Mothers (especially the Blessed Mother) should be honored EVERY day, not just on a single day of the year, so a “special ceremony” on a secular holiday should not be even necessary, let alone included in the Mass. That would not only solve the problems of emberrasment for those women whom God has not Willed to raise children, but also to order the attention of the Mass on where it truly belongs: God, not the community.

    Thank you for this blog posting, Ms. Bonacci, and I’ll include you in my prayers. God bless you.

    • Traci-732580 May 14, 2013 Reply

      Thank you for your well stated answer! The Mass is not about celebrating us. It’s the unbloody sacrifice on calvary. People might think twice about doing what they do in Mass if they gave that fact any thought.

Post a comment