mother doing daughter
Mother's Day – March 22 2020

What makes a mother? What makes a parent?

It doesn’t seem like a provocative question. But it can be.

Parenthood, and, some would argue, especially motherhood is often fetishised and seen as an almost saintly undertaking. It conjures up images of mothers and babies curled up together, families laughing aloud as they run, holding hands, through a field.

But it’s also an extremely exclusive term. It’s membership to a particular club that not everyone is invited to. On the face of it, parenthood seems like an absolute, unarguable term, something which is black or white - when in fact there are lots of shades of grey out there.

For the children around the world in SOS’s care, “parent” might means something very different to other children’s definitions. It might refer to someone they have lost, or can no longer be with. It might make them think of their SOS parent, a caregiver who has stepped into the parental role to ensure that child can still grow up feeling safe, loved and supported. When the children in SOS’s care themselves become parents, they may find it isn’t necessarily a time of joy, it’s a time of reflection on something they perhaps have never had, or can’t really remember.

And what happens to all of the other people who make up the grey area? The couples who go through a miscarriage or stillbirth, the people waiting to foster, those enduring agonising rounds of IVF or turning to surrogates: can they call themselves parents? Will it cause them pain if they can – or if they can’t?

I could say that I had an early miscarriage, or simply that my body ultimately rejected a misleading group of cells that were causing false positive pregnancy test results. But neither definition encapsulates how, for just one week, I was on the waiting list to join the parent club. And I thought of nothing else that whole week. I built a lifetime of hopes and dreams without really meaning to, wondering and planning, worrying and calculating. And then really quickly that was gone and my membership was off the table. The gilded gates slammed shut. I had nothing, beyond memories, to prove I had ever even been on the list, not so much as an ultrasound photo to make it more real. Was it comforting not to be left with those reminders? I can say categorically that it was not. Because all I was left with was loss. A loss so agonising I felt physically weighed down every single day, as if gravity was suddenly working against me. But at the same time I felt like I had no right to feel that loss for something I had never really had. It was an invisible anvil around my neck that I couldn’t discuss, an elephant in the room that only I could see, something unspoken even among the members of the club I was no longer waiting to join.

The grey areas covered (or not) by the term “parent” are big, often invisible – and can be extremely painful. In an age where we are redefining gender identity and the language around it, is it time for us to rethink parenthood and the parameters of that term?

And if not, should we at least rethink what we do to celebrate mother’s day, and father’s day, so we don’t accidentally cause someone unintentional pain? Can it be a day when, as well as showering the people who raised us in love, we also reach out to show we care about those people in our life who find the day a painful reminder of everything they don’t or can’t have?

The children in SOS’s care who are now growing up in a safe and loving home are nonetheless encouraged to stop and reflect on the sadness they will inevitably feel every now and then. We stand with them in that moment of sadness, so they know they don’t have to go through it on their own.

If you have someone in your life you want to reach out to with love and kindness because you know they will find mother’s day or father’s day – or any day – hard: we can help. We have created some shareable social media messages so you can show someone that they’re not alone.


Send someone a message of support


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