I've often wondered why in the UK we have the term 'Mothering Sunday' for Mothers' Day and why it's a completely different date to other parts of the world? I turned to trusty Google and discovered that like all good festivals it has a Christian origin and in English tradition involves cake. In Surrey and Kent it was even called Pudding Pie Sunday - excellent! Take a look at this Kentish Pudding Pie recipe from the Telegraph; looks delicious but guaranteed to turn hips and thighs into roly poly puddings too.
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Apparently, Mothering Sunday in the UK dates back to the sixteenth century when people would return back to their 'mother church' - either their local church or the one where their family was based. Children and young people 'in service' (basically servants for the rich) would finally get a day off to visit their mothers and give them a gift. Traditionally, girls in service would often bake and decorate a simnel cake to give to their mothers in gratitude and as proof of their domestic skills. Because Mothering Sunday falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent it makes sense that this type of cake is more closely associated with Easter.
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We don't really hear the term 'mothering', at least not with positive connotations. To be accused of mothering would be an indictment of being over-protective, controlling and refusing to let your children grow up. Much press is given to bad mothers, jealous and resentful parenting and almost every shortcoming is often blamed on a mother's failings. I don't think there's enough positive affirmations of mothering or positive images that are not linked to religious icons or dodgy celebrities (don't forget Kerry Katona managed the accolade of Mum of the Year - twice!)
It's hard to articulate just what 'mothering' is in the truest sense of the word though; 'nurturing' does not seem adequate. When I first became a mum I found it difficult to explain to my ex-colleagues just exactly what I did all day and why it felt so much more important than anything I had achieved in the world of work.
Naomi Stadlan gives one of the best summations of a mother's work I can think of in her book 'What Mothers Do':
'...Mothers, who are doing so much, often describe themselves as sitting around, doing nothing. They feel lonely, invisible and unimportant. Yet their work belongs to much more than one organisation. Each mother is preparing her child to belong to the society that we all share. It doesn't seem too much to say that the whole of civilisation depends on the work of mothers...'
I also like this extract from 'The Hand That First Held Mine' by Maggie O'Farrell where one of the main characters, Lexie, muses on the women we become after children:
"We change shape, we buy low heeled shoes...We begin to carry in our bags half-eaten rusks, a small tractor, a shred of beloved fabric, a plastic doll. We lose muscle tone, sleep, reason, perspective. Our hearts begin to live outside our bodies...We learn that we must sometimes walk an inch at a time, to stop and examine every stick, every stone...We learn how to cool a fever, ease a cough, the four indicators of meningitis, that one must sometimes push a swing for two hours"
This is the minutiae of mothering; the caring, the worrying and the loving that fill our days, and nights, and ensure that we are inextricably bound by the heartstrings to our children. So here's to mothers on this Mothering Sunday, and to a life's work.