Shonda Rhimes on the greeting cards mothers really need

By Shonda Rhimes
@shondarhimes

I am on Twitter, checking in on the world, and I see a tweet from some motherhood site. It says: “Sleeplessness is a badge of honor for moms.”

What?

A badge of honor?

Right then and there, my hair catches on fire. My hair just lights up in flames of instant rage. The rage may be especially bad because I still have some PTSD from my oldest child’s infant days.

My perfect beautiful miracle baby?

Never slept. EVER. Never.

Twelve years later the memories of those nights, of that sleep deprivation, still make me rock back and forth a little bit. You want to torture someone? Hand them an adorable baby they love who doesn’t sleep.

Badge of honor?

Necessary evil, yes. Pain in the ass, yes.

Badge of honor?

Are you freaking kidding me? Who believes that crap? Who is drinking THAT crazy Kool-Aid?

But a lot of people are. MOST people are.

I don’t think it ever occurred to me before how much and how often women are praised for displaying traits that basically render them invisible. When I really think about it, I realize the culprit is the language generally used to praise women. Especially mothers.

She sacrificed everything for her children . . . She never thought about herself. . . She gave up everything for us . . . She worked tirelessly to make sure we had what we needed. She stood in the shadows, she was the wind beneath our wings.”

Greeting card companies are built on that idea.

Tell her how much all the little things she does all year long that seem to go unnoticed really mean to you.”

With a $2.59 card.

Mother’s Day is built on that idea.

This is good, we’re told. It’s good how Mom diminishes and martyrs herself. The message is: mothers, you are such wonderful and good people because you make yourselves smaller, because you deny your own needs, because you toil tirelessly in the shadows and no one ever thanks or notices you…this all makes you AMAZING.

Yuck.

What the hell kind of message is that?

Would ANYONE praise a man for this?

Those are not behaviors anyone would hope to instill in their daughters, right?

Right? 

I’m not saying MOTHERHOOD shouldn’t be praised. Motherhood should be praised. Motherhood is wonderful. I’m doing it. I think it’s great.

There are all kinds of ways and reasons that mothers can and should be praised. But for cultivating a sense of invisibility, martyrdom and tirelessly working unnoticed and unsung? Those are not reasons.

Praising women for standing in the shadows?

Wrong.

Where is the greeting card that praises the kinds of mothers I know? Or better yet, the kind of mother I was raised by?

I need a card that says: “Happy Mother’s Day to the mom who taught me to be strong, to be powerful, to be independent, to be competitive, to be fiercely myself and fight for what I want.”

Or “Happy Birthday to a mother who taught me to argue when necessary, to raise my voice for my beliefs, to not back down when I know I am right.”

Or “Mom, thanks for teaching me to kick ass and take names at work. Get well soon.”

Or simply “Thank you, Mom, for teaching me how to make money and feel good about doing it. Merry Christmas.”

Where are the greeting cards for the kind of mother I try to be? For the kind of mother I need my kids to see? For the kind of mother I want my daughters to one day be?

And if there’s no greeting card, what is there?

There is me.

I have to be my own greeting card.

Shonda Rhimes is the critically acclaimed and award-winning creator and executive producer of the hit television series Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal and the executive producer of How to Get Away with Murder. She lives in Los Angeles. 

This essay was adapted from Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, published by Simon & Schuster.

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