Celebrating 'Mother's Day' in New York, Israeli Style

Cards mother's day
Cards buyer looks over Mother's day cards May 10, 2000 in the Papyrus card store in New York's Grand Central Station. Chris Hondros/Newsmakers

When my six-year-old son whispered in my ear that he is working on a surprise project at his school in honor of "Mother's Day," I didn't have the heart to tell him that it was the holiday I hated most as a girl.

My family—my husband and our three boys, all under the age of eight—moved to New York from Israel this fall. To my great delight when I was small in the 1980s, Israel replaced "Mother's Day" with "Family Day."

I grew up in the hills of Jerusalem with my father. We were a team: He took me pretty much everywhere he went and always made sure I had the best dresses and the nicest French braids. In a school of 500 Orthodox girls, I was the only one who had divorced parents and, even worse, no mother.

Sometimes my school held events and invited mothers, but not fathers, and I would sit in the back of the room ashamed to be alone. I remember one occasion when my father came and left quickly, embarrassed to find himself in a sea of Orthodox women.

So I was relieved and happy when a wave of feminism in Israel brought me "Family Day," a time when my country acknowledged that my life with my father, and later my stepmother, deserved celebration.

Here in the United States, "Mother's Day" seems sacred, with chocolates and spa visits, beautiful cards, colorful bouquets, gifts and brunch. Like most American holidays, it has become a whole industry.

I sense nostalgia in Americans, as they make a show of the old-fashioned expectations of families, women and mothers—although most American families look nothing like the old model of stay-at-home Mom and do-no-childcare Dad.

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Single fathers headed up 8 percent of U.S households in 2011, up from just over 1 percent in 1960, and there's been a boom in stay-at-home fathers, according to data from the Pew Research Center. About three percent of American children live with their grandparents and no parents. More children are being raised by gay parents, with two mothers or two fathers.

In an ideal world, perhaps, every child would be raised by two (or three or even four) loving parents. However, the absence of a parent, including a mother, doesn't doom a child to failure. At 34, I trust in my resilience and am grateful for a joyful, ambitious life.

But the old ideas epitomized by "Mother's Day" are still present everywhere. I travel around the globe for work, and even when I'm in town, I don't always make it home for dinner. When colleagues hear that I have three boys under the age of eight, they look concerned and ask, "Who is with your kids?" I answer: "They have a wonderful father who is capable of caring for them when I am away." No one would even think of asking a man that question.

"Mother's Day" is beautiful in its way. It gives mothers an opportunity to celebrate the importance of our unpaid work. It gives children a time to show gratitude and respect to their mothers. I would be happier if Father's Day was of equal importance, which it clearly isn't.

I work hard to show my sons that mothers can have careers and fathers can take an active role in raising children. I want my boys to celebrate "Family Day," the holiday I treasured as a child, a day in which a child need not worry exactly what his or her family looks like.

When my son returns from school with his special "Mother's Day" project this week, I will smile and thank him. Inside, a strong little girl will call out to me. I'll thank her as well, for learning that love comes in many ways and on Sunday, I will gather with my boys and husband and celebrate our team.

Brachie Sprung is the director of the International Office of Jerusalem Partnerships, an initiative in partnership with the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. She lives in New York City with her husband Ari and three sons.

Celebrating 'Mother's Day' in New York, Israeli Style | Opinion