…and, while we’re at it, let’s ditch Fathers’ Day as well.

It’s not that there is anything wrong with mothers or fathers. There are many things to celebrate about fathers and mothers. Parenting is a beautiful gift. Done well, it is a profound sacrificial relationship of commitment and self-giving.

The two mothers I know best are luminous examples of love and light. They are an endless source of blessing and beauty in their family. They deserve to be celebrated and thanked every day for all they are as mothers.

The problem is that Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day risk enshrining the perception that there are specific functions that attach to particular people as a result of their gender and their biological function. But any emotional, psychological, or spiritual roles that can be fulfilled by a biological parent of either gender are not restricted to one or two people. And the functions our culture associates with either parent are not gender-specific.

I have been privileged to witness some of the most sensitive, nurturing, supportive, encouraging interactions between children and adults. Sometimes the adults have been fathers, sometimes mothers. At other times the adults who played a profound life-giving role in a child’s life have been part of the child’s extended family. The nurturing may have come from a friend or neighbour, a member of the child’s church, a teacher, or even an incidental stranger.

Children need to be surrounded by as many adults as possible who support their deep flourishing. Sometimes parents can do this well. But at times, other adults may need to fill in where parents find themselves unable to give their children everything they need.

Actually, there is only one thing children really need to support their growth into healthy, well-balanced, sane adults. And any adult can give this one thing to children.

Children need the gift of Presence. Presence is the fundamental language of love. Love pays attention. Love is present to the beloved.

Children need adults who have the time, the patience and the space, to sit down, look them in the eye and listen deeply without judgment or demand. Children need adults who take them seriously, who receive their wild stories and their crazy ideas and try to respond to their endless questions. They need adults who never try to make them into something other than what they are.

In his book, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, the spiritual genius C.G. Jung wrote,

The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life.

Human flourishing depends on complete self-acceptance. Whatever my flaws or my failures may be, I am accepted. I do not need to change in order to be worthy of love.

Children learn self-acceptance from adults who accept them just as they reinforcing the awareness that they are totally loved and utterly valuable regardless of how they measure up to any external standard. It may in fact be precisely non-parents, who are less invested in a child’s “success”, who are best able to provide this priceless gift to a child.

Given the fact that we are unlikely to actually ditch Mothers’ Day or Fathers’ Day, let’s at least raise up the extraordinary gift of Presence that anyone can give. Everyone has the power to pay attention to those little people who may get overlooked in the mad rush of our acquisitive culture which so often defines value by achievement and “success.”

Perhaps we could view both Fathers’ Day and Mothers’ Day as a quiet reminder to us all, that the child’s heart longs, before anything else, for Presence. The child longs to be known and received by someone who seeks to be deeply present to their life. Let’s celebrate both Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day as Presence Day in which all can share regardless of gender or biological relationships.