I am going to take a slightly different view on Mother’s Day to the norm, some may feel I am the Grinch that stole mother’s day, and they may well be right. But I want to take the time to explore this day and what is wrong and/or right about it.
1. How did the day come to be?
Please indulge me in a very short history lesson. In the early 1900s America, a woman named Anna Marie Jarvis, began an annual church service on the Sunday of the week of her mother’s death to honour her mother’s good deeds. Jarvis’ creation of this annual day of remembrance for her mother was the way for Jarvis to fulfil her mother’s wish for a memorial day for all mothers and the good that they do. At this service, she handed out carnations, as they were HER mother’s favourite flower.
Anna Marie Jarvis then began lobbying for a national day to honour mothers. And in 1914 this day was made official. The plan for the day was for families to attend church, and thereafter sons and daughters would write letters to their moms honouring their role in the family, community, wartimes and civil society. People would wear carnations as a symbol of their participation in the memorial day – similar to the wearing of the red poppy to memorialise the First World War.
Ironically, only a decade after the day became an official holiday, Anna Jarvis was petitioning to have the day abolished. She had become appalled by what the day had become. No longer were sons and daughters writing handwritten letters thanking their mothers for ALL the good that they do – not just the effing ironing – they were buying pre-written cards and merely signing them. The day had been completely and utterly commercialised and commoditised.
Greeting card companies were quick to get in on the action, florists were holding mass carnation sales and just like that the intention of Anna’s mother’s day was extinguished. So passionate was Anna that the day be done away with, she was arrested for disturbing the peace outside a Mother’s Day carnation sale, she never had any children of her own and it is said she spent her whole life and what was left of her inheritance fighting the day until her death in 1948.
2. What has it become?
I feel safe to say that Anna rolls in her grave every single month of May as she sees what has become of her mother’s day. Mother’s Day is as vapid as it has ever been, with brands spending all month talking about mom and how she is just the best. But with very few delving into the depths of motherhood and the role mother’s play in society – beyond the effing ironing!
For many, Mother’s Day has devolved into an obligation to appear grateful and “spoiled”, littered with half-eaten chocolates, wilted carnations and cheesy Hallmark cards. And that’s because moms are not getting what they need out of the day and their families feel they are giving mom exactly what she wants – because that’s what the adverts told them she wanted.
As a mom and a person who has worked in advertising for almost 12 years, I am ashamed by the drivel that is created under the facade of “honouring” moms and all they do but is actually just a marketing strategy to sell their wares. I mean, honestly let’s look at some of the stuff that we, as moms, get served in the month of May.
The first type is purely patronising of moms, the work she does, her ability to manage even the smallest of modern-age tasks, like texting, and the stereotype of moms being these puritanical creatures, who never swear or have sex, or drink.
For goodness sake, how do brand’s think we became mothers to start with?
The second type uses dirty tactics just to make us cry by sentimentalising the relationship between mother and child. Leaving us feeling like we should be thanking and honouring our kids and families on our special day. I mean how screwed up is that?
The third type is the twisting of the day into a cute wrapping around random and tenuously relevant merchandise. This is my second favourite of all the drivel. As if mom wants the lotto or a supermarket to make her Mother’s Day great.
The fourth and final type – and the type I love to hate the most – is the type that likes to remind women of their only rightful place in life: In the home raising children and worrying about the effing ironing.
The above examples are not all I could find, believe me as far as Mother’s Day advertising goes, this is the norm, not the exception. I am sure all moms feel the need to be cool with our expensive headphones, or get 50% off on kitchen appliances, or a cake shaped pile of laundry, a carefully curated range of cleaning products or $1.50 coupon so we can “get back to the job that really matters”, aka scrubbing our toilets. And I am sure most mothers will agree that drawing a comparison between a washing machine with a gentle cycle and our womb, is a sure seller.
This day has become a sham, a day for brands to profit, kids (and fathers) to get out of really putting any effort or thought into it, moms to feel obliged to be thankful and grateful for the day and her “spoils” and to then feel guilty for not loving it as much as she wished she did, and for society to feel they have ticked mother appreciation and acknowledgement off their to-do-list for another year.
3. What should it be in the future?
The world is changing, and so the world’s view on mothers and the day the world takes to honour them need to change too. We need to ask ourselves some questions.
- What makes a mom a mom? Do all families have one?
- Does a woman who has children even want the title of mother to label her?
- Why do fathers feel they do not need to be 100% in on the day? True, she is not your mother but she is the mother of your children, and for that, she deserves the world, so man up, its only one freaking day!
- What does a mom look like in 2019? What challenges does she face? How can we take this day to alleviate that slightly?
- What would she wish to change if she could change anything in this world for herself and her children?
- How do we give back meaning and greater purpose to this day?
- How do we use the day to appreciate moms for being so much more than just a mom? How do we challenge the stereotypes?
- How do we use the day to make all moms feel recognised, represented and validated, not just the half-truths or filters?
- How do we show the next generation that mother’s day not about thanking mom for scrubbing our toilets or making us casseroles, but celebrating the truth of motherhood?
“The holiday is about love that throws open the door and marches out of our homes, beyond our fences and neighbourhoods and into the hurting world to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, comfort the hurting, mother the motherless.” The Compassion Collective
Anna Marie Jarvis intended this day to honour her mother who she viewed as her hero, and all mothers like her, not because her mom made her bed, or folded the laundry, but because her mom was strong, and compassionate, and resilient, and brave, and kind, and loving, and fierce, and tireless, and dedicated, and lastly, her mom, just like all of us, was someone trying everyday just to do her best.
So, let’s try to do better to honour mothers on this and future Mother’s Days.