Mother’s Day isn’t all finger-painted cards and breakfasts in bed. For many of us, Mother’s Day often turns out to be a day of stress, deep reflection, bittersweetness, and even ambivalence. So I was very interested to learn that the inventor of Mother’s Day ultimately renounced the holiday:
Anna Jarvis spearheaded the first Mother’s Day events in 1908 to honor her own mother, a Sunday School teacher and caregiver for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. From that point on, she campaigned zealously for the holiday to become official and in 1914, Congress recognized it as such. Quickly, the floral and greeting-card industries became enraptured with the commercial possibilities of the holiday. By 1920, disgusted by the onslaught of remunerative avenues, Jarvis began urging people to stop buying flowers and cards for their mothers. In a press release, she wrote florists and greeting card manufacturers were “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.” She went door-to-door collecting petitions to rescind Mother’s Day and spent the rest of her life trying to abolish the holiday she founded.
It’s a little trite, but absolutely true – no card, bunch of flowers, or brunch can really replace the things that would mean the most to moms: heartfelt expressions of your love and gratitude, time spent together, and some help around the house the other 364 days of the year, maybe?
Moreover, an under-noticed part of the problem with all the commercialized Mother’s Day stuff is that its marketing messages are too simple and too saccharine. Moms aren’t perfect. All of them have made some mistakes, and left us with some baggage or other. Looking through those Hallmark cards, with their hyperbolic praise and flowery illustrations, makes me feel fake. It might make moms feel kind fake, too: they’re real women, who are really struggling to “have it all,” with burdensome expectations and stereotypes inflicted upon them constantly.
I’m far from opposed to consumer culture in general, and by all means treat mom to some things that she actually enjoys. But don’t let some hastily purchased objects distract you from real methods of honoring moms, in both their goodness and imperfections as people and as parents. Our narratives – as mothers, children, and families – are radically more complicated than any greeting card or television commercial could ever capture. And that’s a beautiful thing.