Mother’s Day 101 – Finding Its True Meaning

Mother's Day

Mother’s Day this year is entering its second century of existence since its inception 101 years ago, yet most people have yet to find its true meaning. Like birthdays, and Christmas, this mid-spring holiday generates much revenue for card companies like Hallmark, florists, candy companies, and restaurants. In fact, the National Retail Federation reported that in 2014, people spent an average of $162.94 on their mothers, culminating in a total of $19.9 billion. According to the National Restaurant Association, Mother’s Day was the day restaurants did the most business.

While in America, the holiday is celebrated on the second Sunday of May each year, other countries have selected their own dates implementing the commercialism for which Mother’s Day is known, however even 101 years after its inception, few have had a true knowledge of what its true meaning is, let alone its origins. Contrary to the way it is celebrated year after year, with barbecues, flowers, brunches, dinners, and fun to extravagant gifts, Mother’s Day has had an almost opposite history, in some ways more somber.

According to historian, Katherine Anatoli, its roots all began some time before its birth around the 1850’s when Ann Reeves Jarvis organized community work groups in order to fight infant mortality and create more sanitary conditions for children, starting with their milk supply. During the 1860’s these groups also tended to soldiers who were wounded in Civil War. Following the war, the women’s groups organized events geared to bringing about peace and harmony, including Mother’s Friendship Day picnics. And around 1870, composer Julia Ward Howe issued “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” which was a call of action for women to help promote peace through political channels. While all this progress was being made for the benefit of mothers, it was Jarvis’ daughter Anna who created the day all Americans have come to know as Mother’s Day.

Anna Jarvis never had children of her own, but her mother’s passing in 1905 was what inspired her to organize the first formal observance of Mother’s Day on May 10, 1908. Families got together at Jarvis’ event, held in the church now known as the International Mother’s Day Shrine located in Grafton, West Virginia, as well as in other cities in the U.S. Each year, the gatherings spread to more venues, prompting President Woodrow Wilson to officially designate the second Sunday in May of each year for the holiday’s observance.

Jarvis had made certain the day would read as ‘Mother’s Day’ rather than ‘Mothers’ Day,’ as it was important that this would be a day for each child’s mother on an individual basis – a day where children of each household would show their own mother the love and appreciation she deserved for all that she had done for them, and the sacrifices made. Thus, it became a disappointment for her when the holiday she dedicated her life to creating became an opportunity for florists, chocolatiers, and card companies to generate a profit. Jarvis threw in her entire efforts and finances in order to return Mother’s Day to what it was intended to be, though in vein.

Creating her own one-person corporate entity, which Jarvis aptly named the Mother’s Day International Association, she threatened lawsuits, organized boycotts, and even lambasted First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using the holiday to hold charitable fundraisers. Rather than profit from Mother’s Day herself, Jarvis fought hard to preserve the dignity of her holiday, until her very last days. She died in 1948, penniless at the age of 84 in Marshall Square Sanitarium in Philadelphia.

With a knowledge of a brief history of Mother’s Day, the true meaning for the holiday would be restored if people took a few steps back and realized that as much as their mothers have sacrificed for their well being, it is not necessary to go all out with purchases, but rather use the day for what it is, one of appreciation. For those who wish to find meaning, year 101, the same number used in a basic college introductory course would be a good time to start.

Breakfast in bed

As a true dedicated mother pampers her children with food during their childhood as well as adulthood, there is no better way to show appreciation than to return the free service. Toast with jam, pancakes, a cup of coffee and something to read gives a mother a good opportunity to relax on the holiday designated specifically for her.

Doing the garden

A nice planter makes for a simple meaningful gift, along with simple gardening tools and seeds. An afternoon planting something together, whether it is tulips, a tree, or vegetable, along with some refreshing lemonade is relaxing quality time spent.

Time in the kitchen

The simplicity of a basic cooking tool like a frying pan or even kitchen towel coveys the message of appreciation and the desire to help mom out in the kitchen. Creating something sweet or yummy together adds sweetness to the mother-child bond itself.

Time away from being mom

A most important lesson of Mother’s Day 101 is that a mother’s life, whether she is employed full time, part time, or a stay-at-home mom, ultimately revolves around the home and her children. Many people, when becoming parents themselves, develop the attitude that they are being altruistic when they bring their children around to spend time with grandma and grandpa, often leaving their parents to baby sit for hours, while they are off doing their own activities. In effect their mothers end up becoming mothers, or even indentured servants to their grandchildren and lose the time they should be relaxing. When spending time with mothers on Mother’s Day, it is important that children remember that their mother needs a break too from being a mom.

On anniversary 101 of Mother’s Day, it would be worthwhile to take a brief tour of its history in order to find out more about what is its true meaning. In addition to giving mom a break, it would be a great thing to give commercialism the same break and bring this day back to what it was intended to be – a day of immaterial love and appreciation to Mom.

Opinion by Bill Ades
National Geographic
Parent Herald
Photo by romanlily – Creativecommons Flickr License

Your Thoughts?