I began this essay last year when another Mother's Day had come and gone and I was breathing a sigh of relief. This "holiday" is fraught with emotional peril for mothers, adult children, motherless children, childless women and just about anyone else who does not live in a story book world. Now it is approaching again and I am remembering why I don't like it.
The holiday was founded with good intentions. According to Wikipedia,
"The first attempts to establish a "Mother's Day" in the U.S. were mostly marked by women's peace groups. A common early activity was the meeting of groups of mothers whose sons had fought or died on opposite sides of the the American Civil War.
The present form was initiated when Anna Jarvis campaigned to establish Mother's Day first as a U.S. national holiday and then later as an international holiday...The holiday was declared officially by the state of West Virginia in 1910, and the rest of states followed quickly. On May 8, 1914, the U.S. Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day and requesting a proclamation. On May 9, 1914 President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring the first national Mother's Day as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war."
I wonder whether, in it's current incarnation, Mother's Day makes more people happy or sad? I know that many mothers and motherless children find it painful.
It certainly has drifted a long way from the idea of the peace activists who wanted the observance. Even the founder, Anna Jarvis regretted her invention, again quoting from Wikipedia,
Commercialization of the U.S. holiday began very early, and only nine years after the first official Mother's Day had became so rampant that Mother's Day founder Anna Jarvis herself became a major opponent of what the holiday had become, spending all her inheritance and the rest of her life fighting what she saw as an abuse of the celebration.She criticized the practice of purchasing greeting cards, which she saw as a sign of being too lazy to write a personal letter. She was arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace while protesting against the commercialization of Mother's Day, and she finally said that she "...wished she would have never started the day because it became so out of control ."
Attempts to honor or show respect may start out as sincere, personal efforts. Once we try to institutionalize them, they end up becoming perfunctory command performances and opportunities for disappointment. I find that Mother's Day transforms perfectly good ordinary days into "special" times where those forgotten or left out or alone can feel their loss more acutely. It is always good when the day is over so we can go back to feeling on even keel.
I wonder whether this is not just a problem of trying to universalize or legislate something which is a very personal experience. When we try to make even a very nice idea a"one size fits all", we are sure to make many people who do not fit the particular mold very uncomfortable. The experience of being human, while it can be described with many apt generalizations, is a unique experience.
As much as I love a good holiday, I think it would be a better idea to abolish both Mother's Day and Father's Day as they now stand. People who have not had a good experience with their mothers/fathers and mothers/fathers who have not been remembered by their children would all be relieved. More general themes for holidays are better.
Our culture is constantly evolving and we need not be stuck with these dysfunctional holidays. I think it would be a good idea to reclaim the old tradition of May Day. Everyone could celebrate the fertility of the earth, our Mother and it could be joined with the Earth Day celebration which, currently, falls at the end of April. Mothering/nurturing/husbanding in general could be honored in more general and community ways. The traditional May baskets could be delivered to the doorsteps of anyone who has nurtured us. This festival of Spring rebirth would be meaningful and have historic traditions and everyone could feel included.