May 1, 2017

How to Safely Navigate the Mother's Day Landmines

In recent years, the Internet environment has turned something as wholesome and seemingly benign as the public observance of Mother’s Day into a social landmine!  Some people feel left out of the celebration because they desire to have children, but have not been thus blessed.  Others may have children, but have not been appreciated to the extent of all those who have posted all over social media the Mother’s Day swag they scored and are saddened at this display.  There are those who admonish everyone else for the insensitivity of mentioning the actual mothering of children as a prerequisite for being honored on the day.  And, God help pastors if they hand out – or don’t hand out – flowers at church!

It makes one’s head reel!

While this seems all wrong, you may be surprised to learn that the celebration of Mother’s Day in America has been fraught with problems since before its inception!

Mother's Day Proclamation
When it was proclaimed an official U.S. holiday by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914, it had already been tried, but failed to catch on, in various permutations, connected with anti-war efforts, caring for the ailing on both sides in the Civil War, and in connection to the temperance movement.*

The presidential proclamation actually only requires that government buildings display the U.S. flag and encourages us all to do so at our homes “on the second Sunday in May as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”  So, really, moms, if you’re expecting more than a flag hoisted in your honor, you may be setting your sites a bit high.  

The person credited with making this thing finally go big is Anna Jarvis.  Even she gave no credit to the previous attempts to put on the books a day to recognize mothers – outside of her own mother’s work.  Her mother was one of those activists who had promoted associations of mothers in anti-war efforts during the Civil War.  But it was Jarvis whose long efforts and tenacity firmly established the practice in West Virginia, Philadelphia and New York.  The idea took hold in all the states and then she focused on the federal government for official recognition.  She succeeded in getting it to be a national holiday.

She favored the wearing of a white carnation by all Americans in honor of the day, or mothers, or her mother – but white carnations.  Because that was her mother’s favorite.

Well, American florists had a ball with this!  But it also put terrible pressure on them to provide the flowers.  The landmines began to detonate almost immediately.  Florists promoted the wearing of red carnations if your mother was living and white if deceased.  And for those who wanted to thank their mothers, but couldn’t get up the energy to actually write a letter to good old mom, as Jarvis suggested, the greeting card industry was there to help!  

Jarvis was so distraught at the commercialization of the holiday that she spent the rest of her life lobbying to rescind Mother’s Day.  Well, the rest of her life until she was committed to a sanitarium, which was paid for by the floral and greeting card industries.  Decent of them.

What I do admire about Anna Jarvis is that it was her own mother she wanted to honor.  She herself never even had children!

1915 postcard from Northern Pacific Railway
How then are we to celebrate Mother’s Day?  It seems like anything goes, really.  Fly a flag, wear a flower, go to church, take her out to eat!  And keep in mind, for when it happens to you, that protesting how someone else celebrates is standard operating procedure!

So, this is what I think about celebrating Mother's Day.  (Duck and cover, right?)

Protesting other people enjoying Mother’s Day because it rubs it in that you’re not a mother is a bit, well, self-centered.  While saying this, I’d like to add that I truly do understand the longing to have children and enduring unwelcome years of the lonely single state.  I have experienced the inability to bring desired babies into this world.  And have suffered the loss of pregnancy and the feelings of failure and desperation that accompany it.  Now that I've got them, I'm not convinced I'm very good at it, either.

Showing off how appreciated you are by your awesome family for being such an awesome mom - or protesting that other moms thus show off is a bit, well, self-centered.

 I’ll go further than that.  Focusing on being a mother on Mother’s Day is also a bit self-centered.  It’s not really about us.  It’s about them: our mothers – and we all have one.  If we’re alive, we have a mother.

I recall my very first mother's day, when it occurred to me that it was now my day, too!  But, mostly, as I sat holding my two-month-old firstborn, I was overwhelmed by gratitude for my own mother and all that she had done for me!  More than ever before I appreciated her!  And that is what I ought to do on Mother’s Day: appreciate my own mother!

Me with my Mommy!  I still feel this way about her!

I think with embarrassment about those times I was caught up thinking of how my family ought to honor me on Mother’s Day, all the while forgetting to show the appreciation and honor I do actually feel for my own wonderful mother!  Mea culpa!

By all means, receive the appreciation lavished – or dribbled – on you by your own children (or spouse), but let them worry about that.  Focus your energy and preparation on your own mother!  Write her an actual note of thanks and love – or buy her a card if you prefer (I won't call you lazy like Anna Jarvis did!).  Your words of thanks, love an appreciation may mean more than any other gift you can give her.

Whether you are blessed to have her still living or she has passed on, do pray for your mother.  If she was a rotten mother, she may need it more than you know.  You can have a Mass said for her; she will appreciate that into eternity.  That is my favorite gift to give – and to receive!

I like to request Masses through the Capuchin Mission Office (  You can easily make your request at their website (at any time of day - or night!) and even request a date.  They will even send a card for you.  What's more, they do a special novena of Masses just for Mother's Day.  I’m sure there are many similar sites.

It is true, not all mothers are motherly and deserve appreciation, but the vast majority of us have our mother to thank for our life and the fact that we are here today.  Your mother may be the woman who gave birth to you, the woman who adopted you, your single father or another person who showed you motherly love.

In some unfortunate cases, a mother was not what she ought to have been and thinking of her only brings sorrow.  This would not be so if motherhood itself were not a great good of which we have many expectations.  If this is your situation, you might be comforted to reflect on the words of Jesus to from the cross to the beloved disciple: “Behold your mother” as He entrusted us to the care of His mother and her to our love (John 19:26).

Whether or not there is an earthly woman you wish to honor on Mother’s Day, you have a most perfect mother in the Blessed Virgin Mary.  May her prayers and example lead you to the One who is the true source of all life and happiness.

I'll end by following my own advice.  Happy Mother's Day, Mom!  Thank you for all you are and do!  I love you!

*  I have gleaned all my information about the origin of Mother’s Day and Anna Jarvis from Wikipedia’s entries on Mother’s Day (United States) and Anna Jarvis.

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