Getting Back to the Real Meaning of Mother’s Day

Mother's Day

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This Mother’s Day guest post comes to you from Liz! She writes over at Chief Mom Officer about money, work, and frugal family life. She’s a breadwinning mother of three who works in IT by day and blogs by early morning. Stop by her site, or Facebook / Twitter and say hello!

Hello and good morning everyone! I’m Liz, the Chief Mom Officer, and my friend Matt invited me over here to talk with you a bit about Mother’s Day.

Ah, isn’t this the day where we all go out and show our unique appreciation for the mothers in our lives by buying $5 Hallmark cards, jewelry, or taking them out for an expensive brunch? Well, it shouldn’t be.  Let me tell you about Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother’s Day, and how learning more about her has had a profound impact on the way I think about this day.

The Woman Who Inspired The Day

Anna Jarvis’s mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis passed away in 1905. Ann Jarvis was not just an ordinary woman of the time. In 1858 she had created “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to address issues in public health, such as childhood illness and sanitary conditions. Ann actually had between 11 and 13 children, but only four survived to adulthood. It was the loss of her children to measles, typhoid fever, diphtheria, and other diseases of the time that inspired her to start these clubs – so other mothers would not need to suffer the devastating loss of their children.

These clubs endured through the Civil War, where Ann insisted the clubs help injured soldiers from both sides. After the war, the clubs planned “Mothers Friendship Day”, where soldiers and their families from both sides were brought together to celebrate a message of unity and reconciliation. After the death of her husband in 1902, Ann moved to Philadelphia to live near her children. This is where she passed away a few years later, surrounded by her four children.

Anna remembered that her mother, always active in the church, had prayed for someone to start a day to memorialize mothers back in 1876. It was this prayer that sparked Anna’s crusade to make a day in honor of mothers. In 1908 the first Mother’s Day celebration was held, and in 1915 President Woodrow Wilson officially proclaimed the second Sunday in May “Mother’s Day”.

I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.

— Ann Reeves Jarvis

The Founder Of Mother’s Day Hated What It Became

This day, started in honor of a woman who had spent her life helping other mothers, quickly became commercialized. Card and candy makers recognized that they could use this day to sell their wares, and did so quickly, starting in the early 1920’s. The American War Mothers and other groups also used the day to sell carnations (which had become associated with the day).

Anna was furious. She felt that these companies and organizations were exploiting the day. After all, it was intended to be a day for you to honor your own mother, and everything she did for you, by sending handwritten letters of love and gratitude, not pre-made cards. So, she started to organize boycotts of the day. She protested at a candymaker convention, and at the American War Mothers meeting for selling carnations. She was even arrested for disturbing the peace.

A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.

— Anna Jarvis

Anna refused to benefit from the commercialization of the day, even while other companies did. In 1943 she started a petition to recind Mother’s Day, but it was halted when she was placed in the Marshall Square Sanitarium in West Chester, Pennsylvania. And guess who paid the bills? People connected with the flower and greeting card industries. How generous of them (sarcasm).

If Anna hated what the day had become by the 1940’s, I shudder to think what her perspective would be on what the day became today, when the average spending will be $186.39, and retailers are hoping that your spending will help save the ailing retail industry.

My Mother’s Day Perspective

I have to admit that before I started doing the in-depth research for this article, I had only vaguely heard the story of the founder of Mother’s Day. But I already also hated the commercialization of the holiday, just like Anna.

Every year I see the top gifts people get for their mothers – flowers that will die in a week, greeting cards picked up from Target when you realized you forgot about the day, or paying a lot of money to take your mom out for a special Mother’s Day meal. Heck, people now are even giving gift cards. Nothing says “I love and appreciate you for all the wonderful things you do” than a plastic version of paper money!

I would much rather have something special, and free, that shows real appreciation for the things that I do. For example, last year I received an awesome drawing from my then-12 year old, that he had made for me during breaks at school. Now, in elementary school the kids are usually forced to do something for their moms, but he’s in middle school-so he did it all on his own. That, to me, shows real appreciation and thought.

Instead of cut flowers that will die, I would prefer a beautiful plant for my garden that will grow for years to come. Rather than an expensive meal out, a thoughtful meal of my favorite foods cooked up for me would be amazing. Or a lovely picnic in a park. A family walk. Someone telling me exactly what it is that I do that they appreciate the most. A donation to a cause I care deeply about. And so on.

So instead of giving in to the commercialization of the day, follow in Anna’s footsteps. Boycott Hallmark, protest the candy makers, dump the flowers – and instead do something really special to honor the mothers in your life.

Learn More! Resources for this article:

Ann Reeves Jarvis

Anna Jarvis

Mother’s Day

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks again for hosting me! I thought the story of the origin of Mother’s Day was very interesting, and applicable to us here today. Luckily I got two homemade cards yesterday, which was a great gift from my older boys.

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