This past weekend Mother’s Day was celebrated in North America and in many other countries around the world. While this official day has been marked for about 100 years, history is rich with celebrations of mothers because mothering, done right, is a powerful positive force.
Maya Angelou alluded to that power when asked about her own mother, replying: “To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power.”
So did Abraham Lincoln when he famously said, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”
This year, as I watched friends and family scramble to organize gifts and cards and get-togethers in honor of moms, I struggled with some mixed feelings. It struck me that designating a day to honor our mothers may both elevate and diminish them.
The original impetus behind Mothers’ Day in the U.S. was commendable. It was initiated by Anna Jarvis in 1905 as a way to recognize her own mother, who died that year. Starting with a single memorial service the idea grew into a day to honor all mothers. The popularity of Mother’s Day was not automatic. Interest grew largely as a result of Jarvis’ persistent letter-writing campaign. In spite of dismissive and scornful responses to her early efforts, Jarvis continued to press the government to designate a specific day to honor mothers. Finally, the idea took root.
Years after this single-minded effort, Jarvis changed her mind. She came to believe that the commercialization of the day had robbed it of its intended significance. She made her opinion of florists, greeting card manufacturers and the confectionery industry very clear, describing them as “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.” By 1920, Anna Jarvis was fighting as hard to have Mothers’ Day abolished as she had to establish it fifteen years earlier.
Like Anna Jarvis, I’m conflicted about Mothers’ Day. Here’s why:
- For many people the day has become all about the gifts. The media flogs us mercilessly with heartrending stories designed to open wallets. Siblings compete to outdo each other. Couples and combined families struggle to recognize all the moms equitably on their “special day” so no mom feels less important. And woe betide the child who lets Mothers’ Day pass by without a call, a visit, a card or a suitable gift.
- Recognition and appreciation shouldn’t be an annual event. Just as annual performance reviews can become a replacement for regular feedback, so too can this one designated day become the default day to acknowledge mothers.
Mothers’ Day was and is a great success, both commercially and culturally. Once established, it was quickly embraced around the globe by people who appreciate having a special day to celebrate moms and motherhood. It became so popular, in fact, that it soon prompted Fathers’ Day and more recently, National Grandparents’ Day and Siblings Day.
This “designated day” phenomenon is not confined to familial relationship. We now celebrate a number of work related special days including; Administrative Professionals’ Day (formerly known as Secretaries’ Day), Bosses Day, Labor Day (which pre-dates Mothers’ Day by 11 years), Cranky Co-workers Day (OK – this one is not quite official), and more.
All of these days have one thing in common: they honor and acknowledge the contribution of a specific group of people on a designated day. Yet, they all beg the question—why limit our appreciation to one day?
We need to be better at acknowledging people’s contribution on a more regular basis. Perhaps the personal and societal contribution of mothers and fathers could be recognized with reasonable parental leave and better daycare options. Perhaps workers, colleagues and bosses could be acknowledged and appreciated every day for their hard work and commitment.
Instead of scrambling to meet the annual obligation of greeting cards and token gifts, perhaps we could take some time each day to think about and thank those who make our personal and work lives easier, safer, happier and simply better. Make every day “Peoples Day” (and moms are people too!).
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 Jonathan Mulinix. The Founder of Mothers’ Day Fought to Have it Abolished. http://mentalfloss.com/article/30659/founder-mothers-day-later-fought-have-it-abolished