Belfast Telegraph

Call me cynical, but the patronising notion of Mother's Day is a calculated insult to women the world over

Cynical commercialism: retailers have been bombarding us with suggestions for the 'ideal' Mother's Day gift
Cynical commercialism: retailers have been bombarding us with suggestions for the 'ideal' Mother's Day gift

By Catherine O'Mahony

Surely, I am not the only person who is suspicious of Mother's Day? It's been going on for weeks now, the department store displays of suggested gifts for the person who brought you into the world, the newspaper inserts reminding you to buy her an oversized bouquet of lilies (if you're feeling flush) or carnations (if you're on a budget).

Other commonly suggested gifts include hair straighteners (because which woman does not dream of being gifted a grooming gadget with a plug attached?), a large box of chocolates (which she will feel compelled to consume, though she'd been trying - really hard - to avoid sugar temptation for months now), some class of leatherette wallet or bag (which she will feel compelled to decant her stuff into, though she has a perfectly nice leather one already), 12 Mother's Day-themed cupcakes (see chocolates for response), a monstrous iced cake (ditto).

On eBay, you can buy virtually anything and call it a Mother's Day gift - mugs, teddies, keyrings, wine glasses, door wreaths, gloves, hats, fascinators. You name it and it has a ribbon and a Happy Mother's Day tag on it. For £100 (plus postage), you can name a star for your mother and buy her a crystal star necklace to boot.

It's not terrible, I grant you. I mean, things could definitely be worse. You could get shingles. You could develop hives. Being given a gift that you would probably prefer not to get - for an occasion you are dubious about - is hardly the worst imposition. This is an utterly First World problem - that's a given.

And, in fairness, it's genuinely very sweet to see the efforts little children - in particular - can go to to celebrate Mother's Day. Handmade cards - even when they have obviously been commissioned by a teacher - are always lovely. As the recipient of my fair share of cold toast and undercooked egg offerings at Mother's Day breakfast time, I can report that these, for sure, are very gratefully received, especially if they come with a priceless hug from a small person. And if that's followed up by a free lunch somewhere nice, I can't say I would argue.

And, yet, the whole notion of Mother's Day bothers me. There's just something faintly patronising about it, isn't there? And faintly cynical.

Think about it. A Day for 'Mother'. Who is 'Mother' anyway - virtually nobody calls anyone by that title any more, apart from on this single day each year? (Mind you, Mum's Day would be worse.)

History tells us Mother's Day comes - of course - from the US, where it was first celebrated in 1908, when a woman called Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at a church in West Virginia. That church, St Andrew's Methodist Church, is now home to a shrine to International Mother's Day.

Her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, was a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the US civil war. She later established so-called Mother's Day work clubs.

And so her daughter thought she should celebrate all mothers, because she believed that they were "the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world". Six years later, the day was established as a national celebration in the US. It's hard to argue with any of that.

Interestingly though, Anna Jarvis was not pleased when Hallmark and other firms started to capitalise on the day with gifts and cards. She actually ordered boycotts and protests over the years. I feel her pain.

My further problem with this whole 'holiday' is that I think it can upset people who aren't part of the party. And we all know how it feels not to be invited to a party.

I mean, people who have recently lost their mothers (I am kind of in this group) and have nobody to buy the flowers for. And even more damagingly - how does it affect people who might deeply crave motherhood, but find themselves struggling to achieve it?

I have the same feeling about Father's Day - to be gender-neutral - and also about Valentine's Day, whose existence can only torment those whose heart's desire is to find love.

And given that so many people have fertility problems, I imagine there are many women out there - and I mean otherwise kind, lovely people - who resent Mother's Day for this reason. If mothers are lucky enough to be mothers, they may be thinking, 'Shouldn't that be enough for them?'

All that said, I am looking forward to spending Mother's Day with my offspring, whose company has been promised for the day.

No flowers required.

Belfast Telegraph


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