This Mother's Day, let's focus on politics, not presents

Replace the obligatory brunch and flowers with valuable protest in areas that really matter to mothers.

The founder of Mother’s Day would be horrified to see what it’s become. Anna Jarvis created the holiday in 1908 and had a clear vision of a day that would be a solemn and sacred commemoration of the hard work of all mothers, living and deceased. Jarvis, who never married or had children, was deeply influenced by her own mother’s struggle, as she had lost nine of her 13 children to various causes, including sickness caused by poor sanitation and contaminated milk.

According to an article in Vox, Jarvis worked hard to establish Mother’s Day, reaching out to politicians, florists, and department stores. Her efforts paid off quickly as Mother’s Day grew in popularity, but by then Jarvis felt uncomfortable with her own creation. She opposed its commercialism fiercely, even petitioning Congress to cancel the holiday and crashing a confectioners’ convention in protest, but the seed had already taken root. Mother’s Day would only continue to get bigger and bigger.

That’s where we find ourselves now, with an annual holiday this coming Sunday that will generate over US $21 billion in flowers, chocolates, jewelry, greeting cards, and brunches at overcrowded restaurants.

It doesn’t have to be this way. How about taking your mother out for brunch on a random weekend when no one else is doing it, or sending her a card at another time of year, when she’ll really know that you’re thinking about her, not just following a Hallmark-created guideline?

Or, here’s a radical thought: You could shift the conversation away from frivolities like chocolate and flowers to the serious political and gender issues that should be a focal point on Mother’s Day.

For example, we could be talking about the necessity of educating girls and implementing family planning as one of the most effective means of fighting climate change, according to Paul Hawken, author of Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.

We could talk about the peril of a surging maternal mortality rate in the United States, which, contrary to global trends, has surged 136 percent between 1990 and 2013 – a mind-boggling fact. A probing exploration into the inaccessibility of quality prenatal care would be valuable, and how women in rural communities continue to suffer (and sometimes die) because they don’t have access to basic services like trained midwives for non-complicated deliveries, oxytocin shots, and breastfeeding consultants.

How about discussing the lack of paid maternity leave for women in the United States – one of only two countries in the world that doesn’t offer it? (The other is Papua New Guinea.) So while politicians sing their mothers’ praises this weekend, wouldn’t it be nice if they took concrete steps to improve the lives and wellbeing of future mothers and babies, and acknowledged the importance of allowing a woman’s body to heal after birth and a mother to bond with her new child?

We can’t talk about Mother’s Day without discussing parenting, and these are scary times to be a parent. From air and water pollution, food recalls, cancer diagnoses, leaching plastics, mercury poisoning, and off-gassing new clothes, to traffic accidents, strange kidnappers, and the dangers of excessive screen time, mothers are constantly inundated with warnings about how our children will be damaged by the world around them.

All of this (and other factors) has translated to a surge in helicopter parenting that, while rooted in good intentions, ends up being utterly exhausting for mothers (and fathers) who feel they must dedicate themselves to monitoring every aspect of their child’s life, at the cost of everything else that once mattered to them.

We should be shouting our support for the heartbroken mothers whose daughters’ deaths are being investigated by Canada’s national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, for the countless mothers who have lost children to war, to ongoing sexual violence, to suicide.

While gift-giving can be a valuable part of maintaining relationships, I urge you to cut the fluff this Mother’s Day. Don’t plan a celebration merely because marketers say you should. Don’t waste your money on pesticide-soaked flowers or slave-made chocolates. Instead, donate your money to charities working on these important issues and talk about them. Let’s make Anna Jarvis proud of the holiday she created.

Tags: Consumerism | Holidays

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