Mother’s Day. There are two ways of looking at it.
- It’s a sweet, time honoured tradition. One special day a year when children remind their mums how much they love them.
- It’s a sham. An invention of the card companies. A cheap and easy way for lazy offspring to pay lip-service to the women who raised them. A day of forced rather than genuine sentiment and enjoyment, fuelled by adverts and clever marketing displays in supermarkets. A capitalist manipulation of our inherent sentiment towards the women who gave us life.
I hope I’m not coming across too cynical already…
Because I participate in this tradition. Every year I trawl through the increasingly depressing choice of cards to choose one for my mum. Do I act all twee and pretend I’m still a little girl by getting a ‘You’re the best Mummy in the world’ card? (I know they’re meant for children but seriously, I know adults who send these too!). Do I go for the increasingly kitsch range of cards which seem to portray all mums as members of the Women’s Institute who bake and make quilts and like everything to be pink? (My mum is a working woman and more likely to crack open a bag of kettle chips and a bottle of wine when she gets home in the evening than start rustling up a batch of blueberry muffins). Or I could go for the ‘humorous’ section. Rows and rows of cards with hilarious messages like ‘Put your feet up mum, you deserve it…but don’t forget to cook dinner later!’ Gender stereotype anyone?
But of course, Mothers’ Day isn’t really about adults and their mums. It’s about children. For a mother of small children, Mother’s Day really can be special. She awakes to be handed a mangled piece of toast and a half drunk cup of orange juice which is grandly called ‘breakfast in bed’, then settles down to read the garbled message on a crumbled piece of card, doused in more glitter than an episode of My Gypsy Wedding and with half the letters written back to front. That is special. I can’t wait for that.
But between those stages, there’s a kind of grey area. What if you’re a mum to a baby?
In the way all mothers do, I think my baby is particularly bright. He can make clear combinations of consonant and vowel sounds, he recognises people, he can play simple games and has recently mastered the art of waving to people. Although is a little behind other babies in that he hasn’t yet learned to crawl, I am taking this as a sign of his intelligence – he has learned that there is no need to crawl if he can roll around enough to reach things as it expands less energy and if something is too difficult to get, he can just find something else to do! (That’s my boy!)
I accept, however, that he is not so bright that he can understand the concept of Mothers’ Day, much less cognitively and physically apt enough to go out, buy a card and write a message. I think that may be beyond even him.
Yet in the run up to Mothers’ Day there are comments from friends. “Ooh, you’re first Mothers’ Day. I wonder what you’ll get?” I hadn’t even realised Mothers’ Day was approaching, but once it was pointed out to me, I couldn’t help but wonder. Ooh, I wonder what I WILL get?
Because the unwritten rule of Mothers’ Day is that, for the mums of young babies, it’s really a second Valentine’s Day.
In the 6 and a half years we’ve been together, I’ve never had a Valentine’s card from my husband. He refuses, for reasons similar to those outlined against Mothers’ Day at the start of this blog. So I didn’t hold out much hope for Mothers’ Day. Besides, I could see through all the commercial rubbish and I knew it didn’t matter. I did. Sort of…Except, I really was holding out hope, and quite a lot of it…
I have a nine month old son. He’s teething. It’s bloody awful! So I woke up on Mothers’ Day – my first ever Mothers’ Day as a mum – shattered and cradling my son in bed after having giving up on getting him back to sleep in his own room around 2.30am. I was grumpy, I had a headache and, to top it all off, I had period cramps – my first since getting pregnant. The fact that it was Mothers’ Day was the last thing on my mind, until my husband said “I know what’ll cheer you up”, placing something between our son’s chubby fingers and thrusting them in my direction.
Inside were details of a weekend away, where we would see an intimate gig by my favourite comedian. He’d arranged for a family member to babysit overnight so we’d get some time alone for the first time in months, and – more importantly to me at that point – a good night’s sleep. It was thoughtful, well-planned and personal. A brilliant gift. My first thought? “Where’s my card? My first ever Mothers’ Day card? What will I put on the mantelpiece?”
That’s the problem with days like Mother’s Day. It’s not necessarily about love or showing appreciation. It’s about showing that you’re loved and appreciated.
Later that afternoon, I looked through Facebook. Half the mums I knew seemed to have uploaded pictures of their Mothers’ Day haul before they’d finished opening it. For many of these people, I know that these gifts were true manifestations of strong, loving relationships. But far too often, it can be a smokescreen. It’s too easy to cover over the cracks with some flowers and a well written rhyme: the husband who wastes hundreds of pounds a year on gambling but makes it all better with a bunch of flowers on Valentine’s Day; the father who regularly misses bath and bed time for after work drinks but splashes out on an expensive Mothers’ Day lunch. That’s the real problem of Mothers’ Day, and all the other dedicated calendar days. It runs the risk of becoming one day of extravagance presented as a solution. It’s the showiness, the ‘in-your-face’, “look how much people love me” nature that grates.
There’s a darker side too. What about the people who have lost their mums; the mums who have lost children; the children in care who have never really had a mum?
A few years ago I was working in a secondary school which announced a special Mothers’ Day assembly, where staff and students would be invited to talk about why their mum was important to them. I looked around my classroom. One girl’s mum was in hospital, another’s had died the previous year and a third was in care because her mum had decided she could no longer cope with her (but could still cope with her two younger siblings). Did they really need to hear how much their teachers and classmates love their mums?
I have no problem with people expressing love for their mums, quite the opposite. But love and family are personal and private. If you’ve been lucky enough to build a happy family, don’t boast about it and shove it in other people’s faces, and don’t think it doesn’t count if it isn’t accompanied by a Hallmark limerick and fuzzy teddy bear. Just be grateful for what you have and don’t take it for granted, or allow yourself to be swayed by a marketing machine designed to sell greetings cards.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to apologise to my husband and son for being such an ungrateful, commercially brainwashed b****!
Post-script: After writing this, I went upstairs and found a Mothers’ Day card on my bed. Turns out my husband was just winding me up. Doh!