Mother’s Day: What Does It Really Mean?

May 12, 2020
Mother hugging daughter/Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

On Mother’s Day three years ago I had an epiphany. Two months earlier I had spent nine days next to my infant son Alex’s hospital bed as he lay there suffering breathing problems and hooked up to IVs and oxygen. I was feeling completely helpless as a mom. For the first month after we came home, we were advised to avoid having him around people, leaving us virtually housebound. As May rolled around, Alex finally began to get stronger.

On Mother’s Day, my husband confessed that, because of how hectic our lives had been, he didn’t have anything to give me for Mother’s Day. It was then that it hit me: I didn’t care about store-bought gifts. The best Mother’s Day present I could have asked for was wriggling around in my arms.

So why do I tell that story? Well, I guess because I had come to realize that this holiday has become just an excuse for increased sales of cards and flowers. And I say that as someone who had griped at my husband for what I felt was his less-than-adequate recognition of my motherly achievements with our first child.

As a mom, I try—and mostly fail—to emulate the epitome of motherhood as far as I’m concerned, the Virgin Mary. In short, when most people these days ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” as a mom I ask, “What would his mother do?”

And it is in that spirit that the holiday of Mother’s Day was founded in the first place.


How It All Began

The celebration of Mother’s Day dates back all the way to ancient times, but the idea of the celebration was first kicked around in 1872. Julia Ward Howe, author of the words to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” proposed Mother’s Day as a day dedicated to peace.

But it was Ann Jarvis of West Virginia, however, who really pushed for a national day to honor mothers. On the second anniversary of her mother’s death, Jarvis asked her mother’s church in Grafton, West Virginia, to celebrate a day to honor mothers. Her mother had died on the second Sunday in May. The church obliged and the following year, the city of Philadelphia joined in the celebration. Thanks to a campaign by Jarvis and her supporters, by 1911 almost every state celebrated Mother’s Day. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday.

Other countries also celebrate Mother’s Day, but some on different days. In England, Mothering Sunday is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent.


Back to Its Roots

I’m not alone in thinking it’s time we got back to the original intention of this holiday. According to Nancy Twigg’s book Celebrate Simply: Your Guide to Simpler, More Meaningful Holidays and Special Occasions (Counting the Cost Publications), at one point Ann Jarvis became so fed up with how commercial the holiday had become that she actually filed a lawsuit to stop one Mother’s Day event from taking place.

So with the original spirit of Mother’s Day and the example of our heavenly mother in mind, here are some suggestions for getting back to the roots of this holiday:

• Call your mom just to say “I love you,” even if you talk to her or see her on a regular basis. If your mom has passed away, honor her by taking flowers to her grave, fixing one of her favorite recipes or telling a favorite story about her.

• Give the gift of time. For years I struggled with what to get my mom for Mother’s Day. Then one year it dawned on me that my mom and I always would await Mother’s Day as the day to start planting flowers in our garden. So I suggested that, as her gift, I would come over on Mother’s Day and help her plant flowers in her garden. It’s now become a tradition that we both look forward to and cherish.

• Don’t forget the other 364 days a year. While it’s nice to have a day devoted to recognizing all that moms do, remember that you don’t have to save up your “thank you’s” and “I love you’s” for Mother’s Day.

• Think outside the box. Instead of a card or a gift, try to come up with a more personal, creative idea for your gift-giving. For instance, make your own card, stuff a box with little slips of paper containing all the things you love about your mom or fill a journal with all the lessons that your mom has taught you.


For Teens: Thanks, Mom

Communicating with your parents—especially between moms and daughters—during your teenage years can be difficult. Take this opportunity to thank your mom for all that she has done for you. And I’m not just talking about things like washing your clothes or driving you to and from your sports games and practices. Try to think a little more deeply. You can either tell her or write down your thoughts and give them to her.

A perfect example I can think of from my life is when one of my friends died when I was in college. I received a lot of support immediately, but what has stuck with me the most is the fact that my mom showed up for a Mass they held on the one-year anniversary of my friend’s death. The fact that she remembered and showed up meant a lot to me. If there is something like this that your mom has done, let her know what it meant to you.


For Kids: Colorful Carnations

There is certainly no shortage of craft ideas for Mother’s Day, but one of my favorites involves the holiday’s official flower—the carnation. If you’ve ever wondered how they get all those wonderful—and sometimes odd—colors of carnations you see at the store, now you can find out. First, you need a white carnation. Take a glass or vase of water and add food coloring to make your desired color. (Try using your mom’s favorite color.) Cut the stem of the carnation and immediately place it in the water. As the flower soaks up the colored water, its color will begin to change. Or try using more than one color by placing the carnation in different colored water every so often. You may want to start this project before Mother’s Day so that on the actual day you can present your mom with a beautiful bouquet of flowers.

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