Mothers in Arms

Criticism of the corruption of Mothers Day has become as much a cliché as the holiday itself. Most people believe that Mother's Day started out as a private celebration of women's family roles and relations. We took Mom breakfast in bed to thank her for all the meals she made us. We picked her a bouquet of flowers to symbolize her personal, unpaid services. We tried to fix in our memory those precious moments of her knitting sweaters or sitting at our bedside, all the while focusing on her devotion to her family and ignoring her broader social ties, interests and political concerns.
Today, many complain, the personal element in this celebration has been lost. Mother's Day is just another occasion to make money. It is the busiest day of the year for restaurants, and the week that precedes it is the single-best for florists. The real meaning of Mother's Day is gone.
Such lamentation about the holiday's degradation reflect a misunderstanding of its history. It was the education of Mother's Day to sentimentalism and private family relations that made it so vulnerable to commercial exploitation.
The 19th century forerunners of our modern holiday were called mothers' days, not Mother's Day. The plural is significant: They celebrated the extension of women's moral concerns beyond the home. They commemorated mothers' civic roles and services to the nation, not their private roles and personal services to the family. The women who organized the first mothers' days believed motherhood was a political force that should be mobilized on behalf of the entire community, not merely an expression of a fundamental instinct that led them to lavish all their time and attention on their children.


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