Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother in 1908 and campaigned for a national day to honor all mothers. Recognized by all states in 1911, Mother’s Day became a national holiday in 1914. Ironically, by the early 1920s, Jarvis began protesting the commercialization of the day, particularly by florists and greeting card companies. One can only imagine how she would view the day today.
The challenges facing modern mothers has increased to the point where it is fair to question just how much society values parenting. A quick glance at our culture would immediately identify significant obstacles for mothers to shape children according to their own values.
While Jarvis objected to profiteering on the concept of motherhood, today’s commercialism introduces the concept to children at a young age. Advertisements incite the sense of immediate gratification and quickly create situations of peer pressure.
With families geographically separated and parents working, providing gifts is seen as a quick-fix way to build closeness with children. Where once access to information could be blocked, it currently works its way down, around and across to children.
Another cultural challenge is the increasing social acceptance of what was once called boorishness. Where “do what feels good” was once criticized, it is often accepted or even celebrated today. Behavior and personal conduct that was once condemned is now ignored or even rewarded. People at all levels of society feel free to disparage others, treating others contrary to the way that mothers teach their children. Again, where one could perhaps block children from that behavior, today it would require that children have no access to the news.
One of the challenges that has always been in place but has increased in our interconnected world is criticism. Decisions regarding child upbringing are tough enough, and often lead to self-doubt. That doubt increases exponentially with the variety of online, printed and face-to-face interactions. What works for one may not work for another. That doesn’t prevent “experts” from expressing their opinions about the “right” way to do everything - feeding, dressing, scheduling, etc.
While I have identified many obstacles for mothers, I have seen some advances, especially in mixing parenting and work. To take an example, I served in the Legislature with a teacher who faced criticism for “leaving her students” during the legislative session and lost her re-election bid. Now, there are a few female legislators who are able to serve in the Legislature while away from their children during much of the session. One was able to bring her newborn to work with her this past session.
I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by women who have had different styles while being devoted mothers. My grandmothers raised children who both graduated from college, taught for roughly 40 years each, and were selected as the Teacher of the Year in Sioux City, with my mom eventually being chosen to be Iowa Teacher of the Year. In turn, she balanced her work with volunteering for most activities that I participated in as a youth. Her son went on to serve in the state Legislature and as a brigadier general.
My wife decided to shift from full-time to part-time work in order to nurture, shape and guide our children. She has balanced her diverse work environment while ensuring her children have every opportunity to make a difference in the world.
I’ve been shaped by what these women have provided, and I’m mindful that I carry their values in my interactions with others. For the opportunities and blessings that my mother and mothers everywhere have provided, I say thanks.
Next week: Charese Yanney