Mother’s Day is around the corner, and if you have school-going kids, chances are that you – like me – would have been invited to some kind of school celebration at some point this week.
Of course, this is also the perfect time for self-proclaimed intellectuals to lace their ink with acid and tell everyone who cares to listen why days like Mother’s and Father’s Day no longer have a place in modern society.
I have read most of these columns and while I think they’re just taking themselves waaaaaaayyyyyyyyy too seriously, I must admit that I agree with some of their points to a certain extent.
Commercialism and keeping up with the Joneses
According to Wikipedia,celebrations of motherhood and maternal bonds are as old as time itself, but what we know as Mother’s Day today was only initiated in 1908 when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother and then campaigned to have Mother’s Day recognised as a holiday in the US. However, 12 years later she already expressed her disappointment at the commercialism of what she had originally intended to be a day of honouring not only mothers, but any maternal figure.
She ended up spending the rest of her life fighting this commercialism – something she termed as an “abuse of the celebration”.
Fast-forward a century later and it’s one of the most commercially successful occasion of the year. And I should know…
Growing up, we were by no means dirt poor, but my dad had a blue collar job for most of my young life and my mom had a little baking business to help making ends meet. I wasn’t the richest kid in my class and our’s wasn’t a life of luxury.
I can’t speak for my brother, but I would always listen with a touch of jealousy when my friends told me how their mom got diamond earrings or something elaborate for Mother’s Day, when all I could afford was a little bar of Vinolia soap after selling off some craft I had made.
There was always this expectation… I HAD to buy a card and whatever I wanted to give my mom I HAD to buy from a shop. This wasn’t my mom’s expectation, mind you, but rather something I expected of myself whenever I saw an ad on TV or walked down the shop aisles with my mom. Such was the power of advertising and marketing – something I only came to understand when I grew up and started working in the marketing industry myself.
Thanks to my parents’ example, I want to encourage my own children to not fall into the commercial trap of feeling that they MUST buy me something for Mother’s Day. Their drawings and letters and the flowers they pick in the complex mean more to me an anything else. And it’s something I can look forward to every day.
But I can already see it happening: just yesterday they asked me if I would be happy with a slab of chocolate and a Coke Zero for Mother’s Day. Being a bit of an addict to both my initial reaction was “HELL YEAH!!”, but then I thought about it and realised that they, too, might be feeling the pressure to buy me something for Sunday.
They are so young, and yet they feel that only a store-bought gift will matter. And the last thing I want is for them to feel unworthy when their friends tell them about the diamonds and pearls their moms received when they go back to school on Monday.
If anything, I want to teach them what my parents taught me: there are things in life that money can’t buy.
Modern families and new traditions
A few kids in my children’s school don’t have what I can only refer to as a more traditional family structure. Some come from single-parent households. Others are brought up by grandparents. And I know of one particular little boy who has two moms. Do they ignore Father’s Day completely or do they choose to both days into a celebration of bonding and family love? Does the little girl who is brought up by her father not celebrate Mother’s Day? Or will the entire family come together on Sunday to celebrate the bonds and love given by aunts and friends?
Moving further afield an acquaintance recently suffered the sadness of a stillborn child. Another spends most of her time in hospital tending to her very sick baby. A friend suffered a miscarriage. Is a celebration like Mother’s Day insensitive to their circumstances?
Times are a-changing, and so should we
Getting back to myparents and growing up… while we didn’t have a lot of money we were always big on celebration, so Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter and Christmas were always days marked by family, bonding, laughter and food.
For us, it was more about taking time out of our school, social and work schedules to just be together. The gifts were there but it wasn’t a focal point. And I hope to continue with this in my own home.
Times have changed. The traditional meaning behind these occasions have changed. And while I can’t really offer solutions to some of the questions above, the best I can do is teach my own children that days of remembrance and celebration are important, but not in the way they see on TV or walking down the aisle in Woolies.
This coming Sunday we will spend the day together as an extended family, with one of the kids’ godmothers present too, because she is as much of a mother to my kids than I am. They will call their other godmother in Pretoria and remind her again that they love her, even though they regularly tell her that. I will honour my mom… not only for raising me right but for playing such a vital role in my children’s lives too.
Father’s Day is next month… and even though Da Husband and I have both recently lost our fathers, we will honour their memories in ways we see fit. Our kids will celebrate their beloved daddy. We won’t begrudge those whose fathers are still alive and able to celebrate with them. Because life goes on and the celebration shouldn’t stop.
But the bottom line, for me, is this: Don’t stare blindly at the advertising industry’s version of an occasion like Mother’s Day. Create your own family traditions. Make it about family, not money.
And teach your children the value of a hand-written note.