Sunday, March 3, 2024
March 3, 2024

Viewpoint: Build on roots of Mother’s Day


It’s fascinating to look at how Mother’s Day morphed over the years. It can be traced back to Ann Reeves Jarvis, who organized Mothers’ Day Work Clubs to improve health and sanitation. (Imagine how it must have been for her to lose most of her children to disease!)

During and after the U.S. Civil War, Ann worked to overcome the animosity of the opposing sides and eventually organized a “Mothers Friendship Day” for soldiers and their families from both sides. It was during this period that Julia Ward Howe spear-headed the movement to honour Mother’s Day as a day to resist militarism and to work for peace.

Ann’s daughter Anna built on her mother’s vision, and lobbied the U.S. government to declare a special day to honour mothers, which it did, in 1914. But it wasn’t long after that that commercial interests realized this was a holiday they could exploit. Anna Jarvis was appalled at the commercialization and trivialization and eventually created a petition to rescind the holiday; near the end of her life she reportedly said she “. . . wished she would have never started the day because it became so out of control . . . .”

Reading about this history gives rise to reflections on what people hold sacred, be it health, peace and reconciliation, motherly love or making money. Isn’t it amazing to see how the world we create is so much determined by our thoughts and the culture we create?

We know that we’re in the middle of a crisis much more threatening than the pandemic: the threat of ecological and also social unravelling. Our economy rewards actions that worsen the crisis and our media and political parties are largely controlled by those who can’t/won’t work to bring in healthier economic options. That Mother’s Day could be a portal to ways of overcoming these obstacles!

It turns out May 10th is also #BearWitnessDay, a day to uphold “Jordan’s Principle” — the conviction that all children should have equal access to essential services, whether they live on reserves or in wealthy neighbourhoods. What a coincidence that this effort to improve children’s health falls on Mother’s Day, which was originally also focused on improving family health. The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society website describes several COVID-safe ways for families to honour this day and further Truth and Reconciliation Committee calls to action.

The coincidence extends further; to honour the origins of Mother’s Day as a day for peace and justice, we are called to be peace-builders. Like Julia Ward Howe, we may denounce “great nations [exhausting] themselves in mutual murder.” We do need to recognize the ways that war and militarism undermine our thinking and ultimately our chances for survival. But peace activism can be more positively focused by learning about Indigenous-inspired ways of being. A less judgemental worldview, more focused on listening, gratitude and appreciation of the natural world, is at the root of peace-building. The simple yet profoundly powerful technology of talking circles can help us build understanding and connection across the many things that divide us.

Taking time to reflect on the history of Mother’s Day, and how we can build on its roots, laid down over two centuries ago, may help us build a future worthy of our children.

Jan Slakov is a long time activist and Green party member.

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