DEAR MISS MANNERS: West Virginian Anna Jarvis’ story of founding Mother’s Day is pretty much known to everyone in West Virginia, which is where I grew up, still have property, will probably be buried, and took (and later taught) eighth-grade West Virginia history -- a requirement and a big deal.
We are quite proud of her. Then there’s Father’s Day, which we claim, too.
You are exactly correct that greed and entitlement were certainly not Anna Jarvis’ idea of a Mother’s Day celebration. Anna herself later became disenchanted with the commercialization of Mother’s Day. She no doubt would be quite disappointed in the letters you receive from people demanding Mother’s Day gifts from various people.
GENTLE READER: Indeed. Miss Manners is braced for the onslaught of letters she receives after every Mother’s Day from disgruntled mothers who expected to be paid tribute not only by their children, but by nearly everyone else, including their own mothers.
Ladies, this is unseemly. Mother’s Day is for children to show appreciation of their mothers. (Unless the mothers object, as Miss Manners’ own dear mother emphatically did. Her position was that acknowledging it would concede that there are 364 days in the year when children do not have to pay tribute to their mothers.)
Appreciation that is demanded is hardly worth it. Yet admittedly, small children have to learn what might be expected of them. In that regard, fathers (and mothers, in regard to Father’s Day) are the natural instructors. But society in general is full of reminders, and while those are propelled by commercial concerns, they afford the opportunity to explain the custom.
Generalizing the appreciation by directing it to all mothers, and even to all people, including strangers, who may be presumed to be mothers, also dilutes the meaning. And it can be harmful. The other type of fallout that Miss Manners receives after each Mother’s Day comes from those who are wished a happy Mother’s Day by those who do not realize that they are childless, or even bereaved.
Everyone has, or has had, a mother. Some have more than one, in the form of stepmothers or others who have acted in a maternal capacity. Mother’s Day is simply an opportunity for their children to honor them.