Though it may be known for showers, a tempest broke out in late April on social media over emails that leading retailers (including DoorDash, Kay Jewelers, Hallmark, and Levi’s) sent to customers offering them the opportunity to “opt out” of potentially “triggering” Mother’s Day mailings.[Mother’s Day Under Assault From Corporate America | The Daily Caller]
When the news went viral, it generated the usual pushback from conservatives against the “latest woke fad.” So, tempest in a teapot . . . or cultural storm worth taking notice of? Googling “Mother’s Day cancellation” convinced me it was the latter.
While the opt-out emails spoke of “triggering,” it was never specified what makes Mother’s Day “sensitive,” a “time of year [that] isn’t easy for everyone.” One retailer told customers that “the last thing we want to do is hit you with celebratory ‘yay mom’ energy that doesn’t match up with your vibe.” When challenged, most of them were caught on the wrong foot in search of a justification, many eventually stumbling into mention of mothers who miscarried.
I don’t buy that. As a father whose miscarried child would be turning 20 this year, I have some grasp of the loss miscarriage involves, and while it is often a silent phenomenon, I’m not aware of a recent epidemic of prenatal loss.
Grasping for straws, another writer argued that the “cancel Mother’s Day movement” respects mothers whose children died from COVID. Perhaps adult children, but one thing the COVID data showed us was that most kids—compared to adults—were resistant to the virus.
Still others noted that Mother’s Day could be painful for women who, due to infertility, could not be biological mothers. I’ll note, however, that while the incidence of infertility seems to be growing, it’s not apparent that resources are being boosted to find its cause.
It seems to me that the intellectual roots of the “cancel Mother’s Day movement” lie deeper than any of these explanations can account for. And its motives are not necessarily as innocuous or therapeutic as they’re made to seem. One company, though, captured what I think is part of the problem: “Mother’s Day holds a different meaning for everyone.”
Well, does the different meaning pertain to Mother’s Day . . . or to motherhood itself?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg advocated for the abolition of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in 1974. Back then, the displacement of mothers and fathers by “Parent #1” and “Parent #2” could be imagined perhaps but not implemented. Now birth certificates have caught up and schools are cancelling Mother’s Day in the name of “family equality” and fostering student “appreciation” of “family diversity.”
Our society has dissociated marriage and parenthood by its de facto acceptance of sex outside of marriage and the raising of children in single-parent (usually single-mother) families, which, more often than not, are impoverished if not also dysfunctional. I don’t deny that many single mothers strive heroically to raise their children well. I applaud my own mother, who as a 49-year-old widow raised her 11-year-old son to adulthood. But single by death and single by choice are radically different circumstances; pretending otherwise is to value parents’ “choices” over a child’s right to be raised by the two people responsible for his existence.
Furthermore, can we deny the corrosive influence of Roe v. Wade on the question of Mother’s Day? For nearly half a century, American women have been told that motherhood has no inherent value or significance apart from the “choice” a particular woman makes. If she rejoices in her “baby,” that’s good; if she wants to get rid of her “clump of cells,” that’s good, too. Fifty years of viewing life and motherhood through the lens of “choice” has produced a culture that dares not attribute a value to maternity before consulting the individual woman. We can “shout our abortions,” but it’s gauche to shout our maternity.
Nor should we ignore how the cancellation of Mother’s Day is yet another indication of the hyper-emotionalization of our culture. If mere mention of motherhood is “triggering,” be assured motherhood itself is no “safe space.” My Google survey also turned up not having wonderful memories of childhood as another reason to “opt out” of Mother’s Day. In other words, my feelings trump the objective reality that this is the woman who conceived me, carried me, gave birth to me, and raised me.
The woman who has lost a child—before or after birth—or cannot have a child, feels pain. Of that, there can be no doubt. She feels pain because she recognizes and wants—longs for—the objective value and beauty of motherhood.
But for growing numbers of people today, motherhood as an objective concept doesn’t exist. Its value, they believe, is determined by an individual mother’s choices, and therefore society should remain agnostic as to its value.
Such an individualistic and atomized valuation undermines relationality, something essential to shared meaning (and thus shared celebration) in any society. It would be the height of paradox for motherhood—an archetype of relationality—to be pressed into service of such atomization. But after nearly fifty years of cultural privatization and “choice,” should that outcome really surprise us?