I am frankly surprised that ‘Mother’s Day’ is still commercially viable in this modern era of compulsory uni-sex parenting.
Soon, surely, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day will collapse into one generic ‘Parents’ Day’ so as not to offend same sex parents or three parent baby families. If Labour returns to government with Harriet Harman or Lucy Powell near the helm, expect this sooner rather than later.
Card manufacturers and card outlets would be hesitant to fall foul of this new equality compliance.
But before Mother’s Day becomes a relic of history it is worth remembering that what we are actually celebrating today is not Mother’s Day but ‘Mothering Sunday’, a day in praise of mothers revived by Constance Smith in 1913, held on the fourth Sunday of Lent – exactly three weeks before Easter Sunday. Though mothering is not expressed in the liturgy for this Sunday the lesson for the day does declare: “Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the mother of us all.”
It’s revival, at the time of the First World War when so many mothers lost their sons, reconnected to a pre-Reformation tradition of a special day for visiting your ‘mother church’ or cathedral. Mothering Sunday is about the Church as mother of us all as well as the mothers of families.
My memory of it as a small child was collecting and making – not buying – a posy of spring flowers from who ever’s nearby garden I could beg from to take to give to my mother at a special Mothering Sunday church service.
There all the children lined up in front of the rood screen to formally make each of their mothers a presentation – the gift of our posies. We did not know then how much we had to thank them for.
As children we took the constant certainty of our mother’s presence at home – and selflessness – for granted.
My mother, like nearly every other mother of a child at Wellgate Primary School in Rotherham, was always there for us: there with our breakfast ready in the mornings; there to take us to school or to see us off (when we got older and could cross the busy main road on our own).
She was always there too when we got back home from school (tea waiting); to tend to us when we were ill; to be a constant presence through the holidays. There was always her lap to climb onto, to be consoled when unhappy, to be protected when frightened.
That ‘always’, with the intimacy that goes with it, is mothering.
Now a child is lucky to get ‘quality time’ reading sessions in the evening. Many start their lives in long day care. Even those who don’t will return to empty homes once they’re at school. Or they have long school days thrust on them, starting with breakfast club and ending with after school ‘clubs’ run by a succession of different carers, none of whom have a personal commitment to or interest in them. There is no person whose protective instinct is especially operating on the child’s behalf.
Of course, these set ups cannot and do not replicate the mothering small children, in particular, need for their wellbeing as well as their development.
As the youngest left at home after my sisters started school, I followed ‘my mummy’ around doing the chores. She taught me by osmosis, not just to speak and think but how to look after myself (and others). I can’t remember not knowing how to make a bed, clean a bathroom, do the washing, scrub the kitchen floor or prepare a meal.
She was the lynchpin of our lives. Her example taught us selflessness as well as aspiration and ambition. Later she continued her education, took a degree and ran a language school.
No wonder Mothering Sunday was so important to us.
Now it is reduced to a commercial gesture exploiting a sense of what people ought to do, a relationship they ought to recognize, but with an empty heart at its centre. That’s because modern orthodoxy has it that mothers are not unique. They are replaceable, not just by grandmothers or fathers, but by any carer and indeed by a man.
This of course ignores basic social and biological realities. “Carers” are not consistent because their relationship is contractual beyond which they have no commitment. The child becomes a commodity. Yet this is the child who as a baby gestated in the mother’s womb and depended on her for milk, forming a unique attachment for his survival.
The only substitute for this is someone, like an adoptive mother, prepared to take on this life-long relationship.
Detaching children from their mothers and from mothering does just that. It detaches them. No wonder we are in the throes of a child and teenage mental health crisis.
Thirty years ago newspapers would run comment pieces on whether you could be a mother and work, or be a mother and have a career. Would it deleteriously affect children?
Now such debate is taboo. No editor would dare. The feminists have seen to that. The word mothering has effectively been banned too. The concept barely exists. Why would it when only one woman in ten today is a full time or stay at home mum.
Of course, once mothering was written out of the script, mothers were no longer uniquely needed. How convenient.
No wonder they are an endangered species, soon to be extinct, stuffed and mounted beside the woolly mammoth at the Natural History Museum. Pity our poor children who will never know the point of Mothering Sunday.