Mother’s Day often receives mixed remarks about obligation and consumerism. When you consider the history behind it though, there are valuable intentions we can remember to make this holiday not only about mothers, but all women of strength and courage. Plus, despite being a secular holiday, the Christian world has some things to remember before preaching about the Proverbs 31 woman as the perfect mother, again.
I am not trying to be one of those people who shoots down an overall positive holiday, but I want to make some things clear.
The History of Mother’s Day: Peace and Community Work
Traditions celebrating mothers were present in Roman and Greek society. But, the actual establishment of Mother’s Day is attributed to Anna Jarvis, a women’s organizer, who never even had children of her own. Instead, she organized the first official Mother’s Day events because of how her own mother, who died three years earlier, had inspired her.
Her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, hosted events for mothers and women as organized peace and service efforts. They tended to wounded soldiers during the U.S. Civil War, worked to improve sanitary conditions in hospitals, and attempted to lower infant mortality by curbing milk contamination.
In 1868 she organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” where mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation.
Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and suffragette, also issued a “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870 that called for women to unite in promoting world peace.
Anna Jarvis organized the first Mother’s Day event in her hometown of Grafton, West Virginia on May 10, 1908. Other women across the country began organizing similar events, but Jarvis worked hard to remind people that this was a time to recognize the sacrifices women had made and spend quality time with family.
In 1914 U.S. President Woodrow Wilson officially designated the second Sunday in May for the holiday. Naturally, consumerism quickly took over and the plague of flowers, candy, and cards stuck. Jarvis actually ended up protesting how the holiday had been corrupted, but she couldn’t stop the swelling tide.
The Proverbs 31 Woman: Valorous, Not Homemaker
Today, Mother’s Day is not as widely protested as Valentine’s Day, mostly because it would make you look like a terrible person who hates mothers. But there are still those who grumble about it, for perfectly good reasons. For those who aren’t a mother, don’t have one alive or one they are close to, this holiday can be rather depressing and exclusive.
Unfortunately as Christians, we don’t do a great job of recognizing those who are left out when we praise motherhood as the end all be all of womanhood. To be clear: motherhood and womanhood are two separate things. Both are worthy of praise, but womanhood is ignored more than it should be.
Rachel Held Evans posted an AMAZING blog this morning titled 3 Things You Might Not Know About Proverbs 31 that points out how Christians have misused this passage (mostly in sermons on Mother’s Day) to paint a picture of the perfect motherly woman.
The takeaway: being a mom isn’t what makes you a perfect, Godly woman. As Evans notes,
“Proverbs 31 should not be interpreted prescriptively as a job description for all women. Its purpose is to celebrate wisdom-in-action, not to instruct women everywhere to get married, have children, and take up the loom.”
Being the “woman of valor” described in the passage (read Evan’s history on the original Hebrew of the text) is NOT about a checklist of actions or motherhood’s responsibilities. Valor is about how you approach your checklist, whatever it may be. You don’t even need to be a mother!
I have no problem with a pastor giving a sermon related to women on Mother’s Day. But I don’t think we should focus solely on the characteristic of being a mom as the reason for our attention. Yes, being a mother is incredibly difficult. I myself am terrified and nervous for that part of my life (WAY in the future). But it does not define a woman or her value.
Mother’s Day should be about celebrating all the women of valor in our world, the ones who work for peace, serve others and approach life bravely with great wisdom.
A Note About My Mother
In case you are wondering, I did give my mom a card and a gift for today. Not because I have to, but because she deserves some extra attention whether there is a holiday or not. Not because she was the perfect mother (though you did a great job mom), but because she taught me what strength and love looks like.
My mom cooks, cleans, gets out tough stains, and she sewed the majority of my Halloween costumes. But she also went through graduate school (twice!), managed a career in the male-dominated field of higher education, and was involved in our church. I know for a fact that there are people who felt loved and cared for by my mom who were not her children. I am proud to be her daughter, not solely because of what a great mom she is, but because of what a great woman she is.
Because the truth is, you can be a mom without having children. You can serve others, demonstrate integrity, and bestow wisdom. There are a number of women in my life who did this for me, and this holiday should celebrate them all.
So go ahead and celebrate Mother’s day! But keep in mind the way you do so, with respect for the holiday’s history of women who championed peace and service to others, not just motherhood.
Sources and Other Articles on the History of Mother’s Day:
History.com: Mother’s Day
Time Magazine: 3 Historical Arguments Against Mother’s Day
National Geographic: Mother’s Day: It’s Surprisingly Dark Origins