You are only as happy as your least-happy child. This, according to my friend, the mother of three who has been doing this mothering thing much longer than I.

Mother’s Day, not surprisingly, began as a tribute from one daughter to her mother.

In 1908, Anna Marie Jarvis honored her mom, a public health volunteer during the Civil War and a community activist, with a church memorial. White carnations were given to those whose mothers had died, and red or pink carnations were given to the mothers in attendance.

In 1910, Miss Jarvis petitioned the federal government to create a national holiday, and in 1914 Congress passed a bill establishing Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of every May.

Now you know.

The intent of the day, according to the founder, was to go to church and then write a long heartfelt letter to one’s mother.


Things went along swimmingly until about 1920, when the greeting card companies jumped on the bandwagon and started selling Mother’s Day-themed cards.

Anna Marie was not pleased. She thought that sending a greeting card instead of writing a long, heartfelt letter was just downright lazy, and she spent the next 20 years of her life trying to abolish Mother’s Day.

We know how that went.

In 2015, Americans spent approximately $671 million on Mother’s Day greeting cards. Americans spent over $20 billion on Mother’s Day in total, and the average spent, per person, was 173 buckaroos.

I can speak only for myself – but I would like to suggest that it’s not about Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day can take a hike as far as I’m concerned. Mother’s Day is just a day to remind us that we are bad children.

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Siblings Day, Grandparents Day – they’re all fabricated holidays that make anyone without these relationships feel bad. Once you create a group and then give it a name, someone is bound to feel left out.


If you don’t have siblings, if your grandparents are gone, if you never had children or if your mother has passed … your response to these artificially established holidays will be far more complex than a Hallmark card can sum up. A day intended to remind us of our loved ones may also remind us of what was never to be or who we have lost.

My own mother, for example, grew up without a father or siblings. She was raised as an only child by her loving grandparents and her hardworking mom. Love and good food filled the void of her no-good-scoundrel-of-a-father who left when she was 2, promising to send for her and her mother when he got work. She never saw him again.

I grew up with a loving father and four siblings and feel extremely fortunate to be a mother myself; however, the moment my child was born, I became an anxious mess. The day I was discharged from Mercy Hospital, I wondered: Who would feed my child? I think we can all agree that this was not the query of a mature mother, but one of a frightened woman. My heart, I understood, was no longer my own, and that terrified me.

Being a mother ain’t easy, but sometimes it is funny.

When my daughter was in middle school, Frederick took her shopping for a Mother’s Day gift.

A trip that should have taken at least an hour ended in five minutes. As I lay on the couch playing the role of the deserving mom waiting for the magnificent plant, tree, shrub or gift card to appear, the kitchen door slammed open and my daughter entered. Though tears, she cursed the man who made her shop.


I kept quiet, hoping she wouldn’t notice me.

After some yelling, they left for another try. Ten minutes later the door slammed open, again, with more yelling and more crying. Mother’s Day was off to a happy start.

My expectation were low from the beginning, but at this point in the day, I just wanted peace. To end the torture, I suggested that she just empty the dishwasher.

On Sunday, instead of expressing the proverbial “Happy Mother’s Day” greeting, I would like to suggest a new declaration.

We all began with a mother, after all. Perhaps “Tell me about your mother” would expand the holiday to include everyone.

Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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