Motherhood — the Oldest Profession
By Micki Peluso
This Sunday mother's throughout the country will be honored in many and various ways. Toddlers and preschool children will cheerfully drag their mothers to their favorite fast food places and older children will escort them, with great decorum, to restaurants with actual dinnerware. The majority of children will serve their mothers breakfast in bed, a calamitous tradition that refuses to die. Adult children with children of their own will have greater reverence for their mothers, graced with understanding and empathy. Mothers will righteously accept the presents, cards, flowers and candy, and promises of exemplary behavior in the future. She has always and will continue to deserve the esteem bestowed upon her by her family on this one honored day of each year.
Motherhood, while fulfilling in ways too numerous to mention, has never been easy. Today it is even more difficult due to the diverse roles played by the 21th century mother. Some mothers are the sole support of the family; others work to supplement insufficient incomes, while many choose to balance a career with caretaking — all monumental achievements. Some households with dual incomes have learned to share the ongoing chores of home maintenance and child care, but it usually falls to the mother to be the primary nurturer, manager, coordinator and ‘gopher’. In spite of reports on ‘burnout’ among working mothers, and ‘latchkey’ kids left alone too much, many American women are proving themselves capable of being both mother and working woman, placing the emphasis on quality versus quantity time with their children.
However, a small percentage of women have elected to forgo their careers, reasoning that careers can be resumed, but childrearing is a onetime occupation. Due to the trend toward women bearing children later in life, some women have worked and established careers for 10 or 15 years before having children. The skills they’ve attained are often utilized in creating home enterprises and small businesses, allowing them time with their children.
Unlike Father's Day, which was erratic in its installment, Mother’s Day was accepted with enthusiasm. In May of 1907, Anna M. Jarvis of Philadelphia was inspired by the idea that at least once a year children should pay tribute to their mothers. She organized a special Mothers church service and the concept quickly spread to other churches. By 1911, the observance was widespread, including every state in the union, plus Canada, Mexico, South America, Africa, China, Japan and several islands. Leaflets proposing certain exercises were printed In 10 different languages and distributed to various countries. What the leaflets said in part was: “A day that has shown that it has heart and living interest for all classes, races, creeds, native and foreign-born, high and low, rich and poor, scoffer and churchmen, man, women and child, is Mother’s Day, observed on the second Sunday of May. The common possession of the living world is a mother . . . .”
A Mother's Day International Association was incorporated in December of 1912 to promote a greater observance of the day. The following May, the House of Representatives unanimously adopted a resolution calling upon all government officials to wear a white carnation in celebration of Mother's Day. In 1914, Congress designated Mother's Day as an official holiday and asked Pres. Woodrow Wilson to display the national flag on all public buildings. On May 9, the president issued a proclamation asking the people to follow suit and display flags on their homes as ‘a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of the country’. The wearing of white carnations on Mother's Day was modified to distinguish living mothers from those deceased. White flowers were worn by the motherless and red flowers by children with living mothers. Gift-giving by children became popular, especially homemade gifts and cards. One gift in great demand for Mother's Day was the reproduction of Whistler’s portrait of his mother, the most famous mother portrait of the times.
Ever since Eve rocked the cradle that begat civilization, mothers held an almost mystical place in society. Research shows that even the caveman, while chauvinistic to the nth degree, cherished and protected his mate, knowing instinctively that without her the clan would become extinct. The cavewoman was healer, food gatherer, herbalist and fur-skinner, as well as mother. The custom of holding festivals to honor motherhood dates back to the ancient Greeks who worshiped Cybele, mother of the gods. Rome adopted the tradition around 250 BC and celebrated the festival of Hilaria on the Ides of March. The festivities lasted three days and included rites in woods and caves, significantly different from modern celebrations.