Last year, bundled against the chill and without their children in tow (for once), a group of mothers gathered on a Boston football field. They were there to scream. Twenty minutes of unrestrained shouting later, they reported feeling lighter, freer, like a weight had been lifted.
While so-called primal screaming is not for everyone, the sentiments behind it are easily understood. The demands of parenting coupled with a pandemic have been overwhelming. A caller to the New York Times Primal Scream Line (yep, that’s a thing) summed it up thus: “Every day I think I can’t do this again, but then I do. I get it, I get up and I do it. Because that’s just what parents do, right?” Like the Nike slogan, moms just do it. May their contributions be recognized this Mother’s Day and every other day of the year.
In the spring of 2020, millions of mothers stopped working – either taking leave, losing their jobs or exiting the workforce altogether. They did so in greater numbers than fathers. By January 2021, there were 1.4 million more mothers of school-age children not working than there had been in January 2020, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Some mothers kept working while also providing round-the-clock child care and remote learning support. The reopening of schools helped, as did rebounds in industries with higher percentages of female workers, such as retail and hospitality. Still, the past couple years will have a lasting toll on many mothers’ finances and career trajectories not to mention emotional well-being.
It was mothers’ efforts to reduce the spread of disease and keep children safe that inspired Mother’s Day in the first place.
Anna Jarvis, a West Virginia native, had pushed for creation of the holiday in honor of her own mother’s dream. The senior Jarvis ran mothers’ work clubs to improve survival rates of young children. Participants learned about hygiene and sanitation and provided medicine to families in need. Both women understood the powerful force of mothers in their homes and communities and wanted to honor them.
On May 10, 1913, U.S. Rep. James Heflin of Alabama introduced a resolution requesting President Woodrow Wilson, Cabinet members, congressmen and other federal officials wear white carnations to honor mothers for being “the greatest source of our country’s strength and inspiration.” The practice caught on and in 1914 legislation passed designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
Jarvis later lamented the commercialization of the holiday. When the price of carnations went up, she accused florists of undermining “one of the finest, noblest and truest movements.” We certainly don’t begrudge Mom her flowers, but truly recognizing the contributions of mothers takes more than a day and a visit to the greeting card aisle. It’s not just a familial debt, it’s a societal one.