Refocus, decommercialize Mother’s Day to return it to its roots, sociologist says

Mother's Day was originally conceived during the U.S. Civil War to highlight its effect on families, particularly women

By Nicole Thompson in Toronto

A sociologist says it’s time to refocus Mother’s Day — but not in the way you might be thinking. 

Sarita Srivastava, a sociology professor and dean of arts and science faculty at OCAD University in Toronto, said the holiday has become overly commercialized and somewhat disingenuous. 

“It’s the one day to go, ‘Thank you mama for doing all the cooking, all the cleaning and all the domestic labour,'” she said.

Mother’s Day was originally conceived during the U.S. Civil War to highlight its effect on families, particularly women. In the last century-and-a-half, Srivastava said, the focus has shifted to be about celebrating mothers for the work they put in at home. 

She said some of those celebrations are performative — for example, when children make breakfast in bed for their mother, but the mother is then expected to clean it up.

Instead, Srivastava said, society should return to treating Mother’s Day as a non-commercial call-to-arms about injustices faced by families.

“The original intent of Mother’s Day was to highlight the impact of war on families and women, and to provide a voice to women to intervene, to act for peace — not meaning just acting against war, but creating peaceful communities,” she said.

Her comments come after teachers at a Quebec school decided to celebrate parents on Mother’s Day rather than just moms, a move that became so controversial provincial legislators felt compelled to weigh in.

The school service centre that oversees La Chanterelle school in Quebec City said the teachers made the decision because some students don’t have a mother or father, while others are in foster homes.

“These debates in Quebec about preserving Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are misdirected, because they don’t actually honour the original intention of these days,” Srivastava said.

Much of the backlash to the school’s decision is related to the idea that by celebrating parents in general, mothers won’t get their due. 

“Honestly, I can’t believe I’m in front of you today to reiterate the importance of Mother’s Day and the importance of Father’s Day,” Education Minister Bernard Drainville told reporters in Quebec City Wednesday. “The idea of replacing Mother’s Day or Father’s Day with Parent’s Day, I don’t agree with that.”

Quebec Conservative Leader Eric Duhaime had asked Drainville if he would allow “the woke to abolish Mother’s Day,” in a tweet that also referred to gender theory and drag queens in schools.

Srivastava said that reeks of transphobic rhetoric. Recognizing parents, including non-binary parents, doesn’t mean mothers will get short shrift, she said.

“Take those days, which are part of our culture, and make them more inclusive by recognizing different kinds of mothers, different kinds of fathers and the historical roots of those days,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2023.

Banner image via The Canadian Press