In Australia, it was near impossible to escape the expectation to spend big on Mothers’ Day last Sunday. Advertisers made you feel utterly ashamed of yourself if – until watching commercials touting expensive gift options – you still thought that a phone call or visit may be enough to honour your mother.
Just before Mothers’ Day, the Australian Retailers Association forecast that Australian families would spend 2 billion Australian dollars, adding to the pressure. Considering Australia’s population of only around 24.5 million, this is an impressive amount, even if somewhat exaggerated for a purpose.
The message is clear: If you love your mother, loosen your purse strings! The “perfect gift”, fine dining, or at least a formal lunch are expected. Only an ungrateful child would not buy a big bouquet, accompanied by a box of heart-shaped, individually gold-wrapped chocolates, and book a weekend getaway with massage and beauty treatment for Mum. Of course Mothers’ Day should be a happy day – for jewellers, florists and restaurateurs who count on our guilt trips to make their cash registers ring. A great day, too, for greeting card companies, if you remember to “honour thy mother” – once a year.
Despite the inappropriate commercialisation of family relationships, we should celebrate mothers - pillars of society without whom society would not exist. Mothers are amongst the hardest workers. They even accept unpaid 24-hour shifts, if their children need them, and rarely take leave because… well, so few people are qualified to do their job lovingly.
Actually, this is not entirely true. Mum is irreplaceable, but many people have substitute mothers, special women currently neglected by the greeting card manufacturers. They design cards for step-mothers who, unlike in the fairy tales which viciously defame them, do not lead their husband’s children into the forest to be cooked by a wicked witch. But the Mothers’ Day industry fails to recognise huge untapped potential which could make one of the commercially most lucrative days of the year even more profitable, just by shifting the apostrophe to include our “second” mothers who selflessly fill the shoes of absent or deceased mothers when needed in “Mothers’ Day”. Acknowledging that it takes a village to raise a child (metaphorically speaking, in urban jungles), companies could coerce us into spending serious cash on another group of remarkable women.
Substitute mothers may be relatives, family friends, neighbours or even complete strangers, who generously decide to love and nurture a person who needs their motherly qualities. Filling a void in our lives, they foster our resilience, self-belief and happiness – even in adulthood, when we long for a motherly confidante to give us love, encouragement, and perhaps a little constructive criticism and tough love when necessary.
Many adults describe at least one woman as a “second mother”, whose loving support was crucial for their mental health or wellbeing when they could not be with their own mother. I have had the privilege to be “adopted” by such generous women at various times in my life, when far away from kin. Inviting me into their families, they had enough love to share, regardless of the number of my “brothers and sisters”.
Liz, a nurse with no time for sentimentalities, used to reply as follows to her six children asking what she would like for Mothers’ Day: “Feed the chickens, clean your room, do your homework and don’t break the law!” To her first-born, she said that the best gift he could give was to become a good husband and father, so the world could see that she successfully raised a responsible man who respects women.
I think of Liz on Mothers’ Day. I also think of a group of nuns in Tanzania, who are substitute mothers for a lively bunch of children who either have no mothers or just cannot be with them. I will keep searching for greeting cards dedicated to them on Mothers’ Day.