Mother's Day Snapshot: Behind the Gifts, Flowers and Feelings

05/10/2015 03:38 pm ET | Updated May 10, 2016


Mother's Day Globally:

Mothers and motherhood have been revered for millennia. Maternal Greek and Roman goddesses were celebrated with extravagant festivals, and in 16th-century Europe, "Mothering Sunday" took place during Lent, when Christians would attend a special service at the main church in their area, or their "mother church." Over time, this merged with the American holiday created in 1908 by Anna Jarvis, who was inspired to create a day to recognize the sacrifices that mothers make for their children.

Here in the United States, we celebrate by treating our mothers: to cards and candy, flowers, breakfast in bed etc. More phone calls are made on Mother's Day than on any other day of the year. In Mexico, Mother's Day is the busiest day of the year for restaurants, and is often celebrated with a special song.

Russian mothers are celebrated on International Women's Day, a day in March internationally recognized to honor women and promote gender equality. In Thailand, mothers are celebrated on the twelfth of August: the birthday of Queen Sirikit, wife of the longest-reigning monarch in history. No matter where the celebration takes place or when it is marked on the calendar, people around the globe take time to recognize mothers and thank them for their sacrifices.

How Does Our Celebration Speak of Our Cultural Expectations?

We wake up early to bring her breakfast in bed, because she typically makes breakfast for the rest of the family. We rub her feet or volunteer to do the dishes, because she is usually the one who does the housework. Of course our intentions are good; we want to make her feel loved, we want her to relax. We want to ease the burden that falls on her shoulders the other 364 days of the year.

From Womanhood to Motherhood

No doubt, womanhood has for ages, been considered almost synonymous with motherhood. Women are defined by their maternal qualities, described as "tender," "gentle," or "motherly." Pope Francis referred to women who elect not to have children as "a greedy generation." Historically, it makes sense that women would be celebrated as mothers for their extraordinary ability to bring new life into the world. But why is it that women today, with opportunities, capabilities and proven achievements, still struggle to prove their identity as a complete wholesome woman beyond motherhood? Why is it still a stigmatized issue, though subtle but still clear in many socioeconomic and cultural circles?

The answer is conformity rooted in social conditioning. Women are expected to show more empathy, so they do. They are expected to aspire to marriage and motherhood, so they often feel as if they must follow this path. The feel of "something lacking" eventually takes its toll in many women, who later go through a guilt trip and debate the choices they made earlier in their lives. I write in my book Confrontation 9 , that "conformity has become an epidemic." Because women are taught that submissiveness is valued, they strive to mold themselves to societal expectations. In many families, the day to day choices within the domain of motherhood speak of societal expectations. These expectations and conforming behaviors become societal norms, unless we question them. We all are together in it when we value or reject our daily behaviors and set standards within groups. Eventually, those popular belief circles become societal norms within a cultural group.

Embracing the Full Circle:

One group that has begun to challenge gender roles is the working mother. Although, the ideal mother still keeps her children fed and her home clean, due to economic necessity she often must also work outside of the home. Sadly, these women are frequently viewed as selfish for spending their time outside of the home and away from their family. Stereotypes persist that working mothers have negative effects on their marriage, their children, and society as a whole, despite evidence to the contrary.

The critics of working mothers fail to realize that by balancing a career in addition to motherhood, these women are not only "feminine," "loving," and "kind," but they can claim the titles "independent," "fulfilled," and "empowered" as well. Like a lioness protecting her cubs, a working mother is providing for herself and her family. To balance a career and family life is the ultimate sacrifice. Her womanhood is intact, even improved, with her empowerment.

Today, we celebrate mothers. Working mothers and stay-at-home moms, single mothers and happily married mothers, mothers who keep their kitchens sparkling and mothers who would rather order pizza for dinner, we salute you. We thank you for your sacrifices, your dedication, and your unconditional love. We recognize that your womanhood does not only lie in traditional gender roles, but in your power to progressively and bravely redefine your capacities in the light of present day opportunities and create new pathways for future generations.

We salute your courage to bridge the stereotypes with non-conventional ideas and as you continue to do so, we hope that you are rejuvenated by those who hold you near and dear on this special day!

Happy Mother's Day from the World Women Global Council.

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