Thursday, May 8, 2014

Honoring mother: 8 questions- some you should not ask

How do you frame your mother?

Framing mother- creating a special day-- began 100 years ago when in 1914 Anna Jarvis began her quest to have Congress designate the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day in the U.S.

Mothers are real people. But that’s not what happens on mother’s day in the U.S. Mothers morph into an ideal concept. American mothers become queen for a day. Mothers become goddesses. Mothers have been framed. And not all mothers fit the American cultural frame.

Mothers young and old alike get to enjoy this special day. Our cultural framing is guided by a powerful commercial engine that sells flowers and food in the temple court. Children must bring the sacrifices our goddesses expect if they want to win their mother's favor for another year. Oh, I nearly forgot the expensive fold-out flowery card in pink or lavender-- with or without a Christian cross.


1. What’s a mother worth? On average, mothers are valued at $163.00 in 2014, which is a $6.00 cut from 2013. Americans will spend nearly $20 billion on mothers. Most will buy flowers (60%), which is why I get constant adds from flower companies-even though my mother died two years ago. The more convenience minded (or procrastinators) will buy gift cards (43%; see more at Of course I know this is just symbolic. You can’t put a price on motherhood can you? What mother would frame her self-esteem based on how much a child spent on her?

2. How long have people honored a Great Mother? 
The religion of the Magna Mater (Great Mother) has been dubbed as possibly the oldest religion of all by scholar Anders Sandberg. One idol depicts her with two cats (leopards). (I’m thinking how catty. Cats and women have always gone together. We know cats are female and dogs are male.) Sadly, in one of the old stories goddess Cybele falls in love with prince Attis who decompensates, engages in serious self-injury (castration), and dies. Cybele struggles with grief, which becomes a serious mental illness as she wanders about with pipes and drums accompanying her (I’m wondering about music therapy). Sandberg thinks the cult shows up in the Bible- Ezekiel 8:14. There’s a lot to the story. But this time of year festivals commemorated Magna Mater and Attis. Mothers and children went to temples to obtain her help.

3. How long have women wanted men to serve them a meal? 

Check out the palace of Thera on Santorini. There you will see women watching and waiting for ceremonies to begin. And on nearby Crete most priests were women during the Minoan civilization. Perhaps women are making a comeback in modern democracies-- at least for a day. Fine dining is high on the list for most mothers. But some still enjoy BBQ.)

4. Who was the greatest mother?
Perhaps Mary, Mother of God would qualify – at least for Christians. Catholic Christians honor Mary, the mother of Jesus- not that she was equal to God – but she had a special role. Here’s what Cyril (the one from Alexandria) wrote: “Mary, Mother of God, we salute you. Precious vessel, worthy of the whole world’s reverence, you are an ever-shining light, the crown of virginity, the symbol of orthodoxy, an indestructible temple, the place that held him whom no place can contain, mother and virgin. Because of you the holy gospels could say: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Some tried to take Mary down a peg or two. Rumor had it Nestorians said Mary just contributed to Jesus human nature. But perhaps the Nestorian church got a bad rap.

5.  Why aren’t you a mother? 
Perhaps you know that when couples can’t have kids it’s the woman’s fault? She’s cursed. Ancient men and women prayed for children. They pleaded with God to heal the woman’s womb. No one blames women anymore (false). Medical scientists look for biological explanations and cures. There’s many ways to mother a child that contains a mother’s biological contribution. But a lot of women who want children will cry on mother’s day. When religious cultures frame mothers as queens for a day, those without children are obviously less valued. Now I hear some democratically minded churches hand out a flower or some other female symbol to every woman. And I hear some mothers don’t like that compromise. For some women without children, it is a major effort to reframe one's role in life when living in a Christian culture that places a high value on being a mother. For Christian women, the problem of no children might be as bad as being single. There simply aren't enough Christian men to marry.

6.  Are multichild mothers superspecial?
Mother Sarah had many daughters. (I reframed the old lyrics for mother’s day. You can sing the sexist song on father’s day.) Mothers with lots of children were blessed-- that was in the old days. Nowadays they are cursed or blessed—it’s complicated. If multichild moms are nice and have pretty girls and handsome sons and appear on TV they might be blessed. But if they are poor and need financial support for 3-4 children then they are cursed – at least by many in society. Sometimes churches help poor mothers if they are willing to hear a sermon first.

7. Did you know everyone has a mother (well, almost everyone)? Those who believe in a literal reading of Genesis, will find that Eve and Adam had no mother. Framed as "everyone has a mother" means everyone gets to celebrate mother’s day! Everyone has a mother is a great idea-- unless your mother recently died. Everyone has a mother is a great way to frame mother’s day unless you would rather not be reminded of her. And a very sad fact- a new mother dies giving birth every two minutes. Not everyone has a living biological mother. Many have been mothered by relatives and friends. That's a positive re-framing.

8. What is the Best Mother’s Day Gift of All?
In many U.S. cities, mothers reported quality time with their families as the top gift (Ebates Harris Poll). (Before spending quality time instead of money, check out where you live.) I think it best to play it safe. Why not spend some quality time, offer words of appreciation, and proffer a thoughtful gift? Make a memory that will last a lifetime.


 P.S. If you mess up on mother’s day, read up on apologies and forgiveness.

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