As I marked the first Mother’s Day that I was not able to celebrate with my own biological mother, due to the distance of my new job, it seemed that I paid more attention to the Mother’s Day messages around me. These messages that were being given to me on pretty much orchestrated how I should celebrate my mother on this day. Moreover, it was the first time in my life I was able to realize the privilege of actually being in a position to make choices of what to purchase for my mother based on what was being advertised to me. What I have concluded is that advertisers want you to believe that there is a small group of women who have the privilege of celebrating Mother’s Day, which too often leaves other depictions of motherhood out of the picture.
If you pay any attention to adverting during May, you could not help but notice all of the ads for Mother’s Day. These ads not only tell customers what would be the perfect gift for their mothers, they almost always depict an image of what a “mother” looks like, what she does, and the kinds of activities she enjoys. Not only does this point to the two biggest issues that I take with advertising, consumption and visibility, but it points to the acceptance of these messages and the way they are reproduced as truth — something that is very problematic, like so many other holidays in America.
What many of these advertisements forget to mention were the countless mothers who are working, mourning, incarcerated, or otherwise unrepresented on this holiday. What about the single mothers of young children who are unable to be surprised with breakfast in bed because there is not another adult able to supervise the children? And while teenage mothering is something that often gets shamed or ignored, where are the advertisements showing young mothers with their children? It was not until we considered the changing tides of mothering in the United States during the past few decades that we really began to see how narrow celebrations of this day have become. This is not meant in any way to detract from the beauty of a day for women who choose to be celebrated. But stepping away from the commercialization of the holiday is something its founder, Anna Jarvis, wanted to do over 50 years ago when she urged the holiday to be taken off of national calendars.
And while I will never cease to celebrate all the women who have played a vital role in my maturation, I think it is time that we recognize some of the images that get left out of conversations surrounding motherhood and Mother’s Day. And while celebrations for Mother’s Day 2013 have come to a close, I hope we can critically analyze some of the images that will be hurled at us next year this time.