Updated on 09.17.14

Solving the Mother’s Day Debate

Trent Hamm

Whenever Mother’s Day rolls around (and it’s just about here), people seem to congregate into two camps on the issue.

First, there’s the celebrate your mother camp – the people who feel that Mother’s Day is a perfect opportunity to show your mother that you care for her, either through action or through a gift. On the other side of that coin is the Mother’s Day is a day invented by the greeting card industry group, those who feel that the entire concept of a “mother’s day” is just an excuse for consumerism.

To tell the truth, I agree with both sides of the issue. Mother’s Day may be a contrived invention, but the reason behind it is one I wholeheartedly agree with – it’s always worthwhile to celebrate our mothers.

The solution is simple: the best way to celebrate your mother isn’t by waiting until a particular day and celebrating it with consumerism. Instead, find ways to show your mother that you truly care – and those ways rarely involve heading to the store and buying greeting cards and other things. Here are eight things to try, whether or not you’re waiting until May 10 to celebrate it or you want to treat every day as Mother’s Day.

8 Tactics to Try on Mother’s Day1. Apologize

If there is a rift between you and your mother, there is simply nothing better you can do than apologize. Before you do, though, take to heart what it means to truly apologize. Spend some time really reflecting on the rift that has grown between you and look for your own faults. What did you do wrong? Sure, it’s often easy to blame the other person for the problems, but let yourself go beyond that – you’ll grow as a person and open yourself up to repairing a painful rift if you do.

2. Write a letter

Sit down, put a pen to paper, and actually write a letter to your mother. This is a perfect opportunity to let her how what she has meant to you over the years. If you’re not sure what to write, just tell stories. Write about the memories you have of her that have really influenced you – and then mention why they influenced you. This written letter will mean far more than any card ever would.

3. Make a phone call

You can do much the same thing over the phone if you wish, but it’s often just good to place a long phone call to your mother and just talk about everything. Put some time aside for the call so that you can focus on what your mother is actually saying – especially between the lines – and also relate openly about the things you’re feeling and thinking.

4. Pay a visit

Spend an afternoon with your mother. Watch a movie together. Have a conversation. Eat a meal together. Let the conversation flow. Time spent together is the most valuable gift you can give.

5. Do a favor

There’s almost always a task that your mother needs done around her home. Perhaps a room needs repainted. Maybe the car needs detailed. Maybe the shrubs need trimmed. One spectacular gift is to simply do that task, no questions asked. Just take care of it, so that the weight of the task is removed from her mind.

6. Prepare a meal

Visit your mother’s house, sit her down in the kitchen with you, then prepare a meal while conversing with her. Set the table, serve the meal, then clean up all the dishes and appropriately pack away the leftovers. Leave the house just as you arrived (except with perhaps some food in the refrigerator) and you’ll leave a parent that knows that you care.

7. Make a video

Take a video of the important things in your life. For me, it would be filled with my children and my home. I’d take clips of my kids playing in the yard, our garden beginning to emerge, and so on. Edit this together into a short film and include a bit at the end that tells your mother how much you care.

8. Involve yourself in something your mother cares about.

Attend a service at her church. Show up at her bridge club meeting. Spend a Saturday at Habitat for Humanity. Most importantly, do these things without reservation – put your heart into it, even if personally you aren’t involved in it. Let her introduce you to her friends and take a bit of pride in you. At the same time, show her that she matters to you – and the things she values are important to you, too.

What’s the common theme in all of these ideas? Time. Not money. Time is the gift that has real value when you’re showing someone that you truly care.

This Mother’s Day, don’t worry about spending your money on a card or a fancy gift. Instead, start now on something that’s an investment of your time. That’s a gift that will really matter.

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  1. guinness416 says:

    To your first paragraph I’d add that it doesn’t matter how YOU feel about the day – if your mum thinks it’s important you should suck it up and send some flowers or the like. I like your suggestions though; my mum lives in Ireland and I’m in Toronto so we don’t see each other so often, she always stresses how much the mother’s day phone call means.

  2. Rob says:

    Trent, one of your best posts ever. And I am VERY hard to impress.

  3. Jonathan says:

    My mother fits in the last tip’s group – every year she just wants to be taken out to breakfast, something we did as a family growing up. As long as I can keep the tradition going, I will.

    If possible, I’d go with doing something your mother wants to do.

  4. liv says:

    This is the first time I’m doing this, but I’m just sending my parents an edible bouquet from ediblearragements because my dad’s birthday is pretty close to mother’s day this year so us kids are knocking out 2 birds with one stone. since there are 4 kids, splitting the cost = not a big deal.

  5. I have bought my mom some really expensive gifts in the past, but she always remembers the small things that me and my sisters do for her. For her, getting a chance for all of us to be together is more of a gift than any flower or gold/diamonds she ever got.

    I know a lot of people that have rifts with their parents for whatever reason, but this is the time to make amends and celebrate the person who brought you into this world. Life is short, make the most of the times you get to spend with your mother!

  6. olivia says:

    great ideas! my mom says she doesn’t want anything. that’s because she loves stuff being DONE for her. i’m not a big DOER (i’d rather just take her to dinner) but i know she’d LOVE if i wrote her a letter. i think i’ll do that.

  7. Jenny says:

    Do you have any suggestions if you live far away from your mom, only see her a few times per year, and get in spats almost every visit?

  8. SaveBuyLive says:

    I’m going to end the debate for you. Mother’s day was NOT created by the greeting card industry. Without getting into the full history of the holiday, it came into official US recognition through the efforts of a lady named Anna Jarvis. In 1914 President Wilson declared it to be an official holiday. To the best of my knowledge neither of them was funded by the greeting card industry.

  9. Beth says:

    Great suggestions! One I’d like to add: If you’re the father of young children, take them off to see to see grandma for the day and let mom have some much-needed pampering hours to herself :)

  10. Jessica says:

    Just for the record, Mother’s Day was established by Anna Jarvis of Grafton, WV. Gift card companies took it and ran, but the establishment of the holiday was out of love and kindness.


  11. KC says:

    I have told my sons I really don’t want gifts – I’d prefer us all getting together for a meal, brunch perhaps?

    My mother lives in another country and sometimes I get a fit of the guilts and send flowers and she tells me off every time. This year I am going to send her a letter telling her how much I love her and how much she means to me.

  12. Dena says:

    I do like the spending time instead of money for Mom idea.
    There’s a third camp of feeling/opinion about Mother’s Day. Women due to fertility issues or other circumstances that don’t have children but wish they did. For them, Mother’s Day can be excruciating. Especially if they go anywhere that pushes the issue (like church services).
    I have a child now, but I had some painful experiences when I made the mistake of attending church on Mother’s Day.

  13. mary says:

    As a reply to Beth……..good luck pushing the kids on Grandma when it is her mother’s day too. No way that would fly with my mom!! Otherwise, great article Brent!

  14. Great post here. Didn’t even realize that mother’s day was coming up. As a guy that has a rough relationship with my mother, this post really gave me some perspective.

  15. tlangejr says:

    Good article, except you failed to include those of us whose mothers have passed away..

  16. Jerry says:

    I see my Mother at least once a week and routinely do chores around her house.
    According to my ever frugal Mom, the best Mother’s Day gift is to be there for her the rest of the year. She sees Mother’s Day as just another consumerist ploy to spend money. However, you can bet the farm that unless I’m in the hospital, I’ll be there on Mother’s Day with a smile on my face ready to do whatever she wants to do.

  17. Anitra Smith says:

    mary: You’ve got it all wrong. Hubby goes WITH the kids to Grandma’s house. It’s win-win: Mom’s present is time alone, Grandma’s present is time with her grandkids (and son/son-in-law).

    My mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother live a little far away for me to “just stop by” on Mother’s Day. But I’ll make sure to send them all cards, and a picture of my baby – their granddaughter/great-granddaughter.

  18. Jessica says:

    Actually, mother’s day is feminist holiday created around the turn of the century to highlight the importance of women in society and convince the country they deserved to vote. It’s really awesome that not only has everyone forgot that, but that they also don’t bother to look it up.

  19. What a sweet post. I keep forgetting that mother’s day is just around the corner, and I’m a mother myself! LOL We have a nice little tradition we’ve started in our family. We go on a family picnic together. We get outside, and spend time as a family. Funny thing, these days, that’s not strange at all for us. We get out together as a family quite often.

    I buy cards still, for my mother and mothers-in-law who don’t live close by. They like that sort of thing.

  20. Ajana says:

    Mothering Sunday in the UK has been around since the 16th century. It is celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent (it moves so sane people have to rely on a calendar for the date). It used to be only day young British people who were in service (e.g. maids and servants) were allowed to visit their families. Typically they would take home to their mothers a gift of cake, eggs or flowers. Nowadays it’s completely commercialised like the one in the US. Quite sickening that a simple day has become all about money.

  21. McKenna says:

    I agree with Beth! Trent, you are right that the gift of time is the best–alone time for mom, that is. And time with the grandkids/son or son-in-law for grandma, like Anitra said. Everyone wins.

    I remember my mom always asked for “good kids,” which never made any sense to me because it was nearly impossible to give that. I just wanted to give her something I could make or buy! Changing my behavior (especially toward my siblings) was waaaay too hard. :)

    As the mother of three kids under five, alone time is hard to come by. I would really enjoy some quiet time at home by myself or at the spa. I asked for a hot stone massage for Mother’s Day. We’ll see what I actually get.

  22. Torv says:

    I would think that making a nice meal and relaxing with family would be a good option too.

  23. Elizabeth says:

    Trent, I’ve noticed that you talk about something needing some work, you tend to say it “needs painted” instead of “needs to be painted.” Is this a convention in the Midwest or Iowa? I’ve never heard it structured without the “to be”.

  24. Ilah says:

    Good job Trent! As a mom all I want is a phone call from my children that live to far to visit, catching me up on their lives and saying I love you.

    I don’t need any more tchotkes! Or bears with clothes, I made the mistake of telling my husband the little stuffed bears with clothes were cute. Uff da! I got lots

  25. Shelly says:

    This is a great post in theory, and I completely agree with it, but really it’s not about what you think you should do but about what your mom wants.

    My mom is a true victim of consumerism and honestly, she’d be a little disappointed if I didn’t get her a card, even though I show her I care all year round. Personally, I think cards are a waste of money, but if that $3 provides something that my mom sees as a sign of appreciation, I’ll do it.

    That’s on top of the visits I make to see her every 1-2 weeks and the phone calls to check in, which I do just because she’s my mom and I love her.

  26. plonkee says:

    And of course if your mother isn’t in your life for some reason, then why not celebrate some of the other women who have helped make you into the person you are.

  27. Courtney says:

    Oye Vey!

    I live in West Virginia, which is where both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day originated (Grafton, WVa and Fairmont, WVa respectively), and they were originally church services honoring the parents. Respect for your elders is important in Appalachian culture.

    I suggest asking your parent what they want to do for Mother’s/Father’s/Grandparent’s Day. You might be surprised.

    Also, I want to point out that just birthing a child doesn’t make you the sole parent. 6% of all children in this country are raised by grandparents, not to mention step-children, adopted children, foster children, etc. Keep in mind those non-traditional, yet worthy-of-acknowledgement parents when creating a Mother’s/Father’s/Grandparent’s Day tradition for your family.

  28. Mister E says:

    I absolutely loathe these Hallmark holidays, I’ve negotiated my girlfriend down from “celebrating” Valentine’s Day. But I do love my Mom and she LOVES recieving cards so every Mother’s Day she gets one along with flowers and brunch.

    Except this year when I’ll be overseas, we’re buying cards in advance and going to mail them from there.

  29. tammy says:

    My mom LOVES to send greeting cards. She is on a fixed income. My local thrift mart has stacks of hallmark and other great brands of cards and envelopes for 10 cents each. Last week, the thrift mart had a half price off sale so I got 20 assorted cards and envelopes for a BUCK. I tie a bundle of these cards with a pretty ribbon and tuck in a book of stamps for Mother’s Day. This gift allows my mom to do something nice for others. This gift allows her to continue to send cards to her friends and neighbors and spread her love!

  30. “Needs repaired” etc. is a Midwest colloquilism; Google “Pittsburghese” (sp) for articles about the same thing in PA. Drives me crazy. Needs banned!

  31. reulte says:

    Jenny (#7) — Send something like a card or flowers — and add a little note (or long letter) about what’s going on in your life that won’t raise her ire. For instance, if its your current boyfriend or the new house you bought or your pet cat that sets her off then don’t mention them. Just write about your work, a book you read — toss in a magazine article you think she might like, the last restaurant/movie/event you went to, maybe let her in on tentative plans. It’s hard to maintain a spat when the moment isn’t immediate and the other person isn’t standing in front of you.

    tlangejr — Every year I send my mother flowers (the same kind he would occasionally buy her) on the anniversary of my father’s death — because I know she’s thinking of him. Could that be adapted to your situation?

  32. sunny says:

    As a mom, mother’s day has always seemed weird and a bit uncomfortable to me. I feel like I should do something for my girls since I wouldn’t have had the joy and pleasure of being a mom if not for them.

  33. Thoughtful ideas, but what about the issue married couples face of having to see both mothers on the same day?

  34. Kim says:

    The best Mother’s Day gift I ever received was a note/poem from my daughter, then about age 19, titled “I Love My Mom Because..” I framed it and hung it next to my bed. I still cry when I read it. If my house ever caught fire, it would be the first thing I’d grab on the way out.

  35. STL Mom says:

    Today I received an email with this subject line: Use PayPay to say “Thanks, Mom” for Mother’s Day.

    I can use speech or writing to say “Thanks, Mom”. I can use money to buy my mom a nice gift. I don’t believe that I can use money to say “Thanks, Mom”.

  36. princess_peas says:

    Whilst it is important to honor and respect our Mums of course, I don’t think that is the whole story of how it originally got started. It goes further than Ajana (no. 20) says, and was intended for anyone who had moved away from where they grew up to return to their “Mother church”, keeping that connection with their roots, even if only once a year.

    Naturally, visiting the Mother church often led to seeing the Mum as well and I think it grew from there. And obviously it is easy to mix up, especially when churches fail to keep on the ball about promoting the true meaning. “Mothering Sunday” becomes interchangable with “Mother’s Day” and then suddenly a lot of people don’t know it has anything to do with church (rather than just something the church endorses) at all.

    I think it’s great that a yearly opportunity to remember and honor our mothers does exist, and I do think it’s great that churches make a big deal out of it too, because if the church isn’t celebrating family in this transient world, then who will? [that was a rhetorical question.] On the other hand I agree that they should be sensitive to people in the situation Dena (no. 12) describe, so I don’t know where best to get that balance.

    BUT I also wish churches made a bigger deal out of the original meaning of Mothering Sunday, and did not, in fact, combine the two. No easy answers there either.

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