Mothering Sunday by Stephanie Phillips

Where do I start? It is a day that can lead to a complexity of triggers. In reality it is not one day but several weeks of constant reminders. Commercialism has taken over and is out of control. If a florist, a card shop, a pub, a supermarket, a jewellers or a spa retreat can get their fingers into the Mother’s Day market, they will. It is a free for all no bars hype.

But can we blame them?

When did Mother’s Day start, what is its history?

The ancient Greeks would celebrate Rhea, the Mother of the Gods and Goddesses, every spring with festivals of worship. The Romans celebrated Cybele, a mother goddess, every March as far back as 250BC.

In America in 1858 Ann Reeves Jarvis organized Mother’s Day Work Clubs to support the poorest workers of West Appalachia. Within a couple of years her idea spread across West Virginia. In 1861 it took a new direction when the American Civil War started and she lived near the middle of the chaos. She decided that all Mother’s Day Working Clubs would be neutral zones where the members would help feed, clothe and tend the injuries of both the Union and Confederate soldiers. In 1865 when the war ended tension still resided between the two sides when soldiers returned from the war and had to live side by side. Ann’s next move was to initiate a Mother’s Friendship Day to unite the community; but hid it under the pretence that the day was to honour mothers. This day became an annual pacifist event.

In May 1905 Ann Jarvis died and her daughter Anna decided to follow her mother’s cause. In 1908 she held a church service to honour her mother and the custom spread. She continued to publicise the event and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson officially named the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.   

Anna was unhappy when companies saw an opportunity to make a profit from the day. She spent the rest of her life, and her inheritance, trying to reverse the commercialism of the day. In 1948 she died penniless in a sanitarium. Anna never had her own children.   

In Europe in the 16th century people would return to their mother church (church where they were baptized or local parish church) on the fourth Sunday in the season of lent. Later in history domestic servants were given the day off from work so that they could visit their mother church with their family. Children would pick flowers as they walked and give them to their church or mother. Over time this was adopted as Mothering Sunday where gifts were given to mothers.  

The custom of Mothering Sunday started to lapse in the 1920’s but inspired by Anna Jarvis, Constance Penswick-Smith (Nottingham, UK) created the Mothering Sunday Movement. Constance produced a booklet titled The Revival of Mothering Sunday and by the time of her death in 1938 Mothering Sunday was widely observed throughout the British Empire. Constance died in 1938, unmarried and childless.

Why do we focus on the idea of mother relating only to giving birth?

The Greeks saw Gaia is the personification of the Earth, the ancestral mother of all life; the primal Mother Earth goddess. The one thing we all need to do in order to live is nurture the planet.

Pagans, Wiccans, and Neopagans look to the triple goddess of the maiden, the mother and the crone representing the three stages of a woman’s life. Robert Graves spurred the origins of the Triple Goddess with his book, The White Goddess, published in 1948, however in the 5th century the Goddess Hecate was depicted in sculpture as three Goddesses in one.

The goddess aspect of mother does not just represent fertility but also love, nourishment, responsibility, patience, power and self care. The mother invites you to master giving love but also to receive love. We need to nurture the earth, our bodies and our minds in order to wholeheartedly and unconditionally give our love and care to others.

How do I summarise what I know?

What resonates with me the most is that if we want to place blame then in my head it falls on Anna Jarvis and Constance Penswick-Smith; and yet they ended up childless. It seems a strange turn of events that they are each responsible for a day, that for many, can be filled with sadness rather than celebration.

But what I focus on is that whilst the shops do their most to shout about their wares for weeks in advance, it is just one day. Their job is solely to increase their profit margins; they are led by consumerism. Tomorrow shops will have forgotten the pedestal they held mums on, and will instead be focusing on our stomachs, as their shelves are fully stocked with Easter Eggs.

If Mothering Sunday is a trigger for you, what will you do to help youself through the day? Perhaps focus on your mother church, support those less fortunate than yourself, look to nature or consider prioritizing your own inner child. Take the love you would have showered on your children and use it to nurture and comfort yourself.


Stephanie Phillips

Founder, World Childless Week