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Holidays That Hurt May 13, 2012

Posted by craftlass in current issues, relationship.
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Mother’s Day has brought up a lot of interesting points this year. I hate Mother’s Day, personally, for many personal and philosophical reasons. Oh sure, mothers should be celebrated, but are we doing it right? Even the founder of the holiday, Anna Jarvis, thought it had become too commercial soon after she successfully convinced Congress to make it a national holiday. To me, flowers and cards are fine (though better picked or made than purchased, if possible), but these days you also have the jewelry industry telling people that if they don’t spend lots of money on jewels for mom they are not appreciating her enough, phone companies suggesting high-end smartphones are the only way to show you care, and the worst part is the hundreds of emails filling my inbox with cheerful, “Happy Mother’s Day!” messages that are hardly greetings or good wishes.

For the past 20 years Mother’s Day has meant literally nothing to me. One mother gave me up. My real mother (the one who adopted and somewhat raised me) died in a car accident. My stepmother, a wonderful woman I have finally developed a good relationship with, doesn’t care for “Hallmark Holidays” any more than I do. Most years I simply don’t notice the holiday at all, it’s just another normal day. However, this uber-connected world we live in now makes it harder to simply ignore anything. Even if I completely avoided the internet, television, and leaving my home for the weeks leading up to it and the day itself I’d have to deal with all those damn emails at some point. After awhile it starts to feel like a day designed to remind me of how unlucky I am in this regard.

If it was just me, though, I wouldn’t be writing this. I have it pretty good, with a wide and strong network of support, years of experience in dealing with loss, and no desire to be a mother myself. What’s gotten to me this year is watching other people hurt so much more than I do. Those who have recently lost their own mothers, never really had one in the first place, have terrible mothers, are mothers who have lost their children, or have been trying to process infertility and/or miscarriage when all they want is a child are the people I really feel for. Every cheerful message or advertisement can be like a sword through the heart. I wish I could just reach through the computer and hug every single person I see drowning in that pain.

Mother’s Day is hardly the only holiday that hurts people, though. It’s just notable for being one of the biggest holidays for marketers to exploit and happens to be today.

Valentine’s Day is the very worst, in my humble opinion. Frankly, even if you are in a good relationship, it’s a stupid celebration. Romance shouldn’t have a dedicated day, it’s not okay for anyone to show their love on a certain day because society says they should. Love has to be shown every day, not through words or gifts but by being thoughtful and caring every time your heart swells with love for your partner. I am far more touched by something as simple as waking up to a fresh pot of coffee already made for me or my partner surprising me with my favorite foods than by any gift given on February 14th. He just walked in with two boxes of one of my favorite indulgences (Cheez-Its) and put them away without asking for any credit, which makes me feel such a rush of love it can’t be expressed in words. Big romantic gestures are not nearly as impressive as the little daily things we do and they certainly don’t make up for any sort of wrongdoing. Besides, is a gift of flowers, candy, jewelry, or a nice dinner out made more special by someone spending an inflated amount on it?

The biggest perpetrators of all of this are the jewelry companies. They spend millions trying to convince us that the best way to show someone we love them is to go into debt for them. Take a look at engagement rings: It used to be that any ring was a symbol of eternal love due to the unbroken nature of a ring. At some point gems came into the equation. Eventually, diamonds became the norm and woe to the man who didn’t have the biggest diamond he could possibly afford in his hand upon proposing! The rule of thumb for pricing eventually became two months’ salary. Now it’s often said that the expenditure should be a full quarter of his annual pay. At some point the engagement ring simply symbolizes starting your new life together with extra debt rather than anything to do with how much you value your partner, right? To top all of this nonsense off, if a ring’s price is supposed to show off how well a man can provide for his wife it’s simply an archaic act in an era where women are increasingly becoming the major breadwinners in a household and many men are staying home to raise the children. I won’t even go into the gender issues of same-sex relationships that complicate these traditions further.

Okay, okay, I’ve gotten off-topic, but it’s all part of the same umbrella. These traditions started out with the best of intentions but they have gone off the rails in these days of targeted marketing and inundation of media. If the public simply stopped buying into these schemes they would eventually go away. It’s tragic that the two biggest days for female enrollment on Ashley Madison, a dating site that caters to people looking to cheat, are Valentine’s Day and the day after Mother’s Day. This suggests that a lot of women are putting too high a value on these holidays to find love and affection in the form of tangible goods and extra-special efforts. What started as lovely notions have grown into monsters that chew away at our happiness.

Want to show Mom you really care? Surprise her with a celebration on some random day nowhere near a holiday or her birthday. It will mean more than spending thousands on Mother’s Day could, I guarantee you. DO something nice and thoughtful instead of trying to put a price on your love for her. After all, do any of us have enough money to actually pull that off? Does such an expensive item even exist? No. Love of all kinds is beyond the amount of money or goods that exist in the universe.

When my mother was alive my father and I would go out together to pick out gifts for her before every holiday. We’d carefully pore through everything available for hours to days to weeks and find something we thought she would love. We were wrong without fail. Every gift was exchanged. In hindsight, this made everyone feel bad. My mother felt like we didn’t know her very well and my father and I would beat ourselves up over it. If I could go back and change anything it would be to find clever ways to show far greater thoughtfulness even if just to make sure she died with absolute knowledge that she was and is still loved and that I am grateful that she took me in. The answer to the problem would never, ever be jewelry (our most common and always least-successful gift to her).

Holidays put too much pressure on everyone. Christmastime is infamous for it’s popularity as a time to kill oneself for a reason. Maybe, just maybe, if we made a concerted effort to take these holidays more as a chance to spend extra time with those we care about than a day to inundate each other with presents we would find the greatest gift of all – the feeling that we are not alone, no matter how much it may feel that way.

Most of all, we could force entire industries to find better ways to promote their wares than to guilt-trip us all into equating emotions with monetary value and increasing expectations and demands with every year. Heck, even if just got them to start their holiday campaigns closer to the dates rather than bugging us for months in advance it would make life much better for everyone, especially those who find one or more holidays painful reminders of what they don’t or can never have.

That said, to quote my own tweet: Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who has ever taken care of anyone! It takes more than a village to raise us all at any age.

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