Love, kindness, renewal

Mother’s Day has been a national holiday in the United States for over a century. 

It was founded by Anna Jarvis, who organized the first informal observance of Mother’s Day in 1908 in honor of her mother’s wish to start a day to memorialize and honor mothers for their work and service to others.

Anna’s mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis (often called Mother Jarvis), gave birth to 13 children, but only four of them survived to adulthood, including Anna. 

Mother Jarvis — an activist and community organizer during the American Civil War — lived in an era in which disease and bad sanitation often led to premature death. 

In addition to serving wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War, Mother Jarvis worked to provide assistance and education to families to reduce disease and infant mortality by organizing Mother’s Day Work Clubs, which brought together local mothers to promote cleanliness and sanitation in their communities.

After Mother Jarvis’s death in 1905, Anna worked to honor her mother’s wish to start a day to pay tribute to mothers. She succeeded, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a congressional resolution officially making the second Sunday in May the national Mother’s Day. (That day wasn’t chosen to coincide with spring flowers or gardening-oriented gifts, however. It was because Ann Reeves Jarvis died on the second Sunday in May.)


All of Anna’s good intentions to honor her mother’s wish, however, took a turn in the subsequent years when the holiday started to become heavily commercialized with the sale of flowers, cards and candy in the 1920s. 

Anna became quite resentful and vocal, protesting, organizing boycotts and even getting arrested for her public outcry that companies were misinterpreting and exploiting the idea of Mother’s Day. 

Anna argued that people should appreciate and honor their mothers through handwritten letters expressing their love and gratitude, instead of buying gifts and premade cards. 

In 1948, Anna died at age 84, confined to a mental asylum, having lost her wits as well as numerous legal battles over the holiday. She never made money off the holiday and never had children of her own.

More than 100 years later, it’s easy to see Anna’s resistance didn’t disrupt the flow of commercialism surrounding Mother’s Day. This time of year, it’s easy to find opportunities for Mother’s Day brunches as well as cards, gifts, jewelry, candy and flowers with a Mother’s Day theme. 

Love and kindness

Despite all this, every Mother’s Day I take time to enjoy the feeling of being recognized by my loved ones — as well as the opportunity to celebrate others — even if it is with the help of commercialized products.

I’ve made it a habit to approach Mother’s Day with a mindset of both giving and receiving. 

I do this first in my classroom. If Anna Jarvis were still alive today, I bet even she could appreciate Pinterest — and the inspiration that one quick search for “Mother’s Day crafts” can provide!  

I go out of my way each year to make the mamas of my kindergarten students feel special by facilitating the production of some crafty handmades from their little ones. What mother doesn’t appreciate these little treasures that come home from school? I hope they know these gifts include a little bit of love and kindness from teacher mamas as well.

On Mother’s Day, we can all send love and kindness not just to our own mothers — but also grandmothers, mothers-in-law, step-moms and even mama friends — by spending time with them and/or giving cards, notes or even gifts.  

And if you know a family member, friend, colleague or acquaintance who has lost a child or a mother, you might offer a caring gesture, kind words or a simple outreach of support. It can mean a lot. 

And what do you want?

This May 13, honor yourself, your work and service of caring and love to others by doing a little something for yourself. It can be the perfect occasion to give yourself permission to recharge your batteries with some type of self-care practice. Maybe that means getting a spa treatment, going out with a friend, taking some time alone, creating art or engaging in your favorite hobby. 

Remember the words of Jarvis: “She is entitled to it.”

I think both Jarvis and her daughter would be pleased if they knew Mother’s Day had evolved into a holiday where mothers everywhere acted upon the opportunity to spread love to other mamas and also to do something a little special to take care of themselves. After all, we need energy to help and support others in our lives and in our roles as mothers.

I encourage you to make this Mother’s Day one that spreads love and kindness and also one of renewal for you. 

Megan Devine is an elementary school teacher who lives with her husband and four school-age children in Northeastern Minnesota. She blogs at