Not Mothers’ Day

As far as I can tell, the point of phoning your mother on mothers’ day is to demonstrate your affection to her.

For a behaviour to be an honest signal of characteristic X it needs to be costly enough for those without characteristic X not to bother (or bother as much). So phoning your mother in itself is a fine signal that you like her and/or respect her. If you hated her you would call her less often or never, depending on how explicit you wanted to be about it.

Having a specific day when you are meant to phone seems to largely negate the purpose however. It’s easier for people who don’t care much to phone, relative to those who do, when:

  • Everyone gets reminded by the media and advertising for a long time beforehand. This means behaviour doesn’t reflect effort put into remembering.
  • There is one specific day you must send the signal on for it to count. This means the somewhat less caring can’t be separated from the more caring by their tendency to put the phone call off.
  • It’s expected that you will phone, so not phoning would be rude. There is an added cost of not phoning to anyone who doesn’t actually want to cause upset, regardless of their affection.

So it looks like I could send a stronger signal of affection toward my mother by phoning her on any other day of the year. I can probably even countersignal by not phoning her on Mothers’ day, since my talking to her regularly makes it implausible that I dislike her or wish to offend her. Why do people mostly phone on mothers day then?

I’m writing from a subculture in Australia, and I hear many variations on this tradition and presumably its requirements and implicit messages exist internationally. Perhaps someone from a culture where this makes sense can tell me about it?

Anyway, I didn’t call my mother yesterday. I presume she interprets my calling her other times as a much stronger signal. I dedicate this blog post to her instead, to show that I can remember to commemorate her goodness at being a mother on a day when I wasn’t reminded a zillion times (ok, so not a very distant day from when I was reminded, but I should be doing better than celebrating on Mothers’ Day, right?). Happy Not Mothers’ Day Mummy!

8 responses to “Not Mothers’ Day

  1. Weakening a binary signal need not negate its purpose. There is already a signal of calling mum at random times, and many folks fail that test. Among the folks who fail that test, we would like to distinguish those that care little from those that care even less. Mom’s day serves that function.

    • Ok, so phoning on mothers day sends a weaker signal than on the normal day we could have instead, but it’s a useful signal because enough people are in that bracket of not phoning once a year of their own accord that it’s worth sorting them. Why do people who already phone occasionally take part?

      • Nick Tarleton

        Why do people who already phone occasionally take part?

        To the extent that this is signaling, it might be directed at third parties who don’t know whether or not someone phones occasionally. It could also be signaling something not specific to Mother’s Day at all — perhaps awareness of and responsiveness to cultural norms?

  2. “Why do people mostly phone on mothers day then?”

    Because everyone gets reminded by the media and advertising for a long time beforehand, and because it’s expected that you will phone, so not phoning would be rude.

  3. I see the point of the day as being as much a society-wide ‘celebration’ of the contributions of all mothers and the goodness of motherhood per se as it may be a prompt for individuals to issue a begrudging acknowledgement to their own ma. Wikipedia offers a number of historical antecedents in this vein.

    It is also a day in which mother-loving overrules other concerns – it is an appointment which must be kept. Even those who regularly ring their mother are unlikely to choose any moments other than those that they find convenient. For those who have their mother on speed-dial, it may be sensible to raise one’s game – take her out for dinner rather than give her a bell – to show that you have put more personal priorities on hold.

  4. what if your mother has a stronger preference to hear from you on mother’s day than on any other day of the year? by calling on mother’s day you give her two things she wants: a call on mother’s day and a daughter with an accurate and detailed model of her wants.

  5. It’s a bit like church really. Doesn’t someone in the bible say thou shall not worship on one special day of the week or only in special buildings?
    Mothers’ Day has seemed a ploy by greeting card saleshumans to prey on the guilt of poor communicators. However this mother does milk that collective ego’s one day of guilt by buying anything she wants for the fortnight before and distributing it to grateful progeny so they can return it for genuine thanks. For me this is a very workable guilt and other misunderstanding preventative.

  6. A reliable signal, not an honest signal.

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