Mother’s Day: Why you’re trying too hard.

Last weekend, my Facebook feed depicted a synchronized outpouring of appreciation for mothers on Mother’s Day.

These stood out though:

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This is worth inspecting, and not just because it speaks to the increasing use of mobile devices to post to Facebook. The exaggerations in these cartoons parallel how parents praise their children. “You’re *such* a big boy. You can use the potty all by yourself!” The kid might feel good, but everyone knows this is condescension.

But we become blind to the condescension when it reads to “You’re *such* a good mother. You must have superpowers!”

The cartoon drawers and sharers are not trying to condescend any more than the parents of the kid using the potty correctly are. They represent authentic feeling.

It’s just that the feelings are authentically condescending.


Why aren’t moms in arms over this treatment? There are a few reasons.

1. Mom doesn’t get paid.

Both of these cartoons seek to put the reader in awe of what mothers do. This superficially makes sense since caring for kids is supposed to be difficult.

It is not, however, the only difficult thing. You know who else works hard on difficult things? Investment bankers. And lawyers.

Find me the cartoon featuring investment bankers and a cape (that isn’t a villain’s). You can’t.

Why can’t you? Well, investment bankers don’t do work that really matters to all of us in society and blah… No, that’s not it. Aid relief workers do stuff that matters, and many probably work very hard, but there are no cartoons about caped UNICEF workers.

What’s different about moms is that they don’t get paid.

Cartoons like these and Mothers Day in general is a way for the System to get moms to work for free. That’s why we can’t help but overcompensate in non financial means. The lawyer is happy when his boss grunts “good work on the Stevenson account”. That’s because the lawyer gets a paycheck to buoy his self-esteem.

Mom doesn’t get paid. She can’t go on strike, so if a day’s worth of condescending Facebook posts is what she’s offered, that’s what she’ll take.

2. Mom is insecure.

It’s “mother’s” day, not “the-top-10%-of-mothers day” or even “the-top-99%-of-mothers day”. You qualify by being a mom and breathing.

And any attempts at making being a mom seem intrinsically difficult runs into the problem of the fact that most parents keep most of their kids alive, which makes them by default pretty good. That includes the low-IQ ones who vote for the wrong party. Maybe part of the appeal of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was the promise that one could be distinguished as a tiger mother in a society where all mothers are definitionally assumed to be great. (That explains why it wasn’t titled “Raising Tiger Cubs”.)


The irony of all this is that however genuine the appreciation of mothers is, the cartoonists above are helping to perpetuate a system that leaves Moms with nothing to feel good about the work they do. Moms are paid in participation trophies, and there is no way to win real fulfillment for doing the job well because participation trophies are the only kind being handed out.

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.


  1. I think there is a bit of “you take what you can get”, but some jobs rely on soft praise rather than hard cash. I only think it’s condescending when Mother’s Day is the only day motherhood is treated with respect. Is that true? Sometimes it is. I think a lot of the over-the-sky things that come out on Mother’s Day are reflective of a lingering guilt over this. (Though that’s better than a decade or so ago, when every Father’s Day celebration seemed to involve a wave of fathers-are-crappy pieces, ranging from highlighting the fathers than abandon their families to the inequities in household chore distribution. Fortunately, that seemed to pass.)

    Obviously, I am a father and not a mother, though since I am the stay-at-home parent my role is blended between the two traditional one. I am very, very fortunate to have a wife that is very appreciative of what I do (even if I can’t do what similarly-situated mothers do, because my breasts are barren).

  2. If we had “Bankers Day” might some people pen and share simular comics? Probably. I see shit like this during Teacher Appreciation day. Tell people to stop and appreciate and they will. Sometimes authentically, sometimes not. But you’ll see efforts towards it.

    • This is right, as far as it goes.

      What’s missing is that no one loves their banker. Cards are given as insignia of an emotional relationship that already exists, or at least one that’s supposed to. So I’m not as ready as Vikram to say that “Cartoons like these and Mothers Day in general is a way for the System to get moms to work for free.”

      After all, I am a lawyer, and I can assure you that while “The lawyer is happy when his boss grunts ‘good work on the Stevenson account’.” the sentence immediately following that one in the OP is not always true.

  3. I think the “So-and-so Day” events are good for getting people to acknowledge those that do tasks that are often underappreciated or underpaid. There may actually be a Banker’s Day, but since nobody really thinks they are underappreciated or underpaid, nobody celebrates it. I don’t think we use Mothers Day as an excuse not to pay mothers. I think we don’t pay mothers for other reasons.

  4. I don’t understand why some people don’t like the idea of taking a day to celebrate a loved one. I’m not just talking about Mother’s Day. Some people don’t like to celebrate their birthday. There are hundreds of days each year where people work hard, life gets busy and you forget to stop and think about the good times – celebrate. I’ll take any excuse to give my loved ones extra hugs, tell people I care about them, and reflect on the past and what is up come.

    We may celebrate mothers because they do a ton of work and don’t get paid, but I doubt it. I think we celebrate mothers because they are our mothers. This is the woman who gave you life, raised you, and/or loved you more than you can ever imagine until you become a parent yourself.

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