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Has Mother's Day been hijacked by retailers?

  • Opinion
  • May 11, 2015
  • Tenby Powell
Has Mother's Day been hijacked by retailers?

For many, Mother’s Day, and its contrapositive involving us blokes, has become nothing more than an exercise in commercial excess. But not in all families; certainly not ours on this auspicious day.  Ours is dedicated to celebrating a mother in business, with all the diversity, stamina and resilience that business leadership entails.  

Over the past week I have watched Charlotte, our 14-year-old daughter rally us (Dad and her big brother George that is - her main men, as she describes us), not around a shopping spree for the main woman in her life, but more around an old-fashioned concept that modern parents believe eludes our millennial prodigy: time spent together as a family.

My observations of Charlotte over this past week have led me to conclude that Anna Jarvis, the American social activist and founder of Mother’s Day who died in 1948, a broke recluse surrounded by strangers, can take some relief that all is not lost. In her later years, Jarvis lamented how her movement to celebrate mothers had become hijacked by retailers and the Mad Men they commissioned to devise guilt-laden advertising campaigns to increase sales.

During the American Civil War, Anna's mother, Ann Jarvis, cared for the wounded on both sides of the conflict. She also attempted to broker peace between the mothers of Union and Confederate soldiers by forming a Mothers’ Friendship Day. Inspired by her mother’s endeavours to suspend conflict by bringing families together, Anna Jarvis worked relentlessly to form what we now celebrate annually as Mother’s Day. 

The woman who Charlotte wants us to celebrate today as a family, her mother Sharon Hunter, is one of those modern mothers who appear to do everything well, effortlessly, including serving as a company director on a number of boards. Like many modern families with busy and often concentric lives, I have to admit that ours has a certain dysrhythmia; the byproduct of diversity. 

Most women in business, I suspect, feel this imbalance at times. Particularly those small business owners who lack corporate infrastructure and find themselves chief cook and bottle washer at home and at work.  It becomes more about juggling life’s imbalances rather than trying to keep the balance – other than on Mother’s Day perhaps.

And after a fortnight of small business owners being lambasted in the media for lacking everything from intelligence and education to commitment and productivity, I thought it was time to embrace the philosophies of the Jarvis women, Anna and her mother Ann, and ask for a truce on Mother’s Day 2015. 

I would further encourage the corporations who fired these shots, seemingly out of the blue and with alarmingly damming rhetoric, to use their vast resources to generate ideas to assist the work others are doing to create a more positive business environment as an enabler to lift the performance of our SMEs.        

There is a raft of international and Kiwi data to show that women in business outperform men in several key areas, demonstrating the strength of their contribution to the local economy.

I’ll leave it to you to Google the MYOB Business Monitor (any year over the past few years will be fine) to discover various stats that suggest we should celebrate women in business in New Zealand.  

MYOB enterprise division manager, Allison Fairkettle, has previously said, “What it clearly highlights is the strength of businesses that have a woman at the helm. Female business owners are playing a major role in the success of the local and national economy, as they build their influence and extend their take-up of enabling technologies.”

So thanks, Charlotte, for ensuring we stop for the day and take time to wish your mother, and all mothers in business, a happy Mother’s Day.

 Tenby Powell is the founder and executive director of Hunter Powell Investment Partners Limited, as well as the founder of the New Zealand SME Business Network on LinkedIn.

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