Sunday, June 17, 2018
The messaging isn’t subtle, either. Some cards are very clear about which parent is considered more important. “Happy Mother’s Day to a woman who does it all!,” read one card. “You work. You cook. You clean. You nurture … You crazy?!” But the woman on the inside of the card has a happy enough expression, even though each of her limbs is engaged in a different task. A month later I found a Father’s Day card that said: “Father’s Day is in June … Because about a month after Mother’s Day, somebody went ‘Hey, wait a minute!’” (In reality, it took much longer. President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother’s Day a national U.S. holiday in 1914; it wasn’t until 1972 that President Nixon made Father’s Day official.)
A more scientific study of the themes of Mother’s and Father’s Day cards looked at a batch in 2010. The researchers, Carol Auster and Lisa Auster-Gussman (who, fittingly, are mother and daughter) came to this conclusion: “Ritualized holidays tend to support the status quo, and traditional ideologies of motherhood and fatherhood,” of mothers as nurturers, and fathers as providing more utilitarian support. “The portrayal of motherhood and fatherhood on the greeting cards is important because these cards may act as agents of socialization, shaping individuals’ perceptions, regardless of whether the cards reflect the reality of parenting,” the study goes on to say....
In terms of content, Father’s Day cards emphasized supporting the family economically, imparting practical lessons, and being the best—far more “Number One Dad” or “Best Dad Ever” sort of cards than mothers had. “It was like they needed an award, but there wasn’t a lot of depth in what they were achieving,” says Auster-Gussman, a doctoral candidate in social psychology at the University of Minnesota.
In contrast, Mother’s Day cards focused a lot more on what the mothers were doing for their children. The cards in the study that mentioned “the little things you do” were, without exception, Mother’s Day cards, and cards that talked about making a child feel loved were much more likely to be for moms, too.