Wed. Jan 19th, 2022

Mackenzie Walton’s first Father’s Day without her dad was shaping up to be tough. Then the marketing emails hit.

“I saw some ‘Don’t forget Dad!’ messaging and panicked because I hadn’t bought him a present, which led to some ugly crying in the bathroom at work when I abruptly remembered why I hadn’t been shopping yet,” the Cincinnati-based freelance editor told NPR over email.

That was in 2007. And when Walton’s mom passed away just shy of a decade later, she said she really became aware of how “relentlessly brutal that stretch of spring can be when you don’t have parents in your life, for whatever reason.”

Many people struggle with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, for different reasons — perhaps they have lost parents or children, confronted fertility issues or have complicated relationships with family members. As author and grief advocate Megan Devine puts it, “there are so many ways to lose a mother or to lose mothering.”

And the spring holiday season is full of painful reminders, often in the form of retail advertisements and promotions that can range in tone from straightforward to snarky.

“There’s often a real scolding or judgmental tone to it, like ‘Did you remember Mom?’ or ‘Last chance to treat Dad!’ I would love nothing more than to treat Dad, but he’s dead, and now I’m sitting here thinking about that when I just wanted to check my email,” Walton wrote.

But things are starting to look a little different this year.

Throughout the month of April, expressions of gratitude were all over social media, reacting to something unusual: emails from companies allowing people to opt out of communications related to the upcoming holiday.

“We understand that Mother’s Day can be a difficult time for some,” reads one message from the e-commerce marketplace Etsy, which is known for its handmade crafts and gifts. “If you’d rather not receive emails from us about Mother’s Day this year, let us know by removing yourself below. We’ll still keep you in the loop about one-of-a-kind finds we think you’ll love, just without the Mother’s Day messages.”

NPR counted more than a dozen such emails sent out this spring, from sources as varied as Pandora jewelry, luggage company Away, dessert chain Milk Bar and the Democratic National Committee.

Experts described it as a small but growing trend, likely accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, many companies told NPR they wanted to recognize that Mother’s Day can be challenging, especially this year, and help make customers’ lives easier.

While some critics worry companies are being overly sensitive or not sensitive enough, or hesitate to lift brands up as heroes, the reaction to the opt-out option has been overwhelmingly positive.

“If it’s a hard holiday for you, it is no matter what,” said Katie Thomas, who leads the Kearney Consumer Institute. “A single email opt-out won’t make that much of a difference, but at the same time, acknowledgement that it’s hard is meaningful.”

In a year where loss, grief, technology and identity have been at the forefront of the national conversation, the budding trend of email opt-outs is for many both a welcome change and a sign of what may lie ahead.

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