For weeks leading up to this weekend, the ads have been plastered over social feeds and email inboxes: “What are you getting Mom?” asks one. “Make her day!” proclaims another. And, the inevitable pun: “Tell her ‘thanks a brunch.'”
It all falls flat for Carina Stone, a mother of three young children on Salt Spring Island, B.C.
“The ‘Happy Mother’s Day‘ thing, it doesn’t apply to me,” said Stone, 37, whose children are three, five and eight years old. “It’s not the same when that other partner is not around.”
Stone’s husband died from fentanyl poisoning when they were expecting their third child, nearly four years ago. Amid that grief, the pandemic snatched away in-home supports she had in place for her older child with autism.
While in theory, a day to appreciate mothers might sound good, Stone finds it “haunting.”
“It feels like a sore reminder of what reality is actually like right now,” she said.
“One day where the focus is on the needs of a parent just underscores how those needs are unmet most of the time.”
The fact is, Mother’s Day can be complicated for a lot of reasons, from grief to estrangement to infertility. For mothers themselves, research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has made a tough job even harder.
But there’s also a new signal that those who dread Mother’s Day aren’t alone. A slew of companies — from global brands such as Etsy and Pandora jewelry to smaller Canadian firms, such as Posterjack and Fable — are giving customers the chance to opt out of Mother’s Day marketing.
A heavy year
The trend appears to have started across the pond, where even before the pandemic a United Kingdom MP who had lost his mom spoke in the House of Commons about why marketers should offer customers a way out of cheery Mother’s Day emails that can trigger grief.
Several big U.K. companies heeded that call this year in the run-up to Mother’s Day there, which fell on March 14. A number of North American retailers followed suit.
Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade and vintage items, was among the early adopters.
“After such a heavy year, the team agreed that this Mother’s Day felt especially emotional,” said Etsy’s chief marketing officer, Ryan Scott, in an email.
In late March, Etsy asked customers for the first time if they wanted to avoid Mother’s Day emails, and Scott said the response was “overwhelmingly positive.”
“Our buyers seem to have had a very emotional response to the opt-out campaign — many have said that it made them cry.”
At Posterjack, a photo printing company based in Etobicoke, Ont., the idea came up in a team brainstorming session for what’s normally a busy season filled with promotions and a flurry of personalized gifts.
“With everything that’s going on this year, the suffering and the hardships, I think we’re just more attuned to trying to be polite,” said president Tim Faught.
It took a day or two for the company to figure out the technical side — how to rig the email software to let people opt out of some emails and not others. Then they sent the message to customers.
Some 880 people hit the “opt out here” button, said Faught, with a lot of positive feedback.
“People just saying, ‘Thank you so much for that. Mother’s Day is a very tough time,'” he said, reading over customer emails.
Both Etsy and Posterjack say they’ll do the same for Father’s Day, and Faught hopes it catches on.
“I feel like even though we’ve been separated and apart from people, there is just maybe a movement toward a more human understanding and empathizing with people that’s bubbling up.”
The moms are not okay
While grief didn’t begin with COVID-19, there is something to the idea that the broadly felt hardship of the pandemic may be making it easier for people to share, said Dr. Nicole Racine, a clinical psychologist and researcher at the University of Calgary.
For mothers in particular, a number of studies — including one led by Racine, published this spring in The Lancet Psychiatry — have documented increases in stress and anxiety during the pandemic that are tied to lost income, a lack of child care, and difficulties balancing work and kids home from school.