A day to remember why mothers are special

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 May, 2006, 12:00am

The saying that the more things change the more they stay the same does not seem borne out any longer, when the internet has liberated knowledge and the menace of global terror means that peace between nations is no longer enough to make the world a safe place.

Today brings a reassuring reminder that the saying can still ring true. The celebration of Mother's Day remains an enduring affirmation of our values and traditions.

That is not to say that the unique role of mother, for which millions around the world will express their love, affection and thanks today, has remained untouched by change. Motherhood is under pressure. Examples are to be found in Hong Kong. One is the city's low birth rate. This mostly gives rise to concern about an ageing population having to be supported by a proportionately smaller young workforce. But it also means, sadly, that we will have fewer mothers to honour on this one day of the year.

The low birth rate in turn reflects the priorities of a society in which young people - particularly women it seems - are increasingly putting personal freedom and economic security before marriage, and young marrieds are putting lifestyle ahead of having children. The first factor shows up in a large estimated surplus in Hong Kong of never-married women in the age group 20 to 44 over never-married men in the age group 25 to 49.

These figures suggest women have achieved greater equality at the expense of marriage and motherhood. Research overseas, however, indicates they have achieved greater equality by earning more, not by avoiding marriage. This has given them more power over choices about marriage and motherhood.

Fewer children may be honouring fewer mothers for some years to come, but Mother's Day remains undiminished among a crowded calendar of 'days', many of them sponsored by the United Nations for causes as diverse as World Food Day and International Migrants Day. Grateful children - and fathers - lash out on gifts, flowers and restaurant celebrations, giving a boost to retail spending that has come to serve as an indicator of consumer sentiment.

Hong Kong's celebration today is based on the one that gained official recognition in the United States almost a century ago, after teacher Anna Jarvis fought a campaign for a special day for mothers. She said appreciation could be conveyed in different ways, including gifts. Nonetheless, she spent the latter days of her life fighting a losing battle against the commercialisation of Mother's Day.

For some there may be a perception that all that has to be done to pay tribute to one's mother is to buy expensive gifts. But most will not see their spending spree in such a cynical light. It is all part of making mother feel what she is - special.