Mother’s Day: Love isn’t an obligation, but respect is

Why do I expect a phone call from my children on Mother’s Day? Why did I always feel a duty to call my own mother? Where’s the law creating this obligation? Well, there isn’t one, at least not here in Canada.

The early Romans worshipped the goddess Cybèle as the Great Mother. This worship reached a climax with the coming of spring each year. There exists a custom in the U.K. for children to go on the fourth Sunday of Lent to the church at which they were baptized, to celebrate motherhood. It is known as Mothering Sunday. Both these early Roman and British customs have religious overtones. Our law does not state that we must worship our mother, but we do have an obligation to respect her.

If we look at the law in Quebec, it becomes evident that mothers have more obligations than rights. It starts at the birth of a child and the mother’s obligation to register the birth with the proper authorities. This provides the child with a birth certificate, which establishes that child’s filiation, which in turn permits him to claim certain rights from his parents. He has a right to and his parents have an obligation to provide him with support, maintenance and an education.

On occasion, the obligation to maintain may be reversed and an adult child may be found to be legally responsible to support the parent. These parental obligations are two-sided. Parents exercise “parental authority” over their children, namely, the “right” to supervise, maintain and educate them. Mothers (and fathers) are considered to be tutors to their minor child and have the authority to represent him in the exercise of his civil rights and the administration of whatever assets he may have. Not only do they have the authority, but they also have an obligation to exercise it.

These child-parent obligations are the basis of many court cases, especially when families break down and the parents fight each other as to how the obligations are to be divided.

There are also cases of adult children pursuing their parents for support and, even worse, exploiting or trying to exploit their parents to obtain their money. On the other hand, there are children who try to help an aging parent. One such case was most unusual in that a daughter instituted divorce proceedings on behalf of her mother, who lacked the legal capacity to do so herself. The first question was, did she have the right to do so? Her brother didn’t think so and petitioned the court to reject the case even before it was heard. The judge held that even though divorce proceedings were personal and should not usually be taken by anyone other than the party who wanted the divorce, even a person totally lacking legal capacity has the right to exercise her personal rights. The divorce would not be granted automatically and the daughter would have to prove that her mother had really wanted the divorce and had the grounds to have it granted. He therefore refused to reject the divorce action on a technicality. The mother’s right to her day in court was confirmed thanks to the respect of a daughter for the rights of her mother.

So why will we mothers wait for, or make, that phone call on May 11? Where does the tradition of Mother’s Day come from? There is no law in Canada establishing the second Sunday of May as Mothers Day. However, it is a custom to do so. In the U.S.A. however, the right of a mother to be especially honoured on a particular day was proclaimed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on May 9, 1914, with the words:

“By virtue of the authority vested in me I do hereby direct the government officials to display the United States flag on all government buildings and do invite the people of the United Sates to display the flag at their homes or other suitable places on the second Sunday in May as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”

We mothers may not see many flags on May 11, but let’s hope we have the chance to smell the flowers and savour the chocolates.

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