As far as I can tell, the point of phoning your mother on mothers’ day is to demonstrate your affection to her.
For a behaviour to be an honest signal of characteristic X it needs to be costly enough for those without characteristic X not to bother (or bother as much). So phoning your mother in itself is a fine signal that you like her and/or respect her. If you hated her you would call her less often or never, depending on how explicit you wanted to be about it.
Having a specific day when you are meant to phone seems to largely negate the purpose however. It’s easier for people who don’t care much to phone, relative to those who do, when:
- Everyone gets reminded by the media and advertising for a long time beforehand. This means behaviour doesn’t reflect effort put into remembering.
- There is one specific day you must send the signal on for it to count. This means the somewhat less caring can’t be separated from the more caring by their tendency to put the phone call off.
- It’s expected that you will phone, so not phoning would be rude. There is an added cost of not phoning to anyone who doesn’t actually want to cause upset, regardless of their affection.
So it looks like I could send a stronger signal of affection toward my mother by phoning her on any other day of the year. I can probably even countersignal by not phoning her on Mothers’ day, since my talking to her regularly makes it implausible that I dislike her or wish to offend her. Why do people mostly phone on mothers day then?
I’m writing from a subculture in Australia, and I hear many variations on this tradition and presumably its requirements and implicit messages exist internationally. Perhaps someone from a culture where this makes sense can tell me about it?
Anyway, I didn’t call my mother yesterday. I presume she interprets my calling her other times as a much stronger signal. I dedicate this blog post to her instead, to show that I can remember to commemorate her goodness at being a mother on a day when I wasn’t reminded a zillion times (ok, so not a very distant day from when I was reminded, but I should be doing better than celebrating on Mothers’ Day, right?). Happy Not Mothers’ Day Mummy!