Bad Mothers Day

For anti-mothers everywhere (courtesy of

In 1908 America, Anna Jarvis petitioned her mother’s church to have a holiday set up in her honor. The request was granted and that May, the first Mother’s Day celebration took place. Jarvis eventually campaigned to have Mother’s Day recognized first in West Virginia—which happened in 1912—and then nationally. President Woodrow Wilson signed off on it two years later.

And so Mother’s Day as we know it here in the U.S. was born.

Observed each year on the second Sunday in May, Mother’s Day is supposed to be a celebration of mothers, grandmothers, godmothers and any other maternal figures; instead it has become a juggernaut of commercialism and big business.

Oddly enough, Anna Jarvis thought so, too. She even took measures to try to end the holiday she was so pivotal in creating. In 1923, Jarvis sued to stop a Mother’s Day event, unsuccessfully I might add. A decade later, she was arrested for disturbing the peace—she protested the selling of flowers by the American War Mothers group—and petitioned to have the words “Mother’s Day” removed from a postage stamp that bore her dead mother’s image, as well as a vase full of white carnations (her “flower of choice” for honoring deceased relatives—red carnations are for mothers who are still alive).

The fact that Mother’s Day remains in America means Jarvis obviously failed to have the holiday banned. She died poor, blind and childless in 1948. Ironically enough, the woman responsible for Mother’s Day never became a mother herself!

And what’s more, Jarvis wasted much of her fortune on lawsuits against florists during her life, only to have her end-of-life medical care anonymously funded by The Florist‘s Exchange. Irony times two!

These days, Mother’s Day is no less commercial and people spend obscene amounts of money on flowers, candy, greeting cards and gifts. Of course, it is the idea behind all these material rewards that makes this holiday so special.

Anna Jarvis: Founder of MD-US (courtesy of the Anna Jarvis Museum)

We do these things because mothers are the greatest. They bring us into the world, nurture and care for us, teach us how to be better people and love and support us until the day they die. They deserve to be celebrated daily—and should be by their children, husbands and wives (in the case of our gay friends)—but recognizing them officially each year is important, too.

Of course, we must also accept that all mothers aren’t good mothers.

For every son who loves his mom and surprises her with fresh spring flowers or a spa getaway, there is another who curses his mother and wishes he had never been born to her. Some mothers kiss and hug; others beat, berate and abuse. It’s a fact of life.

Celebrating—or maybe condemning—a bad mummy then seems equally important. In the same way that good mothers deserve to be recognized for their efforts, bad mothers deserve to be criticized for their transgressions.

And just so we’re clear, the moniker of “bad mother” only belongs to actual bad mothers. Someone who grounds her son for behaving badly or refuses to let her 10-year-old daughter wear makeup would not qualify. A crackhead mom, on the other hand, would undoubtedly fit the bill.

What I am suggesting, of course, is a new holiday: Bad Mothers Day. Call it a celebration of women who are only mothers by virtue of having spawned human children, if you will. Or better yet, anti-Mother’s Day.


All the details can be worked out later—like when to schedule this historic holiday. I suggest finding a time that is convenient for everyone but bad mothers, a month that has so much holiday attention that it will take even more focus off these irresponsible people (like December, for instance) or just the butt end of any random month.

None of that matters until we get Bad Mothers Day approved, though.

As evidence of why such a holiday should be observed immediately—and nationally—I offer up Brenda Heist, a mother who made headlines last week for being just about as bad as they come.

In February 2002, Heist was living in Pennsylvania with her son and daughter. And sadly, things just weren’t going very well for her. She was in the midst of a divorce from her husband, Lee, and also had her request for housing assistance denied—money she was counting on so she could get her own apartment.

She got the news just after dropping her kids off at school one day. Emotionally distraught, Heist took a seat in a nearby park and proceeded to cry her eyes out. That’s when she was approached by three homeless wanderers—two men and a woman. They asked her what was wrong, comforted her and told her they were hitchhiking to Florida. Did she want to come?

In most situations like these—which obviously can’t be that common—you might expect a mother to thank these kind people, bid them good day and press on for the sake of her children.

Such was not the case with Brenda Heist.

Instead of rejecting their offer, Heist accepted it wholeheartedly and spent the next 11 years eating discarded food, living under bridges, working odd jobs for cash, shacking up with homeless men and doing everything but serving as a mother to her children.

She abandoned them without so much as a moment’s forethought, leaving everyone to wonder if she had been the victim of some violent crime or freak accident. Time passed and by 2010, Lee had officially declared her dead and eventually remarried.

Brenda Heist in 2002 and today (courtesy of Lititz Borough Police)

But there were still plenty of questions and no clear answers. At least not until last week.

Out of the freaking blue, the now 54-year-old Brenda Heist turned up in Key Largo, Florida and gave herself up to authorities. She told police she left her family behind because of stress, so police immediately contacted them to share the “good” news of her return.

I wish I could say that her family welcomed her back with open arms, embraced her as if 11 years had not passed and vowed to make their remaining years together count. Sadly, though, that was not the case.

Lee Heist doesn’t seem interested in reconnecting with his ex-wife, and who can blame him? After she disappeared, police treated him as a suspect and his reputation in the community suffered.

“The hardest thing I had to deal with was, the families of some of my children’s friends would not let them play with them, because of what they thought of me,” he recounted. “That just tore me apart.”

And daughter Morgan seems even less interested in seeing the mother who abandoned her at eight years old.

“I don’t think she deserves to see me,” the now 20-year-old Morgan said. “I don’t really have any plans on going to see her.”

Personally, I know she’s serious because on her Twitter feed, Morgan said that she hopes her mother “rots in hell.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but this isn’t a phrase normally associated with good mothers, is it?

I think not.

So in honor of the idea of Bad Mothers Day, let Brenda Heist of Florida stand as a shining example of why we need to start observing it NOW. Put simply, there are just too many bad mothers out there who both deserve and need to be exposed.

And this is our chance to do it.

Posted on May 4, 2013, in Family, Perspectives and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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