In Praise of Mothers

Posted May 08, 2009, at 6:53 p.m.

They carried us in their wombs for nine months, endured the pain of childbirth, cleaned, fed and sheltered us for years, and, when the chips are down, are always there to tell us they love us. Mothers are most worthy of praise, and Mother’s Day is a holiday anyone who had a mother should mark with appropriate fuss and affection.

It is celebrated in dozens of countries around the world. The modern American version was proposed in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe, the abolitionist, social activist and author of the poem “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The holiday was copyrighted by Anna Jarvis, a West Virginia woman who wanted to honor the memory of her late mother. In 1907, two years after her mother’s death, she embarked on a campaign to make it a holiday, and in 1914 it was nationally recognized.

As soon as the 1920s, though, Ms. Jarvis was complaining about the holiday being commercialized. She once railed against those who honored the holiday by sending only a printed greeting card, saying, “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother — and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment!”

Twenty-first century moms face challenges that could not be imagined by Ms. Howe or Ms. Jarvis, such as juggling work with parenting and with co-managing the household. Their role often is diminished, or at least undervalued by the popular entertainment media.

An estimated 70 percent of mothers of children under the age of 17 work. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2007, just 21 percent said full-time work was the ideal situation, down from the 32 percent who said this back in 1997. Six in 10 working mothers said part-time work “would be their ideal,” the Pew survey said. Those working moms are still making less money than their male counterparts.

A mother’s charge is daunting. She often is the primary caregiver of children. She must dispense discipline, and yet, summoning the traits for which her gender is well suited, she also must provide ongoing nurture and instill a sense of security and unconditional love.

Mothers are like airline pilots; when their children achieve liftoff into responsible adulthood, they don’t win gushing accolades, for that is what is expected of them. But when their offspring fail, they shoulder the blame.

So it is entirely fitting to reflect on the vital role our mothers played, and play, in our lives, and to thank them. Take the time to do so. And don’t eat all the candy!

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