Mary Cassatt "Breakfast in Bed"
Mary Cassatt “Breakfast in Bed”


I have been pondering on Mother’s Day all week.  I have been doing some reading on various blog posts, news sites, and Facebook profiles where men and women alike have bemoaned the holiday or defended it to one another.  I have heard multiple women rally behind the “Mothers’ Day is painful for many of us” cry. I have heard others jump up quickly to say, “It’s not all about YOU!” to negate their pain.  And so the rancor, divisiveness, and selfishness of our society comes to the foreground on a day that was formed to never let those traits hold sway over our hearts again.


Prior to the Civil War Ann Reeves Jarvis organized Mother’s Day work clubs to help improve the lives of those plagued by poverty.  She and her groups of women worked to increase sanitation and cleanliness practices in order to lower the infant mortality rate brought about by diseases caused simply by dirt and squalor.


During and after the Civil War, these “mother’s” groups worked to tend the wounded on both sides of the divided country.  We often speak of the Civil War dividing brother against brother.  Can you imagine that there was any greater battle than the one waged in the hearts of every mother of this land as she watched her children try to destroy one another?


Ann Reeves Jarvis passed away in 1905 and her daughter Anna Reeves Jarvis, out of love and honor for her own mother and the women with whom she worked, organized the first Mother’s Day in 1908.  Interestingly Anna never had children of her own.  Mother’s Day was never about her, it was never about her own greatness, her own trial, her own sacrifice.  It was a day to honor the greatest Mother she knew: her own.

Anna Reeves Jarvis circa 1900
Anna Reeves Jarvis circa 1900


She intended it as a day for every man, woman, and child to honor where we come from.  To spend time with the woman who gave you life and showed you how best to live it.  For some people those women are not the same person, whether through death, adoption, or marriage.  The focus of Mother’s Day was not meant to be an inward look at what a woman has or does not have, it was to be an opportunity to look outward, to be full of gratitude and love for someone besides self.


Not everyone is a mother, but everyone who lives has one.  Not all mothers are noble, not all mothers are kind, and not all mothers cherish their children in their heart.  However, does that mean we return callousness for kindness, or that we refuse to celebrate the good because bad exists?


I have been so disturbed as I’ve read the thoughts swirling in this nation of ours.  I’ve been disturbed by the inherent selfishness in the cries of:  “my mother wasn’t what I needed”, “I hate mothers’ day because I don’t have children”, “I gave my children up because of my circumstances, this day is like a wound”, “I don’t get along with my mother and I’m not going to pretend that I do just for a holiday”, “My children don’t respect me and this holiday just makes it worse.”


Is this really who we want to be?  A nation who only gives if we have been given enough?  A child who loves only because we have gotten what we want? A child who refuses to forgive the “humanness” and error of a parent? A parent who thinks only of their own feelings?


Can’t we be better than this?


Mother’s Day is not about what we have, it is about who and where we have come from.  It is about gratitude for the gift of our life.  Everyone who walks this earth has a mother to thank for it.  If your life is not what you want it to be, and let us be honest, for good or ill most of us are not living the life we thought we would, but does that mean your life is a waste?  I don’t believe it does.  I believe you matter, and I believe that you matter enough that a woman somewhere, alive or dead, believed it to.  At one point in her life, no matter what mistakes she made, or limitations she had, she made a selfless, generous, beautiful decision.

Giving Birth


That decision was you.


If you feel you can’t honor her for anything else, at least honor her for that.  If there were no quiet talks in the wee hours of the morning, no shoulder upon which to weep out a broken heart, no arms to run to when life got hard, perhaps you can honor her life by choosing to be what she could not and act in a way that she didn’t know how.  I believe that the good is worth celebrating, the bad worth forgiving, and the noble worth pursuing.


If you did have a mother who kissed your skinned knees, read you stories, and rocked you to sleep; a mother who wept for your pain and rejoiced in your triumphs; a mother who bore you with her body or lifted you gently from a birthmother’s arms to cradle you in her own; a mother who was imperfect in action but constant in love: tell her thank you.  This Mother’s Day is for her.  This is your chance to be a better person for having found something to be grateful for in that act of generosity she made on your behalf.


Mother’s Day isn’t about the flowers, the brunches, or the gifts we give to one another.  It isn’t about the carnation you get at church or the hand-drawn coloring you get from your children.  That is what their Mother’s Day is about and it is appropriate.  But for you, no matter who you are, no matter whether you have children or are childless, rich or poor, broken or whole, happy or sad, this Mother’s Day is about you and what you will give back to the broken, flawed, imperfect, but beautiful woman who was your mother.


Call her, write her, visit her, stand at her grave, and say “thank you.”  Thank you for making me who I am.


Because who you are is beautiful and worth it.


Choose to be the child that any mother can be proud of…and pass it on.


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