Paying homage to mothers

May. 10, 2014 @ 05:33 PM

“Arise then...women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts!

Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:

"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,

Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,

For caresses and applause.

Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn

All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We, the women of one country,

Will be too tender of those of another country

To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

Julia Ward Howe, best known as the author of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” penned those words in a “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870. We thought they were words worth sharing on this day when we honor that person whose role in each of our lives was, well, formative – our mother.

Anna Jarvis, a childless West Virginian, championed the holiday in honor of her mother, who had organized “Mothers Day Work Clubs” to work for better hygiene and to fight infant diseases.  Largely through her efforts, President Woodrow Wilson designated the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day in 1914, Brian Handwerk wrote in National Geographic last week.

Jarvis fought bitterly but futilely against the holiday’s rapid commercialization.

“Today, of course, Mother's Day continues to roll on as an engine of consumerism,” Handwerk wrote. “According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend an average of $162.94 on mom this year, down from a survey high of $168.94 last year. Total spending is expected to reach $19.9 billion.”

We don’t begrudge any of that spending, or the other signs – tangible and intangible, physical and emotional – that will be showered on mothers today. They deserve it.

But we also are moved to look back on its roots in the blossoming women’s and labor-rights movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Today we can honor mothers by respecting and encouraging – and facilitating -- the array of choices now opens to them. Motherhood need not preclude work and career – but we can honor mothers best by insisting on workplace cultures and policies that permit mothers – and fathers – to do work of their choice while rearing the next generation. At the same time, we honor and respect mothers who choose if they can to make mothering fulltime and fulfilling work.

We can honor mothers by continuing to press back against economic inequality that falls heavily on women – and most heavily on mothers.  We remember that for many mothers, work is not a choice but a grim necessity.

We can honor mothers by acknowledging a woman’s right to choose to be or not to be, neither to succumb to societal pressure to conceive nor to intrude legally into her decision whether to continue a pregnancy.

Yes, let’s go to dinner, let’s buy cards, let’s pamper and indulge our mothers today. But let’s not forget to pay true homage the other 364 days of the year, too.