What Makes A Mother?

Mother’s Day was officially created in 1908 to honor mothers whose sons died in war. The earliest attempts to establish a Mother’s Day was rooted in women’s peace groups. It has since become a day to celebrate motherhood, mothers, and the positive contributions they make to our society.

Consider what we believe to be true about motherhood. Mothers are supposed to be selfless; love unconditionally; be kind, patient, gentle; quick to soothe a hurt; always available; always forgiving; raising children to change the world for the better. I believe a mother can be all these things and more, but do we support mothers to take on all these roles?

It isn’t surprising that we revere a mother’s love and honor their strength, but the reality is that our actions are in direct opposition to our stated values about motherhood.

Mothers have found themselves victims of the “high price of motherhood” solely because they have children. Mothers are the breadwinners, or co-breadwinners, in most U.S. states and their income is an important part of family life, and their work always has been. There is no reflection of this in the reality of motherhood.

A college-educated mother of one can easily lose more than $1 million in lost lifetime earnings. Women must still make do with a pay gap based on gender, but mothers live with an increasingly widened gap between childless women and larger still with men (whether they are fathers or not). Motherhood is the single largest indicator of poverty in old age, while female heads of household are even more vulnerable to extreme poverty.

It is still difficult to be a mother in this world.

Instead of changing our policies to fit our societal beliefs about the role of mothers, this year we will spend more than $16 billion on gifts and cards trying to convince ourselves it is so. It is truly sad that our culture has commercialized a holiday meant to recognize mothers’ importance, both literally and figuratively.

Want To Add More Meaning This Mother’s Day?

Work to improve the lives of mothers around the world. Health, education, and economic conditions are important to mothers, but also to society at large. Contrary to some opinion, the more we invest in women, mothers, the more we invest in their children, community, and national economy.

Start local. Empower women in your own community through volunteering with or donating to a local organization that supports mothers who are victims of domestic abuse, mothers with medical crises, or families who need a little extra support. Domestic violence shelters, meals on wheels, food banks, Moms Clubs and MOPS all support mothers in your community in different ways. Each community has its own set of needs. See if you can discover what that need is and do your best to help fill it.

Change state and national policies to support mothers. There are organizations, many of which are grassroots, working to effect change in the areas of paid family leave and workplace flexibility, breast cancer research, leadership training for women, support for women entrepreneurs, and helping women end the cycle of poverty. We cannot do them all individually, but collectively we can accomplish a lot.

Support global initiatives to support women around the world. Women are the foundation of every community, every nation, every economy. There are hundreds of worthy organizations working to empower women across the globe. A few favorites are: Mercy Corps, Heifer International, and Kiva.

What do you think we should do to support mothers this Mother’s Day?