In Praise of Motherhood
Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, May 14, 2006
It’s easy to get cynical about things when there’s money involved, especially lots of money. Interestingly, Anna Jarvis, the woman often given credit for the present form of our Mother’s Day celebrating, became cynical about it not too long after she got the ball rolling. By 1914, after campaigning for years and years, she finally got President Woodrow Wilson to declare the second Sunday in May as a national Mother’s Day. But by 1923, just nine years later, Miss Jarvis (who never married and was never a mother herself) filed suit to stop the celebration which she felt had largely become a matter of profit-making rather than sentiment-sharing. Just before she died in 1948 at the age of 84, Miss Jarvis told a reporter she was sorry she had started the whole thing.
But while it’s easy to get cynical, such a reaction isn’t really very helpful. Maybe all the hoopla—and even some of the spending—point, in their imperfect way, to something deeper, to something else that resonates with profound meaning. There is much to celebrate, obviously, on Mother’s Day—whatever the commercialization; whatever the state of our personal relationships with our own mothers was, or is (and I know that that can have a wide range for all of us). There is something in Mother’s Day which binds us together, and I say blest be the ties that bind.
Now, I also know that as well as commercialization, there’s a lot of sentimentality attached to Mother’s Day as well. (But if you can’t be sentimental on Mother’s Day, then when can you?) But there’s something deeper, too. As is often the case, beneath the sentimentality, there’s a lot of good, sincere sentiment.
Why do we celebrate Mother’s Day? These were the original purposes for Mother’s Day, as Miss Jarvis laid them out back in the early 1900s:
There’s some good reasons—some very good reasons—for celebrating, right there.
For one thing, Mother’s Day prods us to consider the importance of mothering, and parenting, and nurturing, in general. It reminds us to offer appreciation for the efforts of our mothers, and all of those others who have “mothered” us. Of course, Mother’s Day tends to lean heavily toward our biological mothers (that’s only natural, to say the least). But it also gives us the space to consider those others who have “mothered” us—who have held us, and helped us, and pointed us along life’s way. We need to be reminded sometimes to consider these people, and to express our appreciation to them, and to ponder their significance in our lives.
Mother’s Day also leans heavily, of course, toward hearts and flowers. But there is also a chance on this special day (if we seize that chance) to take a little time, at least, to ponder in our hearts the full scope of our relationships with our mothers. We are adults now, all of us here; we are autonomous and ultimately responsible for our own self care. But it can be helpful, I think, in coming to know ourselves (at whatever stage in life we are), to ponder how the hands of our mothers have brought us, for better or worse, to where we stand today.
It is a time to think about our mothers in particular (and all of our nurturers in general)—and to thank them:
We can offer them simple thanks for the greatest gift of all, the gift of life. Whether our childhood was a blessing or a curse, or some complicated mixture of the two, whether shining and golden or bruised and battered, we are here, we are alive, and that is a gift worth celebrating. The world is better because all of you—all of us—are here. And we owe that to our mothers.
On Mother’s Day, too, we, as a community which treasures and celebrates diversity, can honor motherhood in its rich array of different shapes and sizes, and needs and desires. We can value the whole great epic of motherhood throughout the ages—and how that epic has played itself out in the little lives of all the mothers we have known.
On Mothers Day, we celebrate the “mother of our hearts,” as Miss Jarvis put it—the “ideal” of “Motherhood, sublime, eternal.” But we also celebrate (just as intensely; maybe even more) all that “good enough mothering” which we have experienced, as well. As my colleague Becky Edminston-Lange in Houston, Texas has said:
“Children don’t need ‘perfect’ mothering…. they need ‘good enough mothering’… There is, in mothering, as in so many aspects of life, a certain amount of grace involved. Even when you do all you can, even when you give your best, there comes a point when you do have to entrust your children to sail upon their own seas. And yes, even good enough mothering doesn’t always save, but the wondrous thing, the time-attested, grace-filled thing, is that most of us, even in hard circumstances, do get enough to see us through, to survive, even to thrive.”
We celebrate all of our “good enough mothers” who have blessed us and brought us to this day.
Finally, Mother’s Day can remind us of the responsibility we all have to nurture—and care for—and foster growth in others. We all have a responsibility to those who will come after us; we have a responsibility to care for the Earth. These are just part of the rent we pay for being alive. Mothers Day reminds us all—women and men alike; mothers and fathers all; whether we have ever parented children ourselves or not-- to be gentle with one another; to do our part to widen just a little the great circle of love and caring and community; to strive to meet the needs of others, to the best of our abilities; to take care of one another.
God is love, and love forever in the motherheart is blest;
Lives the longest, lifts the strongest, far outreaching all the rest;
Not by might, and not by wisdom comes our lifting from the sod:
Love's pure glory tells the story in the Motherheart of God.
A happy and blessed Mother’s Day to you all.