Mother’s love and loving our mothers

After more than a century of official mother’s days in the U.S., much has changed for mothers. But not their central role as influencers of future generations.

Chris Allerton/SussexRoyal via REUTERS
Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, are joined by her mother, Doria Ragland, as they show their new son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, to the Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Castle May 8.

The birth of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, the latest addition to Britain’s royal family, put the joys of motherhood on international display just in time for Mother’s Day in the U.S. Rumors abounded about how the boy, born Monday to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, might be raised. Will they employ an American nanny (gasp!)?  How will his mother guide him along the way?

While many more fathers these days embrace the tasks of parenting, mothers continue to be a strong influence on their children. In a new survey in the United States, for example, Christian teens identified their mothers as the person they most likely sought out for advice, encouragement, and sympathy – more than fathers or even friends. Two-thirds said it was their mothers who supported them during their last personal crisis, according to the survey from Barna, a Christian research group. In a 2008 survey of Australian women about the sources for their inspiration, "Virtually all women nominated their mother as role models," the survey found.

Worldwide, the lives of mothers continue to improve. Since 1994 maternal deaths while giving birth have fallen by 40%. Fewer teens, often unprepared for motherhood, are giving birth. But according to the International Labour Organization, women still spend three times as much time on child care and domestic chores as men, though the gap is slowly closing.

Mother’s Day is often criticized as little more than a commercially driven excuse to sell cards, flowers, and restaurant meals. That was not the case in 1870 when American social activist Julia Ward Howe saw a much different role for mothers. Her “Mother’s Day Proclamation” urged women, as nurturers of children, to become advocates for international peace at a time when wars were becoming more violent in scale.

“Arise, all women who have hearts,” she wrote. “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, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.” She urged mothers to “solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man.”

Though her concept of the holiday failed, the idea that mothers might play a political or diplomatic role lived on. Women’s groups have been instrumental in peace efforts in places from Northern Ireland and the Korean Peninsula to Nigeria, Liberia, and Yemen. Sixteen women have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Motherhood itself can provide great training for political leadership. “It teaches you sacrifice. It certainly teaches you negotiation because you’re always negotiating between children,” Utah’s first and only woman governor, Olene Walker, once told an interviewer.

Choosing to raise a child can come with a high price for women who seek other pursuits. One recent study connects first-time motherhood with a 30% drop in future pay, money that may never be recouped over the course of a career. (Another study suggests fatherhood provides an opposite 20% bump in pay for men.)

The more society puts a value on motherhood – even if only for one day a year – the more it can find ways to help mothers gain and not lose from their central role as shapers of future, and perhaps peaceful, generations.

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