Many people will pay homage to their mothers on Sunday. No matter the distance, flowers will be sent and phones will be ringing as sons and daughters take a few moments to honour the woman who nurtured and cared for them, who was the source and sustenance of life and to acknowledge her sacrifices.
On this day, once a year, we recognize the value of a mother.
But there is, for many, a contradiction that belies our actions. While we rightly honour our mothers on Mother's Day, at the same time we devalue their role.
For example, the recognition and awareness of the crucial role of mothering in a child's healthy development and, consequently, to future generations, is gradually being eroded. It is often seen as a secondary role in the scheme of our busy lives. Social and economic pressures continue to present conflicts for mothers in terms of child care, at the same time attachment theory emphasizes the importance of mothering in the early years.
In Mothering magazine, Dr. Elliott Barker, a Canadian psychiatrist states that "the low status of parenting also gets in the way of adequately nurturing infants and toddlers. Given the importance of the task and how much it contributes to society, it seems clear that parents ought to be venerated. Wouldn't it be nice if the amount of press coverage devoted to industrial and sports heroes could be transferred to people who truly deserve idolization?"
Perhaps we can best assess the value of a mother in the event of her absence. Her loss may be due to an untimely death, or she may be present physically but absent emotionally or psychologically through mental illness or other debilitating disorder. Not until we experience a pain in our inconspicuous little toe or in our unobtrusive thumb, are we even aware of their presence or value to us in our daily lives.
But mothers don't have to be perfect. She, too, was once a child with her own vicissitudes of life. And, like you, she also has her needs and cares as an adult.
Yet, she performs a multitude of activities to ensure her child's needs are met that is a greater challenge and more important than any other undertaking.
We can attempt to delineate her role in three areas, such as support through providing the basic needs physically, emotionally and psychologically; protection from harm along with safety, security and shelter from the emotional storms of life; as well as being a role model that offers guidance as we make our way in the world.
In what way can we define her worth? Do we try to put a monetary value on it? That is impossible because it is priceless.
To this point, I have only described the practical tasks that mothers do. What cannot be seen, but only felt, is the unconditional love that permeates her actions and envelops her child like a warm blanket. And much like Linus in the Peanuts comic strip, he takes it with him wherever he goes. Perhaps the importance of mothers can best be expressed in the words of the child in all of us.
She finds my socks in a rushed morning.
She doesn't yell at me when I make a mistake.
She gives me a hug when I am sad.
She listens to me when I want to tell her something.
She puts my art work on the fridge because they're special.
She reads me a story at bedtime.
She is my friend when I have none.
She makes the best chicken soup.
She makes me wear mittens, and a toque, and a scarf, and boots when it's cold outside, even if I don't want to.
She plays scrabble with me even though I always win.
She cries sometimes but I don't know why.
She holds me when I have bad dreams, when I am afraid of the dark, or when lightning and thunder scare me.
She gives me a hug when I am mad.
She cools my brow when I am sick.
She hurts when I hurt
She kisses me for no reason.
She loves me just because I'm me.
These needs are not just for children. They remain with us all of our lives. We learn how to satisfy them better as we 'mature', but when life overwhelms us, or we feel sad or lonely or frightened, we all hunger for a mother's touch, for a mother's hug, for a mother's love. As Barbra Streisand sings in People, "And yet letting our grown-up pride hide all the need inside."
That is why the most fundamental loss of a mother is the loss of love. A child may recognize who they have lost but not what they have lost. Only in her absence does the impact of the loss become clearer over time. Only in her absence does her value become perceptible. Only when it disappears is the value of a mother deeply felt.
And it is irreplaceable. Perhaps Doris Lessing was right when she pointed out in the CBC Massey lectures that, "what we have we take for granted. What we are used to, we cease to value."
To those who are fortunate to still have mothers in their lives, be thankful, and let her know how much she is cherished. For those who don't, treasure the memories that have become even more precious.
And for those who are themselves mothers, you have undertaken the most difficult but important task of life with all its joys and sorrows. You have taken on the most valuable contribution to society and its future, as well. So, to mothers and to those who 'mother,' we honour you.
Libby Simon is a Winnipeg freelance writer.