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Daniel Bruch column: A radical (meaning 'root cause') view of Mother's Day

Daniel Bruch

It was the American novelist, Barbara Kingsolver, who said that "kids don't stay with you if you do it right. It's the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won't be needed in the long run." There are moments when, as a parent, this becomes a difficult reality with which to live. We raise our children to become independent and, most often, they do! Then, while rejoicing about that fact, comes the concomitant sadness and void that comes with loss.

Generation after generation, the cycle repeats as does the love of mothers who, in large part,made it happen. So when did we begin to publicly recognize the importance of mothers?

In the United States, we began to recognize the essential and difficult work of mothering in 1876 when Anna Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker, organized a day to raise awareness of poor health conditions in her community, a cause she believed would be best advocated by mothers. She called it "Mother's Work Day." Then in 1901, Julia Ward Howe, a Boston poet, pacifist, suffragist, and author of the lyrics to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," organized a day encouraging mothers to rally for peace, since she believed mothers mourned the loss of human life more harshly than anyone else.

When Anna Jarvis died, her daughter, also named Anna, began a campaign to remember the life work of her mother. It is said that young Anna remembered a Sunday school lesson that her mother gave in which she said, "I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial Mother's Day. There are many days for men, but none for mothers." It was finally in 1914 that Anna's hard work paid off when President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill recognizing Mother's Day as a national holiday.

Initially, people observed Mother's Day by attending church, writing letters to their mothers, and eventually, by sending cards, presents and flowers. As the commercial gift-giving activity associated with Mother's Day increased, Anna Jarvis became upset and disillusioned. She believed that the day's sentiment was being ruined by greed and profit. In 1923, she filed a lawsuit to stop a Mother's Day festival, and by the time of her death in 1948, Jarvis is said to have confessed that she regretted ever working to initiate the Mother's Day tradition.

I have real sympathy for Anna Jarvis' concern that greed and profit have dulled our real care and concern for the role of mothers. Newborns need maternal and paternal bonding, especially, perhaps, the kind of bonding that mothers can provide. Our country, however, on this dimension has shown that it is not concerned with the importance of motherhood, or parenting. Out of 193 countries in the United Nations, only a very, very few (four) do not have a national paid parental leave law and the United States is one of them. And yes, there are 12 weeks of job-guaranteed leave because of the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, but it is unpaid and employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt ... and that eliminates a large percentage of workers. As of 2017, only 15% of U.S. workers got any paid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We surely have not put our money where our mouths are.

Imagine! At the very bottom of the pack in the world when it comes to providing paid leave for maternity and parenting responsibilities that we affirm to be of superior importance.

I am reminded, however, of the sainted American humorist, Will Rogers, who said that "there is nothing as easy as denouncing ... It don't take much to see that something is wrong but it does take some eyesight to see what will put it right again." So think about "putting it right" by voting for our representatives who support some of the most important values in our culture, children and child rearing, and encourage them to quit prioritizing war, corporate welfare, tax breaks for the top 1%, and the most expensive healthcare system in the world — as a few examples. This year as we celebrate our mothers, remember what an unknown author said, namely, that "Life doesn't come with a manual, it comes with a mother."