The Hand That Rocks the Cradle: A Mother’s Day Retrospective

One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was teaching me not to expect gifts, all the while instilling in me a love for giving without expectation. 

I could tell stories for days of my parents’ selfless generosity. My upbringing was unconventional. Many people who needed a place to live came and went on the 80 acres I grew up on in Southwest Missouri. Some lived in a tiny cottage that came with the property, some lived in mobile homes, and some even created a home in the old hog barn. There was no judgment – if it was within our ability to help neighbor or stranger, we did. 

Although we did not celebrate some of the traditional holidays, we did celebrate Mother’s and Father’s Day. But there was always a hint of rebellion at the idea of honoring parents just because the government said we should. (Those of you who know me will begin to see where I get my libertarian bent.)  As I grew older, I decided to honor my father and mother on the day they became my parents – my birth date. It made more sense to give back to them on the day they gave life to me. For a long time, I tended to resist some of the holidays because they have become so commercialized, laden with material expectation, obligation, and guilt.

I was wrong.

As a country, we are bonded with our fellow citizens by shared national ideals and values. Holidays of remembrance, honor and celebration are vital to our unity – especially given our uniquely American foundation of fierce individual rights and liberty. In today’s culture where there are those determined to usurp and devalue the role of women as mothers, honoring motherhood and elevating the traits a mother should possess while celebrating their differences is more important than ever.

 A couple of weeks ago, I texted my daughters to remind them that I did not expect and did not need anything for Mother’s Day. They show their love for me in a thousand ways any given day of the year. They lol’d and said okay. No expectations. No obligation. No guilt. 

When I woke up on this second Sunday in May, my older daughter was already gone to work and I walked into the kitchen to find flowers, homemade cookies, and gift bags for both me and my mother. I was not surprised. This is how she expresses her love. When the younger returned home that afternoon from a weekend with her dad, she helped me prep Mother’s Day dinner for my parents with some of my mother’s favorite dishes. And then she went the extra mile and did additional tasks without being asked. This was her gift, just as meaningful as flowers and sweets.

A friend texted that morning, wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day, and I asked, “What was your favorite thing about your mother?” He immediately replied, “Her patience, her ability to take a joke when we all made fun of her, the sense of overwhelming unconditional love.”

Something about that seemingly simple, yet profound description struck a deep emotional chord. Isn’t that what all mothers should strive for? Aren’t those among the qualities we all need from our mothers? If my daughters can say only that about me, I could ask for nothing more.

Throughout the day on social media, I read story after story of how mothers shape the lives of their children, and messages from moms encouraging other moms. In the minutiae of the day-to-day, we often don’t consider the long term impact of what we do for our children. We just do what needs to be done in that moment. 

But there are moments in history when mothers doing what needs to be done changes the course of a nation.

There is no greater recent example of this than the movement we saw come out of the covid lockdown of schools. There was an awakening across the country as parents’ eyes were opened to what was happening in their schools and what their children were being taught – and not taught. For many, their trust in the public education system was destroyed. 

In Florida, Moms for Liberty formed in 2021 to push back against covid mandates in schools. They grew to hundreds of groups in 45 states by 2023. In Missouri, there were mothers (and fathers) who suddenly became involved in politics out of the necessity of doing what needed to be done for their children in that moment. They showed up at school board meetings, they ran for those school boards, they formed coalitions in their communities, went to the Capitol, got involved in political campaigns, and filed lawsuits against the education bureaucracy that was actively doing harm to their kids.

Shannon, one of those Missouri moms who stepped up to lead, shared this in a Facebook group:

“…Those years taught me how to stand up for my children and my liberties. I fought for all my children but none more than Max. He was a Freshman in high school at the time. It was him who came to me and begged me to help get school in person. He was struggling emotionally and mentally aside from starting to fail academically.  He was the reason I even got involved at all. I didn’t know how to get the school’s attention, what avenues I needed to take. I just knew my child was pleading to me with tears in his eyes to help. You know that feeling. You remember that feeling with your own children.

Last year, in Max’s machine tooling class, they made metal hearts with “Happy Mothers Day” on them. He told me he wanted to say something different, more meaningful so he inscribed “thanks for saving the world”.  This is probably the most treasured Mother’s Day gift any of my kids have ever gotten me.

No one person can save the world. That’s not what he meant, but I do believe I helped save his little world. Through this group, through our advocacy and our determination and my family’s decision to move, I in some small way helped save his world. I am sure I could say the same thing about you and your children would agree. You helped save their world.”

Early attempts to establish holidays for mothers included a committee to establish a “Mother’s Friendship Day,” organized by Ann Jarvis in 1868. The purpose of Ann’s holiday was “to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War.” Many women’s peace groups had organized similarly in the 19th century with the common theme of mothers coming together whose sons had fought or died on opposite sides of the war. 

Mother’s Day is rooted in peace, forgiveness, unity, and finding common ground.

Of course, there are bad mothers. There are mediocre mothers. There are mothers lauded as the epitome of maternal virtue. None of us are perfect mothers. Our shortcomings are ingrained into our children along with our strengths. When a child is rude or misbehaves, how many times have you heard, “Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?” (Or does anyone still actually say that???)

In our highly polarized and tribalistic political culture, I often wonder where we went wrong. I think of all the old sayings our mothers and grandmothers used to repeat: “You catch more flies with honey.” “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” “Life’s not fair.” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And so many more, including one that was a constant in my childhood, “What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.”

If you’ve paid much attention to politics in Missouri (or wherever you are, no doubt) at all lately, you’d think a whole lot of adults either missed out on some of these lessons or have forgotten them entirely. And if you’re paying attention, you will also notice that conservatives and libertarians are losing the war for the principles and values that have made these United States of America a “shining city on a hill.” We have a “supermajority” of Republicans in our state, yet we are increasingly divided as purism breeds contempt and disharmony.

We lack legacy thinking. The gains for liberty we saw in the unified grassroots pushback against covid tyranny have already begun to wane as we are consumed by infighting. We have short memories, forgetting so quickly the lessons we learned. Our “solutions” tend to be stopgap measures that get social media clicks, but sweep the problems under the rug of the next generation. Our mothers should be disappointed in us. I can almost hear them saying, “Just wait ‘til your Founding Fathers get home!”

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

 If we’re not persuading, we’re losing. Our words matter. Our rhetoric matters. Even when we fall short of them – especially when we fall short of them. You might have heard the admonition to “let your speech always be with grace…” Perhaps we should spend more time listening to understand so that our words will likewise be heard and considered. After all, “God gave you two ears and one mouth so you can listen more than you speak.” 

When I think of my mother, I think of how she is always singing or humming, her penchant for practical jokes, her unerring belief that I can do anything I put my mind to, her unending generosity, and her unconditional love even when I am sure I have disappointed her. To this day, I want her to be proud of me. And I want to take the lessons that I learned late and teach them to my children early. I want to leave a legacy they can build on. I want to save their world.

Mother’s first to guide the streamlets,
From them souls unresting grow—
Grow on for the good or evil,
Sunshine streamed or evil hurled;
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.

Looking ahead to the second Sunday of 2025, I believe the best way we can collectively honor our mothers is to honor the Mother’s Day holiday legacy of peace and reconciliation. Working together, finding common ground, being patient with each other, and treating each other well even when we disagree. And above all, keeping a sense of humor. Are there gifts greater than these?

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