A Thank You Letter for Mother’s Day

May 5, 2020 Updated: May 5, 2020

We frequently hear the saying “Politics is downstream from culture,” but we should consider as well that culture is downstream from the family. The foundation stone for a healthy culture is the family, both the nuclear family and its extensions: grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts. If we wish to see what happens to a culture when these bonds become frayed or broken, we have only to lift our heads and look around us.

And mothers are the heart of this arrangement. (A note to Dads: We’ll be coming back to you on Father’s Day.) Though Anna Jarvis created Mother’s Day in 1908 to pay homage to “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world,” poets and writers, sons and daughters, have long extolled mothers and motherhood. From the tributes of Marcus Aurelius to his mother to those of other historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, children have shown a deep appreciation for maternal influences, recognizing, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Men are what their mothers made them.”

The most ardent literary embrace of motherhood occurred during the Victorian period. Many of that era’s poems and stories about family life were certainly more sugary than today’s prose and verse, though whether that difference is good or bad is debatable. Nevertheless, if we glance back at some of those 19th-century poets, we discover a deep appreciation of motherhood.

Epoch Times Photo
Self-portrait with her daughter Julie, 1789, by Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, Louvre Museum, Paris. (Public Domain)

Wholehearted Love

Regarding unconditional maternal love, Rudyard Kipling wrote these verses in “Mother o’ Mine”:

If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

Years ago, when my mom still lived, I would on occasion recite these lines to her, especially after she had rebuked me. My recitation made her laugh, but we both tacitly acknowledged the truth of these sentiments.

The Teaching Mother

Victorian writer Jane Taylor, author of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” and her sister and collaborator Ann gave us “My Mother.” Here are two verses from this sweet tribute to moms:

Who ran to help me when I fell,
And would some pretty story tell,
Or kiss the place to make it well?
My Mother.

Who taught my infant lips to pray,
And love God’s holy book and day,
And walk in wisdom’s pleasant way?
My Mother.

Mothers still “kiss the place to make it well,” and still teach their children to “walk in wisdom’s way.”

Mother and Children Reading c.1860 by Arthur Boyd Houghton 1836-1875
“Mother and Children Reading,” circa 1860, by Arthur Boyd Houghton. Presented by Mrs. E.C. Davis 1926. Tate collection. (PD-US)

American writer Strickland Gillilan’s “The Reading Mother” recalls his boyhood when his mother fired up his imagination with “sagas of pirates” and stories of “ancient and gallant and golden days.” The poem’s last stanza reads:

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be—
I had a Mother who read to me.

Treasures Unappreciated

Our own age regrettably takes a more jaundiced view of motherhood. Some mothers regret the constrictions of having birthed children, some people look askance at large families, and some malicious souls even refer to mothers as “breeders,” an obscenity which if issued in the 19th century might have brought a gentleman’s walking stick crashing down upon the offender’s skull.

We have retained Mother’s Day with its flowers and cards, its outings and phone calls, but we often fail to recognize and honor the enormous influence of moms on our culture. That mother who teaches her children their prayers, who shares nursery rhymes and stories with her little ones, who imparts virtue and right thinking to her adolescents, who steers her teenagers through the stormy seas of high school—these women are the true caretakers of culture.

Thank You, Moms

Years ago, while teaching homeschoolers, I was attempting to inspire a class about their future when a young man asked, “Why do you care about us so much, Mr. Minick? We’re not your children.”

I thought a moment and then replied, “No, you’re not my children. But I have grandchildren, and they’re going to have to live in the world with you long after I am gone.”

So thank you, Moms. Thank you for all you do. No matter who you are—stay-at-home moms, working moms, single moms—thank you for trying to raise good kids, virtuous kids, kids who find value in poetry, art, and music, and most especially, kids who will treasure liberty.

Thank you for making the world a better place for my grandchildren.

Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C., Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.