Plato, in the infinite wisdom of Ancient Greece, reportedly said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Actually, historians tell us, he wrote, “Our need will be the real creator,” but that morphed over time into the proverb equating maternal care with meeting our needs.
All of which is well-known. But the famed philosopher also is credited with another saying about mothers: “Give me a different set of mothers and I will give you a different world.” The point seems to be that mothers shape our society through their nurturing, love and support.
That crucial role continues some 25 centuries later. And so we celebrate those caring souls today with Mother’s Day.
It is an American invention, this annual observation of the indispensable part that mothers play in our lives. But it has spread to be celebrated in hundreds of countries in one form or another. Along the way, the meaning has changed a bit — if not the sentiment.
Anna Jarvis is regarded as the founder of Mother’s Day in the early 1900s, a fact that she came to lament late in life. While the tradition that Jarvis envisioned began with celebrants attending church and writing letters of thanks to their mothers, it eventually evolved into the commercialized endeavor we witness today.
As The Associated Press reported in 2008, “Jarvis became known for scathing letters in which she would berate people who purchased greeting cards, saying they were too lazy to write personal letters.”
We will eschew Jarvis’ despair today, choosing instead to focus on gratefulness for the remarkable duties mothers perform on a daily basis. They are nurses and teachers and chauffeurs and counselors and cooks and guardians, performing each duty out of a sense of love with little regard for personal gain.
Insure.com annually calculates a Mother’s Day Index professing to quantify the work that mothers perform — without a salary, of course. This year’s index shows that the typical mom would justify an income of $126,725 — which means that Mom would be underpaid for all she does.
As we reflect on Mother’s Day, perhaps the most striking thing is how a mother’s love is used as a metaphor for all manner of things, centuries after Plato started the trend. As various people have said over the years, according to BrainyQuote.com:
“Expectation is the mother of all frustration.”
“Diligence is the mother of good luck.”
“Silence is the mother of truth.”
“Poverty is the mother of crime.”
“Leisure is the mother of philosophy.”
“Obedience is the mother of success and is wedded to safety.”
“Education is the mother of leadership.”
“Fear is the mother of morality.”
“Fear is the mother of foresight.”
“Sameness is the mother of disgust, variety the cure.”
The point is not that those metaphors have anything to do with motherhood, but that motherhood is the touchstone, the common thread to which all can relate. The giving of life and the nurturing of that life is a profound endeavor that defines our humanity.
And so we celebrate that connection today. It might mean a greeting card or a long-distance phone call or flowers or chocolates or a special meal. It might mean memories of mothers no longer with us, as we try to live up to the lessons they taught.
But regardless of what Mother’s Day means on an individual level, it can never be adequate thanks for all Mom does.