A Terrible Time for Mother’s Day

Afghan mother and child.

What a dreadful moment for Mother’s Day.

Across the globe, mothers agonize over their children’s survival, their wellbeing, their future.

In Ukraine, millions have fled their homes and their homeland for the sake of their children, often, heartbreakingly, leaving their own infirm mothers behind. Inside Ukraine, women have given birth in basements, praying that, despite the nonstop shelling and the the dearth of food and clean water, they can somehow produce enough milk to feed their babies. Across this wartorn land, mothers are forced to forage and beg for nutritious foods to feed their little ones.

Photo by Oles_Navrotskyi — Ukrainian refugees near Kyiv railway station, 2 28 22.

Mothers in Afghanistan, afraid for their daughters’ safety, are now reliving the terrifying years when their own educations were brutally interrupted under earlier Taliban rule, even as their husbands, in dire need due to the ongoing economic meltdown, entertain bids for selling off those same daughters in marriage.

Across the developing world, such as the majority of venues where my own organization WomenStrong International works, mothers worry about their daughters’ prospects, after two years of limited schooling and limited family income, with early pregnancy looming as potential dishonor and early marriage looking like a partial solution.

In Mexico, women’s fears have skyrocketed, with 1,000 mothers and daughters murdered last year, another 20,000 missing, and the overwhelming number of cases unsolved.

Here in the United States, where Black mothers have long feared for their sons and Indigenous mothers for their daughters, mothers must now also fear for their LGBTQIA+ youth, afraid they won’t be able to get the care they need in the states where they live.

And in half of America, should a draft Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade become final, a pregnant girl will soon be forced to become a mother whether she’s ready or not, including in cases of rape or incest and despite her age.

Yet thanks to mothers, and to the champions of mothers, there’s hope.

From pregnancy through grandmotherhood, after all, mothers have shown themselves to be wise, fierce protectors, endlessly resourceful, as those who stand with, behind, and in solidarity with them have long known.

This Mother’s Day, may the calming scent of our gifted lilacs and lilies enable us to celebrate and concentrate on mothers’ extraordinary capacity for caregiving, hope, and healing, as they rise, time and again, above the hardship they’re forced to endure.

In Afghanistan, they have begun boldly and secretly homeschooling their daughters, just as their own mothers did for them, a generation ago. In Ukraine, thousands of women who fled at the start of the war are now returning home to reclaim their lives and rebuild — testaments, in both cases, to women’s tenacity, resilience, and sense of connectedness.

Mexican women have been out in the streets, decrying their government’s serial negligence in allowing these cries to occur and to go unpunished; and in America, relentless mothers of Black, brown, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA+ youth, too, are speaking out, trying to hold law enforcement and government accountable for the senseless deaths, disappearances, incarceration, abuse, and the pain inflicted on their children.

Poster for a #MMIW Memorial Walk, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Tribal Victim Services

In yet another war-riddled nation ravaged by Russian strikes, Syrian mothers and fathers — teachers, physicians, human rights defenders and investigators among them — familiar with the challenges of working and parenting under Russian assault, are now quietly and efficiently sharing their expertise, practical tips, and moral solidarity with their Ukrainian counterparts, through the Syrian–Ukrainian Network (SUN Network), an organically grown initiative housed by the Syrian Emergency Task Force. Having become experts the hard way in saving lives and preserving evidence in the face of Russian-inflicted atrocities, these humanitarians’ only interest is in helping others do the same.

Like the world’s mothers, and these brave humanitarians, we all contain deep wells of strength, courage, and empathy. The brutality revealed by Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Taliban rule over Afghanistan, the Mexican cartels, and the cruel manipulations and impacts of U.S. law compels us now to join with these brave souls in sharing fully the depth and reach of our compassion and our humanity, with those in need.

Mother and child — photo by Felix Adams

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Founder & Executive Director of WomenStrong International. Director of Millennium Cities Initiative at Columbia University.

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Dr. Susan M. Blaustein

Dr. Susan M. Blaustein

Founder & Executive Director of WomenStrong International. Director of Millennium Cities Initiative at Columbia University.

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