Oh muddahs! This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and to be honest, I still get discombobulated when someone greets me, “Happy Mother’s Day!” My 10-year-old nonverbal daughter with autism is proof that I am a mom, (trust me, I was there when she emerged like a roaring lion on Wednesday, October 16, 2008 at 5:01 p.m.). However, admittedly mothering my little girl on the autism spectrum oftentimes feels less like mothering, and more like fighting. Every day is a battle, where I am fighting to understand her, fighting to make sure her needs are met, fighting to make sure she gets necessary services, fighting to understand where she fits in the school system, fighting to keep my sanity on the especially difficult days, fighting to hold in tears when I feel defeated and like a failure, fighting, fighting… However, don’t get me wrong, every time I look at my daughter, I thank our heavenly Father for blessing me with her. As eloquently quoted by German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” And moms, I’m sure we all can agree, that our children on the autism spectrum have made us tough and brought out a grit that we never knew we possessed. And even more significantly, our little band of X-Men has taught us the true meaning of unconditional love.
While penning this column, I was curious as to the origins of Mother’s Day. In the U.K. and Ireland, Mother’s Day or Mothering Sunday, originally had nothing to do with mothers at all. It was a day for Christians to visit their "mother" church. The U.K.’s Mother's Day always falls on the fourth Sunday during the period of Lent, when people typically give up things like certain foods or bad habits for the days leading up to Easter.
In the U.S, the day was not linked to religion, but was dedicated entirely to mothers. Its origins date back to the 19th century, when in the years before the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia helped start, “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs,” to teach local women how to properly care for their children. However, the official Mother’s Day holiday arose in the 1900s as a result of the efforts of Jarvis’ daughter, Anna, who conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children. After gaining financial backing from a Philadelphia department store owner named John Wanamaker, in May 1908, she organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia. Following the success of her first Mother’s Day, Jarvis, (who ironically remained unmarried and childless her whole life) resolved to see her holiday added to the national calendar. She started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and prominent politicians urging the adoption of a special day honoring motherhood. Her persistence paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
This got me to thinking. The Rockaway Beach Autism Families (RBAF) support group is like Jarvis’ early Mothers’ Day Work Clubs. However, we are a group of not just women, but also men banding together to advocate for our children on the spectrum. As our children’s caregivers, we are advocates, educators, cheerleaders, therapists, warriors, and much more. At our meetings, we share with each other jewels of information that maybe helpful to another parent, struggling with schooling, debating on medications or a particular therapy. April is National Autism Awareness month, but at RBAF, we work to build autism awareness and acceptance every single day. And the same goes for holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. For me, every day is a day to commemorate and celebrate our blessings as parents, and our own families and community, who are there for us in this crazy parenting journey. However, this Sunday, let’s borrow an aspect of the U.K.’s and Ireland’s Mothering Day. Give up this bad habit. Instead of berating yourself as a parent, take a moment to celebrate your strength. We are strong, we are blessed and we are beautiful!