A Lasting Gift for All Mothers 

by Susan McGee Bailey, Ph.D.
May 2000


In 1914, Congress designated the second Sunday in May "as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country." These days, Mother’s Day often means children of all ages presenting flowers and cards to their moms. Originally, however, the early U.S. movements to found Mother’s Day focused not on individual women, but on the issues women have cared about and worked for throughout history. And, today, these issues still need attention. A lasting Mother’s Day gift goes beyond honoring one mother and speaks to the needs of all mothers and their children. The Million Mom March addresses one critical need, gun control, but violence against women and children is broader and deeper and gun control is only a partial solution.

On Mother's Day we think of our mothers and how their bodies bore us and their minds molded us. We should not forget, though, that not all families are peaceful and that mothers and children often bear the brunt of family violence. Researchers estimate that one quarter of all women in the U.S. suffer intimate violence at some point in their lives. Someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse.

At the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center at the Wellesley Centers for Women, researchers have documented the epidemic proportions of intimate violence against women. They find that women are more likely to be raped, beaten, stalked, or killed by their intimate/romantic partners than by strangers. The National Family Violence Resurvey of 1985 showed that each year over six million women suffer physical violence by their intimate partners and at least 1.8 million women are severely beaten by them. This pattern of violence contributes to depression, alcoholism, suicide, and homelessness for women and their children.

Intimate violence harms women and destroys lives—whether it is the date rape of a college student, stalking by a former boyfriend, emotional abuse, or ongoing battering within families. Psychological abuse is even more common than physical or sexual abuse in intimate relationships, the researchers note. It appears to be particularly prevalent in chronic battering relationships and was reported by more than half of chronically abused women in a 1990 study.

These are ugly facts, but we need to know them if we are to change them and research can lead the way. Researchers are trying to unravel the complex interactions that support this violence—unhealthy societal patterns, alcoholism, drug abuse, socioeconomic deprivations, and violent early family experiences. Only by knowing more about these relationships can we develop effective prevention strategies. We must focus resources on prevention so our "public expressions of love and reverence" are no longer at odds with so many painful, private realities.

Each of us can make a lasting Mother’s Day gift by taking even a small step.

Break the silence. If you have a relative, friend, or acquaintance you suspect may be a victim of verbal or physical domestic violence, talk with her privately. Tell her you are concerned and, if you are right about the problem, offer to help her find the resources to stop the violence. Knowing someone cares and is there to help when she is ready can make a big difference.

Pay attention to your community. Find out about domestic violence in your community and who is helping to combat the problem. You could volunteer time at shelters or work to help make the problem more visible and thus higher on your community’s agenda.

Don’t joke about it. Verbal abuse is often the first step in physical abuse against women. Jokes that belittle women or make physical violence seem normal support the next steps — punches, kicks, and rape.

Make a contribution. Give to a local or a national organization that shelters battered women and their children or works to prevent violence against women.

Let’s work together to make the sentiments found on our Mother’s Day cards real for everyone.

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