National Edition

Mother's Day 100-year history a colorful tale of love, anger and civic unrest

Published: Tuesday, May 6 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

She suspects the holiday is important to those moms who keep every handprint and colored picture the holiday brought and to those who don’t. Mother-child bonds are important to each person — including those who don't have their mothers.

Remembering "other" mothers

Each year, the original Mother's Day church in West Virginia, now called International Mother’s Day Shrine, celebrates. Since 2008, it has honored a “Mother of the Year” — the 2014 award going to all type of women who mother, not just those with a biological child.

It recognizes the love and honor already being bestowed on birth mothers, step-mothers, adopted mothers and on those who mother without delineated relationships.

That resonates with Teresa Bruce, author of “The Other Mother, a Rememoir.” She is very close to her own mother, but when she was 22 and moved far from home, she accidentally found “another mother,” too: then-82-year-old Byrne Miller, a former dancer and lifelong activist who would impact her deeply until Miller’s death in 2001.

Her own mother was grateful she found a mother figure in her new home so far away, Bruce said. The advantages to the other mother were multifaceted, but she especially appreciated that with no genetic ties or past history, Miller had no specific expectations.

“She just saw me as a person with potential. It’s lovely as you grow and claim your own identity to stumble onto another mother who can help you define yourself, not necessarily by the way you’ve always been known," Bruce said. "And it works in reverse. You have a particular relationship with your own daughters and sons. When you become another mother, you can offer different parts of your own personality.”

Miller spoke in what Bruce called “womenisms.” From “There’s not a contract on earth that cannot be rewritten,” Bruce learned identity is a contract you make with yourself, and it can be rewritten. “You can stop and redefine your own life,” she said. She also learned that “when what is broken cannot be fixed, close the door behind you and walk into another room. The brain has more chambers than the heart.”

Miller struggled. Both her child and her husband were diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1940s, before good treatments existed. She had to find a way not to let it destroy her, Bruce said.

Bruce, now 47 and still living in Beaufort, South Carolina, where she met Miller, never had children. But she’s helped mother some, too. Over the years she has seen whole communities that rely on “other mothers,” including military families that move around and families battling illnesses that take them to distant treatment sites.

She believes Miller needed the many “other” children she collected and nurtured. “She had mothered people wherever she lived,” Bruce said. Because Miller’s daughter was so limited then by schizophrenia, “the other collected children allowed her to parcel out her hopes and dreams in different ways so she could let Allison become the most independent person she could be.”

That's what mothers do.

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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