Mothers in the World

The one commonality around the world, in every country, every religion, for every sex, race and culture is the mother. We have fathers too, though paternity is not always as clear.

When I travel in different countries and cultures, be it in Africa, Asia, Latin America, in communities whose language I can’t decipher and sometimes without a translator, I can usually communicate with a mother and her child. Even hardened men yielded to a mother.

I remember a colleague who was a mediator and also a mother. She was once tasked with retrieving children from a notorious warlord in a country which had recruited and used hundreds of children as soldiers. She told me how she looked into this man’s empty eyes, put her hand on his arm and said in a firm voice, “Give me the children.” He refused and grew irate. She kept looking him directly in the eyes, kept her hand on his arm and said with all the authority of a mother to a wayward son: “You must give me the children.” She saw him flinch and then he turned to his men and said, “Let her take the children.” And she walked out of the camp with the children.

Living in London and visiting Berlin with sons Elliot and Nate in 1990 shortly after the Berlin Wall fell and  Germany reunited.

The mother we celebrate on Mothers’ Day around the world is strong, loving, smart. Her children are primary for her care and affection. She helps them develop into caring, thoughtful adults.

As a mother I have tried to do that with my children, and as a daughter I had a mother who did just that. She saw my needs sometimes before I did, helped me grow and learn what I needed to learn, and then she had the wisdom to urge me to take what talents I had into the world, and she urged me to see the world.

When I was a girl, I used to go to the flight deck of the Love Field Airport in Dallas, Texas to watch the planes take off with my mother and sister. My mother hadn’t traveled much in her life, but she knew the world was out there, and she urged me to be part of it. “Where do you think that plane is going?” she would ask, and we would let our imaginations go. At least half of the destinations we determined were New York City, where I eventually lived, as well as in Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, London and Washington, DC. Because of work, I’ve had the opportunity to travel and work on every continent except Antarctica, a geography my mother would have enjoyed, at least in theory.

I once complained to my mother, “You never criticize me!” How is that for a complaint though it wasn’t entirely true. Her answer I still remember: “Don’t worry. The world will do that.” She saw her role to support, encourage and see the best in me so that I might see and become the best I could be.

I know not everyone may have had that kind of mother. In fact, my sister and I offer different versions of our mother. We are both mothers ourselves now. We try as mothers do, though never quite succeed, to cherish and guide and then let go of our children so that they might flourish as their best selves in the world.


  1. Linda Sutliff on May 14, 2023 at 9:19 pm

    Joanne ,
    I love this piece. And especially the tribute to your own mother. Her guidance surely opened the way for your raising the boys and for your own life’s adventures.

    This was a beautiful story to share. Thank you! And Happy Mother’s Day!

    • Joanne on May 15, 2023 at 9:54 pm

      Thank you, Linda. We both know the importance of that mother love.

  2. Ayo Obe on May 15, 2023 at 1:12 am

    “My mother hadn’t traveled much in her life, but she knew the world was out there, and she urged me to be part of it.”
    This encapsulates a beautiful approach to life – not letting the limitations one may have faced in life prevent one from encouraging one’s children to see and strive toward broader horizons.

    • Joanne on May 15, 2023 at 9:56 pm

      Lovely to hear from you, Ayo. Miss seeing you. I know you share an appreciation of a mother’s caring.

  3. Bob Franden on May 15, 2023 at 8:03 am

    As I read your wonderful piece I reflected on the great gift my mother gave me at an early age:the love of reading.
    Happy Mothers Day

  4. Joanne on May 15, 2023 at 9:58 pm

    Thank you for your reflection and agree the appreciation of reading opens up worlds!

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