Sunday, May 13, 2007

Tumult and terrorists couldn’t stop the White House from issuing an official Mother’s Day proclamation.

“Motherhood is one of the most cherished and valued roles in our society,” President Bush said yesterday in praise of all mothers, but military mothers in particular.

And he is right. On the nation’s 93rd Mother’s Day, it is apparent that sons, daughters and assorted admirers still love mom.

A new Rasmussen Reports survey, in fact, shows that 66 percent of Americans say that being a mother is “the most important role for a woman to fill in today’s world.” Sixty-seven percent say they will visit their mother today, while 28 percent will call. The poll of 1,000 adults was conducted May 6-7 with a margin of error of three percentage points.

Although entrenched popular culture often casts motherhood as frantic lunacy, researchers at the University of Edinburgh and other academic institutions have found proof that motherhood actually makes a woman smarter.

Maternal challenges increase brain cells and mental skills. Magnetic resonance imaging scans of mothers’ brains have revealed that mothering itself increases emotional intelligence, sensory powers, motivation, attention, memory and problem solving, among other things.

“Motherhood may knock us off our feet for a time, only to set us back up, often stronger than before,” says Katherine Ellison, author of the 2005 book “The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Stronger.”

It’s still a tough business, though. A Pew Research Center poll conducted Feb. 16-March 14 found that 70 percent say it’s more difficult to be a mother today than it was 30 years ago. The 2,020 adult respondents cited societal factors such as drugs, alcohol, peer pressure and unsavory Hollywood influences as the greatest challenges to aspiring June Cleavers.

The sentiment is even more pronounced among mothers. A poll of 350 conducted March 2-April 7 by Hallmark Magazine found that 73 percent felt that motherhood was a much tougher job in this day and age.

American mothers look to their own mothers for inspiration.

“It appears the apple doesn’t really fall far from the tree,” Hallmark editor-in-chief Lisa Benenson says.

Half the respondents said they often find themselves doing things “just like their mother,” with 52 percent looking to their mom for advice. The relationship seems cordial: Fifty-three percent said that they never felt their mother was interfering, with more than a quarter acknowledging “they wish they could be more like their moms.”

Mother’s Day itself is a substantial cultural moment. Ancient Greeks had a mother’s day of mythic proportions. The Romans had one, too: “Hilaria.” The designation has yet to make it into the greeting-card lexicon, though “Happy Hilaria” has a certain ring to it.

After years of pestering lawmakers and civic leaders, the founder of Mother’s Day — one Anna Jarvis of Grafton, W.Va. — persuaded all 50 states to celebrate motherhood. It was declared a national holiday by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. The Andrews Methodist Episcopal church in Grafton, in fact, was made the International Mother’s Day Shrine in 1962.

Ironically, Miss Jarvis did not approve of Mother’s Day cards, admonishing the nation that commercial greetings were “a poor substitute for the letter you are too lazy to write.”

More than nine decades later, the nation this year will spend almost $16 billion on mothers, including $3.1 billion on restaurant meals, $2.3 billion on flowers, $2 billion on jewelry and $1.6 billion on clothes, according to the National Retail Federation.

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