Once upon a time, motherhood was the epitome of womanhood. A woman's destined roles - of daughter, sister and wife - culminated naturally in the birth of her child. Then, some might say, a bigger role began. As all-absorbing as motherhood was, women, being what they are, dug deep to do more. When they had to, mothers took the helm and steered the fortunes of the entire family. Dutifully, even those successful women, who formed the vanguard of historical change, bequeathed their success to the patriarchs who had moulded them. The gendering of society was so thorough that women internalised its workings as well as men did, or even better than them.
Times have changed, of course, and the special day for mothers, first celebrated over 100 years ago in America, is not a sop but a sincere acknowledgement of their contributions. Theirs is arguably the greatest task of the ages: the tireless care and development of individuals to an unimaginable degree. So profound is the impact of motherhood that Robert Browning declared "all love begins and ends there". What poets believe, most people know.
Now, motherhood is moving from obligation to choice. As progressive legislation shakes up tradition and liberal consumer societies loosen up family structures, motherhood is called upon to justify itself against competing goals, such as a career and financial security. The angst of nations is that to turn back the clock would be unacceptably regressive, while to welcome all forms of motherhood could erode traditional notions of family.
Hence, Mother's Day also epitomises the biological reality that there would be no days without mothers, as societies age inexorably. For all to celebrate motherhood now is to acknowledge one's own existence - the gift of life bestowed on an individual and collectively on a nation that one can no longer take for granted as before.