A Collection of Quotations on Mothers and Motherhood

For Mothers and Their Children

Virgin and Child, 1515-1516. Artist: Jacopo Palma il Vecchio
Virgin and Child, 1515-1516. Artist: Jacopo Palma il Vecchio. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Some quotes from notable women on motherhood, mothering, mothers, family and children. Some are serious, some more light-hearted. All shed some light on attitudes towards women and mothers. 

• "A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother - and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment." -- Anna Jarvis, promoter of the establishment of Mother's Day

• "Arise then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts! ... We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs...." [ more] -- Julia Ward Howe, promoter of a Mother's Day for Peace

• "No one who traces the history of motherhood, of the home, of child-rearing practices will ever assume the eternal permanence of our own way of institutionalizing them." -- Jessie Bernard

• "To nourish children and raise them against odds is any time, any place, more valuable than to fix bolts in cars or design nuclear weapons." -- Marilyn French

• "Women's rights in essence is really a movement for freedom, a movement for equality, for the dignity of all women, for those who work outside the home and those who dedicate themselves with more altruism than any profession I know to being wives and mothers, cooks and chauffeurs, and child psychologists and loving human beings." -- Jill Ruckelshaus

• "The phrase 'working mother' is redundant." -- Jane Sellman

• "No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother." -- Margaret Sanger

• "Motherhood is neither a duty nor a privilege, but simply the way that humanity can satisfy the desire for physical immortality and triumph over the fear of death." -- Rebecca West

• "My mother could make anybody feel guilty -- she used to get letters of apology from people she didn't even know." -- Joan Rivers

• "The best way to keep children home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant -- and let the air out of the tires." -- Dorothy Parker

• "A wise parent humors the desire for independent action, so as to become the friend and advisor when his absolute rule shall cease." -- Elizabeth Gaskell

• "So when the great word 'Mother!' rang once more,
I saw at last its meaning and its place;
Not the blind passion of the brooding past,
But Mother -- the World's Mother -- come at last,
To love as she had never loved before --
To feed and guard and teach the human race." -- Charlotte Perkins Gilman

• "No matter how old a mother is, she watches her middle-aged children for signs of improvement." -- Florida Scott-Maxwell

• "Sometimes when I look at all my children, I say to myself, 'Lillian, you should have stayed a virgin.'" -- Lillian Carter, at the 1980 Democratic Convention, where her son was nominated for a second term as US President

• "A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie." -- Tenneva Jordan

• "'It's come at last,' she thought, 'the time when you can no longer stand between your children and heartache.' -- Betty Smith

• "Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to 'jump at de sun.' We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground." -- Zora Neale Hurston

• "At work, you think of the children you have left at home. At home, you think of the work you've left unfinished. Such a struggle is unleashed within yourself. Your heart is rent." -- Golda Meir

• "And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see -- or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read." -- Alice Walker

• "Motherhood is the strangest thing; it can be like being one's own Trojan horse." -- Rebecca West

• "But kids don't stay with you if you do it right. It's the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won't be needed in the long run." -- Barbara Kingsolver

• "Take motherhood: nobody ever thought of putting it on a moral pedestal until some brash feminists pointed out, about a century ago, that the pay is lousy and the career ladder nonexistent." -- Barbara Ehrenreich

• "Why do grandparents and grandchildren get along so well? They have the same enemy -- the mother." -- Claudette Colbert

• "There was never a great man who had not a great mother -- it is hardly an exaggeration." -- Olive Schreiner

• "A mother's arms are more comforting than anyone else's." -- Diana, Princess of Wales

• "Motherhood: The most exhausting, emotional, rewarding and life-enhancing journey a woman can take." Charlotte Pearson

• "By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacationless class." -- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

• "Whenever I'm with my mother, I feel as though I have to spend the whole time avoiding land mines." -- Amy Tan, in The Kitchen God's Wife

• "Women do not have to sacrifice personhood if they are mothers. They do not have to sacrifice motherhood in order to be persons. Liberation was meant to expand women's opportunities, not to limit them. The self-esteem that has been found in new pursuits can also be found in mothering." -- Elaine Heffner

• "God knows that a mother needs fortitude and courage and tolerance and flexibility and patience and firmness and nearly every other brave aspect of the human soul. But because I happen to be a parent of almost fiercely maternal nature, I praise casualness. It seems to me the rarest of virtues. It is useful enough when children are small. It is useful to the point of necessity when they are adolescents." -- Phyllis McGinley

• "Biological possibility and desire are not the same as biological need. Women have childbearing equipment. For them to choose not to use the equipment is no more blocking what is instinctive than it is for a man who, muscles or no, chooses not to be a weightlifter." -- Betty Rollin

• "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much." -- Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

• "I looked on child rearing not only as a work of love and duty but as a profession that was fully as interesting and challenging as any honorable profession in the world and one that demanded the best I could bring to it." -- Rose Kennedy

• "Time is the only comforter for the loss of a mother." -- Jane Welsh Carlyle

• "A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary." -- Dorothy Canfield Fisher

• "She was the archetypal selfless mother: living only for her children, sheltering them from the consequences of their actions -- and in the end doing them irreparable harm." -- Marcia Muller

• "If you've never been hated by your child, you've never been a parent." -- Bette Davis

• "Women who miscalculate are called mothers." -- Abigail Van Buren

• "Being a full-time mother is one of the highest salaried jobs... since the payment is pure love." -- Mildred B. Vermont

• "Death and taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them!" -- Margaret Mitchell

• "Beth could not reason upon or explain the faith that gave her courage and patience to give up life, and cheerfully wait for death. Like a confiding child, she asked no questions, but left everything to God and nature, Father and Mother of us all, feeling sure that they, and they only, could teach and strengthen heart and spirit for this life and the life to come." -- Louisa May Alcott, in Little Women, chapter 36

• "Women know
The way to rear up children (to be just)
They know a simple, merry, tender knack
Of tying sashes, fitting baby-shoes
And stringing pretty words that make no sense."
-- Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

• "Never marry a man who hates his mother, because he'll end up hating you." -- Jill Bennett

• "Spend at least one Mother's Day with your respective mothers before you decide on marriage. If a man gives his mother a gift certificate for a flu shot, dump him." -- Erma Bombeck

• "It is not until you become a mother than your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding." -- Erma Bombeck

• "Cultural expectations shade and color the images that parents-to-be form. The baby product ads, showing a woman serenely holding her child, looking blissfully and mysteriously contented, or the television parents, wisely and humorously solving problems, influence parents-to-be." -- Ellen Galinsky

• "Though motherhood is the most important of all the professions -- requiring more knowledge than any other department in human affairs -- there was no attention given to preparation for this office." - Elizabeth Cady Stanton

• "No one ever died from sleeping in an unmade bed. I have known mothers who remake the bed after their children do it because there's a wrinkle in the spread or the blanket is on crooked. This is sick." -- Erma Bombeck

• "Most of all the other beautiful things in life come by twos and threes by dozens and hundreds. Plenty of roses, stars, sunsets, rainbows, brothers, and sisters, aunts and cousins, but only one mother in the whole world." -- Kate Douglas Wiggin

• "Becoming a mother makes you the mother of all children. From now on each wounded, abandoned, frightened child is yours. You live in the suffering mothers of every race and creed and weep with them. You long to comfort all who are desolate." -- Charlotte Gray

• "Motherhood brings as much joy as ever, but it still brings boredom, exhaustion, and sorrow too. Nothing else ever will make you as happy or as sad, as proud or as tired, for nothing is quite as hard as helping a person develop his own individuality especially while you struggle to keep your own." -- Marguerite Kelly and Elia Parsons

• "Giving kids clothes and food is one of thing, but it's much more important to teach them that other people besides themselves are important and that the best thing they can do with their lives is to use them in the service of other people." -- Dolores Huerta

And from that prolific writer (possibly female!) who is called Unknown:

• "All mothers are working mothers." -- Unknown

• "A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother." -- Unknown