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Mothers Day Songs & Prayers

Music and Prayers for Mothers Day

Mothers Day has inspired many over the years to write poems and songs - this article chronicles some of the history of Mothers Day songs and prayers. In Australia, Mothers Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May.

Some Songs for Mothers Day

Portait of Julia Ward Howe 

Poet Julia Ward Howe from a photograph by Josiah Johnson Hawes, engraved by Powell, Caroline Amelia Powell, c1887.

Article re-printed under public domain from The Librarry of Congress

The tradition of a national celebration of Mother’s Day in the United States grew out of reactions to the aftermath of the Civil War. Poet, suffragist, and author of the lyrics of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Julia Ward Howe attempted to unite women in the cause of peace, beginning with her “Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World,” published in 1870. She then organized yearly observances of “Mother’s Peace Day,” beginning in 1872. She hoped to establish June second as an international Mother’s Peace Day, but her observances did not grow beyond the local level.

In 1887, a Kentucky teacher named Mary Towles Sasseen began local annual Mothers Day celebrations, and in about 1904, Frank E. Hering of Indiana began work to promote the idea of Mothers Day as well.

Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia campaigned to make Mothers Day a United States national holiday, beginning with a service to honor her own mother on May 10, 1908. Her mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, who died in 1905, had organized a “Mothers’ Friendship Day” in 1868, bringing together mothers of former Union and Confederate soldiers to help to promote reconciliation. So Jarvis’s idea to create a day honoring mothers grew out of her own mother’s work. She was more successful in promoting the holiday than her predecessors, and it became an observance in several states. It was Jarvis who suggested the second Sunday in May as the day for the observance. She also promoted the wearing and giving of white carnations as a symbol of this tribute to mothers. On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring the first national Mother’s Day. Jarvis did not stop there, but worked to establish a Mother’s Day in other countries.

Myra Pipkin holding an unidentified child 

Myra Pipkin with an unidentified child. Written on the back: “Mrs. Frank Pipkin Age 46, 1941 – Youngest Great-Grandmother.” Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection.

There are a number of field recordings relating to motherhood among the American Folklife Center’s online collections. The following are just a few examples of these:

In their field work to document music and songs in the south, John and Ruby Lomax recorded John Lomax’s eldest daughter, Shirley Lomax Mansell, singing songs that she had learned from her mother, Bess Brown Lomax, who had learned them from her mother, Emma Penick Brown. These include the widely known lullaby, “All the Pretty Little Horses” and songs for older children, such as “I Love Little Willie,” sung in the words of a daughter sharing confidences with her mother about her sweetheart.[1] The recording session aimed at documenting these family songs is especially poignant, as Mrs. Mansell had lost her mother in 1931.

A different type of song that mothers may sing for children is the nonsense song and “Sow Weaving Silk,” sung by Myra Pipkin (Mrs. Frank Pipkin), is a good example. [2] She was recorded by Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin as part of their documentation of migrants displaced by the dust bowl in California. Mrs. Pipkin, who was born in Arkansas, is thought to be the inspiration for the strong mother character, “Ma Joad,” in John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath.

Many songs express the central importance of mother to a person’s life. A classic example of this in Spanish is the traditional song, “Solo el amor de madre verdad” (“Only a mother’s love is true”) here sung by Francisco Leal and Agapito Salinas and recorded by John and Ruby Lomax.[3] There are many versions of this song, with verses listing various difficulties one might encounter in life, always returning to the refrain that only mother’s love is true. A similar sentiment in English is expressed in the popular song “A Boy’s Best Friend is his Mother.” Though it probably originated on the musical stage, this song is often found in oral tradition, as in this example sung by Leonard W. Jones for collector Sidney Robertson Cowell.[4] A Portuguese fado song, “Minha mai minha amada” (“Oh, my mother, My beloved”), similarly puts mother at the center of life. This version was sung for Cowell by Alice Lemos Avila, who also provided this translation: [5]

Oh my mother, my mother
Oh my mother, my beloved
He who has a mother has everything
He who has no mother has nothing
My mother who is that one
Who is there at the foot of the cross
It is Mary Magdalen
Asking pardon of Jesus
Oh my mother, my mother
Oh my love must profound
There is no gold to value you
You are worth more than all the world.

Songs may express a desire to reunite with one’s mother, as in the complaint song “Let Me Go to My Dear Mother,” a song of a daughter begging to be allowed to go see her mother, sung by John Lowry Goree and recorded by John and Ruby Lomax in Houston, Texas in 1939. Goree says that he heard it as a child growing up in Marion, Alabama. Judging by the lyrics, it seems possible that it may date from the era when enslaved family members could be forcibly separated. In the spiritual, “My Mother Got Religion,” sung by Deacon Sylvester Johnson and recorded by the Lomaxes in Knight Post Office, Vernon Parish, Louisiana, the lyrics tell us that the reunion of mother and child may even be realized even after death.


  1. Additional songs sung by Shirley Lomax Mansell are available in The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip. An announcement describing this recording session was made by Mrs. Mansell’s stepmother, Ruby Terrill Lomax.
  2. An interview with Myra Pipkin and additional songs sung by her are available in the online presentation, Voices from the Dustbowl: The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Workers Collection 1940-1941 (the interview contains language that may be considered offensive).
  3. The field notes give the first line instead of the title: “Nada me importa – que me nieques la amistad” (“I don’t care that you deny me your friendship”), and so this appears instead of the title on item record.
  4. In 1883 at least two versions of this song were published with different people claiming authorship: Frank Mills and Ben Williams. A similar song by J. P. Skelly and Harry Miller was published the same year.
  5. The songs in this paragraph collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell form part of the WPA California Folk Music Project Collection. Alice Lemos Avila also provided a Portuguese transcription of “Minha mai minha amada,” available in the online collection.


Music and Prayers for Mothers Day
check out suggestions from Singing from the Lectionary
Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, God of the women (tune: Be thou my vision) – new hymn
God, we praise you for the women
by Dan Damon.

1. Mothering God, you gave us birth
in the bright morning of this world.
Creator, source of every breath,
you are our rain, our wind, our sun.

2. Mothering Christ, you took our form,
offering us your food of light,
grain of life, and grape of love,
your very body for our peace.

3. Mothering Spirit, nurturing One,
in arms of patience hold us close,
so that in faith we root and grow
until we flow’r, until we know.
Words and Music: Jean Janzen, based on the writings of Juliana of Norwich
Permissions: Copyright 1991. Abingdon Press, admin. by The Copyright Company.

Mothers Day Liturgy Mothers’ Day Liturgy
(two voices)

On this day, we honour those who have mothered us and cared for us.
For some, this will be a birth mother, and we may wish to express our grateful thanks. We pray that our lives may reflect the love they have shown us.
For others, it will be the women who raised us, who were our mothers in childhood – an adopted mother, older sister, aunt, grandmother, stepmother or someone else. We may wish to express our thanks for those women who held us and fed us, who cared for us and kissed away our pain. We pray that our lives may reflect the love they have shown us.

We pray for older mothers whose children are grown.
Grant them joy and satisfaction in how their children’s lives unfold.

We pray for those with adult children, but whose lives are still shaped by their children’s needs and cares.
Grant them strength, patience and wisdom.

We pray for new mothers experiencing changes they could not predict.
Grant them rest and peace and confidence as the days unfold.

We pray for pregnant women who will soon be mothers.
Grant them patience and good counsel in the coming months.

We pray for mothers who face the demands of single parenthood.
Grant them strength and wisdom.

We pray for mothers who enjoy financial abundance.
Grant them time to share with their families.

We pray for mothers who are raising their children in poverty.
Grant them relief and justice.

We pray for the challenge of blended families, and those who take on care of others children.
Grant them patience and understanding and love.

We pray for mothers who are separated from their children.
Grant them faith and hope.

We pray for mothers in marriages that are in crisis.
Grant them support and insight.

We pray for mothers who have lost children through illness, or death come too soon.
Grant them comfort that their children are held in divine embrace.
We pray for mothers in developing countries who die in childbirth due to inadequate maternal health care, or whose children die too young.
Grant that generosity may abound, that money will be released for resources, and to attract skilled personnel who can support the women and children.

We pray for mothers who have terminated pregnancies.
Grant them healing and peace.

We pray for mothers who gave up their children for adoption.
Grant them peace and confidence that the children will be held in good care.

We pray for adoptive mothers.
Grant them joy and gratitude for the gift of life entrusted to them.

We pray for girls and women who think about being mothers.
Grant them wisdom and discernment.

We pray for women who desperately want, or wanted, to be mothers.
Grant them grace in their particular and often private sense of loss and grief.

We pray for all women who have assumed the mother’s role in a child’s life.
Grant them joy and the appreciation of others.

We pray for those people present who are grieving the loss of their mother in the past year.
Grant them comfort, and confidence that loving continues in how we live our lives.

All are invited to come forward and light a candle for those who have mothered us and/or for those who have particular concerns about individuals.

(Adapted. Source:

Mothering God,
on this day set aside in our nation to praise mothers and motherhood,
help us to give thanks to you for our mothers
and for those who have been like mothers to us.
Rejoice with us for all those, male and female, older and younger,
who have shown us your tender grace, mercy, and love.
Support all who have entered into the joyous calling of motherhood,
especially those who raise children alone or in the face of great trial.

Do not let us forget about those who might feel left out on this day:
those who do not know their mothers,
those whose mothers are far away or have died,
those mothers whose children are far away or have died,
those who do not or cannot know the joy of children and motherhood.

Help all your people to know the gift of a mother’s love
in and through whatever manifestation you offer it,
and continue to show us your love through all who are mothers to us.

Mothers Day Proclamation
Julia Ward Howe – Boston 1870

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm! Disarm!” The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.

As men have forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his time the sacred impress not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

Anti war origins of Mothers Day
Stan Duncan (2005) writes: “I have a bulletin insert about the anti-war origins of Mothers Day. During the service I often say, everyone who has ever had a mother stand up. They all laugh and most shouffle to their feet. Then I say, “some of us are mothers, some are not; some are fathers, some are not. But, good or ill, good relationship or bad, all of us would not be here without them. On at least this day, if not others, we should all honor those who birthed us and brought us into the world….etc.” I also send out mothers day cards to the middle aged non-mothers in our congregation, saying something like, “Mothering is not an act of biology. Bless you and thank you for “mothering the children in our church school (or some similar task they perform); we wouldn’t be the same without you.”

Pastoral sensitivities re Mothers Day
Don Hoffman (Chreston Christian Church, Washington, 2005) writes: It’s important to acknowledge both the good and the bad experiences people have in relation to motherhood, or you end up not talking about the elephant in the living room…. At the very least in the pastoral prayer I try to list all the positive and negative experiences. Quick list off the top of my head: Those whose mothers were abusive, neglectful, addicted, or who enabled fathers like this. Those who grew up in single-parent families, or who never got the chance to know a mother/father. Those who have not been able, for whatever reason, to form adult relationships with their parents. Those who wish they could become parents but can’t. Those waiting/wishing to adopt. Those fortunate enough to have adoptive parents who loved them. Children of blended families with step-parents. Those who never had an opportunity to become mothers. Those who have had to “mother” their own elderly, crippled, or demented parents.
There should be two messages: 1) the person sitting next to you may have had a different experience of what mothering is all about than you’ve had; 2) the church (and God) intends to validate whatever experience you may have had, but also to hold up an ideal which every one of us can only partially achieve, but should aspire to.

Remembering hidden pain
Remember in the prayer time those whose mother has died and those mothers who have lost one or more of their children to death.

Thanksgiving: for love (Bruce Prewer)
– focus on God’s love, and how it is expressed in community

Let us give thanks for the remarkable gifts of God’s creating and redeeming love, the loving that casts out all fear.
For the love that frees us to ask questions and explore, to frame doubts and investigate new possibilities, to build theories and then cross-examine them.
We thank you, God of adventurous love.

For the love that enables us to marvel at our own existence, to ponder and remember, recognise our own needs and affirm our own knowledge and purpose.
We thank you, God of determined love.

For the love that helps us to communicate with one another, to express trust and respect, share heartaches and visions, to convey love and mercy.
We thank you, God of reconciling love.

For the love that inspires us to warmly encourage those around us, to affirm and build up, comfort and enlighten.
We thank you, God of nurturing love.

For the love that liberates us to celebrate the world around us in poetry and song, to delight in shapes and colours, intricacies and patterns, awesome forces and deep mysteries.
We thank you God of visionary love.

For the love that encourages us to express something of our faith; for creeds and prayers, hymns and readings, discussion groups and sermons.
We thank you, God of creative love.

Above all else we thank you for the love that allows us to admit that we have no words in which to adequately describe the process of faith in Christ, the awesome worship of our God, and the holy wonder of the Spirit. We thank you for that point where our love becomes wordless adoration. Through Christ Jesus, who is the pure glory of your loving. Amen!

Call to Worship (1994):

The spirit of God calls us from many places;
some of us come from busy homes with many people
some of us live alone.
We are a part of the family.This week has been different for each of us;
some of us have had happy news we want to celebrate
some of us have faced grief and need to cry.
We are members of God’s family.

Yet we all come to this same place;
all of us seeking God’s presence in our lives
all of us seeking God’s presence with each other.
Together we become God’s family.

Call to Worship (2001):

We are the people of God.
Together we are family.I am married,
and single
and in a covenant relationship.
We are the people of God.
Together we are family.

I was married,
and in a holy union,
and never married,
and married twice,
and widowed.

We are the people of God.
Together we are family.

I am older
and younger,
and inbetween,
facing my first serious relationship,
knowing the joy of love,
enduring betrayal,
tasting the grief of a dying partner.

We are the people of God.
Together we are family.

I am an only child,
and have ten siblings
and have raised two children
and no children.

We are the people of God.
Together we are family.

I am part of a family,
the human family
the family of faith
my family of origin
the family of my choosing.

We are the people of God.
Together we are family.

Let us worship God together.


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