Holiday celebrations, in general, bring the complex nature of family into stark relief. For those of us in child welfare, Mother’s Day embodies that complexity perhaps more than any other day. On the one hand, the nature of our work is defined by family disruptions, often in the mother-child relationship. On the other, our work is driven by the knowledge that we can rebuild and renegotiate the role of the nurturing “mother” figure in a multitude of ways.

Today we celebrate ALL mothers—of all genders and linkages. Biological moms, foster mothers, guardians, adoptive parents, and all those who unconditionally love, guide, and care for us every day of the year.

Today we honor the children (young and old) for whom today may be acutely painful, because they have lost or been separated from their mothers in a variety of circumstances. Even when necessitated by unspeakable abuse or neglect, the act of being separated from one’s parents is unquestionably debilitating for a child. Kids want — and need — to be with their loved ones.

I am also thinking of the children in our Unaccompanied Minors program who are here in our country without family of any kind. And I am truly saddened by recent announcements by the Department of Justice about separating children from their parents at the U.S. border. The circumstances that bring families to our borders are traumatic. We know that toxic stress, like war and violence, has devastating consequences for children’s future health and well-being. Intentionally compounding this trauma, by separating children from the only people they know and trust, serves no purpose except to damage vulnerable, innocent lives.

And so today we must also acknowledge the tremendous work that we all do in support of our children who don’t have a Hallmark card-ready family. From the cottages on our campus to the staff who support our work in administrative offices, every one of us has a part in providing the care, shelter, tenderness, guidance, and stability traditionally ascribed to the role of “mother.” It is vitally important work and I am so proud to see it happen at JCCA.

So, in all of its glory and heartbreak, I wish you a peaceful and meaningful Mother’s Day. And I thank you for embodying and fulfilling its promise every day of the year.

Ronald E. Richter