What Mothers Teach Us: Self-Awareness & Public Service

The first two Sundays in May hold a great deal of meaning for me. The first marks the beginning of Public Service Recognition Week, a time to honor all of those who serve our nation as federal, state, county, and local government employees. The second Sunday is, of course, Mother’s Day, when we honor the women who brought us into the world and taught us our first lessons in life.

For me, the two events are connected. My mother served as my example of a dedicated public servant. Coming from humble beginnings, she worked hard to contribute to a better life for my community by having a meaningful career at the Indian Health Service, which she just recently retired from. I know my inspiration to walk the path I do, comes from her. And this is an essential part of what all mothers do for their children; they teach us important lessons that help us to find our place in our communities and the world.

When I think about what mothers do for their children, I think about the grounding lessons they teach us. From them we learn love, strength, resilience, humility, and kindness. While they may not all be public servants, they do serve the public in their role towards their children. They are our teachers, nutritionists, healthcare providers, disciplinarians, and economic coaches. Growing up in a native community our mothers are also our first connection to our way of life, our cultural and spiritual identity, our native language and the way we see the world, all while assuring we are tied to our community with solid roots.

This grounding in community is critical for children as it gives them a strong base for their identity. For Native youth, these roots include lessons in service and self-sacrifice for others in your tribe. When I was little, my mom was a mental health worker in various communities around my reservation. Her job often required her to be on 24 hour call which meant she often missed or had to leave family functions. I learned at an early age not only how to share my mom but I learned what it meant to care for my people and my community. In turn, my mom selflessly shared me with my grandma, my aunts, and other women which showed me I could rely on other adults who could and would help guide, love, and support me through my own journey. Which is the beauty of mothers in helping us to grow these roots; they give us the confidence needed to weather any storm because we know who we are and that we have others supporting us.

Though I am a grown woman, I realize my mother is still teaching me and influencing my life. Before she was the guiding hand; now she is more like a close friend willing to offer advice. In time, it will be my turn to be her caretaker and we will come full circle. I hope that my actions will then serve as an example to my niece and other youth in my community so they too can learn to make good choices and put others before themselves, just as I was taught.

So as we celebrate both Public Service Recognition Week and Mother’s Day, let us remember our moms and all those women who step up to be like moms to those around them who need love and guidance. They are our first example of public service and the ones who put us on the path to being confident and caring members of our community.

Stacey Ecoffey
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Native American Affairs, Administration for Children and Families
Acting Commissioner, Administration for Native Americans