05/10/2013 12:09 EDT | Updated 07/10/2013 05:12 EDT

Imagine Hearing Your Kids Cry, Helpless

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Syrian internally displaced people walk in the Atme camp, along the Turkish border in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, on March 19, 2013. The conflict in Syria between rebel forces and pro-government troops has killed at least 70,000 people, and forced more than one million Syrians to seek refuge abroad. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Pick up any card in the Mother's Day section, and the message is similar: "Thank you for everything you did for me. I'm so lucky to have you for a mother."

It's true that moms here in Canada do a lot for their kids. Many sacrifice a fair bit, too. Even in this country of relative comfort, many mothers are singlehandedly winning the bread, paying the rent and doing the thousands of big and little things it takes to raise a child.

Still, I think that most mothers -- in their calmer moments -- would say that caring for their kids is a joy and a privilege. Even if it's just walking them to school, bandaging a scrape, or tucking them into a warm bed at night.

The pain of not providing

The simple contentment of providing for one's children is a something that a staggering percentage of the world's mothers are not able to enjoy. And on Mother's Day, these women are very close to my heart.

I'm a mom who happens to work at an international aid agency. I regularly read stories about mothers overseas that bring me close to tears. I try to imagine seeing my children vulnerable, suffering, nowhere near realizing their true potential. There's a pain there that's worse than any injury you could inflict on the woman herself.

Pressures of another kind

Today, I read about a Syrian mother who fled the violence and rocket attacks in her country. Ilham is now living as a refugee in Lebanon, with her husband and three children. There, she deals with none of the worries that might plague the typical middle-class Canadian parent.

There's no pressure to get the homework done, as there's no money for the bus to take her children to school. There's no stress in rushing from work to home and then out to baseball or music lessons.

Lebanon has been inundated with refugees from Syria. There is no work for this family. Sports teams and music lessons are things that might as well be happening on another planet. And dinner takes no time to cook, as there's almost nothing to prepare.

And here's what I found hardest to read: instead of tucking her kids into bed in the evening, Ilham listened to them cry in the bitter cold every night last winter. There were no nightlights or stuffed SpongeBobs, no bedspreads patterned with My Little Pony or Star Wars. This mother's children struggled to sleep on the floor of an unfinished concrete room with holes for windows.

Unimaginable choices

Every week, I read about mothers like Ilham. These are women who would give up everything for their children -- except that they already have. As drought gripped East and West Africa over the past two years, it was common to read of mothers going without food for days at a time, so they could feel their little ones.

And even then, many moms were left with the unimaginable choice of deciding which child to feed, and which not to. I've never been in this situation. But as someone who loves my kids more than life, I can imagine it must be a little like hell.

I'm not trying to make you feel guilty this Mother's Day, at a time that's meant for flowers and brunches out. But I would ask you to think of the women around the world who love their children as much as any mom. As you shower that wonderful lady in your life with kindness and gifts, perhaps you could take a moment to help a mother you've never met.

Three ways to help this Mother's Day:

  • Sign a petitionurging Canadian leaders to draw attention to the plight of mothers and children overseas at upcoming conferences and events including the G8 summit.
  • Help Syrian mothers care for their families, by supporting World Vision's relief effort for Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.
  • Bring joy to two mothers by purchasing a gift from World Vision Gifts. Honour mom while helping an equally special lady overseas to warm her children with blankets, provide them with freshly laid eggs for breakfast, or give birth to a baby that's free from the HIV virus.

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