Mother to Son by Langston Hughes

A great way to celebrate Black History Month is to check out the contributions African-Americans like the gift of words of Langston Hughes’  “Mother to Son.” This poem describing how hard life is and the fact the one must never give up is just as relevant today as it was when it was written so many years ago. The mother in me is touched by the words and reaches out to comfort her son as she recites the words. I share this poem often and each time, something new and special catches my attention.

Sometimes we have to tell our children to suck it up and keep moving because life is hard.

As parents, we often look for ways to help our children avoid some of the heartaches we have suffered. Often we think of the lessons we have learned and how we can help our children learn the necessary lessons without the accompanying heartache. We want to sugar coat the world so that our children can slide through with ease, smiles and grace. Those desires are natural and they are good. At the same time, our children must learn that even in adversity, they must continue forward on the path. It is important that we teach our children that life will be hard on occasion, but that does not mean they get to give up, quit or stop pushing forward.

Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son” is full of metaphors about the hard part of life, the places where  the going gets tough. Sometimes our children will have to continue moving forward when they are hurt physically or emotionally. On occasion they will need to turn corners and move in directions they have never heard of or understood before. Still other times will arise when our children have to travel through darkness and blaze trails themselves. We must prepare our children for these things. We must teach them how to move forward when they are all alone.


Check out this video to see my interpretation of the poem.


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Check out the words of the poem. As you read them, imagine the staircase. Visualize the places with holes in the carpet. Imagine what it feels like – the torn up floor boards, the splinters you may get in your feet as you walk. How would you place your hands out in front of you in the darkness to feel your way forward. Once you have done that, think about how the words and situations in the poem apply to events in your life. Then think about how you push forward when life is hard and hope is almost gone.

Mother to Son by Langston Hughes      

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin‘ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin‘, honey,
I’se still climbin‘,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

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Stories of working through and overcoming struggle and pushing onward are important and relevant.


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