05/12/2013 10:57 am ET Updated Jul 12, 2013

Mother's Day in America

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How do we know what values are at the core of a nation's culture? The Russian writer Dostoevsky said that the degree of civilization in a society could be judged by how it treats its prisoners.

There is probably some truth to this, but I would like to add my own indicator of whether a society is civilized or not. I think the values of a culture are reflected in how women are treated, both in what society expects of them and what they value in themselves.

As we approach Mother's Day this Sunday, it is time to take a moment to reflect broadly on women and their role in this world. I have always believed that like the word "father," "mother" isn't a noun but a verb. It is the mothering that goes on day to day in our midst that indicates to a large degree our values. And mothering isn't just about how a mother raises her children but how women in general relate to the communities they live in.

Women with and without children mother every day. They comfort and try to bring consensus in workplaces. They nurse warmly and compassionately in hospitals around the country. They speak strongly yet softly in everyday conversation with friends and colleagues. They point to a better place for our nation where power can be defined in a much different way based on love and comfort, and not on force and competition and conflict.

These mothering values are sorely needed in the world we live in today. The old ways of pushing and shoving to reach a higher place no longer work. The military response to nearly every world conflict recently has only produced more loss of blood, increased fear and a diminution of much needed resources for infrastructure and basic needs. It is why I have thought for a long time that our country needs less commander-in-chief and more mother-in-chief.

And mothering isn't limited to women. A man, if he is strong enough to be open and vulnerable, can also serve the mother role of today.

We all proclaim to honor mothers and women in society, but we need to step back and ask how are we honoring that value today in the way women are treated on a day to day basis. Not very well, I believe.

I watch the news filling our television sets, the Internet, and newspapers throughout our communities, and find the respect given women sorely lacking. Abuse of women, both physical and emotional, is still way too commonplace, and often not taken seriously by communities and families around the country.

If we really want to discover the sociopaths in our midst, look to how some men treat women. Are women an object for men's own narcissistic advancement or pleasure or a possession to be treated more like a car and not with care? Let's take a look at how this has played out recently.

Two horrendous sociopaths who did severe harm to women and children, as well as other men, had a reported history of abuse of spouses and girlfriends. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, as I have previously written, had a history of being abusive. And now it turns out that Ariel Castro, the suspect in the awful happenings in Cleveland, consistently abused and mistreated his wife.

Our society should expect more of its men. Many women should demand more in their relationships, and families and communities should do a better job of protecting women in our midst.

If a women is in an abusive relationship, she should be encouraged and supported to leave, not to stay and work it out. Police departments should take allegations of abuse, both physical and emotional, more seriously. These men should be put on watch lists in neighborhoods because as we have learned, it isn't a huge step from abuse of women to potential sociopath. And if celebrities or politicians mistreat women, then they should be prosecuted, shunned and ceremoniously forgotten about.

And economically, we don't treat women and mothers in the most respectful fashion. Women still are not given equal pay for equal work. The major portion of caretaking and mothering in our culture is done by women as nurses, teachers, day care providers, cooks, housekeepers, and we don't pay these folks near the value they provide, or give them the respect they deserve.

My mom was a summa cum laude graduate of a prestigious Jesuit University and a public school teacher, but when she made the decision to stay home and raise her 11 children, she sadly lost the respect of many people in her community.

And our system to support single moms who day in and day out try to balance their lives along with caring for children is not nearly as adequate as it needs to be. Our system of child support and health care has not kept pace with a changing economy and financial situation of the 21st century.

Being twice divorced myself, I have seen the tremendous sacrifices my children's moms have had to make to raise healthy and happy children, and I salute and have huge respect for them for this.

And so on this Mother's Day, let us pause and evaluate how society, but more importantly, each one of us, treats the people who do most of the mothering -- women who have children and those who do not, and try to create a better support system that honors the most needed role in today's world.

And maybe through increased respect for all the mothers, we will begin to celebrate again the divine feminine, which has been lost for generations.

This post first appeared on ABC News online.