Famous Sayings: #9 — ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle…’

May 8, 2016

The hand the rocks the cradle rules the world.

Honestly, when I was planning this, I totally forgot to account for Mother’s Day in the United States. (The same is true for Father’s Day, but I should start looking ahead for that, too, now.)

And I totally had one other saying ready for today. I guess that will have to be moved to a later date.

Anyhoo, I was able to find this phrase. It might not be as well-known to some (or to me), but I am definitely familiar with half of it. If anyone has seen it, there was a 1991 movie starring Rebecca DeMornay called “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.” Without giving away any spoilers, it was a thriller and DeMornay was the villainess.

That movie put a twist on the old saying, but I will focus on the positive meaning. It’s Mother’s Day, after all.

Where Does This Saying Originate?

The saying as we know it today is truncated.

In short, the saying in its original form comes from a William Ross Wallace Poem. It’s in the title that we see today, although the 1865 poem was originally titled “What Rules the World.”

(Sorry, but Wikipedia was the only source that listed the year the poem was published. It’s funny, since there are sources, like Lehigh University that state how popular Wallace was in his day or mention his quote. One would think that there would be more information on him today. Moving on…)

The poem has four stanzas, and “For the hand that rocks the cradle…” takes up two verses at the end of each. From the four stanzas, I think the third gives the clearest link to the meaning (courtesy of Poem Hunter and Poem of the Week):

Woman, how divine your mission,
Here upon our natal sod;
Keep—oh, keep the young heart open
Always to the breath of God!
All true trophies of the ages
          Are from mother-love impearled,
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.

Now hold that thought.

What Does the Saying Mean?

It is clear that Wallace was praising mothers in this poem. When we think about how mothers around the world are praised, the meaning is what you make of it. Nevertheless, I looked up one take on the meaning.

Here is one from the free dictionary:

The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

Prov. Mothers are the most powerful people, because they shape their children’s personalities.

Here’s another from the same website:

The hand that rocks the cradle
Also found in: Wikipedia.

The hand that rocks the cradle (rules the world).
something that you say which means women are very powerful because they have most influence over the way in which children develop into adults

Oftentimes, I have heard how some have called motherhood the most important job in the world.

What Do I Think?

Honestly, I see the above descriptions in the more traditional view of motherhood. As men traditionally worked outside the home, women were expected to watch the home and be primarily responsible for childrearing. However, there are more working moms who also still do much of the childrearing. In rare cases, the traditional roles are reversed, so some men are doing the bulk of childrearing.

Parenthood is one of the most important jobs in the world, definitely. That’s because the children of today will eventually become adults and the time will come when they are expected to lead the world. So it’s vital that they are raised correctly. If we have more responsible adults, good things will happen. In this sense, yes, I understand why [good] mothers are praised in this way.

I also know from experience. I am grateful for the good things my mother taught me. For one, she found time to occasionally help me with my homework despite her busy schedule. I’m telling you, that is one thing that sounds simple but it has such a profound effect on your child’s learning and confidence.

I will stop here before I get too mushy. Happy Mother’s Day!

Works Cited

“The Hand That Rocks The Cradle – Wallace.” Poem of the Week (PotW.org). Web. Retrieved 8 May 2016. <http://www.potw.org/archive/potw391.html>.

“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. 2002. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Web. Retrieved 8 May 2016. <http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/The+hand+that+rocks+the+cradle+rules+the+world>.

“The Hand That Rocks The Cradle Is The Hand That Rules The World Poem by William ross Wallace,” Poem Hunter. 24 Sep 2010. Web. Retrieved 8 May 2016. <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-hand-that-rocks-the-cradle-is-the-hand-that-rules-the-world/>.


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