Delaware Mother of the Year shares compassion with children

American Mothers Delaware Mother of the Year Suzanne Farris meets with Gov. John C. Carney Jr. during an April ceremony. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

BRIDGEVILLE — There are millions of mothers throughout the United States and thousands in Delaware, but only one was named the First State’s Mother of the Year for 2018.

Suzanne Farris, a mom of four from Bridgeville, was nominated for the honor by her oldest daughter, Kayleigh Barnes, 19. The Mother of the Year award is handed out annually by the American Mothers organization. The award recognizes inspirational mothers throughout the country with one mother being selected from each state.

Mrs. Farris said the application process was quite lengthy. Her daughter submitted the initial application, and then Mrs. Farris had to wait for confirmation that she was approved to submit additional information to the organization. Once she was approved for the next step in the process, Mrs. Farris had to provide American Mothers with a portfolio, letters of recommendation and an explanation of her parenting philosophy.

Suzanne Farris with son Harrison at the presentation of the Governors Youth Volunteer Service Awards. All four of her children have now received this prestigious honor. (Submitted photo)

After months of waiting to hear from American Mothers, Mrs. Farris said she received the call one night while her family, which includes husband David, was watching a movie together. She left the room to take the call and came back to several sets of eyes staring her down.

“When I turned around and went back in the room, my whole family was staring at me,” she said. “It was like something out of a movie.”

Even after the call, Mrs. Farris said the realization that she had been named Mother of the Year didn’t sink in initially.

“I really didn’t think I would be chosen,” she said. “As moms, I don’t think any of us think we’re considered a mother of the year. I never really thought that much about it.”

Upon receiving the call and learning she had won the award, Mrs. Farris said she was honored to be recognized.

“To get that call, it was really a neat moment,” she said, describing the experience as “very humbling.”

Teaching kindness

When Mrs. Farris, a volunteer specialist with the American Red Cross, speaks about her distinction as Delaware’s 2018 Mother of the Year, the first thing she mentions is her children.

In addition to her 19-year-old daughter, Kayleigh, Mrs. Farris is also mom to Harrison, 16, Shelby, 12, and Lilyan, 8.

What makes the Farris family especially unique is their propensity to giving back to their community. All four of Mrs. Harris’ children have established some form of volunteer service organization.

The oldest, Kayleigh, created GAVE — Girls Aspiring, Volunteering, and Empowering. The organization has more than 250 members who have committed more than 25,000 hours of service.

“It’s all about inspiring girls and lifting them up,” said Mrs. Farris.

Mrs. Farris’ second-oldest child, Harrison, created an organization called GearUp.

When Harrison was a young child, he was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and Sensory Processing Disorder. Mrs. Farris said she sought help for her son in socializing and other areas, and in this process, they found one activity that truly excited him.

“The thing that we found that works the best was bike riding,” she said. With this passion in mind, Harrison started GearUp,

Suzanne’s youngest daughter Lilyan, 8, pictured with state Rep. Dave Wilson, runs The Lily Project which aims to spread happiness through acts of kindness. She is currently sponsoring a book drive for the Home of Hope in Bridgeville. (Submitted photo)

an organization that helps teach special needs children how to ride bikes. Harrison’s organization has helped more than 160 children in eight states and its members have documented more than 450 hours of volunteer service.

Creating GearUp has given Harrison the confidence to pursue his dreams, Mrs. Farris said. “He’s looking at four-year colleges, which is something we never thought was possible.”

Mrs. Farris’ younger children, Shelby and Lilyan, also created volunteer service organizations. Shelby’s organization is called HeartArt and it focuses on “turning creativity into compassion.” Shelby helps organize cards to be sent to soldiers overseas, kids in hospitals and American Red Cross crisis responders. To date, she has helped distribute more than 5,000 cards.

At just 8 years old, Mrs. Harris’ daughter Lilyan has embraced literacy as her passion and created Yes I Do!, an organization that focuses on reading. Through the organization, Lilyan is currently coordinating book drives and building a library at the Home of Hope, a recovery center for women in Bridgeville.

Mrs. Farris said it has always been important for her to instill compassion in her children and to encourage them to give back in some way to their community.

“I grew up in a household with a disabled veteran father. I saw the importance of respecting your neighbors and helping others,” she said. “Lord knows we would have never made it without our neighbors helping us.”

Being a mother in 2018

Motherhood has changed significantly since the American Mothers organization began honoring Mothers of the Year from each state in 1935. Today, Mrs. Farris said mothers face constant pressure and “mom guilt” stemming from social media.

“We’re all on this quest to be the perfect Pinterest or Facebook mom. It’s just not reality,” she said. “It’s so important that we show each other that we’re not perfect.”

Even after being named Mother of the Year, Mrs. Farris said she is far from the perfect mom. She said she still forgets to sign permission slips for field trips and runs out of groceries when packing lunches.

“Your kids don’t need you to be the perfect mom. They just need you to be their mom,” she said.

Mrs. Farris works for the American Red Cross and recently led a team on behalf of Delaware Mothers to install smoke alarms in homes throughout Clayton, Delaware as part of the Sound the Alarm campaign presented by the Red Cross on Mothers Day weekend. (Submitted photo)

When she was younger, Mrs. Farris said she couldn’t imagine what her life would be like now, but she said she’s grateful for the opportunity to be a mother to her kids.

“What I do with my life can never compare to what I can do for my kids,” she said. “Before I became a mom, I never thought I’d be helping organize biking events for special needs kids or doing the other things I do now.”

While most people say they learn a lot from their mothers, Mrs. Farris said she feels like her children have taught her important lessons as well.

“They’ve taught me so much,” she said. “I’ve been able to learn from them just as much as they’ve learned from me.”

In the end, Mrs. Farris said she hopes she has been the kind of mother who raises children who have a positive impact on their community.

“I just want to send them out in the world and help them to make it a better place,” she said.

Jessica Eisenbrey is a freelance writer living in Wilmington.

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