“When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t NOBODY happy.”
Expression described by Laura Monk, raised in Southern Illinois and Kentucky. She is a mother of three known for her liberal use of anachronisms, sayings, idioms, and expressions.
This phrase is used frequently among rural midwesterners, and refers to the necessity of caring for the head of one’s household (traditionally, the mother) – though it can also be used to refer to any motherly figure.
For instance, a father might warn his children with the phrase when they misbehave. By making their mother miserable, the children are assuring their own misery later.
But it can also be used in a preventative, positive sense. If a family is taking good care of their mother, then they’ve assured their own happiness.
Lastly, the statement can be used as a warning. If a mother wishes to threaten her family, she might remind them that her happiness and theirs are closely tied by utilizing this proverb.
The implicit statement here is that Mama puts up with a lot, and that when she isn’t happy, it’s the fault of those around her.
This expression reflects the values of care for women, love and respect for one’s mother, and supporting one’s family which are present in the communities that use it.