Mika and Joe on their moms: Tough women who shaped us for life

"Morning Joe" co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski reflect on their mom's influence ahead of Mother's Day.
From left to right: Emilie Brzezinski and Mary Jo Scarborough.
From left to right: Emilie Brzezinski and Mary Jo Scarborough.

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By Julianne Pepitone

“Morning Joe” co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough sat down this week to celebrate their moms ahead of Mother’s Day. They chatted about how Emilie Brzezinski and Mary Jo Scarborough are both tough women who were born in 1932, faced similar health challenges and shaped their children in immeasurable ways.

“We are here to talk about our moms, because we actually never get a chance to do that,” said Brzezinski, founder of Know Your Value. “And I think they are the people we need to thank the most. For everything!”

“Especially today,” Scarborough agreed.

Brzezinski started the conversation by talking about Scarborough’s mother, Mary Jo, who passed away on March 2. “It was a really emotional time for you, for me, for our family,” Brzezinski said.

Mary Jo Scarborough

She asked Scarborough to reflect on his childhood with Mary Jo: “She loved you so much, and believed in you so much, but also let you grow and breathe.”

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“There was sort of this two-step process where she believed in me and told me from the very beginning I could do whatever I wanted to do,” Scarborough said. “If I wanted to be president of the United States … a DJ… and all-star shortstop. She got me believing that and it made a huge difference in my life.”

“But,” he continued, “there were no participation trophies with my mom. Mary Jo believed those to whom much was given, much was expected.”

Joe Scarborough and his mother, Mary Jo Scarborough.

Scarborough recounted one such childhood memory at a baseball game. He had been very successful on the team and had the highest batting average in the league. But at one particular game, he struck out with the bases loaded. An upset Scarborough stormed off the field and later announced to his mother on the drive home that he would be quitting the team.

Mary Jo with husband George Francis Scarborough.

“Her crisp response was, ‘Well, if you can’t do any better than that, and if you’re going to keep embarrassing yourself and your family, then maybe you should quit today.’ Knowing that I would sit in the back and go, ‘Uhhh, all right, so much for quitting,”” Scarborough said.

Many years later, a psychiatrist friend lamented to Scarborough that the comment must have affected him profoundly.

“I said, ‘Yes, it did! I didn’t strike out as much after that!’” Scarborough said. “So the thing was, yes, you can do great things. But she also said, be tougher on yourself. Because you do have abilities.”

Mika Brzezinski and her mother, Emilie Brzezinski, at their home in Florida.Miller Hawkins

Scarborough turned the conversation over to Brzezinski, noting that her own mother was also tough on her. Emilie Brzezinski became a refugee at a young age, chased out of her Poland home by Hitler. She spent a year in an orphanage and nearly starved to death, among other harrowing experiences as a child.

“It was kind of hard for her to listen to you get angry how your blue eyeshadow wasn’t blending the way you wanted it to,” Scarborough said.

Emilie Brzeinski with husband Zbigniew Brzezinski and their three children: Ian, Mark and Mika.

“No, there was absolutely no complaining in the Brzezinski household,” said the Know Your Value founder. “She brought me up to be so tough. Two older brothers … as a 3 and a 4-year-old, I’d fall down flat on my face and I’d get right up and keep going. Because there was no other choice in my family but to keep going and push through.”

Brzezinski also noted that her mother’s determination never to lose sight of herself as a sculptor and artist — even while raising three children and being the wife of National Security Advisor Zbigniew — inspired her own career.

Emilie Brzezinski

Since Zbigniew’s death in 2017, Emilie has suffered two heart attacks and received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s. But after Brzezinski and Scarborough moved her down to Florida with them, she is rebuilding and her career is stronger than ever, with upcoming shows at the prestigious Art Basel and at the Boca Raton Museum of Art.

Mary Jo Scarborough herself struggled with dementia in her final years, but the musical passion that she imbued in her son endured until the very end.

“In her final moments, you sang together and she remembered every word, and it was beautiful to see,” Brzezinski recalled, later adding, “As the daughter of a mother, I can say thank you. And we also can say we love you, Mary Jo.”