A Mother's Day: Today's Women Seek More Respect for the Tradition

By Wetzstein, Cheryl | The World and I, August 2004 | Go to article overview
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A Mother's Day: Today's Women Seek More Respect for the Tradition


Wetzstein, Cheryl, The World and I


Cheryl Wetzstein is a staff writer for The Washington Times.

The millions of flowers, cards, and phone calls shared on Mother's Day say it all: Motherhood is honored, cherished, and respected across the nation. Mothers, for the most part, accept these tokens with smiles, laughs, and even tears of joy.

But if the new crop of mothers is any indication, many American mothers are in the mood for something a little more long-lasting than a bouquet of flowers.

Roses are sweet, they say, but public respect for being a stay-at-home mom would be even sweeter. Loving phone calls are great, but job offers to work part-time at home when the kids are still infants would also be appreciated.

The importance of mothers and mothering is still underestimated in American culture, said Judith Stadtman Tucker, founder of the 1-year-old Mothers Movement Online.

"Americans are deeply enamored of the notions of independence and self- sufficiency. We raise our children to be honest, respectful, and productive, but our principal obsession is to raise our children to become independent," Tucker said.

There's just one "catch" in this scenario, she said, which is that "even the most strident self-made man or woman requires a prolonged duration of constant, attentive care at the beginning--and usually at the end--of life."

All human lives have periods of total dependence, interdependence, and independence, she added. This means that our society should value the work of caregiving at least as much as independence. While it's true many Americans lovingly recognize their mothers and their years of dedicated caregiving on Mother's Day, there seems to be a small cloud on the horizon for American motherhood.

For the past decade, between 18 percent and 19 percent of American women have reached the end of their fertility cycles without having become a mother. This is nearly double what it was in the 1970s and early 1980s, when only about 10 percent of women were still childless by their mid- 40s.

Moreover, the number of children American women are bearing has dropped by an average of more than one child: In 1976, the average forty- something mother had 3.1 children; in 2002, she had 1.9 children, the Census Bureau reported in October.

The time-honored Mother's Day celebrations and increasing childlessness both say a lot about the state of motherhood in this country, said Janice Shaw Crouse, senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute: A Center for Studies in Women's Issues. On the one hand, "I don't think it's a problem in our culture to cherish motherhood," said Crouse, the mother of two adult children. "There are more phone calls, more flowers ordered, more celebrations, and more going out to dinner. It's one of the more lucrative of the holidays for businesses in the United States.

"But what we see increasingly is that mothers are bearing the brunt of the [negative] trends," such as single parenthood and struggles with child care, Crouse said.

There is a lot more that needs to be said about motherhood, say leaders of some of the motherhood groups, which recently have emerged to educate, commiserate, and advocate for their needs. In 1999, for instance, two young mothers in Virginia started a magazine called Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers.

There are many women's and parents magazines, but most of their articles are written by professionals "telling you something about what to do about raising your child," said Stephanie Wilkinson who co-founded the magazine with Jennifer Niesslein.

"We felt like the 'mother' side was getting slighted a bit," she said from her home in Lexington, Virginia, where she lives and works with her husband and two children.

"Becoming a mother is a huge transformation in one's life, and if you are focusing on the kids, you miss out on what's happening to you," Wilkinson said.

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