Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Changing Images of Mother/mothering

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Changing Images of Mother/mothering

Article excerpt


`Mothering', `mother', and `woman' are often understood and defined as historical monolithic structures in which mother/mothering are positioned as biological determinants of womanhood rather than socio-historical cultural constructions (Glenn, 1994). This paper aims to examine the concepts of mother/mothering and the way in which representations of mother/mothering change across socio-historical, economic, and racial locations. The mother, it is argued, refers to an imagined body, while mothering refers to the representation of a `culturally variable relationship in which one individual nurtures and cares for another' (Glenn, 1994, p.3). That is, mothering is constructed as an experience, a lived reality, while the mother is imagined as a `natural' feminine corporeal being.

This analysis of mother/mothering is based on the experiences and memoirs of Catholic women including my own mother, women I went to school with, and their mothers. The paper begins with my mother's and her contemporaries' tales of mothering in the 1960s and then moves into a discussion of some of the various positions available for women and mother/mothering in the 1990s. I do not aim to speak for all women and their experiences but to illustrate how representations of mother/mothering are variable.

In the end, I contend that practices and knowledges of mother/mothering are of central concern to early childhood education. As the concept of mother/ mothering has changed between the 1960s and 1990s, it has also become enmeshed with commercialised practices of early childhood education and care. Shifting representations of mother/mothering raise a number of complex issues and concerns for early childhood education which centre on structures of economics, race, ethnicity, and hierarchical divisions between women.

In this paper, I acknowledge that there have also been changes in the representation of parent/parenting and father/fathering in the period between the 1960s and 1990s. Historical and cultural variations in these constructions are also pivotal to an analysis of the changing images of mother/mothering. Nevertheless, I believe it is important to create textual as well as material spaces to consider, and highlight, the feminine side of the story. There are many components of the story to be told, and this paper offers a partial explanation of the complex, multifarious tale of mother/mothering.

My mother's tale of mothering

After their marriage my parents built a small, two-bedroom, red brick veneer home on an old market garden estate in Brighton, Melbourne. There they thought they would be happy to rear a large Catholic family. That was how the story was for

Catholic couples in the 1950s. My mother planted a window-box at the front of the house with pansies and as the flowers bloomed in the early spring of 1951, 11 months into her marriage, she gave birth to her eldest daughter, Bernadette. Mrs Kuranda tells a similar story in this conversation with her daughter and myself:

   Mrs Kuranda--No, I was only a few months married and my eldest son was on
   the way.

   Meghan--How many months?

   Mrs Kuranda--Oh, two. Haven't you heard that story?

   Meghan--I have heard that story.

   Mrs Kuranda--After my first period arrived, after I was married, I burst
   into tears.

   Anne--What happened?

   Mrs Kuranda--I'd been married I suppose a month or so and I cried like
   anything because I wanted to be pregnant. I was 11 months married when my
   eldest son was born.

   (Names are changed except for those within my own family. These narrative
   excerpts derive from a larger study on the Catholic mother-daughter

For my mother, 14 months after the birth of her daughter a son was delivered, and 15 months after that another son arrived, and so the narrative goes on until there were seven of us--happy, healthy, lively Catholic children. …

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