Good Enough Mothering? Feminist Perspectives on Lone Motherhood

By Elizabeth Bortolaia Silva | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

The transformation of mothering

Elizabeth Bortolaia Silva

The power of women in shaping human beings is central to nearly all conceptions of mothering. In the Judaeo-Christian conception, the woman alone devotedly, unselfishly and wisely gives herself to the task of reproducing new generations. Regardless of her own personal needs, socio-economic conditions or husband/partner, the mother must always subject herself to the ideal.

These views are very familiar. But what sort of mothering do these ideas produce? For some writers of both conservative and feminist perspectives, women hand on misery to women and humanity through their mothering. 1 Yet women also hand on joy to women, and to humanity, through mothering. As individuals, women appear trapped between misery and joy, between full-time motherhood and the rejection of motherhood.

More diverse and flexible views of mothering have existed and do exist. Redefinition, recognition and the transformation of ‘the mother’ are part of the history of women. And the history of women in western cultures has been structured around very powerful twin stories. One refers to the separation of the public and private sphere, the other to the consequences of capitalism. Put together, the glorification of domestic womanhood and motherhood has been presented in these stories as historically linked to both the deterioration of middle-class women’s public power and the degradation of working women’s living conditions as a consequence of industrialization.

I argue in this chapter that the view that the present status of women has deteriorated from a past golden age, when they had greater status and an authentic productive function, has had a strong influence on how motherhood and mothering are currently conceptualized. Interpretations of the historical transformation of mother-

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