Community, Caring, and Education [CLICK]

Next_GenerationThe Museum of Motherhood (M.O.M.) is an exhibition and education center dedicated to the exploration of family – past, present, and future. We highlight the many roles of women throughout history and in contemporary culture.

In our museum space we provide mothers, fathers, youth, caregivers, and mothers-to-be insights into what they will experience as parents and how to handle it. We educate them about the emotional and physical aspects of child rearing, exposing them to different global traditions, and giving them insights into the context of mothering in the social sphere in which mothering is done.

Institutions can create a positive sense of community and an increased sense of connectedness. We share library books, films, collaborative art projects, and conferences, often at little or no cost to make cultural literacy available to those who might not otherwise have access to these types of resources.

The need for M.O.M. is highlighted by the work of the feminist movement, the gender agenda, and global women’s health initiatives.

Precedence for M.O.M. has been established through the initiatives of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the International Museum Of Women and the First Ladies’ Library. They are all positive contributors to expanding education about women in history. But our intense focus on the motherhood, fatherhood and caregiving roles opens the conversation to unlimited opportunities for exploration and documentation within the sphere of procreation and sustainability, not to mention how humanity hopes to evolve.

The development of a “Motherhood Movement” during the last twenty years as well as other mother-related literature and the explosion of “Mom Blogs” and awareness of the “Mommy Wars”, have impacted the vast social, economic, and cultural landscape. Thus, the expanded museum exhibit space and educational facility that we envision will be eminently worthwhile. Together we will be putting the subject of motherhood and family on the map.

Our long-term goals include the acquisition of a permanent physical space to house M.O.M. as we continue to develop our traveling exhibits and online initiatives, which include courses in Mother Studies, the MOM Directory, and the student run, Institute For Family Research and Development.

Reading Research on the Family, Part II

BirthControlReview1923In my previous post, “Reading Research on the Family,” I indicated that I am a fan of dismantling conventional wisdom held around motherhood and the family. Stephanie Coontz had me drinking that Kool-Aid after I read her books, The Way We Never Were and The Way We Really Are. So when I stumbled upon an article discussing trends around delaying motherhood that questioned the notion that modern advances like technology and the pill have helped women put off childbirth until later in life, I was hooked.

The article, “Long Before the Pill, American Women Put Off Motherhood Until Their Thirties”, which appeared in Quartz, looks back through history at the changing tides around planned motherhood. The author, Jenna Healey, proposes that cultural/economic factors are often overlooked in favor of biology/technology within childrearing discourse. The media is saturated with headlines about “career women” tricking Mother Nature by using new-fangled procedures to put off having children so as not to jeopardize advancement in their field. It’s no wonder we gravitate towards the belief that women are having children at later ages thanks to technology and the old biological ticker. But in comparing birth statistics, Healey found parallel times in history when women had children later in life: 1920, 1940, and 1980. Each of these time periods was marked by economic downturn. Families waited to have kids for financial reasons: both due to concern around affording them, and because women were expected to work outside the home to support their middle class lifestyles. It was during the post-war baby boom that women began having babies at younger ages. In fact, another so-called threat to the institution of the American family that Healey dismantles is the current teen pregnancy crisis. The birth rate for girls age 15-19 during the baby boom years was 96.3 per every 1000 births; the current statistic is 26.6 per 1000. Sure, the legacy of the new social movements in the 70s and the increasing availability of contraception contributed to the creeping rise in age of first-time mothers. But once again, Healey points to the lagging economy as a contributor to the increase.

Healey concludes her essay with a nod to the technology currently available to would-be mothers looking to delay pregnancy. However, given the less acknowledged economic/cultural factors that have contributed to the rise in age of mothers, Healey concludes her piece with a plea to support working mothers, in the hopes that culture will follow and once again change history.

Written by: Jenny Nigro, M.o.M online intern

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Reading Research on the Family

1024px-Stephanie_Coontz_(5105167078)A few years ago, my sister forwarded me a link to an op-ed in the New York Times written by a guest columnist who we both counted as one of our favorite academics to read when we were in college. Stephanie Coontz, a foremost expert on the contemporary American family as a professor of history and family studies at The Evergreen State College and Director of Research and Public Education for the Council on Contemporary Families, had written this particular column about taking popular research with a grain of salt. Though by no means her most important work to date, the message behind this piece has stayed with me for some time.  It reminded me that averages, as interpreted through published research, are useful. They help us in community planning, as well as giving us the peace of mind that we are within the realm of “normal.” But, sometimes, numbers are, in fact, misleading…especially when interpreted to push for reactionary reform and legislation. She gave this example following the horrific rape of a young girl in Steubenville, Ohio: in 2011, the average income for the residents of Steubenville was $46,341. But if Oprah Winfrey and Warren Buffett moved to town, that average household income would rise 62%. So we should always read more than one source and check out how other researchers may understand data.

As I mentioned, Coontz’ article has stayed with me for some time. I think back on it often when I read articles that demystify new research, especially those having to do with the family. There is a lot of chatter in our media about the American family – the family in transition, the family in decline, the demise of the American family. But, the fact remains that the institution of the American family is just that: an institution. Perhaps dependent on how you choose to define the American family, for the foreseeable future, it is not going anywhere.

I was reminded of Coontz’ warning about research when I stumbled upon an entry in a Washington Post blog that discusses the “unbelievable”/”breathtaking” rise of single motherhood in America. Quick to analyze this trend within the scope of the African American family, this article resurrects some ancient (and, judging by the name, most likely controversial) paper, which had predicted that the growing number of African American children being raised without fathers would have a difficult time emerging from poverty. There has been a chorus of research that demonstrates how families led by single mothers are more likely to live in poverty, both among divorced mothers and women who were never married to their children’s father. I don’t take issue with this fact. Rather, it is how the article uses the research to present a doom and gloom attitude about the inevitability of poverty for African American children born to single mothers that had me second-guessing.

In order to clear my head, I sought out more literature about single motherhood trend and found a piece called “The Changing Economics of Single Motherhood”. Right off the bat, I felt more at ease. I immediately feel anxious when I see the words “unbelievable” and “breathtaking” next to “rise”. “Change” is a more comfortable term I can get down with.  As I read on, I found that “The Changing Economics of Single Motherhood” was less black and white, literally and figuratively.

The nature of single motherhood is changing. Back in the 1980s, most single-mother families were produced by divorce. Nowadays, with over 40 percent of births occurring outside of marriage, there are many more single-mother families resulting from premarital fertility than failed marriages. But this distinction has been lost on most poverty researchers, who see all single mothers as similar. Scholarship on teenage childbirth also misses the mark—over three-fourths of women who give birth out of wedlock are older than 19, especially nowadays, and a few teenage parents are married.

By the time I got to the end, I saw that both articles discuss the economy of single motherhood, but take very different approaches to get to a similar conclusion: greater educational and career opportunities should be available to women (with/without children) to give them options when deciding to raise children/raising them. This is the key to ending the cycle of poverty for single mothers. My sojourn into family rhetoric took me a roundabout way to get to this same conclusion that I wholeheartedly agree with, and I see again how wise Stephanie Coontz is. There is so much noise that we hear about trends in the family, it is no wonder that we have anxiety about its vitality. Luckily, I have Stephanie Coontz to help me navigate discourse on single motherhood and keep my head on straight. It was, after all, Coontz, in her book The Way We Never Were, who alerted me to the fact that marriages dissolved at about the same rate at the turn of the century as they do now. We are quick to talk about the decline of the two-parent household, but we fail to realize that due to high mortality rates, children 115 years ago experienced the loss of a parent in the home about as much as kids do now. So, with that in mind, I will rest assured that the institution of the American family will forge on.

Written by: Jenny Nigro, M.o.M. Online Intern

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

On New Year’s Resolutions

New Year's photoIn a recent post, we shared with you all our vision for the New Year (see “North South” post here). It’s no secret that we have big dreams for the museum this year, which we hope to accomplish with your help! Strategizing our plans for 2015 got us thinking about what a New Year’s resolution looks like to the typical mom. Before we turn it over to our followers in the hopes of hearing from you, we figured we’d do a little digging on the Internet into what moms hope for in the coming year.

In our search, we stumbled upon a post from Parents magazine online, which featured real moms’ commitments for the new year. To access the full list, click here. In the meantime, we’ve summarized the list of “10 Real Mommy Resolutions” below (spoiler alert: they are selfless, kid-centric, and generous…as moms tend to be!). Here’s what they said:

So, now that we’ve shared ours and those of some moms across the World Wide Web, we’d love to hear from YOU, our followers!

What are your resolutions for the New Year?

Shared by: Jenny Nigro, MOM online intern

Reflections on My Mother at Christmastime

128px-The_Christmas_carolI suppose that people establish holiday traditions based on the customs they have grown up with in their families that soon become intermingled with their partner’s when they start a family together. I can’t say for certain whether it was my mother or father’s side that started this tradition, but in my family growing up, gift-giving holidays were a big deal. Living in a house with two sisters, ours was not a family where toys were handed out all year. There were no occasional rewards for good behavior or “just-because” gifts given during the year. The truth was, other than the worn-in toys and hand-me-downs that sustained us through the year, new toys only ever made their way into our lives on two occasions: birthdays and Christmas. But unlike other kids who got toys randomly during the year or who saved up their allowances to get a prize, we got a half year’s worth of toys at both Christmas and our birthdays.

This made Christmas extra-special for us. Inevitably, we would write our lists to Santa (informed, most likely, by commercials that had played in the last half hour of TV), and not only would we get everything on our lists, we would also get a very welcome handful of toys and games that we hadn’t thought to include. I took to writing my letters to Santa, listing all the new toys I wanted and adding a line item for “any extra surprises that I may like.” On Christmas morning, the tree would be littered with so many presents that you couldn’t even see the floor. This was our tradition, and I loved everything about it – from reminding Santa of the annual surprises, to racing from our bedrooms at the crack of dawn to open our stacks of presents on Christmas morning.

The year after my dad left the house during my parents’ divorce when I was fourteen years old, we were sure that this could not continue. We felt the impact of the loss of my father’s income in the house for certain. My mom, now a single mother with two daughters in high school and one in college, surely could not be expected to carry out the tradition of bombarding us with gifts for the yuletide holiday. We made our lists shorter, no longer the scrolls of games/toys that we would play with for a few days and forget a week after Christmas. It was the dawning age of personal technology and everyone was going mobile. My sisters and I had wanted cell phones that year, but figured it was a pipe dream. The only ones on the block still using a VHS player, we didn’t dare get our hopes up for a DVD player. Not this year, we figured. We didn’t want to put any pressure on her.

On Christmas Eve, we went to bed, grateful to be with each other at the holidays. We could get used to Christmases with just Mom; it felt more peaceful, anyway. To us, that was worth more than the mounds of presents with our names on them, so we snuggled in, satisfied. On Christmas morning, we woke up early and headed down to the tree with lowered expectations. We peered into the room and assessed the scene. The tree seemed to twinkle in the same way it had the years before. We glanced down at its base. The sparkle of the green, red, gold, and silver wrapping paper caught our eyes in the same way it had the years before. We saw the towers of gifts, piled up with little tags made out to my sisters’ and my names, stacked up in the same way it had the years before! We looked at one another, smiled, and took our places in front of the mounds. As we tore into our piles, alternating turns unwrapping, we glimpsed a similar looking package in all of our stacks. We decided to open them at the same time. We held our breath as we pulled back the Scotch tape and colorful wrapping paper. As the package began to become more visible, we knew she’d done it: she had somehow managed to get us each cell phones. We had a million questions, but somehow knew that it was all part of Mom’s magic.

After each of us had unwrapped the presents from our mounds of gifts, my mom pulled out a large box, which she happily announced was a “family present.” This was something new. Because all throughout the year, having two sisters meant that we shared everything, we usually got our own individual presents at Christmas. Who would open this “family present?” We decided to do it all together, Mom included. We tore back the wrapping paper to reveal a brand new DVD player. “But…what? How? How did you manage this? “ we asked her. “I got it on Black Friday. I got a great deal. Seriously, guys, don’t worry about it. It’s about time we get with the century and start watching DVDs.” Black Friday. With the exception of when my sister worked retail and had to go in early on the Friday after Thanksgiving, none of us had ever partaken in any Black Friday shopping. This year was different, and of course it would be. This was the first year that it was just Mom and us. Perhaps Black Friday shopping would be a new tradition for us, and we could get down with that.

As I think back on impressions of my mother at Christmas, I realize that even twelve years later, not much has changed. She still spoils me. Even though the type of presents I ask for are a little different (hello, utilitarian gifts…food processors, bed sheets, and clothes), I still look forward to the gifts from my mom most. And she always manages to throw in some surprises that I might like.

Written by: Jenny Nigro, MoM intern
Photo source: Public domain photo, Wikimedia Commons

“The Business of Being Born”, British-Style

A_seated_Greek_woman_on_an_obstetrical_stool_being_held_in_p_Wellcome_V0014911Recently, the New York Times reported on a study unveiled in Great Britain, which revealed an interesting find in the field of childbirth. According to the study conducted by Britain’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, it is safer for women with no complications during their pregnancies to give birth under the supervision of midwives, rather than ob-gyns. (Women with no pregnancy complications are defined as those who have not had high-risk pregnancies in the past, are expected to carry the fetus to full-term, and for whom the baby is presenting head-first). The study found that obstetricians are more likely to use unnecessary medical interventions among low-risk pregnancies — including spinal anesthesia, cesarean section, forceps delivery, and episiotomies — which pose greater threats of infection and surgical accidents.
Of course, this is not new news within the natural pregnancy movement. Ricki Lake’s famous documentary, The Business of Being Born, made this argument years ago. Restricted by looming warnings of malpractice, obstetricians – surgeons by training – are more likely to impose medical interventions on delivering moms. This means ordering C-sections and performing episiotomies in cases where these may not always be needed. Midwives, however, rely on mother’s advocacy and self-awareness to guide decisions in the delivery room. They will defer to doctors when a complication surfaces that could pose a risk to Mom or Baby.

The Times notes that in the US, only 9% of the 3.9 million births that occurred last year were attended by midwives. This has not always been the case, however. At the turn of the century, midwives attended approximately half of all births. However, notable shifts in medical knowledge, which stigmatized childbirth as a pathology to mother and child, and positioned midwives as lacking in education/training and a resource for the lower classes, contributed to the decline of midwives and home births (read more here). Eventually, years later, the rise of the nurse-midwife helped to ease the public’s mind about the training and licensing for midwives. The nurse-midwives brought great changes to the birthing field, including the inclusion of fathers in the delivery room, a push for breastfeeding, and the allowance of babies and mothers to remain in the same room post-birth. Fast forward fifty years to now, when 75% of certified nurse midwives work in physician practices or hospitals, and either interact with or are under the supervision of doctors. Strict standard and licensing requirements for midwives have long assured expecting parents of their capabilities in the delivery room, and now it seems, they may even be a safer option? Perhaps the implications of the British study will have a ripple effect on the American healthcare system to push for greater autonomy among midwives.

By Jenny Nigro, online intern

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons