MOM Art Annex: Exhibition & Education Center

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Support For All Mothers – Last post by Shauna Ricketts

The goal of this project was to support ALL mothers, regardless of their family form or personal circumstance. Stories and faces negate stereotypes and disprove assumptions that accumulate as a result of societal reflections. This project has demonstrated that funding and programming are not the only expressions of positive community support. Demand for mental health resources and emotional support exists among the single mother population. Mothers are more than results of their situations they are valuable agents of change and offer perspectives that hold the power to improve the systems that they are assumed to abuse. Governmental programs fulfill material needs, but do not address emotional needs or desires. Classism and racism have ruled over our country and have seeped into the culture of motherhood, shaping how we see mothers who do not “fit the mold”.

Shauna_Final_3The piece featured is a tribute to the identity of mothers. After interviewing several mothers throughout the course of this project, I have uncovered the variety in perceptions between societal views and self-views of single mothers. Traditional family forms have been adopted as societal norms, yet many families do not abide by this societal standard. Despite the diversity of form among my target population, the standards of motherhood were not compromised or diluted. Self-love and positivity transcend boundaries that are socially constructed through identity. Not meeting societal standards does not demonstrate neglect it simply constructs a different setting for the development of family, mother and child. Identities are socially assigned with rigidity. The distinctions between societal, social and true identities are expressed in the following artwork.

Included in this post are two collages that express clashes in expectations between communities and the individual needs of the mothers in those communities. These collages emphasize the centrality and connectivity of social groups in relation to the wellbeing of individual mothers. Additionally, I have included photos of the mothers and children whose stories I have told throughout the past weeks.

Shauna_Final_1

NOTE FROM M.O.M. – The Museum of Motherhood sincerely thanks Shauna Ricketts for her dedication and insight during this summer’s internship. Working remotely can present challenges. Yet, Shauna conducted her interviews, created art, and fulfilled her commitment to M.O.M. by submitting interesting and captivating content. Thank you for your great work over the last several weeks. We wish you every ongoing success ~ M. Joy Rose

*SEE ALL OF SHAUNA’S POSTS HERE [LINK}

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Jubilant, Yet Real – By Shauna Ricketts

This week I interviewed Jess who was accompanied by Addy, her jubilant one and a half year old daughter, during my time with her. As a straight A student at the age of 19, Jess did not intend to have a child but her journey of motherhood has provided her with lessons in love and self worth. Jess left an alcohol dependent partner to escape the “ugliness of drinking” and the environmental impact that alcohol use and abuse pose on the development of self in a child. Faced with custody battles, traditional values, the expectation and desire of earning an education and her age, Jess voiced the stresses that existed in her life as the result of her transition into motherhood. After the initial reactions of her family, the dust settled and support and comfort from her family eventually followed, specifically her older sister who bore her parent’s their first grandchild. The social pressure to have an abortion presented itself, but Jess did not allow society, her family or her partner dictate the future of her body or mind.

Shauna Ricketts ArtJess expressed thoughts and difficulties associated with single motherhood and the absence of a father figure in her child’s life. “Fatherhood is not solely focused on the father himself, but rather the father-child relationship,” stated Jess over our conversation and coffee. The day created to honor fathers does not consider those who lack a father figure in their lives, but rather the father void is highlighted. Jess aims to enforce an optimistic position for males in the eyes of her daughter, which is evident in the emphasis she placed on Addy’s first Father’s Day being a time to establish a positive space in Addy’s memory. Addy’s father though estranged, agreed to see Addy for an hour on Father’s day, but unfortunately he decided for personal reasons to not attend the meeting. In this moment of silence, Jess had the realization that the title of father and mother do not validate love. As the daughter of a divorced couple, Jess reflected on her memories of tension and the comparisons she drew between herself and other families, but comparison, which fills the eyes of many with tears, leaves the heart too heavy to focus on the light that exists regardless of family form. “When I had her (Addy) my eyes were opened to the support that I needed,” and for Jess this meant genuine care, love and responsibility for her child, not necessarily a family with a perfect and present father figure.

Balance was a topic of repetition throughout my conversation with Jess. Emotional and mental health in her life is achieved in the moments when she focuses on not only the well being of her child, but her personal happiness. As a server for a catering company, Jess is able to have a more concentrated workweek that allows her to have more flexibility. She uses the extra time to decompress and to spend time with her daughter. An aspect of finding her personal balances in life involve moving forward in her education each day, which is reflected in Jess’ online class work and the consistent expression of her goal of becoming a nurse one day.

After speaking with Jess and Diana (who I interviewed last week) it has become even more apparent to me that colleges need more resources to support single mothers in their educational pursuits, which should involve mental health services. Jess and Diana both spoke on behalf of financial assistance provided by WIC, however this service did not compensate for emotional and mental taxes that are the result of motherhood. The experiences of these women solidify the notion that compensation for the “Mommy Tax” is not provided or acknowledged within our society. Ann Crittenden coined the term “Mommy Tax” in the book The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued which draws attention to the lack of societal value that is put on motherhood and the centrality of motherhood to the progression of society.

“Young mothers should not let people influence their decisions or force them into discomfort.” Jess advises mothers to “feed off their intuition” and not the pressure to live up to expectations or images of the ideal and normalized mother or family form.

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#Hillary Paradox [CLICK]

12193812_10153128432232327_737628475596845358_nWhen weighing her bid for the White House, Hillary Clinton repeatedly said that she wanted to have time to spend with her soon-to-be granddaughter.  Of course, in saying that, Hillary was presumably playing us, as her inevitable entry into the race had to have been decided even at that point.  But maybe she had more than a desire to leave us hanging on the edge of our seats in saying this.  Perhaps the image she has cultivated as a benevolent grandmother and supportive mother have served a political purpose as well?

If you Google “Hillary Clinton” and “unlikeable” in the same search, a barrage of hits will come up.  It’s no secret that Hillary has been criticized as unlikeable.  It may have even cost her the last election (shame, because I really like her).  But this time around, she is determined to not make the same mistakes.  After her departure from the Secretary of State position, she answered people’s questions about what she was going to do with her time by saying that she was looking forward to watching crappy TV and spending time with her dogs.  When daughter Chelsea became pregnant, she announced it on Twitter, declaring “Grandmother-to-Be” as her best title yet.  And now, political commentators are speculating that her foray into grandmotherhood could be great for business, as it were.

In an interview in the Washington Post with Jill Greenlee, scholar and author of “The Political Consequences of Motherhood”, Greenlee discusses the ways in which motherhood (and in this case, grandmotherhood) affect political entry/success.  According to Greenlee, “being a mother fulfills one of the strongest social mandates placed upon a woman, and that appeals to voters.”  Conversely, she states, motherhood responsibilities may make voters question their elected officials’ ability to juggle being a good political and balancing responsibilities at home.  (Funny how men never have to contend with this question).  The anxieties about women managing elected office and motherhood, however, have not stopped Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from appointing women to half of his Cabinet positions because, quote, “it’s 2015.”  

When it comes to Hillary, she believes that motherhood/grandmotherhood may be helping her in the polls.  The countless articles about time spent with granddaughter Charlotte and stops along the campaign trail to allow for facetime with the grandbaby may soften up this portrait of Hillary as ‘unlikeable.’  She states: “[I]n 2008, Hillary Clinton struggled to find a balance between presenting herself as a tough, strong, competent leader and to also display the feminine characteristics that we expect to see from women. By focusing on her experiences as a mother and grandmother, she can very naturally invoke those feminine characteristics in a way that is comfortable for most voters.”  While the benefits of cultivating this image may be clear in the case of Hillary, Greenlee suggests that we will still have to look at these trends on an individual basis for other female politicians.  “At the end of the day, we still have a lot to learn about how motherhood shapes women’s paths to elected office. In a time when we simultaneously have more women than ever running for office and an increasing focus on family and motherhood in politics, it’s more important than ever to explore these issues.”

So for now, the jury is still out on the link between motherhood and any definitive trends in politics.  But the call for an interdisciplinary approach to looking at the applications of motherhood in society is clear.  Mother Studies, anyone?

Reading of Joanne Bamberger's book by Helen Jonson this Sunday at Chappaqua Library

Reading of Joanne Bamberger’s book Sunday at Chappaqua Library

To find out more about the book #TheHillaryParadox go to Joanne Bamberger’s website. Readings will take place throughout the United States. For those local to NYC and Westchester there is a panel discussion moderated by Joanne Bamberger, author and editor, and 3 panelists, Helen, Linda Lowen and Nancy Giles.

Nov. 15, 2015, 3 p.m. – Chappaqua, NY Public Library. Panel discussion & book signing.

This blog post was written by MOM’s social media intern Jenny Nigro.

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Tango For Equal Rights

By, Jenny Nigro; social media intern for M.O.M.

M.O.M. social media intern Jenny Nigro

M.O.M. social media intern Jenny Nigro

I went to the library recently and took out an adorable book for the boy I nanny for. I’d read the book, And Tango Makes Three, before, but sharing it with him made it all the more special for me. The story is based on true events that took place several years ago at the Central Park Zoo. There, in the beloved penguin house, two male penguins began a years-long courtship and exhibited the nesting behaviors that are typical of expecting chinstrap penguin parents. Eventually, one of the zookeepers decided to give the couple their own egg to nurture and the penguins became the proud fathers to a fuzzy chick. They named her Tango because, as the book notes, “it takes two to make a Tango.” (Like I said, absolutely adorable).

No longer at the Central Park Zoo to visit, Tango’s daddies drifted apart over time and Tango was even said to have entered in a courtship with another female penguin. Their story (and subsequent book and play), though, has had a more lasting legacy – and has been the subject of much debate in family discourse. Some groups sought to ban the book immediately and protest the pairing of the penguins with their cherished little Tango egg. Others rallied around this model of parenting to assert that gay mating/parenting rituals do not defy the natural order.

The story of Tango’s dads shows us that different forms of courtship and parenting occur across nature, a phenomena which is also visible at the popular NYC Museum of Sex. MoSex, as it is shortened to, has devoted an entire exhibition to exploring the multi-faceted nature of animal sex and the “evolutionary benefits of non-reproductive sex for both individuals and social groups within the animal kingdom.” A recent visit to the museum led to my discovery of Tango’s story on display there. It turns out that our concepts of animal behavior, parenting instinct, and what it looks like to make a family have been overturned by one little chick.

With the nationwide legalization of gay marriage debate on-deck for the US Supreme Court, we will no doubt see more LGBTQ couples embark on their path to marriage and familyhood. So what can we expect for the family as we know it? Well, as research and public interest stories would indicate, most likely good things. A few years ago, a study that followed several children of lesbian couples over the span of two decades asserted that children of lesbians are psychologically better adjusted than their peers. And who can forget Zach Wahls’ touching appeal to the Iowa legislature to protect civil unions? Though little had been studied on children raised by two male parents, my sister recently did a scholarship review on studies that have looked at these models of parenting and they had similar findings: families with two daddies tend to have happy, well-adjusted kids.

So I look forward to seeing the next happy, well-adjusted generation of babies, both human and penguin, in a (hopefully) post-legalized marriage equality world. And maybe in this moment in history, it will take nine to make a tango…or at least a majority.

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How Much Do You Know About Paid Family Leave in the U.S.?

M.O.M. social media intern Jenny Nigro

M.O.M. social media intern Jenny Nigro

By, Jenny Nigro

I’m ashamed to admit that I took up the paid family leave torch pretty late in life for no other reason than being completely ignorant to the issue until just a few years ago. I had heard of people going on “maternity leave,” (mostly teachers who were pregnant growing up) and assumed that this was a built-in paid benefit in most workplaces, a la sick/bereavement/vacation. As it is with their lack of other paid benefits, I figured that the only exclusions to this rule were women who worked in the service industry or under the table.

Imagine my surprise, then, a friend at my old job (yes, it was this recent) told me about her experience going on maternity leave for her second baby. Her husband had been wrongfully terminated from his job during her pregnancy. Shortly after, she was put on bed rest and was facing a serious financial hardship at the prospect of being out of work while her husband was unemployed. I asked why she couldn’t have used a combination of sick and vacation time to last until her maternity leave time kicked in, which is when she told me that she had only ever received disability during her leave with her first baby, which hadn’t even kicked in until after she had gone back to work. They had relied solely on her husband’s pay throughout her first month and a half with her son, now with an additional member of the family to feed and clothe. They no longer had this to fall back on.

We had even worked at a non-profit, which are known to make up for their low pay scales by offering decent benefit packages to employees. I had just assumed that maternity leave was a paid benefit at our job (not that I was considering starting a family…hence why I didn’t have to think about these things). But still, the only reason she saw any money at all for her time at home with her baby was because she had qualified for disability. “Maternity leave” turned out to be just a facet of FMLA, which is what people use if they need to take care of a sick family member. Welcoming a baby to a family doesn’t mean that there is an illness that needs to be tended to. It means that there is a settling in period at home, away from work duties that needs to happen for the emotional/physical health and safety of Baby and parents.

As if we didn’t have our work cut out for us with the issue of paid maternal leave here in the US, now we are watching our international contemporaries grant legislation related to paid paternal leave. The UK recently drafted a policy that would extend family leave following the birth or adoption of a baby to 50 weeks, with 39 of those subsidized. Additionally, after the first two weeks, mothers in two-earner families can transfer some of their remaining weeks to the father.

Stephanie Coontz recently posted an article to her website, which she had published in The Guardian, in which she talks about this legislation and paid family leave. See article here. To sum up what she says on the matter, here is the Cliff Notes version:

-men would be reticent to take advantage of this benefit for fear of violating traditional gender roles and the consequent harassment that may occur at the hands of their peers

-once some dads take this family leave options, others are likely to follow suit

-the best way to encourage more dads to opt in would be to set up a use-it-or lose-it quota system rel

-taking family leave time is likely to change men’s behavior around the home for years after their leave

-households run better when dads have more of a hand in family responsibilities

– acts that destabilize traditional gender roles, including paternal leave, have been shown to not undermine the institution of marriage, as some family discourse would have you think, but instead, strengthen familial bonds

There is certainly a lot of food for thought in Coontz’ arguments/research, but it still begs the question: should we be advocating for men’s paid leave or focusing our energies on paid maternal leave to start?