Whether she was your birth mother or a mother figure, whether you called her mama or mummy, whether she worked outside the home or (primarily) in it, one thing is universally true: Mothers have changed the world. And in time, the world has changed mothers.
I've only been a mama for four years, so I asked a few moms with decades of experience—my own mother and mother-in-law included—to share their thoughts on how the world views mothers differently, and in what ways a mum's role has stayed the same.
How has motherhood changed?
In the past, women played the roles of encourager and comforter, and men provider and protector, says Jean Seitzer. "But roles have changed over the years. They overlap in many ways due to women in the workforce," she says. "Now, it's like a balancing act for women. They have so many roles to play."
Grandmothers have new roles too—and it's a much more hands-on one. "[Grandparents] used to be old people whom children visited once in a while. They seldom babysat but simply sat on the porch with children," says Seitzer. "Now they are an integral part of the family life. That's where I see myself looking forward."
Linda Snyder choose motherhood in an era when a woman's right to choose (i.e. getting jobs and being paid like men) was front and center. "Becoming a mom in the late 1970s had its challenges," says the woman I am proud to call mother. In her generation though, the support to make this choice—to be a full-time mother—wasn't well-received. "But it didn't deter me," says Snyder, who raised 5 daughters.
Today, for better or worse, financial necessity drives many mothers to work, says Diana Parks, a long-time public school educator. "I feel that it is more acceptable and even expected for a mother of children to work," she says.
Anne Hughes agrees: There's so much on mom's shoulders these days. "We strive to maintain friendships with other women and be the supportive companion that our [spouses/partners] need," says the special needs preschool educator. Society isn't solely to blame; women do tend to put extra and unnecessary pressure on themselves. But Hughes believes the role of women had fewer "dimensions" to it in the past. "We of course, want to use the skills we have in more places than our homes, but we are stretched at times and it takes a toll on families," she says.
How has motherhood stayed the same?
Especially relevant to the so-called sandwich generation is this unchanging fact: someone is still the major caregiver, says Joyce Munro, a retired college English professor and writer—and in many cases, those shoes are filled by mothers. And while some men are stepping up to help in the home, Parks believes it's still mom's job to do it all—from household chores to chauffeuring for endless social and athletic commitments, doctor's appointments, and more.
But with all the new balancing acts, in the caring for older and younger generations, some steadfast tenets of motherhood remain—and for the good. "As much as circumstances, events, and society in general change, a mother's true role is still to nurture, grow, teach, protect and love their children," says Snyder.
Time may change things, but Hughes believes it's in a woman's nature to embrace her role: "I think mothers are still fiercely dedicated to the well being of their children. Deep down, we are nurturers at heart and we carry that quality in many aspects of our lives."
What does the future hold for mothers?
As a brand new grandmother, Munro is now in a phase of letting go of her daughter as her child. "I'm seeing everyone as a grandchild," the writer says.
With 7 grandchildren currently—and likely many more to follow—my mother hopes to pass on a legacy to her daughters and grandchildren that "motherhood is the best profession there is." Why? "Because you are entrusted with the nurturing of new life and the next generation," she says.
Because today's mothers are so busy, grandmothers are in high demand, says Parks. Parks's daughter and two grandchildren live under her roof, so she often feels as if she never left the role of mother. "The children need meals prepared, help with homework, and transportation, as well as additional emotional support and stability."
In whatever stage of empty nest our seasoned mothers and grandmothers find themselves, there comes a freedom in release. "It feels good to be past the stage of training, watching, evaluating and challenging my children," says Hughes. "I can't say that I've recreated myself, but I am open to new adventures and opportunities."
Thank you, mothers, for your priceless contributions to the past, present, and future of caregiving!
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