(WOMENSENEWS)–This Mother’s Day, women across the United States will be celebrating the joys of motherhood: rock music, tattoos, skateboarding, belly dancing–and shattering stereotypes.
Fed up with definitions of motherhood that they find oppressive and restrictive, a growingnumber of U.S. moms are kick-boxing and slam-dancing their way toward a newinterpretation. They’re wearing fishnet stockings and platform heels to the playground. They’re taking up scuba diving and bringing their kids in tow.
But it’s not just about the latest fashion or exercise trend. These moms are organized, forming coalitions and spreading the message that women can raise happy, healthy children and still be true to themselves.
“We need to stop feeling like we have to check our personalities at the door when we have kids,” says Ariel Gore, founder of the Oakland-based hipMama magazine. “Children need interesting mothers–not asexual ’50s sitcom moms or superwomen.”
Across the country, mothers are finding ever-more creative ways to express their personalities and passions.
On Sunday in Laguna Niguel, Calif., they’re launching the Mighty Mama
Skate-O-Rama, an all-day sporting event featuring skateboarding moms.
In late May in New York City, they’re kicking off the Mamapalooza Festival, three days of “mom-music,” “mom-art,” and “mom-poetry.”
In mid-July in Minneapolis, they’re convening for the Mama Gathering, a weekend parenting conference that will feature workshops on “How to Survive as an Artist Mom” and “How to Raise Feminist Sons.”
This delight in redefining their roles is spreading quickly. “These events mark the beginning of a rebellion against the dictates of perfect motherhood and the idea that women have to always be subservient to their children,” says Susan Douglas, the Michigan-based author of the 2004 book “The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women.” “Mothers are rejecting societal pressure and finally saying ‘enough is enough.'”
A New Mom Identity
Social commentators say these women break the mold because, while nurturing their children with every ounce of their love, they’re not afraid to cut loose and be themselves. On the Web site for Minnesota’s Mama Gathering, one of the organizers describes herself as a “queer 22-year-old single mama to an adorable turkey-baster baby.” A second claims she is “the queen of applying perfect eye makeup at 70 mph.”
Demographically, these moms are different from their predecessors. They started to have children at age 25 and have an average of two kids each. Thus members of the new-mom rebellion are older–and have fewer children to look after–than their mothers or grandmothers did. Reared in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, they grew up taking feminism as a given. Since more women ages 25 to 44 hold bachelor’s degrees than ever before (28 percent) and since women are making more money than ever (median income $20,000), they are more financially independent and more likely to set the family ground rules.
As never before, these moms are networking and organizing. During the last decade, some have even penned resource books for like-minded moms. With titles like “Afro Mama,” “Mamaphonic,” “The Mother Trip: Hip Mama’s Guide to Staying Sane in the Chaos of Motherhood,” “Whatever Mom” and “Breeder: Real-Life Stories from the New Generation of Mothers,” most of these books are published by small or independent presses but boast a devoted following.
Moms are also building formal and informal coalitions that take on topics from politics to public health. In Madison, Wis., there is Mothers Acting Up, a group that fights for better social services for women such as shelters for domestic violence survivors. In Elmhurst, Ill., there is Mothers and More, a networking and advocacy group for mothers and other caregivers. In New York City, there is Tots and Tonic, a cocktail hour for new mothers (Note the American Academy of Pediatrics approves moderate alcohol consumption while breastfeeding.)
“Being a mother is a very difficult and selfless job,” says Shara Frederick, the creator of Tots and Tonic. “To be the best moms we can be, we need to work together to achieve our goals. We also need social outlets so we don’t feel so isolated.”
Finally–and most importantly–these moms are having fun. Take Housewives On Prozac, a rock band based in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. Its members (who are mostly moms) have won the hearts of audiences nationwide with costumes that include feather boas and zebra-print leg warmers and songs that include “Fuzzy Slippers,” “Eat Your Damn Spaghetti,” and “I Broke My Arm Christmas Shopping at the Mall.”
Or, take Barb Odanaka and the scuff marks on her floor. “We definitely have a ‘skateboards in the house’ rule at my house,” says Odanaka, founder of the International Society of Skateboarding Moms in Laguna Niguel, Calif. “My idea of fun is to see how many times I can skate around the kitchen table and into the living room and back without crashing. What else are hardwood floors for?”
Mothers Face Mounting Pressures
Why are these moms strapping on guitars and go-go boots? Pop psychologists say it’s a backlash against the mounting pressures of motherhood. While higher education and a career are priorities for women today, many also find themselves obligated to be the primary caregiver once they have children. According to the last U.S. Census, 32 percent of all children under 15 now live with a stay-at-home mom, while only 3.6 percent of children live with a stay-at-home dad.
According to the Washington-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women still earn only 76 cents for every dollar earned by men, a figure that has barely changed since the 1970s. Politicians continue promoting “family values” while refusing to create paid maternity leave or nationalize the daycare system. Under the current “work for welfare” programs, low-income mothers are required to toil outside the home to collect federally subsidized child support payments even though they often can’t afford childcare while they are away at their jobs.
Since the 1980s, the number of specialty magazines, books and products aimed at better mothering has skyrocketed. “While your children are still gestating, you’re supposed to pipe Mozart into the womb,” says Douglas. “When they’re still toddlers, you’re supposed to start teaching them how to read. You’re expected to spend your days shuttling your kids from basketball practice to ballet. The message is that you can never do enough.”
Compounding this fear of mothering failure are newspaper headlines about child abductions, razors in Halloween apples and sexual abuse at day care centers. Then there are stories of mothers who cracked under the pressure and injured or killed their children.
“The expectations are just too high,” says Sonya Austin, one of the Mama Gathering’s organizers. “We’ve been shown a standard that no one can live up to. We don’t like any of the options we’ve been offered. So we’re going to make our own path and screw what other people think.”
Building a Better Generation
Women who are part of the new mom rebellion hope their bohemian, break-the-rules approach will free them–and their children–to lead more fulfilling lives. As they launch their own Web zines and dye their hair different shades of neon, these moms are encouraging their children to express themselves, too. They’re allowing their sons to wear nail polish. They’re cheering on their daughters as they tug on cleats and try out for the middle-school football team.
“Every mother was someone before she had children,” says Joy Rose, the lead singer of Housewives on Prozac. “She still is someone after she gives birth. She must impart something unique her sons and daughters: a special talent, lifestyle or passion.”
Ann Crittenden, the Washington-based author of the 2002 book “The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued” predicts that as a result of this backlash, the next generation of mothers could be even more outspoken and independent. “There’s still enormous pressure to sacrifice yourself for your kids,” she says. “But the best thing in the world for children is to have mothers who are strong.”
Molly M. Ginty is a freelance writer based in New York City.
For more information:
International Society of Skateboarding Moms:
Housewives on Prozac: