Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lesbian Mothering

Photo Source:  Google Images

Is maternal instinct/desire a biological or learned female quality? Scholars continue to debate the importance of experience on a woman’s desire to be a mother and on a woman’s capacity for motherly instincts. Nancy Mezey, author of New Choices, New Families: How Lesbians Decide about Motherhood, attempts to define the correlation between experience and maternal instinct/motherly desire—specifically in American Lesbians.

After interviewing a group of lesbian American’s, Mezey determined, “The process by which [women] developed [maternal] desire was largely based on the social and cultural conditions in which they grew up in (pg. 46).” Mezey’s findings not only iterate the importance of female development and experiences on one’s motherly desire but also the pivotal role played by a woman’s mother. For most of Mezey’s interviewees, positive and/or negative interactions with one’s mother directly impacted the motherly desires and perception of personal ability of each women to become a mother.  

Photo Source:   http://www.horizonsfoundation.org/page/aboutus/30_lesbianparents 

In addition to experiences and interactions with one’s own mother, media and societal norms/opinions greatly affect the motherly desires of lesbian Americans. In America, movies, books, and media push for heterosexual women to be married, have children, and to maximize “motherly duty.” Lesbian American’s, like those interviewed by Mezey, commented on opposite societal pressures, in which lesbian women and couples are encouraged to NOT participate in motherhood (Mezey). The pressure by society for lesbians to abstain from child raising directly impacts the motherly desires and perceptions of motherhood by lesbian Americans. 

Many authors and scholars, like Mezey, attempt to abolish the American societal norm which views sexuality as a determining factor in the mothering ability and instinct of American lesbians. Click here to preview and read a sample of Mezey's book online.

Read how a lesbian blogger has encountered this very issue at her It's Great Being A Lesbian blog.  

Whether motherly instinct and desires are developed or learned, pressures and life experiences had by homosexual American women significantly affect the motherly desires of women across the country. 


Interview “A Mothers Perspective”

During an impromptu family reunion, I found myself surrounded by generations of mothers. I became intrigued as to the different societal expectations and experiences endured by both my 52 year old mom and my 71 year old grandmother. Each were raised in the same rural, conservative Georgia town and I was curious to compare the child raising experience of my mother, to that of my grandmother.
My mother and grandmother.
I asked each the same eight questions. Their answers revealed the generational differences in perception of education, birth control, and several political issues surrounding mothering. A common thread in both responses was the belief in the importance of love and the enduring strength in the mother/child bond. The following interview illustrates how a mother’s love transcends generations.  

1. What influenced or made you want to become a mother?

My Mother 
"I was a reluctant mother.  Actually, I thought I would not have children and was married for almost 13 years before I had my first child---you. Thinking back, I don’t recall a magical “this is the time to start a family" moment. Since I married at such a young age (18) it was important to me to complete my undergraduate and graduate studies and have a block of work experience. I accomplished these goals and then began considering starting a family. I never felt especially maternal and becoming a mother was not a natural progression for me. I am very happy that I did have children. 
My Grandmother: 
"Well, I really wasn’t influenced- it just happened. Was I prepared? No. I learned as I went along. Pregnancy wasn’t discussed by mother/daughter in the late 50’s/early 60’s. I did not know anything about what was about to happen. I just turned up pregnant and did the best that I could. I had never thought of being a mother…I thought about having a career. It never occurred to me that you could be a mother and also have a career."

2. How do you think race or sexual orientation impacts mothering? Or does it impact mothering?

My Mother: 
"In terms of the 'skills' associated with mothering or the ability to nurture and care for a child- I don’t think race or sexual orientation makes a difference."
My Grandmother
"I think that race may have some influences on mothering." 

3. What is your definition of a “good” mother?

My Mother: 
"To me, a good mother is someone who nurtures and protects her children. Someone who is consistent, provides a positive role model and loves her children is a good mother. A good mother is “present” with her children and gives them the foundation to become who they are."
My Grandmother
"I think a good mother is one that loves her children more than anything else in the world. She would make any sacrifice to give them the important things in life. She would give them the proper training- teaching them to be truthful and honest, have good work ethics, have a Christian faith and make a contribution to the world to help others."

4. Are the challenges of mothering the same or different today (versus when you were a new mother)?

My Mother
"I believe it is more complicated. There are so many pressures for children to grow up too quickly. Peer pressure, bullying, mixed media messages and competition in the classroom have all escalated in an unhealthy way in my opinion. I feel it is trickier for mothers to navigate all of these pressures. Couple this with the current economy and financial pressures- I think mothering/parenting is extremely difficult today."
My Grandmother
"I think it is pretty much the same. In the era I had my children, most mothers worked. We have become accustomed to a lifestyle of two incomes in the family. One reason for this is that we wanted to provide more for our families than what we had growing up. Childcare was typically a neighbor to watch your children. There were no daycare or learning centers like they have today."

5. What forms of discipline does a “good” mother use?

My Mother: 
"I do not believe it is ever ok to spank or hit another person. Re-direction and time out are strategies I think a good mother uses with younger children and then with older children, I think that grounding and putting special items like iPods/cell phones in time out could be appropriate."
My Grandmother
"I don’t think this was good mother’s choice, but it was the only choice I thought I had--- spanking. I don’t see that as a good way of discipline today. I think when teaching children how to behave and make good choices that it is better to take things away that the child enjoys or maybe time out- I think that also works."

6. In your opinion, how important is it for a woman to be a mother?

My Mother: 
"Becoming a mother is a personal choice. It is not the right choice or necessary for all women. I have and continue to support Pro-Choice."
My Grandmother
"I think some women make better mothers than others and I think it is a choice. If you think you don’t want children, I think you should not have children. It would be hard to be a good mother if you didn’t want children. I think if you have the desire, regardless of your economic or educational situation, I believe you could be a good mother."

7. In your opinion, is a “blood” mother (birth mother) the same or different from an adoptive mother?

My Mother: 
"I do believe that an adoptive mother can share the same connection and love that a birth mother has for a child."
My Grandmother
"I think the only way that they actually differ is that the blood mother actually carries and delivers the child. My experience with adoptive mothers is that they wanted a baby so badly that they made wonderful mothers because of that strong desire. A natural mother has a baby- sometimes the baby is wanted and sometimes the baby is not wanted."

8. In your opinion, how does our society view an older mother (over age 35) differently that a younger mother (less than 35) how has an infant? Please elaborate.

My Mother: 
"As an older expectant mother, I had “Advanced Maternal Age” stamped on my OB file. I think many people assume a woman has had fertility problems if she has her first infant at 35-40+. This was not the case for me and I did have people ask if it had taken awhile to become pregnant or was I too busy with my career. Many people are perplexed as to why some mother’s wait- I have often been one of the older moms in a school meeting or gathering. I think less educated people may view delayed motherhood differently. Actually, I think I am a better mother now than I would have been to a child when I was younger."
My Grandmother
"I think it is more acceptable to be an older mother than years ago- in the past, people would look at the older mother with her child and wonder if the woman was the child’s grandmother. Today, life is about choices and some women decide to have a career first and then a family--- today that option seems more possible than years ago. Birth control was not as available or effective back in my day. I think that an older woman can be just as good or maybe better than a young mother because of life experiences." 


Read what other mothers have experienced in the generational divide in this blog entry called The Modern Mother at www.parenting.com.

Letter from the Blogger


My name is Margaret Patterson and welcome to my blog! 

Have you ever acknowledged the various forms of the mothering experience had by American mothers? How about the role of media and society on the expectations of mothers? Have you ever questioned how motherhood has changed from generation to generation in America?

Photo Credit:  Nathan Gibbs/  http://womensenews.org/story/parenting/
Over the next several posts I will be identifying key perspectives, ideas, and observations regarding motherhood in America. My posts will discuss the roles of history, society, sexuality, race, socio-economic status, and media on the perspectives and experiences of mothers in America.

Currently enrolled in a college course entitled (click here) American Motherhood, I have grown increasingly aware of the various hardships experienced by different types of American mothers. Through this course I have made several discoveries. Such personal findings include a new found sense of awareness to the various issues and expectations which plague a variety of American mothers, each in a unique way. This realization allows me to be more mindful of society created generalizations and stereotypes and help me to be more aware of the expectations I place on mothers. With the course drawing to an end, I find myself interested in doing further research regarding the actual mothering experience of various forms of American mothers.     

Through this blog I hope to expose and discuss several of these issues and their ramifications on both women and families. In addition, I hope to provide readers with links to other blogs and suggestions for further reading and research.

Happy Blogging!  

Margaret Patterson