social change for mothers

Social Change for Mothers Shapes Mothering and Crushes Our Illusion of Motherlove

“Whatever the message, the advice was given in the form of an order and the authors highlighted extreme consequences if mothers did not follow the methods of childrearing that they advocated.”

That’s what researcher and author Angela Davis said about the potential for childcare and parenting “bibles” to shatter their followers’ faith in themselves as parents.

“More than 50 years on and experts still cannot agree on the best way to approach motherhood, and all this conflicting advice just leaves women feeling confused and disillusioned.”

Not all social change for mothers has been positive. Ms. Davis, a research professor at the Centre for the History of Medicine at Warwick University, points out the “cyclical nature of these childcare bibles”. One reality of that cycle is that the influence of the strict rules first laid down by Frederick Truby King in the 40’s was slowly replaced over time by the less authoritarian influences of authors such as Donald Winnicott, John Bowlby and Benjamin Spock. However, in the 90’s, Gina Ford rose to prominence, once more advocating a more strictly regimented approach to parenting.

Rather than writing another child-care guide, Angela Davis instead concerned herself with the institutional and societal structures that affect motherhood. These include social pressures as well as the power relationships within individual homes. In her book Modern Motherhood: Women and Family in England, 1945-2000, published in 2012, Davis challenges the assumption of continual progress and social change for mothers towards greater social freedom.

The book is based on 160 oral history interviews of mothers and has been described as perhaps the first and most comprehensive study of motherhood during of the last half of the century. Ironically, according to many of the women she interviewed for the book, the best time to be a mother was during the 1970’s. Socially and economically, the 70’s afforded women equal opportunity to either stay home with their babies or go to work. Economic conditions have since become such that remaining at home to care for their children is now a luxury that relatively few mothers can afford.

Through her subjects’ oral histories, Davis is able to reconstruct the changing social framework of motherhood over the course of decades. Readers are able to see the social change for mothers as motherhood is redefined during each decade, as well as the primary duties associated with those definitions. Her subjects also speak in detail about the social methods used to train mothers to carry out their duties. The effects of factors such as shifting economic conditions and increased paid employment for women as well as the rise in single-parent households are discussed in depth by women who experienced them.

One of the conclusions of the study was that social change for mothers, as well as the definition of motherhood itself, is shaped not only by child-rearing experts, but by the “locality and type of community in which women lived”. Her findings were rendered more credible due to the fact that her study included a highly diverse sample of women, not only socio-economically, but in terms of different family structures. One of her most significant conclusions of the study were that throughout the time period of the study a time of increasing social change for mothers, women consistently expressed ambivalent feelings about motherhood. The other was that women consistently used the experience of motherhood to create social networks. It was these social networks that enabled women to reconcile the realities of their maternal roles compared to the idealized version created by the needs of society.

Recognizing the importance of these social networks, her findings have been applied to maternity policies that continue to affect a great number of mothers. A subsequent study also resulted in another book, Pre-school childcare in England, 1939-2010, which focuses on how official maternity policies affected English pre-school children during those decades of great social change for mothers. Angela Davis continues to work towards educating policy makers on the importance of adequate social networks for women to help insure that future social change for mothers is positive for both them and their children.

Here are some additional sources used for this article:

social change for mothers

gina ford

On Gina Ford Attempts to Rescue Parents from Chaos and The True Measure of Contentment

As every parent knows, children are as individual as snowflakes. For optimum growth and learning, some require more structure than others. If your child is one of those, one of the nine popular books on parenting that Gina Ford has written might be just what you’ve been looking for.

Parenting Philosophy of Gina Ford

Here is a quote from “The Contented Little Baby Book”, which was published in 1999.

“I personally believe that the majority of babies thrive and are happier in a routine. But I certainly realize and respect that following a routine is not a choice for all parents. There is already so much advice out there for ‘baby-led parenting’; therefore the advice I give in my books is for those parents who believe that they and their baby will be happier in a routine.”

Part of her wide appeal is that she doesn’t insist that her way is the only way. Too often, the advice of child care experts results in parents’ feeling as if they are “doing it wrong”. Gina Ford recognizes and respects the individual choices of parents, as well as the fact that when it comes to raising children, there really is no single philosophy that’s right for everyone.

Gina Ford: Controversy and Criticism

Despite the popularity of Gina Ford’s books, one of the most common criticisms levied against her is that she herself is not a mother. Such critics insists only mothers who have experienced it themselves can fully understand the emotional and behavioral effects of the hormonal changes that take place within a mother’s body. Further, they insist that these hormonal changes sensitize them to a baby’s needs, and that therefore, rigid routines are contrary to nature’s guidelines. Gina Ford, however, did spend several years as a maternity nurse, which provided many opportunities for observing a great many mothers and infants.

According to an article in the Guardian, her detractors, including liberal politician Nick Clegg, argue that it is “nonsense” to expect a hungry infant to conform to an adult’s time-table. The public controversy sparked by her parenting philosophy resulted in a court case in which Gina Ford accused a parenting website of publishing defamatory remarks by readers. The case was settled out of court, but the controversy remains.

One of the key concepts in Gina Ford’s parenting philosophy is the importance of maintaining a consistent schedule. She goes so far as to recommend breaking up days into five minute blocks. A great deal has been written about the psychological benefits of structure. They include an increased sense of safety and security and less anxiety due to clear expectations.

However, much has also been written about the psychological dangers of over-structuring children’s lives. For example, too many structured activities can result in decreasing creativity and the ability to be spontaneous. It can also affect children’s ability to develop and use their imaginations. One study showed that children with too many structured activities were also less able to use their executive function to make choices for themselves.

Achieving Balance

Gina Ford has presented parents with another valuable perspective to consider in the constant struggle that all parents experience in trying to achieve a balance that works for their individual families. Her work reminds us that while the well-being and development of infants and children must be a prime consideration, there are other factors to consider as well.

One of those factors is that working parents must themselves adapt to schedules imposed from without, and there are potentially severe consequences that result from a prolonged lack of sleep. Therefore, most experts tend to recommend a balance between structure and free time, consistency and spontaneity.

Parents can all agree that ideally, they want their parenting to result in their children becoming happy, secure, creative adults. They picture their grown children with great imaginations, but also capable of adapting to a work schedule in order to succeed in their chosen careers. Whatever the limitations of her methodology, Gina Ford has succeeded in providing parents with some valuable information and suggestions that they can adapt to suit their own individual family circumstances.

If you want to know more about more general foundations upon which many of our present child rearing philosophies and parenting styles are built, then head over here.

gina ford

parenting styles

Parenting Styles And How We Come to Know Truth through Parenting Books

Have you ever wished that there was one book where you could find all the scientific parenting advice and parenting styles contained in all the parenting books written in the last century?

Well, Perfect Motherhood: Science and Child Rearing in America comes pretty close. This vast array of information, compiled and analyzed by author Rima Apple, does a good job of revealing the foundations upon which many of our present child rearing philosophies and parenting styles are built.

The following excerpt from the book demonstrates the authors’ belief that mothers have learned to utilize the benefits of science and medicine without giving their power away to the scientific community.

“The struggle to remove authoritarian physicians but importantly, not medicine and science from the center of child-care advice and to insert mothers as active participants in decision-making about their families’ health was not a simple change. It resulted from a complex of social and medical developments that encompassed women pushing against contemporary medical practices and a changing medical system pulling women more deeply into health care. “

The Growing Influence of the Medical Community

According to Rima Apple, this wasn’t always the case with parenting books. In her book, she points out that a number of factors contributed to women ceding their power in the parenting realm to medical “experts“.

Some of those factors included a decline in birth rates corresponding with higher infant mortality rates, the discovery of vaccines, and a rise in hospital births. Because scientific advancements such as vaccines had the power to save thousands of children’s lives, mothers responded with a willingness to concede that the medical community was perhaps more qualified to make decisions regarding the health and welfare of their children than they themselves were.

Parenting styles and books

Parenting books written by doctors and scientists began to exert more influence on mothers and a variety of parenting styles emerged throughout the 20th century. This willingness to defer to the scientific community had a great impact on motherhood, in that women also began to value the opinions of scientists and medical experts over the experience and knowledge of their own mothers and grandmothers. Women grew to depend less on relatives and midwives and more on doctors and hospitals when defining their own parenting styles.

As the influence of the scientific community grew, so did philosophical debates within that community. One of the problems with this was that competing factions within the scientific community often published findings that were inconsistent with, or even contradicted, one another. The results of one study negating the results of another left mothers more confused about parenting styles than enlightened. The source of financial backing for scientific studies was also a factor in determining what kinds of experimental studies would be conducted.

Conflicting Expert Opinions on Parenting Styles

Such differences of opinion on parenting styles between authors or experts continue today. One article on the subject pointed out that because parenting is a relatively new science, the advice given in parenting books is all considered subject to change upon further investigation. Further, because such conflicting advice about parenting styles  often raises more questions than it answers, parenting books written by “experts” can result in reducing parents’ confidence in themselves.

The feminist movement in the 1970s questioned the validity of male-dominated scientific and medical institutions advocating child-rearing practices that women were largely responsible for carrying out. The validity and value of scientific contributions that could be incorporated into child-rearing practices and parenting styles was never questioned .

However, the movement did have the effect of restoring some of the former relevance of the equally valuable knowledge and experience of midwives and other child care professionals.

It also caused a shift in the way that “science” was defined in terms of motherhood. Women began to view the scientific and medical community as a source of valuable information to use when making their own decisions, rather than as the final authority on parenting. Rima Apple credits some authors of parenting books, such as Dr. Benjamin Spock as being partially responsible for the restoration of faith in their own parenting abilities and shaping their own views on parenting styles.

Parents generally agree that while parenting books can often offer valuable suggestions, in the end, it is they who must decide which ones to implement. It’s they and their children who will experience the results of their decisions. That’s why any book that increases a parent’s confidence as well as providing information is a valuable one.

parenting styles


Maternal Ideal

Maternal Ideal – The Changing Definitions of Motherhood

Before the 18th century, marriage, rather than motherhood, was considered woman’s crowning achievement.

The production of heirs by women who had married into the aristocracy was considered more important than what later came to be defined as motherhood, or any notion of the maternal ideal. The definition of maternal ideal developed in the 18th century included such criteria as

“all-engrossing tenderness, long term maternal breast feeding, personal supervision and education of young children, complete physical restriction to domestic space, absence of sexual desire, withdrawal from productive labor”.

This is according to author and literary scholar Toni Bowers in her book “The Politics of Motherhood: British Writing and Culture, 1680 -1760”. The book uses a stunning array of art, including plays, novels, songs, paintings, and even social propaganda, to illustrate motherhood and the maternal ideal. In this way, she successfully demonstrates how the changing definition of motherhood reflects the political and economic conflicts of the times. This is no less true today than it was in the 18th century.

Motherhood and Politics

Just how much are women and mothers still politically affected by the outmoded and contradictory maternal ideal of motherhood that was formulated in the 18th century? According to one article on the Politics of Motherhood, the United Nations recommends that at least 30% of elected officials be women in order to accurately reflect women’s political concerns. In Canada, considered fairly progressive in terms of women’s rights, only 16% of mayors are women. Further, elected officials do not enjoy health insurance which covers maternity leave. Current statistics for the United States show that women make up only 19.4% of Congress, despite comprising 50.8 of the population.

Australia comes a bit closer to the U.N. recommendation, with the number of women in Parliament at a little less than one third, although less than on fifth of ministers are women. Similarly, Britain recently achieved an all-time high of 29%. Other countries rankings also show disparities in political representation for women. Just as women are consistently under-represented in government, women in history are similarly under-represented.

Changing Maternal Ideal

It would seem that her argument that Western civilization and the present and future role of women in history continues to be limited by the conflicting idealistic images of mothers and the maternal ideal created in the 18th century is a valid one. In addition to current statistics demonstrating political inequities, there are also a number of other ways in which women and mothers continue to be marginalized by Western societies.

According to one review of the book “Politics of Motherhood” for Bower, literature dealing with women in history both reflects and serves the interests of the ruling classes, rather than shaping social ideology. In Bowers analysis, Queen Anne’s unsuccessful attempts to produce a living heir transform the definition of motherhood and maternal ideal to one of failure and a loss of personal and social power.

One of the conflicting characteristics of the maternal ideal of motherhood that she points to is the one in which women are expected to simultaneously be powerful mother figures and compliant, subservient wives.

Motherhood and the State

Another article, while examining the current state of marriage and family in Western civilization, clearly demonstrates the role of the state in perpetuating traditional family life for its own purposes, both economic and military. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1950, married couples represented 78% of the population, while in 2010, that number was only 48%.

Much of this decline is attributed to the influence of individualism combined with consumer capitalism. Additionally, social programs began to replace the family unit for both economic and social support. Children began being educated by the state, rather than by their mothers at home.

The alarming statistic that 40 percent of single-mother families live in poverty is attributed by some to a decline in morality. However, there are few examples of women in history that haven’t suffered economic hardship as a result of their failure to marry well. Those who argue against feminism point out that children living in two-parent homes typically perform better academically and are more likely to succeed in life.

This increase in academic performance can be attributed to an increase in both supervision and economic resources. However, rather than raising the wages of single working mothers to match those of the men which formerly provided for and controlled the family by controlling the finances, they suggest a return to the former paradigm.

Mothers Defining The Maternal Ideal

Like the paradigm of the 18th century, it is still implied that women who wish to escape economic and social control are selfish to put their own needs above those of their children, and are therefore bad mothers. Further, not only are they portrayed as bad mothers, but bad wives and members of society who are contributing to the downfall of Western civilization as well.

Modern day mothers are subject to many of the same conflicting social demands and the current idea of maternal ideal. All mothers, and fathers, would do well to recognize the impossibility of those conflicting demands in order to avoid being dehumanized by them. After all, parenting at its best is just the opposite, a process of humanization.

Maternal Ideal
Mrs. Robert Shurlock, Henrietta Ann Jane Russell and Her Daughter Ann, by John Russell, 1801
instinctive motherhood

Instinctive Motherhood? How our Concepts of Motherhood Have Changed Radically Since The 18th Century

One often wonders whether instinctive motherhood exists? But children were subjected to many cruel aspects of society throughout 18th century. Infanticide and acts committed by child molesters represent the most horrifying occurrences that children have been subjected to throughout time. Although infanticide and child molestation were deemed serious felonies, there were many instances of leniency in the law that allowed these acts to take place without proper consequences.

A brief look at the history and punishment of infanticide

Infanticide was one of the most common capital crimes committed by women in 18th century England. It was often called the “murder of a bastard” as many of these children were born from unwed mothers. These deaths did not occur due to stillbirths or natural causes, but rather the deliberate murder of a child at the hands of a mother through poisoning, cutting of the throat, battering, and drowning. Seeing as contraceptives were not available during this time period, it was quite common that young women become pregnant out of wedlock. The fathers often abandoned these women, and they were left with a bastard child that they did not have the means to care for. If there is instinctive motherhood, is was silenced by dominant values of society

Additionally, postpartum depression was not recognized yet, leaving women with no moral support in addition to a lack of financial support.

Although 79 women were hanged for the offense of infanticide in the 18th century, in the early 1900s the Infanticide Act of 1922 was passed, deeming infanticide no longer a capital offense, citing the postnatal depression of these mothers as a partial defense for committing murder.

The Infanticide Act of 1938 eradicated the death penalty for mothers who committed infanticide within the first year of their baby’s life, claiming that

“at the time of the act or omission the balance of her mind was disturbed by reason of her not having fully recovered from the effect of giving birth to the child or by reason of the effect of lactation consequent upon the birth of the child”

The lack of age of consent laws regarding child molesters

Children often suffered at the hands of child molesters in the 1700s. In the mid 18th century, it was reported that 25% of capital rape cases in England were involving children less than 10 years of age. These offenses were often not given the proper punishment that they warranted, seeing as laws preventing child molesters from committing acts against children were not prominent at the time.

It was not until the end of the 18th century that lawmakers began to pass laws addressing age and consent when dealing with sexual acts. The age of consent for girls was set at 10 years old, whereas for boys it was 14. The age for girls was defined in order to protect girls from child molesters, whereas for boys this was not seen as a concern and rather the age of consent was established in order to protect boys from being prosecuted for committing sexual acts.

Although the age of consent changed throughout time, even in the year 1875 the age of consent in England for girls was as young as 13 years old. However, it is important to note that the ‘age of consent’ in this time period often referred to the age that one could legally consent to marriage, as sexual acts outside of a marriage were seen as highly inappropriate. The idea that sexual acts were only acceptable in a marriage is highly correlated with the occurrence of marriages at a much younger age, offering an explanation as to why the age of consent was set so low.

Blurred notions of instinctive motherhood

Although these girls ages 10 and up qualified at the age of consent for marriage, they were still quite young and sexual acts committed against them would qualify as child molestation with no question in today’s society. Just like notions of instinctive motherhood, our viewpoints of what is “the proper age” has changed dramatically.

Due to the emergence of laws that are far more strict, child molesting and infanticide are prosecuted far more harshly today than they were in the 1700s. Child sexual abuse is outlawed nearly everywhere in the world, generally with severe criminal penalties. An adult’s sexual intercourse with a child below the legal age of consent is defined as statutory rape, based on the principle that a child is not capable of consent and that any apparent consent by a child is not considered to be legal consent. Still, the surveys in the book “Father-Daughter Incest” shows that one fifth to one third of all women reported some sort of childhood sexual experience with a male adult.

instinctive motherhood
Dorothea Lange, Resettled farm child from Taos Junction to Bosque Farms project, New Mexico, Farm Security Administration, 1935
Parental Choice

Destruction of the Concept of Motherhood: Simone de Beauvoir on Parental Choice

Although she was not a mother, Simone de Beauvoir has, as a philosopher and an author influenced the intellectual women and mothers of several generations. Her views on parental choice was clear. Simone de Beauvoir, attributed her own intellectual development to the differences in her parents’ belief systems.

“…my father’s individualism and pagan ethical standards were in complete contrast to the rigidly moral conventionalism of my mother’s teaching. This disequilibrium, which made my life a kind of endless disputation, is the main reason why I became an intellectual.”

However, the following quote perhaps best exemplifies the premise upon which she built her feminist philosophy.

“It is not in giving life but in risking life that man is raised above the animal; that is why superiority has been accorded in humanity not to the sex that brings forth but to that which kills.”

Education of Simone de Beauvoir

Having grown up in an upper middle class, or bourgeois, family, she received an excellent Catholic education and even considered becoming a nun until the age of 14 (which would have led to the same parental choice she would make later on), when she instead became a life-long atheist. Intellectually precocious, after passing her baccalaureate exams, she studied languages, mathematics, and philosophy. At age 21, she was the youngest person to ever pass the agrégation exam at the Sorbonne, the scores of which were used for national ranking of scholars. She placed second, behind Jean-Paul Sarte, who placed first.

Works of Simone de Beauvoir

In her 1949 book The Second Sex”, she analyzed the phenomenon of women’s oppression and was one of the first feminists, although she did not formally declare herself one until 1972. In many ways, the book provided the framework for the later feminist movement. Other novels include She Came to Stay” and The Mandarins”. In a philosophical work titled “The Ethics of Ambiguity” she explored the concept of how freedom is affected by physical and social circumstances. Despite the lasting influence of her books, Simone De Beauvoir is as well known for her 45 year romantic relationship with philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre as she is for her intellectual and literary contributions.

Controversy around the rebel Simone de Beauvoir

Simone De Beauvoir’s relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre was an open one, which caused a great deal of controversy, as did her bi-sexuality. But perhaps the biggest controversy that surrounded her was when she was formally charged with abducting a minor. She had developed an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student whose parents were outraged. They demanded that she be formally charged and as a result, her license to teach in France was permanently revoked.

Years later, in 1971, she signed the Manifesto of the 343, which was a list of famous women who’d had abortions. She defended openly parental choice. This proved to be equally controversial, but these women were willing to give up their privacy and endure public shame to legalize abortion by forcing the government to either arrest and charge them all with a crime or change the law. At the time abortion was even more controversial than it is today. Partially as a result of the controversy, abortion in France was legalized in 1974.

Simone de Beauvoir maintained that womanhood, and by extension, motherhood, were social constructs that served as tools in the patriarchal oppression of women. I have written several articles where psychologists or anthropologists would come to the same conclusion. However Simone de Beauvoir states philosophical viewpoints about motherhood, parental choice and their consequences. I believe that by who she was and what she wrote -whether I understand or agree with her personal parental choice-she has indeed influenced our beliefs and broader theoretical concept of what it means to be a mother today and in our society.

Views of Simone de Beauvoir on Parental Choice and Motherhood

Simone de Beauvoir believed that society’s definition of human being was male by default, thereby relegating women to a social construct of an inferior “other”. Further, she felt that women must elevate themselves from the position assigned them through the power of their conscious choices. In an interview with feminist Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir stated that

“No woman should be authorized to stay at home to bring up her children… because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one. It is a way of forcing women in a certain direction.”

She questioned the validity of “choice” , of which the parental choice was one, within a social construct that punished women for choosing differently.

“Do you think the mothers you know chose to have children? Or were they intimidated into having them?”

She questions women’s ability to make a choice when men

“behave as if only women who stay at home are “clean” while the others are easy marks.”

To support her argument, she pointed to the increases in rape and domestic violence as evidence of male aggression expressed as punishment in response to women’s demands for equal rights.

In a 1976 interview she challenged women to examine their individual choices and how they would affect other women by saying

“Those who profit from their “collaboration” have to understand the nature of their betrayal”.

While she believed that economic systems were partially responsible for the oppression of women, she saw that the power of the patriarchal system superseded both capitalism and socialism. Therefore, she concluded that the most revolutionary act that women could perform

“to change the value system of society was to destroy the concept of motherhood.”

Legacy of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir worked for the creation of a society on which both genders were equally valued, both economically, and as parents. Most importantly, she wanted parenthood to be a true parental choice, rather than a societal expectation. When asked how long it might take to achieve such equality, she replied

“Maybe in four generations. I don’t know about the revolution. But the changes that women are struggling for, yes, that I am certain of, in the long run women will win.”

Parental Choice
Simone de Beauvoir with Jean Paul Sartre, welcomed by Avraham Shlonsky and Leah Goldberg by Flickr GovernmentPress Office
Rose Kennedy

Rose Kennedy or what it takes to be honored with the title of papal countess for exemplary motherhood

“When you hold your baby in your arms the first time, and you think of all the things you can say and do to influence him, it’s a tremendous responsibility. What you do with him can influence not only him, but everyone he meets and not for a day or a month or a year but for time and eternity. I looked on child rearing not only as a work of love and duty but as a profession that was fully as interesting and challenging as any honorable profession in the world and one that demanded the best that I could bring to it.”

Needless to say, Rose Kennedy was often quoted on the subject of motherhood.

Early Life of Rose Kennedy

Of her own upbringing, Rose Kennedy said of her father

“My father was a great innovator in public life, but when it came to raising his daughters, no one could have been more conservative.”

His conservative view was reflected in his refusal to allow her to attend Wellesley College, enrolling her instead at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Boston.

Born Rose Fitzgerald, her father was John Fitzgerald, often called “Honey Fitz”, a politician who served a term as a congressional representatives before becoming the mayor of Boston. She met her future husband, Joseph P. Kennedy, when she was quite young, as their families often spent summer vacations together. Joe and Rose married in 1914 and had nine children together over the next 18 years. He had the additional distinction of becoming the youngest bank president in history.

Having been raised in the political spotlight made her very aware of, and subject to, public opinion. Her Catholic faith was also very important to her. Despite her high expectations for her children, she believed that

“children should be stimulated by their parents to see, touch, know, understand and appreciate”.

In 1951, the Vatican honored her with the title of papal countess in 1951 for “exemplary motherhood and many charitable works“. It was her faith that sustained her through the many losses she endured as a mother.

A Mother’s Anguish

Rosemary, their third daughter, was born with a mental disability, and received a lobotomy in 1941, which later resulted in her having to be institutionalized. Her eldest son, Joe, Jr., who aspired to become president one day, was killed in action in 1941 during a mission for the U.S. Navy when his plane exploded.

Kathleen, another daughter, also died in a plane crash in 1948 while on her way home from Europe. Her death was especially difficult for Rose Kennedy, as they had a great deal in common, such as a love of travel and languages. She felt that Kathleen, nicknamed “Kick” was the child most like her and admired her sense of social justice. In her diaries, Rose Kennedy quotes her daughter as having said

“… in having this high standard of living for a few people, we have trodden a lot of others under foot in this country and in other countries…”

In 1963, her son, and one of the most beloved Presidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Just five short years later, her son Robert, a senator, would suffer the same fate. The very next year, her youngest son Theodore was involved in a car accident that resulted in the death of a young woman that resulted in a political scandal because he did not immediately report the accident.

Personal Glimpses of Rose Kennedy

A more complete picture of Rose Kennedy than the mass media and politics afforded was made possible upon the release of her letters and diaries in 2006. These documents paint a picture of a woman struggling to maintain her identity even while putting her own interests and ambitions aside to play a supportive role for her family.

Some of her diary entries make it clear that being a mother of nine was not without its frustrations as well as joys. In a 1972 diary entry, she writes

“When the children needed to be spanked, I often used a ruler, and sometimes a coat hanger, which was often more convenient because in any room there would be a closet and the hangers in them would be right at hand.”

This entry also serves to illustrate the stricter child rearing methods of the era.

Throughout her many triumphs and tragedies as a mother, she remained grateful for all of her experiences, viewing life as a balance between the two.

“…I cannot find in literature or in life many people whose lives we envy. Most of course proceed on a middling course, not many great thrills — the normal number of deaths and disappointments.”

Rose Kennedy, of course, experienced more of both than most. She lived to the age of 104, surrounded by her five remaining children, and 69 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Rose Kennedy
Rose Kennedy with her son, President John F. Kennedy in 1962. Source Wikimedia
Family Life

How Marie Curie Combined her Own Family Life while Mothering Modern Physics

“I have frequently been questioned, especially by women, of how I could reconcile family life with a scientific career. Well, it has not been easy.”

Called the mother of modern physics , Marie Curie’s biography is an impressive one. She not only invented the term “radioactivity” but discovered two chemical elements, radium and polonium. She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics and the first person to ever receive the honor twice, also being awarded the honor in the field of Chemistry. However, she valued knowledge for it’s own sake and was never motivated by the desire for fame and recognition. Albert Einstein said of her

“Marie Curie is, of all celebrated beings, the only one whom fame has not corrupted.”

Marie Curie’s Poverty, Exlusion and Humble Beginnings

As a child, the family life of Marie Curie was clouded by poverty so severe that she lost one of her sisters to typhus and her mother to tuberculosis. Because women weren’t allowed to attend Russian Universities, she became a private tutor, learning everything her wealthy students studied at their universities. She sent part of the money she earned as a governess to help support family life back home and particularly one other sister in Paris, until she could become well established enough to send for her. In 1891, she was finally able to move to Paris to live with her sister and enrolled at the prestigious Sorbonne.

Close Family Life as a Success Factor

Family life -of the extended family rather than the nuclear family- continued to be an important source of support which enabled Marie Curie to continue her research after her marriage to Pierre Curie and the birth of her two daughters, Irene and Eva.

“It became a serious problem how to take care of our little Irène and of our home without giving up my scientific work. Such a renunciation would have been very painful to me, and my husband would not even think of it…So the close union of our family enabled me to meet my obligations.”

After the premature loss of her mother-in-law to cancer, her father-in-law moved in with the family and served as both grandfather and caretaker for the children and helped in the couple’s family life.

Her husband Pierre used their joint Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1905 to issue a warning about the potential of the destructive power of science with these words

“mankind will derive more good than harm from the new discoveries.”

Tragically, in 1906, just one year after the birth of their youngest daughter Eva, Pierre was struck by a carriage and killed, leaving Marie Curie a widow. Those words of the acceptance speech would prove to be prophetic, as the very scientific discoveries that they were being lauded for would lead to Marie Curie’s untimely death from radiation poisoning.

Despite being a widow with two small children, she took on the task of editing her late husband’s collected works, which she completed in 1908. In 1910, she published her own research in a volume titled “Traité de radioactivité” for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Discrimination against women was still such that even after having been awarded two Nobel Prizes, the Academy of Sciences refused to admit her as a member in the organization. She was, however, the first woman to hold a chair at the Sorbonne.

Marie Curie as Mother

Now as a mother, she is reported to have kept records of family life and specifically every stage of her daughters’ development as faithfully as she recorded the results of her scientific experiments.

Her daughters were home-schooled, often by some of the most brilliant scientists in the world. She was able to shape  family life as she saw fit and most conducive.

Her eldest daughter Irene became a scientist and during World War I, worked side by side with her mother using x-ray machines to locate shrapnel in the bodies of wounded soldiers. In 1926, Irene was married to Frédéric Joliot, an assistant at the Radium Institute and together, they continued Marie Curie’s research after her death in 1934. Irene won the Nobel Prize in 1935 for her work in using radioactivity to transmute chemical elements.

Eva, her younger daughter, became a writer and wrote the first of many biographies of her mother, Marie Curie. During the war, using her mother’s name to get access, she courageously visited Africa, Asia and Russia, interviewing soldiers and leaders such She published her interviews in a volume called “Journey Among Warriors” which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. In 1954, she married Henry Richardson Labouisse, Jr. a diplomat who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of UNICEF as its director in 1965.

The mother of modern physics proved to have created a innovative,  and inventive family life catalyzing a rather large scientific family.

If you are intrigued by women like Marie Curie you can read more here another exceptional role model and mother, Emma Willard.

Family Life
Pierre and Marie Curie at Work
Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi, Parent, Green Activist and First Mother to a Young India

Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India, didn’t consider herself a feminist, but spoke eloquently for equal rights for women, as well as the elevation of their social status. In a speech she gave at a Women’s Conference in New Delhi in 1980 titled “True Liberation of Women”, she said

“I have often said that I am not a feminist. Yet, in my concern for the underprivileged, how can I ignore women who, since the beginning of history, have been dominated over and discriminated against in social customs and in laws… “

Indira Gandhi was the only child of Kamala Kaul and Jawarharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister after achieving independence from Britain in 1947 and protégée of Mahatma Ghandi. After the untimely death of her mother, Indira Gandhi served as her father’s hostess and companion at many political events all over the world. In 1942, Indira Gandhi married Feroze Jehangir Gandhi, a dedicated member of the Indian independence movement who was jailed several times for the cause. Together, they had two sons, Rajiv in 1944 and Sanjay in 1946. She suffered the loss of Sanjay in a fatal plane crash in 1980.

Indira Gandhi’s Political Achievements

Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister of India herself not once, but twice. She served from 1966 to 1977 and again from 1980 until her death in 1984. While she achieved any political and social successes during her service as Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi also proved to be a very controversial figure. One of her political successes was the creation of the independent nation of Bangladesh that resulted from her diplomatic work with Pakistani President Shimla in 1971. This agreement ended the violence that had caused almost 10 million people to flee to India.

Indira Gandhi was also one of the first global environmental activists and led a movement known as the Green Revolution. This movement consisted of diversifying crops and increasing the number of food exports. These policies helped reduce food shortages while creating much needed jobs and reducing poverty.

The administration of Indira Gandhi oversaw the nationalization of banks. This accomplished the goals of increasing household savings as well as providing money for investments in small and medium-sized businesses. It also made more investment in agriculture possible, which contributed to the nation’s development.

Indira Gandhli on Losing and Winning

However, from 1975 to 1977, in response to a call for her resignation as the result of an infraction of election rules, she declared a state of emergency and suspended civil liberties for Indian citizens. As a result, Indira Gandhi lost the next election and was briefly imprisoned, but won again in 1980 by a landslide.

According to her biography, a Sikh separatist movement began in India during the 1980’s. Ghandi, to repress the movement and a potential civil war, ordered an attack by 70,000 soldiers on the Golden Temple in which 450 Sikhs were killed. On October 31, 1984, she was assassinated by two of her most trusted bodyguards and died en route to the hospital. Indira Gandhi once said

“Even if I died in the service of the nation, I would be proud of it. Every drop of my blood… will contribute to the growth of this nation and to make it strong and dynamic.”

She died as she’d wanted, in service to India.

Indira and family matters

Her son, Rajiv, a professional airline pilot with little interest in politics before the death of his brother, became Prime Minister in 1984 amidst riots after her assassination. Over a decade later, he too was assassinated. His son, Indira Gandhi’s grandson, Rahul Gandhi continues the family legacy and was a prime ministerial candidate in 2014.

Being a parent, even in a politically stable environment, is perhaps the most challenging, and most important, occupation someone can undertake. Parenting a young country, newly liberated and composed of many opposing factions capable of contributing to civil unrest is even more so. Indira Gandhi made many valuable contributions to the survival and development of her country as well as her children and family.

If you are fascinated (like me) how famous women dealt with motherhood, head over to the article on Toni Morrison, here.

Indira Gandhi
Indira Gandhi in 1977
positive social change

How Toni Morrison Brought Positive Social Change To Motherhood

“I was young. I started writing when I was 39. That’s the height of life. The real liberation was the kids, because their needs were simple. One, they needed me to be competent. Two, they wanted me to have a sense of humor. And three, they wanted me to be an adult. No one else asked that of me. Not in the workplace – where sometimes they’d want you to be feminine, or dominant, or cute.”

Toni Morrison’s Views on Family and Motherhood

This is what Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison had to say about motherhood in a 2012 interview with the Guardian. Because many of her novels, including “Beloved“, for which she was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988, deal with the theme of motherhood. Several books, one of them being “Politics of the Heart,  have been written regarding Toni Morrison’s views on the subject of Motherhood and how she brought positive social change.

Born Chloe Wofford, at age 12, she became a Catholic. Her baptismal saint was Saint Anthony, which was shortened to “Toni” and became her nickname. After high school, she attended Howard University, where she earned a B.A. in English in 1953. She earned her Master of Arts at Cornell University in 1955, and went on to teach English, eventually teaching at Howard, her alma mater. There, she met architect Harold Morrison, her future husband and father of her two sons, Harold (Ford) and Slade. Their marriage lasted from 1958 to 1964.

Toni Morrison‘s view of motherhood as reflected in her literary works is one of motherhood as a profound act of social and political resistance in the struggle against both racism and the oppression of women. Her belief is that motherhood is an empowering force that can transform the future for all children and can bring great positive social change. For her book Beloved, the story of a mother and child, she was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988.

Toni Morrison, the Mother of Color

As a mother of color, Toni Morrison has spoken of the added pressures of parenting that result from racism.

“There were instances, when they were teenagers. Being stopped in the car, and given a ticket because you had tinted glass or something. Little bits and pieces of police harassment…”.

Her extraordinarily powerful contributions to literature enlightened society on the subject of the effects of slavery and racism on mothers and children and successfully furthered positive social change.

Inspiring Positive Social Change

One of those changes was that, in 1993, Toni Morrison became the first woman of color to ever receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1996, she was chosen by The National Endowment for the Humanities for the honor of presenting the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. The title of her lecture was “The Future of Time: Literature and Diminished Expectations“. In the lecture, she warned of the dangers of allowing history to reduce our expectations of creating a better future and positive social change.

She was also honored in 1996 with the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. This honor is awarded to writers whose life work has enriched humanity’s literary heritage. In 2012, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and still enjoys the honor of serving as Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. The list of awards she has earned is as long as it is impressive.

Toni Morrison’s Contribution to Our Common Definition of Motherhood

In addition to her contributions to adult literature, Toni Morrison has also written children’s books in collaboration with her youngest son, Slade, also a painter and musician. Tragically, she lost him to cancer at age 45 in 2010. Her novel “Home“, which she was in the process of writing when he died, is dedicated to him.

In a 2015 interview about her personal life, she spoke for every mother who has ever longed, yet failed, to be perfect, about regret.

“Afterwards, I remember every error, every word that I spoke that was wrong or incontinent, every form of when I did not protect them properly,”

she says.

“Now that I’m 84, I remember everything as a mistake — and I regret everything. Now, mind you, one of them is now deceased, one of them is very successful, so I don’t have any reason for this except perhaps age and regret.”

Her title of her latest book, God Help The Child published in April 2015, speaks to all parents of the impossibility of perfectly protecting our children. and our inability to perfectly protect our children. Even when writing about the inabilities and impossibilities of parents, she continues to free individuals and bring positive social change to women and mothers. It is her first book to be set in modern times.

positive social change
Toni Morrison in 2008