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What kind of mother are you? Oppressed? Empowered? Feminist? Other?

Feminist Mothering (Andrea O'Reilly)Every once in a while I pick up my copy of Feminist Mothering (edited by Andrea O'Reilly) and read or re-read some of it. I've never read it cover to cover, but I read bits of it when I am reflecting on my own mothering or my own feminism. In the introduction to the book, O'Reilly talks about different types of mothering and I want to share some quotes on those.

Empowered mothering


Empowered mothering begins with the recognition that both mothers and children benefit when the mother lives her life and practices mothering from a position of agency, authority, authenticity, and autonomy. This perspective, in emphasizing maternal authority and ascribing agency to mothers and value to motherwork, defines motherhood as a political site wherein mothers can affect social change through the socialization of children and the world at large through political-social activism. Empowered mothering thus calls into question the dictates of patriarchal motherhood.

So what does that mean? O'Reilly gives examples of some of the things empowered mothers may believe or do:

  • Importance of mothers meeting their own needs (and recognition that being a mother does not meet all of their needs);

  • Involving others in their child's upbringing (friends, family, partners, community, co-mothers, etc.);

  • Challenge idea that the only emotion mothers feel toward their children is love;

  • Do not always put their children's needs first; and,

  • View motherhood as a site of power that allows them to affect social change at home and in the community through their activism.

Essentially, empowered mothering challenges patriarchal motherhood - the type of motherhood that oppresses women, pushes them into the "private" space of their home, and has them focus their energy on their children.

Feminist mothering


Feminist mothering differs from empowered mothering insofar as the mother identifies as a feminist and practices mothering from a feminist perspective or consciousness. A feminist mother, in other words, is a woman whose mothering, in theory and in practice, is shaped and influenced by feminism. This, while there is much overlap between empowered and feminist mothering, the latter is informed by a particular philosophy and poltic, namely feminism.

O'Reilly goes on to explain that the feminism is defined by the recognition that patriarchal society gives power, prominence and privilege to men and depends on the oppression of women. Feminists seek to challenge that inequity, as well as, in many cases, other inequities that exist (race, sexuality, economics, ability).

Comparing empowered and feminist mothering

More simply put, perhaps, empowered mothers "resist patriarchal motherhood simply to make the experience of mothering more rewarding for themselves and their children," whereas feminist mothers "resist because they recognize that gender inequity, in particular male privilege and power, is produced, maintained and perpetuated (i.e., through sexist child rearing) in patriarchal motherhood." Or, in my words, empowered mothering is about freeing the individual from patriarchy, whereas feminist mothering is about freeing society from patriarchy.

What kind of mother am I?

I see a lot of myself in the definition of empowered mothering, except that I don't see myself in some of the examples that were given in the book (e.g. of mothers painting their toenails while their baby screamed in the crib next to them, because they needed some "me time"). I think that trying to be an empowered mother without the help of a spouse, other family members, friends, or co-mothers creates a situation of conflict between mother and child that I don't think is healthy for either of them or for their relationship. Part of being an empowered mother, for me, is setting up a situation where I can meet my own needs without having to neglect the needs of my children at the same time. I believe that the needs of a parent and child intersect and that that creates interesting challenges and dynamics.

I definitely see myself in the definition of feminist mothering. I think both through the gender roles in our household, our activism, and the things that we teach our children about equality, about breaking down barriers, and about battling inequity, contribute to our approach to feminist parenting. The fact that both my partner and I have played the traditional and non-traditional roles has allowed us to have a greater understanding of each other's roles and also to model a wide range of options to our children and to our peers.

But I also see myself as a woman who is very much defined by mothering. I am more than a mother, certainly. But being a mother is a very important part of my identity and one that I cannot brush aside as a I pursue some sort of selfish or unselfish attempt to rid the world of patriarchy. My children do come first, because they are my children. Not because the patriarchy tells me that they must. I would love, through feminist activism by women and men, to see our society develop into one that values children and sees meeting their needs as an investment in the future, rather than as a burden on the independence and rights of adult society. This is a view that I feel is often missing from white feminism, but one that I think is important.

What kind of mother are you?

How do you define your mothering? Are you oppressed under the old patriarchal rules? Are you insisting on empowerment? Are you using mothering as a vessel for your feminism? Or do none of those definitions fit?

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Reader Comments (46)

This is hard for me- I'm not sure- as being an attachment-parenting-practicing mother I find I am putting the children's needs first before my own so much, but part of me thinks (or is tricked into thinking?) that that's what I want, so it IS my need to tend to them. If that makes any sense at all?

I'll think about it.


September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAdventures In Babywearing

I don't really fit into any of those. I embrace what I view as my calling in this season of my life, which is to be a wife and mother. I consider myself an educated mother, certainly. I do my best to be informed, intentional, and intelligent in my parenting.

I think you would probably classify me as "oppressed under the old patriarchal rules" due to the way our family operates but my husband and I discussed what we wanted our family to look like in depth before we married and we're both very happy with how our family is structured.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie

"But I also see myself as a woman who is very much defined by mothering. I am more than a mother, certainly. But being a mother is a very important part of my identity and one that I cannot brush aside as a I pursue some sort of selfish or unselfish attempt to rid the world of patriarchy. My children do come first, because they are my children. Not because the patriarchy tells me that they must. I would love, through feminist activism by women and men, to our society develop into one that values children and sees meeting their needs as an investment in the future, rather than as a burden on the independence and rights of adult society. This is a view that I feel is often missing from white feminism, but one that I think is important."

in a nutshell this is how I feel, how I view myself, how I try to convey my passion, grief, drive, mission (if you will) for my life. And many people don't get it. I agree that this is something that has been missing from the (largely white) upper-middle-class feminism and I feel like it shouldn't be such a struggle for us to raise the issue. As for what label I'd choose, I'd say none of the above. My hope is that "mother" will be defined as whatever makes me and my household live in harmony; it's a fluid term. I'm certainly not oppressed by my husband or my responsibilities (well, maybe the dirty dishes, a little).

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMicaela

Certainly I'd call myself an "empowered" mother as well as a feminist mother, just using the common definitions of those words...but O'Reilly's definitions absolutely do not fit -- especially of "empowered." The most powerful mothers I know do put their children's needs ahead of their own, at least when the children are very young, and this is true regardless of whether the mother in question has a career or other "public" activities that consume a more significant portion of her time than do her "private" parenting duties. (They find a balance. Putting a child's needs first does not mean the mother's needs aren't on the list too.) Those mothers who paint their nails while baby cries aren't empowered; they're playing a fool's game in which "independence" is too highly valued and *everybody* ends up oppressed because there is no room for the interdependence that's necessary for any human community to progress.

Which I suppose is a complicated way of saying that I, like Micaela, am in total agreement with your last paragraph. Children are even more severely undervalued in our culture than are women -- and women, on whom the larger share of the burden of childcare falls largely by choice, as well as by circumstance -- will never escape patriarchal oppression until children's needs and rights are recognized as being of paramount importance to ALL of society.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterhollyml

Great post. I would probably describe myself as a Feminist Mother. And yes, there is a world of difference between the woman who mothers with the notion that her work (of bathing, feeding, nurturing, household tasks, etc.) is less important and beneath a man to do, and the woman who realizes the great value of nurturing and helping to form the next generation.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMyFeminineMind

I am due to have my first baby in two weeks, and with my husband, am committed to feminist parenting. I'm interested in Natalie's comment above - I'm currently reading Joan William's new book (Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter) and she demonstrates really powerfully how the lack of options for parents to challenge the traditional work/childcare divisions between men and women in America forces families to "choose" the old-fashioned structure of women providing the bulk of childcare... together with The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? by Leslie Bennetts the book also shows the lifetime financial penalties of "opting out" of the workforce that make saving on childcare costs by staying home a false economy for women. I know you are writing about more than this one issue here, but this is all of particular interest to me as my first feminist parenting plan - to share childcare equally with my husband - has already been vetoed by his employer's inflexibility. Through our fight to also get paternity leave for him, I've realized that I am looking at the start of many conflicts over his employer's assumption that the mother should be the one to stay home when the kid is sick, leave work early when necessary etc. It's been shocking, infuriating, and saddening to face this at this exciting start of our new adventure as parents.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMSP

"I would love, through feminist activism by women and men, to our society develop into one that values children and sees meeting their needs as an investment in the future, rather than as a burden on the independence and rights of adult society. This is a view that I feel is often missing from white feminism, but one that I think is important."

I love this quote Annie. I don't really relate to either empowered mothering or feminist mothering -- I just do what I do because it's what feels right to me. I left my career (in a very male-dominated field) simply because I wanted be with my children. It's difficult financially, but we make it work because DH and I both feel that my contribution to them as their mom is more valuable than my contribution in income (which says a lot about my husband, I think, because I actually out-earned him by quite a bit).

It's a shame that (U.S.) society doesn't seem the same value in staying home and the investment it is for our future. I used to live in Germany, and my American colleagues were amazed that German mothers received "kindergeld" (a subsidy) for staying at home, and many commented on how expensive living in a socialist state was. But I think that's actually government at its best: putting monetary value on otherwise intangible values. I read an article about Sweden's parental leave policies, and they encourage men to take time off as well, which is even more progressive -- it lets a family work out on its own who should go to work and who should take care of their kids, recognizing that both types of work are valuable and contribute to society. I would say I'm that type of mother -- can we call it post-feminist mothering?

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMama Eve

Awesome post. I may think about this more and reply later. I'll definitely bookmark it for the future.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTracie

I think a lot of people would view me as oppressed. Which is kinda sad yet funny at the same time.

I have spent over 13 years studying and working (ie. competing...because let's be honest, that's all that really goes on in these environments) in male dominated industries; science, mathematics, IT, finance. I was no shrinking violet in these environments either. I took time off from work to go back to uni yet again and study feminism, just because I could. My husband and I had a fairly 50/50 split in responsibilities (money, housework etc) until we had our daughter. I would say we still have a 50/50 split in working responsibilities now - it's just that my share tends to be housework and childrearing whereas his is primarily his paid employment. When it came to deciding who would stay home and who would go back to work it was a joint decision.

Yet as I sit happily at my mother's group they know very little of this and all they see is a mother who 'sacrifices' far too much of herself for her child (I really don't view it that way but they certainly do);
1) my sleep - because I won't just stick my daughter in the cot and leave her to cry herself to sleep.
2) my career - because I am not rushing back to work and shoving her off into the care of strangers for up to 12 hrs a day.
3) my freedom - because I continue to breastfeed her when she is A YEAR OLD (I know, shocking isn't it). This stops me from partying hard, drinking insane amounts and going away from her for any more than a few hours.
4) my time - because I insist on doing ridiculous things such as making her food (there are perfectly good jars out there you know), making my husband and I proper meals (just call me kitchen-bitch) so that we all eat well, trying to minimise her exposure to TV (I've been told that I just need to put her down in front of it and then I will get time to clean my house...yeah, I'm wondering how many years I can hold her off on the TV too).
5) my sanity - because I go to storytime at the library every single week and sit through the same books and songs every single week. Why? Because she LOVES it (I love it to...why do I seem to be the only adult there having fun week after week? Everyone else seems to be suffering through it - if you gotta be there then make the most of it).
5) my attention - because I believe that you can't take your eyes off a one year old for a second in a non-child-proofed environment...apparently that isn't a common belief in my social circles.

This isn't just restricted to my mother's group (who are actually quite a progressive, wonderful bunch of women), but it is more obvious with them because I see the differences in my parenting beliefs and styles in contrast to theirs on a regular basis. Both fascinating and frustrating.

There isn't anything I wouldn't give my daughter of me. I chose to bring her into the world, so now it is my job to create the best world I can for her. Every choice my husband and I make revolves around this - will this be a good thing for our family? It makes for a happy and satisfying life that is in no way oppressed.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

i could see how attachments principles could put a woman at odds with either definition, so for me, the labels fall short.

i am a feminist and a christian (gasp!), and i see my mothering in part as a marriage of the two. i desire to serve my kids and my family and put their needs first, but i'm not a victim. my husband (also a christian, also a feminist) seeks to serve me, too, so i don't need to be cutthroat about staking claims for myself. we desire together to raise our kids to be others-oriented and strivers for justice.

like someone else said, it is a season. as my kids grow, the balance may shift, but they are little, and there is joy in making so many sacrifices--i am still so much of their world.

I am totally in agreement with your statement:
"Part of being an empowered mother, for me, is setting up a situation where I can meet my own needs without having to neglect the needs of my children at the same time. I believe that the needs of a parent and child intersect and that that creates interesting challenges and dynamics."

Good question. I don't know what kind of mother I am. I am all-consumed with motherhood, for sure, but I chose to become a mother so I kind of look at all of it as "me" time. I have always identified as a feminist in most ways, and was actually terrified when I found out I was having a boy (mainly because I already knew what I planned to teach and model for a girl, but a boy?!?) but after my Literary Theory prof sent me a photo of her son in a blue t-shirt that read "Feminist!" and a few books to read, I immersed myself in the idea that raising a son with a good understanding and appreciation of feminism (and teaching him to question everything, including traditional gender roles and patriarchy) could only do good things for this world.

My life has gotten strange lately...I am the breadwinner in my family, and I work every other day. One day, I am hanging diapers on the clothesline or barefoot in the kitchen, pureeing squash with a baby at my breast, and the next, I'm in a meeting at work discussing our international corporate merger (baby stays with my mom.) Sometimes it feels like a conflict, sometimes a balance. I do a LOT of introspective questioning, but I surely do all of it with the best interests of my son at the very top of the priority list.

If I had to define myself as a mother? I'd like to be seen as a thinking mother, and, someday, a wise mother.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterwendy @ ABCs and Garden Peas

I don't see mothering as a zero-sum game; it's not like there's a limited amount of happiness out there and the more happiness there is for me, the less there is for my daughter (and vice versa). That attitude does seem to inform a lot of white middle-class feminist perceptions of motherhood.

My relationship with my daughter is just that - a relationship. My husband and I compromise, communicate, work together, and support each other in order to maximize the joy we each take from our lives; I don't see why the relationship I have with Eve should be any different. Eve and I love each other and we both want to see the other happy. For me, seeing my daughter happy means arming her against the racism, sexism, and other bigotries of the world, even and especially against those who would call themselves her allies. It means teaching her that her sexuality is a powerful, wonderful thing and that it is nothing to be ashamed of.

I personally believe that children are meant to be raised and taught in a village, by friends and family and neighbors and even other children. My role as a mother and womanist is to build and strengthen the bonds of that village.

I don't know what kind of mom that makes me, though.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAugust


I completely agree with what you've said about mothering not being a zero-sum game and about the way that a relationship should work, whether with a spouse, a child, or anyone else of importance in your life for that matter.

I understand wanting to arm your daughter against racism, sexism and other bigotries. But I'd like to know more about why you need to arm her "even and especially against those who would call themselves her allies." Can you explain what you mean by that?

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Fake allies are the worst. I've been stomped so many times by white feminists who have no desire to even admit to their racism or the harm they cause, and by men of color who are so blind to their privilege that they do more harm than good.

There are real allies, who are rare and invaluable. Unfortunately they are outnumbered by those who just want cookies and head scritches rather than to exact real change, and I've found them to be the most dangerous to my mental and emotional health. It's taken me years (and a lot of stress and heartache) to learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Eve is going to need to know that not everyone who calls themself her ally actually IS one.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAugust

Ooo, here's an example: The sheer amount of racist vitriol spewed from white LGBs and their white allies after the passage of Prop 8 in California was breathtaking. For months afterward I kept seeing threads and conversations pop up on supposedly liberal and racism-free venues with titles like "What the fuck, black people?" where scores of white liberals freely regurgitated all of their racist assumptions and then acted offended when people of color reacted angrily. It was even more disgusting because so many people were like, "We elected you a black president, and THIS is how you repay us?!"

Someone even said, "[Voting for Obama is] like buying your black friend a TV, only for him to turn around and bash you over the head with it [by voting for Prop 8]."

With allies like that, who needs enemies?

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAugust

WTF??? This proves why it's healthier for *me* to stay away from those discussions... I'd get so heartsick, I'd probably have a mental breakdown. Big hugs to you, August!

Annie, this is the type of thing I was alluding to last week when discussing Babble's "whitelist", the insidious, hidden racism that bubbles out in the places where you least expect it, the places & people you expect to be safe. That need to protect yourself from your allies happens in feminist circles too, way too often, as this recent blog post brought up: http://www.vivalafeminista.com/2010/09/summer-of-feminista-snobby-feminists.html. Linda Hirshman & Hannah Rosin, to name just a couple of well-known "feminist" writers, have not only been deriding women for their choices to stay home and focus on the job of mothering, but also many men who have actually chosen to support their partners in the job of parenting by being stay-at-home dads!!! Which is why I feel, and I think many women my age and younger feel this way too, that I can't self-identify as a feminist most days.

I also very wholeheartedly agree with what Hollyml said above, that "Children are even more severely undervalued in our culture than are women — and women, on whom the larger share of the burden of childcare falls largely by choice, as well as by circumstance — will never escape patriarchal oppression until children’s needs and rights are recognized as being of paramount importance to ALL of society."

(and this doesn't have anything to do with this topic but I thought it'd make you smile: my husband just called from the supermarket to confirm that it was Dreyer's that he's not supposed to buy because it's a Nestle product. ♥)

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMicaela

I identify quite strongly with the definition of the empowered mother. I do put my son's needs first the vast majority of the time... and also realize that I will be a much better mother if I put myself first every once in a while. I don't think that necessarily has to mean *his* needs don't get met at those times-- meeting my needs does not have to equal neglecting his, and vice versa. But, occasionally, it does (I would argue much of the first years of parenting, for example, involve a LOT of meeting your child's needs at the expense of your own...).

I also have always believed that one of the biggest contributions I can make to society is by raising my children, and hopefully teaching them to be critical-thinking, intelligent, kind individuals who will be aware of and help fight against oppression, which seems to also fit in with the definition of the empowered mother.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy

I have long believed that children - and by association the people who choose to care for them on a full time basis - are severely undervalued in our society. I am glad to know that I am not alone in these thoughts. Very glad, indeed. :)

I don't identify strongly with any of the types of mother noted above. I particularly appreciated Suzannah's comment that she desires to serve her family, but is not a victim. That pretty much expresses my (and my husband's) feelings. My family is mine, and I love them.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoy


Thank you for clarifying. I thought you were referring to actual allies, not fake allies, which is why I was confused.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

When I opt not to discriminate against someone, I'm not doing it so that they won't discriminate against me. I'm doing it because everyone deserves to be treated equally and because it is the right thing to do. What bothers me most about this situation (and others like it) is the assumption that someone would only choose not to discriminate if they are going to get something out of it in return.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


Yes, I'm very familiar with Hanna Rosin. I took her on a while back for assuming that because she feels oppressed by breastfeeding everyone must feel oppressed by breastfeeding:

http://www.phdinparenting.com/2009/03/17/the-case-against-breastfeeding-is-it-anti-feminist/" rel="nofollow">The Case Against Breastfeeding: Is it anti-feminist?

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

This is the first comment I've seen to this post that I didn't want to disagree with even a bit of it, when talking about my own life. What She Said, in fact.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAilbhe

i'm older, have had 'the career', and strive toward equal parenting/family life when it seems unusual in my community (of much younger mothers). i dare to say that staying at home and mothering is not enough, i dare to dress differently, i dare to expect my husband to parent too and not just babysit.
i don't think i can identify as feminist as i perceive that a great deal of damage arose from feminism of the seventies re: fertility issues, men-bashing, ladette-culture to name a few, but on the other hand i am grateful for changes brought about by women and men who dared to question the status quo e.g. emily wilding davison, marie stopes, etc.
i guess i'd like to impart a certain grace and understanding in my role as a mother, to bring up my wee guy to value contributions from all walks of life and recognise their equal importance in a community, whether salaried or volunteer. i'd like him to grow up with the knowledge that raising a family is just as important as rocket science or medicine or writing great books or making millions on the stock exchange, possibly even more so.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterebbandflo aka pomomama

Although I practice many of the attachment parenting philosophies, I tend to view myself more as a 'natural' parent than anything. It is important to me that my household return to our children the body of knowledge our culture has lost over the years - how to grow our own food, how to make what we need from our environment, how to return what we do not use to our environment, how to stitch our own clothing, how to interact with the natural world, how to interact within a community - be that community the relationship of friends, siblings, lovers, multi-generations, neighbors, authority figures, even strangers.

That last one is, of course, phenomenally important. And my perspective tends to be that as a mother, it is my job to put my family (namely, my child and hopefully future children) first. The end. To me, it's an evolutionary equation. We are not selected so that we can paint our toe-nails. We are selected to cater to the needs of the next generation, to ensure that they grow up healthy and that some of them reproduce. Parents have been giving of themselves for eons and it seems only natural that I should follow suit. This mothering, this is what my body is made for.

I don't really know what sort of mother that makes me. I feel that it is important to teach my child to operate within society, to give her the wisdom and knowledge to make independent choices about how to live her life, what to believe, etc., and I feel that I do my best to incorporate that radical notion that women are not only equal but invaluable contributors to our culture as I rasie my daughter. Does that belief in the status of women make me a feminist? Maybe. And if it does, does parenting within the constraints of that belief make me a feminist mother? Maybe. And if it does, does parenting within the constraints of that belief, even while holding the belief that my whims matter less than those of my child and my family as a whole, strip me of that title? And if it does, does parenting in a natural sense (per my household's definition), something that my family has given value to, make me an empowered mother? Does parenting in accordance with personal and family values, with the community in mind even when those values are not necessarily popular within that community, make me an empowered mother? I don't know. Possibly.

I would just say I'm a mother, full stop. Kid's needs first, family relationships second, me third. It's not black and white whether I'm an empowered parent, a feminist parent, heck, even a feminist at all. But then, people never are that crystal clear, are they?

I should add that one of the list of things to teach my daughter: shades of grey.

September 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

Gah, that's a long comment. Sorry. This is why I blog: because I can turn a two-sentence idea into an epic novel in, like, ten minutes.

September 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

I fear that I may just be a tired mother, at the moment. Striving for empowered, because maybe then I wouldn't be so tired. One day, right?

September 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

I love epic novel comments. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! :) I also love it when people do a "comment turned blog post" and share their long comment, along with a link back to my post, on their own blog. If you think your readers would benefit from what you had to say, what I had to say and/or what my other readers had to say, feel free to do re-post your comment as a blog post at your place.

September 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Can I just press the "Like" button on this reply please? Tired mother, that is all I got at the moment.

September 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

I love this post and all the comments. What a great discussion!

As a SAHM of four I often feel conflicted about feminism and motherhood. Maybe conflicted isn't the right word ... what I mean is that the two are perceived to be at odds with one another and I don't think that they should be.

In particular, I love the work that Andrea O'Reilly has done with the Association for Research on Mothering, now Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement but I find that I disagree with some of her thoughts. I saw her speak once and found some of what she said just plain wrong and extremely insulting -- I was outraged! After that I never felt the same about any of her books/writings because every time I see her name it makes me angry!

I have had a draft blog post about mothering and feminism for *very* long time. I never feel like it's quite right or quite finished. I should just throw it up there and see where it leads me.


September 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFamilyNature

I'm glad you don't mind epics =P

Honestly, I've never really thought about turning blog comments or germs of ideas into blog posts. Now that's an idea!

September 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

I like your article. I have battled with finding a balance between career and motherhood for about 15 years now and life is just starting to get easier now that the children are a little more self sufficient. I have always wanted to be around after when the children come home from school and I've wanted to be with the children in the school holidays so I juggle my career and homelife constantly. Feeling tired and frustrated sometimes are small prices to pay for the fortunate position of being a working mum.

September 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

How can you be feminist, yet NOT empowered? Empowered, yet NOT feminist? (Oh. Sarah Palin.) I suppose I'll have to read the book to see where the author herself goes with these definitions. I appreciate the one-sentence breakdown that you provide.

I definitely land on the feminist side of things, for I feel strongly that any movement towards equality for all must emphasize connection, not fragmentation. Sarah wrote: "my perspective tends to be that as a mother, it is my job to put my family (namely, my child and hopefully future children) first." This may not be how you meant it in your situation, Sarah, but I see this attitude at work when parents of privilege abandon public schools, taking their resources with them.

And I must vehemently disagree with Pomomama, who suggested that Second Wave feminism resulted in "fertility issues, man-bashing, and ladette culture." Phyllis Schlafly used (and still uses!) those stereotypes to justify the fact that the US does not have a federal Equal Rights Amendment, which continues to ensure our second-class status under the law.

September 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShannon Drury

In many ways, I identify with the description of the empowered mother...but not in all. Like you said in your post, I have found that my needs and the needs of my child often intersect. We are still more of a dyad than two separate individuals, I think--which has made certain decisions heart-wrenchingly difficult. I like my job, but the amount of time I spend away from my child is torture and I don't know that it sets a great example if she can see my heart being pulled apart like it is. Also, I can't have "me" time when my daughter is obviously miserable. Once her needs are met and she's content, I can think about reading a book or knitting or even painting my toenails. But not before.

That said, I think a lot of us forget the importance of community in raising our children. Yes, my daughter needs me. But she also needs her father, her grandparents, her uncle, and her cousins. As much as I bitch and complain about having to leave her in child care, she has wonderful relationships with her caregivers and has her own community of children and adults at daycare/school who she loves and who love her in return. For me, part of being an empowered mother is letting go of the idea that I have to be the sole influence in my daughter's life. It's remembering that she needs time with just her Daddy, or her Grandmas, or our next-door neighbor. And it's in these windows where I can be myself--still a mother--always a mother--but perhaps with fewer animal cracker crumbs on myself.

September 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJessica


I think it would be hard to be feminist, yet not empowered unless you fight for the rights of others yet abdicate your own. With regards to the empowered, yet not feminist: Yes, Sarah Palin...or simple selfishness.

September 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

First of all, I should say great blog! I have been reading it off and on but I don't think I've ever commented. Anyway, even though I don't even have kids yet (hoping to fairly soon though), this is a topic I have spent a lot of time thinking about recently. My husband and I both consider ourselves to be feminist. He would love to be a stay-at-home dad, and I don't really want to be a stay-at-home mom, but since I am a freelancer and he is not, he is the one who gets us the health insurance (can you tell I'm writing from the US?). As a family, we wouldn't be able to live on my salary. So I am planning to become "part-time" and reduce my workload and we hope to share the parenting as much as possible, while still allowing me to pursue my career to some degree.

Of course I may change my mind about things as time goes by, but here are some thoughts for the moment... I intend to be a feminist mom and try to create an environment (as much as I can anyway) where my child is not limited by stereotypical gender roles. One important thing you have mentioned often on your blog is the need to have a community. I don't think it's ideal for children to be isolated and raised solely by their mothers without extended family and/or an extended circle of friends. I think that isolation is what causes a lot of moms to involuntarily become "oppressed" moms - in general I think moms need a lot more community and support. So, I agree with you and the commenters who mentioned the importance of community, and I don't think if it's possible to be an empowered and/or feminist mom without it.

September 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

I applaud your awareness to read up about these work/life balance issues as you embark upon parenting. I mistakenly thought the system would be supportive, and have had to fight my battles for the past 12 years of parenting. Kudos to you for starting out on such a positive foot. I wish you the best of luck with your balanced approach. I wish it could have worked for me - unfortunately the workplace is very slanted towards gender roles regarding children.

September 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

I'm not a career woman. Academia threatened to make me the "forever student" until I randomly landed an OK job with the government. I moved up with relative ease and then made the decision to have a baby. Suddenly I became a mom and found that I was not only really good at it, but that it was fun. I am seriously dreading going back to my OK job, and sometimes am really jealous of people I come across who have decided to stay at home for the well being of their family. It may be something my hubby and I will discuss in the future. Or maybe I'll really love being back at work.

I suppose I see myself as an organic mother -- that is to say, I'm a feminist when the situation calls for it and empowered for the rest of the time (also hopefully wise, patient and super-awesome). Like everything in life, motherhood is always in flux. One day you're caring for a newborn 24/7 and the next you're sending them off to college and finding yourself with 24 hours all to yourself (when you're not worrying if they're eating well, sleeping well, and staying out of trouble). The key to success for yourself and the happiness of your child is to have that flexibility to adapt to the current situation.

Often I bristle when someone compares me to an oppressed mother. Whether it's because I grate apple for my daughter instead of giving her a jar, or because I'm speaking from withing a traditional religious worldview that has pretty defined gender roles (even when I don't follow them). I hate it when I complain that I haven't hit the gym in two weeks and my MIL says, "well, you're a mother now. You will never have time for the gym again." I cannot identify with my playdate mom who says, "We're mothers now. We're not supposed to go to the mosque to worship. There's blessing in us sacrificing and staying at home." I just don't get that.

My daughter is much happier when I'm flexible enough to let her sleep on me for two hours when she's teething through her nap, and when I leave her with her grandmother so I can hit the gym and come back to her with enough energy to run around the park with her. And I suppose the technique I use to do all of this is a feminist one -- making sure that hubby and I both have equal share in responsibilities (as well as the rest of the family), giving her non-gender specific toys and trying my damnedest not to dress her in pink.

September 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWoodTurtle

Thank you for writing this. I identify strongly with the empowered mother and yet I am struggling with the guilt of doing my own thing while having 2 small children. Very interesting brain food.

September 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKate

Thanks for this post. I hadn't heard of this book, and it's now on my to-read list. I've ALWAYS been a feminist — since I was aware that such a word & movement existed (first grade, I think). But somehow, since becoming a mother, I'm no longer certain what it means to be a feminist. Based on your definition of feminist mothering — as striving to free society from patriarchy — I don't know if I can fairly claim the label, and that troubles me. Empowered, yes. But something about being a mother has seemed to make my world so very, very small. What am I doing to free society from a damn thing? There's my writing, that's something. But mostly I feel like I'm just trying to scrape by....

September 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRachael

What kind of mother am I?

The kind who loves her children. :)

But also the kind who does things like...

Chooses to be a working mother. Because I love work.

I worked from home, with an attachment-parenting-practicing nanny, when my children were infants, because I wanted to be close to my children and facilitate breastfeeding and family bed sleeping. I work out of the home now because they are in a wonderfully nuturing school environment. And because I really love my work.

I also love that my children see me loving my work. Too often in the media, and life in general, work is seen as negative, opressive. I like that my children see me enjoying work willingly as a good part of life. When you love the work you do, it isn't a chore.

And, as an aside...why has mothering has become so isolationist? Such a contest? Why do women define themselves through their solo parenting feats? Such that some women believe taking on the tasks of baby care, child rearing, home care, husband care, schooling all alone, is more noble, and somehow means you are a better mother than one who chooses to share those responsibilities with others? Is our society so bent on staying in our own little houses that sharing child care with someone else for periods of time is considered falling down on the job of mothering - like a poster above said, "shoving her off into the care of strangers"?

I believe sharing responsibilies of our child rearing with spouses, grandparents, caregivers, friends, allows our children to experience life from a variety of viewpoints - obviously within a net of safety and oversight - and helps them in the long run to understand that while we each have our own lives and families, we are also part of a larger web of humanity - we all share the earth and life energy, we are all different, but share similar values, and that we are all responsible for both - our immediate family, and our larger earth family.

Okay... now that I've gone from tiny to global, I'll conclude by saying love your work Annie. :)

September 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

This is a great post; it gives a more modern, nuanced perspective of mothering, rather than simply perpetrating some common myths: that we are nurturing, overbearing or emotionally distant.
I think I fall somewhere between being an empowered and feminist mother. I’m definitely not an oppressed mother. I may make certain decisions in the best interests of my family, but have never (nor will I ever) simply allowed myself to be subject to the patriarchy. Of course, we do live in a male-dominated society, so to some degree, women are always subject to the patriarchy, but that’s another issue.

I came to motherhood in my late ‘30s, after I’d spent a couple of decades defining and expressing my needs, preferences and interests. I had a long professional career and in both my marriages for many years, I made more money than my husbands. I lived on my own for long periods of time. In school, I studied creative writing (I was a published poet), art and critical theory. In all of these things, I questioned “authority” and generally still do. (Somewhere out there is a recording of me reading Gertrude Stein’s “Patriarchal Poetry” – an influential work.)

I admit that my personal time is important to me. My daughter and stepson’s needs come first, but every minute of my life does not revolve around them. I think it’s healthy for them to spend time with other people besides Mommy, but I also don’t view the rest of the world as my daycare while I run off to have “me” time. In all things, it’s about balance.

I own two small businesses, which allows me the flexibility to be there for my children in ways I couldn’t be when I was in the corporate world (see my recent post related to that: http://www.danatopia.com/blog/will-workplace-equality-ever-really-exist-women) but allows me some measure of independence, autonomy and creativity. I’m able to be empowered partly because I do have cooperation and support from my husband, who does not believe in “traditional” roles for women. My Danatopia site was my husband recognizing even before I did that there was something in my original blog that was a bigger voice and story to tell about healthy/mindful living – and that I should go tell it.

I want my daughter to have choices available to her so that she doesn’t have to fight the way I did for opportunities or basic respect. I want her to know that she can be anything she puts her mind to with intelligence, a little bit of elbow grease and moxie. I want her to be a Bodhisattva Warrior. That’s the feminist part in me coming out. (Of course, she may end up being all or none of these things, but I see it as my duty to make the options available to her.) My stepson has had the advantage of seeing that both his mother and stepmother are strong, self-directed entrepreneurs whose careers are in the service of helping others achieve wellness and wholeness of spirit.
Balancing my needs with my children’s can be a challenge at times, but I don’t see it as a burden. It was my choice to become a mother and stepmother, and it’s important to me to give them the knowledge and support they need to become mindful, compassionate and self-enabling members of our society.

September 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDana Young

I was also going to quote your last paragraph. That is exactly how I feel, couldn't have said it better :)

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErica

I'm an Annoyed mother most of the time.

"Go eat your lunch." "Don't bite your brother" "STOP FIGHTING!" "Get in the carseat, no I'm not carrying you to it, use your own muscles, lazy."

Y'all are cute. I remember trying to sound important on the internet when my oldest kid was a baby.

Well, I ran with it on my blog. :) http://rightkindofme.livejournal.com/637489.html

September 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKrissy

Perfectly said!!!

September 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterthegirlwholoveswoo

Thank you Sarah, thank you for making me smile with recognition and delight.

December 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTina

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