Paula J. Caplan Ph.D.

Science Isn't Golden

For Mother's Day, Demythologize and Show Respect for Mothers

Time Has Come to Show that Motherhood Is Not a Liability

Posted May 10, 2014

As Mother's Day approaches, I think about how in 1989, I wrote Don't Blame Mother, which was about ways that societal myths about mothers creates problems for mothers in both their relationships with their children and in the ways that society generally regards and devalues them. And I am thinking about how little has changed since then.

When I was asked to do an anniversary edition of it for publication in 2000, I had a strange and troubling experience with my editor, who was a pleasant, intelligent, young woman. A great many books and articles about mothers had appeared since my book was first published, and I told her I wanted to write about those. She replied that that was fine but that to keep the book from being too long, I would need to remove all material that was outdated.

I carefully read through the book, looking for outdated material to delete, and found it troubling that there was almost nothing that fit that description. Sadly, mothers were just as plagued by Perfect Mother myths (such as that a good mother never gets angry and is constantly 100% nurturing) and Bad Mother myths (such as that mothers are dangerous when they are powerful) as they had been a decade before. The same is true today.

One of the pernicious myths about mothers -- effectively created by a few people writing for popular media -- has been that of the "Mommy Wars." This is the notion, based on the prevalent but untrue assumption that women are more likely to be each other's enemies than friends and supporters, that stay-at-home mothers (SAHM) and mothers with paid employment (MPE) are at each other's throats, intensely critical of each other. Brianne Janacek Reeber and I did a study at Harvard University to see whether the Mommy Wars are indeed raging. In our report of that study, which is soon to be published by Demeter Press in a book called Stay-at-Home Mothers (Elizabeth Reid Boyd and Gayle Letherby, Editors), we present our findings: Not only were both SAHM and MPE not at intensely critical of each other, but many were quick to acknowledge the challenges faced by members of the other group.

Our findings fly in the face of the misogynist image of women engaged in catfights with each other and incapable of being respectful and supportive of each other.

So that's some good news. Now here is some worrying news that shows the low regard in which work about mothers is held, and every reader can do something about this for Mother's Day: A unique and internationally important entity is in danger of vanishing for lack of funding. Long ago, a smart, perceptive woman named Andrea O'Reilly created the unique and important Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI), from which she has worked tirelessly to organize a staggering number and variety of conferences and publications -- the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative and many books, published by Demeter Press. The work of MIRCI has been impressively varied -- including a vast range of specific topic areas and general arenas, among others, the arts (even performance arts), humanities, social sciences, and advocacy, and incorporating both highly focused subjects and often global perspectives.

Athabasca University psychologist Gina Wong sent the following announcement about the appalling reason that Demeter Press is in danger of closing:

"Demeter Press --the first and still only feminist press on mothering/motherhood-- received some very disappointing news. A grant we received last year was not renewed. While the committee had high praise for our press noting its professionalism and the excellence of our books, they saw the press' focus on motherhood as a liability and thus did not renew our funding. Given this, Demeter is now experiencing a significant cash shortfall. This money needs to be raised quickly so we can keep our books in production. To raise this money we are currently holding a "motherload" of a sale on our Demeter site; 50% of all books and free shipping on orders for more than $50.

If you believe that motherhood is NOT a liability (which is what the granting agency said in response to why they weren’t granting further funding) and believe that Demeter is doing good and necessary work in publishing books by and about mothers (that other presses would likely not publish). I ask that you to please share widely this notice and to purchase books from our site:

The link to our Book flier is listed below. Such books would certainly make an ideal gift for Mother’s Day. Not only that, but your purchase states that you value mothering and motherhood and all the work that MIRCI/Demeter Press has done to contribute to the voice of mothers.

If you would like, we have also created a link so that you can donate funds to change the tides and save Demeter Press from closing down. PLEASE Donate:

What We Need & What You Get

In spite of a hugely profitably year, and some of our books entering a third print-run, our Editor-in-Chief was told that our publishing ethos was too focused and not worthy of funding. This news translates into the message that: Motherhood is a liability for our granting agency.

We are determined to carry on. We are determined to maintain our commitment to the scholarship, communities and creations that emerge from the publishing of our titles.

But, this year, we need your help.

We are asking you to dig into your pockets and share with us any spare change that we know most people don't have. Every day we receive emails from around the world thanking us for what we do and encouraging us to maintain the first publishing house dedicated to work by and about feminist mothering. We hope that these emails might translate into a little bit of fundraising. Your donations are recognized and there are small tokens of appreciation for whatever you can give.

Please help in whatever way that you can if you value and see motherhood as an asset and a focus worth keeping in society."

As a personal note, I must add this: When I received tenure decades ago at the University of Toronto, I lay in bed that night, thinking, "Now I can teach whatever I want!" I asked myself what I would most love to teach, and two courses took shape in my mind. One was about mothers. At the time, as now, almost no courses were offered anywhere about mothers, and in fact when I told people I was going to teach such a course, many laughed, because it was unimaginable that mothers could be a subject worthy of an academic course. How little they knew! There was a vast amount to be read and considered and debated then, and that is true today. The first year I taught that graduate course on mothers -- at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education -- a woman made the long trek from York University every week to audit the course. Years later, it was that woman -- the dynamic, inventive, warm, impassioned Andrea O'Reilly -- who created the whole world that became the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community. I have been in awe of what Andrea and those who have worked with her have created.

©Copyright 2014 by Paula J. Caplan                                                      All rights reserved

About the Author

Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., a clinical and research psychologist, is an associate at Harvard University's DuBois Institute and former fellow in Harvard Kennedy School's Women and Public Policy Program.

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