BEUSCHEL: It's no longer the 1950s for motherhood

May 17, 2012


But today’s mothers are not the Donna Reeds or June Cleavers of days gone by.

Government data gives us a little insight into some of the changes that have affected motherhood. Based on U.S. Census surveys from 2006 and 2009, there are 13 million households headed by single parents. Out of these, one-fourth is headed by single fathers and three-fourths are headed by single mothers! This certainly is not the Cleaver household.

Although women have held jobs outside of the home throughout history, this was always more the exception rather than the rule. Now women have exceeded their equal representation in the workplace by pushing the data over the 50 percent mark.

I just don’t remember Donna Reed working outside the home.

The feminist movement of the 1960s had women burning their bras in order to gather attention to the inequities experienced by women. I don’t think the feminists realized what would happen when the system overcorrected itself, and women took on more traditional male roles but still were expected to maintain their feminine side.

For instance, I see young mothers returning to work after six weeks of maternity leave, carrying along their electric breast pumps so they can deal with the societal pressure to breast feeding (being a “good” mom) and the pressure to be back at work. They need to be back to work to maintain their health insurance benefits, 401(k)s, retirement and bring in the needed income for their households. Not to mention being able to pay for the child care for their new infant and any other children they may have at home.

This certainly doesn’t seem like the motherhood of yore.

At the same time bras were being burnt, girdles were going into the trash. Girdles were those snug, uncomfortable undergarments that allowed women to wear tight-fitting skirts, nylons and high heels.

As the hippies donned their kaftans, peasant tops, bell bottoms and cut-offs, women’s bodies became free of all constraints. These new freedoms of dress played out in the workplace as women were allowed to wear pants to work, even if they were so tight that underwear lines showed through — much to the chagrin of employers and co-workers.

So, thanks to a female entrepreneur, all is not lost! Enter the product known as Spanx, the contemporary girdle.

Maybe the controversial cover of last week’s Time magazine of the mother breast feeding her 3-year-old and this whole Spanx epidemic of products to girdle a woman from neck to ankle is a foreboding of the cyclical nature of history. Haven’t we been through this before? Women being pulled in so many different directions and never really feeling like they are doing the right thing?

With women in everything from the military to the boardroom, women in the workplace is no longer an issue. Supplied with Spanx, electric breast pumps, cell phones, iPads, frozen and fast-food meals, and child care services, women can perform a multitude of roles simultaneously. The momentum of the feminist movement took women to new levels of opportunity and expectations.

Maybe the pendulum will swing back the other way.

I see the literature and media heralding simplicity in life and home. The feminist movement was an effort to allow women to have greater choices in their lives. Somewhere along the line, the “baby got thrown out with the bathwater,” as motherhood as a choice got weighed down with unrealistic expectations brought on by a profusion of choices.

Motherhood is a role to be enjoyed and celebrated. We may have to dig it out from under the rubble of the “shoulds” that today’s women face as they try to honor and perform this role in the melee of many expectations placed on their shoulders.

I want to wish a belated Happy Mother’s Day to mothers of all ages. May we share our experiences and perspectives on motherhood, so that we might bring out the joy and happiness that motherhood brings to the next generation of mothers.

— By Janice Beuschel, Tribune community columnist. She can be reached at her website,


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