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Contemporary mothering and motherhood are viewed from a much broader perspective than in previous decades by emphasizing the relational and logistical work of childrearing. Mothering is defined as the social practices of nurturing and caring for people, and thus it is not the exclusive domain of women (Arendell 2000). In most societies, however, women not only bear children but also are primary caretakers of infants and children. Motherhood is one of the few universal roles assigned to women. Historically, despite changes in women's labor force participation, fertility rates, and age at first marriage, the experience of motherhood has remained a central aspect of most women's lives. Therefore, the description that follows is limited to women's motherhood practices and experiences.

Major issues about motherhood are divided into five interrelated contexts: transition to motherhood, maternal role in child rearing, the extent of maternal employment and its impact on child outcomes, the relationship between motherhood and marital quality, and mothers' psychological well-being.

Transition to Motherhood

In the United States, women are under tremendous pressure to bear children, and motherhood is often associated with their maturity and achievement in life. Becoming a mother is also considered to be a "normal" life course stage for women. This perception is also common in other societies. For example, Angelina Yuen-Tsang (1997) reported that many Chinese women accepted without question the view that childbearing was a natural and necessary part of their family life course; therefore, few ever considered the option of not having children. The pressure for women's childbearing is derived not only from their personal network of relatives and friends but also from society. In Japan, where low fertility rates have been of great governmental concern, young women are frequently accused of being selfish when they pursue higher education or prolong employment that distracts women from their "primary" duty of motherhood ( Jolivet 1997).

Despite these societal and familial pressures, an increasing number of women today are either choosing not to have children or delaying childbearing until midlife. According to U.S. Bureau of Census data (1998), 23 percent of women between the ages of thirty-five and forty-four remained childless in 1992. This figure increased to 26.5 percent in 1999. Moreover, the percentage of mothers who gave birth at age twenty-four or younger decreased during the 1990s (U.S. National Center for Health Statistics 2001). In 1992, approximately 39 percent of total live births came from women younger than twenty-four, whereas 59 percent of live births came from mothers in between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-nine. In 1999, 36 percent of mothers were younger than twenty-four when they gave birth whereas 61 percent of live births came from mothers in between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-nine. Many women who choose to delay the birth of their first child wish to enjoy an autonomous life for themselves and achieve career objectives before beginning the tasks of parenting (Wilkie 1987).

Although contemporary motherhood can be seen as a choice for many women, some pregnancies occur without a conscious decision. Many of these unplanned pregnancies occur among teenage women. The causes of unplanned pregnancy are often complicated. Despite the availability of information about reproduction, many teenagers do not seem to understand how conception takes place and believe that they are somehow immune to pregnancy. Some researchers have attributed adolescent pregnancy to the individual's self perception, and have suggested that low self-esteem is a factor, or to social causes such as family problems and poverty. Most importantly, however, adolescents become pregnant because they frequently lack the judgment necessary to deal with their sexuality.

In a number of studies focusing on teenage mothers, poverty and child abuse have been found to be persistent problems (Geronimus and Korenman 1992). Children of teen parents are also found to be disadvantaged in terms of cognitive performance, and daughters of teen mothers are likely to give birth in their teens (Manlove 1997).

Maternal Role in Childrearing

Mothers are likely to be a constant presence throughout their children's lives. Mothers frequently refer to the use of common sense and intuition in raising children—as if no special knowledge is required and as if many of their practices are grounded in some biological instinct. However, almost all mothers admit that they seek at least some explicit advice on how to raise their children. Childrearing manuals are one of the most important sources of advice. These advice books for mothers, to a large extent, represent cultural expectations for motherhood. For example, in a cross-cultural study comparing mothering books in Japan and the United States, Arlie Russell-Hochschild and Kazuko Tanaka (1997) found that compared to their U.S. counterparts, Japanese advice books emphasize collective life such as rites and rituals, whereas U.S. books focus more on individual aspects of childrearing. Further, it was found that Japanese books praise mothers for their attention to beauty, deference, and motherliness whereas U.S. books praise women for their creativity and brilliance in mothering.

With respect to styles of parenting, an attentive and hands-on approach is reported to be more common among mothers than fathers. For example, a six-nation study on children and their parents found whereas fathers are more likely to be involved in intrinsically fun activities with children, such as playing or taking a walk with them, mothers are often involved in routine care of children such as bathing, changing, and helping with homework ( Japanese Association for Women's Education 1995). According to this study, 64 percent of parents in the United States reported that providing meals and feeding children are mainly the responsibility of the mother. The figures reported in other countries were 88.3 percent ( Japan), 58 percent (Korea), 65.3 percent (Thailand), 75.5 percent (UK), and 67.4 percent (Sweden). Among various parental activities included in the survey, fathers in all of the aforementioned countries are most likely to report "playing with children" as one of their major parental roles.

Different styles of interaction with children between mothers and fathers are reflected by children's affection toward their parents. In a comparative study, it was found that children report liking and respecting their fathers more than their mothers. This may be due to the infrequent father-child interaction and children's "idealizing" of fathers' roles (Ishii-Kuntz 1993). Despite these findings, mothers continue to influence their children in numerous ways and mothering styles are affected by several demographic and psychological factors surrounding mothers. Using a sample of working- and middle-class African-American mothers, Cheryl Bluestone and Catherine Tamis-LeMonda (1999) found that maternal education contributed to child-centered parenting, and that maternal depression was negatively associated with child-centered parenting styles. In Japan, mothers' childcare stress and anxiety were found to negatively influence the child's social development (Makino 1988).

Extent and Effects of Maternal Employment

During the past few decades the proportion of women in labor force has increased dramatically in all industrialized societies. In the United States, the married mothers' employment rate increased from 39.7 percent in 1970 to 70.1 percent in 1999 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2000). Among mothers of children aged six to seventeen, 49.2 percent and 77.1 percent were employed in 1970 and 1999, respectively. Among mothers with children under the age of six, their employment rate doubled from 1970 (30.3%) to 1999 (61.8%). The increasing trend of maternal employment is seen in other industrialized countries such as Japan and Canada.

The above figures indicate that the majority of mothers in the United States experience dual roles of being a parent and a paid worker. A number of studies also show that women still bear more responsibility for childcare than their male counterparts (e.g., Hochschild 1989). Working mothers, therefore, are engaged in a second shift of caring for their children and families upon returning from their first shift of paid work (Hochschild 1989). Since mothers are more likely to prepare their children for day care and school in the morning hours than fathers, working mothers, in reality, are engaged in three shifts combining family carework and paid work.

An increase of labor-force participation among mothers also suggests that being a mother—even of an infant—is no longer a major deterrent to women's employment (Moen 1992). According to Moen, the three types of mothers most likely to return to work before their infants are a year old are the young mother (a married mother under age twenty-four with a high school education), the delayed childbearer (a mother with at least some college education who postponed starting her family until after age twenty-four), and the unmarried mother (a white high school graduate who already has two or more children and has been divorced or separated). It should be noted, however, that although the American public has shown more acceptance of the employment of married women, the employment of mothers with young children has not enjoyed the same level of endorsement (Moen 1992). This is largely due to beliefs that maternal employment has harmful effects on young children.

A number of studies in the early 1990s explored the effects of maternal employment on child outcomes but yielded inconsistent results. Whereas some studies reported that maternal employment was a negative influence on children's cognitive and social development, others found enhanced cognitive outcomes for children as a function of early maternal employment (Vandell and Ramanan 1992). Studies in late 1990s report that neither early maternal employment status nor the timing and continuity of maternal employment were consistently related to a child's developmental outcome (Harvey 1999). A few significant findings reported that mothers' working more hours in the first three years was associated with slightly lower vocabulary scores up through age nine (Harvey 1999). Among low-income adolescent mothers, maternal employment was also associated with their children's lower verbal development (Luster et al. 2000). However, maternal employment during the first year of the child's life is slightly more beneficial for the children of single mothers, and early parental employment was related to more positive child outcomes for low-income families (Harvey 1999).

Although these results suggest that maternal employment status has few negative effects on young children, other research in the 1990s reported some of the conditions under which maternal work makes a difference in family relations. For example, when mothers frequently engaged in shared activities with children such as reading books and telling stories, the potentially disruptive effects of changes in maternal employment status on children's social and cognitive competence were mitigated. Additionally, less secure attachment relationships between mothers and children were more common when the quality of alternative childcare was poor and unstable (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network 1997).

The mothers' struggle of balancing work and family has also been reported in developing regions (such as Latin America), post-socialist regions (such as Russia), and industrialized countries (such as Great Britain and Japan). Helen Safa (1992), for example, reports that despite increased employment of married women in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, housework and childcare are still perceived as women's responsibility, even when they are making major contributions to the household economy. Similarly, for many women in Great Britain, the absence of choices concerning childcare poses a major problem in pursuing outside employment (MacLennan 1992). Compared to these countries, mothers in Nordic countries have a less stressful experience in balancing motherhood and paid work due to the comprehensive maternity-parental leave system in which parents of children under the age of one are financially supported for childcare by governmental policies (Haavio-Mannila and Kauppinen 1992). It should be noted, however, this does not mean that gender-based discrimination in the larger social context does not exist in Nordic countries as evidenced by sex segregation in the workplace.

Motherhood and Marital Quality

One issue that has been studied extensively is the relationship between marital quality and parental satisfaction. The assumption that parenting satisfaction is primarily an outcome of marital satisfaction has not been firmly established. With respect to the relationship between motherhood and marital quality, studies during the last two decades found that women's relationships with their children are richer and more complex than men's (Umberson 1989) and thus women will experience both more strain and greater rewards from the parental role. The complex nature of parental satisfaction among mothers is reflected in their marital satisfaction. Overall findings suggest that the marital and parenting relationships are more closely linked for fathers than for mothers, although no significant gender differences in this relationship were noted by Stacy Rogers and Lynn White (1998).

Mothers and Psychological Well-Being

Women's psychological well-being is influenced by many factors including mothering performance. Mothers frequently assume the caretaker role in the family, which may increase the likelihood that they are attentive to, and thus possibly receivers of, emotions from other family members. In contrast to fathers' experiences, the emotions mothers experienced at their jobs did not foreshadow their emotional states at home in the evening (Larson and Richards 1994). This suggests either that mothers are more capable of compartmentalizing work and home (i.e. leaving work behind) than are fathers, or that the urgent tasks they must perform when they come home readily overwhelm what happened that day at work.

Mothers' psychological well-being, however, is more likely to be influenced by the daily routine of childrearing activities. Mothers report greater satisfaction with parenting than fathers, and they are more supportive than fathers of their children (Starrels 1994). At the same time, however, mothers of infants report higher levels of stress and anxiety when they evaluate their own performance as mothers than do their male counterparts (Arendell 2000). Compared with fathers, mothers are more involved with the responsibility for daily childcare, which exposes them to a wider range of disagreements and tension with their children (Hochschild 1989). David Almeida, Elaine Wethinton, and Amy Chandler (1999) found that mothers reported almost twice as many days of parental tension as fathers. The number of children in the household are also important predictors of family tension for mothers. Having more children in the household was associated with more mother-child tension (Almeida, Wethinton, and Chandler 1999).

Additionally, the extent of mother's child-care related stress level is frequently affected by the societal expectations for women to be "good mothers" (Villani 1997). Shari Thurner (1994) asserts that the contemporary "Good Mother" myth in Western society sets standards that are unattainable and self-denying. In Japan, Katsuko Makino (1988) also found the unrealistic expectations (on the part of society as a whole and mothers in particular) on what it means to be a good mother, and a mother's social isolation from the support networks are the major cause of maternal stress and anxiety.

See also:Adolescent Parenthood; Attachment: Parent-Child Relationships; Childcare; Conflict: Parent-Child Relationships; Coparenting; Dual-Earner Families; Family Life Education; Family Roles; Fatherhood; Fertility; Grandparenthood; Lesbian Parents; Marital Quality; Nonmarital Childbearing; Parenting Education; Parenting Responsibilities: Parenting Styles; Pregnancy and Birth; Separation-Individuation; Single-Parent Families; Stepfamilies; Stress; Substitute Caregivers; Surrogacy; Transition to Parenthood;

Wife; Women's Movements; Work and Family


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"Motherhood." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Surrogate Motherhood


A relationship in which one woman bears and gives birth to a child for a person or a couple who then adopts or takes legal custody of the child; also called mothering by proxy.

In surrogate motherhood, one woman acts as a surrogate, or replacement, mother for another woman, sometimes called the intended mother, who either cannot produce fertile eggs or cannot carry a pregnancy through to birth, or term.

Surrogate mothering can be accomplished in a number of ways. Most often, the husband's sperm is implanted in the surrogate by a procedure called artificial insemination. In this case, the surrogate mother is both the genetic mother and the birth, or gestational mother, of the child. This method of surrogacy is sometimes called traditional surrogacy.

Less often, when the intended mother can produce fertile eggs but cannot carry a child to birth, the intended mother's egg is removed, combined with the husband's or another man's sperm in a process called in vitro fertilization (first performed in the late 1970s), and implanted in the surrogate mother. This method is called gestational surrogacy.

Surrogacy arrangements are categorized as either commercial or altruistic. In commercial surrogacy, the surrogate is paid a fee plus any expenses incurred in her pregnancy. In altruistic surrogacy, the surrogate is paid only for expenses incurred or is not paid at all.

The first recognized surrogate mother arrangement was made in 1976. Between 1976 and 1988, roughly 600 children were born in the United States to surrogate mothers. Since the late 1980s, surrogacy has been more common: between 1987 and 1992, an estimated 5,000 surrogate births occurred in the United States.

The issue of surrogate motherhood came to national attention during the 1980s, with the Baby M case. In 1984 a New Jersey couple, William Stern and Elizabeth Stern, contracted to pay Mary Beth Whitehead $10,000 to be artificially inseminated with William Stern's sperm and carry the resulting child to term. Whitehead decided to keep the child after it was born, refused to receive the $10,000 payment, and fled to Florida. In July 1985, the police arrested Whitehead and returned the child to the Sterns.

Does Surrogacy Involve Making Families or Selling Babies?

Medical science continues to devise new procedures and treatments that test the boundaries of law and ethics. One such result is modern surrogate motherhood, which has been made possible by artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization.

Surrogate motherhood has both advocates and detractors, each with strong arguments in their favor. A number of important questions lie at the heart of the debate over the ethics and legality of surrogacy: Does surrogacy necessarily involve the exploitation of the woman serving as the surrogate mother, or turn her into a commodity? What rights does the surrogate mother have? Is surrogacy equivalent to baby selling? Should brokers or third parties be allowed to make a profit from surrogacy arrangements?

The Case Against Surrogacy Nearly all opponents of surrogacy find it to be a morally repugnant practice, particularly when it involves a commercial transaction. Many base their opposition on religious grounds, whereas others judge it using philosophical, legal, or political criteria.

The Roman Catholic Church is just one of many religious institutions that oppose surrogacy. It is against all forms of surrogacy, even altruistic surrogacy, which does not involve the payment of a fee to the surrogate. It holds that surrogacy violates the sanctity of marriage and the spiritual connection between mother, father, and child. It finds commercial surrogacy to be especially offensive. Commercial surrogacy turns the miracle of human birth into a financial transaction, the church maintains, reducing the child and the woman bearing it to objects of negotiation and purchase. It turns women into reproductive machines and exploiters of children. The church argues that surrogacy also leads to a confused parent-child relationship that ultimately damages the institution of the family.

Some feminists oppose surrogacy because of its political and economic context. They disagree with the notion that women freely choose to become surrogates. They argue that coercion at the societal level, rather than the personal level, causes poor women to become surrogate mothers for rich women. If surrogacy contracts are legalized, they maintain, the reproductive abilities of a whole class of women will be turned into a brokered commodity. Some feminists have gone so far as to call surrogacy reproductive prostitution.

Other critics join with Catholics and feminists to decry surrogacy as baby selling and a vehicle for the exploitation of poor women.

The Case for Surrogacy Advocates for surrogate motherhood propose it as a humane solution to the problem of infertility. They note that infertility is common, affecting almost one out of six couples, and that surrogacy may represent the only option for some couples who wish to have children to whom they are genetically related. Advocates also point out that infertility is likely to increase as more women enter the workforce and defer childbirth to a later age, when fertility problems are more common.

Advocates of surrogacy also argue that adoption does not adequately meet the needs of infertile couples who wish to have a baby. They point out that there are many times more couples than available infants. Moreover, couples must wait three to seven years on average to adopt an infant. Here, too, social trends have contributed to a greater call for alternative reproductive options. Most important, an increased use of contraceptives and abortion and a greater acceptance of unwed mothers have led to a shortage of adoptable babies.

Those who favor commercial surrogacy object to characterizations of the practice as baby selling. A surrogacy contract, they assert, is a contract to bear a child, not to sell a child. Advocates of surrogacy see payment to a surrogate as a fee for gestational services, just like the fees paid to lawyers and doctors for their services. Some advocates even argue that the prohibition of commercial surrogacy infringes on a woman's constitutional right to contract.

Surrogacy is also supported by those who believe that society is served best when the liberty of individuals is maximized. They claim that women and society as a whole benefit from the increased opportunity of choice offered by surrogacy.

Advocates also maintain that in a successful surrogacy arrangement, all parties benefit. The intended parents take home a cherished child, and the surrogate receives a monetary reward and the satisfaction of knowing that she has helped someone realize a special goal.

In 1987 the New Jersey Superior Court upheld the Stern-Whitehead contract (in re baby m., 217 N.J. Super. 313, 525 A.2d 1128). The court took all parental and visitation rights away from Whitehead and permitted the Sterns to legally adopt the baby, whom they named Melissa Stern. A year later, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed much of this decision (In re Baby M., 109 N.J. 396, 537 A.2d 1227). That court declared the contract unenforceable but allowed the Sterns to retain physical custody of the child. The court also restored some of Whitehead's parental rights, including visitation rights, and voided the adoption by the Sterns. Most important, the decision voided all surrogacy contracts on the ground that they conflict with state public policy. However, the court still permitted voluntary surrogacy arrangements.

The Baby M. decision inspired state legislatures around the United States to pass laws regarding surrogate motherhood. Most of those laws prohibit or strictly limit surrogacy arrangements. Michigan responded first, making it a felony to arrange surrogate mother contracts for money and imposing a $50,000 fine and five years' imprisonment as punishment for the offense (37 Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.859). Florida, Louisiana, Nebraska, and Kentucky enacted similar legislation, and Arkansas and Nevada passed laws permitting surrogacy contracts under judicial regulation.

In 1989 the american bar association (ABA) drafted two alternative model laws involving surrogate motherhood. These laws are not binding but are intended to guide states as they formulate their own laws. One legalizes the practice of surrogate motherhood and makes surrogacy contracts enforceable in court; the other bars the enforcement of contracts in which a surrogate mother is paid to have a child and then give up any claim to the child.

Under either ABA model, states legalizing surrogate contracts limit them to agreements between a surrogate mother and a married couple. A genetic link must be established between the couple and the child, by the husband's supplying sperm or the wife's contributing an egg, or both. To be valid, the contract must be approved by a judge before conception takes place, and it must be accompanied by proof that the wife is unable to bear a child. The surrogate mother has the right to repudiate the contract up to 180 days after conception, in which case she may keep the child. If she does not repudiate the contract during that time, the couple becomes the child's legal parents 180 days after conception.

In 1993 the California Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling declaring surrogacy contracts legal in California. The case, Johnson v. Calvert, 5 Cal. 4th 84, 19 Cal. Rptr. 2d 494, 851 P.2d 776, involved a surrogacy contract between a married couple, Mark Calvert and Crispina Calvert, and Anna L. Johnson. Crispina Calvert was unable to bear children. In 1990 the Calverts and Johnson signed a surrogacy contract in which the Calverts agreed to pay Johnson $10,000 to carry an embryo created from the Calverts' ovum and sperm. Disagreements ensued, and later that year, Johnson became the first surrogate mother to seek custody of a child to whom she was not genetically related.

After the child's birth, the Calverts were awarded custody. Johnson appealed the decision. The state supreme court finally upheld the legality of surrogacy contracts under both the state and federal constitutions. The court held such contracts valid whether or not the surrogate mother provides the egg. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Johnson's appeal.

In many states, surrogacy contracts are considered unenforceable because of existing adoption laws designed to discourage "baby selling." These laws may, for example, forbid any consent to adoption given prior to the birth of the child. They may also make it illegal for a birth mother to receive payment for consenting to give up a child or for an intermediary or broker to receive a fee for arranging an adoption. In states with these laws, a surrogate mother who wishes to keep the child rather than give it up for adoption may successfully challenge an already established surrogacy contract.

Laws concerning artificial insemination can also conflict with surrogacy agreements. Some states have laws maintaining that semen donors are not legally the fathers of children created with their sperm. These laws were originally designed to facilitate the development of sperm banks. In a surrogacy arrangement, they conflict with an attempt to adopt the surrogate child. Increasingly, states are drafting laws that clarify the legal status of surrogacy arrangements, including who is the rightful parent of a child born through surrogate mothering.

State laws differ in the way they handle surrogate motherhood contracts. Most state laws on the issue are designed to prevent or discourage surrogacy. Four states (Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Virginia) specifically allow surrogacy contracts under certain conditions. Several other states (Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, and Tennessee) specifically prohibit surrogacy contracts as void and in violation of public policy. In some states (Kentucky, Michigan, Utah, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia) entering into a surrogacy contract or assisting in procuring such a contract is a criminal act, punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both.

State laws likewise vary in the way they handle disputes over custody. Surrogacy laws in Michigan and Washington make custody determinations on a case-by-case basis, attempting to reach the decision that best serves the interests

of the child. In New Hampshire and Virginia, such laws presume that the contracting couple are the legal parents but give the surrogate a period of time to change her mind. In North Dakota and Arizona, the surrogate and her husband are the legal parents of the child.

The commissioners on uniform laws created a stir when it amended the Uniform Parentage Act to authorize gestational agreements as valid contracts. According to the prefatory note to the uniform act, the commissioners determined that such agreements had become commonplace during the 1990s, so the law was merely designed to provide a legal framework for such agreements. However, several organizations have decried the inclusion of these provisions. As of 2003, two states, Texas and Washington, had adopted the new uniform act, while legislatures in four other states were considering its adoption.

further readings

Andrews, Lori B. 1995. "Beyond Doctrinal Boundaries: A Legal Framework for Surrogate Motherhood." From the symposium New Directions in Family Law. Virginia Law Review 81 (November).

Birck, Mary Lynne. 1994. "Modern Reproductive Technology and Motherhood: The Search for Common Ground and the Recognition of Difference." University of Cincinnati Law Review 62 (spring).

Cumming, Jennifer L. "The Proposed Uniform Parentage Act and Surrogate Motherhood." Minnesota Family Council. Available online at <> (accessed August 27, 2003).

Hall, Mark A., Mary Anne Bobinski, and David Orentlicher. 2003. Health Care Law and Ethics. 6th ed. New York: Aspen.

Havins, Weldon E., and James J. Dalessio. 2000. "Reproductive Surrogacy at the Millennium: Proposed Model Legislation Regulation 'Non-Traditional' Gestational Surrogacy Contracts." McGeorge Law Review 31 (spring)

Larkey, Amy M. 2003. "Redefining Motherhood: Determining Legal Maternity in Gestational Surrogacy Arrangements." Drake Law Review 51 (March).

Macklin, Ruth. 1994. Surrogates and Other Mothers: The Debates over Assisted Reproduction. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press.

Ohs, Alayna. 2002. "The Power of Pregnancy: Examining Constitutional Rights in a Gestational Surrogacy Contract." Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly 29 (winter).

Rae, Scott B. 1994. The Ethics of Commercial Surrogate Motherhood: Brave New Families? Westport, Conn.: Praeger.


Adoption; Child Custody; Family Law; Parent and Child.

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The term motherhood, which began to be used at the end of the nineteenth century, refers to the state or condition of being a mother. Motherhood is usually distinguished from the term mothering in that mothering is the set of activities or practices concerned with nurturing and caring for children. While mothering entails a focus on the everyday practices associated with being a mother and looking after children, motherhood is a social institution and is thus characterized by specific meanings and ideologies. The two terms are, however, inextricably linked in that the practices of mothering in any society are performed and experienced in the context of the meanings and ideologies of motherhood.

The difference between mothering and motherhood has consequences for understandings of both mothering and motherhood. For example, the focus on mothering as performance of the tasks essential to child rearing meant that those who studied child development in the 1970s and 1980s extended the term mothering to include child rearing done by men who nurture children. This usage of mothering has diminished as the importance of fathering and the need to understand better what fathers do with children gained increased emphasis beginning in the 1990s. In contrast, motherhood is associated only with women since the state of motherhood has a direct impact on womens lives, regardless of whether or not they become mothers. In most societies a central feature of motherhood is that it should ideally occur within a heterosexual relationship where a man and a woman are cohabiting (and preferably legally married). The rearing of children is supposed to be the major task of this unit, which is idealized as bound together through mutual ties of affection, common identity, and relationships of care and support. This model is often assumed to be the natural and normal (as well as ideal) form of social organization and to be stable over time.

A focus on motherhood arose from feminist work on gender relations as a key aspect of recognition that motherhood is central to womens liveswhether or not they become mothers. For example, in 1975 the sociologist Jesse Bernard suggested (in The Future of Motherhood ) that there is a tension between the idealized image of the selfless mother and many mothers experiences of hard, repetitive work that is socially devalued and unfulfilling. In the 1970s Bernard and other feminists in Europe and North America, such as Adrienne Rich, argued that the institution of motherhood was oppressive in making most women feel that they should become mothers and stay at home in segregated gender roles rather than, for example, pursuing employment and careers. At the same time researchers such as the sociologist Ann Oakley pointed out (in Becoming a Mother ) that the idealized image of motherhood is unattainable and causes women to feel guilt, unhappiness, and anxiety about their failure to measure up to the ideal in their everyday practices.


While it is often assumed that motherhood is historically stable, it has changed a great deal. For example, Linda Nicholson, a historian of ideas, suggests that it was only in the economic boom of the 1950s that it became possible for working-class women in Western countries to stay at home with their children as many more privileged women had been doing (although working-class mothers did not have servants to do the housework and look after the children). As the technology for housework and cooking became more sophisticated, motherhood came to be idealized as the institution responsible for entertaining and ensuring the optimal development of childrenmorally and academically. Ann Dally argues in Inventing Motherhood that also in the 1950s women in the affluent Europe and North America could be relatively confident each pregnancy would lead to a live birth and to the babys survival. As researchers have pointed out, this situation still does not pertain for poorer women in countries where there continue to be high rates of maternal and child mortality as well as higher birthrates. Access to efficient contraception and abortion in the more affluent countries led to markedly decreased birthrates from the late 1950s, with a few exceptions, and mothers have been expected to devote more time and effort to caring for and developing their children.

Since the 1950s, motherhoodthe condition in which women motherhas changed markedly and become more complex in many societies. In particular, as Fiona Williams makes clear in Rethinking Families, demographic changes in many societies mean that women in the early twenty-first century are more likely to be single mothers than previously and to live in reconstituted, blended families or stepparent families with children sometimes being shared across households. Mothers in European and North American society and affluent mothers in any society are likely to be older when they have their first child and to have fewer children. There has also been an increase in the number of affluent women who have only one child or no children and an increasing number who give birth through assisted reproduction techniques or as surrogates for other women. In addition governments frequently intervene (directly or indirectly) in motherhood to limit or increase population size or to attempt to guarantee the quality of the population. Examples include the Chinese one-child policy instituted in the twentieth century and pronatalist policies designed to encourage reproduction (e.g., in France and the former Soviet Union).

In modern times it is common for mothers to be employed outside the home, and there is ideological commitment to equality between women and men with expectations that child care and housework will be shared between employed parents. Motherhood within one society is therefore as differentiated as is motherhood between societies. Idealized images of motherhood have adjusted to accept that women may be employed outside the home and even that they may cohabit without being married. Images of motherhood have not, however, changed sufficiently to accommodate the demographic and social changes. As Estella Tincknell points out in Mediating the Family, media representations frequently accommodate some changes but reassert the ideal of the white, middle-class nuclear family. Ideologies of motherhood continue to suggest implicit disapproval of many categories of mothers, including those who are single, aged under twenty, and either out at work for long hours each day or unable to make economic provision for their children. In practice there is often less sharing of household and child care work between mothers and fathers than might be expected. As a consequence there is a marked discrepancy between the expectations of motherhood and the experiences of mothering, with the result that motherhood is painful and disappointing for many women. This discrepancy points to the fact that motherhood is not naturally occurring but is socially constructed in ways that suggest that there is an essence to motherhood.


Despite the changes in motherhood, most women in all societies still become mothers. The oft-reported unhappiness of those who find that they cannot have children provides an indication of how psychologically important it can be for women to become mothers. To some extent this is because motherhood is socially constructed as an essential part of adult femininity so that women who do not become mothers (for whatever reason) can be made to feel that they are not proper women. In addition many women share the idealized view of motherhood common in many societies so it is not the case that they are coerced into having children. Many women choose to become mothers, and whether or not they do, their identities are partly negotiated in relation to motherhood. It is therefore important to consider womens desires in relation to motherhood (conscious and unconscious) as well as the contexts in which they mother. In other words, motherhood requires psychosocial (both psychological and social) understandings.

One benefit of feminist work on motherhood has been its focus on womens expectations and experiences of it. While many women want to become mothers and subscribe to social constructions of motherhood as natural, blissful, and something with which they should be able to cope, women frequently feel conflicted about how they will be able to manage as mothers. In the early twenty-first century the sociologist Tina Miller conducted a study of motherhood that used cultural scripts from Bangladesh and the Solomon Islands to contextualize experiences of motherhood in the United Kingdom. Miller found that women often said they were worried and frightened about becoming mothers. Miller suggests that this is related to cultural messages about the right way to be a good mother and the moral context within which motherhood occurs.

After birth, almost all women learn the tasks associated with successful mothering. However, it can take time for women to feel comfortable with their identities as mothers. The British sociologist Stephanie Lawler suggests that this is partly because women have to negotiate a contradiction between a belief in autonomy as a central part of adulthood and a perception that autonomy is lost with motherhood. Women therefore have to develop practices and narratives that allow them to inhabit identities as mothers. Experience of the contradictions of motherhood do not, however, lead mothers to feel solidarity with other mothers. The psychologist and anthropologist Meryle Kaplan points out: Instead of questioning what has been called an institution of motherhood, these modern women most frequently question other mothers and resist affiliating themselves with other women (Kaplan 1992, p. 202). This self-differentiation between mothers is one reason why motherhood is differentiated among mothers.

Motherhood is also expressed differently over time and varies by social class, race, ethnicity, and culture. For example, in Janani: Mothers, Daughters, Motherhood, Maitreyi Chatterji says:

Motherhood may have been pitched to an exalted position, but the ground reality for Indian mothers is an entirely different matter. Indias maternal mortality rate and chronic malnutrition makes a mockery of motherhood myths yet we find women legitimize motherhood through acts of immense sacrifice. Indian mothers eat last or not at all. Women go through multiple pregnancies to continue the male family line or risk abortions if the fetus is female. (Bhattacharya 2006, pp. 3637)

It is important, however, to recognize that there are marked differences between mothers within each country because social class, ethnicity, and culture all intersect to position women in different ways. Yet as the sociologist Terry Arendell reported in 2000 after a decennial review of U.S. literature, although the United States is diverse, little is known about the meanings and practices of motherhood for minority ethnic women, who are frequently used only as comparisons when white U.S. motherhood is being reified. This is also the case within other European and North American societies.

The enormous changes in the conditions under which motherhood occur demonstrate that motherhood is not an essentialist concept. Instead, it is diverse and practiced in different ways according to the social, economic, and psychological contexts in which women live. Nonetheless, ideologies of motherhood continue to idealize and romanticize motherhood in ways that make ideal motherhood unattainable and a source of anxiety for most women as they forge motherhood identities. For this reason, many motherhood researchers argue that it is important to expand the range of narratives around mothering and to challenge the pervasive myths of motherhood.

SEE ALSO Children; Family; Family Structure; Fatherhood; Feminism; Gender Gap; Inequality, Gender; Parent-Child Relationships; Parenthood, Transition to; Parenting Styles; Work and Women


Arendell, Terry. 2000. Conceiving and Investigating Motherhood: The Decades Scholarship. Journal of Marriage and Family 62 (4): 11921207.

Bernard, Jesse. 1975. The Future of Motherhood. New York: Penguin Books.

Chatterji, Maitreyi. 2006. My Mother, My Daughter. In Janani: Mothers, Daughters, Motherhood, ed. Rinki Bhattacharya. New Delhi: Sage.

Dally, Ann. 1982. Inventing Motherhood: The Consequences of an Ideal. London: Burnett.

Hollway, Wendy. 2006. The Capacity to Care: Gender and Ethical Subjectivity. London: Routledge.

Kaplan, Meryle. 1992. Mothers Images of Motherhood. New York: Routledge.

Lawler, Stephanie. 2000. Mothering the Self: Mothers, Daughters, Subjects. London: Routledge.

Macfarlane, Alison, Miranda Mugford, Jane Henderson, et al. 2000. Birth Counts: Statistics of Pregnancy and Childbirth, vol. 1. London: Stationery Office.

Miller, Tina. 2005. Making Sense of Motherhood: A Narrative Approach. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Nicholson, Linda. 1997. The Myth of the Traditional Family. In Feminism and Families, ed. Hilde Lindemann Nelson. London: Routledge.

Oakley, Ann. 1979. Becoming a Mother. Oxford: Martin Robertson.

Orbach, Susie. 1997. Family Life. In Living Together, eds. David Kennard and Neil Small. London: Quartet Books.

OReilly, Andrea, ed. 2004. Mother Matters: Motherhood as Discourse and Practice. Toronto: Association for Research on Mothering.

Phoenix, Ann, Anne Woollett, and Eva Lloyd. 1991. Motherhood: Meanings, Practices and Ideologies. London: Sage.

Rich, Adrienne. 1976. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. New York: Norton.

Tincknell, Estella. 2005. Mediating the Family: Gender, Culture, and Representation. London: Hodder Arnold.

Williams, Fiona. 2004. Rethinking Families. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Ann Phoenix

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Surrogate Motherhood


SURROGATE MOTHERHOOD is the process by which a woman bears a child for another couple, typically an infertile couple. There are two kinds of surrogate motherhood. In traditional surrogacy, the mother is artificially inseminated with sperm from the father or with sperm from a donor, if the father is infertile. In gestational surrogacy, sperm is taken from the father (or from a donor) and the egg is taken from the mother, fertilization happens in vitro, and the embryos are then implanted into the surrogate mother's uterus. Thus, the surrogate mother is not genetically related to the child.

For over one hundred years artificial insemination was used as a way of managing male infertility that kept the family intact and allowed children to be born to a married couple. Artificial insemination was generally kept secret. Couples did not tell friends, family, or the children themselves that donor sperm was used, thus maintaining the fiction of biological paternity.

Though stories of surrogate motherhood, often with familial surrogates, date back two thousand years, in 1976 the lawyer Noel Keane arranged the first formal agreement between a couple and a surrogate mother in the United States. The marketing of "surrogacy" developed as a solution to female infertility. Brokers entered the scene, hiring women to become pregnant via artificial insemination with the sperm of the husband of the infertile woman. In 1986 surrogacy came to national attention with the case of "Baby M." In this case, the woman hired as a surrogate, Mary Beth Whitehead, later refused to relinquish the child. After a protracted court battle, in which Whitehead's parental rights were stripped and then replaced, the hiring couple won custody of the baby, but Whitehead remained the legal mother with visitation rights.

Since the 1980s, advances in technology have increased the use of gestational surrogacy. As it has become more common, there has been an increase in the number of Latin American, Asian American, and African American surrogates.

The Center for Surrogate Parenting (CSP) estimates a cost of $56,525 for traditional surrogacy, in which artificial insemination is used, and a cost of $69,325 if another woman's egg is used. Approximately $15,000 of these fees are paid to the surrogate herself for the time and sacrifice of the pregnancy. When surrogacy agreements first surfaced in the mid-1970s, there was no payment for surrogate motherhood, and it tended to involve middle-class and blue-collar couples, with friends and sisters helping each other. Once payment became the norm, the demographic changed: "the majority of the couples remain largely upper-middle-class people, whereas the majority of the surrogates are working class women" (Ragoné, Surrogate Motherhood, p. 194).

In 2002, most states had no specific laws regarding surrogate motherhood. While many states do not uphold surrogacy contracts, all states recognize birth certificates and adoption certificates from other states, making surrogate services available to anyone with the money to hire them.

That surrogacy has become a business has not meant that contracting couples do not value the surrogate or that the surrogate does not care about the child or the couple. Very careful screening—approximately 95 percent of potential surrogates are rejected—ensures that situations similar to that of Mary Beth Whitehead do not happen. Surrogates are chosen for their commitment. In the only ethnographic study of surrogacy, Helena Ragoné found that couples adopted one of two strategies in dealing with their surrogate. "Egalitarians" wanted to maintain a relationship with the surrogate mother and did not see her as a means to an end. Since in all of Ragoné's cases the children were still quite young, it is difficult to know how this would play out. "Pragmatists" simply dropped the relationship with the surrogate, taking the child as theirs, and considering the payment sufficient acknowledgement of the role of the surrogate.


Ragoné, Helena. Surrogate Motherhood: Conception in the Heart. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1994.

Rothman, Barbara Katz. Recreating Motherhood: Ideology and Technology in a Patriarchal Society. New York, Norton, 1989.

See alsoAdoption ; Childbirth and Reproduction ; Children's Bureau ; Family ; Foster Care .

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motherhood A term encompassing the practical realities and social significance of being a mother. The nature of sociological interest in mothering (the process) and motherhood (the condition) has varied over time. Prior to the 1970s, the focus was either on having children as a demographic event (where women rather than men were typically the unit of analysis), or on child-rearing. In both cases the child was the centre of attention, whether as a numerical addition to the population, or as a potential adult member of society. On the one hand, patterns of fertility were examined: the age of childbearing, the spacing of births, family size, contraceptive use, illegitimacy, and so forth. On the other hand, the concern was with the impact of the mother's (and to a lesser extent the father's) behaviour on the child, and hence on the subsequent adult. Sociological analyses drew on anthropologists' influential cross-cultural studies of child-training and psychologists' analyses of child development (in both cases the Freudian legacy was strong). Sociological work located child-rearing within the broader framework of the process of socialization—a process occurring at all stages of life and involving a range of agents, not just parents, in which individuals are trained to accept the prevailing social norms. Given the marked empirical differences in maternal and paternal roles, research on childhood socialization inevitably showed some awareness of gender differences, but tended simply to take them for granted. Indeed, macro-theoretical analyses, like that of Talcott Parsons, asserted the functional necessity in advanced industrial societies of women's role in child-care within the home.

The feminist movements of the 1970s had a marked impact on the sociological study of motherhood, critically questioning the parental division of labour, although empirical studies showed and continue to show that the bulk of parenting is carried out by women. One consequence of this attention to gender differentiation was an interest in fatherhood. Feminism also equally importantly shifted the attention from the mother as a producer and creator of children to the mother herself. In the first place, the experience of being a mother has been placed centre-stage. Second, the impact and significance of motherhood on women's position in society and on the gender division of labour has been addressed by a range of feminist theorists. Women's experience of both having and rearing children, the significance of motherhood to women's identity, and the cultural pressures to have children have all been explored in a range of empirical studies, most notably those of Ann Oakley. Many of these studies have challenged the common assumption that women have some instinctive desire to have children and to care for them, and have also examined the dissatisfactions and frustrations of being a mother, especially if one is confined to the home. Not surprisingly, some feminist theorists have suggested that it is the biological fact of childbearing that is the key source of women's oppression, a view developed most fully in Nancy Chodorow's The Reproduction of Mothering (1978). However, such claims have been hotly contested, and feminists' views on the significance and value of motherhood in women's lives are a matter of vigorous debate. See also MATERNAL DEPRIVATION.

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455. Motherhood

  1. Asherah mother of the gods; counterpart of Gaea. [Canaanite Myth.: Benét, 57]
  2. Cybele Great Mother; goddess of nature and reproduction. [Phrygian Myth.: Parrinder, 68; Jobes, 400]
  3. Cynosura Idaean nymph; nursed the infant Zeus. [Gk. Myth.: Howe, 74]
  4. Danu (Anu ) divine procreator and guardian of gods and mortals. [Celtic Myth.: Parrinder, 72]
  5. Devaki virgin mother of Krishna. [Hindu Myth.: Parrinder, 76]
  6. Devi the great goddess, wife of Shiva; Mother. [Hindu Myth.: Parrinder, 77]
  7. Gaea earth and mother goddess. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 108]
  8. Mary apotheosized as mother of Christ. [N.T.: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John]
  9. Rhea often titled Great Mother of the Gods. [Gk. Myth.: NCE, 1796]
  10. Whistlers mother popular name for the painters Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1: The Artists Mother. [Am. Art: EB, 19:814815]

Motivation (See INDUCEMENT .)

Mourning (See GRIEF .)

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motherboard A printed circuit board into which other boards can be plugged. In some microcomputer systems the motherboard carries all the major functional elements, e.g. the processor and some of the memory; the function can be enhanced by additional boards that perform specific activities such as memory extension or disk control and that communicate to the motherboard via sockets onto a standard bus. See also backplane.

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moth·er·board / ˈmə[voicedth]ərˌbôrd/ • n. Comput. a printed circuit board containing the principal components of a microcomputer or other device, with connectors into which other circuit boards can be slotted.

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motherboard •scratchboard •backboard, blackboard •gangboard • clapboard • dashboard •cardboard, hardboard •draughtboard • bargeboard •dartboard •breadboard, headboard •pegboard (US Peg-board) •chessboard • fretboard •sailboard, tailboard •drainboard •baseboard, pasteboard •skateboard •freeboard, keyboard, seaboard •cheeseboard • switchboard •billboard •springboard, stringboard •chipboard, clipboard, shipboard •running board • storyboard •noticeboard • diving board •sandwich board • sideboard •signboard • whiteboard • washboard •floorboard, scoreboard, strawboard •chalkboard • soundboard • outboard •snowboard •mouldboard (US moldboard) •buckboard, duckboard •shuffleboard • shovelboard •fibreboard (US fiberboard) •smorgasbord •chequerboard (US checkerboard) •clapperboard • scraperboard •plasterboard •centreboard (US centerboard) •mortar board • weatherboard •motherboard • surfboard

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motherhoodcould, good, hood, Likud, misunderstood, pud, should, stood, understood, withstood, wood, would •Gielgud • manhood • maidenhood •nationhood • statehood • sainthood •priesthood • kinghood • babyhood •likelihood • livelihood • puppyhood •childhood • wifehood • knighthood •falsehood • widowhood • boyhood •cousinhood • adulthood •neighbourhood (US neighborhood) •husbandhood • bachelorhood •toddlerhood • womanhood •parenthood • sisterhood •spinsterhood • fatherhood •brotherhood, motherhood •girlhood • Talmud • Malamud •matchwood • Dagwood • Blackwood •sandalwood • sapwood • basswood •Atwood •Harewood, Larwood •hardwood • lancewood • heartwood •redwood • Wedgwood • Elmwood •bentwood • Hailwood • lacewood •beechwood • greenwood • Eastwood •cheesewood • driftwood • stinkwood •Littlewood • giltwood • Hollywood •satinwood • plywood • wildwood •pinewood • whitewood • softwood •dogwood, logwood •cottonwood • coachwood • rosewood •fruitwood • Goodwood • brushwood •firewood • ironwood • underwood •Isherwood • wormwood

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