Museum of Motherhood

Thursdays with *Dr. Mama*, “Mothers are People First”

One of the greatest challenges of the current motherhood movement is to shape prominent thinking so that it recognizes mothers as human beings first.  It is in fact a primary goal of contemporary and historical feminist movement as well—the recognition of women (whether mothers or not) as human beings first.  That women are human beings with their own needs, drives, interests, passions, secrets, resentments, hungers, and angers remains, for many peoples around the world, a radical idea.  We may see mothers as wombs first, caretakers first, nurturers, drivers, planners, self-sacrificers first, and then perhaps less than efficient at much of the rest of life because they are mothers first—compromised employees, disinvested friends, anti-intellectuals, women interrupted.  And there is no shortage of blog posts (here’s one, for example) or blogs in entirety (here’s one, and another) devoted to mothers’ own struggle with seeing themselves in their wholeness.

But I think an even greater challenge for many mothers lies in shaping their own children’s thinking so that it recognizes them as human beings first.  I believe I saw my mother as a mom and matriarch first, and perhaps even middle and last.  I saw her rule about not going into her bedroom as not about her privacy and her right to it or about wanting to protect the sacred sexual space she was creating there with my dad;  I saw it is another rule.  I didn’t think about the labor she put into preparing our meals or the effort she put into getting us to contribute to yard work or house work; I didn’t think these were about her needing the children’s help in the matters of the home or about her wanting to have a family dwelling that felt good to her.  It just felt like so much hassle to me.  And even now, when I talk with her on the phone, I find myself yammering on and on about my life and asking her almost nothing about hers; I treat her as a mother first and I feel like I don’t do much in the way of honoring her personhood beyond that.  I hope I’m wrong, but I’ve a suspicion that I’m not.

I think it’s hard, too, for my own children to recognize my personhood (though perhaps better than I was/am), to see that I have my own desires and needs that are unrelated to motherhood, to see that my time with my partner is sacred to me, that sometimes having them sit and watch a show or movie with me is about my need—to connect with them, to be able to sit at last, to slip away to another time and place, and to fit all that into 30 or 60 or 90 minutes.  I think it’s hard for them to see that leaving clean laundry in the basket until it is covered over and then intermingled with dirty laundry and then putting it all in the hamper again is insulting and demoralizing, to see that I can’t get out the door early in the morning because I have my own self to ready and my own things to gather and that if they want to leave earlier they have to help with the other stuff  (the dog, the cereal bowls, the lunch, the crockpot for dinner).  It’s hard for the older ones to see that I have a right to spaces that they do not enter into, to belongings that they don’t need to have access to—whether I’m making good use of them in their eyes or not, to not explain myself.

I think it’s hard for them to see that in each act of mothering I am also enacting some component of some other relationship at the very same time.  So I’m never just a mother and often enough not even first a mother; I’m also a lover, a daughter, a therapy client, an insecure figure, an adult child working through life struggles, an exhausted or exhilarated employee, a writer who captures life in the moment so she can write about it and make sense of it in print later.  It’s here, at home, and in the souls and minds of our own children, where some of the most piercing critiques of mothers and women in general are grounded, that some of hardest work lies for reshaping cultural views of maternal personhood.

Check out Dr. Mama on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @DrMamaWit, and see www.amberkinser.com



About M. Joy Rose

Woman, Mother, Human, Rocker, Educator, Activist Director; Museum of Motherhood President and Founder; MaMaPaLooZa Inc. a company by Women, Promoting (M)others for social, cultural and economic benefit. Dedicated to a more educated, more peaceful, more musical planet.


10 thoughts on “Thursdays with *Dr. Mama*, “Mothers are People First”

  1. Great read! I find that through the constructing motherhood course I am too realizing that my mother is not only my mother, but a daughter, employee, care-taker, wife, and so many more titles. I have always been close to my mother and over the course of the past year I feel that I am beginning to see her as more of an individual herself as opposed to being “Molly’s mom.” I’ll be honest here too, in my early feminist journey I always heard you were not that active in things happening on campus, like attending a feminist meeting at night or coming to campus to hear a lecture, and I wonder why since you were the Women’s Studies director and feminism seemed so very important to you, only now have I realized it is because you too are not only a professor working on my college campus, but that you are a mother, wife, writer, etc… with a life outside of work and you have to have some you time thrown in there somewhere. I know this is not some kind of crazy radical idea that professors have lives, ha, but just something that I have never really been presented with since always viewing my mom just as mom. I am now seeing many things in a new light thanks to the numerous feminist readings you have presented me with through your courses. I feel that I am so much more aware of people’s responsibilities outside of mothering and work and when mom tells me that she can not drive to Johnson City to attend a lecture with me (Dr. Bass next week) because she has to work at her job where hundreds of families rely on her to show up and be there to assist them in their daily needs, I will not be upset and think that my mom is too busy for me, but that she is taking time for her, and that after a day of dealing with everyone else she needs time for her.

    Posted by Molly Ford | December 2, 2010, 14:15
    • Molly, thanks for your post. I’m so pleased that you’ve decided to be open to seeing your mother [and professors ;)] differently and more broadly. I think it changes a person, this opening up and releasing our hold on people by releasing them from our constricting expectations (which we didn’t now were constricting them). How nice that you won’t have to be troubled by disappointment when your mother can’t make it; you get to just appreciate the these two women–she and you–are taking care of themselves that night. Good stuff Molly.

      Posted by Dr. Mama | December 3, 2010, 04:23
  2. Oh, do I agree, so so much. I’m currently working on a life project that is just “for me,” and it’s interesting (annoying? infuriating?) to watch their passive resistance to my efforts because of the inability to understand why I would even need something for me. As I try to get out the door for my classes, I find that not only do they not give me the additional help I need to fit in this effort, they actually *reduce* their helping in the times when I’m trying to hurry out the door. While they don’t vocalize it, their behaviors certainly seem to suggest that they are wondering, “Why do you need anything beyond being what you are for us? Isn’t that enough?”

    Posted by Lorin | December 2, 2010, 14:22
    • Word. I seriously don’t know how to get them to see the personhood of mothers before they turn 37 years old. And are in therapy. Not for anything I’ve done, of course. I think my kids are better than many (don’t we all) but I still think it’s tricky to wrap around. And at one level we could just let go of needing them to understand. But on the other hand, we do, quite pragmatically, NEED them to understand because we need to them to ACT based on that understanding. Do you suppose its as simple as young egocentrism, or is it profoundly about mothers in particular?

      Posted by Dr. Mama | December 3, 2010, 04:14
  3. I host and produce Women On Air, a weekly radio broadcast now in her 23rd year on WETSfm & WEHCfm. here in northeast TN/southwest VA Have hosted many interviews over the years, including Lily Tomlin, Emmy Lou Harris, Janis Ian, Judy collins, Madeline L’Engle AND: Dr. Mama! It was she who told me about your site (and, incidentally, whose son I taught in pre-school).
    I am interested in hosting an interview with Museum of Motherhood founders. If interested, please contact me at: lachmann@etsu.edu

    Posted by Susan Lachmann | December 2, 2010, 16:33
  4. You go sista mama! Loved doing the Dr. Mama interview with you for Women on Air. Can’t wait to post it to my website!

    Posted by Dr. Mama | December 3, 2010, 04:25


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