Ever try sitting through a business meeting about to retch with morning sickness?
While raising a child is tremendously rewarding, doing so often requires enormous professional sacrifice on the part of moms. Mothers & More, a national network of 3,000 moms united across 60 local chapters and virtual communities, has been connecting mothers to share friendship, parenting advice and support when leaving or reentering their jobs. The group is centered around three tenets: that the work mothers do — paid or not — has real value, that mothers should be able to fulfill their responsibilities as caregivers without social or economic penalties and that each mom should be able to choose how she wishes to combine employment and parenting for herself.
“We are mothers who spent a number of years in the paid workforce, [and] intend to return to the paid workforce sooner or later, but in the meantime are taking time out for our young children,” founder Joanne Brundage said in an early letter about the group. “We share many of the same difficulties making this transition: a loss of identity, self-esteem, direction and structure; envy and/or condescension from family, friends and former coworkers; redefining our roles in our familial and marital relationships and relinquishing the security and pleasures of financial autonomy.”
Brundage, a letter carrier in Elmhurst, Ill., founded the organization in 1987, shortly after the birth of her second child. Feeling lonely and nostalgic for the “purpose, camaraderie and self-sufficiency” of her old job, she reached out to other moms through an ad in the local paper. A week later, four ladies gathered in Brundage’s home, and from that initial meet-up, the parenting organization was born, as Jocelyn Elise Crowley, a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, recounts in the book “Mothers Unite!” The group initially called themselves F.E.M.A.L.E.S., which stood for “Formerly Employed Mothers at Loose Ends,” but eventually it changed the name to Mothers & More to be inclusive of both stay-at-home and working moms.
Mothers & More experienced a rapid expansion during the latter half of the 20th century, as the American workplace received an influx of working mothers pursuing careers. In 1960, only 27.6 percent of married women with children held paying jobs. By 1980, that amount doubled, and most recently, in 2012, it reached 65.2 percent. With men’s wages falling, women entering the labor market was often an economic necessity, but it also provided them with meaning outside of their children.
“What hasn’t changed, unfortunately, is the workplace,” Brundage tells USA Today. “Society is asking all mothers to do it all and do it better and better and they have their hands tied behind their backs.”
Unlike the National Organization for Women or Moms Rising, which advocate directly for political change, you won’t find often Mothers & More penning many op-eds, descending on Washington or arguing before the Supreme Court. With some exceptions, they prefer to tackle the problem with a softer tone and local action: just moms helping moms, sharing the lessons they’ve learned through pregnancy and childrearing.
Their activities center on group discussions and recreational nights out. Some chapters sponsor preschool fairs to help moms find the right fit for early education, and recently, the national group has been hosting conferences online. An expo last month featured virtual keynotes on setting up flexible work models, balancing personal fulfillment with family demands and managing kids’ use of technology, plus demos on cooking, fitness and meditation — all info that moms could access on their own schedule.
“As a first-time mom, I think it can be isolating,” says Jill Gaikowski, the group’s executive director. “We’re a mom’s organization that not only focuses on the mom, but also the woman and the individual and I think that’s really important as a first-time mom to find that community and support.”