Upcoming Sunstone Issue: Mormon Women and Motherhood, Fatherhood and Coparenting

Guest Post by Holly Welker

As some of you may know, I’m editing an issue of “Sunstone” devoted to Mormon women and motherhood. As work for this project, I’ve been reading a book I picked up over two decades ago, “The Reproduction of Mothering” by Nancy Chodorow. There are some really boring chapters on psychoanalysis and Freudian ideas of infancy, but the second chapter is really great. In particular I was struck by these observations:

Mothers are women, of course, because a mother is a female parent, and a female who is a parent must be adult, hence must be a woman. [Of course that’s not true; ten-year-olds have given birth.] Similarly, fathers are male parents, are men. But we mean something different when we say that someone mothered a child than when we say that someone fathered him or her.(11)

She discusses the fact that one need not give birth to a child to mother it, pointing to adoptive mothers and siblings and grandparents who provide excellent mothering. She notes that “Mothering is most eminently a psychologically based role. it consists in psychological and personal experience of self in relationship to the child or children” (32) and continues:

The use of coercion is not possible in the case of mothering. Clinical research shows that behavioral conformity to the apparent specific physical requirements of infants–keeping them fed and clean–is not enough to enable physiological, let alone psychological growth in an infant…. A concern with parenting, then, must direct attention beyond behavior. This is because parenting is not simply a set of behaviors, but participation in an interpersonal, diffuse, affective relationship. Parenting is an eminently psychological role in a way that many other roles and activities are not. “Good-enough mothering” (“good-enough” to socialize a non-psychotic child) requires certain relational capacities which are embedded in personality and a sense of self-in-relationship.

Given these requirements, it is evident that the mothering that women do is not something that can be taught simply by giving a girl dolls or telling her that she ought to be a mother. It is not something that a girl can learn by behavioral imitation, or by deciding that she wants to do what girls do. Nor can men’s power over women explain women’s mothering. Whether or not men in particular or society at large–through media, income distribution, welfare policies, and schools–enforce women’s mothering, or require a woman to care for her child, they cannot require or force her to provide adequate parenting unless she, to some degree and on some unconscious or conscious level, has the capacity and sense of self as maternal to do so. [And she gives the example of “black slave women’s mothering of slaveowners’ children…. (White) folk wisdom has it that slave nurses, although in every fundamental sense coerced, were excellent mothers, whose charges remembered them fondly.” It should be noted, however, that other research suggests that women coerced into providing mothering did not always remember their charges as fondly as the charges remembered them.] (32-33)

Thinking about those passages, I realize how remarkable it is it that men are always talking about motherhood, telling women how it’s their duty and their calling. Well, OK, maybe it is, on all sorts of levels. But is what men say about that the most important part of what encourages and enables women to mother? And what would it be like if the tables were turned, and women’s authoritative discourse about fatherhood was seen as necessary in order to convince men to be “good-enough fathers”?

And then I got to thinking that I would like to include in the Sunstone issue women talking about the sacred calling of fatherhood, listing the attributes of good fathers and impressing upon them that parenting a child involves more than fathering it. Anyone want to tackle that? :-)

To that end, I’d like to reframe the issue so that it’s not just about Mormon women and motherhood but Mormon women and parenting, which includes working with their partners. And I’d like to see what Mormon women have to say about what good co-parenting looks and feels like.

I welcome questions and contributions at this email address: mowolito at live dot com.

Submissions for this issue are due November 15, 2011.


kendahl is a queer fat left-handed INFJ synesthete mother warrior activist social worker abuse survivor unapologetically brilliant powerful witch

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3 Responses

  1. Cynthia L. says:

    “women talking about the sacred calling of fatherhood, listing the attributes of good fathers and impressing upon them that parenting a child involves more than fathering it.”

    Interesting that Elaine Dalton did exactly this in general conference this month. After a brief personal anecdote preface, she introduced her talk as follows: “This morning I would like to speak to our sons and to all fathers. How can a father raise a happy, well-adjusted daughter in today’s increasingly toxic world?”

    • spunky says:

      Did you actually like Dalton’s talk? I wanted to like it, and I love the “love their mothers” parts, but for the most part, I think Dalton just reinforced the patriarchal order. I was quite disappointed with it.

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